Return to FYR of Macedonia slows as NATO mission nears end
SKOPJE, Sept 25 (UNHCR) - Fewer than 200 people per day are returning to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) from Kosovo - down from some 1,500 per day in mid-September - as NATO nears the end of its arms collection mission on September 26. The UN refugee agency attributes the low return numbers to continuing uncertainty over security arrangements in FYROM once NATO's current mission ends.
NATO is expected to announce a transitional security arrangement soon, and discussions among NATO members indicate a small force will remain to secure international observers monitoring progress in the implementation of the August 13 peace agreement. "UNHCR has been calling for follow-on security arrangements for several weeks already, but the small force currently proposed is insufficient." said spokesman Kris Janowski. "A security vacuum once NATO pulls back could trigger a new round of violence and displacement."
In the meantime, UNHCR reports that efforts to build confidence in the country continue. The refugee agency has stepped up its field presence, visiting more than 50 of the 90 villages affected by the six-month conflict. A UNHCR bus service to allow all communities to cross ethnic lines and checkpoints is expanding from the Tetovo region to include other areas around Skopje and Kumanovo.
Some 27,400 refugees from FYROM remain in Kosovo, while more than 54,400 have returned. The [former Yugoslav Republic of] Macedonian Red Cross has registered at least 70,000 people displaced within FYROM itself. Sixty percent of those displaced within the country are ethnic Macedonians.