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FYROM: returns rate still slow

Briefing notes

FYROM: returns rate still slow

21 September 2001

In an effort to promote freedom of movement, UNHCR today began a bus service in the northern Tetovo region to allow ethnic Albanians and ethnic Macedonians to move safely across military checkpoints. The transport is in response to a government request. Residents of villages scattered along a 25-km stretch of the main road from Rogacevo village to Tetovo have complained of harassment at roadblocks. They say this has prevented workers from travelling to factories and children from attending schools. Tetovo is about 40 km west of Skopje. Yesterday, UNHCR discussed details of the bus service with members of both communities, pleading with them to respect freedom of movement. International observers have been alerted to monitor the bus, which will run three times a day. Possibilities for similar transport services are being considered elsewhere in the country.

As uncertainty over security conditions continues, the rate of refugee returns to FYROM remains low, at about 200 per day this week. Ethnic Albanians are concerned about arrangements after the departure of NATO troops next week upon completion of an arms collection mission. UNHCR has called on the international community to deploy a "credible" transitional force to prevent a security vacuum. Since July, more than 53,000 refugees have gone back to FYROM; another 28,600 remain in Kosovo. The [former Yugoslav Republic of] Macedonian Red Cross says it had registered 76,000 IDPs in the country.