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FYR of Macedonia: up to 2,000 people flee to southern Serbia

Briefing notes

FYR of Macedonia: up to 2,000 people flee to southern Serbia

25 May 2001

Up to 2,000 people have fled to southern Serbia from villages in the north of the Former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, as fighting intensified between Macedonian forces and ethnic Albanian rebels. UNHCR staff monitoring the border crossing between the Macedonian village of Lojane and the southern Serbia town of Miratovac said the outflow started Thursday evening and continued through the night and this morning. Most villagers came on foot, some pushed carts and wheelbarrows with their belongings. They said they came from villages in the Lojane and Vaksince area. Some of those arriving said they used a lull in fighting and shelling to get out of the basements of their houses and flee.

In a separate development, UNHCR has increased staff presence in Presevo area to help ease the tension and anxiety among ethnic Albanian villagers as the Yugoslav Federal Army took over the control of the key sector B of the Ground Safety Zone from NATO.

The UNHCR team reported a somewhat decreased activity in Presevo town and the surrounding villages with a heavy presence of police, but shops were open and villagers were out on the streets getting on with their daily chores. There was some nervousness but no signs of large numbers of people trying to leave the area. Tension rose on Thursday as news arrived about the death under unclear circumstances of a popular ethnic Albanian guerrilla commander, resulting in the departure of about a 1,000 people from the Presevo area to the Gnjilane area of Kosovo.