Lubbers calls for continued international support for peace in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
SKOPJE - United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers today urged the international community to maintain its commitment to build peace in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).
"While the world prepares for a fight against terrorism, it must not lose its focus in supporting the fragile peace in FYROM," Lubbers said in a statement at the close of a four-hour visit in Skopje.
Lubbers, who is preparing for an outflow of up to 1.5 million refugees from Afghanistan, met with FYROM President Boris Trajkovski and Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski.
More than 55,000 refugees have returned to FYROM since June, while 27,000 still remain in Kosovo. The [former Yugoslav Republic of] Macedonian Red Cross has recorded another 70,000 displaced within the country, 60 percent of whom are ethnic Macedonians.
"UNHCR is working to help bring life back to normal in conflict-affected villages and to create conditions for the safe return of all communities," Lubbers said. "This is part of our commitment under the August peace agreement."
UNHCR field teams have so far reached 61 out of an estimated 90 conflict-affected villages. UNHCR convoys have delivered more than 3,000 aid kits to returning families and up to 1,500 houses are being repaired. UNHCR bus lines started last week to facilitate free movement of all communities across ethnic lines and security checkpoints in the troubled Tetovo region. Quick-impact projects to help kick-start the local economy are also underway.
Lubbers called on donors to cover a funding shortfall of US$ 8 million out of the US$ 17.5 million programme to help the returns. "Governments are keen on supporting the Stability Pact for the Balkans," he said, referring to the multi-million dollar European-led programme to rebuild the economy of the south-east European states. "Now is the time to invest concretely in the stability of FYROM."
Another looming concern, Lubbers said, is the volatile security situation in some areas of return that threatens to undermine the humanitarian efforts to build confidence between communities.
NATO completed its arms collecting mission on Wednesday. Member governments agreed on the same day to deploy a new security force to protect the international monitors observing compliance with the peace process. UNHCR has called for a credible security presence that can prevent armed groups from exploiting a looming security gap.
"I'm pleased that a decision has been made on an international security presence that can assist the FYROM government maintain law and order. We hope that an effective international monitoring and security presence is set up in full as soon as possible, so as not to lose the current momentum toward building peace in FYROM," Lubbers said.
"I have appealed to the FYROM government to make every effort to agree on the legislative package and move forward on the actual implementation of the peace agreement," Lubbers said.