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UNHCR calls for international security arrangement in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

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UNHCR calls for international security arrangement in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

6 September 2001

SKOPJE - The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees today appealed to the international community to put in place urgently a security arrangement to stabilize the situation in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and allow the return of refugees and displaced persons.

"Introducing an international presence to fill the security vacuum is the only way to prevent further violence. The international community must act now and show its commitment for peace in [the former Yugoslav Republic of] Macedonia," Eric Morris, UNHCR's special envoy to the region, said in a statement.

"UNHCR cannot suggest in what form or size the security arrangement should look like, but this has to happen now - before NATO ends its mission - to ensure not only safety for civilians but also to help create conditions for the safe return of refugees and displaced people."

NATO's mission in FYROM is to collect arms from the Albanian rebels and is due to complete this before the end of this month.

Despite the signing of the peace agreement on 13 August, tension remains high in conflict-affected areas in north-western FYROM. Displaced ethnic Macedonians have blocked two main roads to neighbouring Yugoslavia used by returning ethnic Albanian refugees. In a counter protest, ethnic Albanians women and children set up last week their own blockade near Tetovo, demanding the release of relatives allegedly kidnapped by FYROM security forces.

While more than 30,000 ethnic Albanian refugees have returned from Kosovo, ethnic Macedonians do not yet feel safe to return to their homes where they are in a minority. Meanwhile, as Albanian rebels surrender arms to NATO, Albanian civilians fear the presence of FYROM security forces, particularly along the road between Tetovo and Jazince border with Kosovo.

"Both communities have legitimate fears and security concerns that prevent them from returning to their homes or moving freely between villages and towns," Morris said. "Unless we can address the fear, distrust and the increasing polarization between the communities, returns of refugees and displaced people will never be safe nor sustainable."

UNHCR has increased its presence in the past two weeks in these war-affected villages in a bid to create confidence in the implementation of the peace agreement. Despite UNHCR's earlier appeals to governments for a larger deployment of international observers to help reverse fears among returnees and civilians in isolated villages, the number of international monitors remains low.