UNHCR assists returnees in former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
SKOPJE, Oct. 2 (UNHCR) - UNHCR teams distributed relief supplies to two mixed villages in the northern Tetovo region of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) as part of ongoing efforts to build confidence and promote returns to war-affected areas.
The general situation remains calm in the region as some 4,700 NATO arms-collection troops depart FYROM and another 1,000 soldiers arrive for their new mission - dubbed Operation Fox - to protect international monitors.
During a visit to FYROM last week, High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers expressed hopes that the new international security force, together with additional international monitors, will contribute to the further easing of tensions in the region. UNHCR also hopes it will fill the security gap in conflict-affected areas that armed groups and paramilitaries might otherwise exploit. Lubbers also called for the immediate formation of a mixed police force and the revival of civil administrations to build confidence in the peace process and allow refugees and displaced people to return in safety.
On Monday, UNHCR distributed blankets, mattresses, plastic sheeting, tools, jerry cans, kitchen sets and hygiene kits to people in the villages of Tearce and Vratnica in the Tetovo region. In Tearce, most of the 1,000 ethnic Macedonians had fled during the conflict. About 30 families have now returned, joining some 60 elderly people who had remained in their homes. In Vratnica, about 30 ethnic Macedonian families who had fled have now returned.
While life in many villages is gradually returning to normal, there are still areas where the situation remains volatile. In Neprosteno, a mixed village north of Tetovo, UNHCR yesterday found seven ethnic Macedonian families, mostly elderly people, huddled amid heavily destroyed houses. The families spoke of looting and gunfire during the night and were extremely frightened to venture out of their homes. Many displaced villagers were present during the day, but said they will not return permanently until the security condition improves. UNHCR staff promised to deliver aid supplies this week to those who remained in the village.
An estimated 55,000 refugees have now returned from neighbouring Kosovo to FYROM. Some 26,000 refugees remain in Kosovo. The [former Yugoslav Republic of] Macedonian Red Cross, meanwhile, says there are now some 41,000 internally displaced people in FYROM receiving assistance.