UN refugee agency concerned at plight of civilians in FYR of Macedonia

UN refugee agency concerned at plight of civilians in FYR of Macedonia

The United Nations refugee agency today expressed concern at the plight of civilians affected by fighting in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

"We remain particularly concerned about the well-being of civilians caught in the conflict areas," said Eric Morris, Special Envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to the former Yugoslavia and Albania, in a statement issued in Pristina.

"Civilians must be protected from military attacks as well as political manipulations," Mr. Morris said, adding that once people had fled out of fear of violence it was "extraordinarily difficult" to create the conditions for their safe return.

The UNHCR office in Pristina reported today that over 3,000 people had entered Kosovo since fighting in the FYR of Macedonia started on 3 May. While initially most arrivals had come from the area around Kumanovo, where fighting was taking place, over the weekend more than 1,500 people came from the Tetovo region, after a nine-hour journey by foot over the mountains.

The new arrivals -- mostly women, young children and elderly men -- told UNHCR that they had left for precautionary reasons, fearing an escalation of the violence. Those who fled from the Tetovo region reported a buildup of the Macedonian military in Tetovo's rural areas.

Meanwhile, the head of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), Hans Haekkerup, left Kosovo today for UN Headquarters in New York, where he will hold consultations with Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Tuesday, and brief the Security Council the next day.