Some 2,000 villagers flee FYR of Macedonia to southern Serbia, UN refugee agency says

Some 2,000 villagers flee FYR of Macedonia to southern Serbia, UN refugee agency says

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, the United Nations refugee agency said today.

Kris Janowski, spokesman of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), said the outflow started Thursday evening and continued through this morning. Most villagers came on foot, and some pushed carts and wheelbarrows with their belongings. The refugees said they had come from villages in the Lojane and Vaksince area. Some 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 increased staff presence in southern Serbia's Presevo area to help ease 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, Mr. Janowski said. He added that shops were open and villagers were out on the streets getting on with their daily chores.