The United Nations refugee agency said today it was "deeply disturbed" by reports that Macedonian Slavs were fleeing ethnic Albanian areas of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, "a development that recalls some of the darkest days of the past decade in the Balkans," according to the agency.
Eric Morris, special envoy in the region for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said the agency had been concerned about the possible separation of ethnic populations since the beginning of the conflict in February.
"Our fear has been that one ethnic community would go in one direction, towards the State security forces, and the other community would go the other direction, in search of security on the other side," Mr. Morris said, adding that he was particularly disturbed by the recent departure of Macedonian Slavs from the towns of Aracinovo and Lesok.
"It was not my feeling that 'ethnic cleansing' was the intent of the conflict, but if there's going to be a separation of the population, the consequences could be the same," he said. "It can spiral out of control. And if a community believes it was forcibly expelled, enormous barriers will be created for any eventual return."
Earlier today, a UNHCR spokesman in Geneva said the refugee agency was "deeply concerned" at the latest ceasefire violations in the country, and urged all parties to avoid further confrontation that could cause new displacements. There are more than 60,000 refugees from the FYR of Macedonia in neighbouring Kosovo, as well as up to 30,000 internally displaced people, the spokesman said.