Ethnic Albanians returning from Kosovo to FYR of Macedonia: UNHCR

Ethnic Albanians returning from Kosovo to FYR of Macedonia: UNHCR

The number of ethnic Albanians returning from Kosovo to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has risen sharply over the past few days as more and more people decide to return to the now open Aracinovo village outside of Skopje, the United Nations refugee agency said today.

Kris Janowski, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in Geneva that the return movement to Aracinovo had begun last Sunday, as the authorities reopened the area for return. More than 200 people were believed to be staying overnight in the village, the spokesman said, and several thousand had been seen cleaning up their homes during the day. The village -- which saw some of the heaviest fighting to date -- had been virtually deserted by its overwhelmingly ethnic Albanian population, and subsequently sealed off by the Macedonian authorities, according to UNHCR.

Meanwhile, ethnic Macedonians continued to make brief go-and-see visits to villages in the Tetovo area from which they had been driven last week, Mr. Janowski said. Over the weekend, UNHCR accompanied several hundred people to villages in the area to enable them to see their homes. Most of those going back, however, were too nervous to stay.

"UNHCR deems it absolutely crucial that civilians displaced by the conflict be allowed to return as soon as possible to avoid an even deeper division between the FYR of Macedonia's ethnic communities," Mr. Janowski said.

In another development, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) announced today that about 300,000 euros ($262,000) from a European Union grant for the FYR of Macedonia would go to a programme to vaccinate 12,000 children and provide emergency equipment for maternity services.