Ethnic Slavs continue to flee FYR of Macedonia town, UN refugee agency says

Ethnic Slavs continue to flee FYR of Macedonia town, UN refugee agency says

A week after a peace agreement was signed in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, small groups of ethnic Macedonians continue to flee the troubled town of Tetovo, where intermittent mortar exchanges have been reported since the weekend, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today.

Displaced ethnic Macedonians at a collective centre in Kumanovo said they were willing to return to their homes if their security could be guaranteed, UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski said at a press briefing in Geneva. "They told UNHCR they were worried about reports that ethnic Albanian rebels were looting and burning Macedonian and Serb homes in the villages they left behind," he said.

In the capital Skopje, several hundred displaced people barricaded a road leading to the border crossing at Blace, preventing the return of refugees from Kosovo. More than 27,000 refugees have gone back, but over the past three days there have been no returns from Blace, Mr. Janowski said.

Meanwhile, life is increasingly returning to normal at Aracinovo, a largely Albanian village just outside Skopje, where up to 8,000 residents have returned since they fled heavy fighting in June, the spokesman said.

"Many houses have been repaired with UNHCR plastic sheeting, children were out playing in the streets and some shops have reopened," Mr. Janowski said. "However, only several Macedonians have gone back to Aracinovo. They told UNHCR that resumption of electrical service could encourage more returns to the area."

UNHCR has been sending mobile teams to Aracinovo in an attempt to boost confidence, stressing the need to address the security concerns of the displaced, particularly the ethnic Macedonians who fled areas where they were a minority. "Creating conditions for their safe return is critical in the successful implementation of the peace agreement," Mr. Janowski said.