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Refugees return to FYR of Macedonia despite roadblocks: UNHCR

Refugees return to FYR of Macedonia despite roadblocks: UNHCR

Ethnic Albanians using side roads continued to return to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia from Kosovo at a rate of about 2,000 a day despite blockages of main roads by ethnic Macedonians opposed to their return, the United Nations refugee agency said today.

Ron Redmond, spokesman for the Geneva-based UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said that since Wednesday, groups of ethnic Macedonian protesters have been blocking the road toward Tabanovce border with southern Serbia. This was in addition to the Blace road from Kosovo which has been blocked for over 10 days.

"UNHCR supports the right of all refugees and displaced people to return to their homes, but remains concerned that NATO's presence in the FYR of Macedonia may give a false sense of security to returnees," Mr. Redmond said. He noted that returns had sharply increased since NATO's deployment, despite the fact that its role was limited to weapons collection and did not involve general security.

Sporadic security incidents occurred daily in areas where there was a security vacuum, the spokesman said, and UNHCR field teams reported that fear and uneasiness remained among the people who had stayed in the conflict-affected areas, as well as among displaced people.

According to UNHCR, since the return movement started in July, more than 32,000 refugees have returned from Kosovo, while about 48,000 remain in the province.