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FYR of Macedonia: UN agency sends aid to returnees

FYR of Macedonia: UN agency sends aid to returnees

The United Nations refugee agency has dispatched emergency supplies to 5,000 residents returning to a village outside Skopje, the capital of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, since the Government reopened the town last Sunday.

Kris Janowski, spokesman of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters in Geneva that on Thursday the agency dispatched two trucks carrying supplies - including mattresses, jerry cans, kitchen sets, hygiene parcels and plastic sheeting - for 100 families. This marks the start of UNHCR's assistance to returnee communities in the country, he said.

Of the 5,000 who went back to Aracinovo, about half were staying overnight, while the rest were cleaning their houses during the day, Mr. Janowski said. But few of the village's estimated 250 ethnic Macedonian families indicated a willingness to return. "They only go back to pick up their belongings," he said.

Aracinovo was heavily devastated in June during intense fighting between Macedonian forces and ethnic Albanian rebels.

UNHCR was helping civilians returning voluntarily to areas where safety is relatively assured, the spokesman said. The agency was also leading UN-coordinated efforts to help authorities restore electricity and other utilities in Aracinovo, while UNHCR field teams have sought to build confidence among the communities.

"It is particularly important to stabilize the ethnic Macedonian community, which is in a minority situation in Aracinovo," Mr. Janowski said. "All efforts must be made to help them return to their homes."

Since clashes broke out in the country in February, more than 120,000 people have been displaced - including more than 76,000 who went to Kosovo. Around 19,000 refugees have returned, mainly to Skopje.