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FYR of Macedonia: UN refugee chief calls on NATO, EU to help reverse displacement

FYR of Macedonia: UN refugee chief calls on NATO, EU to help reverse displacement

Ruud Lubbers
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has urged a greater international effort to reverse the wave of displacement caused by the conflict in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which had driven an estimated 120,000 people from their homes.

The UN Agency said today that High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers had sent letters to NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson and the European Union's High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, underscoring the importance of a joint international effort to instil enough confidence in the displaced civilians to enable them to return to their homes.

In his letter that went out on Friday, the UNHCR chief stressed the need for a stronger international monitoring presence in areas affected by the conflict and a more multi-ethnic police force, as well as for the reconstruction of housing and clearance of landmines and unexploded ordnance.

Calling for the establishment of adequate security, Mr. Lubbers stressed that the "security dilemma" must be resolved for all Macedonians. He emphasized that steps had to be taken to allow ethnic Macedonians displaced from overwhelmingly ethnic-Albanian populated areas to return to their villages in safety. While ethnic Albanians are a minority in the country as a whole, in many areas in the north it is the ethnic Macedonians who are in the minority.

Warning that prolonged displacement of the country's ethnic communities could jeopardize the chance for return and reconciliation, Mr. Lubbers wrote, "We believe that the longer the refugees and the displaced persons stay away from their homes, the more bitter and radicalized they are becoming and the deeper the ethnic divisions in the country are growing."

Meanwhile, more than 22,000 refugees have returned to the FYR of Macedonia from Kosovo since efforts to resolve the conflict between ethnic Albanians and Macedonians intensified last month, a UNHCR spokesman said today. There are still 55,000 refugees in Kosovo, and local authorities estimate that some 40,000 people are displaced in the FYR of Macedonia.