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UN refugee agency "alarmed" by upsurge of violence in FRY of Macedonia

UN refugee agency "alarmed" by upsurge of violence in FRY of Macedonia

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today expressed deep concern about the escalating clashes in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, urging fighters in the country to spare civilians.

"UNHCR is alarmed by the upsurge of violence this week that threatens to plunge the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia into civil war," spokesman Kris Janowski told reporters in Geneva, citing yesterday's heavy fighting in the largely ethnic Albanian town of Tetovo and daily incidents of kidnapping and harassment. "UNHCR calls on all armed forces in the FRY of Macedonia to refrain from deliberate attacks on civilians."

According to Mr. Janowski, on Wednesday night the agency received a "desperate" evacuation request from some 40 ethnic Macedonians in Lesok, a village two kilometres outside of Tetovo. "They are mainly elderly people who remained in the village, caught in escalating conflict between ethnic Albanian rebels and state security forces," he said, pointing out that humanitarian agencies have had no access to the villages near Tetovo.

The spokesman warned against the use of humanitarian access as a political tool. "In the past couple of weeks there has been a series of retaliatory blockades as the government or NGOs (non-governmental organizations) organized humanitarian convoys to either ethnic Macedonian or ethnic Albanian villages," he noted. "Also, access to electricity and water is increasingly becoming a bargaining chip in some of the affected villages around Tetovo and Kumanovo."