UN refugee agency seeks urgent deployment of security force in FYR of Macedonia

UN refugee agency seeks urgent deployment of security force in FYR of Macedonia

The United Nations refugee agency today called for a transitional international security presence before the departure of NATO forces to allow the safe return of refugees and displaced people in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

The 4,700-strong NATO force is due to leave the country on 26 September, ending its mission to collect arms from the ethnic Albanian rebels. Eric Morris, special envoy for the Balkans of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said security arrangements currently under discussion to replace NATO - mainly to protect international monitors overseeing the peace process - are not sufficient.

"What is needed is a credible security presence that can assist the Macedonian Government in maintaining law and order in affected areas and address the legitimate security concerns of both communities," Mr. Morris said, adding that an international security arrangement "should be temporary, but absolutely necessary to avoid further bloodshed and displacements."

Warning that NATO's departure could create a vacuum that armed groups might exploit, Mr. Morris said that a credible international security force could help discourage both sides from establishing irregular self-defence mechanisms and lead to the establishment of the multi-ethnic police envisaged in the framework agreement.

According to UNHCR, a surge of returns over the past two weeks saw more than 12,000 refugees head home from Kosovo. In total, 52,500 refugees have returned since June, with another 29,400 remaining in Kosovo. At least 76,000 people are estimated to be displaced within the FYR of Macedonia - 60 per cent of whom are ethnic Macedonians.