UN refugee agency begins bus service for displaced people in FYR of Macedonia

UN refugee agency begins bus service for displaced people in FYR of Macedonia

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In an effort to promote freedom of movement in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the United Nations refugee agency today began a bus service in the northern Tetovo region to allow ethnic Albanians and Macedonians to move safely across military checkpoints.

Ron Redmond, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR,) said the initiative came in response to a government request. Residents of villages scattered along a 25-kilometre stretch of the main road from Rogacevo village to Tetovo had complained of harassment at roadblocks, saying that this had prevented workers from travelling to factories and children from attending schools. Tetovo is about 40 kilometres west of the capital, Skopje.

According to the spokesman, UNHCR yesterday discussed details of the bus service with members of both communities, pleading with them to respect freedom of movement. International observers had been alerted to monitor the bus, which would run three times a day. Possibilities for similar transport services were being considered elsewhere in the country.

Meanwhile, amid continued uncertainty over security conditions, the rate of refugee returns to the FYR of Macedonia remained low at about 200 per day, Mr. Redmond said. Ethnic Albanians were concerned about arrangements after the departure of NATO troops next week upon completion of an arms collection mission. On Wednesday UNHCR called on the international community to deploy a "credible" transitional force to prevent a security vacuum.

Since July, more than 53,000 refugees have gone back to the FYR of Macedonia while 28,600 remained in Kosovo, UNHCR said. The Macedonian Red Cross said it had registered 76,000 internally displaced people in the country.