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UN refugee chief urges continued commitment to building peace in FYR of Macedonia

UN refugee chief urges continued commitment to building peace in FYR of Macedonia

Ruud Lubbers
Urging the international community to maintain its commitment to building peace in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today called on donors to cover an $8 million funding deficit for the agency's operations in the country.

"While the world prepares for a fight against terrorism, it must not lose its focus in supporting the fragile peace in Macedonia," said High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers at the close of his visit to the capital, Skopje, where he met with President Boris Trajkovski and Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski.

Since June, more than 55,000 refugees have returned to the FYR of Macedonia, but some 27,000 still remain in Kosovo, according to the agency. The Macedonian Red Cross has recorded another 70,000 displaced within the country, 60 per cent of whom are ethnic Macedonians.

Field teams from the UN agency have so far reached 61 out of an estimated 90 conflict-affected villages, delivering more than 3,000 aid kits to returning families and repairing some 1,500 homes. Besides aid distribution, bus services across ethnic lines and security checkpoints have also gotten underway to help those returning to their homes, and to build confidence among the affected communities.

In support of UNHCR's efforts, the High Commissioner asked countries to help cover the budget shortfall in the $17.5 million return programme. "Governments are keen on supporting the Stability Pact for the Balkans," he said, referring to the multi-million dollar European-led programme to rebuild the economies of the region. "Now is the time to invest concretely in the stability of [the former Yugoslav Republic of] Macedonia."

Mr. Lubbers also referred to another looming concern - the volatile security situation in some areas that threatened to undermine the humanitarian efforts to build confidence between communities. Welcoming the decision by NATO countries to deploy a new security force to protect international monitors observing compliance with the peace process, he said that presence should be set up in full as soon as possible "so as not to lose the current momentum toward building peace."