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Balkan stability depends on fate of returnees, top UN refugee official says

Balkan stability depends on fate of returnees, top UN refugee official says

Long-term stability in the Balkans is directly linked to the fate of an estimated one million people who remain uprooted as a result of the region's wars, according to the United Nations top refugee official.

The warning came in a statement issued yesterday by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, jointly with the new head of the European Union's Balkan Stability Pact, Erhard Busek. The statement links the fate of the region to the provision of a "meaningful future" for those displaced by the various conflicts that have torn the region.

According to the statement, about 2 million displaced people have already returned to their homes, and more have returned to areas controlled by their former opponents in 2001 than in any year since the signing of the Dayton accord in 1995 - the majority going back to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia.

Members of minority communities have even been returning to difficult areas such as Srebrenica and Foca - an indication, the officials believe, that many of the legal, administrative and security obstacles are disappearing.

The statement cautions, however, that continued financial and political support is essential to help the 1 million people yet to return, and calls on the international community to make good on the financial commitments it has made to region.

The officials note that humanitarian and development funds for this region are in increasingly short supply, just at the time when they are most needed. "Young people will not return to areas where there are no houses, no employment and no opportunity to raise families," the statement says.