Underlining the importance of elections in the region of Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Sirmium, the Security Council this afternoon emphasized that their holding and certification by the United Nations Transitional Administration for Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Sirmium (UNTAES) would only be possible if the Croatian authorities fulfil their obligation to issue citizenship and identity documents for all eligible voters, and provide all information required by the Administration.
In a statement read by President Hisashi Owada (Japan), the Council called upon the Croatian Government to fully implement its oral and written commitments to the officials of UNTAES on the completion of the reintegration of the region under the control of the Transitional Administrator. In a letter dated 13 January, the Government guaranteed the local Serb community representation at local, regional and national governments, provided for a limited deferment of military service and affirmed its intention to protect local Serbs' legal and civil rights under Croatian law.
The full implementation of those rights, the Council agreed with the Transitional Administrator, provided a basis for the holding of elections simultaneously with nationwide voting in Croatia. Also, it strongly encouraged the Government to reaffirm its legal and constitutional obligations to treat all citizens equally, regardless of ethnicity.
Also by the statement, the Council condemned today's incident in Vukovar that led to the death of an UNTAES peace-keeper and injured other personnel. It called upon the Croatian Government and the local Serb community to continue cooperating with the Transitional Administrator and with UNTAES to successfully reintegrate Eastern Slavonia into Croatia's constitutional order.
Stressing the importance of restoring Eastern Slavonia's multi-ethnic character to the maintenance of peace and security in the region of the former Yugoslavia, the Council encouraged the Croatian Government to take the steps needed to promote goodwill, build confidence, and to assure a safe and stable environment for all those in the region. They include the full implementation of the Croatian Law on Amnesty, improved cooperation regarding local Serbs who wish to return to other areas of Croatia and full cooperation with the
International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. The Croatian authorities were also encouraged to maintain the present demilitarized status of the region.
The meeting, called to order at 1:19 p.m., was adjourned at 1:32 p.m.
The full text of the presidential statement, to be issued as document S/PRST/1997/4, reads as follows:
"The Security Council has considered the letter of the Secretary-General of 21 January 1997 (S/1997/62) concerning development with respect to the United Nations Transitional Administration for Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Sirmium (UNTAES), and welcomes his evaluation.
"The Security Council welcomes the letter of 13 January 1997 (S/1997/27, annex) from the Government of Croatia on the completion of the peaceful reintegration of the region under the Transitional Administration, which guarantees the local Serb community representation and a voice at various levels of local, regional and national government, provides for a limited deferment of military service, and affirms the intention of the Government of Croatia to provide the local Serb population with the protection of their legal and civil rights under Croatian law. The Council calls upon the Government of Croatia to implement fully the commitments contained in that letter and the oral guarantees made by Croatian officials to UNTAES as specified in the letter of the Secretary-General of 21 January 1997 (S/1997/62).
"The Security Council also notes the letter of the local Serb Executive Council and Regional Assembly on this matter of 16 January 1997 (S/1997/64, annex).
"The Security Council recalls the statement of its President of 15 August 1996 (S/PRST/1996/35) and again underlines the importance of the holding of elections, the organization of which is the responsibility of UNTAES, in accordance with the Basic Agreement on the Region of Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Sirmium (S/1995/951, Annex) signed on 12 November 1995 (the Basic Agreement). The Council shares the view of the Transitional Administrator that the rights and guarantees outlined in the letter form the Government of Croatia, if fully implemented, constitute a solid basis for the holding of elections simultaneously with nationwide elections in Croatia, and offer substantial progress towards the completion of the process of peaceful reintegration of the region. In this context, the Council emphasizes that the holding and certification of elections, upon a decision by the Transitional Administration, within the envisaged time frame will only be possible if the Croatian authorities fulfil their obligations with respect to the completion of the issuance of citizenship and identify documents for all eligible voters and relevant technical documents, and provide all information as required by
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UNTAES for certification of the elections. The Council underlines the need for full cooperation by the local Serbs.
"The Security Council reiterates the importance of confidence-building measures which could benefit residents of the region beyond the expiration of the mandate of UNTAES. In this regard, it encourages the Croatian authorities to maintain the present demilitarized status of the region.
"The Security Council reaffirms the importance of effectively implementing the rights of all residents in the region to equal treatment with respect to housing, access to reconstruction grants and loans, and to property compensation, as guaranteed by Croatian law. It reiterates the rights of all refugees and displaced persons to return to their places of origin. The upholding of these principles is of vital importance for the stability of the region. In this connection, it strongly encourages the Government of Croatia to reaffirm its obligations under the provisions of the Croatian Constitution, Croatian law, and the Basic Agreement, to treat all its citizens equally regardless of their ethnicity.
"The Security Council stresses that the restoration of the multi-ethnic character of Eastern Slavonia is important to international efforts to maintain peace and stability in the region of former Yugoslavia as a whole. The Council encourages the Croatian Government to take such steps as are needed to promote goodwill, build confidence, and provide assurances of a safe, secure and stable environment to all people in the region. These steps should include full implementation of its Law on Amnesty, full cooperation with the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, improved cooperation with respect to local Serbs who wish to return to other areas of Croatia, full compliance with the Basic Agreement, and full cooperation with UNTAES and other international organizations. The Council welcomes the commitments by the Government of Croatia with regard to the establishment of a Joint Council of Municipalities, Council of the Serb ethnic community, and with respect to educational and cultural autonomy of the Serb population and other minorities in the region. The Council notes the reassurances of the Croatian authorities that applications for a second period of deferment of military service for local Serbs will be considered in a positive manner.
"The Security Council condemns the incident that occurred at Vukovar on 31 January 1997 and that resulted in the death of an UNTAES peace-keeper and injuries to other UNTAES personnel.
"The Security Council calls upon both sides to cooperate in good faith on the basis of the Basic Agreement. It also calls upon them to continue to cooperate with the Transitional Administrator and with UNTAES in order to ensure the success of the process of reintegration. It calls upon the international community to support fully this endeavour.
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"The Security Council expresses its appreciation to the Transitional Administrator and his staff and reaffirms its full support for them.
"The Security Council will remain actively seized of the matter."
Letter by Secretary-General A letter dated 21 January from the Secretary-General addressed to the Council President (document S/1997/62) reviews efforts by UNTAES over the past three months to resolve outstanding policy issues required for the holding of elections in the region of Eastern Slavonia.
As at 17 December 1996, the Croatian Government's position had been that all residents of the region who were eligible for Croatian citizenship and were living in the region at the beginning of UNTAES mandate on 15 January 1996 would be entitled to vote, says the Secretary-General. Under those conditions, elections would be held for existing Croatian institutions within existing electoral boundaries, simultaneously with nationwide Croatian local and regional elections scheduled for 16 March.
At that time, the local Serb delegation said the region should be treated as having the status of a single county under Croatian law, with elections being held later than in the rest of Croatia, he continues. All residents of the region would be qualified to vote if they had citizenship of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
The letter indicates that intensive consultations were subsequently held with President Franjo Tudjman and the Government of Croatia by the Transitional Administrator. The outcome was a 13 January letter from the Government outlining conditions for the peaceful reintegration of the region (document S/1997/27, annex). In the view of the Secretary-General, that letter merits favourable consideration by the Council.
By the terms of the Croatian letter, elections in the region would be held simultaneously with nationwide elections, now scheduled for 16 March, the Secretary-General continues. All current residents of the region who are entitled to Croatian citizenship would be able to vote, with those settling there between the 1991 census and the beginning of the UNTAES mandate having the option of voting for local bodies in their pre-1991 locations instead. The Croatian Government would issue the relevant documents to all eligible voters in time to enable them to participate in the elections.
The Croatian letter goes on to guarantee that local Serbs will hold a post of Sub-Prefect in each of the two counties of the region and to guarantee proportional representation for local Serbs in local health service, police and the judiciary. Members of the local Serb ethnic community might appoint a Joint Council of Municipalities which would meet at least once every four months with the Croatian President or his Chief of Cabinet.
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The letter further states that all Serbs from the region shall have an automatic deferment of compulsory military service for two years from the end of the UNTAES mandate, after which they might apply individually for a further deferment, which the Government would consider positively. The letter also contains additional guarantees with respect to proportional representation, high-level appointments in government ministries, educational and cultural autonomy, and health and social services.
On 16 January, the local Serb Executive Council and Regional Assembly wrote a joint response to the Transitional Administrator, seeking additional guarantees, the Secretary-General states. Specifically, they called for complete and permanent demilitarization of the existing UNTAES region; exemption from military service for Serbs for at least 15 years; and the creation of a single county for the region. They also called for guaranteed equal rights for all displaced persons and refugees in Croatia to remain in their present accommodations until their original homes are rebuilt, or to be compensated for destroyed or damaged property, or to be provided adequate accommodation in the area where they lived at present.
The Secretary-General says the Administrator had been actively encouraging the Government to maintain the present demilitarized status of the region and to reach agreement with Yugoslavia and Hungary on a demilitarized common border area. "The Council may wish to support this endeavour in an appropriate manner", he states. Other Serb concerns are addressed, either in oral undertakings relating to the terms of the Croatian letter, under the Basic Agreement between the parties, or under international agreements to which Croatia is a signatory.
"Over the coming months, the support of the international community for the measures outlined in the letter will be crucial for the holding of elections and the completion of the process of peaceful reintegration", the Secretary-General states. Stressing the importance of strict compliance by all sides with obligations outlined in that letter, he describes it as forming part of "a comprehensive framework of guarantees for Serbs who choose to stay in Croatia as equal citizens enjoying full rights under the Croatian Constitution in accordance with international law and under international monitoring".
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