10 February 2005 The closer ethnically-divided Kosovo moves towards final status talks, the greater the risks of provocation by those who do not want to see a multi-ethnic democracy established in the war-torn province that the United Nations has administered for the past five years, the top UN envoy said today.
“2005 is and will be a crucial year for Kosovo,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Representative Søren Jessen-Petersen told the Permanent Council of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Vienna, of the province the UN has run since the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) drove out Yugoslav troops amid grave human rights abuses in fighting between ethnic Albanians and Serbs in 1999.
“Kosovo remains one of the last pieces of the Balkan jigsaw that still confronts us with serious threats to stability. It must be a prime objective of the international community in 2005 to address this situation. Let us be clear: 2005 must be the year to move forward and fling open the windows of opportunity,” he said, ruling out any idea of partition as a solution.
“Challenges are staggering,” he added. But he noted a great improvement in security, even if fragile, since the province was shaken last March by the worst violence since the UN took over, when an onslaught by Albanians to drive out Serb, Roma and Ashkali minorities led to 19 people being killed, nearly 1,000 injured and hundreds of homes and centuries-old Serbian cultural sites razed or burned.
Above all it is imperative to bring the Serbs into the process, he said, noting that their participation has not improved since their almost total boycott of last year’s Assembly elections. The economy must be improved and unemployment cut, he added.
“For the majority Kosovo-Albanian community, a functioning civil society is gradually taking shape. However, many members of minority communities, notably Kosovo Serbs, still feel insecure. Some municipalities continue to hamper returns. Isolated incidents of stoning of minority transport do happen – and are not always adequately condemned by local political leaders. Illegal occupation and use of property remain widespread,” he said.
As the province approaches a comprehensive mid-year review of the situation, the local Kosovo authorities must make a sustained effort to achieve the so-called Standards – eight goals in areas such as democratic institutions, minority rights and an impartial legal system – which are seen as a crucial step on the road to determining its final status.
“Suffice it to say that the Kosovo society we are helping to build, not the least through Standard implementation, is a place with internal peace, with space for all communities and at peace with its neighbours as a stable, tolerant, multi-ethnic democracy,” he declared.