SECURITY COUNCIL URGES COMPLETION OF PREPARATIONS FOR 13 APRIL ELECTIONS ON EASTERN SLAVONIA, BARANJA, WESTERN SIRMIUM19970307 Presidential Statement Acknowledges Date As `Realistic', Says Serbs' Best Interest Served by Participation as Equal Citizens
The Security Council this afternoon urged the Government of Croatia to redouble its efforts to ensure completion of the necessary technical preparations for the holding of elections on 13 April in the region of Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Sirmium.
In a statement read by President Zbigniew Wlosowicz (Poland), the Council acknowledged that 13 April was a realistic date for the holding of free and fair elections and stressed that they would depend on the readiness of the Croatian Government to meet all preconditions, including the issuance of documents, provision of data and timely completion of arrangements required for certification.
The Council underlined that it was in the best interests of the Serb community to collect their citizenship documents and to participate fully in the elections and Croatian political life as equal citizens. Deploring the disruptive activities by some elements of the Serb community, the Council called upon all residents of the region to follow wise leadership and stay in the region as citizens of Croatia.
The Croatian Government was strongly urged to issue, as a gesture towards reassuring the Serb community, formal public confirmation of its oral guarantees to treat all of its citizens equally regardless of their ethnicity in accordance with existing Croatian Constitution and law. The Council also called on the Government to apply its amnesty law fairly and consistently to all persons subject to its jurisdiction.
In addition, the Council stressed the long-term success of peaceful integration will be determined by the commitment of the Government to reconciliation and to ensuring that those Serbs who were currently resident in the region will enjoy equal rights. Concern was expressed that no progress had been made on the future of displaced persons and equal treatment and access to housing, reconstruction grants/loans and property compensation.
The meeting, which began at 1:29 p.m., was adjourned at 1:37 p.m.
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The full text of the statement, which will be issued as document S/PRST/1997/10, reads as follows:
"The Security Council has considered the report of the Secretary-General of 24 February 1997 (S/1997/148) on the United Nations Transitional Administration for Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Sirmium (UNTAES) and recent developments in that region. It recalls the statement by its President of 31 January 1997 (S/PRST/1997/4) and reiterates its call on the parties to cooperate fully with UNTAES and the Transitional Administrator.
"The Security Council shares the observation contained in the report of the Secretary-General that, with the full cooperation of the parties, 13 April 1997 is a realistic and achievable date for the holding of free and fair elections in the region.
"The Security Council underlines that it is in the best interests of the members of the Serb community to collect their citizenship documents, to participate fully in those elections, and to take part in Croatian political life as equal citizens on the basis of the implementation of the rights and guarantees contained in the letter of 13 January 1997 from the Government of Croatia (S/1997/27, annex). The Council deplores disruptive activities by some elements of the Serb community in the region creating an atmosphere of political agitation and uncertainty. It calls upon all residents of the region to follow wise leadership, to stay in the region, and to take up their futures as citizens of the Republic of Croatia.
"The Security Council stresses that the holding of the elections will also depend on the readiness of the Government of Croatia to meet all preconditions, including the issuance of documents, provision of data and timely completion of the technical arrangements required for certification. The Council acknowledges the encouraging progress the Government of Croatia is making in the is respect. It is, however, concerned that implementation of these procedures has been uneven. The Council urges the Government of Croatia to redouble its efforts to ensure the completion of the necessary technical preparations for the holding of elections.
"The Security Council strongly urges the Croatian Government to issue, as a gesture towards reassuring the Serb community, formal public confirmation of the oral guarantees made to UNTAES as specified by the Secretary-General in his letter of 21 January 1997 (S/1997/62) and to reaffirm its obligations as referred to in paragraphs 28 and 29 of the report of the Secretary-General. It also calls upon the Government of Croatia to apply its amnesty law fairly and consistently to all persons subject to its jurisdiction. The Council stresses that, to a large measure, the long-term success of peaceful
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reintegration will be determined by the commitment of the Government of Croatia to reconciliation and to ensuring that those Serbs who are currently resident in the region will enjoy equal rights as Croatian citizens.
"The Security Council shares the serious concern, as stated in the report of the Secretary-General, that no progress has been made concerning the future of displaced persons in the region and the establishment of equal treatment with respect to housing, access to reconstruction grants and loans and property compensation, in accordance with the Basic Agreement on the Region of Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Sirmium (S/1995/951) and Croatian law. The Council reaffirms the right of all refugees and displaced persons to return to their homes of origin throughout the Republic of Croatia and to live there in conditions of security. It welcomes the proposal elaborated by UNTAES and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) concerning the return of displaced persons and urges the Government of Croatia to pursue discussions on that proposal without delay, to cooperate closely with UNTAES and UNHCR in implementation, and to make a clear and unambiguous statement and undertake concrete actions confirming the equal rights of all displace persons regardless of their ethnicity.
"The Security Council welcomes the commitment by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Republic of Croatia to make progress in their bilateral relations, in particular with respect to the permanent demilitarization of the border region and the abolition of the visa regime which would constitute a major contribution to local confidence-building and the stabilization of the region.
"The Security Council recalls its resolution 1079 (1996) of 15 November 1996 and expresses its intention to consider recommendations, to be submitted by the Secretary-General as soon as possible after the successful holding of elections, concerning the further United Nations presence consistent with the fulfilment of the Basic Agreement.
"The Security Council requests the Secretary-General to keep it regularly informed of the situation. It will remain actively seized of the matter."
Report of the Secretary-General
When the Security Council met this afternoon it had before it a 24 February report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Transitional Administration for Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Sirmium (UNTAES) (document S/1997/148).
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The report states that, following consultations with the Government of Croatia, the Transitional Administrator has decided that elections in the region will be held on 13 April 1997, simultaneously with elections to be held throughout Croatia. With that announcement, however, UNTAES is encountering challenges in a number of critical areas. Successful, free and fair elections will depend on the wisdom and realism demonstrated by the Serb leadership and people and by will of the Croatian Government to meet all necessary technical requirements. Long-term success will be determined by the commitment of the Croatian authorities to guaranteeing equal rights to Serbs currently resident in the region, the report states.
According to the report, UNTAES has reported a growing rift between moderate Serb leaders who wish to stay in Croatia and others who are intimidating the majority of residents and obstructing the exercise of their rights. On 31 January, UNTAES and the Government of Croatia agreed on expedited procedures for voter registration and the issuance of Croatian documents. Implementation of those procedures has been very uneven and concerns have been raised by the Serbs. While the Croatian Foreign Ministry has claimed a high percentage of document issuance, UNTAES had been unable to verify that claim. Furthermore, it is clear that most males of draft age have not been able to obtain Croatian passports. It is also vital that crucial issues concerning the long-term future of displaced persons in the region be resolved, including equal treatment with respect to housing, reconstruction grants and property compensation.
The Secretary-General expresses his concern about the recent increase in the number of people leaving the region, which could constitute a threat to regional peace. The success of peaceful reintegration and the proof of Croatian good intent will depend largely on the confidence-building measures taken by the Government of Croatia. Croatia, however, had not yet confirmed the oral agreements made to UNTAES in relation to international monitoring of the implementation of their commitments. A formal public confirmation by the Government of Croatia of its commitments would go a long way towards reassuring those Serbs who are currently inclined to leave the region.
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