SECURITY COUNCIL STILL DEEPLY CONCERNED AT CONTINUING DEPARTURES OF SERB RESIDENTS FROM DANUBE REGION OF CROATIA

6 November 1998
SC/6593

SECURITY COUNCIL STILL DEEPLY CONCERNED AT CONTINUING DEPARTURES OF SERB RESIDENTS FROM DANUBE REGION OF CROATIA

6 November 1998

Press ReleaseSC/6593

SECURITY COUNCIL STILL DEEPLY CONCERNED AT CONTINUING DEPARTURES OF SERB RESIDENTS FROM DANUBE REGION OF CROATIA

19981106 Presidential Statement on 'Perceived Lack of Security', Notes Some Progress in Implementation of Return Programme

The Security Council this afternoon said it remained deeply concerned at the continuing departures of Serb residents from the Danube region of Croatia. The departures resulted, to a considerable extent, from ethnically motivated incidents.

In a statement read out by its President, Peter Burleigh (United States), the Council called on Croatia to address the perceived lack of security, which is contributing to the Serb departures, and to remedy a number of problems which are preventing the full implementation of the "Programme for the Return and Accommodation of Displaced Persons, Refugees and Exiled Persons".

While noting that the Secretary-General had recognized progress in implementing the programme, the Council called on Croatia to promptly and fully address all unresolved issues, including restitution of property to Croatian citizens of Serb ethnicity, and harmonization of legislation with the programme's provisions.

The Council also called on the Croatian Government to make every effort to enhance public confidence in the police force and to recommit itself to the process of reconciliation between ethnic groups.

The Council expressed particular concern about the Joint Council on Municipalities, which represents all Serb ethnic communities in the region and which the Secretary-General describes as "being on the brink of collapse". It stressed the importance of full implementation of the Programme for the Establishment of Trust, Accelerated Return and Normalization of Living Conditions in the War-Affected Regions of the Republic of Croatia.

The Council also expressed full support for the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), whose police monitors took over from the United Nations Police Support Group. The Council said it looked forward to

being kept informed, whenever necessary, of relevant developments in the region.

The mandate of the Police Support Group ended on 15 October.

The meeting which began at 5:55 p.m., adjourned at 6 p.m.

Presidential Statement

The Presidential statement, which will be issued as document S/PRST/1998/32, reads as follows:

"The Security Council welcomes the final report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations police support group (S/1998/1004), and in particular, his description of the successful conclusion of the police support group mandate and the smooth transition of responsibilities to the police monitoring programme of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The Council recalls the commitment of the Government of Croatia to ensure that OSCE police monitors will have the same access to police stations, documents and police operations, including investigations and checkpoints, as that accorded to the United Nations police support group.

"While the overall security situation in the Danube region remains satisfactory and police performance has improved notably and the Government of Croatia has taken steps to ensure that this continues, a worrying trend of ethnically motivated incidents persists in the region. The Security Council remains deeply concerned at the continuing departures of Serb residents, resulting to a considerable extent from these incidents. In this context, the Council is mindful of the importance of economic revitalization and reconstruction in creating an environment for sustained returns. The Council calls upon the Government of Croatia to make every effort to enhance public confidence in the police force and to recommit itself fully to the process of reconciliation between ethnic groups.

"The Security Council also calls upon the Government of Croatia to address the perceived lack of security which is contributing to continuing departures of Serbs from the region, and to remedy a number of problems which are preventing the full implementation of the "Programme for the Return and Accommodation of Displaced Persons, Refugees and Exiled Persons" (S/1998/589). While noting that in his previous report (S/1998/887), the Secretary-General recognized progress in the implementation of this Programme, the Council calls upon the Government of Croatia promptly and fully to address all unresolved issues, which include restitution of property to Croatian citizens of Serb ethnicity, harmonization of legislation with the provisions of the return programme to enable non-discriminatory implementation, effective functioning of all housing commissions, equal access to reconstruction funding,

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restoration of rights to socially owned apartments, access to information, removal of impediments to the acquisition of documents needed for returnee status and benefits, and implementation of the law on convalidation.

"The Security Council expresses particular concern about the Joint Council of Municipalities, which represents all Serb ethnic communities in the region and which is described by the Secretary-General as being on the brink of collapse. The Council reiterates the continuing obligations of the Government of Croatia under the Basic Agreement as well as under international conventions and other agreements and, in this context, stresses the importance of full implementation of the Programme for the Establishment of Trust, Accelerated Return and Normalization of Living Conditions in the War-Affected Regions of the Republic of Croatia (S/1997/772).

"The Security Council expresses its full support for the OSCE, which has now assumed the role of the United Nations support group, and looks forward to being kept informed, whenever necessary, of relevant developments in the Danube region of Croatia.

"The Security Council expresses its deep appreciation to all the men and women who participated in the United Nations peacekeeping operations in the Danube region of Croatia. Their dedication and perseverance made a significant contribution to regional peace."

Secretary-General's report

When the Council met this afternoon it had before it the Secretary- General's report on the United Nations Police Support Group (document S/1998/1004). It assesses the situation in the Danube region of Croatia since his last report, of 23 September 1998 (S/1998/887), which details arrangements for terminating the Support Group's mandate.

The mandate of the Police Support Group, established by Council resolution 1145 (1997), ended on 15 October and its responsibilities were taken over by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The transition was seamless, the report says, and 118 OSCE police monitors (60 served with the United Nations) have been deployed in local police stations previously staffed by the Police Support Group. Croatia has confirmed that OSCE monitors will enjoy the same access to police stations, documents and operations, including investigations and checkpoints, as the Police Support Group.

According to the report, the overall security situation in the region is satisfactory, although there is a worrying trend of ethnically motivated incidents. Police performance has improved notably since the mandate began and the Government has taken steps to ensure that this continues, including full respect for the commitments regarding local police and maintenance of

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proportional Serb representation, including at senior police positions. There could be a higher level of training for police and greater support for the judicial system to overcome the substantial case backlog and improve transparency. Community confidence should be increased through a public information campaign, preventive police action and a community policing programme. Otherwise, improved performance will go unnoticed. The perceived lack of security is one of the main reasons Serbs are leaving the region.

Returns to Croatia have continued, albeit slowly, the report says, under the "Programme for the Return and Accommodation of Displaced Persons, Refugees and Exiled Persons" (S/1998/589). While the programme has most of the elements to facilitate nationwide returns, it has not been fully implemented. So far, most returnees from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia have been elderly people reuniting with family members or returning to inhabitable houses. There has been no progress in the restitution of property to Croatian citizens of Serb ethnicity. The number of Croat displaced persons returning is below all expectations, despite a surplus of reconstructed housing, mainly because of the lack of employment.

The report says the Government should harmonize legislation with the return programme, particularly in the Act on the Status of Displaced Persons and Refugees and the Law on Reconstruction, to enable non-discriminatory implementation. All housing commissions should function effectively; access to reconstruction funding should be equally available to all; and rights to socially owned apartments should be restored, otherwise few will return to their former urban homes. Returnees should have access to housing information so they can make an informed choice and impediments to the acquisition of the documents for returnee status and benefits should be removed. Doubts about security should also be alleviated by more effective policing and additional police stations. Without those steps, the return programme may falter in the coming months.

Economic revitalization and reconstruction are important for sustainable and durable returns. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is supporting Government efforts to develop and implement a national reconstruction plan. Full and non-discriminatory implementation of a plan will underpin the return programme and encourage donor support.

The Joint Council of Municipalities, established under the basic agreement on the region of Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Sirmium is on the brink of collapse; the report says the failure is undermining local confidence in Government commitments. The Government has not issued instructions to implement fully the provisions of the law on convalidation and that is having a significant negative effect, as employees eligible for pensions and other social security benefits cannot obtain them.

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The reconciliation plan initiated by the Government on 9 October 1997 is not being implemented, the report says. ("The Programme for the Establishment of Trust, Accelerated Return and Normalization of Living Conditions in the War-Affected Regions of the Republic of Croatia" -- document S/1997/772). Without reconciliation, progress in returns may be only temporary, while the causes of ethnic incidents remain unaddressed throughout the country. That will undermine the prospects for maintaining multi-ethnicity. The Secretary- General urges the Government to recommit itself fully to the national reconciliation process.

The Secretary-General says the use of civilian police personnel in consolidating peace after the withdrawal of a much larger operation has been positive. In fulfilling its mandate, the Police Support Group helped to prevent the return of instability to the region. It proved to be a cost-effective way to help maintain conditions conducive to an orderly hand-over to OSCE, pending the ultimate transfer of full responsibilities to the national authorities.

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For information media. Not an official record.