|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
5673rd Meeting (AM)
ACHIEVING RECONCILIATION, MULTI-ETHNIC SOCIETY IN KOSOVO WILL REQUIRE
SUSTAINED COMMITMENT BY ALL PARTIES, SECURITY COUNCIL TOLD
Head of Recent Council Mission to Province Presents Report;
Says Status Quo Not Sustainable, but Sides Far Apart on Ahtisaari Proposal
Full and lasting reconciliation with a view to establishing a truly multi-ethnic society in Kosovo would require a sustainable commitment by all stakeholders, Johan C. Verbeke ( Belgium), head of a recent Security Council mission to the Serbian province, said this morning.
He told Council members that, during the mission’s meetings with Kosovo’s leaders, including Prime Minister Agim Çeku and President Fatmir Sejdiu, they had all emphasized their commitment and readiness to work responsibly towards the establishment of a multi-ethnic society, a goal that would depend largely on continued implementation of the standards for Kosovo. Over the years, the Provisional Institutions, with the support of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), had managed to make serious progress in that regard.
However, more remained to be done, he said, particularly in improving living conditions for Kosovo’s non-Albanian communities, and ensuring the return of internally displaced persons -- a critical element in the implementation of Security Council resolution 1244 (1999). The mission’s interlocutors in Belgrade, including President Boris Tadić and Prime Minister Vojislav Koštunica, as well as representatives of Serbian civil society, had stressed that the number of returns remained very low, despite the rebuilding of houses and, more generally, the establishment of structures to facilitate return.
Regarding the Ahtisaari proposal for Kosovo’s future status, the Serb community was apprehensive about its prospects, while the Albanian community was confident about the future. Other non-Serb minority communities had expressed strong support for the status recommendation, and looked to the Council to move rapidly to a solution. But, despite the strongly opposed positions, it was agreed that the current status quo was not sustainable, a message that had also been expressed by representatives of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union.
Council President Zalmay Khalilzad ( United States), speaking in his national capacity, echoed that sentiment, stressing that there was no potential for the passage of time to change the polarization in Kosovo in the foreseeable future. Kosovo was functioning as a virtually autonomous State, and delaying the implementation of final status held no potential for stabilizing the situation. UNMIK and the Kosovo multinational security force (KFOR) could not remain in place indefinitely, as they were not occupiers.
He reiterated that a policy of delay was no policy at all, stressing that the Ahtisaari recommendation was a compromise that took into account all the relevant issues. Kosovo had been part of a country that no longer existed and the set of circumstances that had led to the present situation was unique. The present path forward was not perfect or easy, but it was the best option for ending the final chapter of the former Yugoslavia.
The representative of the Russian Federation emphasized, however, that, while the mission had seen some progress, including in terms of legislation, the efforts of the international presence had not led to satisfactory results. The necessary structures seemed to have been set up, but people were not returning to the province. The mission had seen still empty houses for internally displaced persons, demonstrating the continuing serious obstacles to the return process, which also included the concerns of Kosovo Serbs for their freedom and prospects for economic improvement. The mission had also seen the miserable isolation in which the majority of Kosovo Serbs continued to live.
The actual concrete measures being taken to reassure non-Albanians had been insufficient, as reflected by a lack of Kosovo Serb representation in the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government, he said. While the international presence was prepared to provide reliable protection for religious sites, it was regrettable that no progress had been made in rebuilding the churches destroyed in 2004. Forcing any decision on Kosovo’s status would be counterproductive.
He said the status talks had been too hasty and the Ahtisaari plan would not only provide a negative precedent for global practices, but also have dangerous consequences for regional stability, encouraging separatism throughout the world. Those elements of the plan that enjoyed the support of both parties should be implemented without awaiting the end of the negotiation process and a solution to the status issue must be based on compromise.
Other speakers today were the representatives of Peru, France, Qatar, Indonesia, Ghana, China, Panama, Italy, Slovakia and the United Kingdom.
The meeting began at 10:05 a.m. and ended at 11:25 a.m.
The Security Council met this morning to hear a briefing by the head of the Council’s mission on the Kosovo issue.
JOHAN C. VERBEKE (Belgium), providing a brief overview of some of the conclusions of the report on the Council’s mission, said security was an essential pillar of any society, even more so for societies emerging from a violent and brutal conflict such as Kosovo. The current security situation in Kosovo was often defined as “calm but tense”. The mission’s report subscribed to that assessment. While the situation was calm, the 1998-1999 conflict and the violence that had shaken Kosovo in March 2004 had left their traces. One of those traces was that Kosovo-Albanians and Kosovo-Serbs still lived, to a large extent, separately from each other. Full and lasting reconciliation, with a view to the establishment of a truly multi-ethnic society, would require a sustainable commitment by all stakeholders. During the mission’s meetings with Kosovo’s leaders, including Prime Minister Agim Çeku and President Fatmir Sejdiu, those leaders all emphasized their commitment to a multi-ethnic society, and their readiness to work responsibly towards that goal.
Achieving that goal, he continued, would to a large extent depend on a continued implementation of the standards for Kosovo. Over the years, the Provisional Institutions, with the support of United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), had managed to make serious progress in that regard. More was to be done, as had been recognized by Prime Minister Çeku and other Kosovo leaders, who, in meetings with the mission, had expressed their commitment to continue and strengthen standards implementation. That was particularly important in two fields that had received considerable attention during the mission’s visit to the region, namely the living conditions of Kosovo’s non-Albanian communities and the returns of internally displaced persons -- a critical element in the implementation of resolution 1244 (1999). Interlocutors in Belgrade, including President Boris Tadić and Prime Minister Vojislav Koštunica, as well as representatives of Serbian civil society, had stressed that the number of returns continued to be very low, despite the fact that houses had been rebuilt and, more generally, that structures to facilitate returns were in place. The Mission had heard opposing views on the question about whether a solution to the status of Kosovo would facilitate or hinder the returns process.
The status issue had been an important, if not dominant, element, he added. On Kosovo’s statement, the positions of the sides remained far apart. Authorities in Belgrade, as well as Kosovo-Serbs who had expressed themselves on the issue, firmly rejected any form of independence for Kosovo, in particular the settlement proposal presented to the Council by Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari. They had asked for further negotiations, which should lead to a solution based on substantial autonomy. In general, the Kosovo Serb community was apprehensive about its prospects for the future. The Kosovo-Albanian community, on the other hand, was confident about the future. It had very high expectations for an early resolution of Kosovo’s status, a status that brought independence to Kosovo. Kosovo-Albanians, as well as non-Serb minority communities, had expressed strong support for Mr. Ahtisaari’s settlement proposal and status recommendation, and looked to the Council to move rapidly to a solution.
Despite the strongly opposed positions, both parties agreed that the current status quo was not sustainable, he said. That message had also been brought by representatives of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union, who were prepared to take their responsibilities and looked to the Council to provide the necessary mandate. The first-hand information that the Council had received during the mission would enable it to live up to its responsibilities and take an informed decision on the issue now before it.
VITALY I. CHURKIN ( Russian Federation) said the initiative had been both timely and necessary. The idea of the mission was to give the Council full information on the current situation in the settlement process, in order to resolve the issue. It was difficult to overestimate the importance of the Council members having their own objective view on the implementation of resolution 1244, including implementation of the standards in terms of ensuring equal rights for ethnic minorities. The mission’s programme had been wide-ranging. The key event had been the substantive talks between the members of the Council and political leaders, politicians and delegates of Kosovo minorities. Also important was contact with representatives of NATO and the European Union in Brussels. What the Council had heard and seen was reflected in the report, which provided a balanced picture of the current situation in Kosovo.
Continuing, he said, while some progress had been seen, including in terms of legislation, the living conditions for members of all communities could in no way be called satisfactory. The efforts of the international presence had not resulted in the necessary results. While structures seemed to have been set up, people were not returning to the province. The mission had seen still empty houses for internally displaced persons, demonstrating the continued serious obstacles in the process of return, including the concerns of Kosovo Serbs for their freedom and economic improvement. The mission had seen the miserable situation of isolation that the majority of Kosovo Serbs continued to live. In meeting with representatives of the Serbian communities, members had seen that there was no overcoming the situation that had existed in March 2004, where large-scale anti-Serbian violence had taken place, undermining their confidence in the future. The wounds of the 1999 conflict were still open.
Further efforts and time was required to resolve the situation, he said. The mission had heard promises from the Pristina authorities to implement the standards. It was, however, necessary to consider the actual concrete measures being taken to reassure non-Albanians. The measures so far had been insufficient, as reflected by a lack of Kosovo Serbs in the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government. Measures were needed to ensure that no obstacle existed regarding the return of refugees. The Council had received confirmation from the international presence and the Provisional Authorities that violence would not be allowed. He had also noted the readiness of the international presence to provide reliable protection of religious sites. He regretted, however, that no progress had been made in rebuilding the churches destroyed in 2004. Forcing any decision on Kosovo’s status would be counter-productive.
Against such a prospect, he said the status decision must enjoy the support of all main ethnic communities, including Kosovo Serbs. The future decision should be acceptable to the province’s entire population. Implementation of the standards should continue. The status talks had been too hasty. Implementation of the standards was far from achieving the objectives, confirming the need to provide both parties with the necessary time for a negotiated settlement.
The Special Representative’s plan did not provide a platform for a final solution on Kosovo, he said. The plan would not only provide a negative precedent for global practices and would also have dangerous consequences for regional stability. Separatism would be encouraged throughout the world. Those elements in the plan that enjoyed the support of both parties should be implemented without awaiting the end of the negotiation process. Solving the status issue must be based on compromise between both parties. As noted by the mission in Belgrade, the Serbian party was open to continuing a dialogue with Pristina. He hoped that the Kosovo-Albanian side would also find the means to make compromises and continue in the process.
JORGE VOTO-BERNALES ( Peru), noting that the wounds of the Kosovo conflict were still highly visible, said reconciliation and integration within a multi-ethnic society would take more time and continuing international follow-up. That situation was the result of events preceding the conflict that had their roots in the former Yugoslavia, as a whole, and in Serbia specifically. There was, therefore, a need for a broad political perspective, and the broad political autonomy that Kosovo had previously enjoyed, which had later been torn away, must be considered.
The convergence of those elements led to the conclusion that returning the province to Serbian sovereignty was not realistic, he said. The Ahtisaari proposal contained the necessary elements for establishing a model for the political organization of an independent Kosovo. The commitment of the European Union was a central element in providing a guarantee of stability. While always having favoured solutions that originated within countries in which the conflict had occurred, Peru would support a draft resolution on Kosovo’s future status.
JEAN-MARC DE LA SABLIÈRE ( France) said it was regrettable that the positions of the two parties were irreconcilable, a fact that had been quite clear during the mission. That unavoidable fact would, unfortunately, not change with time. However, there had been progress since 1999 in terms of security, the establishment of institutions and the protection of minorities. That progress must be pursued. The Council must aim to establish a multi-ethnic community, a task that required a long-term commitment by the Kosovo authorities and the international community.
The establishment of a multi-ethnic society also required efforts to ensure the return of refugees and internally displaced persons, he said. The only way to achieve that was to move on from the transition period that had prevailed since 1999 and provide a new status for the province. Maintaining the status quo would be a destabilizing factor. The transition was now entering its final phase and it was up to the Council to assume its responsibility to ensure the success of a process that it had itself launched.
NASSIR ABDULAZIZ AL-NASSER ( Qatar) said there was no doubt that the question of Kosovo was one of the Council’s most important this year. The Council had been seized with the issue for over eight years and the Council mission had achieved many positive results. In that regard, the Council needed to look seriously at Kosovo’s future status, in light of recent developments. As such, the mission had been extremely important and timely in obtaining first-hand information on the situation.
Continuing, he said the mission had concluded something that was already known, namely the existence of a gap between the positions of both sides. It was useful, however, to begin with the positions that both parties had expressed when a permanent settlement of the situation had been entertained. A successful conclusion of the question should consider, among other things, the genesis of the crisis and the current circumstances in Kosovo. The Council would need to look clearly at the situation and work to assure that the goal would remain stability in Kosovo.
HASAN KLEIB ( Indonesia) said the mission’s meetings with political, religious and community leaders, in addition to field visits, had enhanced and refined its understanding of the various dimensions of the Kosovo issue. It was a sensitive and delicate matter and there might be difficulty in finding a solution to satisfy both sides. While Indonesia was geographically far from Kosovo, it was close, because the situation in Kosovo was one of human tragedy, with far-flung consequences beyond the province’s natural borders. For that reason, the Government of Indonesia was following the issue with great concern.
During its visit, the mission had vividly sensed the deep animosity among the communities, which hindered cooperation and dialogue, he said. While the fleeing of hundreds of thousands of refugees and internally displaced persons had yet to be resolved, the most important need was the creation of a suitable environment for reconciliation. The region could only come to terms with its past and build an enduring peace if all its communities were ready to work out their differences. The Security Council had a moral obligation to heal the wounds of those communities, so they could plan for the future. Reconciliation had never been easy or smooth; there was no quick fix or shortcut, but only a long and difficult route, which was, nevertheless, worth taking. Without reconciliation, those societies would forever live in a world filled with hatred and bigotry, no matter the change of status. A return of violence would recur, no matter how the Council tried to prevent it. It would only be a matter of when and where, not why.
LESLIE KOJO CHRISTIAN ( Ghana) said the mission brought home the issues involved in determining Kosovo’s future, including the implementation of the standards and the return of internally displaced persons. The visit to Kosovo had informed members further of what the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo had been able to achieve. In terms of the security environment, the effectiveness of the international force -- KFOR -- was evident. Kosovo’s leadership had asserted their support for the settlement proposal and was enthusiastic about independence. Kosovo Serb representatives, on the other hand, found it unacceptable, as the mechanism envisaged in the proposal for protection was insufficient. It was obvious that the number of Kosovo Serb returnees remained a critical element in the implementation of resolution 1244. Only a safe and secure Kosovo would facilitate the return process. He recognized the need to resolve the issue as soon as practicable and hoped the Council would work towards the realization of that objective.
LIU ZHENMIN ( China) said that, through the mission, the Council had obtained direct experience of the achievements, difficulties and expectations of the people of Kosovo in their efforts towards reconciliation, integration and reconstruction. There was still room for continued improvement as far as the implementation of resolution 1244 and the agreed standards were concerned. Comprehensive implementation had a bearing on the well-being of all communities in Kosovo and should not be compromised for political reasons. China was deeply concerned about the continued segregation of the Kosovo-Albanian and Kosovo-Serb communities and hoped the authorities would take all possible measures to create a favourable basis for a peaceful settlement.
He said Kosovo’s future status had drawn increasing attention from different sides and it had been one of the mission’s focal tasks to listen to the different sides and get to know their concerns. As stated in the report, the positions of the sides remained far apart and the best option was to encourage both to continue their efforts at reconciliation, gradually narrowing their differences. The Kosovo question was quite convoluted and had extensive implications for other issues. The status quo was not the way out and could not be sustained. How to handle the issue properly would be a major challenge for the Council, which must reflect on how to promote reconciliation and maintain lasting peace and security in the Balkans, while ensuring respect for international law. China was ready to work constructively with other Council members to find a compromise solution.
RICARDO ALBERTO ARIAS ( Panama) said the mission had provided a much clearer vision of the realities in the region. The Council’s decisions affected the fate not only of territories, but also of human beings. Its decision regarding Kosovo was particularly significant. In voicing his opinion on the topic, he was doing so with the respect and deep reflection that the topic deserved. Everyone was familiar with the political process in the last five years, which had been called catastrophic at times. Everyone was also familiar with the efforts of NATO and the European Union to create institutions of government. The Council found itself today at a complex and difficult crossroads. All had agreed that the status quo was not sustainable. Some thought that the Council needed to take immediate action and adopt a position supporting Mr. Ahtisaari’s plan. Others felt, however, that the negotiations had not run their course and that further discussion and a more expansive process would be required. An agreement between the parties would be preferable to any other solution.
Faced with that reality, he asked the Council to consider adopting Mr. Ahtisaari’s plan, without having the provisions of the plan enter into force immediately. A six-month waiting period could be used to resume negotiations, so that Serbia and Kosovo could reach a far better agreement than the one currently in hand. Ending the problem by reaching agreement between the parties was better than imposing a solution from the outside. Division on the issue would be regrettable. In that regard, he called on the Council to rethink the process, weigh the alternatives and examine all the reasonable alternatives, so that the Serbs and the Kosovars could come to an agreement on their fate that was not imposed from above.
MARCELLO SPATAFORA ( Italy) said that, after eight years of UNMIK administration, the situation in Kosovo remained complex. The challenge was to achieve progress without slowing down the status process, which must be brought to a conclusion. Security overall in Kosovo remained calm, but tense, and it was, therefore, necessary to establish momentum leading to final status.
The European Union would be involved in managing particularly complex sectors in Kosovo, such as the police and judiciary, he said. The regional organization was committed to establishing in the province what would perhaps be one of the largest operations it had ever undertaken, because the security situation in the Balkans directly affected security in the wider region, particularly Italy, considering its close ties to the Balkan countries. The Council must endeavour to finalize its work in New York, while the parties in Kosovo continued working towards a mutually satisfactory result. The problem must be approached with maximum goodwill with the aim of brokering success.
PETER BURIAN ( Slovakia) said the report paved the way for further informed discussion on the issue. The mission had strengthened his belief that the Kosovo issue required the Council’s urgent attention. It was time that the Council assumed its responsibility by taking an appropriate decision on Kosovo’s status. As already noted, the common objective was the preservation and strengthening of Kosovo’s multi-ethnic nature. That would, in practice, be measured by the number of returns of Serbian refugees and internally displaced persons. Further improvements were crucially needed on the ground, facilitated by the international presence in Kosovo for a further period. Slovakia supported the main European Union approach towards status determination, which should be embodied in the wider prospects of the region’s future.
KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom), noting that Kosovo was wholly surrounded by the European Union, said the question was not only a question of the province, but also of Serbia and, by extension, the region as a whole. It was sad to hear so little about Serbia’s future. As far as the European Union, that future was very much on offer. While she believed that the report was balanced, she did not think there was an equivalence between the events of 2004 and 1999. She acknowledged, however, that wrongs had been there in 2004 and that wounds would take time to heal. She was also concerned about the slow rate of returns. Kosovo could not force people back to their homes, and that, in itself, was not a determination of the rate of progress on the status process or the outcome itself. If all Kosovo Serbs were to return, they would still be a minority in Kosovo. It was necessary to look at ways to accelerate that rate of return. Overall, she shared the assessment that obstacles to further development were status related. The status process had not come out of the blue. The international community had been working hard on the Kosovo issue. The Council had long backed a role for the international contact group, which had been working since 2003 with the United Nations, the European Union and NATO.
She said Mr. Ahtisaari had discharged his mandate to lead the status process and produce an outcome. She agreed that the status quo was not a way out. Each of the parties would need to take decisions. The Council’s role was to take up its responsibilities and back the only viable vision for Kosovo, and the United Kingdom supported Mr. Ahtisaari’s conclusion that independence for Kosovo was the best outcome. It was also the best outcome for advancing regional stability and accelerating the Balkans into Euro-Atlantic structures. It was well known that Mr. Ahtisaari’s provision was the most far-reaching for minority protection yet seen in Europe. As part of that, Serbia and Kosovo would form some sort of joint council to address minority issues. That was far-reaching in the Kosovo context.
In her view, the package represented a compromise between the two sides, and she commended it to the Council. Further, she did not believe that other ways, such as supervised autonomy, could be made to work, in practice. Noting that the 2006 deadline had not been met, she said she did not believe there was anything to be gained by delay.
Council President ZALMAY KHALILZAD (United States), speaking in his national capacity, noting that the mission had stopped in Brussels, Belgrade, Kosovo and Vienna, said that, on the first stop, he had heard that a resolution of the Kosovo situation was important for the European Union, as the status quo was unsustainable, constituting a threat to the security and stability of the Balkans and the wider region. The United States was grateful for Europe’s readiness to play a leading role in resolving the question of Kosovo’s future status.
He said that, in Belgrade, he had heard a rejection of the Ahtisaari proposal, but the Serbian proposal had not taken into account the history of polarization and ethnic cleansing that had taken place during the Milosevic era. In Pristina, there had been lingering signs of the conflict, but also of progress and Kosovo was functioning as a virtually autonomous State. There was no potential for the passage of time to change the polarization in the foreseeable future; delaying the implementation of the final status proposal, therefore, held no potential for stabilizing the situation. UNMIK and KFOR could not remain in place indefinitely, as they were not occupiers.
Stressing that a policy of delay was no policy at all, he said much remained to be done. Mr. Ahtisaari had considered all the relevant issues and proposed a compromise solution to the situation in Kosovo, one that the United States supported. While the province had been part of a country that no longer existed, the set of circumstances that had led to the present situation existed nowhere else in the world. The present path forward was not perfect, or easy, but it was the best option for ending the final chapter of the former Yugoslavia.
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