Top UN Envoy Says Serbia, Kosovo Talks at ‘Critical Stage’; Urges Strong Security Council Support, So ‘Historic’ New Chapter Not Derailed by Ongoing Tensions

22 March 2013
SC/10954

Top UN Envoy Says Serbia, Kosovo Talks at ‘Critical Stage’; Urges Strong Security Council Support, So ‘Historic’ New Chapter Not Derailed by Ongoing Tensions

22 March 2013
Security Council
SC/10954
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Security Council

6939th Meeting (AM)

Top UN Envoy Says Serbia, Kosovo Talks at ‘Critical Stage’; Urges Strong Security

 

Council Support, So ‘Historic’ New Chapter Not Derailed by ongoing Tensions 

Head of United Nations Interim Administration Mission Farid Zarif Briefs;

Ivica Dačić, Serbia’s Prime Minister, Hashim Thaci, Kosovo, Also Speak in Debate

With high-level political negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo entering a “critical stage”, the top United Nations official in the region urged the Security Council to throw its weight behind the European Union-brokered talks and help the two sides overcome the inevitable “short term political challenges, anxieties and setbacks” that could yet derail the historic opportunity that was before them.

Warning Council members that there was “far too much at risk”, Farid Zarif, Head of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), said:  “I ask you to pursue opportunities and to make use of your authority and influence with the political leaders on all sides to send clear, unified signals regarding your high expectations [and your] readiness to support and reward constructive actions.”  That call came at the end of a detailed briefing, which included an update on the negotiations, and on the “significant challenges” posed by a recent spate of violence, frequent inflammatory rhetoric and political posturing.

He reported that since October 2012, Prime Minister Ivica Dačić of Serbia and Hashim Thaci of Kosovo — both of whom attended today’s meeting — had met for seven rounds of dialogue in Brussels.  Further, as part of that same process, Serbian President Tomislav Nikolić and Atifete Jahjaga of Kosovo had met early last month, “signifying the full political engagement of both sides”.  Together, those meetings had marked an essential — “indeed, historic” — new chapter in the collective effort to overcome the legacy of past conflict.

The leaders involved in the talks, the most recent round of which had wrapped up just two days ago, had demonstrated political courage and foresight, and they deserved “strong recognition for having embarked upon such a difficult, yet indispensible, process”.  With discussions now shifting to addressing the matter of Serbian institutions operating within Kosovo, as well as arrangement of difficult issues specific to the situation in northern Kosovo, he expressed the hope that the parties would remain steadfast in their determination to reach acceptable compromises on sensitive topics.

Yet, along with such solid political progress, significant challenges on the ground remained, he continued, citing adverse security incidents and other actions that had inflamed ethnic tensions, especially in mixed communities of the north.  “[This] has not only placed unhelpful strains on the atmosphere for the political process, but in some cases, has also threatened efforts to ensure translation of agreements into practice,” he said.  UNMIK had joined others in urging the leadership on both sides to not simply remain committed to dialogue, but to also work more actively to temper the reactions of their respective constituencies.

Further, he stressed that for the vital political engagement to achieve its maximum potential, it needed to be accompanied by “strenuous, constant and coherent work on the ground, both by the mandated international presences and by local leaders”.  UNMIK, for its part, was continuing to implement a broad-based strategic review of all its activities and enhancing functional coordination with its international partners.  “Our goal is to help ensure that the political process is reflected in — as much as reflective of — the realities we face daily in Kosovo,” he said.

Spotlighting some key ongoing issues, he noted episodes of increased tension in northern Kosovo, some of which had been motivated, at least in part, by local confusion and misunderstandings about the substance of the political talks in Brussels.  Unfortunately, that uncertainty was at time aggravated by the “very ill-considered” statements of some local leaders.  “We and our partners continue to urge Belgrade and Pristina to significantly enhance their communication with the population living in the north,” he said, while at the same time they had also been urging local political leaders to act more responsibly and to renounce the chronic practice of inflammatory rhetoric and short term “point scoring.” 

He went on to say that in northern Mitrovica, there had been a very troubling and extended series of incidents involving the use of explosive devices, mostly apparently targeting property.  Sadly, on 4 February, one such incident in the mixed Mitrovica Three Towers neighbourhood had resulted in slight injuries by shrapnel to two children who had been playing in their home.  Related to that, he said that the continuing lack of consensus concerning municipal authority in northern Mitrovica had also caused volatility in the mixed communities.

“Too many of the serious crimes in northern Mitrovica, as well as those affecting communities in the rest of Kosovo, continue to go unresolved and remain a matter of very sober concern,” he said, underscoring the added “stumbling block” posed by the performance of Kosovo’s judiciary, apart from political disputes.  Unsolved cases inevitably became subject of political manipulation and led to the build up of public frustration, he added.

Mr. Zarif said that ongoing incidents and tensions on the ground underscored the need for “energy and effort” to be redirected by all of the international presences, alongside the negotiations.  “Simply, it is imperative that the inevitable problems and setbacks, however difficult they may be for those affected, are not permitted to undermine the atmosphere and the potential progress in the vital political talks,” he declared.  Effective, efficient and coherent work by all international presences was needed to promote and sustain the conditions in which political talks might achieve their true potential, he said.

Speaking next, Prime Minister Dačić said that to achieve lasting peace in the region, a comprehensive solution for the question of Kosovo and Metohija must be found.  Indeed, reconciliation between Serbs and Albanians called for compromise on both sides.  Meetings in Brussels had demonstrated Serbia’s readiness to achieve such goals.  Serbia was firmly committed to building peace, security and stability in the region in its quest for a platform for a common European future.  Yet, after years of conflict in the Balkans, the region had yet to enter a new era of cooperation, confidence-building and dialogue.

While Serbia was committed to a reconciliation process, for relations between Belgrade and Pristina to develop, strong political will was of the utmost importance, as was the political courage of all participants to compromise.  While committed to the success of dialogue, he said Serbia’s policy was based on seeking compromise and defence of national interests, with equal respect for the rights of Serbs and Albanians living in Kosovo and Metohija.  Serbia was prepared for compromise, he said, not “humiliation”, and would therefore never recognize the unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo authorities. 

Serbia opposed unilateral steps, including the decision by the Assembly of Kosovo to request an international country code for Kosovo, through Albania, despite the fact that negotiations on telecommunications were pending.  “Dialogue is the only way to find sustainable solutions for problems that the people of Kosovo and Metohija face,” he said, noting Serbia’s resolve to implement agreements and its openness to talks on all issues.  Several important issues were discussed at meetings in Brussels, he said, including on the Agreement on Integrated Border Management and the status of liaison officers.

“The situation on the ground has not been substantially improved,” he said, noting limits on the freedom of movement, a lack of security, attempts to prevent use of the Serbian language and difficult access to institutions.  The number of ethnically motivated, low-intensity crimes, such as threats and thefts, had increased, as had the number of arrests of Serbians without explanation of the legal basis.  Such events created distrust and were gross human rights violations.  Serbian officials were not allowed to enter Kosovo and Metohija, and in January, even Serbia’s President was banned from visiting those areas. 

Taking the floor immediately following that statement, Mr. Thaci, of Kosovo, said that the seven rounds of ongoing political talks had yielded “significant” results and that the process was in the final stage.  Unfortunately, in the past three months, the Serbian side had presented a platform requiring territorial integrity for Kosovo Serbs and the creation of a separate entity in Kosovo, as well as creation of a community association in Kosovo Serb municipalities that would have legislative and executive powers and be elected through direct elections. 

Such proposals, which aimed to create a new Serb republic in Kosovo, would destabilize the latter, make it non-functional, complicate the internal political consensus process, thwart European integration and undermine centralization.  He said that in the current dialogue with Serbia, Kosovo had proven to be more consistent, responsible and decisive in implementing joint agreements reached thus far, and it had shown a willingness to increase economic investments in that part of Kosovo.  But, the Serb side had not responded in kind.  The agreement on free movement was hampered by barriers in the north.  The return of cadastral and civil registry documents was being unjustifiably delayed. 

Several others issues remained unresolved, including the fate of some 1,700 missing persons, and energy and telecommunications concerns, among others.  He expected Serbia to be determined and dedicated to fully implement those agreements and dismantle its structures in Kosovo.  He said that Kosovo continued to prove it had embraced European values and reforms.  More than 90 per cent of the Kosovo public supported the path to integration with the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).  The European Commission had confirmed that Kosovo had made significant progress on the road to European Union membership. 

In that context, he welcomed the European Parliament’s 11 February 2013 draft on Kosovo.  That text encouraged the five remaining European Union countries that had yet to recognize Kosovo’s independence to do so now, affirmed the spirit of the Ahtisaari agreement and stressed that the plan was adequate for resolving disputes in the north.  Kosovo had fulfilled the Ahtisaari Plan, which led to the end of international supervision last September.  “We rightfully expect that in the near future the Security Council will prepare and adopt a new resolution that would make Kosovo an equal member of the United Nations as a peace-loving member State, able to keep order and maintain international responsibilities,” he said.

When Council members weighed in, they expressed strong support for the dialogue being facilitated by High Representative Catherine Ashton.  “You are on the brink of an historic agreement,” declared the representative of the United Kingdom, encouraging both sides to make progress towards European Union membership.  Indeed, it was crucial that an agreement be reached on 2 April, at the next round of talks.  Serbia must do everything possible to ensure any agreements were accepted by all communities, while Kosovo must show it was working in support of the rights and culture of all minorities, he said.

Yet that delegate was among many speakers who were deeply concerned by the fragile security situation, particularly following a wave of vandalism and destruction that had taken place across Kosovo in mid-January, during which hundreds of gravestones in several Serbian Orthodox cemeteries had been damaged or destroyed.  Speakers were also troubled by the brazen destruction of a World War II memorial, which had been bulldozed to cheering crowds.  Speakers called for an end to all statements and actions aimed at inflaming ethnic tensions and widening the division between the two sides, especially when the Brussels’ talks seemed to be on the verge a breakthrough.

Noting the “bitter” history surrounding the situation, Rwanda’s delegate urged both sides to leave the “dark past” behind and make real progress towards lasting peace and stability.  He hoped the Council would be prepared to mobilize resources and political backing if and when a resolution was reached.  For his part, the representative of Guatemala expressed concern about the situation in northern Kosovo, as well as about the north Mitrovica.  A strong United Nations presence was necessary, given security conditions.

Speaking in his national capacity, the representative of the Russian Federation, which holds the Council’s rotating presidency this month, said that resolution 1244 (1999) was fully in force and provided the mandatory basis for the legal settlement of the Kosovo issue.  The current political negotiations would contribute to that process.  But “the Security Council still has the last word,” he said, stressing UNMIK’s functioning required it to have all necessary resources.  Any decision on northern Kosovo must take into account the rights of the local Serb population, he said.  If not, the prospects for a multi-ethnic society in Kosovo would be unrealistic.

Also speaking were the representatives of Togo, Morocco, China, France, United States, Luxembourg, Argentina, Republic of Korea, Pakistan, Azerbaijan and Australia.

The meeting began at 10:08 a.m. and adjourned at 12:58 p.m.

Background

The Security Council met this morning to consider the status of its resolutions on Kosovo, including resolution 1244 (1999), which established the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in the province, known as UNMIK.  It had before it the Secretary-General’s most recent report (S/2013/72).

Briefing by Special Representative of the Secretary-General

FARID ZARIF, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo said that since his last address to the Council, several important political developments had occurred, facilitated by the European Union.  Since October 2012 Prime Minister Ivica Dačić of Serbia and Hashim Thaci of Kosovo, both of whom were attending today’s meeting, had met for seven rounds of dialogue in Brussels.  Further, as part of the same process, Serbian President Tomislav Nikolić and Atifete Jahjaga of Kosovo had met early last month, “signifying the full political engagement of both sides”.

Together, those meetings had marked an essential — “indeed, historic” — new chapter in the collective effort to overcome the legacy of past conflict.  He said that the leaders involved in the talks had demonstrated political courage and foresight and they deserved “strong recognition for having embarked upon such a difficult, yet indispensible, process.”  Progress had emerged from those meetings, he continued, especially the most recent ones, including just two days ago.  In that light, he was glad that the Council had the opportunity to take stock of their achievements thus far.  Detailed discussions on further implementation of the Agreement on the Integrated Management of Crossing Points had addressed more complex questions, such as the management of fees and duties at crossing points.  The parties’ liaison officers were expected to soon begin work with the respective European Commission offices in Belgrade and Pristina.

With discussions most recently shifting to addressing the matter of Serbian institutions operating within Kosovo, as well as arrangement of difficult issues specific to the situation in northern Kosovo, he expressed the hope that the parties would remain steadfast in their determination to reach acceptable compromises on those most sensitive issues, and find viable solutions, which would better serve the interest and aspirations of all communities living in Kosovo.  Along with such solid political progress, however, there had been significant challenges on the ground, he said, citing adverse security incidents, as well as frequent instances of inflammatory rhetoric and posturing from different quarters.

“[This] has not only placed unhelpful strains on the atmosphere for the political process, but in some cases, has also threatened efforts to ensure translation of agreements into practice,” he said, stressing that, in the face of such developments, UNMIK had joined others in urging both sides to not simply remain committed to dialogue, but also to more actively exert leadership to temper the emotions and reactions of their respective constituencies.

Further in that regard, he stressed that for the vital political engagement to achieve its maximum potential, it needed to be accompanied by “strenuous, constant and coherent work on the ground, both by the mandated international presences and by local leaders.”  UNMIK, for its part, was continuing to implement a broad-based strategic review of all its activities and enhancing functional coordination with its international partners.  “Our goal is to help ensure that the political process is reflected in — as much as reflective of — the realities we face daily in Kosovo,” he said.

Turning next to highlight some key ongoing issues, he noted that episodes of increased tension in northern Kosovo had been manifest both during the reporting period and in the two months since.  Some of those episodes had been motivated, at least in part, by local confusion and misunderstandings about the substance of the political talks in Brussels.  Unfortunately, that uncertainty was at times aggravated by the “very ill-considered” statements of some local leaders.  “We and our partners continue to urge Belgrade and Pristina to significantly enhance their communication with the population living in the north,” he said, while at the same time they had also been urging local political leaders to act more responsibly, in a manner which might help protect the long-term interests of their constituencies.

In all instances, UNMIK and its partners had stressed the important need for public statements to be based strictly on reliable information and to renounce the chronic practice of inflammatory rhetoric and short term “point scoring”.  He went on to say that in northern Mitrovica, there had been a very troubling and extended series of incidents involving the use of explosive devices, mostly apparently targeting property.  Sadly, on 4 February, one such incident in the mixed Mitrovica Three Towers neighborhood had resulted in slight injuries by shrapnel to two children who had been playing in their home.  The affected family had since left the city for good.

Related to that, he said that the continuing lack of consensus concerning municipal authority in northern Mitrovica had also continued to cause volatility in the mixed communities.  Competing assertions of authority by the Mitrovica North Administrative Office, as well as the parallel Kosovska Mitrovica Municipality, continued to produce “persistent tension and occasional confrontation on the ground”.  He was further concerned that the stand-off over housing construction and refurbishment, spearheaded by the Mitrovica south municipality in the Kroi-i-Vitakut/Brdjani neighborhood might continue this spring.  He recalled that he had previously drawn the Council’s attention to the fact that the cessation of budget allocations to the UNMIK Administration in Mitrovica (UAM) had undermined the most functional channel to address such problems in a consensus-based manner.

Yet, despite that development, UNMIK international staff were continuing to carry out the important non-executive functions of the UAM in areas of local facilitation, conflict prevention and mediation.  He also said that it was “unfortunate and unacceptable” that European Union Rule of Law Mission (EULEX) personnel continued to be constrained in their access to all areas necessary to fully discharge their mandate, particularly given that EULEX was now intensifying its focus on improved investigative practices.  Among his other main concerns, he went on to note “deep distress” about the wave of vandalism and destruction that had taken place across Kosovo between 13 and 22 January, during which some 200 gravestones in several Serbian Orthodox cemeteries had been damaged or destroyed, in some cases by explosives or firearms.

During that period of violence, a monument dedicated to K-Serb and K-Albanians killed during World War II had been bulldozed in broad daylight before a cheering crowd.  “These reprehensible actions were unbefitting Kosovo, as were some imprudent efforts to justify them in the press,” he said, adding that he was nevertheless gratified by the subsequent statements issued by Kosovo Police.  Representatives of the international community had unanimously condemned such wanton actions and, together with UNMIK staff, had been instrumental in encouraging more proactive public responses from local, as well as central political authorities, including the allocation of public funds for the repair and reconstruction of the graves and monuments.

Understandably, the Serb community and Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo remained deeply concerned by the expressions of hatred and intolerance, which accompanied those and other acts targeting Orthodox sites and symbols.  He also cited other similar disturbing incidents, including attempts to deface the Decani Monastery, and he said that stronger leadership from politicians and officials was needed to demonstrate that universal values and respect for the rule of law would be defended in practice.  “Too many of the serious crimes in northern Mitrovica, as well as those affecting communities in the rest of Kosovo, continue to go unresolved and remain a matter of very sober concern,” he said, underscoring the added “stumbling block” posed by the performance of Kosovo’s judiciary, apart from political disputes.  Unsolved cases inevitably became subject of political manipulation and led to the build up of public frustration, he added.

“The political dialogue is now at a critical stage, as the parties are poised to make fundamental progress.  Alongside this, stability on the ground remains fragile, and is likely to continue to remain so while these talks delve into topics which are at once the most sensitive and most essential,” he said, expressing the hope that the progress thus far would be welcomed by the Council and that the 15-member body would offer unequivocal support to the parties to remain steadfast, regardless of the inevitable challenges and setbacks along the way.  Likewise, the international community should be well-prepared to place its collective weight and support behind all agreements reached mutually by the parties and to fully support their implementation.

Mr. Zarif said that incidents and tensions continued on the ground, underscoring the need for “energy and effort” to be redirected by all of the international presences, alongside the negotiations.  “Simply, it is imperative that the inevitable problems and setbacks on the ground, however difficult they may be for those affected, are not permitted to undermine the atmosphere and the potential progress in the vital political talks,” he declared, asking Council members to pursue opportunities and to make use of their authority and influence with the political leaders on all sides to send “clear and unified signals regarding your high expectations [and your] readiness to support and reward constructive actions.”  Far too much was at stake to permit short-term political challenges, anxieties and setbacks to put at risk the fundamental and historic opportunity which now stood before the parties.  Effective, efficient and coherent work by all international presences was needed to promote and sustain the conditions in which political talks might achieve their true potential, he said.

Statements

IVICA DAČIĆ, Prime Minister of Serbia, noting that UNMIK was the “key factor” in establishing peace and stability in Kosovo and Metohija, strongly supported its goal of creating better living conditions for all populations.  He regretted that the Secretary-General’s report continued to reflect the very unstable position of Serbians in those areas, as well as considerable security concerns.  Serbia was firmly committed to building peace, security and stability in the region in its quest for a platform for a common European future.  On several occasions, it had confirmed its readiness to make a “substantial and constructive” contribution to overcoming outstanding issues and offer solutions that met the needs of all population groups.

Serbia’s policy was based on seeking compromise and defence of national interests, he explained, with equal respect for the rights of Serbs and Albanians living in Kosovo and Metohija.  It opposed unilateral steps, including the decision by the Assembly of Kosovo to request an international country code for Kosovo, through Albania, despite the fact that negotiations on telecommunications were pending.  “Dialogue is the only way to find sustainable solutions for problems that the people of Kosovo and Metohija face,” he said, noting Serbia’s resolve to implement agreements and its openness to talks on all issues.

Several important issues were discussed at meetings in Brussels, he said, including on the Agreement on Integrated Border Management and status of liaison officers.  The recent meeting between Serbia’s President and Atifete Jahjaga in Brussels confirmed Serbia’s political positions.  The specificities of Kosovo and Metohija were recognized, in line with Security Council resolution 1244 (1999).  The existence of Serb and other communities, which should have certain autonomous status, was also noted.

He went on to say that UNMIK’s role in stabilizing the regional situation was irreplaceable, and thus, its mandate must not be changed.  If possible, it should be strengthened, irrespective of projected budget constraints.  Further, it was vital that the UNMIK Administration in Northern Mitrovica continued to secure a status-neutral way of carrying out the missions in Kosovo and Metohija.  The continued financing of the UNMIK Administration in Mitrovica was especially important.  Any further limits on its activities, due to the cessation of financing by provisional self-government bodies in Pristina, were unacceptable.

Serbia had an interest in enhancing the political composition in UNMIK, he said, underlining the need to protect cultural and religious heritage and calling for a resumed investigation into a pogrom that occurred nine years ago in which 19 persons were killed, 4,000 Serbs were expelled, six towns and 10 villages were ethnically cleansed and over 150 religious sites of the Serbian Orthodox Church were damaged or destroyed.  More broadly, Serbia had shown its readiness to overcome existing problems to find a solution to improve the lives of all communities in Kosovo and Metohija, as well as preserve Serbia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

“The situation on the ground has not been substantially improved,” he said, noting limits on the freedom of movement, a lack of security, attempts to prevent use of the Serbian language and difficult access to institutions.  The number of ethnically motivated, low-intensity crimes, such as threats and thefts, had increased, as had the number of arrests of Serbians without explanation of the legal basis.  Such events created distrust and were gross human rights violations.  Serbian officials were not allowed to enter Kosovo and Metohija, and in January, even Serbia’s President was banned from visiting those areas.

The return of internally displaced persons from Kosovo and Metohija was very slow, he continued, citing 2012 data showing that only 302 people of Serbian nationality had returned; in 2011, that number stood at 464.  He also voiced concern at the manner in which privatization was being implemented in Kosovo and Metohija by the Kosovo Privatization Agency, saying that the privatization of the Trepca mining complex, currently postponed, contravened Security Council resolution 1244 (1999).  It was majority owned by Serbia and Serbian enterprises.  Complaints against police and prosecutorial inefficiency in investigating crimes against minority communities were also on the rise.

He went on to recall that, under the Secretary-General’s six-point plan, UNMIK was obliged to oversee the transfer of powers to the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo, as well as to ensure that the principle of status-neutrality was maintained.  Serbia was ready to cooperate with the EULEX team investigating allegations of human organs trafficking.  The truth must be established in an impartial manner, bearing in mind information about the destruction of evidence collected by UNMIK.

To achieve lasting peace in the region, a comprehensive solution for the question of Kosovo and Metohija must be found, he said, adding that reconciliation between Serbs and Albanians called for compromise on both sides.  Meetings in Brussels had demonstrated Serbia’s readiness to achieve such goals.  After years of conflict in the Balkans, the region had yet to enter a new era of cooperation, confidence-building and dialogue.  Serbia was committed to a reconciliation process.

But, for relations between Belgrade and Pristina to develop, strong political will was of the utmost importance, as was the political courage of all participants to compromise.  While committed to the success of dialogue, Serbia was not ready for humiliation and double standards.  “Serbia will not change its principled position on the unilaterally declared independence of Kosovo,” he said, stressing that any agreement to be reached in Brussels would not lead to such recognition.

HASHIM THACI, of Kosovo, said a few weeks ago Kosovo celebrated the fifth anniversary of its declaration of independence.  During the past five years, the people of Kosovo had made considerable progress in many areas and were able to overcome the effects of years of systematic repression and ethnic cleansing.  Kosovo had become stronger and no longer reliant on international supervision.  It was an independent, sovereign state and one of the most successful examples of state-building in the United Nations.  It was now recognized by more than half of all Member States, and more were poised to follow suit.  It joined the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development on 27 February 2013 and soon after became a member of the Regional Cooperation Council, an umbrella group for southeast Europe and the main instrument for pre-accession to the European Union.  As a member of that body, Kosovo would benefit from social and institutional strengthening and support for socioeconomic initiatives. 

On 22 January 2013, the Council of Europe adopted a resolution, paving the way for formal direct relations with Kosovo in such key areas as human rights, freedom of expression and the protection of cultural heritage, he said.  That would help strengthen the rule of law.  To date, 34 of the 47 members of the Council of Europe had recognized the Republic of Kosovo.  Kosovo was financially stable, thriving economically and committed to judicial reform.  On 1 January 2013, it adopted a law on courts, a new criminal code and a new criminal procedure code, in line with European standards.  On 11 February 2013, Kosovo’s Assembly approved tougher legislation to stamp out corruption, money laundering and terrorist financing, as well as an anti-corruption strategy. 

The following day, the Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning signed an administrative instruction to set up an Implementation and Monitoring Council to monitor protection of Serbia’s cultural and religious heritage.  Government efforts to support the sustainable return and reintegration of minorities were ongoing, he said, pointing to construction of 76 houses and 21 infrastructure projects for minority communities.  Steps were also taken to integrate Serbs living in northern Kosovo.  But the destructive practices of “parallel structures” had undermined its good intentions and commitment to invest socioeconomically in the north.  The Administrative Office of North Mitrovica provided services to more than 2,000 Serbs in the north, but it had been attacked by unidentified groups several times.  Recently, violent attacks on senior officers of Serbian nationality at the Office had increased, leaving it more vulnerable and thwarting daily operations. 

He believed Serbian parallel structures were responsible for those criminal acts, which aimed at preventing Serbs from taking advantage of the Office’s services.  “We call on Serbia to dismantle these illegal structures of security and justice, and stop trying to create tensions in Kosovo,” he said.  The situation in the three northern municipalities was a serious source of instability in Kosovo and a serious threat to regional security.  It also violated Council resolution 1244 (1999).  Establishment of the rule of law and order in the country’s north was vital for development and the welfare of Serbs living there.  Freedom of movement remained a major challenge.  Physical barriers exacerbated ethnic divisions.  He was fully confident that the barriers constructed on roads in the north would be removed voluntarily by citizens living there.  Self-isolation did not bring progress; Serbia should not promote obstruction of freedom or movement.

The removal on 20 January 2013 of the Albanian Martyrs in the Presevo Valley by numerous Serb gendarmerie forces prompted unidentified individuals to demolish eight Serbian Orthodox cemeteries and World War II memorials, he said.  Kosovo’s Government and civil society had condemned those incidents.  The Kosovo police had arrested several suspects and was investigating the case.  His Government had allocated 97,000 euros to repair the damaged graves and monuments.  Turning to war crimes, he said the Serbian State had yet to give a formal apology for its ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.  But the admission by Yugoslav Army General Dragoljub Ojdanic to the Hague Tribunal in January that he committed war crimes against Kosovo Albanians in the 1990s was a positive step.  He encouraged other Serb institutions to acknowledge the crimes they committed in Kosovo, as an important step towards reconciliation and co-existence.

Towards that end, on 18 March, his Government set up a working group dealing with the past and reconciliation, he said.  But, the lack of normal relations with Serbia made it difficult to address past atrocities.  Any peace treaty regulating Kosovo-Serbia relations must include apologies from Serbia, compensation for war damages, and information about missing persons.  He expressed confidence in the European Union-sponsored political dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia aimed at normalizing relations and integrating the Serb population in northern Kosovo.  Resolving practical issues of security, public services, rule of law, economics and democratic governance were pre-requisites for mutual recognition.  While difficult, the process could succeed if Serbia showed a minimum of political will, he said, calling on it to “be reasonable and rational and seize the opportunity” to reach agreement.  Through that process, Kosovo intended to further advance relations with the European Union by accelerating the process of European integration.  The dialogue could not include negotiations on Kosovo’s sovereignty, political status or territorial integrity.  There was no crossing those lines. 

The Ahtisaari Plan remained the best and most generous offer to give Serbs in Kosovo an opportunity for self-governance and the ability to exercise their political, socioeconomic and cultural rights, he said.  Since last October, Kosovo and Serbia had held seven rounds of meetings, with significant results.  The process was in the final stage.  Unfortunately, in the past three months, the Serbian side had presented a platform requiring territorial integrity for Kosovo Serbs and the creation of a separate entity in Kosovo, as well as creation of a community association in Kosovo Serb municipalities that would have legislative and executive powers and be elected through direct elections.  Such proposals, which aimed to create a new Serb republic in Kosovo, would destabilize the latter, make it non-functional, complicate the internal political consensus process, thwart European integration and undermine centralization. 

In the current dialogue with Serbia, Kosovo had proven to be more consistent, responsible and decisive in implementing joint agreements reached thus far, and it had shown a willingness to increase economic investments in that part of Kosovo, he said.  But, the Serb side had not responded in kind.  The agreement on free movement was hampered by barriers in the north.  The return of cadastral and civil registry documents was being unjustifiably delayed.  The agreement for opening liaison offices and exchanging liaison officers — a significant step for creating diplomatic relations between the two countries — had not been implemented.  Several issues remained unresolved, including the fate of some 1,700 missing persons, and energy and telecommunications concerns, among others.  He expected Serbia to be determined and dedicated to fully implement those agreements and dismantle its structures in Kosovo.

Kosovo continued to prove it had embraced European values and reforms, he said.  More than 90 per cent of the Kosovo public supported the path to integration with the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).  The European Commission had confirmed that Kosovo had made significant progress on the road to European Union membership.  It had stressed that Kosovo was ready to open negotiations on the Stabilization and Association Agreement, specifically on the rule of law, public administration, protection of minorities and trade.  That agreement would enable Kosovo to achieve sustainable economic growth and provide stability for foreign investors; it would advance the democratic reform process and deepen mutual cooperation with the European Union. 

In that context, he welcomed the European Parliament’s 11 February 2013 draft on Kosovo.  That text encouraged the five remaining European Union countries that had yet to recognize Kosovo’s independence to do so now, rejected Kosovo’s territorial divisions, affirmed the spirit of the Ahtisaari agreement and stressed that the plan was adequate for resolving disputes in the north.  Kosovo had fulfilled the Ahtisaari plan, which led to the end of international supervision of Kosovo last September.  “We rightfully expect that in the near future the United Nations Security Council will prepare and adopt a new resolution that would make Kosovo an equal member of the United Nations as a peace-loving member State, able to keep order and maintain international responsibilities,” he said.

ROBERT KAYINAMURA ( Rwanda) said the history around the issue before the Council today was one of “a bitter past and bitter memories”.  It was in the common interest of both sides to close that “dark past” and continue their serious negotiations for peace and lasting security.  He expressed hope that more progress would be made on Kosovo and that both sides would reach an agreement ahead of the 2 April meeting.  Indeed, both sides had taken important strides and he hoped the Council would be more prepared to mobilize resources and political backing.  The Secretary-General’s report acknowledged that the situation had been “relatively calm”, but that existing tensions could spark inter-communal violence.

He went on to say that in Kosovo, there had been improvements in the work of the Kosovo police, which had taken ownership of law and order.  He also welcomed the cooperation between UNMIK and EULEX in implementing justice sector reforms.  He also acknowledged the cooperation between UNIMIK and other organizations, urging continued international commitment to those institutions.  The task of building a stable, prosperous region was in the hands of both leaders.  It was crucial that they demonstrate the political will to advance the dialogue.

KODJO MENAN (Togo) said the dialogue between the two sides over the last two years had led to an agreement to improve the lives of those in both Kosovo and Serbia.  Both sides had agreed on the status of liaisons and a customs regime, among other things, efforts that would foster a rapprochement between Serbia and Kosovo.  He welcomed that the dialogue had evolved, especially on technical and policy initiatives.  He hoped the momentum would continue to bring about a rapid settlement, including on the final status of Kosovo.  He urged both sides to be more open and flexible, with a view to achieving a “win-win” situation and regional peace.

He expressed concern at inter-ethnic tensions, particularly in northern Mitrovica, stressing the need to focus on the impact that reconciliation should have locally.  He called on religious authorities to bring the various communities closer together.  The lack of security undermined those aims and negatively impacted the situation of refugees and internally displaced persons.  He urged Kosovo to keep investigating attacks on property.  On disappeared persons, he welcomed the meeting in Cyprus for family members of disappeared Serbians in Kosovo and the implementation of the recommendations that had come out of that meeting.  On organized crime, he called on Kosovo authorities to fight against that scourge, particularly in the north.  On the trafficking in human organs, he called on Kosovo and its neighbours to cooperate with the EULEX task force.

GERT ROSENTHAL ( Guatemala) commended both parties for the quality of their dialogue, which had moved from being primarily technical to political, paving the way for solving numerous problems.  Despite progress in the high-level dialogue, tensions persisted, and as such, the results must positively impact the situation on the ground, particularly in the north.  He regretted that, on 20 March in Brussels, the parties had not agreed on the situation in northern Kosovo and he encouraged them to continue their efforts, pursuant to resolution 1244 (1999).

Northern Kosovo was a source of continued concern, as there had been more than 20 incidents involving the use of explosive devices this year, he said.  He also was concerned about the Mitrovica North Administrative Office, regretting that there had been a freeze on salaries in that office.  Given the importance of UNMIK’s work, solutions must be found that allowed for it to play a prevention, mediation and facilitation role.  A strong United Nations presence was necessary, given security conditions.  He also was surprised at the refusal to allow the entry of Serbian authorities in Kosovo, which reflected negatively on the situation of minorities in Kosovo.  Kosovo’s multi-ethnic nature had been undermined by the lack of mechanisms to protect their rights.  As for the task force on inhumane treatment and organ trafficking, he stressed the need for an arrangement that would involve the United Nations in the investigation.

LOTFI BOUCHAARA (Morocco) said that progress had been made in Kosovo, including road-building and the appointment of liaison offices for the European Union mediation.  Though of a technical nature, all had direct bearing on the daily lives of the people in Kosovo.  The leaders of both sides had been urged to “stay the course”, as confidence-building needed to be continued and strengthened.  Yet, serious incidents continued to affect the status of minorities in the region and he urged a peaceful co-existence among all communities, as well as a respect for all religions.  He said the UNMIK continued to play a much-needed role in helping the sides address such issues and other human rights concerns.  Indeed, the Mission must assist the parties in arriving at a political solution that was inclusive and which was in line with the aims of resolution 1244 (1999).

LI BAODONG (China) said that his delegation had always maintained that Serbia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity must be respected.  Council resolution 1244 (1999) must guide the efforts of all parties and actors to ensure a legally-based and inclusive outcome.  China also urged the parties to continue their recent high-level talks to reach a consensus-based and comprehensive solution to the situation of Kosovo and to ensure stability in the wider Balkans.  Expressing serious concern about troubling security incidents, he urged all parties to refrain from any actions that might further inflame tensions on the ground.  He said that his delegation hoped UNMIK would continue to play a positive and constructive role in helping the parties come to a resolution.  He also expressed his delegations concern about allegations of organ trafficking and noted his delegation’s support for the ongoing investigation into that matter.

GÉRARD ARAUD (France) said that his Government remained committed to the realization of a sovereign, stable, democratic and ethnically inclusive Kosovo at peace with its neighbours.  In that light, France also hoped that Serbia would continue to participate actively in efforts to that end.  He also expressed support for the ongoing high-level talks between Pristina and Belgrade and welcomed recent reports that the sides were “very close” to real agreement on several of the most pressing issues.  Along with that, a long-term solution was needed on northern Kosovo; parallel structures must be dismantled and measures must be put in place to address the concerns of all communities and action must be taken on matters regarding energy and telecommunications.

He called on the authorities of both sides to remain committed to the outcome of the historic talks and to prepare their respective publics for the outcome, which did not necessarily enjoy widespread support, especially in Kosovo.  On recent disturbing incidents, he urged calm on all sides and firmly condemned attacks on Serbian or other orthodox cultural and religious sites.  Such attacks must not go unpunished.  He went on to welcome the efforts of EULEX to look into allegations of organ trafficking in Kosovo, and expressed his delegation’s ongoing support for the important work of UNMIK in carrying out its mandate.

ROSEMARY A. DICARLO (United States) congratulated Kosovo on its fifth anniversary of independence on 17 February.  The Prime Ministers of Kosovo and Serbia had shown courage in working to resolve their issues through a “pragmatic” approach that would bring greater stability to the region.  She welcomed the progress made in the seven rounds of dialogue, with an understanding that the two sides were close to concluding an agreement on Kosovo.  She encouraged them to do so at their 2 April meeting, acknowledging that such efforts required cooperation and hard work.  Applauding the integrated border management agreement, she also commended progress Kosovo had made in modernizing the justice sector, with a new criminal code and court procedure offering major steps forward.

The adoption of laws to increase transparency of financial transactions would help Kosovo combat corruption and organized crime.  She supported the special investigative task force, reaffirming confidence in its capacity to operate in line with best prosecutorial practices and in the interest of justice.  She voiced concern at continued security incidents, especially in the north, as well as the uptick in violence, including a string of grenade attacks in Kosovo.  She insisted on zero tolerance for the desecration of religious sites, welcoming Kosovo’s prompt assurance that such acts would be fully investigated.  As the Prime Ministers continued talks in Brussels, it was important to seize the opportunities presented to move beyond the past and look toward their common European futures.

SYLVIE LUCAS ( Luxembourg) said the Secretary-General underscored the pragmatism shown by Pristina and Belgrade in their high-level dialogue, applauding progress made at the most recent meeting.  She supported European Union High-Representative Catherine Ashton as facilitator of that dialogue, commending the Serbian and Kosovo leaders for having committed to that dialogue.  The 6 February meeting between Ms. Ashton and the two sideswas an important step towards normalizing relations between Belgrade and Pristina.  On other matters, she said the context in which UNMIK was operating had “radically changed” since the Mission’s 1999 establishment.

Noting that the situation had been marked by relative calm, except for northern Kosovo and North Mitrovica, where violence persisted against Serbs, she was concerned about the vandalism of grave sites, urging redoubled efforts to ensure peaceful coexistence.  All efforts should be made to minimise tensions.  She also supported UNMIK and EULEX in their recruitment of a multi-ethnic police unit.  She also applauded the efforts of the special investigative task force to prepare its operational phase.   Luxembourg was committed to Kosovo’s stability and rule of law, through its contribution to EULEX, and the development of the country.  The futures of Kosovo and Serbia would be written in a European perspective, she added.

MICHAEL TATHAM ( United Kingdom) urged States that had not yet done so to recognize Kosovo’s independence, adding that the implementation of conditionality was crucial for Kosovo’s progress towards a secure, prosperous future.  Dialogue also was vital and he welcomed Ms. Ashton’s engagement, as well as the progress made vis-à-vis integrated border management.  The role of EULEX was indispensable and he urged full cooperation by Pristina and Belgrade.  He also applauded the Prime Ministers for their determination, shown over five months, and their commitment to the dialogue process.  “You are on the brink of an historic agreement,” he declared, encouraging both sides to make progress towards European Union membership.

Indeed, it was crucial that an agreement be reached on 2 April, he said.  Serbia must do everything possible to ensure any agreements were accepted by all communities, while Kosovo must show it was working in support of the rights and culture of all minorities.  Expressing deep concern at violence following the removal of a monument, he said perpetrators should be brought to justice and welcomed the suspension of five officers in that context.  Kosovo must work to create the conditions necessary for sustainable returns.  The United Kingdom was committed to the returns process, especially through bilateral projects.  Voicing support for the special investigative task force, he also welcomed the high-level round table for survivors of sexual violence.  He encouraged the Special Representative to identify further cost-savings for UNMIK, underlining the United Kingdom’s commitment to helping Kosovo and Serbia advance towards European Union membership.

MARÍA CRISTINA PERCEVAL (Argentina) said that her delegation was pleased that the report before the Council had highlighted the important role the United Nations was playing in Kosovo through the important work of UNMIK in areas such as capacity-building and protection and promotion of human rights.  She hailed the commitment and resolve of Pristina and Belgrade to achieve progress in the historic dialogue under way and hoped that the talks would lead to a comprehensive solution to sensitive questions, in line with resolution 1244 (1999).   Argentina also welcomed the role being played by UNMIK and EULEX in that regard.

At the same time, she was concerned that budget cuts were hampering the work of the UAM.  Indeed, that mechanism was essential to helping ease tensions and promote facilitation in northern Mitrovica.  In that light, she called for adequate financing of UNMIK so that it could carry out that important work.  She also called for strengthening of respect for human rights of, and among, all communities in the region, especially to bring an end to ethnic violence and tension.  Such efforts would also address questions regarding cultural heritage and would also remove obstacles hampering the return of refugees.  Calling for an end to impunity, she reiterated the importance of UNMIK’s continued participation in efforts to ensure peaceful progress and lasting prosperity in Kosovo and the region.

KIM SOOK (Republic of Korea) welcomed the ongoing negotiations process towards the normalization of relations between Pristina and Belgrade, as well as High Representative Ashton’s commitment to those talks.  The Republic of Korea was particularly pleased with the recent signing of a boarder management agreement and looked forward to further tangible progress at the next high-level meeting, set for 2 April.  While the security situation had remained relatively stable, he was nevertheless concerned by violent incidents in northern Kosovo, as well as by “unacceptable” incidents of ethnic violence.  Such acts undermined progress that had been achieved thus far, and the Kosovo authorities were urged to investigate them thoroughly and to do more to ease tensions among all communities.  The Republic of Korea also urged that the current high-level political talks be accompanied by broad confidence-building and awareness-raising initiatives, including measures to build confidence in local police forces.  Such actions would reduce the risk of inter-communal violence.

RAZA BASHIR TARAR (Pakistan) said that his delegation was encouraged by the commitment of both sides to dialogue, which was the best route to normalizing relations and arriving at mutually agreed conclusions between Pristina and Belgrade.  He hoped that the upcoming round of talks would lead to a comprehensive solution.  While welcoming recent calm in the security sphere, he said that Pakistan was nevertheless concerned by sporadic violence in the north, as well as attacks on religious and cultural sights.  Kosovo authorities were urged to actively address such matters, as well as to take up the cause of building confidence among all communities.  Indeed, the leadership on both sides was urged to begin the process of preparing their respective constituents for the “difficult” decisions and actions that would need to be taken after the outcome of the high-level negotiations.

AGSHIN MEHDIYEV (Azerbaijan) said his Government’s position vis-à-vis Serbia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as the unilateral declaration of independence, was unchanged.  Resolution 1244 (1999) was the binding legal basis for a settlement through a political process.  Commending the leadership for achieving substantial progress in the dialogue, he said it was unfortunate that agreement on the most difficult issues had not been possible at the 20 March meeting.  Both sides must remain committed to finding a mutually acceptable solution.  A successful outcome was indispensable to advance the normalization of relations and stability for the region.  In that context, he emphasized the importance of UNMIK’s presence in Kosovo, noting the Mission’s collaboration with other international presences to enhance the success of political dialogue.

He went on to say that UNMIK must further develop its role on the status-neutral framework as outlined in resolution 1244 (1999).  Overall, the security situation was generally calm, except for northern Kosovo, where vandalism and ethnically motivated attacks persisted, affecting the rights and freedoms of minority communities.  Impunity would not foster long-term reconciliation.  The return of internally displaced persons showed “few signs” of improvement, but he commended UNHCR’s promotion of dialogue on that front.  Equally important were well-grounded efforts to promote reconciliation and the preservation of the region’s rich cultural diversity.  With that, he noted that UNMIK had supported progress on missing persons, which was essential to national reconciliation.

GARY QUINLAN (Australia) stated his delegation’s support for an independent and sovereign Kosovo, which Australia had recognized in 2008.  He commended the leadership displayed by the Prime Ministers in elevating the dialogue to the highest political level.  Their discussions built on other positive developments, including the meeting between Presidents in early February, which had been a “powerful symbol” of the commitment of both parties to continue their dialogue towards finding a long-term solution to the situation in Kosovo.  He added that trust-building and reconciliation among communities in Kosovo was a vital complement to the political process.  The role of High Representative Ashton had been decisive in advancing the dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo, and had achieved such genuine, positive results as the commencement of the integrated agreement on the management of crossing points and customs and the exchange of liaison officers based in the European Union delegations in Belgrade and Pristina.

In the context of the “fragile” security situation in Northern Kosovo, Australia condemned acts of vandalism against significant cultural and religious heritage sites, and encouraged all sides to take steps to protect Kosovo’s rich and diverse heritage, including that of the Serbian Orthodox and Muslim communities, on the basis of ethnic and religious tolerance.  He also encouraged the unimpeded resettlement of minority returnees and internally displaced persons in Kosovo.  “A broad and substantial political settlement […] is now within reach,” he said, adding that such a settlement would have positive implications for stability not only in Kosovo, but in the broader Balkan region.  Going forward, it would be important that both parties leverage on the confidence and trust they had so painstakingly created to achieve full implementation of the agreements reached at the political level, he said.

VITALY I. CHURKIN ( Russian Federation) said his Government’s non-recognition of the unilateral declaration of independence remained unchanged.  Resolution 1244 (1999) was fully in force and provided the mandatory basis for the legal settlement of the Kosovo issue.  The dialogue under European Union auspices would contribute to that process.  But “the Security Council still has the last word,” he said, stressing UNMIK’s functioning required it to have all necessary resources.

Kosovo had made a “serious” mistake in establishing a new office in northern Mitrovica, he said, which had created tensions in that area.  The sectarian nature of such violence had not been reflected in the report.  He expressed concern about events during Orthodox Christmas celebrations, which showed the inability of KFOR or EULEX to withstand provocative acts by Kosovo authorities, as well as over the attacks against Serbian cemeteries.  Attention to the issue of internally displaced persons was non-existent, as Kosovo and Albanian authorities prevented their return.

Any decision on northern Kosovo must take into account the rights of the local Serb population, he said.  If not, the prospects for a multi-ethnic society in Kosovo would be unrealistic.  He also looked forward to the results of the “Marty” investigation on organ trafficking, as the issue would not be dropped from the United Nations agenda.  KFOR was obliged to secure the province and any change in its format must be approved by the Council.  He also voiced concern about the Kosovo security force, saying that it included Albanians who were formerly with militias.  The Russian Federation viewed such developments as a threat.  In closing, he hoped that all international presences would implement resolution 1244 (1999).

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.