Special Representative, Security Council Members Hail 19 April Agreement as ‘Decisive’ Step towards Normalizing Serbia-Kosovo Relations
Special Representative, Security Council Members Hail 19 April Agreement as ‘Decisive’ Step towards Normalizing Serbia-Kosovo Relations
|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
6979th Meeting* (AM)
Special Representative, Security Council Members Hail 19 April Agreement
as ‘Decisive’ Step towards Normalizing Serbia-Kosovo Relations
Briefing Highlights Positive Developments as North Remains ‘Fragile’
The senior United Nations official in Kosovo and Security Council members alike today hailed last April’s historic agreement between that territory and Serbia as a step towards normalized bilateral relations, stability in the Balkan region and integration into the European Union.
Farid Zarif, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), said the “First Agreement on Principles Governing the Normalization of Relations”, signed on 19 April, represented “a major achievement and a decisive step forward for both Belgrade and Pristina”.
He said the 15-point agreement, facilitated by Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, provided for the creation of an association of ethnic Serb municipalities with representation in the central Government; municipal elections to be held in northern Kosovo later this year and facilitated by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE); and a commitment that neither Serbia nor Kosovo would block each other’s respective paths towards integration into the European Union. On 22 May, both sides had agreed on steps for the accord’s rapid implementation.
“It is evident that a high degree of commitment, flexibility and creativity will also be required to meet the ambitious timelines foreseen in the Implementation Plan,” he said while briefing the Council as it considered the Secretary-General’s latest report on the activities of UNMIK. The international community must show support and resourcefulness to sustain that positive momentum, as should ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo, where tensions were high and local leaders often reluctant to condemn or address ethnic intolerance and intimidation. The situation remained fragile and it could not be taken for granted that the gains made so far were irreversible.
Echoing those concerns, Prime Minister Ivica Dačić of Serbia noted that the number of ethnically motivated attacks in northern Kosovo and Metohija had risen to 60 in the first four months of this year, up from 40 during the same period in 2012. Citing ethnically motivated threats, intimidation and theft, he said his country remained ready to help overcome such challenge and was determined to implement the First Agreement. However, the status of Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija should be defined in very clear terms, he said, adding that their survival was linked directly to their physical security.
Emphasizing that their willingness to return home from displacement was contingent upon security and economic development, he said he greatly regretted the slow return of internally displaced persons, due in large part to the serious rule-of-law shortcomings in Kosovo and Metohija, and to lax protection against human rights violations. Moreover, Serbian officials and renowned public figures were denied entry into Kosovo and Metohija by the so-called institutions of independent Kosovo, while attacks against Serbian Orthodox Church sites continued unabated and unprosecuted. In such a context, the international community’s presence was vital for implementing all agreements, he said, stressing that UNMIK’s mandate should be enhanced, with the full cooperation of the European Union Rule of Law Mission (EULEX).
Hashim Thaci of Kosovo, however, said it was time for the Security Council to consider withdrawing UNMIK in the near future. Such a move would create space for local ownership, save the credibility of the United Nations over its past role in Kosovo, and reduce unnecessary financial costs.
He said Kosovo’s security institutions had bolstered efforts to provide extra security for Serbian Orthodox churches and other heritage sites, he said, adding that, in March 2013, the Kosovo Police had created a special task force of 207 officers from all communities to secure them. Moreover, the Kosovo Police were the only legal, legitimate authority in northern Kosovo. The 19 April Agreement guaranteed the political, economic and sociocultural rights of Serbs in Kosovo, and leaders were fully committed to the requisite political and technical steps needed in the coming months to implement it, he said.
Council members, congratulating both sides for their courage and vision in reaching the historic Agreement, called for its speedy implementation, urging the political leaders in Belgrade to communicate its benefits to their citizens, and their counterparts in Pristina to integrate ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo and to protect the rights of all minorities. They commended the relative calm in the area, but expressed concern over threats of violence and the irresponsible acts of hardliners who rejected the accord. Some delegates noted that more than half of the United Nations membership recognized Kosovo’s independence and called on the rest to follow suit.
Also speaking today were representatives of the Republic of Korea, China, Luxembourg, France, Azerbaijan, Rwanda, United States, Australia, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Togo, Morocco, Argentina, Guatemala and the United Kingdom.
The meeting began at 10:05 a.m. and ended at 12 p.m.
The Security Council met this morning to consider the latest report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (document S/2013/254).
FARID ZARIF, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), presented the report, dated 30 April. He said that, on 19 April, following difficult political negotiations facilitated by Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the European Unionfor Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Belgrade and Pristina had signed a historic “First Agreement on Principles Governing the Normalization of Relations”. The 15-point accord provided for the creation of an “Association/Community of Serb Municipalities” that would enjoy a range of competencies related to daily life. It also envisaged local elections in 2013 in the municipalities of northern Kosovo, facilitated by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
The parties had also agreed not to block each other’s progress towards European Unionintegration, and affirmed the need to continue to engage in the political dialogue, he continued. On 22 May, they had agreed on a plan for the implementation of the 19 April Agreement. “The plan provides for timeliness of implementation which will require both sides to move ahead expeditiously,” he said. “It is evident that a high degree of commitment, flexibility and creativity will also be required to meet the ambitious timelines foreseen in the Implementation Plan.” It was crucial that the international community show support and resourcefulness to ensure the plan was implemented and the positive momentum sustained in the face of inevitable challenges. Ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo must also show support, he said, noting that tension, uncertainty continued in various areas, and the threat of instability was present in sensitive areas north and south of the Ibar River.
As reflected in the report, local leaders were too often reticent to speak out firmly and respond effectively to acts of ethnic intolerance or intimidation of the Kosovo community, he continued. However, there had been some encouraging efforts on the ground, as we well political developments. For example, the Kosovo Police had created ethnically mixed special units in four regions to protect Serb religious and cultural heritage sites, and a council had been created to monitor progress and compliance with the Law on the Historic Centre of Prizren. Publicly funded repairs and reconstruction of Orthodox gravestones damaged or destroyed in attacks across Kosovo last January were progressing, he added. And in line with Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security, the Kosovo Assembly had recently revised legislation on benefits to include survivors of sexual violence during the conflict of the 1990s.
Still, much of the information needed to resolve cases of missing persons was lacking on both sides, and more serious efforts were needed to locate it, he said. The 19 April Agreement represented “a major achievement and a decisive step forward for both Belgrade and Pristina,” he said, emphasizing, however, that the situation remained fragile and it could not be taken for granted that the progress made thus far was irreversible. Continuing hard work by the parties was needed to ensure success. UNMIK was making efforts to ensure that its activities, including its own supporting role on the ground, contributed to the creation, in close coordination with global partners, of an enabling environment on the ground.
IVICA DAČIĆ, Prime Minister of Serbia, expressed regret over the security challenges in fragile areas of northern Kosovo and Metohija, noting that, according to available data, there had been 60 ethnically motivated attacks in the first four months of 2013, 20 more than in the same period last year. There had also been a number of ethnically motivated low-intensity crimes, including threats, intimidation and theft. Serbia had repeatedly demonstrated its readiness to contribute actively to overcoming such challenges, he said.
He said that, since the formation of the new Government of Serbia, 11 rounds of political dialogue had been held in Brussels, resulting in the First Agreement on Principles Governing the Normalization of Relations. Serbia was determined to implement the accord, he said, stressing the importance of ensuring that its implementation reflected the will and intentions of the negotiators. The status of Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija should be defined in very clear terms, he emphasized, reminding the Council that the First Agreement provided for the establishment of Serb-majority municipalities in Kosovo and Metohija, in which would be invested many important responsibilities in the fields of economic development, education and health, as well as urban and rural planning.
The survival of the ethnic Serb population in Kosovo, both north and south of the Ibar, was linked directly to their physical security, he continued. They must be encouraged to return to the area, a goal that could only be achieved by the creation of conditions conducive to the physical and economic stability of returnee communities all over Kosovo and Metohija. He noted with “great regret” that the return of internally displaced persons had been very slow and difficult to sustain. The process had been made more difficult by serious rule-of-law shortcomings in Kosovo and Metohija, which had been unable to provide proper protection in many cases of human rights violations, in particular, in respect of the rights of minorities.
In that context, the presence of the international community was of decisive importance for the implementation of all agreements, he stressed. Serbia, therefore, considered that UNMIK should continue to carry out its mandate and ensure that it acted exclusively within a status-neutral framework. Indeed, the Mission’s present mandate must remain unchanged and actively enhanced, he said, calling also for more efficient cooperation with the European Union Rule of Law Mission (EULEX). “Well aware of the magnitude and importance of the task ahead of us, we have invested enormous efforts and harnessed all our potential with the aim of achieving an agreement in order to make the life of all in the province easier and bring us closer to lasting reconciliation.”
However, Serbian officials and renowned public figures were continually denied entry into Kosovo and Metohija by way of the so-called institutions of independent Kosovo, even though they had complied with all procedures, he said. In addition, attacks against the Serbian Orthodox Church continued unabated and went unprosecuted. He cited, in particular, the question of Serbian cultural heritage and religious sites in Kosovo, one of the topics for future negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina. In addition, the Serbian Government had no trust in the privatization carried out by the Kosovo Privatization Agency, formerly the Kosovo Trust Agency. Of particular concern was the privatization of public and State-owned companies in ethnic Serb communities, whose sale to persons of Albanian nationality enjoying capital of suspect origins had resulted in the loss of economic resources in those communities. They had been instrumental in exacerbating the exodus of the ethnic Serb population from Kosovo and Metohija.
He concluded by recalling that, during the political process, Serbia had granted limited legal and international legitimacy to Kosovo’s provisional institutions of self-government, its unilateral declaration of independence notwithstanding. Negotiations at the highest political level should be conducted without addressing the question of the international and State-legal status of the provisional Government. The goal was to establish administrative organs in Kosovo that would be respected by all parties involved in the process, as well as the establishment of firm legal and political guarantees at the level of the province and the international community, for the political, territorial and other rights of national communities throughout Kosovo and Metohija.
HASHIM THACI of Kosovo said the signing of the 19 April accord was the most important event of the last three months. In addition, the institutions of Kosovo had facilitated economic and political stability, strengthened the rule of law and good governance, and improved the protection of human rights, as well as socioeconomic conditions. Kosovo continued its unwavering support and commitment to political dialogue with Serbia and the 19 April Agreement by undertaking political steps to ensure that it was accepted publicly and implemented. Kosovo’s citizens had expressed hope that the accord would result in peace, stability and prosperity, and it was also strongly supported by ethnic Serb coalition partners and the global community.
He went on to describe the accord as a significant achievement for the European Union’s foreign policy and a “remarkable achievement in the normalization in the entire region”, adding that “it creates pace for unity among the European Union member States in relation to the full recognition of independence of Kosovo”. The accord was also in line with the Kosovo Constitution and reaffirmed guarantees that the Serb community could enjoy their political, economic and sociocultural rights. It also opened the door for stability in northern Kosovo through the profound transformation of security, political and socioeconomic conditions, and for Kosovo to join global bodies. The formation of an association that would exercise certain functions for local economic development, education and health, as well as urban and rural planning, were a central part of the Agreement, he said.
It had long been established that the situation in northern Kosovo could not be normalized without the dismantling of illegal structures, he recalled. Under the terms of the Agreement, Serbia would close its security premises in Kosovo by mid-July and stop providing them with financial support, with the Kosovo Police remaining the only legal, legitimate authority in northern Kosovo. The accord confirmed the unitary legal system of the Republic of Kosovo as the sole legal authority, he said, adding that it was important to hold municipal elections in northern Kosovo this October. Prior to the accord, Kosovo and Serbia had signed several technical agreements on the freedom of movement of persons, inter-State border management and customs services, he recalled, pointing out that, for the first time, Pristina would have an ambassador in Belgrade.
He went on to say that implementation of the accord in the coming months would be crucial, emphasizing that his Government, as well as Kosovo’s public institutions, would take all political and technical steps to that end. International recognition of Kosovo’s independence and statehood had continued in recent months, most recently by the United Republic of Tanzania, Yemen and Guyana. Kosovo had intensified regional participation and membership in the European Investment Bank and other regional bodies. Its security institutions had bolstered efforts to provide extra security for Serb Orthodox churches and other heritage sites, and since March 2013, the Kosovo Police had created a special task force of 207 officers from all communities to secure them.
Pointing out that the Kosovo Assembly had passed 10 laws regulating economic, judicial and public administration affairs, he said the path to European Union integration was steadily progressing. Kosovo was on track to open negotiations this year on signing a stabilization and association agreement with the regional bloc. In light of those important developments, it was time for the Security Council to consider withdrawing UNMIK in the near future in order to create space for local ownership, save the credibility of the United Nations over its past role in Kosovo, and reduce unnecessary financial costs, he said.
KIM SOOK ( Republic of Korea), describing the First Agreement as a major breakthrough representing a step forward for regional peace and security, he praised the flexibility demonstrated by both sides. “What is required now is the full implementation of the Agreement on the ground,” he stressed, warning that those efforts could easily be littered with serious obstacles. The biggest challenge was the scepticism of ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo, he said, noting that implementation of the Agreement simply could not work without their cooperation. Implementation should, therefore, be carried out in with the full participation of Kosovo Serbs, he said, cautioning that genuine sustainable reconciliation could not be achieved overnight since lingering mistrust remained.
WANG MIN ( China) said that his delegation had long held that Security Council resolutions were the basis for resolving the conflict in Kosovo, and that it was up to the parties to reach a negotiated solution. Serbia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity should be fully respected in that process. Actions must be taken to protect minority groups in Kosovo, he stressed. China supported UNMIK’s continuing efforts to implement the Council’s mandate.
SYLVIE LUCAS ( Luxembourg), describing the First Agreement as historic and decisive, welcomed the political foresight of the leadership on both sides, as well as the efforts of the European Union High Representative in facilitating the accord. Luxembourg was firmly in favour of stability, socioeconomic development, the rule of law and the participation of EULEX in a significant bilateral coordination programme, she said. Commending the prevailing relative calm, despite some tensions, she welcomed efforts by Kosovo to establish, with EULEX, a multi-ethnic police unit to protect cultural and historical heritage sites. The future of Kosovo and Serbia were part and parcel of a European narrative, she emphasized.
MARTIN BRIENS ( France) said the accord created the groundwork for normalized relations between Serbia and Kosovo, as well as for stability, development and integration into the European Union. He called on the leadership on both sides to swiftly implement the Agreement, in line with the 22 May road map. Serbia must dismantle its parallel structures in northern Kosovo, he said, stressing also the vital need to protect the rights of various communities throughout Kosovo and to ensure their respective religious and cultural rights. New milestones could be reached at the end of June, with the launching of accession negotiations for both Serbia and Kosovo. The international community must cast off the past, he said, pointing out that Kosovo had been recognized by most Member States. With the European Union, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and OSCE recalibrating their processes on the ground, UNMIK must do the same, he said.
AGSHIN MEHDIYEV ( Azerbaijan) encouraged both parties to remain committed to achieving peace through a mutually agreeable solution. The activities of UNMIK were of great importance, and the Mission should continue to play its key role in ensuring the coordination of all efforts on the ground. The general calm was welcome, but repeated incidents of violence in northern Mitrovica should be duly investigated, he said. Promoting reconciliation and building trust in Kosovo’s communities was as important as reaching a negotiated political solution, he said, calling on both sides to increase their trust-building efforts.
LAWRENCE MANZI ( Rwanda) said it was in the common interest of both sides to “close the dark past” and maintain peaceful dialogue. It was through that dialogue that long-term, normal relations could flourish between Belgrade and Pristina. Indeed, there should be no turning back, he stressed, calling on both sides to remain committed to the political process. Urging the international community to provide full support for the implementation of the First Agreement, he said both parties should continue to demonstrate their political will and sincere desire for dialogue. As for the rule of law and human rights, he commended the collaboration between UNMIK and EULEX, stressed the need to protect the rights of minorities.
MASOOD KHAN ( Pakistan) called the 19 April Agreement a “landmark” opportunity for Pristina and Belgrade to forge good neighbourly ties. “They have succeeded against heavy odds,” he said. “This should be a new dawn in the region.” The Agreement increased the prospects for reconciliation and promised peace. It had built-in potential to save future generations on both sides from strife, he said, adding that the ratification of the accord by the legislatures of both parties further demonstrated their commitment. Noting that the accord’s practical implementation was equally important, he highlighted the particular importance of the elections later this year and the integration of Kosovo Serbs into the mainstream. “This opportunity should be used to let peace and stability grow,” he said, while cautioning, however, that the international community must heed Special Representative Zarif’s warning that the situation remained fragile.
VITALY CHURKIN ( Russian Federation) said his delegation had expected the months-long dialogue to lead to a genuine improvement in the situation of Kosovo Serbs, but the accord addressed only a few aspects. Emphasizing that Security Council resolution 1244 (1999) remained the only legal basis, and the Council the only body with the authority to take relevant decisions, he said the international community and the United Nations should not let their attention to events in Kosovo weaken. Indeed, the most difficult phase — practical implementation of the 19 April Agreement — lay ahead. The Russian Federation opposed reducing the strength of UNMIK, he said, adding that, in the face of so many problems, the Mission’s presence should be expanded, not reduced. The situation in northern Kosovo remained tense, as demonstrated by grenade explosions and ethnically motivated attacks. There was also the low level of returns by internally displaced persons, as well as the forced sale of property by Kosovo Serbs. Ethnic Serb enclaves were shrinking or dying out, he said, adding that vandalism and attacks against their cultural heritage sites continued. Lengthy and persistent efforts by the international community were needed to restore genuine order, and for that reason, the Russian Federation was concerned about plans to reduce the strength of EULEX and KFOR. The stabilization of Kosovo lay far ahead, and could only be achieved through strictly political means, he stressed.
KOKOU KPAYEDO ( Togo) said the implementation committee must begin by proposing the judicial reforms needed to implement the accord’s 15 provisions. Both parties should pursue dialogue in respect of missing persons, property ownership and the integration of Kosovo Serbs into central institutions. However, there was a risk that the 19 April Agreement would not achieve its aims if the people concerned were not involved in the new dynamic, he warned, noting that the many demonstrations organized against the accord were of major concern. He encouraged both sides to explain the basis of the Agreement to their respective people, while encouraging ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo to join fully in the normalization process and to take part in the municipal elections. He also encouraged the Kosovo Police to continue to investigate the most recent events involving the use of firearms and explosives, the desecration of tombs and other acts of intolerance.
MOHAMMED LOULICHKI ( Morocco), describing the Agreement as historic, said it marked a turning point in relations between Serbia and Kosovo, and opened the door to genuine integration into the European Union. The accord reflected significant progress relating to customs duties, value-added tax and the management of checkpoints. Expressing hope that it would lead to definitive agreements and expand to the crucial issue of freedom of movement, he said the parties had shown courage, and it was necessary not to dwell on the past. They should instead look to the future. He commended the creation of a special police unit to patrol cultural and religious sites.
MARIO OYARZÁBAL ( Argentina) underscored the role of the United Nations in Kosovo and the importance of maintaining a neutral position in the execution of UNMIK’s mandate. The parties should continue to work towards implementing the agenda pursuant to Security Council resolution 1244 (1999) and to strictly implement the First Agreement. The international community must continue to focus on the security situation in the north, he said, stressing the need for practical solutions to prevent further tension. Argentina remained concerned about continuing incidents, including the destruction of religious and cultural heritage sites and the desecration of Orthodox cemeteries, he said, calling for the prosecution of perpetrators. It was also important to help facilitate the return of internally displaced persons, he said, adding that UNMIK’s technical assistance was essential in that regard.
GERT ROSENTHAL ( Guatemala) called the First Agreement a “historic step forward”, emphasizing, however, that now was the time to ensure that elements of the accord could be implemented on the ground. UNMIK had a core role to play in that phase, and should focus on facilitating reconciliation among Kosovo’s communities. The increase in violence and tension in the north was a source of concern, including the alarming trend of using explosive devices. Guatemala deplored the destruction of cemeteries of the Serbian Orthodox Church, he said, stressing that all such incidents must be fully investigated. Among other things, priority attention must be given to reform of the security and justice sectors, and to the situation faced by minority communities, as a climate of discrimination still prevailed. A strong United Nations presence with appropriate resources remained necessary, he added, reaffirming the primacy of Security Council resolution 1244 (1999) as the relevant legal framework. Furthermore, there had been no change in Guatemala’s non-recognition of Kosovo’s independence.
MARK LYALL GRANT ( United Kingdom), Council President, spoke in his national capacity, emphasizing that normalizing relations was integral to both parties’ European Union accession path. Progress in the European Union-facilitated dialogue was a welcome reminder that vision, persistence and commitment could yield positive results. Underscoring the importance of sustaining the momentum of the last two months, he said the leadership in Belgrade must communicate the benefits of the accord effectively to its citizens, and the leadership in Pristina must ensure the right of all citizens and integrate ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo. KFOR would help in maintaining security and stability, and EULEX would help to integrate institutions in the north.
Encouraging both sides to ensure freedom of movement for UNMIK, he welcomed the upcoming municipal elections, and emphasized that women must have an equal role as candidates. According to the European Commission’s 22 April report, Kosovo had met the conditions for opening talks on a stabilization and association agreement with the European Union, he said, welcoming the report’s findings. He went on to welcome the wider recognition of Kosovo by the international community, most recently by the United Republic of Tanzania, Guyana and Yemen, noting that more than half of the United Nations Member States recognized it. “Kosovo’s independence is a reality,” he declared. “It is irreversible.”
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