Top Envoy Tells Security Council Resumption of Kosovo, Serbia High-level Meetings Critical to Efforts towards European Union Integration

SC/11684
4 December 2014
7327th Meeting (PM)

Top Envoy Tells Security Council Resumption of Kosovo, Serbia High-level Meetings Critical to Efforts towards European Union Integration

New momentum must be generated and high-level meetings must be resumed so that Kosovo and Serbia could continue towards the normalization of relations, in order to fulfil the promise and opportunities presented by the European Union integration process, said the top envoy of the United Nations in Kosovo, as he briefed the Security Council on recent developments.

“All sides are convinced of the value of dialogue,” said Farid Zarif, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), as he presented the Secretary-General’s report on the Mission, which covered the activities of UNMIK from 16 July to 15 October 2014 and highlighted efforts being made by both the Kosovo authorities and the Government of Serbia towards a common European future (document S/2014/773).

The report reviewed Serbian institutional reform issues and steps towards European Union integration, with that country having completed screening of half of the negotiation chapters in the framework for accession.  However, the report also detailed the ensuing political deadlock following the 8 June elections to establish a new Assembly of Kosovo.  That could have a potential negative impact on progress achieved so far in strengthening democratic institutions and processes in order to make use of the opportunities presented by stabilization and association talks with the European Union.

During his briefing, Mr. Zarif commended the Kosovo police and security bodies for their contribution to containing violence, while also noting that the leaders of the Islamic community had provided responsible guidance on sensitive issues, as well.  However, protection of religious heritage in Kosovo remained an issue of concern.  The instances of offensive graffiti on the buildings of the Visoki Decani monastery indicated that reconciliation efforts should continue.  President Jahjaga and other leaders in Pristina had responded promptly by condemning such acts.  The matter of internally displaced persons was also of concern, with the pace of their return remaining low and the continued occurrence of security incidents affecting returnees and undermining confidence.

At the regional level, he said that the ethnically motivated violence in the wake of the interrupted football match between Albania and Serbia demonstrated that the public and authorities needed to act responsibly.  Also of importance during the reporting period were allegations of corruption recently made against the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX).  The new Head of that Mission had confirmed that investigations into those allegations were ongoing.  “No space should be given to question the integrity of European Union rule of law principles and their central importance for future progress in Kosovo,” Mr. Zarif emphasized.

Kosovo’s citizens, whether Albanian, Serb, Bosnian, Turk or Ashkali, were not interested in nationalistic speeches, declared Hashim Thaçi of Kosovo.  They wanted peace and progress and because of that the entire territory had participated in the democratic process with free and well-organized national elections in June of this year.  The political gridlock after the elections had not turned into a violent crisis and a coalition had been achieved by Kosovar parties themselves, without outside interference.  Kosovo would implement every obligation to integrate the Serb minority, he added, calling on Serbia to turn a new chapter and bring “a modern and European attitude” in its relations with Kosovo.

Serbia had done everything the world had asked of it, its Prime Minister, Aleksandar Vučić stated.  Nonetheless, Serbia stood firm in its position not to recognize the secession of Kosovo and Metohija or its self-proclamation as a State.  Serbia, he underscored, wanted peace and stability in the entire region, and to that end, it had normalized relations with Pristina, as well as implementing various commitments in the Brussels Agreement.  However, there had been no progress in the establishment of the Community of Serbian Municipalities in Kosovo and Metohija.  The return of Serbs to areas from which they had been expelled was also impeded by security concerns and he called for strengthening the role of UNMIK.

“We are eager to see high-level meetings resume,” the representative of the United States said, a stance that was also taken by several members of the Council who exhorted both countries to re-engage in that process.  While acknowledging progress at the political level had reached an impasse, nonetheless, there had been movement at the technical level with important agreements on energy and telecommunications.

The representative of United Kingdom also noted that the normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia was a necessary component of their membership in the European Union.   He also joined other delegations in calling for a reduction in the frequency of Security Council debates on the issue, which was “overdue” given the improved relations between Belgrade and Pristina.  Echoing that Luxembourg’s delegate stated that, as relations normalized, the role of the United Nations would become less critical, and therefore, the Organization must “adjust its presence”.

However, the Russian Federation’s representative underscored the fragility of State-building in Kosovo, expressing concern at the delays in the formation of Government structures.  There was no tangible progress in the fight against crime and corruption and rampant unemployment was leading people to leave Kosovo “en masse”.  UNMIK remained the primary presence in Kosovo and he emphasized that it must be provided all means and resources required for its mission.

Also speaking today were representatives of Nigeria, Chile, China, Jordan, Australia, Lithuania, Rwanda, Argentina, Republic of Korea, France and Chad.

The meeting began at 3:05 p.m. and ended at 5:25 p.m.

Statements

ALEKSANDAR VUČIĆ, Prime Minister of Serbia, said the country was firm in its position not to recognize the secession of Kosovo and Metohija and its self‑proclamation as a State.  However, that was not an obstacle to negotiations as his Government wanted peace and stability in the entire region and the free circulation of people, goods and ideas throughout the region.  Addressing the report, he said that not even the basic conditions for normal life had been created in Kosovo and Metohija.  Fifteen years after the arrival of an international presence, the Council continued to discuss how to ensure elementary living conditions for Serbs and other non-Albanians in Kosovo and Metohija.  Thus, the role of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) must be strengthened, as weakening it would lessen its capacity to fulfil its mandate.

Serbia had done everything the world had asked of it, he went on to say.  It had normalized relations with Pristina and was committed to continue negotiations and to implement agreements reached so far.  However, it was still awaiting a collocutor, as the administrative organs of the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government (PISG) in Pristina had not yet been formed.  Still, he underscored that Serbia had implemented a range of measures to which it had committed itself by the Brussels Agreement.  He regretted the lack of progress in the implementation of the key segment of that Agreement related to the establishment of the community of Serbian municipalities in Kosovo and Metohija.  In addition, the portion of the report on northern Kosovo and Metohija was unacceptable; it was silent on the area’s basic problem: land usurpation and illegal construction, with the area’s Albanians making efforts to change the ethnic demographic of northern Kosovska Mitrovica.

Most ethnic attacks targeted Serbs and their property, he pointed out.  Personal and property insecurity were the main obstacles to the sustainable return of Serbs to areas from which they had been expelled.  He also called on the international community to heed the conclusions of the Chief Prosecutor of the European Union Special Investigative Task Force who had found compelling evidence to file an indictment against senior officials of the “so-called Kosovo Liberation Army” responsible for the persecution of Serbs, Roma and of Kosovo and Metohija Albanians.  Furthermore, Pristina had not complied with obligations under the Brussels Agreement as well as previous agreements in key areas.  The report was deficient in the segment related to property rights, as it was silent on the situation of the property of Serbs and other non-Albanians, he stressed, recalling that UNMIK had said that the privatization taken through the Privatization Agency of Kosovo was contrary to Council resolution 1244 (1999).

HASHIM THAÇI of Kosovo stated that the citizens of his country, whether Albanian, Serb, Bosnian, Turk or Ashkali, were not interested in nationalistic speeches.  They wanted jobs, peace and progress.  The year 2014 would be marked in Kosovo’s modern history as the year in which the entire territory, north and south, participated in the democratic process.  In the span of six months, Kosovo had organized two successful elections, including local ones at the end of 2013 and national ones in June of this year.  Those elections were widely considered by international observers as free, well-organized and democratic elections.

After the national elections of 8 June, a political gridlock occurred where “we could not find common ground between the winning party and the opposition,” he went on to say.  However, that situation never turned into or became a violent crisis.  By respecting the decisions of the Constitutional Court and the President, the two largest parties in Kosovo, along with parties representing minorities, were able to reach an agreement to form a Government.  That coalition had been achieved by Kosovar parties themselves, without outside interference, he stressed.

Turning to the dialogue with Serbia, he said that though Serbia had signed an agreement with Kosovo to ensure the normalization of relations, there was resistance to its implementation.  His Government would implement every letter and every obligation that it had undertaken to integrate the Serb minority.  “I also expect that Serbia will finally turn a new chapter and have a modern and European attitude towards Kosovo,” he added.  Condemning the attacks against the Serbian Orthodox Church, he underscored that the country had demonstrated innovation and vision not only in the making of peace, but also in digital diplomacy, in culture and in sports.

KAYODE LARO (Nigeria) underscored the significance of both sides reaching agreements through dialogue on energy and telecommunications.  Those agreements would go a long way in improving bilateral relations.  The leaders of Kosovo and Serbia should work towards a resumption of high-level talks, he said, adding that Kosovo’s leaders must consolidate the gains made in the political process.  The engagement of the Serb municipalities in the north with the central authorities was a very positive sign.  Noting that the problem of foreign terrorist fighters was an ongoing threat, he commended the Kosovo police for detaining suspected combatants.  Other positive signs included the establishment of a new consultative body focused on the return of internally displaced persons and the inclusive nature of that body.  The multi-stakeholder approach was crucial for resolving the many challenges faced by internally displaced persons.

VITALY I. CHURKIN (Russian Federation) said that much of what had occurred during the reporting period underlined the fragility of State-building in Kosovo.  In building new State institutions, the views of Serbian and non-Albanian residents should be taken into account.  He expressed concern with the delays in the formation of Government structures, as well as with the negative impact of delays in establishing a special court on crimes committed by the Kosovo Liberations Army.  The protection of witnesses must be guaranteed when that prosecution commenced.  The Secretary-General should follow up on the establishment of that special court’s “constitution”.  Although years had passed, there was no tangible progress in the fight against crime and corruption.  Rather, there was backsliding in areas, such as unemployment, leading people to leave Kosovo “en masse”.  Even staff members of the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) had been accused of corruption, while they were the very people who should be urging compliance with the rule of law.  Laws ensuring rights were not enough.  Laws must be enforced.  UNMIK remained the primary presence in Kosovo.  It must be provided all means and resources required for its mission.  Security Council resolution 1344 (2001) was the sole basis to regulate the situation in Kosovo.

CRISTIÁN BARROS MELET (Chile) voiced concern about the scant progress made in negotiations.  Although the dialogue facilitated by the European Union had continued, only technical agreements had been made.  Leaders on both sides should work towards dialogue at the highest levels.  Welcoming the principal agreement reached between the main political parties, he urged the parties to resume the dialogue on municipal administration in the region so that the climate of tension did not become intractable.  Maintaining a climate of security was critical to the process of negotiations.  Also welcomed were measures adopted to tackle the phenomenon of foreign terrorist fighters.  More so, it was difficult to speak of reconciliation policies without addressing the whereabouts of the disappeared.  That was fundamental “for closing the wounds opened by the war”, he stressed.

LIU JIEYI (China) said that he respected the territorial integrity of Serbia and understood that country’s legitimate concerns regarding Kosovo.  Security Council resolution 1244 (1999) was the best legal basis for resolving the Kosovo crisis.  It was crucial to engage in dialogue and negotiation according to the principles of the United Nations Charter in order to reach an appropriate solution acceptable to all parties.  The security situation in Kosovo had remained stable.  The positive efforts made by the Serbian Government were appreciated, he said, adding that he supported the continued practical dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina.  The maintenance of stability and security in the Balkans and Europe at large depended on resolving the Kosovo issue.  In that regard, the work of UNMIK was welcomed.  He also voiced hope that international presences, such as UNMIK and EULEX, would form a synergy that could play a positive and constructive role in finding an appropriate settlement.

MAHMOUD DAIFALLAH MAHMOUD HMOUD (Jordan) said that the recent elections and subsequent Government‑building activities were indications of political maturity in Kosovo and cause for optimism.  He welcomed the April 2013 agreement and called for continuing high-level dialogue under the auspices of the European Union.  He also welcomed the willingness of the Prime Minister of Serbia to resolve issues through dialogue.  Noting progress in Kosovo on human rights, he urged it to continue on that path and called upon the Kosovo authorities to treat all citizens equally in accordance with the law and to protect all minorities, particularly the Serbian minority.  All religious sites must be protected.  Pointing out that Kosovo had taken strides towards strengthening its international status, with 108 Member States giving it recognition, he called for its accession to international instruments.  As well, due to the stability in Kosovo, extending the periods of UNMIK reporting should also be considered.

GARY FRANCIS QUINLAN (Australia), commending the work of UNMIK and EULEX, said that the prolonged political deadlock in Pristina following the election risked diluting the progress in negotiations.  Welcoming the principal agreement, he urged the new Government to reengage as a matter of priority and focus on responsible governing.  The agreements on crossing points, energy and telecommunications should make a real difference to people’s lives.  Cooperation within the municipal Government was also a good sign.  Although the security situation in Kosovo continued to stabilize, the incidents following the football match and violence directed at Serbs who had returned to Kosovo showed that much remained to be done for inter‑ethnic harmony.  The past two years had seen substantial progress on the issue and there was now room to reduce the frequency of Security Council debates on Kosovo, he added.  A good first step would be to request the Secretary-General to submit reports every six months.

DAVID PRESSMAN (United States) said that it was vital to create a strong inclusive and integrated democracy in Kosovo, adding that he was eager to see high-level meetings resume.  Welcoming the efforts made by Kosovo political leaders to overcome the political impasse that had followed the June elections, he urged that the Government be formed in a manner fully in line with the country’s Constitution.  There were many pressing issues affecting the lives of people in Kosovo and many opportunities to continue the historic process of dialogue, he said, underscoring his continued support for the intensive engagement of the European Union in advancing that dialogue.  While progress at the political level had reached an impasse, there continued to be movement at the technical level with important agreements on energy and telecommunications.  While welcoming cooperation that had enabled Serb pilgrims to travel to Kosovo, he condemned those who were trying to sow mistrust and violence between the communities.  EULEX was instrumental in ensuring an environment conducive to dialogue and inflammatory language directed at that mission was unacceptable.

NIDA JAKUBONĖ (Lithuania) welcoming Kosovo’s coalition agreement, expressed hope that the Government would be formed swiftly in order to continue building a democratic, peaceful and multi-ethnic Kosovo.  Because regional cooperation was an essential part of the country’s process to join the European Union, Serbia and Kosovo needed to move ahead with implementation of the First Agreement of Principles Governing Normalization of Relations.  Noting the progress achieved in integrated border management, telecommunication and energy through the European Union-facilitated dialogue, she encouraged the resumption of high-level talks.  Also welcomed was the meeting of the Inter-Ministerial Working Group on Dealing with the Past and Reconciliation, as well as steps taken towards adopting a comprehensive strategy on transitional justice.  She commended Serbian, EULEX and Kosovo experts on completing the repatriation of remains recovered in the mass grave in Rudnica.  Among other points made, she also said that a review of the current UNMIK reporting should be done with a view to reduce its frequency and that drawdowns reflecting developments on the ground should be considered as well.

LAWRENCE MANZI (Rwanda) expressed concern at the impasse in the election of the President of the Assembly and the formation of a Government and encouraged all parties to put an end to the institutional gridlock.  He welcomed the integration of the former Serbian ministerial police into the Kosovo police, expressing the hope that it would help to relieve ethnic tensions in the area around Brdjani in northern Kosovo.  Noting the relative stability in Kosovo, he also recognized the work being done to prevent foreign terrorist fighters, including Da’esh.  He commended confidence-building measures, including work towards reconciliation, adding that all communities must participate in ensuring the safe return of the internally displaced persons.  Efforts by Serbia and Kosovo towards European integration were also welcomed.

MARIO OYARZÁBAL (Argentina), commending the fundamental role played by UNMIK in promoting security, stability and respect for human rights, said that although the situation was stable on the whole, there continued to be serious incidents.  Condemning the acts of vandalism in cemeteries and Serbian orthodox churches, he added that the response of the Kosovo police was improving.  It was vital to take measures to ensure that such incidents did not recur.  Welcoming the progress made by Serbia in reforming its institutions, he called on both parties to resume high‑level dialogue.  All international partners on the ground must work together in accordance with their mandates to resolve the issue.  The low rate of voluntary returnees to Kosovo was a matter of concern, and he encouraged the authorities to take all measures to resolve outstanding matters that were preventing ease of access and return.

OH JOON (Republic of Korea) pointed out that six months after elections, a standoff between political actors remained, preventing the formation of a Government.  He expressed the hope that the upcoming parliamentary session would lead to a resolution of the issue.  While there had been no talks due to the standoff, he said he trusted that actions were being made regarding the April 2013 agreement.  The European Union-facilitated dialogue must take place without delay, particularly with regard to judicial integration in northern Kosovo.  More efforts were needed to protect minority communities.  Thus, authorities must engage with those communities, particularly the Kosovar Serbs, and investigate incidents against them.  He welcomed the work to prevent foreign terrorist fighters and the dissociation of religious leaders in Kosovo from violent extremism.

MICHAEL TATHAM (United Kingdom) stated that Kosovo was now recognized by well over half the Member States of the United Nations.  Underscoring his commitment to the progress of both Kosovo and Serbia towards membership of the European Union, he stressed that normalization of relations was a necessary component in that process.  Both sides must also implement existing agreements.  It was a welcome sign that technical talks had continued to make progress, but it was clear that there needed to be a resumption of high-level talks once the new Government of Kosovo was in place.  He expressed concern about the increased number of incidents of violence and thefts targeting Serbs and returnees.  Voicing support for EULEX, he said that allegations against the mission in the press must be looked into.  Welcoming the determination of the Kosovo authorities and Islamic community in tackling extremism, he also said that the role played by the leadership of the Islamic community to dissociate themselves from extremism had been a very positive one.  Finally, the reduction in the frequency of Security Council debates was overdue, given the improved relations between Belgrade and Pristina.

PHILIPPE BERTOUX (France) noted the technical progress that had enabled normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo.  He pointed out that political parties in Kosovo had finally concluded an agreement in principle towards forming a Government and that a cabinet could be named as early as 8 December.  Kosovo needed a stable Government to meet the expectations of its people, including those in the north, as demonstrated by their high turnout for the elections.  There must be a speedy resumption of political dialogue between the two countries, he stressed, adding that he counted on the political parties in Pristina to establish a court to follow up on the work of the Special Investigative Team.  Observing that the security situation in Kosovo remained stable, he underscored particularly the integration of former Serbian police into the Kosovar police force as part of the April 2013 agreement.  Restoring the peoples’ mutual trust was the only way for Kosovo and Serbia to open a new page in their history.  He welcomed the efforts of both towards integration in the European Union and voiced hope that Serbia’s substantial institutional transformations would be recognized.

OLIVIER MAES (Luxembourg) said that recent progress had left “room for us to hope that there would soon be a new Government supported by a stable majority in the Parliament”.  He said that he was pleased that the police and the security sector in Kosovo had taken many efforts to tackle the global problem of extremism, and he encouraged the authorities to continue to take measures to prevent the participation of Kosovar citizens in conflicts abroad.  The adoption of the draft law prohibiting Kosovo citizens from engaging in armed conflict outside Kosovo should be a priority.  Turning to EULEX, he noted that several delegations had raised allegations about that mission’s judges.  He voiced full confidence in the independent expert appointed to elucidate those allegations and stressed that the allegations should not undermine the important role played by EULEX.  As the process of normalizing relations between Belgrade and Pristina continued under the auspices of the European Union, the role of the United Nations would become less critical, and therefore the Organization must “adjust its presence”, he concluded.MAHAMAT ZENE CHERIF (Chad), Council President, spoke in his national capacity, stating that Kosovo had been unable to form a Government for five months since the holding of the legislative elections.  The crisis caused by the quest for a balance of power and reports of violence in the northern regions were matters of concern.  The continued political impasse and institutional vacuum could make the situation more difficult.  He called on the concerned parties to sit down and talk till they found a political solution.  Congratulating UNMIK on the discharge of its mandate, he reiterated his country’s support for the work of finding disappeared persons.  While there had been much progress in tackling war crimes and combating organized crime, the authorities in Kosovo must continue to take appropriate measures to curb the rising number of foreign terrorist fighters.

For information media. Not an official record.