23 September 2008


23 September 2008
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



President Tarja Halonen of Finland this afternoon defended her country’s position on two controversial European issues -- Kosovo’s self-proclaimed independence and separatist unrest in Georgia -- saying that the Finnish Government believed in solving contentious political issues through cooperation and legal means.

Ms. Halonen, who was accompanied by Alexander Stubb, Finland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, first addressed the Finnish press in her native language, before fielding a question from an English-language correspondent on a proposed motion by the Serbian Government to refer the question of Kosovo’s independence to the International Court of Justice.

[On 19 September, the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President said the General Assembly had approved a recommendation of its general committee to place the issue put on the agenda of the Assembly's sixty-third session, which was formally opened yesterday.  No date had been set for the debate.]

Ms. Halonen answered that Finland had always been a strong supporter of the International Court of Justice, and had no qualms over any country’s desire to have the Court hear the case of Kosovo’s legality.

Mr. Stubb added that a group of foreign ministers of the European Union had recently met to decide whether their bloc would support or reject such a resolution if it came to a vote, or if they would abstain from the motion.  To date, the European Union had not reached agreement on a common stand, though he foresaw an abstention by the European Union, since some members had chosen to recognize independence, while others did not.

“The Finnish position is very clear -- we will not vote against [the resolution],” he said.  “For us, it would be going against our basic principles to deny that right for Serbia.”

Ms. Halonen noted that the European Union had been trying for years to negotiate a result for Kosovo, and added that Kosovo’s unilateral bid for independence had been neither sudden nor unexpected.  Mindful of the aspirations of many Kosovars to self-determination, the European Union had reacted in the best possible way -- by allowing its members to decide individually whether to acknowledge Kosovo’s independence.

“But as a former lawyer, I would say that it was not, perhaps, the perfect case concerning international legislation,” she said.

In reply to a question regarding Georgia -- where clashes between separatist groups and the Government reached a peak in August -- Ms. Halonen said Finland’s main concern lay in helping to maintain a ceasefire, and not in “trying to find the guilty ones”.

Mr. Stubb explained that Finland had played a major role in brokering the ceasefire.  As a result, 20 European Union troops were currently in the “security zone” within Georgia to monitor the truce, and efforts were under way to bring in another 80 soldiers.  A meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had proven “excellent” and “constructive”, and had focused on troop withdrawal.

“Once the troops had withdrawn, then we start discussing the status of [South] Ossetia and Abkhazia,” said Mr. Stubb.

Ms. Halonen added that she had discussed the issue with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Sunday, and was hopeful that progress would be made on the Georgian conflict at a meeting to be held in Geneva next month among officials of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the United Nations and the European Union.  As Chair of the OSCE in 2008, Ms. Halonen said the Finnish Government hoped to foster cooperation between the United Nations, European Union and OSCE in settling the Georgian questions.

Also, in light of a tragic gun attack at a Finnish vocational school today, correspondents asked whether the Finnish Government would consider tightening gun laws.  Ms. Halonen said she had experienced shock and sadness at the news, which was the second such attack in a year, and added that the Government was likely to embark on a serious study on why those attacks happened.  She said the study would pay special attention to the influence of Internet discussion groups on young people.  The perpetrator had posted a video of himself on the web prior to the attack.

Mr. Stubb told correspondents that hunting was a popular hobby in Finland -- a country of 5 million people where around 1.6 million guns were in circulation, and where people as young as 15 years old might own guns.  Gun ownership was governed by stringent rules, where applicants for a gun license must sit for an interview with the police.

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