Rising Tensions between Pristina, Belgrade Threatening Efforts to Forge Lasting Peace in Kosovo, Special Representative Tells Security Council

SC/13335
14 May 2018
8254th Meeting (AM)

Rising Tensions between Pristina, Belgrade Threatening Efforts to Forge Lasting Peace in Kosovo, Special Representative Tells Security Council

Rising political temperatures between Pristina and Belgrade were threatening to derail efforts to find lasting peace in Kosovo, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General told the Security Council today.

Zahir Tanin, who is also Head of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), said positive steps, such as a new border agreement with Montenegro and recent talks in Brussels, were being undermined by deteriorating conditions on the ground.  Briefing on the Secretary-General’s latest report (document S/2018/407), he said violent and rhetorical confrontations between the parties must be calmed to ensure shared progress towards common goals, encouraging all leaders to organize the future rather than mourn the past, with a spirit of moving forward with compassion, understanding and clarity.

For its part, the Mission continued to prioritize its work in the areas of trust-building, human rights and limited, but essential aspects of support to rule of law and justice institutions.  “Our efforts are aimed at sustaining peace, ensuring we remain at the forefront of monitoring and analysing the situation and reinforcing strategic coordination with members of all United Nations entities, as well as international partners in complementing the efforts of Kosovo’s institutions,” he said.

During the subsequent discussion, Council members debated the future of UNMIK, with the United States’ delegate saying the time had come to close the Mission.  Agreeing, the United Kingdom’s representative said that, given more pressing situations around the world, it was inappropriate and inefficient for the Council to devote so much time and resources to the situation in Kosovo, he said, supporting the reduction of attention to it and a review of the Mission’s activities.

Representing another perspective, the Russian Federation’s delegate said recent reports of lawlessness contrasted sharply with the “rosy picture” painted by some parties, making it completely inappropriate to modify the Council’s consideration of the situation.  Echoing that view, some delegates expressed strong support for UNMIK and its essential, continuous efforts, with Ethiopia’s representative expressing hope that the Mission would continue to promote political dialogue, strengthen community reconciliation and ensure security and stability in Kosovo and the region.

Delegates also expressed regret over recent violent developments, with some saying Council resolution 1244 (1999) should guide actions, including the formation of Kosovo armed forces and the establishment of a community of Serbian municipalities.  Referring to the Secretary-General’s report, some representatives spotlighted events that threatened peace, stability and the resumption of dialogue, including the 16 January assassination of Kosovo-Serb politician Oliver Ivanović and the 26 March incident involving Marko Ðurić, Director of Serbia’s Kosovo office, who had been arrested, “manhandled” along a street in Pristina and expelled from Kosovo, with the latter triggering the President of Serbia’s announcement the following day that the Serbian List leadership had intended to withdraw from Kosovo’s governing coalition.

Such actions disrupted the peace required to find a lasting solution, many delegates said.  Some raised concerns about Kosovo’s disproportionate use of force in the apprehension of Mr. Ðurić, calling on both parties to return to dialogue with a view to forging a lasting peace.  Others raised concerns about the slow return of refugees and internally displaced persons.

Ivica Dačić, First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Serbia, said that, while the Mission had accomplished a lot, much more must be done, referring to dialogue as the only way towards a long-term solution.  Underlining the Council’s obligation to help find such a solution, he said calls to downsize the Mission and cut its budget had fallen short of contributing to that goal, particularly amid ongoing tensions and violence at a time when perpetrators must be held accountable.

Meanwhile, Vlora Çitaku of Kosovo said UNMIK had served its purpose.  Noting that Kosovo had been omitted from the Secretary-General’s report on conflict‑related sexual violence, she said non-governmental organizations had collected some 20,000 accounts of systematic rape and torture perpetrated by Serbian forces during the war in Kosovo.  However, no perpetrators had ever been brought to justice.  Warning against turning a blind eye to those crimes, she stressed Serbia’s promotion of war criminals as heroes and role models was unacceptable for a European Union candidate country.

Also delivering statements were representatives of Bolivia, Equatorial Guinea, Netherlands, Peru, Kuwait, France, China, Kazakhstan, Côte d’Ivoire, Sweden and Poland.

The meeting began at 10:07 a.m. and ended at 12:43 p.m.

Briefing

ZAHIR TANIN, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), briefed the Council on the Secretary-General’s latest report (document S/2018/407), saying the situation between Pristina and Belgrade had deteriorated.  Rising political temperatures had created hurdles in advancing dialogue.  A new focus by Brussels at all levels provided a mutually beneficial opportunity for both parties to overcome the current tensions and take dialogue to the next state of real progress.

The Mission’s priority was to create an atmosphere for good-faith compromise, he said, adding that the recent Kosovo Trust-Building Forum had gathered the UNMIK team, European Union, European Union Rule of Law Mission (EULEX), Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and more than 100 community leaders.  With multiple focus groups working to strengthen understanding across community divides, he urged all leaders to organize the future than to mourn the past, with a spirit of moving forward with compassion, understanding and clarity.

Turning to Kosovo’s European perspective, he said a number of steps must be taken, including the agreement with Montenegro and strengthening the rule of law and human rights portfolios.  In that vein, he noted the approval of a new draft of the Kosovo criminal code, introducing stricter penalties for offences related to corruption and misuse of official duty.  Concerning the protection of cultural heritage, he described progress in the special protected zones and said the international community would continue to closely watch the Government’s actions in the case of construction near the Visoki Decani Monastery in western Kosovo.

Meanwhile, he said, the Mission continued to prioritize its work in the areas of trust-building, human rights and limited, but essential aspects of support to rule of law and justice institutions.  Crucial to its efforts were the implementation of the peace and security agendas on women and on youth.  “Our efforts are aimed at sustaining peace, ensuring we remain at the forefront of monitoring and analysing the situation and reinforcing strategic coordination with members of all United Nations entities, as well as international partners in complementing the efforts of Kosovo’s institutions,” he said.

Statements

IVICA DAČIĆ, First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Serbia, said that, while the Mission had accomplished a lot, much more remained to be done, referring to dialogue as the only way towards a long-term solution.  Underlining the Council’s obligation to help find such a solution, he said calls to downsize the Mission and cut its budget had fallen short of contributing to that goal.

Turning to the Secretary-General’s report, he said that, in the shadow of recent murder, raids and illegal apprehension of Marko Ðurić, no perpetrators had been brought to justice.  Such actions had dealt a serious blow to the dialogue process and violated the peace and security of Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija, and the entire region.  Further, the Kosovo multinational security force (KFOR) had turned a blind eye to negative activities of special units of the Kosovo police forces.  The creation of the “Kosovo Armed Forces” violated Security Council resolution 1244 (1999) and the Kumanovo military technical agreement.

For its part, Serbia was firmly committed to solving all issues through dialogue, he said, pointing out that he had personally signed the Brussels Agreement in 2013.  That agreement had been implemented, including the establishment of the Community of Serb Municipalities, which was of crucial importance for Serbia and Kosovo and Metohija Serbs because it had been designed to protect their vital interests.  To ensure that all agreements were being implemented, an international presence was essential, he said, and current EULEX troop levels must be maintained.

Raising several concerns, he highlighted the 200,000 expelled Serbs and non‑Albanians, the broad destruction of churches and that only 1.9 per cent of internally displaced persons had achieved sustainable returns.  The situation had been exacerbated by recent arbitrary arrests, the compilation of secret lists for future arrests, institutional discrimination, intimidation and failure to sanction national and religious hatred and ethnically motivated violence.  Perpetrators of crimes committed in Kosovo and Metohija must be held accountable, and Serbia would prosecute those responsible based on evidence, he said, underlining the significance of the recent decision by the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) to re-issue notices for those charged with committing such crimes.

With a view to protecting the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, he said Serbia would continue to use all diplomatic means against Pristina’s secessionist attempts.  Indeed, Serbia wanted to find a common interest with Western countries.  “Serbia’s policy is a policy of peace and economic linkage and prosperity,” he said, urging the Council to focus on a quest for compromise and a sustainable solution to the decades-long problem, with a view to ensuring that the entire western Balkans became a province of lasting peace, stability, security and mutual trust.

VLORA ÇITAKU of Kosovo, recalling that Kosovo had recently marked a decade of statehood, declared:  “We have been through a lot, beginning with a long period of oppression and systematic human rights violations prior to the war, and culminating with ethnic cleansing.”  Despite those dire circumstances, however, Kosovo had never given up and had rebuilt itself from scratch.  Today, young Kosovars wanted closure and truth about the past.  Emphasizing that truth and reconciliation could never be built on false narratives — nor on desperate attempts to establish moral parity — she said a disturbing “creative revisionist history” about the war was now emerging from Serbia.  Such an attempt “has no place in this chamber, or anywhere else for that matter” and must be stopped, she said.

Noting that Kosovo had been omitted from the Secretary-General’s 2018 report on conflict-related sexual violence, she said non-governmental organizations had collected some 20,000 accounts of systematic rape and torture by Serbian forces during the war in Kosovo.  However, no perpetrators had been brought to justice.  Warning against turning a blind eye to those crimes, she said Serbia’s promotion of war criminals as heroes and role models was unacceptable for a European Union‑candidate country.  Also, Serbia did not possess a veto on the establishment of the Kosovo Armed Forces, efforts which Belgrade nevertheless continued to squash.

Citing several incidents of Kosovar sports teams being prevented from taking part in events in Serbia — part of a pattern of that country’s obstructionism — she said even children were being banned.  The situation was one of many arbitrary barriers Serbia continued to build.  A group of parliamentarians from Kosovo had also recently been banned from attending a regional conference in Belgrade on Europe Day.  Noting that the Kosovo parliament had recently voted for a border demarcation agreement with Montenegro — fulfilling the last condition for visa‑free travel within the European Union — she described it as unfortunate that Serbian members of the Kosovo parliament, under constant threats from Belgrade, had not voted in favour of that agreement.

Meanwhile, she said, Serbian Government officials had recently taken a series of intentional actions violating the agreement between their two countries regulating official visits.  Those clear violations were preceded and followed by inflammatory rhetoric delivered in public statements.  “Kosovo does not tolerate provocations, and is committed to refraining from provocations itself,” she said.  While Serbia longed for a territorial solution, Pristina wanted a civil one.  “We do not believe that the creation of boundaries based on ethnic lines will contribute to peace and stability,” she said, emphasizing that the time had also come to close UNMIK.  United Nations resources could be put to better use.

AMY NOEL TACHCO (United States) voiced strong support for Kosovo, and its interactions with Europe and the entire international community.  Underscoring the United States’ support for the Brussels dialogue, she called on Pristina and Belgrade to work together to normalize relations, build stronger political will and fully implement their commitments under the Brussels dialogue.  Long delays on several issues — including the establishment of Serb‑majority municipalities in Kosovo — were having negative repercussions, she warned, expressing concern that increased tensions could undermine efforts to stabilize the situation and threaten citizens in both countries.  Citing increased tensions following the killing of prominent Serb politician Oliver Ivanović, she called for a full investigation into the incident and for efforts to hold the perpetrators accountable.  Additionally, rhetorical threats against Kosovo Serbs who had integrated into Kosovo institutions must cease.  UNMIK was long overdue for drawdown, and the millions of dollars requested for its maintenance did not make sense.  Indeed, it had “lived past its purposes”.  Fewer Council meetings on it were now required.  Finally, the United States continued to strongly support Kosovo’s full membership in international institutions, including INTERPOL and the United Nations itself, and called on those who had not yet done so to recognize Kosovo’s statehood.

TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia) expressed support for Serbia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as for the peaceful, amicable resolution of all outstanding issues between Belgrade and Pristina in accordance with the Brussels Agreement.  High-level engagements by the European Union were encouraging developments, as was the resumption of the dialogue facilitated by the bloc.  Calling on Belgrade and Pristina to continue demonstrating good faith and positive commitment to those talks with a view to normalizing relations, he expressed concern about slow progress in establishing the Association/Community of Serb‑majority Municipalities in Kosovo and encouraged implementation of all existing agreements in accordance with the Brussels Agreement.  Also expressing concern about deteriorating relations following several recent incidents, he called on both sides to refrain from actions and statements that could cause ethnic discord, and instead, exert efforts to create an atmosphere of trust and confidence conducive for dialogue.  Additionally, he expressed hope that UNMIK would continue to promote political dialogue, strengthen community reconciliation and ensure security and stability in Kosovo and the region.

SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia), emphasizing the importance of implementing resolution 1244 (1999), condemned recent violence and called for authorities to investigate.  Such actions threatened eroding confidence between the parties.  Applauding efforts made by the European Union, he called on the parties to work towards a peaceful solution through dialogue and to honour agreements, including respect for the Brussels Agreement and the establishment of Community of Serb Municipalities.  Commending UNMIK efforts to mitigate tensions and promote political dialogue, he said the international community must show its support to the Trust Fund, including by providing necessary assistance for projects aimed at improving conditions in minority communities affected by lead poisoning in Kosovo.

STEPHEN HICKEY (United Kingdom) said Kosovo had the opportunity to progress on its European path, following such steps as the recent border agreement with Montenegro.  Encouraging both Kosovo and Serbia to work towards peace, he said provocative acts on both sides were antagonistic.  Kosovo must establish the rule of law and human rights in all its institutions, and recent crimes must be investigated, with both parties working together in that regard.  It was inappropriate and inefficient for the Council to devote so much time and resources to the situation in Kosovo, he said, agreeing with such views supporting the reduction of the level of attention and a review of the Mission’s activities.

JOB OBIANG ESONO MBENGONO (Equatorial Guinea), highlighting the European Union’s role in the resumption of dialogue, expressed hope that elements of existing agreements would be implemented and respected, including the establishment of the Community of Serb Municipalities.  Urging both parties to continue making efforts towards achieving stability on the ground, he shared concerns with the Secretary-General on events that threatened such stability, including the arrest of Mr. Durić and the slow progress on the investigation regarding the 16 January assassination of Kosovo-Serb politician Oliver Ivanović.  Calling for prompt investigations of all such crimes, he said efforts must also address prevailing violent extremism and social instability.  Confidence-building initiatives must also be supported, he said, adding that all parties should commit to dialogue and that his delegation supported UNMIK activities in that regard.

KAREL JAN GUSTAAF VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands) said the Council should refocus UNMIK’s efforts so that the means deployed by the United Nations were tailored to the situation on the ground.  In that context, she/he looked forward to a strategic review of the Mission.  Pointing out that the resumption of discussions as part of the European Union-facilitated dialogue was an important step towards normalized relations between Belgrade and Pristina, he stressed the need for sincere political will and a united effort to achieve concrete results.  For peace to become entrenched in the fabric of society, Kosovo must protect and promote the rule of law, he said, citing its efforts to reform the judiciary and encouraging more steps to be taken.

GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru), raising concerns over recent violent events, said resolution 1244 (1999) and the Brussels Agreement remained the foundation of establishing peace.  While progress had been seen in the new border agreement with Montenegro, he said negative developments required attention and action.  Kosovo authorities must fully cooperate with relevant institutions with regard to investigating cases of atrocities and both parties must address the root causes of the conflict, as well as the needs of internally displaced persons.  Commending UNMIK efforts to broaden women and youth participation, he condemned destructive actions that threatened stability.

MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait), recalling that his country had recognized Kosovo’s independence in 2013, expressed support for its continued political development and progress towards incorporation into the European Union.  Welcoming the resumption of the European Union-facilitated dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, he called on both sides to fully implement their commitments including the establishment of a Serb-majority municipality in Kosovo.  Voicing concern over some security developments and the escalation of tensions, he called on the parties to avoid escalations and inflammatory rhetoric and to demonstrate the political will to ensure the normalization of relations.  The international community must step up its efforts to encourage the sides to reach mutually agreeable resolutions to outstanding issues and strengthen security, stability and human rights.

ANNE GUEGUEN (France), expressing satisfaction over continued efforts by UNMIK to promote security and stability, said efforts to re-centre the Mission’s work should be conducted carefully to accurately reflect the situation on the ground.  France had long stood with Kosovo and had assisted them in addressing development and political challenges.  Inviting all political forces to reach consensus on its future, she condemned all violent acts, including the use of tear‑gas aimed at upsetting the functioning of the parliament.  Welcoming Kosovo’s recently concluded demarcation agreement with Montenegro — which would help strengthen neighbourly relations in the region — she nevertheless expressed regret over recent incidents that had negative impacted relations between Belgrade and Pristina.  In that regard, she called on both sides to show restraint and move towards the conclusion of an agreement on the normalization of relations.

WU HAITAO (China) said the Kosovo region still faced complex challenges.  Urging all parties to refrain from actions and rhetoric that could escalate tensions, and to always put people’s well-being first, he said they were also bound to act in full accordance with Council resolutions and the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter.  That included respect for Serbia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, he said, noting that China understood that country’s legitimate concerns.  In that context, Belgrade and Pristina should work towards a lasting, peaceful political solution through sincere dialogue.  Expressing support for UNMIK and EULEX, he expressed hope that both Missions would continue to help the parties reach a peaceful resolution.

KANAT TUMYSH (Kazakhstan) said the lack of intercommunity trust and the large number of persons still missing had yet to be resolved.  Stressing that the implementation of resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security remained a matter of high importance, he said victims needed continuous psychological care, economic opportunities and social empowerment.  Kazakhstan supported the comprehensive approach taken in Kosovo, since neither peace and security, nor development could be achieved without good governance, rule of law, criminal justice, and both institutional and human-rights-related reforms, including in the fight against corruption and organized crime.

ALCIDE DJEDJE (Côte d’Ivoire) applauded the border agreement with Montenegro, emphasizing it as an example of political parties overcoming differences towards a joint achievement.  Likewise, he commended efforts of a high-level meeting in Brussels in March aimed at resuming dialogue to settle outstanding differences.  Yet, persisting tensions, including the arrest and expulsion of Mr. Ðurić, remained grave concerns.  Inviting Serbia and Kosovo to abstain from any unilateral action that would threaten a peaceful solution, he called on them to respect the principles of good neighbourliness.  He cited the stalled investigation of the murder of Mr. Ivanović among his concerns and called on political authorities in Kosovo to remove any obstacles to establishing the community of Serbian municipalities, and on both parties to use all tools available to resume dialogue.

VLADIMIR K. SAFRONKOV (Russian Federation), noting that UNMIK continued to play an important role in the situation on the ground, said it was not improving, but rather deteriorating.  While EULEX was planning to leave the province, tensions were escalating following the death of Mr. Ivanović.  In March, the Director of Serbia’s Kosovo office had been roughly arrested and humiliated, resulting in further violence.  “This kind of lawlessness […] illustrates a deplorable situation” in respecting both the rule of law and human rights, he said, which contrasted sharply with the “rosy picture” pained by some parties.  The dangerous intimidation of Serbs in Kosovo would not only escalate tensions, but destabilize the entire region.  Calling on those with influence over Pristina to urge its authorities to exercise restraint, he warned against a culture of impunity and permissiveness in the province.  The Russian Federation’s own position on the matter was based on Council resolution 1244 (1999).

Unfortunately, the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina had been discredited, he said, and agreements reached under the Brussels Agreement had not implemented been due largely to the European Union’s laxity.  Belgrade continued to demonstrate a constructive willingness to negotiate, despite pressure and attempts to force the acknowledgement of Kosovo’s de facto leadership.  Describing it as untimely to push forward normalization on an artificial timeline, he said the central issue — the establishment of a Serb municipality in Kosovo — had seen no progress.  Meanwhile, delays in the work of the special court on war crimes were totally unacceptable.  All those who had committed crimes, including trafficking in human organs, must be punished, no matter what position they now held.  Also unacceptable was the slow rate of return by refugees and internally displaced persons, he said, noting that only three individuals had returned during the period under review.  Meanwhile, attacks and vandalism against Serbian houses, churches and monasteries continued.  Given all those issues, it was completely inappropriate to modify the Council’s consideration of the situation, he said.

CARL ORRENIUS SKAU (Sweden) welcomed the recent ratification of the territorial delineation agreement with Montenegro by the Assembly of Kosovo as an important breakthrough.  It was critical to resume a dedicated reform agenda and to intensify the fight against corruption and organized crime, He said, encouraging the Government and the opposition to engage in constructive dialogue to overcome political deadlocks and accelerate necessary reforms.  He expressed concern over the recent arrest and expulsion of Turkish nationals without customary court proceedings.  Kosovo’s political leadership must respect the rule of law and human rights, he said, welcoming work being undertaken on women, peace and security in Kosovo.

JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland), Council President for May, speaking in her national capacity, said the situation in Kosovo allowed for a substantial reduction in reporting to the Council.  She called for a strategic review of UNMIK, given that 20 years had passed since the Mission’s establishment and that its relevance should be reassessed.  It was important that the European Union-facilitated dialogue continue, and that decisions already taken within that dialogue be swiftly implemented.  She noted Kosovo’s efforts to bring the justice system up to international and European standards and welcomed the ratification of the demarcation agreement with Montenegro.

Mr. DAČIĆ (Serbia), taking the floor a second time, said he would not respond to Ms. Çitaku’s comments, as he wished to keep the current meeting constructive in nature.  Responding instead to comments raised by the Council’s members, he said Serbia’s diplomatic relations with the United Kingdom had begun in 1837.  Relations with France had begun in 1839, he said, adding that Serbia had also enjoyed 170 years of diplomatic relations with the Russian Federation and 137 years with the United States.  All those long relationships were between those nations and the Kingdom of Serbia — not Yugoslavia — he said, stressing: “You are talking to an old State with whom who have friendly relations.”  Asking Council members to take those historical relationships into account, he emphasized that they were discussing painful and difficult issues and should be sensitive.  The situation in Kosovo was not a fight for self-determination, as the province had its own separatist groups.  Indeed, recognition of Kosovo would not resolve such challenges in 20 years “when they appear at your door”.  Serbia would never call on other countries to violate the territory of any other nation, he stressed, asking others to act with similar respect.  “We do not bring down old friendships because of new ones,” he concluded.

Ms. ÇITAKU of Kosovo, also speaking a second time, said Pristina would leave no stone unturned in its investigation of the murder of Oliver Ivanović.  Noting that he had been a citizen of Kosovo, she said Mr. Ivanović was also one of the only local Serbian leaders who had spoken openly against Belgrade’s intimidation and threats.  Reiterating that Kosovo’s independence was not the product of a secessionist movement, but rather, of the dissolution of Yugoslavia, she urged anyone who questioned that fact to read the International Court of Justice’s unambiguous opinion on that issue.  While Kosovo was a young State, it was a very old nation.  “We have always been here,” she said, adding that Kosovars were Europeans and were proud of their good relationships with the bloc’s members.

For information media. Not an official record.