Antagonistic Gestures, Accusations Prevailing over Efforts to Resume Kosovo Talks, Special Representative Tells Security Council

SC/13693
7 February 2019
8459th Meeting (PM)

Antagonistic Gestures, Accusations Prevailing over Efforts to Resume Kosovo Talks, Special Representative Tells Security Council

Antagonistic gestures and accusations are prevailing over genuine efforts to resume political dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative told the Security Council today, calling on both sides to steady, rather than agitate, the atmosphere as a minimum requirement.

“There has been a tendency to disrupt rather than de-escalate the situation,” said Zahir Tanin, who is also Head of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), as he presented the Secretary-General’s latest report on the matter (document S/2019/102).  The absence in Pristina of a unified stance on the conditions for resumed talks has raised concerns about the viability of the government coalition.

Attention has also focused on the 100 per cent tariff Pristina introduced on goods from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina — a measure that has been challenged by many quarters and on whose revocation Belgrade has made dialogue contingent.  Pristina has linked the lifting of the tax to several conditions, he said, stressing that a forward-looking approach is essential to removing obstacles.

For its part, the Mission has worked to foster mutual trust across communities, facilitating people-to-people engagement, he said.  But more must be done to guarantee the rights of non-majority communities, including the Ashkali, Egyptian and Roma, as well as returnees and internally displaced persons.  He pressed the Council to support engagement between Belgrade and Pristina, as removing obstacles to dialogue is crucial for regional stability.

When the floor was opened, Serbia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs said dialogue with Pristina has been forestalled for one reason:  Kosovo’s decision to impose a 100 per cent tariff on goods from his country and Bosnia and Herzegovina — a move condemned by the international community and which contravened the Central European Free Trade Agreement.

He said Pristina’s attempts to take over the northern part of Kosovska Mitrovica and expel Serbs from that area only complicate the difficulties.  Assertions that UNMIK is unnecessary do not reflect reality and he urged the Council to avoid rushed decisions.

On that point, Vlora Çitaku of Kosovo wondered “why on Earth” the Council has convened for the third time in four months to discuss Kosovo.  UNMIK has no role and no longer has a mandate in Kosovo.  Her government is prepared to discuss building constructive relations with Belgrade as equals.

On the tariffs, she pointed out that no product labelled “Made in Kosovo” can pass the Serbian border and questioned why Kosovo should extend such a courtesy, stressing that the tariff’s real economic effect is negligible.  “We remain determined to do all that is in our power to achieve and cherish a stable and lasting peace,” she asserted.

Other delegates offered their views, with the representative of the Russian Federation stressing his rejection of attempts by Western Powers to exclude Pristina from the Council’s agenda, describing Kosovo as the cradle of instability in the region.  Calls for Kosovo to be militarized gravely violate Security Council resolution 1244 (1999).  “If we want to achieve stability in the Balkans, we have to find compromise,” he said.

The speaker for the United Kingdom, stressing that Kosovo is no longer a place in conflict, welcomed the proposal to focus the Council’s efforts on “much more fierce, intractable and live conflicts”.  Kosovo and Serbia are fortunate that the European Union has offered a dialogue within which they can make progress towards integration in the bloc as equals and sovereigns.

Poland’s representative recalled that 10 years have passed since the last strategic review of UNMIK.  Echoing calls by her counterparts from the United States, Germany and Belgium, she said “the time is ripe for a new one”, which should lead to the downgrading of forces and possible resource savings.

Also speaking today were representatives of France, China, Peru, Indonesia, Kuwait, Côte d’Ivoire, Dominican Republic, South Africa and Equatorial Guinea.

The meeting began at 3:18 p.m. and ended at 5:39 p.m.

Briefing

ZAHIR TANIN, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), speaking via teleconference from Pristina, said the recent period was characterized by action and rhetoric that had not improved the atmosphere for resumed political dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina.  Antagonistic gestures and accusations are far more prominent than efforts to return to dialogue.  While leaders on both sides face serious challenges, the minimum requirement for continuation of the dialogue is to “steady the atmosphere”.  The absence in Pristina of a unified stance on the conditions for such resumption has reached a critical point, raising concerns about the viability of the government coalition in Kosovo.

As to where that leaves the prospect for political engagement, he said much attention has focused on the 100 per cent tariff introduced by Pristina on goods originating from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, beginning in November 2018 — a measure that has been challenged by many quarters and on whose revocation Belgrade has made dialogue contingent.  Pristina has linked the lifting of the tariff to several conditions, he said, stressing that a forward-looking approach is essential to removing obstacles.  In Pristina, an expanded negotiating team, which includes members of the Assembly of Kosovo, was established in December 2018 and internal discussions on the principles guiding Pristina’s position are ongoing.

He said more must be done on both sides to prepare the ground for any agreement, requiring more engagement with and support by a wide array of stakeholders.  Recalling that the Kosovo Assembly in December 2018 passed three laws relating to the Kosovo Security Force which were not supported by the Serb caucus and which were heavily criticized from Belgrade, he said Security Council resolution 1244 (1999) provides the sole legal framework for the international security presence in Kosovo, the Kosovo Force (KFOR).  KFOR has reiterated this stance, stressing that any adjustments must be transparent and inclusive.

As much as top-level commitment remains central, so is the dedication to build mutual confidence and trust across communities on the ground, he said.  To contribute to this important aspect of normalization and reconciliation, UNMIK has facilitated people-to-people engagement in Kosovo and fostered implementation of the recommendations by the United Nations Kosovo Trust-building Forum, held in May 2018 in Ljubljana, notably for cross-community dialogue, promotion of language rights and equality under the law, youth empowerment and gender equality.  With the United Nations Kosovo team, the Mission has also engaged civil society to efforts to reduce gender- and ethnic-based discrimination.

In addition, UNMIK supports implementation of human rights initiatives and legislation, he said, noting important progress made by the Working Group on Detainees and Missing Persons.  Such efforts that should remain unhindered by political influences.  However, more must be done to guarantee the rights of non‑majority communities, including the Ashkali, Egyptian and Roma, as well as returnees and internally displaced persons.  Promoting gender equality also deserved attention, he said, underscoring UNMIK’s support for initiatives that build women’s entrepreneurial skills.  With other United Nations actors, the Mission supports local Kosovo institutions in caring for domestic violence victims, and advocates for preventing abuse against women and girls.  To support intercommunity trust‑building, UNMIK focuses on youth empowerment, and in recent months, has partnered with two youth-led non-governmental organizations to foster reconciliation through human rights education.

He said the European perspective is an important incentive for peace and stability in the region, underscoring the importance for Kosovo leaders to maintain focus on initiatives that are essential to the rule of law, anti‑corruption, human rights, judicial independence and aligning legislation with the European Union acquis and other international standards.  The Council must support engagement between Belgrade and Pristina, he emphasized, as reducing tensions, enhancing mutual trust and removing obstacles to dialogue are crucial to regional stability.

Statements

IVICA DAČIĆ, First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Serbia, said it is important for the Security Council to keep considering the Secretary-General’s reports on UNMIK, noting that Council members discuss Bosnia and Herzegovina twice a year, as well as the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, and no one is asking for those topics to be taken off the Council agenda.  Everyone wants UNMIK to complete its mission successfully, but that moment is not yet near, as the situation is at a very delicate junction and the Brussels Agreement of 2013 has yet to be fully implemented.  Emphasizing that Serbia has refrained from unilateral acts, he said dialogue has been forestalled for one reason, namely so-called Kosovo’s decision to impose a 100 per cent tariff on goods from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, a move condemned by the entire international community, including Pristina’s staunchest allies.

Recalling the establishment of the so-called Armed Forces of Kosovo on the heels of last November’s Council meeting, he said Pristina’s decision to impose the 100 per cent tax, contrary to the Central European Free Trade Agreement, was a politically motivated act that wreaked irreversible damage while forestalling dialogue on the normalization of relations with Belgrade.  The tariff also makes the situation of the Serbian community in Kosovo and Metohija even more difficult, he said, adding that Pristina is continuing to attempt to take over the northern part of Kosovska Mitrovica and to expel Serbs from that part of the city.  Pristina contends that it is banning the free flow of goods, capital and people as a countermeasure to Serbian policy, but, in fact, it is responding to the decision by 13 countries not to recognize its unilateral declaration of independence and its failure to join International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), he stated.

Turning to UNMIK, he said the Mission has been reduced “too much and too soon”, and urged Council members to avoid rushed decisions.  Assertions that the Mission is unnecessary and that it has completed its mandate do not reflect reality, he said, adding that Ramush Haradinaj’s allegation that UNMIK and the Secretary-General are writing fake reports deserves to be condemned by all.  Welcoming the work of the Specialist Chambers and Specialist Prosecutor’s Office of Kosovo, he said the first indictments should include perpetrators of crimes against Serbs and other non-Albanians.  Ample evidence has been collected which links former commanders of the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army to crimes carried out in Kosovo and Metohija.  Noting a 30 per cent increase in incidents aimed at Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija in 2018, according to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Mission in Kosovo, he wondered how progress could be made on the return of 200,000 internally displaced persons if basic human rights are not respected.  Emphasizing that Serbia is ready for dialogue, he called on the international community to keep pressuring Pristina to revoke the import tax.  If Pristina does so, it would open the door to talks, but if it fails to do so, it will be clear that it is not seeking agreement, but blackmail, he said.

VLORA ÇITAKU of Kosovo said the war of the 1990s was not an isolated experience for her people, but rather followed years of oppression, segregation and exploitation.  “No right to read and write our own language in schools, or to sing songs out on our streets,” she said.  Such activities were silenced by Serbian guns.  In marking the twentieth anniversary of Kosovo’s liberation, people also celebrate the role the United Nations has played, she said, noting that it was upon Serbia’s request that the International Court of Justice ruled that Kosovo was within its rights in declaring independence.

Against that backdrop, she wondered “why on earth” the Council has convened for the third time in four months to discuss Kosovo, calling it “absolutely unacceptable” that the chamber is turned into a theatre by Kosovo’s northern neighbour when there are real problems that require its attention.  UNMIK has no role and no longer has a mandate in Kosovo.  The dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade is not — and will never be — about Kosovo’s right to exist as a free nation.  “We will never negotiate our statehood,” she said.  Her government is prepared to discuss building constructive relations as neighbours; as equals.  But, Serbia opposes the idea that Kosovo is its equal.  If Serbia believes it can condition dialogue on Kosovo relinquishing its right to exist as a sovereign State, it is in for an awakening.

She said the imposition of tariffs on Serbian goods was a response to Serbia’s aggressive campaign against Kosovo.  As no product labelled “Made in Kosovo” can pass the Serbian border, she questioned why Kosovo should extend such a courtesy.  The real economic effect of the tariffs is negligible.  Noting that Serbia exports weapons around the world, including to countries under European Union and United States embargo, she said “they sell cookies to Kosovo”.  Serbia will use any excuse to delay recognition of Kosovo as a free and independent State.  If Kosovo were to suspend the tariffs, Serbia would find another excuse to inhibit the process.  Kosovo will not negotiate with Belgrade about Trepça or any of its other resources, she said:  “They belong to the people of Kosovo”.  Serbian citizens in Kosovo suffer most in this situation.  Any Kosovo Serbian community member who thinks independently is intimidated by Belgrade, from grenades thrown at the homes of Kosovo Security Force members to detention of Serbian members of parliament.  Despite such obstacles, “we remain determined to do all that is in our power to achieve and cherish a stable and lasting peace”, she asserted.

KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom) said she was sorry today to hear no recognition of the events that led the world to 1999, “no contrition, no acceptance of the enormity of the war crimes committed on the ground”.  Those crimes have been determined by international tribunals.  While the communities in Kosovo could do more to be tolerant and inclusive, there is a very large difference between that point and the lack of facts presented by one of the speakers today.  Kosovo is no longer a place in conflict and is becoming increasingly integrated in the international community.  She welcomed the proposal to focus the Council’s efforts on much more fierce, intractable and live conflicts, in the same vein expressing support to review the job of UNMIK.  Sadly, tensions between Belgrade and Pristina have risen, she continued, urging political leaders in the region to refrain from exacerbating strains.  Kosovo and Serbia are fortunate that the European Union has offered a dialogue within which they can make progress towards integration in the bloc as equals and sovereigns.  Regarding the transition of the Kosovo Security Force, she said it is Pristina’s prerogative to build a legitimate national army, and that such a decision is not in violation of resolution 1244 (1999).

CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany) said today’s 46-minutes of statements are “repetitious of what we have heard before”.  Kosovo has made enormous progress since 2008 with regards to dialogue with the European Union.  He said he did not understand the need of having this discussion today, while also commending Mr. Tanin for his report.  He emphasized the importance of empowering young people and women, a task that can be taken over by Kosovo’s institutions or international organizations.  “It is time for an assessment of UNMIK,” he added, reiterating that Kosovo has made significant progress in recognizing victims and survivors of violence.  This has been a positive approach that others in the region can follow.  “We are looking forward to Kosovo becoming a member of the European Union, without tariffs or any trade barriers,” he said.  Regarding Serbia, he welcomed the President’s proposed initiative of free trade in the Balkans.  By not properly recognizing Kosovo, Serbia is “shooting itself in the foot” in its ambitions to join the European Union, he added.

JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States) welcomed the Council’s understanding to end quarterly briefings, and that next year there will be two meetings on “the issue”, as there are better ways to spend time.  During the meetings, antagonistic language is used, one reason why some are reluctant to continue them.  He underscored that UNMIK has achieved its mandate and drawdown is overdue, noting that the United States can play a meaningful rule through the United Nations country team and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).  He recommended that the Secretariat carry out a strategic review of UNMIK with a view towards devising an exit strategy, a move which will advance the normalization of relations. He voiced support for the European Union-facilitated dialogue in efforts to reach a normalization agreement.  Dialogue should be the priority of “both countries”.  Both should lower tensions and create the conditions for rapid progress on dialogue, he said, pressing Pristina to suspend its tariffs and stressing that the normalization of relations must be the priority for both sides.

ANNE GUEGUEN (France) said Kosovo has made “remarkable” progress, gains which must be consolidated, while efforts by UNMIK to promote security and respect for human rights should be recognized.  She welcomed the Mission’s efforts to promote a rapprochement between communities and women’s empowerment.  Almost 20 years after the adoption of resolution 1244 (1999), the Council must consider refocusing UNMIK actions, examining its performance in the context of efforts by regional and international actors, notably the European Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX).  Normalizing relations depends on dialogue under the aegis of the European Union and she supported the High Representative’s efforts in that regard.  She lamented unilateral decisions that have impacted dialogue, notably the imposition of a 100 per cent customs duty on goods from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, which should be lifted.  She expressed hope that dialogue will be resumed and that security commitments are respected.  Both sides must show compromise and political will towards creating the conditions for a holistic agreement.  Stressing that France will continue to support regional cooperation, she turned to the issue of a European future and underscored the importance of reforms to enhance the rule of law.

VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) recalled that Ms. Çitaku said she could not understand why the Council is meeting today and called the meeting a charade.  “If you think this is a charade, you are free not to come to this meeting,” he said.  The Russian Federation does not support attempts by Western Powers to exclude Pristina from the Council’s agenda.  The main forum on Kosovo dialogue remains the Security Council.  “The situation in the region is extremely unstable and at any moment could spiral out of control,” he warned.  Kosovo remains the main cradle of instability in the region.  Pristina continues to provoke Serbia, imposing tariffs on goods from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Calls from the European Union for these tariffs to be lifted have been ignored.

Calls for Kosovo to be militarized gravely violate Security Council resolution 1244 (1999), he continued.  If Pristina creates an army, the Force for Kosovo should step in and disarm them.  “The main thing is they are changing the nature of the structure which until recently has been charged with civilian peace,” he said.  There is no guarantee that such a Kosovo army - which comprises mainly former armed fighters - will not be used against the Serbian population.  The impotence of European Union mediation efforts makes perfect sense, he continued, adding that there has been no progress in five years.  The Russian Federation’s view on the situation has always been clear and is fully in line with resolution 1244 (1999).  “If we want to achieve stability in the Balkans, we have to find compromise,” he added, expressing serious concern about the “flagrantly irresponsible” statements made today against UNMIK.

Those who are involved in very serious crimes, including the trafficking of human organs, must be held accountable, he said.  Crimes against Serbs and their properties are a daily occurrence, yet perpetrators are rarely brought to justice.  He also expressed concern about attempts to carry out illegal construction near churches protected by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).   All of this deserves the Council’s full attention.

MA ZHAOXU (China), noting that the security situation in Kosovo is complex, said measures such as imposing tariffs on Serbian goods and transforming Kosovo forces are not conducive to enhancing mutual trust and dialogue.  He expressed support for implementing resolution 1244 (1999).  China respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Serbia.  Belgrade and Pristina must stay committed to pursuing the normalization of relations through dialogue and to gradually strengthening mutual trust.  The economic development of all people and ethnic groups in the region must be promoted and advanced.  UNMIK must continue to work with relevant partners to resolve the conflict on the ground.

MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium) said recent events have not helped to create a climate for normalized relations between the sides, noting the adoption by the Kosovo Assembly of a decision on the Kosovo Security Forces.  While Belgium recognized Kosovo’s sovereign right to legislate, he expressed regret over the timing of that initiative and the absence of internal or external consultations.  He also lamented the imposition of customs duties on goods from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina and called for them to be lifted.  Such moves are part of a broader range of conflicting relations.  Both sides must refrain from any action or statement that might provoke tensions.  A holistic, legally binding agreement normalizing relations is the only way to achieve regional stability, he said, calling on presidents to engage in dialogue under the European Union aegis and stressing the importance of involving civil society in the process.  He voiced full support for the Special Representative’s efforts, also welcoming the Council’s reduction of meetings and reporting on this subject.  Kosovo’s current challenges are being addressed in the context of European integration and in cooperation with EULEX.  He echoed calls for refocusing UNMIK’s efforts and adapting them to that development.  Serbia and Kosovo have a European future, he said, and achieving that ambition remains in their hands.

GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) said that while the situation in Kosovo has changed since 1999, there are major challenges which must be overcome to achieve peace and reconciliation in the region.  He welcomed the agreement reached on the frequency of Council meetings and encouraged members to remain cognizant of its function as a guarantor.  Recalling recent decisions by Kosovo’s parliament, the creation of an army and the 100 per cent tariff on goods from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, he said “peace is a process that must be promoted” and called on parties to avoid any action that would exacerbate tensions and take steps to resume dialogue in a pragmatic fashion.  The European Union-facilitated dialogue plays a key role in the normalization of relations and has advanced the processes for European integration.  He stressed the importance of involving citizens on both sides in that context, especially women and young people, enquiring about efforts made on the youth, peace and security agenda.  He also stressed the importance of EULEX and role of the specialized chambers.

DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia) underlined the importance of implementing resolution 1244 (1999), recognizing the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity and continuing dialogue to address the root causes of rising tensions.  “Each party is expected to honour its end of the bargain” without exception, he said, adding that it would be unfortunate for violations by one party to result in throwing away two decades of progress.  His delegation will not condone any acts that violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a State and believes that dialogue is the best and only way to resolve the issue.  While each party has raised legitimate concerns, the transformation of the Kosovo Security Force into an armed force — along with the imposition of a 100 per cent tariff — are not in line with the spirit of constructive engagement and “can quickly annihilate confidence” on the ground.  In that context, he voiced support for European Union‑led peace talks, as well as proper measures by the Council to address the root causes of the tensions.

MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) said that the high-level dialogue fostered by the European Union is the most appropriate manner to defuse tensions between Belgrade and Pristina.  Aware of the sensitivity of the steps approved by the Kosovo parliament to create an army, he called on both parties to continue to settle issues and concerns through dialogue.  Both parties should refrain from taking any unilateral action that could trigger violence.  He also called on both parties to seize the momentum to promote a friendly environment.  The international community should continue to encourage both Pristina and Belgrade to establish the basis for peace and security in the region.

GBOLIÉ DÉSIRÉ WULFRAN IPO (Côte d’Ivoire) said there have been efforts since 1999 from multiple parties, including from the Kosovo Force to normalize relations.  He expressed concern about the recent rise in tensions.  Tariffs on goods coming from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina could gravely undermine progress.  He welcomed the arrest of three people implicated in the murder of an ethnic Serb political leader and called for a restart of European negotiations, which could contribute to the dynamism needed to advance peace.

JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland), recalling that 10 years have passed since the last strategic UNMIK review, said “the time is ripe for a new one”, which should lead to the downgrading of forces and possible resource savings, as there is no need to maintain the current level of United Nations involvement.  Expressing support for the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, she said the normalization of relations is of crucial importance to the European Union integration process, and she expected both sides to be equally engaged in implementing the Brussels agreement.  As the political situation in Kosovo is fragile, political forces must focus on implementing the Stabilization and Association Agreement, the European Reform Agenda and dialogue with Serbia.  She underscored the importance of the Specialist Chambers and Specialist Prosecutor’s Office to Kosovo’s international and Euro-Atlantic integration.

JOSUÉ ANTINOE FIALLO BILLINI PORTORREAL (Dominican Republic) said progress has been made despite multiple obstacles since resolution 1244 (1999), emphasizing that Belgrade and Pristina are on the right track towards lasting normalized relations.  He called on them to demonstrate more flexible positions and commit to support both resolution 1244 (1999) and the 2013 Brussels accord.  Necessary efforts must also be made to lower tensions, reopen communication and allow Belgrade and Pristina to continue negotiations.  Efforts should be redirected towards the common good, seeking a viable agreement for all with leadership by young people and women, so they can have a greater impact on that process.  On peace and security, he encouraged parties to reach agreement based on peaceful conflict resolution, the Charter of the United Nations and international law, stressing that the time has come to end the long chapter of fruitless confrontation and open a future towards peaceful coexistence.

JERRY MATTHEWS MATJILA (South Africa) welcomed the work of UNMIK and the support provided by the United Nations country team as their efforts have contributed towards creating an environment conducive to compromise, reconciliation and stability in Kosovo.  His delegation commended the efforts of Pristina and Belgrade in the European Union-facilitated dialogue towards normalizing relations, but remained concerned about the renewed tensions in Kosovo regarding the special protective zones where construction activities persist.  All relevant parties should commit to upholding and protecting religious integrity and heritage and to respect the rule of law, as well as the decisions of the Monitoring and Implementation Council.

ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea) said today’s meeting provided an opportunity for both parties to take stock of the situation on the ground.  He noted with concern the Secretary-General’s report on the increased tensions between Belgrade and Pristina and called on both to refrain from taking any action that would further fuel tensions.  Equatorial Guinea reaffirmed its respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Serbia and called on all parties to continue political dialogue to find a lasting resolution.  He also commended UNMIK for the support it provides to the region and added that resolution 1244 (1999) is the internationally recognized framework to deal with the situation in the region.

For information media. Not an official record.