Talks Between Serbia, Kosovo Must Be Backed by Previously Agreed Trust-Building Measures, Special Representative Tells Security Council

Serbian Foreign Minister Says UNMIK’s Mandate Not Fulfilled, but Kosovo Representative Urges Drawdown

New momentum in talks between Serbia and Kosovo must be accompanied by the implementation of previous agreements and other measures to build trust between communities in Kosovo, the Secretary�General’s Special Representative told the Security Council today.

Any process of political negotiation requires the full engagement and buy-in from societies, as well as from leaders and political representatives, 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 (document S/2018/981) to the 15-member Council.

Mr. Tanin said that prospects for decisive progress in the European Union-facilitated negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina had improved with support from both sides of a new framework for a comprehensive agreement, including the possibility of territorial exchange. At the same time, however, he described the situation on the ground as adversarial, with economic steps and needed reform in economic and rule of law institutions undermined by, and contributing to, ethnic tensions.

In order to build trust and build acceptance for political agreements, he underlined the importance of addressing those issues and implementing earlier agreements that included the establishment of the Association/Community of Serb-majority Municipalities. Ongoing efforts to deploy a Kosovo Security Force must also be handled with care to ensure a fully inclusive process.

In addition, he highlighted the importance of UNMIK’s priority of long-term reconciliation through trust-building at the grassroots level in Kosovo. Among other strategies, the Mission is promoting the use of innovative communication technologies to support interactions between communities, and addressing issues related to justice, human rights, women’s empowerment and youth.

Speaking after that briefing, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Serbia called on the Council to stay seized of the question of Kosovo and Metohija and support continuation of UNMIK, arguing that the Mission had not fulfilled its mandate, with security maintained by the international structures. As sustainable peace requires a negotiated political solution, he affirmed his country’s interest in achieving compromise toward that end.

He called on Council members to assist in that effort and not to rely on the recognitions of Kosovo that had been made or the push for its membership in international organizations as sustainable answers to the question. He added that the picture of progress and stability was inaccurate as the Association/Community of Serb-majority Municipalities has not been formed, conditions are not present for the return of displaced persons and ethnic violence continued, as did many violations of Council resolutions.

Vlora Citaku of Kosovo said that UNMIK is neither a peacekeeping or an administrative mission. The United Nations’ resources can be put to better use in other parts of the world. She stressed that Kosovo means to stay independent and that it broke no international laws when it declared that status. To help combat transnational crime and contribute to regional and global security, Kosovo must join the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), she added, arguing that Kosovo’s decision to establish its own armed forces is a sovereign prerogative.

She also underscored that Kosovo remains committed to fulfilling all arrangements previously agreed to in Brussels with Serbia, although Serbia is not holding up its end of the bargain. The dialogue must be exclusively about peace and reconciliation, not Kosovo’s right to exist as a free nation. Kosovo is a young republic that is far from perfect, but it will not stop striving to become better for all its citizens, regardless of ethnic or religious background, she said.

Council members paid tribute to the work of UNMIK, as well as that of the International Security Force in Kosovo (KFOR) and the European Union Rule of Law Mission (EULEX), which is helping to build capacity in justice institutions in Kosovo. Most, while urging both Belgrade and Pristina to accelerate progress in the European-sponsored talks and to implement their agreements, also called on leaders from all sides to refrain from provocative rhetoric and action. Many urged that a range of specific issues be resolved in order to reduce tensions and allow return of refugees.

Along with other speakers, the representative of the United Kingdom said that the changes in the situation of Kosovo must be recognized, with the role of UNMIK as well as the nature of Council meetings adjusted accordingly. She explained that her country had considered the need for a Council meeting in August and had proposed alternatives for a meeting that suited current conditions, all of which were rejected. She stressed the importance of Kosovo’s membership in INTERPOL for regional security.

The representative of the Russian Federation said that the stability and progress that is being used as a reason to call for fewer meetings and a change in UNMIK’s mandate did not reflect reality. He pointed to continued ethnic violence, little improvement in justice matters and lack of implementation of agreements. Outbreak of conflict is constantly a possibility. He further emphasized that the push for Kosovo to gain membership in international organizations, particularly INTERPOL, was harmful to the international order. Supporting continued quarterly Council meetings on Kosovo, he stressed that only the Council can change the mandate of UNMIK.

Also speaking today were representatives of Kazakhstan, Kuwait, United States, Bolivia, Peru, Netherlands, Poland, Cote d’Ivoire, Sweden, Ethiopia, France, Equatorial Guinea and China.

The meeting began at 11:17 a.m. and ended at 1:35 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 report of the Secretary-General (document S/2018/981), noting that, after an uncertain period, prospects for decisive progress in the European Union-facilitated negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina have improved. There is support from both sides of a new framework for a comprehensive agreement, including the possibility of territorial exchange. However, these developments are taking place against a situation still dominated by adversarial action on the ground. Actions which attempt to pre-empt agreement are not conducive to achieving political compromise, he warned, highlighting such challenges in broad areas, including infrastructure, energy and the economy. As well, individuals still face challenges to exercising basic rights. Notably increasing tensions was an announcement by Kosovo on a 10 per cent tax on Serbian and Bosnian goods.

In addition, needed reform in Kosovo’s rule of law institutions has been undermined by ethnic tensions and political agendas, with a Special Prosecutor resigning over alleged threats related to major investigations followed by public protests, he said. In that connection, he welcomed continued assistance by the European Union and the United Nations to fight corruption and organized crime and protect judicial independence. As the European perspective promotes stability by motivating political leaders on both sides, he welcomed the European Commission’s recent affirmation that benchmarks had been met on visa issues. With possibilities for new political compromises, he also underlined the importance of implementing earlier agreements that included the establishment of the Association/Community of Serb-majority Municipalities. Ongoing efforts to strengthen the Kosovo Security Force must also be handled with care to ensure a fully inclusive process.

Any process of political negotiation requires the full engagement and buy-in from societies, as well as from leaders and political representatives, he stated. In that light, UNMIK continues to prioritize trust-building at the grassroots level in Kosovo � utilizing the core objectives set out by him of Engagement, Empowerment and Creativity � under the Mission’s continuing priority of longer-term reconciliation. In that endeavour, UNMIK and its partners are focused on realizing recommendations from the Trust-building Forum held in May. Among other strategies, the Mission is promoting the use of innovative communication technologies to support interactions between communities and addressing issues related to justice, human rights, women’s empowerment and youth. International partnerships remain vital in all such efforts. He stressed that UNMIK’s reconciliation work, being fully in line with the Secretary General’s Action for Peacekeeping initiative, may offer an important example of how to tap into the potential of people and partnerships to create necessary conditions for sustaining peace.

Statements

IVICA DACIC, First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Serbia, voiced displeasure at the decision not to hold a regular Security Council meeting on UNMIK in August following the United Kingdom’s characterization of the situation as stable. While conflict is in the past, the situation is far from stable, he warned, adding that agreement must be reached among Council members on how often this topic should be considered. No substantive progress has been made since the last meeting on the matter. The Association/Community of Serb-majority Municipalities has not been formed, conditions are not present for the return of 200,000 internally displaced persons and Oliver Ivanovic’s murderer remains at large.

Further, recent incidents violated Council resolutions, he said, including laws adopted by the so-called Assembly of Kosovo making it possible for the Kosovo Security Force to transform into armed forces. As well, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic was denied access to Banje � a Serbian enclave � during a recent visit to Kosovo. He also pointed to a raid by special police forces on a hydro-electric plant in northern Kosovo and Metohija, which is in violation of Security Council resolution 1244 (1999) and the Brussels Agreement. Pristina is attempting to interfere in Serbia’s power transmission network and take over the energy infrastructure in northern Kosovo and Metohija. I do not understand how this situation can be characterized as stable, he said.

Internally displaced persons and returnees continue to be targets of ethnically-motivated violence, facing arbitrary arrest and physical abuse, all in the absence of the rule of law and independent judicial bodies, he said. The number of foreign terrorist fighters originating from Kosovo further undercuts assertions that the situation is stable. Dismissing notions that UNMIK has fulfilled its mandate, he questioned why many Council members support the international presence in Bosnia and Herzegovina � where the security of citizens is not threatened � and do not support such a presence in Kosovo and Metohija. To allege that the Mission is not needed and that it has fulfilled its purpose is far from reality, he said. Pristina is focused on attempts to become a member of international organizations in a mistaken belief that it will prove its Statehood. Sustainable peace requires negotiated political solutions, he stressed, underscoring that he is interested in achieving compromise on the question of Kosovo and Metohija.

VLORA CITAKU of Kosovo, recalling the centennial of the end of the First World War as well as the conflict in Kosovo, the most recent in Europe, said the wounds of war cannot be easily healed, especially when the aggressor, the Serbian State, continues to refuse to take responsibility for its actions. However, Kosovars refused to be defined by their past alone. They identify with their capacity to build a better future. Kosovo is a young republic, recognized by the majority of the world’s free nations. It is resolute in repelling every attempt by its northern neighbour to undo its accomplishments. Should they try, they will fail, she said.

It is 2018, not 1999, and Kosovo has moved on, she said, adding that it is time for the Security Council to move on as well. UNMIK is no longer a peacekeeping mission and it is certainly not an administrative mission. The United Nations’ resources can be put to better use in other parts of the world. Citing the ruling by the International Court of Justice � in a case requested by Serbia � she said that Kosovo broke no international laws when it declared independence. To help combat transnational crime and contribute to regional and global security, Kosovo must join INTERPOL [International Criminal Police Organization]. The only parties that stand to benefit from keeping Kosovo out of Interpol are criminals, drug cartels, terrorists and the Serbian State. Kosovo’s decision to establish its own armed forces is a sovereign one that it would be taking soon. That is something that Kosovo will never dialogue with Serbia about, she stressed.

Nonetheless, Kosovo remains committed to fulfilling all arrangements previously agreed to in Brussels with Serbia, she continued. However, Serbia is not holding up its end of the bargain. It has consistently failed to deliver on almost everything we have agreed upon, she said. Further, the dialogue must be exclusively about peace and reconciliation, not Kosovo’s right to exist as a free nation. Kosovo’s people know where they stand, where there are headed and where they belong and that is in Europe. However daunting the odds might be or insurmountable the challenges might seem, Kosovo will never give up, she declared. It is a young republic that is far from perfect, but it will not stop striving to become better for all its citizens, regardless of ethnic or religious background.

KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan) said that the current situation requires the continued attention of the Security Council. Priorities in this direction should be continuing dialogue between the parties, and confidence-building measures in political-military, socioeconomic and human dimensions in compliance with Security Council resolution 1244 (1999). In this regard, Astana supports initiatives and concerted efforts of the international community aimed at achieving mutually acceptable conditions for resolving the situation in Kosovo. Taking note of the incident related to the Gazivode reservoir, both parties should avoid any steps leading to further tension. There are still several sensitive issues left to be resolved, such as the lack of intercommunity trust and many persons still missing. Of equal importance is the protection of vulnerable groups. To this end, Kazakhstan calls upon both parties to strengthen their political will to normalize relations between Belgrade and Pristina, adding that peace and stability in this part of the world will only be achieved if the parties continue to fulfil their commitment in the good spirit of mutual respect.

KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom) expressed her full support to UNMIK while acknowledging that the Mission needed to be adapted to the dramatically changed situation in Kosovo. The European role remains vital in keeping stability on the ground, she said, adding that her country had considered all factors when discussing whether to have an August meeting on Kosovo. Her delegation had offered various ways of meeting in a way that reflected the current situation, but such offers had been rejected. She called for the admission of Kosovo police into INTERPOL to enhance security and stem transnational organized crime. She also called on both sides to make faster progress through the European-sponsored dialogue, which could improve conditions for all the populations involved. All leaders should refrain from provocative acts and rhetoric and work for a sustainable normalization agreement. The United Kingdom remains ready to assist in that effort, she said.

VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said that the serious problems that remained in Kosovo, as well as the unresolved questions, required the continued attention of the Council and the continuing presence of UNMIK. There has been no progress on normalization. The Association/Community of Serb-majority Municipalities is still not in existence and no progress has been made in judicial institutions. Pristina constantly makes provocations such as the tax measures. Outbreak of conflict is constantly a possibility. Expressing disappointment with the passivity of the Kosovo multinational security force, he argued that the development of a new Kosovo Force represents a violation of international law. He also voiced concern regarding ethnic violence that keeps refugees from returning, attacks that continue on Serb culture and the lack of containment of radicalization. The push for Kosovo to gain entrance into international organizations, particularly the bid for INTERPOL membership, was harmful to the international order. Supporting quarterly meetings on Kosovo, he emphasized that it is only for the Security Council to change the mandate of UNMIK.

MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) welcomed efforts by Kosovo to promote security, stability, the rule of law and the building of State institutions, as well as its dialogue with Serbia under the auspices of the European Union. Also hailing efforts to accelerate progress under that bloc’s accession agenda, he recalled that Kosovo met all requirements necessary to become part of the Schengen area. Urging Pristina and Belgrade to work together to establish the critical Serbian community municipalities, he expressed hope that a legally binding agreement normalizing relations between the two parties � especially on delineation matters � will be agreed as soon as possible. Both parties should also commit to protecting religious and cultural heritage, he stressed, expressing concern over the lack of progress in investigating the death of Oliver Ivanovic, which he said could help build trust between the two sides. Meanwhile, the international community � as well as UNMIK � should support the parties in working towards a consensual agreement and to protect security, stability and the rule of law.

JONATHAN COHEN (United States) applauded the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo for their expressions of commitment to normalizing relations and called on both sides to show flexibility in reaching a compromise solution acceptable to everyone. The United States will support any such resolution that is both durable and viable, he said, adding that normalized relations are the future and will benefit all sides. Turning to the future of UNMIK, he said the Mission has fulfilled its purpose and should now begin to drawdown. Calling on the Secretary General to assess that process, and for the development of a viable exit strategy in line with the principles that guide all United Nations peace operations, he also voiced support for a gradual, multi year transition of the Kosovo Security Force into a professional, multi ethnic, NATO interoperable security force. He also added his support for Kosovo’s membership in all international organizations � including the United Nations � and urged Member States to support its entry into INTERPOL, whose membership does not require full United Nations Member State status and through which Kosovo could contribute significantly to efforts to combat terrorism and human trafficking.

SACHA SERGIO LLORENTY SOLA�Z (Bolivia), expressing support for Serbia’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence, asked all sides to avoid rhetoric that stokes tensions and erodes trust between the parties. The establishment of an association of Serb municipalities must be completed, he stressed, voicing concern that the sides still take opposite views on that important matter. In that regard, the Kosovo authorities must respect the agreements reached with Belgrade. He also noted his opposition to the establishment of a Kosovo army which also runs counter to existing agreements. Meanwhile, all those responsible for war crimes � regardless of their origin � must be held accountable. As well, the Kosovo authorities must investigate the conditions that led to the death of Oliver Ivanovic. He also commended both parties’ stated willingness to reach a mutually acceptable, legally binding agreement in line with international law and called on them to engage in dialogue to those ends.

GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) stressed the importance of involving citizens, including women and young people, in building peace in Kosovo and the entire Balkan region. Before changes are made to the mandated arrangements in Kosovo, in addition, full implementation of resolution 1244 (1999) must be ensured. In that light, serious consideration must be taken before security is handed over to a new Kosovo Force. He underlined the importance of implementing previous agreements made in negotiations, such as the creation of the Association of Serbian Communities. He acknowledged the important role of UNMIK and the International Security Force in Kosovo (KFOR) in fostering conditions for progress in Kosovo.

KAREL JAN GUSTAAF VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands) said that the current situation in Kosovo clearly allows for a reduction of the Secretary-General’s reporting cycle. He also encouraged a shift in format from briefings to closed consultations. The Security Council has set a welcome example by reducing the frequency of its discussions on the matter to twice a year. It is possible for UNMIK to downscale its operations. He called for a strategic review of the Mission in coordination with all relevant actors. He appreciated Kosovo’s progress in strengthening its judiciary and he welcomed the launch of Justice 2020 and the function review, as a positive example of efforts to increase performance and accountability.

JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) described Kosovo as a self-reliant independent State with functioning institutions supported by true engagement of its political elite. Of remaining bilateral issues, the most important by far is normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina. That unresolved issue remains the main obstacle on the road to European integration for both countries and one that can be removed through political good will. Calling on both leaders to show consistent commitment toward reaching the legally binding agreement on comprehensive normalization of relations, she said the enlargement perspective set out in the Strategy for the Western Balkans is feasible if enough energy is invested in going forward. She also noted that much work remains to strengthening the country’s rule of law, especially in efforts to combat corruption and organized crime.

GBOLIA� DESIRA� WULFRAN IPO (Cote d’Ivoire), applauding progress in Kosovo and paying tribute to the contributions of UNMIK, KFOR and the European Union Rule of Law Mission (EULEX), expressed concern over a lack of progress in normalization of relations between Pristina and Belgrade as well as the absence of arrests in the murder case and other outstanding matters that inhibited reconciliation in Kosovo. He looked for quicker progress to be made through the European-led talks. In addition, he called on the international community to make substantial contributions to the fund assisting minority populations in the Balkans.

JOAKIM VAVERKA (Sweden) said the future of Serbia and Kosovo clearly lies in the European Union and the bloc’s integration process is the most important driver of positive change and necessary reforms in the Western Balkans. Sweden welcomes the continued engagement by Pristina and Belgrade in the European Union facilitated dialogue for normalization of relations, which is vital for a stable, peaceful and prosperous region. A comprehensive and legally binding agreement must be reached as soon as possible. The developments in the Western Balkans have a direct influence on the rest of Europe. The Union has invested heavily, both politically and financially, in the region’s stability and prosperity. The normalization of Kosovo in an international context, including its membership in international organizations, must be allowed to move forward. The United Nations has made invaluable contributions. Yet, the present challenges in Kosovo are better dealt with in the framework of the European Union integration process, including close cooperation with EULEX. The handover of responsibilities from UNMIK to local authorities should continue. The Mission’s efforts should instead be refocused so the means deployed by the United Nations are better tailored to the situation on the ground. With the progress made in Kosovo, the current reporting cycle to the Council should be adjusted to six months.

MAHLET HAILU GUADEY (Ethiopia) reaffirmed his country’s consistent support for Serbia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity as well as to the peaceful and amicable resolution of all outstanding issues between Belgrade and Pristina in line with the Brussels Agreement. Welcoming the European Union’s facilitation of dialogue between the parties, he called on both sides to remain engaged in the process and welcomed recent efforts to operationalize an integrated Kosovo judiciary. However, he joined other speakers in voicing concern about the slow progress in establishing an association/community of Serb majority municipalities in Kosovo and urged both Pristina and Belgrade to refrain from actions and statements that could cause ethnic discord. Instead, they should work to create an atmosphere of trust that is conducive for dialogue and addresses the interests of all segments of the population, he stressed, also commending the work of UNMIK in promoting critical inter community reconciliation and confidence building measures.

ANNE GUEGUEN (France), noting that, per the Council’s Rules of Procedure, statements should not exceed 15 minutes, welcomed recent efforts towards normalization on the part of the two sides � as well as by UNMIK � to bring different communities together. However, given that progress, the Mission’s action should now be refocused. The normalization of relations between Pristina and Belgrade depends on their leaders’ continued engagement under the auspices of the European Union, she said, urging them to move forward towards concluding a mutually acceptable agreement. Outlining the various forms of support by EULEX and its focus on transparency and ethics, she said the ultimate goal of normalizing relations between the two parties is nevertheless up to their respective leaders.

JOB OBIANG ESONO MBENGONO (Equatorial Guinea) echoed calls for both parties to continue to push forward dialogue and step up efforts to enhance stability on the ground. Stressing that any possible agreement on territorial adjustments should address contentious issues and the interests of all communities � while remaining fully in line with international law � he noted with concern Pristina’s decision to increase the tax on Serbian imports; that will only heighten tension and erode trust. Calling on the competent authorities to shed light on the killing of Oliver Ivanovic, he went on to voice support for Serbia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. In that context, Belgrade’s concerns about Kosovo are understandable, he said, welcoming international efforts to bring the parties together and expressing support for a just and lasting solution acceptable to all parties.

MA ZHAOXU (China), Council President for November, spoke in his national capacity, welcoming the generally stable security situation in Kosovo. Calling on all to adhere to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations and work within the context of the dialogue process towards a mutually acceptable solution, he voiced support for Serbia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and welcomed constructive efforts by both sides to build mutual trust. In that regard, they should now push forward with efforts to achieve a mutually agreeable and lasting solution that will benefit all ethnic groups, promote social and economic development and avoid words or deeds that could escalate tensions. Meanwhile, he said, the Council should remain seized of the matter.

Source: United Nations

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