Monday, October 24, 2005

As Kosovo moves towards future status talks, UN administrator lays our priorities

24 October 2005 – With forthcoming talks on the future status of Kosovo presenting risks and confronting political leaders with difficult choices, the United Nations administrator of the ethnically-divided Serbian province today laid out six priority areas to promote a multi-ethnic future, including better living conditions for minorities.

"While the way ahead will no doubt be difficult, it must nonetheless be clear to all of us that continuing with the status quo is not a viable option," Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Representative, Søren Jessen-Petersen, told the Security Council of the province where ethnic Albanians outnumber others, mainly Serbs, by about nine to one.

The UN has run Kosovo since the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) drove out Yugoslav troops amid grave human rights abuses in fighting between Albanians and Serbs in 1999. On Friday Mr. sent a letter to the Council calling for status talks to begin very soon, and he has mentioned independence or autonomy as options.

"We all know that the positions of Belgrade and Pristina on the issue of Kosovo's status are far apart," Mr. Jessen-Petersen acknowledged, referring to the capitals of Serbia and Kosovo. "But it will remain so until and unless it is resolved by an internationally managed process, and the sooner that is done, the better for the citizens in Kosovo and in the region.

"After more than six years of UN involvement and investment in Kosovo, we now have the chance and the challenge to support the citizens to leave the painful past behind and build a peaceful and prosperous future."

Mr. Annan, who attended the Council meeting, told reporters afterwards that he would likely appoint former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari as his Special Envoy to deal with status talks. Mr. Ahtisaari has most recently served as Mr. Annan's Special Envoy for the Humanitarian Crisis in the Horn of Africa.

The status process offers an opportunity for the Kosovo Albanian leadership "to show true commitment and take more decisive steps towards building the kind of multi-ethnic, democratic, and tolerant society that will undoubtedly bring them closer to realizing their dreams and goals when status is decided," Mr. Jessen-Petersen emphasized.

The first priority he mentioned was the need to reassure the Serbs by improving the living conditions of those now in Kosovo and fostering the sustainable returns of those still displaced.

"I don't expect major returns before status is clarified, but to reassure Kosovo Serbs of their future and to promote returns we need a constructive engagement of Belgrade and the direct involvement of the Kosovo Serbs," he said.

The other priorities are: a comprehensive reform of local government, an issue of crucial importance to minorities; establishing a transparent and non-politicized security apparatus; capacity building to ensure that Kosovo's institutions can take on their responsibilities; restructuring the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK); and maintaining a safe and secure environment.

"The security environment in Kosovo is at the moment stable, but isolated recent incidents remind us that, with the difficult status process about to begin, there is no place for complacency," he declared.

"That process, and possibly provocations from all sides, will undoubtedly test our ability to maintain the secure environment that has, by and large, prevailed in Kosovo during the last 18 months."

Also addressing Council members was Kai Eide, the Secretary-General's former Special Envoy for the Comprehensive Review of Kosovo, who introduced the report on his work.

Mr. Eide repeated his long-standing view that there would never be a good moment for addressing Kosovo's future status, and said both parties remain diametrically opposed with very little common ground. While prospects for reconciliation are modest, he supported the commencement of a process to determine future status, because it was important to keep the political process from stagnating.

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