8541st Security Council Meeting: Situation in Kosovo

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10-Jun-2019 02:55:34
Situation in Kosovo fragile after police raid on organized crime leads to arrest, injury of peacekeeping personnel, top political official tells Security Council at 8541st meeting.

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Twenty years after the establishment of a United Nations peacekeeping operation in Kosovo, the situation there is fragile, the Organization’s top political official in the region told the Security Council today, citing recent developments, including a police raid against organized crime in Serb-majority municipalities that resulted in the controversial arrest of mission personnel.

“In the absence of a genuine and necessary process of engagement between the parties to this conflict, the situation does not simply remain tenuous, but can slide backwards,” warned Zahir Tanin, Special Representative of the Secretary‑General and Head of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), noting the lack of productive engagements between Belgrade and Pristina since late 2018.

The 100 per cent tariff that Pristina imposed on imports from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina in November 2018 remains in place despite a nearly unanimous call by the international community for its removal, he said. After the mayors of four Kosovo Serb-majority municipalities in northern Kosovo resigned in protest, peaceful elections were held on 19 May, and Serbian candidates received about 90 per cent of the vote.

Adding to those tensions, on 28 May the Kosovo police conducted a special operation, mainly in the northern municipalities, targeting smuggling and organized crime suspects, during which two UNMIK personnel were arrested and injured. He expressed alarm that, upon their arrest, both staff members were apparently subjected to excessive force and mistreatment by the police that required hospitalization. Relevant immunities of staff members from arrest and detention were not observed.

Miguel de Serpa Soares, Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and United Nations Legal Counsel, said that the United Nations Department of Safety and Security has carried out an internal investigation into the matter, the results of which will help establish a better understanding of the facts and determine the next steps. He explained that, under UNMIK regulation 2000/47, mission personnel shall be immune from legal process regarding words spoken and all acts performed in their official capacity in Kosovo, stressing that such immunity is held in the interests of UNMIK — and not for the benefit of individuals themselves — with the Secretary-General maintaining the right to waive immunity if it impedes the course of justice.

Ivica Dačić, First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Serbia, said the recent developments demonstrate that the international community should invest much more effort in Kosovo and Metohija. Some Council members are calling for a strategic review of UNMIK, its scaling back or even its withdrawal, but it is hard to imagine any change in direction now. “The risk of the worsening situation on the ground could prove costly, and I am sure that, in the context of recent developments, nobody wants to run that risk,” he said.

Regarding the 28 May incident, he said its goal was to intimidate the remaining Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija. If the Council fails to condemn it, then those Serbs will continue to be intimidated and terrorized. He wondered how UNMIK can fulfil its mandate when its staff can be attacked. Multi-ethnic Kosovo and Metohija has become “almost mono-ethnic”, with Serbs living in only 116 communities today, compared with 427 prior to 1999. “What is it if not ethnic cleansing?”, he asked. Serbia is convinced that UNMIK must remain fully engaged, with no change to its scope or mandate, he said.

Vlora Çitaku of Kosovo retorted that “Kosovo’s independence is not a product of a secessionist movement […] Kosovo’s independence is a product of decolonization”. Noting that Kosovo is no longer in a state of crisis, as it was 20 years ago, she said that she does not see any justification for UNMIK’s continued presence there. Regarding the 28 May operation, the Kosovo Police Service operates with the highest standards of professionalism and integrity, and has consistently proven to be a credible partner in global efforts to combat organized crime and terrorism by cooperating with international law enforcement mechanisms. Kosovo police apprehended seven civilians who were actively engaged in creating barricades and obstructing the operation, she said. Among them was Mikhail Krasnoshchenkov, a United Nations staff member from the Russian Federation, who erected a barricade with the sole purpose of preventing Kosovo police from carrying out their mission.

The representative of the United States emphasized that while the United Nations still has a useful role to play in Kosovo, it can be carried out by the country team. The United States, therefore, would welcome a clear plan to phase out UNMIK. Kosovo’s independence is a reality and both sides must proceed along their respective European paths, he stressed. On the 28 May incident, he said the alleged involvement of UNMIK personnel is a serious concern that the United States is following closely.

The Russian Federation’s delegate said that, a week before the incident, attempts to take control of the Serb-majority municipalities in elections fell through, and a second option was the use of force. Pristina is simply trying to discredit UNMIK. Today’s meeting put to shame those Council members who have insisted on reducing the amount of attention to Kosovo, he said, warning that insufficient scrutiny will let impunity continue and might lead to a new bloody clash.

Many Council members called on the parties to refrain from rhetoric and actions that would undermine dialogue, with the Dominican Republic’s delegate urging parties to implement the Brussels agreement, show greater flexibility and renew efforts to resume normalization talks under the European Union’s auspices.

Germany’s delegate, warning against using Council meetings to rewrite history, underscored the Germany-France initiative to support the European Union‑facilitated process. Stressing the need for real dialogue, not the exchange of monologues, he urged Kosovo to revoke the imposition of tariffs on goods from Serbia, and urged Belgrade to refrain from such efforts as persuading countries into retracting their recognition of Kosovo.

Also speaking today were representatives of China, South Africa, United Kingdom, France, Indonesia, Equatorial Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, Belgium, Poland, Peru and Kuwait.

The meeting began at 10:27 a.m. and ended at 1:23 p.m.

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