Kosovo - Security Council VTC Briefing

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13-Apr-2021 02:14:59
Meaningful dialogue, forward-looking policies between Belgrade, Pristina central to moving forward, European integration, Kosovo mission head tells Security Council.

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Expectations are running high in Kosovo after elections that reflected a strong desire among its people for their leaders to fight crime corruption, improve socioeconomic conditions and tackle the COVID-19 pandemic while also advancing dialogue with Serbia, the top United Nations official in Pristina told a video conference meeting of the Security Council today.

Zahir Tanin, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), presenting the Secretary-General’s latest report on the Mission’s work (document S/2021/332), said turnout was high for the legislative elections on 14 February in which the winning party, Vetëvendosje, received a majority of votes. The results indicated a strong desire for change across Kosovo society towards greater equality of opportunity, accountability and the rule of law. He revealed that he spoke on 12 April with Kosovo’s new “prime minister”, Albin Kurti, who assured him that he understood the need to advance dialogue with Belgrade. The Special Representative also spoke earlier today with Aleksandar Vučić, President of Serbia, who reiterated his hope for intensified dialogue. In addition, the Special Representative noted last week’s election of Vjosa Osmani as “president” of Kosovo — the second woman to hold that position.

“I know, from my discussions with both Pristina and Belgrade, that each side is aware of how central the quality of their relations will be in achieving the aspirations of their constituencies for progress along the European path,” he said, adding that relations can only move forward — and mutual interests met — through meaningful and sincere dialogue and forward-looking policies. Reiterating his appeal for leaders to be mindful of their public statements, he said that with a strongly mandated “government” in Pristina, tough subjects should be treated with seriousness and diligence.

Turning to other matters, he said that Kosovo is experiencing a dramatic spike in infections, with the running average of new cases at its highest point since the pandemic began in March 2020. So far, the coronavirus has infected more than 100,000 people and caused more than 2,000 deaths. A first delivery of 24,000 doses of vaccine through the COVAX facility arrived at the end of March, marking the start of a vaccination campaign, he said, adding that it will be essential to speed up vaccine-related support for Kosovo going forward. In the context of COVID-19, UNMIK is monitoring the human rights ramifications of the pandemic. It is also urging the “government” to make progress on clarifying the fate of missing persons by engaging with the Pristina-Belgrade Working Group on Missing Persons.

Looking ahead, he said that Kosovo’s new “government” faces great challenges, but also great opportunities, with Mr. Kurti foreshadowing a people-centred approach to governance that emphasizes the advancement of justice, tackling corruption and improving the social and economic outlook for the entire population. “Opening the door to the future requires a transformation,” he said, emphasizing that reducing tension requires that ruling and opposition parties must come together on wider interests. At the same timer, dialogue with Belgrade is a building block of progress that must come from within. “The voters in Kosovo raised their voices for breaking with the past and I hope that the members of the Council will add their clear support for the realization of a more peaceful and more prosperous future in Kosovo and the region,” he said.

Nikola Selaković, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Serbia, noted with regret that recent elections confirmed that political extremism among Albanians in Kosovo and Metohija is rising. Albanian leaders compete among themselves to find the best way to provoke incidents in Serb communities, in order to score political points with the Albanian electorate. Citing many instances of offensive and threatening graffiti in Serb communities, he said that, from the earliest stages of the electoral process, Kosovar leaders sought to diminish support among the Serb voter list, resorting to irregularities such as arbitrarily deleting voters and changing polling stations, thereby depriving many Serbs in Kosovo of their fundamental democratic rights. Despite those tactics, the Serbian people in Kosovo and Metohija demonstrated high turnout and won all 10 seats reserved for Serbian representatives.

Spotlighting discriminatory anti-Serbian policies that go beyond the recent election, he listed intrusions into Serb-run health-care institutions as they work to fight COVID-19 and attacks against vulnerable Serb returnees to Kosovo and Metohija. One method to discourage returns is the systematic destruction of the economic foundation for return, including pressure on businesses in Serb-majority communities. At the same time as they arrest internally displaced persons, Pristina authorities try to exert pressure on the Specialist Chambers in The Hague to prevent the further processing of cases against members of the Kosovo Liberation Army. Abductions, attacks and murders committed against Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija continue to go unaddressed.

Urging the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) to continue to support the Specialist Chambers and the Specialist Prosecutor's Office, as well as its additional engagement in the field of the rule of law, he called for special attention to witness protection and to determining the fate of missing persons. He voiced support and respect for the work of international missions in Kosovo and Metohija, including UNMIK, Kosovo Force (KFOR), EULEX and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Mission in Kosovo, while underlining the need for them to remain engaged “in an undiminished scope” in line with resolution 1244 (1999). In that vein, he rejected any unilateral attempt by another entity to assume part of KFOR’s mandate or responsibilities. Pristina’s unilateral decisions on the formation of the “Ministry of Defense” and the launch of a process transforming the so-called “Kosovo Security Forces” into the so-called “Kosovo Army” are thus unacceptable.

Citing various attacks perpetrated against Serbian people in Kosovo and Metohija in recent months, he said another striking example is the disrespectful attitude prevalent towards Serbian cultural and religious monuments in the province. Pristina has reacted to attacks against historic Serb monasteries only be denying the problem and claiming that Kosovo is an oasis of religious tolerance and multiculturalism. It is high time for Albanian leaders in Kosovo and Metohija to show responsibility in fulfilling their commitments, as well as a sincere commitment to reaching a compromise solution and building mutual trust. Serbia has repeatedly demonstrated its commitment to dialogue as the only path to a peaceful political solution. “Even today […] we are still ready to sit down at the table and talk,” he said. However, Serbia will not be blackmailed, threatened or respond to ultimatums, and expects Pristina to stop violating or obstructing the terms of previous agreements, he stressed.

Donika Gërvalla, of Kosovo, said that “the Republika of Kosova is entering a new era” after a majority of its population — in a first for any Balkan country — voted to free itself from corruption and crime. Kosovo remains on the path to integration into the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and it hopes to one day join the United Nations as well. Kosovo may be tiny, but it is not afraid, and it is in favour of reconciliation and eager to begin substantial and serious talks, even with those who were responsible for most of the conflict and genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo in recent decades.

Recalling the conflict in Kosovo more than 20 years ago, she said that most of the perpetrators of unspeakable crimes which caused more than 15,000 deaths are still alive and enjoying life in Serbia and elsewhere. They are often celebrated for their atrocities. Serb leaders continue to praise war criminals while refusing to cooperate with international institutions, she said, adding that some alleged war criminals are members of Serbia’s Parliament. “Serbia has to acknowledge and to accept that it has to pay a price for its murderous atrocities,” she said, calling upon that country to confront its past, free itself from its genocidal roots and try to become a truly civilized European country.

Kosovo wants to normalize its relationship with a European-minded Serbia through an open dialogue about their common past and, hopefully, their common future, she said. Kosovo may be small, but it stands tall and it has many reliable friends. “The independence of the Republic of Kosova is a done deal. The earlier Serbia accepts the reality, the quicker it can get [away] from its dark past into a bright future,” she said, adding that Kosovo wants Serbia to calm down, open up and start making friends in the region.

In the ensuing debate, several Council members renewed their call for Belgrade and Pristina to pursue dialogue to overcome their differences and build stability in the Western Balkans, particularly in the midst of the pandemic, emphasizing that therein laid the path for European integration. They also welcomed the work of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers and Specialist Prosecutor’s Office, based in The Hague, which are addressing war crimes, crimes against humanity and other crimes during the Kosovo conflict.

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