Mr. President, your Excellencies, distinguished guests,
The report before you details UNMIK’s activities from 16 April to 15 July 2011. As this Council is aware, in the days following the end of the reporting period, precisely on 25 July, an attempt by the Kosovo authorities to take control of Gates 1 and 31 on the administrative boundary line, led former USG for Peacekeeping Alain Le Roy to brief a closed session of the Council on 28 July on the situation in northern Kosovo. While the situation has improved somewhat since then, it remains tense, and unpredictable.
Mr. President, the report before you paints a hopeful picture of the dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade as of the end of the reporting period on 15 July. However, the situation changed in the days immediately thereafter, beginning with the postponement of the sixth session of the Pristina-Belgrade dialogue due, inter alia, to continuing disagreements between the parties on the issue of the Kosovo customs stamps. On 20 July, Pristina announced the imposition of what it described as ‘reciprocal measures’ on Serbian goods, effectively putting them under an embargo.
On 25 July, with no advance warning or coordination with the international presences, the Kosovo authorities attempted to deploy members of a Kosovo special police unit, known by the acronym ‘ROSU’, to the two northern boundary crossing points where Kosovo Customs had not been able to operate. The Kosovo Prime Minister, Mr. Hashim Thaci, explained that the purpose of this action was to establish rule of law, including Kosovo customs controls at the northern gates, as well as to enforce the embargo on goods coming from Serbia.
I will briefly recap the events that followed. The ROSU succeeded in reaching Gate 31, where one officer was wounded by an improvised explosive device, but were unable to deploy at Gate 1 due to roadblocks set up by northern Kosovo Serbs soon after the operation started. Due to the presence of these roadblocks, the ROSU were unable to either advance or retreat. KFOR responded by deploying eight of its 15 companies to northern Kosovo and, on 26 July, the KFOR Commander facilitated an agreement concerning the withdrawal of all ROSU units from northern Kosovo. A gunfight erupted during the ROSU movement that resulted in the death of a ROSU officer. In a separate incident, the facilities at Gate 1 were torched by masked perpetrators. Both incidents are currently the subject of priority criminal investigations being conducted by the European Rule of Law Mission, EULEX. The torching of Gate 1 led KFOR to declare both gates ‘military protected zones’, under the control of KFOR troops.
Following further mediation by the KFOR Commander, a ‘common understanding’ emerged that, inter alia, KFOR will be responsible for the gates at least until 15 September. This understanding is intended to manage the situation until Belgrade and Pristina resume the EU-facilitated dialogue in Brussels, currently scheduled for 2 September. It is hoped that when the dialogue resumes, the parties will resolve their long-standing commercial dispute and find a mutually agreeable way forward. In the meantime, EULEX has increased police patrolling in northern Kosovo, especially in multi-ethnic areas, and also maintains a strong presence at the Mitrovica District Court, which remains a symbol of discord and contention.
Although the situation was contained and further loss of life prevented, we should note that the events which took place in northern Kosovo last month were the most serious security incidents since the violence in 2008, which claimed the life of an international police officer and resulted in scores of injured. They serve as a stark reminder that the issues underlying these incidents remain unresolved and constitute a serious threat to Kosovo’s peace and stability. It remains essential therefore that all sides refrain from any unilateral action, which could escalate existing tensions.
· We must all work together to avoid any further deterioration of the situation and allow progress to be made through dialogue, as expected of responsible, trustworthy interlocutors. The leadership in both Pristina and Belgrade have a responsibility to set a public example and demonstrate in practical terms their confidence in the dialogue as a means of resolving disputes, as opposed to unilateral action.
Mr. President, while tensions in the North thankfully did not spill over into the rest of Kosovo, we nevertheless saw an increase in cases of intimidation of Kosovo Serbs and attacks on their property in communities south of the Ibar River. We are of the belief that the recent troubles must be a wake-up call to all that rebuilding trust and promoting inter-community cooperation and understanding cannot be further postponed. During the crisis, the language and tone of the messages originating both from those speaking for Pristina, and from those speaking for Belgrade, were too often messages of domination and division, too seldom of cooperation and inclusion. This kind of public discourse only exacerbates the deep-seated mistrust and animosity that still exist between the majority population and the Kosovo Serb minority, particularly in the North. There is a pressing need for leaders on both sides to speak the language of peaceful co-existence and reconciliation and to accompany their words with concrete actions. UNMIK has been conveying this message clearly and widely.
Fractured inter-community relations seriously risk undermining the considerable investments made by the international community towards advancing Kosovo's overall institutional, economic and social development. UNMIK, as well as the UN funds, agencies and programmes, which we refer to as the ‘UN Kosovo Team’, and the OSCE are taking concrete steps to increase reconciliation efforts. Our staff in northern Kosovo are working daily with the communities to clarify misunderstandings, allay anxieties, and mediate, as necessary, including between the communities and other members of the international community. We also continue to liaise with the political leadership in both Pristina and Belgrade, with a view to maintaining the confidence of all sides.
The UN Kosovo Team’s current common plan is focused on the themes of inclusion, participation, and accountability, and takes advantage of the UN Kosovo Team’s quality as neutral partners, and working with government structures as well as civil society, both north and south of the Ibar River. In this regard, I wish to note that the UN Kosovo Team has suffered a decrease in its funding, estimated at close to 40 percent. At the same time, interventions by the major donors do not focus on either conflict prevention or reconciliation. Consequently, I would appeal to the international community to continue to support the work the UN is doing to rebuild trust and foster reconciliation.
Before moving on to other issues, I wish to highlight another matter that concerns northern Kosovo, which is threatening the livelihood of some 3,500 employees and their families and risking further damage to the relationship between the Kosovo authorities and the Kosovo Serb community in the North.
UNMIK has learned that the Kosovo Tax Administration has seized bank accounts belonging to the Socially Owned Enterprise Trepča, a mining company that is the single largest employer in northern Kosovo. The reason alleged, but entirely unsubstantiated by the Tax Administration, is that there are tax liabilities owed by Trepča. Whatever the reason, however, the action by the Tax Administration is in clear violation of applicable laws and procedures. Consequently, UNMIK has addressed the relevant court requesting an immediate reversal of this seizure of bank accounts and the return of all monies seized.
We are also concerned that the effects of this action will be perceived by the population of northern Kosovo as a deliberate attempt to target their well-being at a time when it is imperative that the Kosovo authorities clearly and credibly convey their stated concern for the welfare of all those who inhabit the territory of Kosovo – North and South.
A loud and clear expression of that concern may also allow us to see greater progress in the area of returns which, as reported, remains slow. According to UNHCR figures, the total number of voluntary returns to Kosovo between April and July is 333, of whom all but 8 are members of minority communities. As we have repeatedly reported, returns are impeded both by the lack of economic prospects for returnees and the lack of reconciliation, on which the issue of the missing persons bears heavily.
Mr. President, today, 30 August, marks the International Day of the Disappeared. Regrettably, during the reporting period there has been no significant progress to report in the clarification of the fates and locations of missing persons. The number of those still missing from the Kosovo conflict and its immediate aftermath still stands at over 1,800. I therefore renew the call to all those who can help clarify the fates of the missing to pass on relevant information to the International Committee of the Red Cross, so that the surviving family members can learn about the fates of their loved ones and achieve closure.
Mr. President, I would like to update the Council issues, on UNMIK’s facilitation of external relations, starting with the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA). As I mentioned at the outset, on 20 July the Kosovo authorities imposed an embargo on shipments of goods bearing stamps of the Serbian tax and customs administration. While Belgrade has initiated a dispute resolution procedure to address the issue under CEFTA, a consensus has emerged that Belgrade and Pristina will deal with the matter in the next dialogue session. In consultation with Belgrade, Pristina, and all relevant stakeholders, UNMIK is ensuring coordination between the dialogue process and the CEFTA procedure. The common, acknowledged goal is a swift and successful resolution of the issue.
While the issue of UNMIK’s facilitation of Kosovo’s external relations still remains a delicate issue for Pristina, we have noted a more pragmatic approach to the matter by the Kosovo authorities and, in this context, we particularly welcome Pristina’s decision to resume participation in meetings of the Sarajevo-based Regional Cooperation Council.
Finally, I wish to update the Council on the steps taken by EULEX to investigate the allegations contained in Council of Europe Special Rapporteur Marty’s report on “inhuman treatment of people and illicit trafficking in human organs in Kosovo”. EULEX has informed us that the members of the special investigative task force that will conduct an investigation into the issue have been recruited, facilities and equipment in Brussels have been secured, and the task force is expected to begin its work in September.
Mr. President, in closing, on behalf of all UNMIK staff, I wish to thank the Council for its continued support and to reiterate our assurance that we will continue to implement the mandate with which you have entrusted us. Thank you.