Statement by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) in Kosovo, Mr. Farid Zarif, to the United Nations Security Council, New York, 29 August 2014

 
Mr. President, Excellencies,
 
It is with regret that I feel obliged to begin my remarks today by addressing briefly the incidents which took place in or around Kosovo during the past 36 hours, near the villages of Orlovac and Kushtovë/Košutovo, resulting in at least three fatalities, including a Serbian police officer, and gunfire injuries to three others. While law enforcement agencies and international presences are still determining the details, preliminary information suggests armed persons involved in illegal wood-cutting were likely responsible for the incidents.  Such tragic outcomes unfortunately occur when serious criminal activities are being pursued.  However, in sensitive areas such as the location of those incidents, great care should also be taken not to give reign to speculation of political motives, so that professional agencies may do their work, and those who commit such crimes and violence are brought to face justice.   I wish, in this same light, to express my deepest sympathies to the family of the Serbian police officer who fell in the line of duty.  
 
Turning to the latest report you have before you today, I wish first to congratulate the Kosovo voters, institutions and political leaders on the successful conduct of the 8 June general elections, which were held for the first time throughout Kosovo under a unified legal framework, and in a peaceful and well-organised manner.  I also wish to acknowledge the constructive role of the leadership in Belgrade in encouraging Kosovo Serb voters to fully participate in these elections.  I commend the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the European Union (EU) for the important role they played in facilitating the organisation of the elections and in enhancing their overall transparency and accountability.
 
In order to capitalise fully on the success of that process, I have joined many others in urging political leaders in Kosovo to treat the formation of Kosovo's next government as the most pressing imperative.  The Constitutional Court, in its decision published this Tuesday, has ruled as unconstitutional the election of the Assembly President on 17 July, and asked the Assembly to complete its constitutive session and to elect, as soon as possible, an Assembly President and Deputy Presidents in compliance with the Constitution and the Assembly's Rules of Procedure. Moving forward expeditiously in the wake of this decision will best serve the interests of the people of Kosovo, and will be a further manifestation of their maturing political processes.
As the Council is aware, Belgrade and Pristina have made great strides since last year toward normalisation of relations, including through their constructive participation in the EU-facilitated dialogue.  In May, the adoption of municipal statutes by the Serb-majority municipalities in northern Kosovo marked a significant step forward. Both sides are aware that commitment to full implementation of the 19 April 2013 Agreement on the ground can only be validated through their concrete and visible actions. In that context, making progress on the formation of the Association/Community of Serb-majority municipalities will serve as an essential factor for sustaining the positive momentum and promoting the prospects for further normalisation.  I hope that members of the Council will unanimously encourage both parties to resume their high-level meetings as soon as the next government is in place in Pristina.  
 
Mr. President,
 
Unfortunate acts of lawlessness and violence, committed during a demonstration on 22 June in South Mitrovica, highlighted the volatility which still characterises the north-south divide in the Mitrovica region.  Misguided behaviour in this case did not inflame wider tensions, thanks in great measure to the professional and effective intervention by the Kosovo Police, as well as KFOR, with EULEX on stand-by as a reserve capacity. Yet, close vigilance remains necessary to safeguard the achievements and continuing progress of the dialogue.  I take this opportunity once again to urge all parties to address issues related to the Mitrovica main bridge -- and any other disputed construction works -- through respectful dialogue.  The 8 July and 11 August meetings on the subject between Kosovo's Minister of Environment and Spatial Planning and the Mayor of North Mitrovica, as well as the 22 July meeting of the EU-facilitated Working Group on the matter marked such constructive steps.  Alongside this, all local channels of communication and contacts should be fully utilized in order to address the issues on the ground, which directly affect the everyday lives and perceptions of local communities.  
 
In northern Kosovo, arrest warrants recently requested by a EULEX prosecutor and issued by a EULEX pre-trial judge in the Basic Court of Mitrovica against the current and former Mayors of Zubin Potok have significantly added to the unease in local sentiments. Although critical of these recent developments in their joint statement of today, the mayors and members of the four northern municipal assemblies expressed their readiness to continue cooperating with EULEX. As I continually stress the crucial importance of respecting judicial independence, I cannot but note that public confidence in the system will be enhanced greatly when justice is perceived to be conducted professionally and expeditiously.  I am pleased, in this respect, to see that the trial of five Kosovo Serbs, charged with war crimes and murder, began its proceedings on Tuesday at the Basic Court in Mitrovica, after an extended period marred by unhelpful speculation.
 
 
Of even greater long-term import for the processes of justice and reconciliation in Kosovo was the 29 July statement of findings made by the Chief Prosecutor of the Special Investigative Task Force.  Although the filing of indictments will await the establishment of a specialist court, the statement itself represents another milestone in strengthening the rule of law and a historical opportunity for further healing of the scars of war.  Immediate responses from all quarters to the Chief Prosecutor's statement have been encouraging. The Kosovo authorities have recently reiterated their commitment to continuing full cooperation with the Special Investigative Task Force. Once fully functional, the Assembly of Kosovo is expected to move expeditiously to pass the necessary legislation to ensure the court becomes fully operational in early next year.
 
With regard to further progress in determining the fate of missing persons, exhumation works at the Rudnica stone quarry in Serbia’s Raška municipality were concluded on 22 August in the presence of Kosovo government forensic observers, supported by EULEX, the ICRC, the International Commission on Missing Persons and UNMIK.  I wish to acknowledge with great appreciation the efforts of both Belgrade and Pristina to ensure a non-politicised professional operation. As we prepare to commemorate the International Day of the Missing Persons tomorrow, I reiterate my call on all parties to continue the work in this same manner and respect the suffering endured by the families of the victims.  
 
Mr. President,
 
The reporting period showed that the interconnectedness of on-going crises throughout the world is also affecting Kosovo.  I wish to applaud the initiative by President Jahjaga and the effective action taken by the Kosovo police and security bodies to tackle trends of violent extremism and prevent participation of some Kosovars in the conflicts in Syria and Iraq.  During this summer, large-scale police operations resulted in a significant number of arrests of persons suspected of supporting extremist organizations or participating in these foreign wars.  I also wish to commend the close engagement of the Islamic Community of Kosovo and its leaders, as well as the public stand taken by other religious and secular leaders to distance themselves entirely from such extremism.
 
 
During the reporting period, UNMIK has continued to focus its resources on strengthening reconciliation efforts among the communities throughout Kosovo. The Mission successfully completed its 2013-2014 Confidence Building Measures Programme, and is now taking further initiatives on the foundation of the implemented projects.  We are engaging our international partners to facilitate and support similar initiatives throughout Kosovo, in particular in the north.
 
However, I must also sound a note of concern regarding the protection of cultural and religious heritage in Kosovo.  Despite numerous assurances given by the municipal authorities, the council for the protection of the historic village of Hoçë e Madhe/Velika Hoča has not been established yet. In addition, the illegal construction in the Special Protective Zones, including that surrounding the UNESCO World Heritage site of Visoki Dečani Monastery, continues to undermine our reconciliation efforts on the ground.  Resolute and effective enforcement measures against such activities have yet to be taken by the concerned Kosovo authorities.

Since the last report, little progress has been observed with regard to the returns and reintegration process of Internally Displaced Persons, with 35% fewer IDPs returning to Kosovo from January to July 2014, compared to the corresponding period last year.  The hostile local protest of yesterday against an approved visit of IDP pilgrims to Mushtisht/Mušutište in order to mark the 28 August Orthodox feast was deeply disappointing.  I was grateful, however, to note the strong and prompt public response issued by the Minister for Communities and Returns in the immediate aftermath.  I also welcome the recent decision to postpone eviction of around 50 Kosovo Serb IDPs from a Collective Centre in Shtërpcë/Štrpce municipality, and continue to encourage the authorities in Pristina and the municipality to find durable solutions for them. Overall, greater and proactive efforts are needed to address the rights of IDPs before and after their return.
 
Mr. President,
 
UNMIK fully supports the commendable work of the EU and High Representative Ashton in facilitating the high level political dialogue and the implementation of its historic agreements, which has significantly enhanced the EU strategic perspective of both Belgrade and Pristina. In this light, I wish to note the initialling of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement between the EU and Kosovo in Brussels on 25 July.  The commitment to the EU path being shown throughout the region continues to be a driving force for positive political, institutional and socio-economic changes. This is essential as well to fulfil the Council’s objective of finding a peaceful settlement of the Kosovo issue.  UNMIK remains wholly committed to performing its mandate in furtherance of this objective.
 
I conclude my remarks by expressing my gratitude to you, Mr. President, and to all members of the Council for your continuous support of UNMIK's work. The period ahead will bring further challenges, which will require your continuing active engagement with both parties, to encourage full implementation of the 19 April 2013 Agreement and to support the work of the Special Investigative Task Force and the establishment of a specialist court.  UNMIK will continue working closely with local and international partners to support all vital processes in accordance with its mandate, exerting its efforts in support of the political progress being achieved, and helping to redress the shorter-term challenges as and when they appear.
 
Thank you very much
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