Mr. President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
The report before you details UNMIK’s activities from 16 July to 15 October 2011. Since my last briefing to you on 30 August, the Council has met twice, on 15 and 28 September, and has been briefed on the situation in the north of Kosovo, which remains precarious and warrants attention and leadership by this Council.
Since mid-October, KFOR has consolidated perimeters at Gates 1 and 31 and has attempted to remove some of the Kosovo Serb roadblocks; such attempts have resulted in occasional clashes with the Serb protesters. The Gates have remained closed to traffic due to the barricades erected by Kosovo Serb residents in the north, who have continued to object to the presence, albeit symbolic at the moment, of customs and police officials from the Pristina institutions. EULEX continues transporting the Pristina officials to the Gates by helicopter. In response, the northern Kosovo Serbs refuse EULEX freedom of movement throughout the North. Meanwhile, KFOR’s ability to conduct patrols and to access its bases in the North is unpredictable, with convoys sporadically blocked at the barricades, when accompanied by EULEX or when carrying heavy engineering equipment.
On the night of 23 to 24 November, KFOR attempted to dismantle an unmanned barricade at Dudin Krš on the Mitrovica bypass. That attempt sparked a violent clash with local Serb residents, who attacked KFOR soldiers with rocks and vehicles. According to KFOR, 21 of its soldiers from Germany, Hungary and Portugal were injured in the incident.
In the morning of 28 November, KFOR soldiers took over and removed the Kosovo Serb roadblock at a village west of Zubin Potok. KFOR said that, during the operation, it used water cannons, tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets. KFOR also reported that two of its soldiers were wounded by small arms fire. The situation calmed down for a few hours, but, in late afternoon, violence resumed with Kosovo Serb demonstrators throwing Molotov cocktails at KFOR troops, resulting in an additional 23 soldiers injured. Around 15 Serb demonstrators reportedly received treatment for injuries during the clashes. The situation today has been peaceful, although local Kosovo Serb protesters are still present at the site.
These incidents clearly marked an escalation in the level of tension and violence. UNMIK has expressed serious concern over these acts of violence and has condemned the shooting against KFOR soldiers.
Regrettably, the situation in the north has also become intertwined with the politics of the Serbian elections due next spring as well as with the current political dynamics in Pristina.
UNMIK and its international partners have taken several initiatives to contain the current situation and help bring to focus its underlying causes, which deserve the attention and careful examination of this august Council. We are working hard to help dissipate tensions and create an atmosphere in which durable solutions are possible. Accordingly, we have actively sought out interlocutors from across the political spectrum – in Pristina and in northern Kosovo, as well as in Belgrade – to promote efforts to find common ground and engage in constructive dialogue. We have urged the sides to explore ways and opportunities to communicate with each other. Our core messages have been to exercise patience, refrain from the use of force, avoid violence, and support the Security-Council mandated international presences in the fulfillment of their responsibilities by not impeding their freedom of movement. One element of our strategy of engagement has already borne some fruit; there has been a toning down of rhetoric by the various sides, which tended to speak to their respective constituencies with inadequate regard for the misunderstandings their remarks could create. I am pleased to report that this advice has been accepted and is positively implemented in Pristina and Belgrade.
It should be noted that without progress at the political level, EULEX and KFOR will continue to face difficulties in fulfilling their mandates north of the Ibar River, and previous relative successes in building a functional and multi-ethnic Kosovo police presence there will be placed at risk. Recent attacks targeting Kosovo police officers in Zubin Potok, notably the attack on the residence of the chief of the Investigation Unit, and a hand grenade attack directed at the police station, which appear to be of a local political nature, seem to reflect the currently tense situation in the north and may cause further impediments to effective policing.
Despite KFOR’s general posture to avoid forceful action in the north, the situation continues to be extremely volatile and the combined factors of frustration, fear and mistrust could easily and quickly provide the spark that could ignite violence, as was demonstrated by the recent clashes. At the same time, other incidents, such as the killing of a Kosovo Serb and wounding of three others in the Kroi i Vitakut/Brdjani neighborhood in northern Mitrovica on 9 November only serve to exacerbate the ethnic tensions. Consequently, the situation calls for strong, united leadership from the international community.
In light of the above, the resumption of the EU-facilitated dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade on 21 November, after a hiatus that followed Pristina’s attempt to take control of the Gates on 25 July, should be welcomed. The dialogue provides an appropriate forum for the discussion of a way forward that would represent a “European solution” for the two crossing points. We should encourage the sides to maintain their engagement, in good faith, and to work closely with the EU facilitator, whose leadership is key to the process, to reach agreement on such a solution,
At the same dialogue meeting, and following on an earlier agreement in July, it was agreed that the European University Association will be asked to certify diplomas issued by universities of each party for use by the other in connection with further education and/or public employment. Regional cooperation was also discussed, with the parties agreeing that they would return to the issue at their next meeting, scheduled for tomorrow, with a view to reaching agreement. The parties also reviewed the process of implementation of previously reached agreements on cadastre, civil registry and freedom of movement, and committed themselves to rapid progress in this process. It is important to ensure that the momentum of this dialogue, both in terms of reaching agreements as well as of their implementation, be maintained.
This period has seen an increase of incidents affecting minority communities elsewhere in Kosovo, including the killing of a Kosovo Croat and the wounding of another in southern Kosovo on 2 October, and the killing of a Kosovo Serb and injuring of two others in western Kosovo on 20 October. While it is unclear whether these cases were ethnically motivated, it is a fact that criminal incidents affecting members of minority communities weaken these communities’ perception of their safety and security. It is important to note that the number of criminal incidents affecting minorities has also increased compared to the same period one year ago, which considering the present situation, has a greater negative impact upon these communities’ perception of their safety and security. UNMIK is carefully and closely following the trend of such incidents and is engaging both with local police and community leaders, as well as with EULEX, to intensify efforts to resolve all inter-ethnic criminal cases, which are particularly damaging to the prospects for peace and reconciliation. More importantly, UNMIK is adding its voice to that of others in the international community calling for more active and effective efforts on the part of political leaders, to make use of their leadership positions to help change the atmosphere in which inter-ethnic crime is tacitly tolerated.
Perceptions of safety and security are one of the key elements affecting minority returns. We continue to observe with concern the recent decline in the rate of such returns to Kosovo. While vocal opposition to returns has diminished, in early November a public protest by some 200 members of the receiving Kosovo-Albanian community, in a formerly mixed village in Ferizaj/Uroševac Municipality, prevented a visit by Serb IDPs, who were escorted away by the Kosovo police after one of their minivans was stoned outside the meeting venue. We are concerned by the incident, but note that the municipal leadership has publicly denounced the receiving community’s opposition, and action is being taken to reschedule the visit.
There is better news regarding the preservation of Serbian Orthodox heritage sites. I am pleased to report that since spring 2009, when the Kosovo police gradually started to assume responsibility for security arrangements at protected sites, there has been a decrease of incidents at these sites. Currently, ethnically mixed teams of Kosovo police are in charge of security arrangements at 21 sites, mostly churches and monasteries. Although the Serbian Orthodox Church assesses the situation around the church sites as fragile and has undertaken some technical protection measures or their own, the best guarantee for the long-term security of these sites is the development of positive relations between the Church and local representatives of the Kosovo-Albanian community, in which some senior clerics are actively engaged. Continued support by the Kosovo authorities of the established mechanisms for special protection and reconstruction of Orthodox sites, including the Reconstruction and Implementation Commission, would contribute to this process.
There has been only modest progress in the clarification of the fates and location of missing persons. In this regard, I wish to reiterate the call on all those who have information on the fates and locations of the missing to come forward and pass that information on to the International Committee for the Red Cross.
Finally, I wish briefly to update the Council on the steps taken by EULEX to investigate the allegations contained in the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly’s Resolution 1782 (2011), “Investigation of allegations of inhuman treatment of people and illicit trafficking in human organs in Kosovo”. A Special Investigative Task Force has been set up, which has taken over the preliminary investigation launched by EULEX into the allegations. The lead prosecutor announced that he had secured Albania's commitment to cooperate in the investigation and declared his commitment to follow the trail of evidence wherever it may lead. He has recently met with the Presidents of Kosovo, Albania and Serbia as well as war crimes prosecutors in the three capitals. As noted in the Secretary General’s Report, “Belgrade remains of the view that an independent body, with investigative powers in Albania and beyond, should be established by the Security Council to lead the investigation.”
In closing, I would like to thank the membership of this Council for their support to UNMIK, in particular for continuing efforts to contribute to solutions which not only accord with the values and purpose of the United Nations, but contribute toward the fulfilment of the aspirations of this region for a more peaceful and more prosperous future as part of Europe. We count upon your continued support for our efforts to tackle the immediate and delicate problems described in the present report. Moreover, we hope that you will assist us by putting the full weight of your authority behind the messages we are instilling to the parties, in particular their respective leaderships.
While some speak of Kosovo as a ’frozen conflict’, I believe the situation is fluid and dynamic. This potentially entails greater dangers, but equally, there exist genuine opportunities to pursue a viable, sustainable resolution that could overcome the long standing tensions. It is my belief that this can best be achieved through the stewardship of this Council.
Above all, I believe what is needed now is for the sides to muster the good will, pragmatism, boldness, courage and resolve necessary to achieve genuine progress. No less than the taking of full, statesman-like responsibility is demanded if the present opportunities for moving toward peaceful, durable solutions are not to be missed.