Briefing the Security Council today on efforts to engage Kosovo Serbs in the forthcoming province-wide elections, a senior United Nations official welcomed the decision by four Kosovo Serb parties to submit certification applications for the ballot.
Addressing an open meeting of the Council, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, urged the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to "unequivocally encourage" Serb participation in the elections. This would help "undercut extremism, reduce inter-ethnic tensions and stake the rightful claim of the Kosovo Serb community to participate in the political process," he said.
Noting efforts by the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) to reduce the influence of ethnic Albanian armed groups operating from Kosovo, Mr. Guéhenno said that the situation in the neighbouring former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia continued to be of great concern to the mission. He noted the number of refugees arriving in Kosovo from that country outweighed the number of those returning.
Referring to the border closure by the FYR of Macedonia, he said UNMIK was making representations to the country's authorities, as the decision was severely restricting the mission's work.
Earlier today, UNMIK chief Hans Haekkerup had called the border closure "unacceptable and unreasonable," according to a mission spokeswoman in Pristina.
Mr. Guéhenno also discussed preparations for the 17 November elections and the handover to provisional self-government institutions, as well as efforts to improve law and order, engage minority communities in public life and undertake confidence-building measures to bridge the gap among different communities.
In the ensuing Council debate, in which 16 countries took part, speakers stressed the importance for all ethnic groups to participate in the elections, and underscored the need to ensure the return of refugees, guarantee security, disarm illegal armed groups, and halt cross-border activities of Albanian extremists.