Although the recent wave of violence shook the United Nations mission in Kosovo "to its foundations," it aimed to root out and punish the perpetrators while remaining resolute in its task to help prepare the province for self-governance, the UN's senior envoy in the province told the Security Council today.
In his first briefing to the Council since a spate of ethnically-motivated violence rocked the province in mid-March, Harri Holkeri, Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Representative and head of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), said that in the wake of this "serious setback," the Mission was questioning whether its response had been adequate, and whether it had done enough to prevent it.
"The violence has forced us at UNMIK to take a long hard look at ourselves," he said, recalling the incident in which 19 people were killed and nearly 1,000 injured over days of rioting. Hundreds of homes and centuries-old Serbian cultural sites were razed or burned, and some 4,000 people were displaced in just two days.
The speed with which the unrest spread had overwhelmed the ability of the Kosovo international force (KFOR) and UNMIK security forces to respond, Mr. Holkeri said. The mission had no means to augment its security forces, and KFOR was not reinforced until after the violence ended. The Mission had since been reviewing operational procedures and coordination in responding to crisis, for which he had appointed a review board.
In the aftermath, UNMIK would do all it could to bring to justice all those who provoked or engaged in the violence, he said, noting that some 270 arrests already had been made. The priority now was to target investigations on the principal organizers, as well as on homicides and arson. Local prosecutors were handling over 130 cases directly related to the riots. Some 50 cases of a more serious nature had been entrusted to international prosecutors.
Meanwhile, violence had obviously had a very adverse effect on the overall returns process, and the current security environment in Kosovo was not conducive to the forcible return of members of minority communities to their homes, he said. Achieving any progress on returns, including the newly displaced, would require a substantial increase in the quality and quantity of protection provided by KFOR and the police.
Describing Kosovo as an "open wound for Serbs, Albanians and the entire international community," Vuk Draskovic, Foreign Minister of Serbia and Montenegro, said that in the wake of the "mass violence against Serbs and the barbaric destruction of their cultural sites," the Council had adopted a Presidential statement that had not adequately responded to the tragedy suffered by the Serbian people in the province. He called on the body to ensure a greater and more resolute respect for the UN Charter and strict compliance with Security Council resolution 1244, which gave UNMIK its original mandate.
Mr. Draskovic told the Council the international community should not think today in terms of final status since the rights of Serbs were being tragically violated in Kosovo, and such human suffering could not constitute the basis for any final status. Serbia and Montenegro called for the start of a sincere dialogue at all levels between ethnic Albanians and Serbs, directly or through the good offices of the international community.
Video of the Council meeting [2hrs 51mins]