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Despite progress, more action needed to bridge ethnic divide in Kosovo - UN

Despite progress, more action needed to bridge ethnic divide in Kosovo - UN

Although there has been progress in reconstruction and reform in Kosovo since March's deadly violence, the worst in the five years since the United Nations took over administering the ethnically-divided province, key areas such as reconciliation and the return of minorities remain cause for concern, according to a new report released today.

While measures and mechanisms have been established for moving forward towards reconciliation between the Albanian majority and minorities, in particular the Serbs, "more action is required to translate these into concrete and sustainable results," Secretary-General Kofi Annan writes in his latest report on the issue.

"I call upon the leadership of the (Albanian majority) Provisional Institutions and of the Kosovo Serb community to work together in the interest of the people of Kosovo with the aim of creating the conditions for their normal life," he adds of the province that has been under UN administration since June 1999 after the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) drove Yugoslav troops out amid Albanian-Serb fighting.

On the credit side Mr. Annan cites evidence that Kosovo is getting back on track towards fulfilling the necessary standards for deciding its final status after the onslaught by Albanian extremists to drive out Serb, Roma and Askhali communities led to 19 people being killed, nearly 1,000 injured and hundreds of homes and centuries-old Serbian cultural sites razed or burned in March.

Progress in some areas has been "tangible and encouraging," with many damaged homes and schools rebuilt or under reconstruction and advances in reforming local government, of major importance in safeguarding the vital interests of minority communities, particularly Serbs, he says.

He calls last month's elections for the Kosovo Assembly "an important further step…in the process of stabilization and normalization."

But in the debit column Mr. Annan lists the failure to establish "a systematic, properly resourced programme for outreach, including mid- and long-term reconciliation and inter-ethnic dialogue," a significant drop in the rate of Serbs returning, Serb non-participation in the elections and the continuing precarious security of minority groups.

"There continue to be substantial limitations on their freedom of movement. In some regions, Kosovo Serbs travel through areas in which there is a Kosovo Albanian majority only with escorts," he writes.

"Because of the March events, more members of minority communities have been displaced in 2004 than have been able to return to their homes."

Outlining a set of priorities in the months to come, Mr. Annan says the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) will seek to advance the eight so-called standards that set specific goals in such areas as building democratic institutions, enforcing minority rights, creating a functioning economy and establishing an impartial legal system.

UNMIK will also work in close coordination with KFOR, the multinational security force in the province, to improve security and freedom of movement, "key factors needed to consolidate the presence of minority communities and to accelerate the return of displaced persons."