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UN announces accord to move forward in Kosovo on building multiethnic society

UN announces accord to move forward in Kosovo on building multiethnic society

The top United Nations envoy for Kosovo today announced agreement with the new local government on speeding moves towards a multiethnic society in the province, which the UN has run since 1999 when the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) drove Yugoslav troops out amid Albanian-Serb fighting.

The plan is seen as a crucial step along the road to determining the final status of Kosovo, where Albanians outnumber other communities, mainly Serbs, by about 9 to 1. Before NATO’s intervention the province was ruled from Belgrade, Serbia’s capital.

The issue of minorities has been a major stumbling block. Serb participation in recent elections was very poor and in his most recent report on the province Secretary-General Kofi Annan cited as a cause for concern the low return of minorities who had fled fighting and harassment.

“I welcome the very quick start we have seen from the Government, bearing in mind they have just taken office only two weeks ago,” Mr. Annan’s Special Representative, Søren Jessen-Petersen, said in Pristina, Kosovo’s capital.

“Today’s agreement shows that we are moving quickly in the right direction,” he added, noting that all involved have a very tight timetable to meet by mid-2005, when they need to show clear progress in order to move on to final status talks.

Mr. Jessen-Petersen and Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, named following elections in October, agreed on one of Mr. Annan’s key recommendations, “the prioritization of Standards.” In lay terms this means deciding which to tackle first among eight goals in such areas as building democratic institutions, enforcing minority rights, creating a functioning economy and establishing an impartial legal system.

The UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) did not specifically spell out the order but said the priorities selected are those “most urgent for, and central to, the development of a sustainable, multi-ethnic Kosovo where all people can live, work, travel and prosper in safety and security.”

Their implementation is key to unlocking further progress on all the Standards, which are essential “for bringing Kosovo closer to Euro-Atlantic structures, expectations and aspirations,” it added.

Mr. Haradinaj committed his government to implementing them. “I hope that the leaders of all the communities of Kosovo will join me in this effort, for which we would also like to have the full support of UNMIK,” he said.

He heads what is officially called the Provisional Institutions of Self Government (PISG), to which UNMIK has been incrementally handing over such powers as energy, local self-government, and returns and communities.

Mr. Jessen-Petersen today also welcomed additional funding of €23.9 million (euro) from the European Commission, which will support PISG in implementing the Standards.

He noted specifically that nearly €13 million are earmarked for economic development, one of Mr. Annan’s key recommendations. “The economy in Kosovo is in a dire situation, and the EU can play an increasing role in partnership with the PISG in creating prospects for the unemployed,” he said.

Another €5 million will be added to programmes for the return of internally displaced persons, and the envoy said he was confident the PISG would make good use of the new funding to improve the conditions for sustainable returns.