The top United Nations envoy in Kosovo is calling on donors to fund the return of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), a vital step in ensuring stability in the Albanian-majority Serbian province that the UN has run ever since Western forces drove out Yugoslav troops in 1999 amid grave rights abuses in ethnic fighting.
“Let us not fail because of lack of financial support,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Representative, Søren Jessen-Petersen, said over the weekend during a visit to Istog/k Municipality where he met Kosovo Serb returnees and pledged to get personally engaged in mobilizing support from donors for the returns process.
“What I find deeply regrettable, is that we cannot find the resources so that the return becomes sustainable, so that the people of Istog/k, the Albanians as well, feel that they are benefiting from Standards implementation,” he added, referring to eight targets that include building democratic institutions and enforcing minority rights and setting up an impartial legal system.
“If we don’t even get enough resources from donors to help 200 returnees, what will happen if after status tens of thousands start coming back,” he said of the talks currently underway to determine the future status of the province, where Albanians outnumber Serbs and others by 9 to 1.
Independence and autonomy are among options mentioned but Serbia rejects independence and Kosovo’s Serbs have been boycotting the province’s provisional institutions. Significant differences in the status talks so far have emerged on issues of decentralization, just one of many issues on the table.
The UN mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) has been seeking to foster communal harmony and promote the return of Serbs who fled ever since it took over the administration after the NATO military intervention in 1999.
Meeting with Istog/k municipal authorities, Mr. Jessen-Petersen appreciated their support for the returns and noted that all round progress had been made. “Istog/k ranks as one of the four best municipalities on Standards implementation, but we have to continue to do better,” he said. “The example being set here could be and should be the example we are all working on.”
He stressed that no society can move forward if it is divided. “We need a society where there is coexistence, a society that is well integrated,” he said, voicing satisfaction at the encouraging pace of returns in Istog/k, where 66 displaced persons have returned so far this year. “I want to encourage the Kosovo Serbs who have come back, to move around, trust your neighbours and encourage your friends to come back,” he declared.