The Security Council today held a closed meeting on Kosovo at a time when fresh violent incidents have shaken the Albanian-majority Serbian province which the United Nations has run since 1999, and talks to determine its final status – hoped to have been completed by the end of this year – are still at the technical phase.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s special envoy on the status talks, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, told reporters the meeting was important in light of a call from interested States for him to prepare a comprehensive proposal for a settlement and for all possible efforts to be made to achieve a negotiated settlement this year.
The so-called Contact Group – the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy and the Russian Federation – had met with Mr. Ahtisaari at ministerial level at UN Headquarters earlier this week.
In his latest report earlier this month, Mr. Annan called for more flexibility from all sides in deciding the final status of Kosovo, where Albanians outnumber Serbs and others by 9 to 1. Independence and autonomy are among options mentioned for the province, which the UN has run since Western forces drove out Yugoslav troops in 1999 amid ethnic fighting.
Serbia rejects independence and the country’s President Boris Tadic also briefed the Council session.
One of the technical issues that the Kosovo and Serbian sides have been discussing – decentralization and the creation of new municipalities with Kosovo-Serb majorities to encourage the return of hundreds of thousands of Serbs who fled – was highlighted this week by a bomb attack that wounded four members of a Serb returnee family in the western town of Klina/Kline.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) noted today that this was the third violent attack over a short period of time targeting Serb returnees in the municipality. A returnee was shot dead in front of his house in June and earlier this month the newly constructed home of a returnee family was blown up.
“Each and every security incident has dire consequences on the overall return process, with a ripple effect spreading among the non-Albanian displaced population,” Agency spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva. “UNHCR considers it imperative that perpetrators of such acts are found and prosecuted in accordance with the law.”
In early 1999, Kosovo was the scene of atrocities and the forceful displacement of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians. After a three-month intervention by NATO, culminating in the arrival of troops, most of Kosovo's Albanian population returned to their homes within days.
“In contrast, the return of non-Albanians, which started in 2000, has been painfully slow,” Mr. Redmond said. “To date, only some 15,600 minority returns have been registered – out of the estimated 250,000 ethnic Serbs, Roma and others who left the province after the withdrawal of Serbian forces in 1999.”
Apart from the attack on Serbs, Kosovo has also seen other violence in recent days, including a bomb attack on the car of ethnic Albanian Interior Minister Fatmir Rexhepi.