Resolving Kosovo’s future status as soon as possible would bring benefits to the entire Balkan region, while any further delays would only raise tensions and help the cause of extremists, the senior United Nations envoy to the province told the Security Council today.
Joachim Rücker, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, told an open debate that anxieties have risen with Kosovo since a decision last month to delay the unveiling of a UN proposal on permanent status until after the Serbian elections on 21 January.
“Keeping momentum in the status process thereafter will be a key factor in heading off a feeling of uncertainty on the way ahead, which is a potential source of instability,” he said.
Independence and autonomy within Serbia are among the options for the province, where ethnic Albanians outnumber Serbs and other groups by about 9 to 1. The Serbian Government opposes independence for Kosovo, which has been run by the UN since Western forces drove out Yugoslav troops in 1999 amid ethnic fighting.
Mr. Rücker stressed that “delay is more than just a loss of time. Delay will raise tension and play into the hands of extremists on all sides. Delay will not make a solution easier; it will make it much more difficult.”
He also reiterated that the implementation of standards – an internationally-agreed series of targets including building democratic institutions, enforcing minority rights, creating a functioning economy and setting up an impartial legal system – remains at the heart of the work of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).
“The Government, under the leadership of Prime Minister [Agim] Çeku, has continued to demonstrate effective leadership of standards implementation,” he said, noting recent laws establishing the equal status of the Albanian and Serbian languages and others containing provisions on religious freedom and cultural heritage.
Efforts are also being made to repair inter-community relations following the outbreak of violence in March 2004 in which 22 people were killed and hundreds of others injured during attacks by ethnic Albanians on Serb, Roma and Ashkali communities.
But Mr. Rücker said many Kosovo Serbs have not returned to their home communities since those riots, and called on Belgrade to encourage returns when conditions are created.
The envoy added that Serbia’s continuing call for the province’s Serbian population to boycott Kosovo institutions has undermined the work done by UNMIK and the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government (PISG) to reach out to minority groups.
One of the most frequently cited complaints, he said, is the inadequate security for ethnic Serbs, but statistics indicate there has been a sharp drop in potentially ethnically motivated incidents.
Mr. Rücker said that UNMIK has already begun planning for what needs to be done – “a highly complex task,” he stressed – once a formal decision on status is made.
He said the province will need a new constitution to replace the current framework, which relies on the presence of UNMIK, elections, a review of all legislation passed since UNMIK has been on operation, and a study of what new public institutions will need to be created.
“We need to do as much as possible – without prejudice to the status process – before the formal transition period begins with the passage of a resolution by this Council.”
After Mr. Rücker’s speech, representatives of numerous countries then addressed the Council during the open debate, with most reiterating their support for the work of UNMIK.