UN-sponsored talks on future of Kosovo off to a ‘good beginning’ – envoy

21 February 2007

Discussions regarding proposals for the future of Kosovo have gotten off to a “good beginning” in Vienna today, the United Nations envoy for the future status of the Albanian-majority Serbian province said after starting consultations with representatives from Belgrade and Pristina.

“We have opened the discussion on the general principles of the comprehensive plan,” the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Kosovo’s future status process, Martti Ahtisaari, told reporters following today’s initial meeting.

Earlier this month, Mr. Ahtisaari unveiled a provisional plan under which the province would have the right to govern itself and conclude international agreements, including membership in international bodies, with an international civilian and military presence supervising the new arrangements and helping to ensure peace and stability.

“There are very important elements in this comprehensive plan because it tries to create a society which is more sustainable than the present Kosovo is and gives a better future for all in Kosovo, particularly in the economic area,” Mr. Ahtisaari said of the province, where unemployment is close to 60 per cent.

A major point of contention between the delegations is whether Kosovo should attain independence. Serbia categorically rejects independence for Kosovo, a goal sought by many of Kosovo's ethnic Albanians, who outnumber Serbs and others by 9 to 1.

The draft of Mr. Ahtisaari’s Comprehensive Proposal for the Kosovo Status Settlement, however, does not specifically mention independence for the province, which has been administered by the UN since North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces drove out Yugoslav troops amid brutal ethnic fighting in 1999.

Mr. Ahtisaari acknowledged that he did not expect that “what one party is putting on the table will be accepted by the other side.”

But following the meeting where the two parties took advantage of the opportunity to air their opinions on all aspects of the plan, he voiced optimism that there will be some areas on which negotiators from both sides will ultimately agree.

“I hope that in some areas there are proposals that might meet the acceptance of both parties,” the Special Envoy said of the discussions which he believes will conclude by early next month. “I think also that both parties are very realistic.”

In another development, the UN peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, known as UNMIK, announced today that a special task force has been created to investigate the injuries and two deaths when police used rubber bullets against pro-independence demonstrators, the ethnic Albanian Vetëvendosja, in violent protests which rocked Pristina on 10 February.

The newly-established task force comprises 24 investigators from Kosovo’s local police service and from around the world. The team will be headed by an independent special prosecutor from the United States, according to the Secretary-General’s spokesperson.

The UN police commissioner for UNMIK, Stephen Curtis, resigned following the incident and was replaced by his deputy Commissioner of Crime Trygve Kalleberg until the formal appointment of a new chief by the Secretary-General.


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