Continuing his visit to South-East Europe, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today stressed the importance of dialogue and engagement across the region, highlighting the importance of the normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia.
“One overriding theme of my visit is the importance of dialogue and mutual respect across the region,” Mr. Ban told reporters upon his arrival in Kosovo’s capital, Pristina. “I have emphasized to all the leaders I am meeting the crucial importance of taking further steps for greater understanding.”
“I bring the same message to Kosovo’s leaders, and to the people of Kosovo, who I know have suffered from conflict and who yearn for a peaceful, prosperous future,” he added. “In particular, I expect strong efforts toward the normalization of relations with Belgrade, including through the same serious and sincere commitment to dialogue which I have asked from the Serbian leadership.”
Over the past week Mr. Ban has visited Croatia, Montenegro, Slovenia and Serbia, promoting the partnership between United Nations and the region, as well as discussing common challenges and future opportunities.
In his remarks to the media, Mr. Ban also said he was concerned about the situation in northern Kosovo – which remains a flashpoint amid continuing tensions between the Kosovo Albanian and Kosovo Serbian communities – and the escalation of tensions over the past year, adding that it is essential that sensitive issues such as this one be resolved through peaceful dialogue.
During his visit, the Secretary-General will meet with a range of local and international officials, as well as the UN Interim Administration in Kosovo (UNMIK). Mr. Ban said UNMIK continues to play an important role in accordance with UN Security Council resolution 1244, which was adopted in 1999 following the end of fighting in Kosovo.
“Together with the Kosovo Team, much has been achieved in building democratic institutions, strengthening the rule of law, protecting minority rights, facilitating dialogue and promoting confidence between communities.” Mr. Ban said, reiterating the UN’s readiness to cooperate with all international partners.
Established in 1999, UNMIK is mandated to help ensure conditions for a peaceful and normal life for all inhabitants of Kosovo and advance regional stability in the western Balkans. It began its operations when North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces drove out Yugoslav troops amid bloody ethnic fighting between Serbs and Albanians, but it gave up its administrative role in 2008 when Kosovo Albanians declared independence. Serbia rejects Kosovo’s declaration of independence.
Over the past couple of days, Mr. Ban met with the President of Montenegro, Filip Vujanovic, and the President of Serbia, Tomislav Nikolic, as well as with other officials from both countries, with whom he discussed the need for dialogue and reconciliation among countries in the region.
Before leaving Serbia this morning, Mr. Ban also visited a cooperative that targets the Roma community and seeks to ensure they have access to healthcare, education and social services. While at the site, he said that the UN will do all it can to promote the rights of the Roma.
While in Kosovo, Mr. Ban also visited the Visoki Decani monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as the city of Prizren.
His next stop is the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, where he will meet with President Gjorge Ivanov and Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski. His final stop will be Bosnia and Herzegovina.