International support key for positive relations between Serbia and Kosovo – UN envoy
“While the international community has regularly committed a strong level of political engagement and resources to promote progress, this is perhaps still more crucial during the coming period for all international presences in Kosovo,” said Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), Farid Zarif.
Support and resourcefulness will sustain peace in the region, Mr. Zarif said, and “help ensure that positive momentum is sustained in the face of inevitable challenges.”
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in February 2008 following years of ethnic tensions, but Serbia has not recognized the declaration. Since then, the European Union has been facilitating dialogue between the parties on a range of practical matters.
On 19 April, an agreement was brokered in Brussels by the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton. The agreement, which represents a first step toward normalization of relations, contains provisions allowing ethnic Serbs living in Kosovo’s north access to their own police and appeals court.
The agreement also envisages holding of local elections this year in municipalities of northern Kosovo with the facilitation of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
Mr. Zarif said that a key factor for the successful implementation of the 19 April agreement will be its support by the northern Kosovo Serbs.
“I appreciate the courageous and continuous efforts of the Belgrade leadership to reach out and raise understanding and support for the agreement among the leaders and population of northern Kosovo,” he said. “These efforts have included pro-active exchange and visits by senior Government officials to address the concerns of Kosovo Serbs with regard to the impact of the agreement on their future.”
However, Mr. Zarif stressed that it is not just Serbia’s responsibility to provide support and establish communication with all parties, and he called on all stakeholders in northern Kosovo to get involved and engage in dialogue.
He praised Kosovo and Serbia for their further commitment to an Implementation Plan for the provisions contained on the 19 April agreement, and underlined that the timeline in the Plan “will require both sides to move ahead expeditiously.
“It is evident that a high degree of commitment, flexibility and creativity will also be required to meet the ambitious timelines foreseen in the Implementation Plan,” he added.
Mr. Zarif warned that there are still many challenges ahead, particularly in the face of continuing tension and uncertainty in various parts of Kosovo. While these are signs of potential stability, there are also encouraging efforts such as the establishment of an ethnically mixed special unit in four regions for the protection of Serbian religious and cultural heritage sites by the Kosovo Police.
In addition, publicly-funded repairs and reconstruction of Orthodox gravestones damaged in a wave of attacks across Kosovo this past January is progressing, and Kosovo authorities in May participated in an inter-faith conference which included leaders of all faiths in Kosovo, including the Serbian Orthodox Church.
“The 19 April Agreement represents a major achievement and a decisive step forward for both Belgrade and Pristina which should contribute toward peaceful solutions of the issues which have long divided the parties,” Mr. Zarif said, adding that UNMIK will continue its supporting role on the ground to the creation of an enabling environment for the implementation of the agreement.