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After ‘milestone’ Kosovo poll, UN to assist further political development

Special Representative Farid Zarif.
UN Photo/Rick Bajornas
Special Representative Farid Zarif.

After ‘milestone’ Kosovo poll, UN to assist further political development

The United Nations pledged full cooperation today with the European Union (EU) in tackling the “critical and broadly more challenging phase” confronting Kosovo after the “essential step forward” achieved through municipal elections earlier this month.

The UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) has been assisting the EU-led political process in implementing the 19 April Agreement on Principles Governing the Normalization of Relations between Pristina and Belgrade, which included the Kosovo-wide poll in both the ethnic Albanian-majority south and the ethnic Serb-majority north.

“In particular, the mission is making this support available to the newly elected municipal authorities, especially in the North, where significant tensions still persist, and where high demands and expectations from the population will accordingly be directed to newly elected Municipal Presidents and Councils,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative Farid Zarif told the Security Council.

“The formation of the future Association/Community of Serb-majority municipalities, a key component of the 19 April agreement, will require major efforts during the forthcoming period, demanding close attention not only by the parties, but by the international community as well.

“UNMIK intends to play its role as part of a carefully coordinated collective effort, drawing on the comparative advantages and resources of all those who are ready to contribute,” he said in presenting Mr. Ban’s report.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in February 2008 following years of ethnic tensions, but Serbia has not recognized the declaration. The EU has since been facilitating dialogue between the parties on a range of practical matters.

Calling the elections a milestone, Mr. Zarif noted that while turnout in the Serb majority municipalities south of the Ibar River was far higher than during previous local elections over the past decade, in municipalities north of the river, it was comparatively lower, yet significant, despite a frequently contentious atmosphere and numerous practical challenges.

He deplored serious problems in northern Mitrovica, where masked persons forced their way into three major polling centres, destroying or spoiling many boxes of cast ballots, as well as voter intimidation and the stoning of some international monitoring vehicles. He called for the punishment of those responsible but also noted that these incidents were isolated and did not reflect the positive conduct of the elections overall.

“The results from the 3 November vote clearly demonstrated the growing maturity of Kosovo's polity, as well as a strong public desire and motivation for participation in the democratic process,” he said.

“At the same time, no-one involved can afford to close their eyes to the deep uncertainties which persist among significant parts of the population. Enthusiasm over the considerable success achieved through these local elections must be tempered: this success marked an essential, but still preliminary, step of translating progress at the high political level into local confidence and ownership on the ground.”

Stressing the need to improve dialogue at local levels throughout Kosovo, he said UNMIK has committed its own resources to this goal through a range of local initiatives, and he underscored the urgency of also tackling economic, rule of law and humanitarian issues.

He noted that popular aspirations for fuller association with European institutions continue to be a crucial factor underpinning the current process of normalisation agreed between the leaders of Pristina and Belgrade.