Photo: Zahir Tanin, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), briefs the Security Council. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe - Photo: 2018

Reconciliation Continues to Evade Serbia-Kosovo Relations

By J Nastranis

NEW YORK (IDN) – One hundred years after the end of the First World War, which was triggered by a crisis in the Balkans, peace in the region is nowhere within reach yet. This has been highlighted by a senior United Nations official in his regular briefing to the UN Security Council on November 14.

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), Zahir Tanin, told the Security Council that President Aleksandar Vučić of Serbia and President Hashim Thaçi of Kosovo have confirmed their “mutual intention” to continue working towards a negotiated settlement but the situation on the ground remains marred by “frequent adversarial actions,” with real consequences for people on the ground.

“Any process of political negotiation requires the full engagement and buy-in from societies, as well as from leaders and political representatives,” said Tanin, as he presented the Secretary-General’s latest report (document S/2018/981) to the 15-member Council.

Tanin noted that, after an uncertain period, prospects for decisive progress in the European Union-facilitated negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina have improved. There is support from both sides of a new framework for a comprehensive agreement, including the possibility of territorial exchange.

However, these developments are taking place against a situation still dominated by adversarial action on the ground. “Actions which attempt to pre-empt agreement are not conducive to achieving political compromise,” he warned, and highlighted such challenges in broad areas, including infrastructure, energy and the economy. Besides, individuals still face challenges to exercising basic rights. Notably increasing tensions was an announcement by Kosovo on a 10 per cent tax on Serbian and Bosnian goods.

In addition, needed reform in Kosovo’s rule of law institutions has been undermined by ethnic tensions and political agendas, with a Special Prosecutor resigning over alleged threats related to major investigations followed by public protests, Tanin said.

In that connection, he welcomed continued assistance by the European Union and the United Nations to fight corruption and organized crime and protect judicial independence.

Since the European perspective promotes stability by motivating political leaders on both sides, he welcomed the European Commission’s recent affirmation that benchmarks had been met on visa issues.

With possibilities for new political compromises, he also underlined the importance of implementing earlier agreements that included the establishment of the Association/Community of Serb-majority Municipalities. Ongoing efforts to strengthen the Kosovo Security Force must also be handled with care to ensure a fully inclusive process, the UNMIK chief said.

“Any process of political negotiation requires the full engagement and buy-in from societies, as well as from leaders and political representatives,” he said. In that light, UNMIK continues to prioritize trust-building at the grassroots level in Kosovo – utilizing the core objectives set out by him of “Engagement, Empowerment and Creativity” – under the Mission’s continuing priority of longer-term reconciliation.

In that endeavour, UNMIK and its partners are focused on realizing recommendations from the Trust-building Forum held in May. Among other strategies, the Mission is promoting the use of innovative communication technologies to support interactions between communities and addressing issues related to justice, human rights, women’s empowerment and youth.

International partnerships remain vital in all such efforts. Tanin stressed that UNMIK’s reconciliation work, being fully in line with the Secretary‑General’s Action for Peacekeeping initiative, may offer an important example of how to tap into the potential of people and partnerships to create necessary conditions for sustaining peace.

Speaking after the briefing, Ivica Dačić, First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Serbia, voiced displeasure at the decision not to hold a regular Security Council meeting on UNMIK in August following the United Kingdom’s characterization of the situation as “stable”.

While conflict is in the past, the situation is far from stable, he warned, adding that agreement must be reached among Council members on how often this topic should be considered. No substantive progress has been made since the last meeting on the matter. The Association/Community of Serb-majority Municipalities has not been formed, conditions are not present for the return of 200,000 internally displaced persons.

Further, recent incidents violated Council resolutions, he said, including laws adopted by the “so-called” Assembly of Kosovo making it possible for the Kosovo Security Force to transform into armed forces. As well, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić was denied access to Banje – a Serbian enclave – during a recent visit to Kosovo. 

He also pointed to a raid by special police forces on a hydro-electric plant in northern Kosovo and Metohija – a large basin and the name of the region covering the southwestern part of Kosovo, accounting for 35 percent of Kosovo’s total area – which, he said, is in violation of Security Council resolution 1244 (1999) and the Brussels Agreement.

Dačić accused Pristina of attempting to interfere in Serbia’s power transmission network and take over the energy infrastructure in northern Kosovo and Metohija. “I do not understand how this situation can be characterized as stable,” he said.

Internally displaced persons and returnees continue to be targets of ethnically-motivated violence, facing arbitrary arrest and physical abuse, all in the absence of the rule of law and independent judicial bodies, he said.

The number of foreign terrorist fighters originating from Kosovo further undercuts assertions that the situation is stable. Dismissing notions that UNMIK has fulfilled its mandate, he questioned why many Council members support the international presence in Bosnia and Herzegovina – where the security of citizens is not threatened – and do not support such a presence in Kosovo and Metohija.

“To allege that the Mission is not needed and that it has fulfilled its purpose is far from reality,” he said.  Pristina is focused on attempts to become a member of international organizations in a mistaken belief that it will prove its Statehood.  Sustainable peace requires negotiated political solutions, he stressed, underscoring that he is interested in achieving compromise on the question of Kosovo and Metohija.

Kosovo’s Ambassador to the United State, Vlora Çitaku, recalling the centennial of the end of the First World War as well as the conflict in Kosovo, the most recent in Europe, said the wounds of war cannot be easily healed, especially when the aggressor, the Serbian State, continues to refuse to take responsibility for its actions.

However, Kosovars refused to be defined by their past alone. They identify with their capacity to build a better future. Kosovo is a young republic, recognized by the majority of the world’s free nations. It is resolute in repelling every attempt by its northern neighbour to undo its accomplishments. Should they try, they will fail, she said.

It is 2018, not 1999, and Kosovo has moved on, she said, adding that it is time for the Security Council to move on as well. UNMIK is no longer a peacekeeping mission and it is certainly not an administrative mission.

The United Nations’ resources can be put to better use in other parts of the world.  Citing the ruling by the International Court of Justice – in a case requested by Serbia – she said that Kosovo broke no international laws when it declared independence. 

To help combat transnational crime and contribute to regional and global security, Kosovo must join INTERPOL [International Criminal Police Organization]. The only parties that stand to benefit from keeping Kosovo out of Interpol are criminals, drug cartels, terrorists and the Serbian State.

Kosovo’s decision to establish its own armed forces is a sovereign one that it would be taking soon. That is something that Kosovo will never dialogue with Serbia about, she stressed.

Nonetheless, Kosovo remains committed to fulfilling all arrangements previously agreed to in Brussels in European Union facilitated talks with Serbia, she continued.  However, Serbia is not holding up its end of the bargain. “It has consistently failed to deliver on almost everything we have agreed upon,” she said.

Further, the dialogue must be exclusively about peace and reconciliation, not Kosovo’s right to exist as a free nation. Kosovo’s people know where they stand, where there are headed and where they belong and that is in Europe.

However daunting the odds might be or insurmountable the challenges might seem, Kosovo will never give up, she declared.  It is a young republic that is far from perfect, but it will not stop striving to become better for all its citizens, regardless of ethnic or religious background. [IDN-InDepthNews – 15 November 2018]

Photo: Zahir Tanin, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), briefs the Security Council. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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