Kosovo Albanians, Serbia still ‘diametrically opposed’ on province’s future – Annan
Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian Government and Serbia remain “diametrically opposed” in their views of the future status of the Serbian province, which that the United Nations has run ever since Western forces drove out Yugoslav troops in 1999 amid ethnic fighting, according to Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s latest report on the issue released today.
Independence and autonomy are among the options for the province, where Albanians outnumber Serbs and others by 9 to 1, but Serbia rejects independence. A UN proposal for the future status, which was to have been submitted this year, has been postponed until after Serbia’s parliamentary elections on 21 January.
“High expectations on the part of Kosovo Albanians, coupled with recent speculations about a possible delay in the process, have led to a feeling of uncertainty as to the way ahead and are likely to be a source of instability if momentum slows,” Mr. Annan tells the Security Council in the report.
“There is a widespread feeling among them that a tangible delay in the process would entail high political and economic costs. Fringe groups and extremists on all sides stand ready to exploit more widespread frustration. Uncertainty and frustration are also prevalent among the Serbs and other minority populations, raising the potential for instability pending a political solution,” he warns.
Mr. Annan notes that only uneven progress has been made in the status talks between the Kosovo Government and Serbia in talks that began this year under the sponsorship of his Special Envoy on the issue, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, with only agreement on some specific elements. “Overall, the positions of the parties in each of the areas discussed remain far apart,” he writes.
On a more positive note, he welcomes the Government’s commitment throughout 2006 to the implementation of the standards, eight overall targets that include building democratic institutions, enforcing minority rights, creating a functioning economy and setting up an impartial legal system.
But he calls for further steps. “Progress will be achieved by demonstrating through actions, not words, that everyone has a future in Kosovo. It will be important that substantive actions take precedence over symbolism with the aim of promoting confidence and stability.”
The return of hundreds of thousands of Serbs who fled after the withdrawal of Serbian forces in 1999 is seen as major element in establishing the UN goal of a pluralistic multi-ethnic democracy. But only some 15,600 returns of Serbs and Roma have so far been registered out of the estimated 250,000 who fled. It is estimated that only 1,173 minority community members returned from January to September 2006.
“The primary factors affecting returns continue to include lack of economic opportunities, uncertainty about the future status of Kosovo, and, to a much lesser degree than in the past, security,” Mr. Annan says.
He denounces the violent attacks that continue to be made by a few in an attempt to effect political change. “I am resolute in condemning such violence and call upon the people of Kosovo to help their institutions defeat it. Political developments and timelines will not be dictated by the streets, and violence will not be tolerated.”
Just two days ago, 2,000 pro-independence Albanians attacked UN personnel in the capital, Pristina, pulling down a 4-metre high concrete barricade outside UN headquarters and hurling concrete blocks and an incendiary device at police officers within.
Mr. Annan also reiterated his frequent past criticisms of Kosovo Serbs for boycotting the provisional government. “This is a disservice to their community,” he writes. “I once again call on the Belgrade (Serbian) authorities to remove all impediments to Kosovo Serb participation in Kosovo institutions, and on the Kosovo Serb leaders to engage with the Provisional Institutions.”