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‘Steady progress’ in Kosovo, early status call

With ‘steady progress’ in Kosovo, UN envoy calls for early status decision

Citing steady progress in minority protection and refugee returns in Kosovo, a top United Nations envoy called today for an early resolution of the question of the final political status of the Albanian-majority Serbian province, which has been run by the UN since Western forces drove out Yugoslav troops in 1999 amid ethnic fighting.

“I hold that, after seven years of interim administration in Kosovo, society is ready – indeed impatient – to move on, and that in fact it would be a far greater risk to keep Kosovo in limbo for much longer,” Søren Jessen-Petersen, Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Representative for Kosovo, told the Security Council in his last briefing before stepping down at the end of this month.

Independence and autonomy are among options that have been mentioned for the final status of the province, where Albanians outnumber Serbs and others by 9 to 1. Serbia rejects independence and Kosovo’s Serbs have been boycotting the province’s local government, a fact Mr. Annan laments in his latest report on the issue.

Despite this, Mr. Jessen-Petersen said progress in has been made by the elected leadership, which had become more dynamic and progressive than ever and had been far more willing of late to reach out to Kosovo Serbs.

“There is, of course, a need for still further progress, but if the current momentum continues, and I am confident it will, we can expect further concrete achievements in the coming months,” he added.

Further progress is particularly needed, he said, to encourage Serb engagement in the political process, despite what he called the “isolationist policy” of the Government in Belgrade, the Serbian national capital.

“I do not see how they can make informed choices and decisions about their own future within Kosovo if they are not even permitted to take part in the democratic processes there, whether centrally or locally,” he said of the Serb minority.

Also needing improvement, he said, was the level of funding to help returning Serbian refugees to re-establish themselves, which has resulted in a low level of returns despite the recent signing of a Returns Protocol between the UN interim administration (UNMIK), Belgrade and Pristina.

Despite the remaining problems, however, he expressed hope that province’s status would be determined by the end of 2006, saying UNMIK, which he heads, has made extraordinary achievements but “there are now diminishing returns from this mandate,” and limits to what can be achieved without clarity on the status issue.

Asked by journalists to specify those limits and risks in a press conference following his Council presentation, Mr. Jessen-Petersen said that Kosovars had been patient with extreme social hardship, including high unemployment, unpaid pensions, and economic stagnation that would not end until there was clarity on the status issue.

Such patience could very well break down if the status process stalled, resulting in a revival of extreme ethnic tension, he explained.

UNMIK, he said, should support the status process by preparing for an orderly exit when the time comes, and preparing Kosovo to experience an orderly transition to whatever status is decided upon.

The UN mission is not directly involved in the status dialogue between Kosovo Albanians and Serbs, which began in Vienna in February under the auspices of UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari and has been held about twice monthly since.

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