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UN Kosovo Fact-Finding Mission Departs

  • Nikola Krastev --> Johan Verbeke speaking to reporters in New York today (official site) UNITED NATIONS, April 24, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The United Nations Security Council has begun a fact-finding mission to the breakaway Serbian province of Kosovo, led by Belgian Ambassador Johan Verbeke.

The mission was initiated by Russia, a veto-holding member of the council that is strongly opposed to Kosovo's independence.

At a briefing at UN headquarters in New York today, Verbeke said the main goal of the mission -- which includes ambassadors from all 15 members of the Security Council -- is to gather information.

"We are now at the very eve of that mission as we start tonight, ready to engage," he said. "The nature of the mission is essentially an information mission, the objective being that we get updated information on the situation in Kosovo."

A Tight Schedule

After meeting with EU and NATO leadership in Brussels on April 25 -- including NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer -- the mission will head to Belgrade for meetings with Serbian Prime Minister Voijslav Kostunica and President Boris Tadjic.

Then the group will head to Pristina, for meetings with Kosovo's leadership. Later, the misison will visit an Albanian village, a Serbian enclave, and a multiethnic community.

On April 28, the itinerary includes a visit to the town of Mitrovica, a place of tensions between ethnic Albanians and Serbs. Meetings are also planned with religious leaders -- Serbian Orthodox Christians, Catholics, and Muslim leaders.

Verbeke said that the main goal of the trip is to overcome the "information deficiency" some of the council members may have with regard to Kosovo's situation.

He did not say whether the mission's findings may change some members' perception that Kosovo's independence is inevitable. The UN proposal for Kosovo's independence already has the strong support of the United States and the European Union.

He said the aim of the mission is for the diplomats to get a real sense of the situation of the ground as opposed to the polished reports they are reading in New York.

"Very often there is a gap there," Verbeke said. "A gap not in terms of a lack of accuracy of the reports, but just translating whatever reports here, in New York, tell us, translating that into real terms in the field. And I think, to bridge that gap is very important, and, as I said, a very responsible initiative of the Security Council."

Wrap-Up With Ahtisaari

On April 28 the mission will conclude in Vienna, where the ambassadors will meet with UN special envoy Martti Ahtisaari. Verbeke said it will be an opportunity to tell Ahtisaari about their impressions after visiting the province.

"We'll have a wrap-up session with him," Verbeke explained. "I think it's very important that as we've had gone through this trip -- Brussels institutions, Belgrade, the Serbian leadership, Kosovo, Serbian, Albanian leadership and what have you -- as we've had gone through the trip, it will be quite interesting to meet again with Ahtisaari, and then perhaps ask additional questions on the opportunity, the likelihood or whatever of the points he is making, both in his proposals and in his so-called status reports."

Verbeke said there have been some reports of anticipated demonstrations in Kosovo during the mission's trip but he sounded confident that there will be enough security to prevent a disruption.

The diplomats are expected to return to New York on April 29, and Verbeke will present a brief report on May 1. An expanded debate of the mission's findings is scheduled at the council later next week.

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