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Yugoslavia: Steiner Notes Progress On Minority Rights In Kosovo

  • Robert McMahon

United Nations, 31 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The United Nations administrator in Kosovo, Michael Steiner, says there have been clear signs of progress in conditions for minorities in the province but that it has not achieved the standards demanded by the international community.

Steiner told the UN Security Council yesterday that Kosovo's provisional institutions have begun to work toward some of the reform benchmarks he established this spring. He cited the formation of a multiethnic government with 10 ministries and Serb participation.

And he said the small increase in the return of Serbs and other minorities this year -- about 1,000 so far -- shows confidence in improved law-enforcement and political structures.

But Steiner stressed that the key to Kosovo's future is the way its leaders adopt democratic reforms. "There will be no partition, no cantonization, and no return to the status quo ante of 1999. The outcome cannot be monoethnic but must be multiethnic. It must be a democratic, safe, and respectable Kosovo on the way to Europe," Steiner said.

Steiner said Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leaders have not begun key dialogue with officials in Belgrade. He also called on Belgrade to end its financing of parallel structures, such as the so-called "Bridge Gang," which is preventing ethnic Albanians from crossing into parts of the northern town of Mitrovica.

Another area of concern is the Kosovo economy, he said, where a framework for privatization has been established but where the effort could be jeopardized by a decline in donor funding.

He told the council that access to global credit institutions is necessary to counterbalance the decrease in aid and to help combat an unemployment rate of 57 percent. Such access is complicated by the fact that UN-administered Kosovo is not independent. "Kosovo's economy is still far from being self-sustainable. I will need your help to find a way to gain access to credit. This will require political support to develop procedures to conclude international loan and guarantee agreements, taking into account Kosovo's special status," Steiner said.

Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic told the council that conditions for minorities in Kosovo remain difficult. He said most of the Serbs who have returned in the past two years -- numbering several thousand -- reside in ethnic enclaves, and that international peacekeeping forces have not prevented regular attacks and robberies from occurring against them and other non-Albanians.

Covic said greater priority needs to be given to efforts to encourage and safeguard the return of tens of thousands of Serbs and integrate them into the Kosovo economy.

Covic told reporters after the Security Council meeting that much work remains in recasting Kosovo into a multiethnic society. "There is really no time or no place to be self-confident and too happy with ourselves, since there are big dilemmas still in the field," Covic said.

But Steiner said Kosovo's municipal elections, set for October, already offer some sign of hope. He said that of the 73 political groups that have applied for certification to participate in the elections, 34 of them are Serb, a development he called very encouraging.

The U.S. deputy ambassador to the UN, James Cunningham, also called progress achieved so far in Kosovo encouraging. He supported Steiner's approach of putting standards of good governance ahead of what he called the "premature discussion of political status issues." "For us to succeed in Kosovo, the people of Kosovo must overcome their difficult and emotional history. That process seems to be beginning," Cunningham said.

The United Nations administration has run Kosovo as a virtual protectorate since the end of a U.S.-led bombing campaign against Serb forces in June 1999. Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority returned in force from neighboring refugee camps after Serb forces were ousted from the province, but at least 200,000 Serbs remain displaced in the rest of Serbia out of concern for reprisals from ethnic Albanians.