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UN Warns Of Tensions In Kosovo's Northern Territory

  • Nikola Krastev

Kosovars cross a foot bridge built by NATO and UN peacekeepers in Mitrovica, one of the flashpoint towns in northern Kosovo.

Kosovars cross a foot bridge built by NATO and UN peacekeepers in Mitrovica, one of the flashpoint towns in northern Kosovo.

UNITED NATIONS -- The UN’s special representative for Kosovo reports that peace in the country’s north remains fragile and tensions are high between ethnic Serbs and ethnic Albanians.

Lambert Zannier appeared before the UN Security Council on January 22 to report that although returns of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees have sharply risen recently, lack of economic prospects and safety concerns have kept the number from reaching the UN’s goals.

"It is clear that UNMIK [the UN mission in Kosovo] must continue to shepherd the reconstruction process and monitor the situation closely to ensure that all communities respect existing arrangements to preserve stability and that effective communication is maintained at all times," Zannier said.

Zannier delivered his assessment one week after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon gave a quarterly report on Kosovo. Ban noted that continuing interethnic tensions in northern Mitrovica are causing concern, and said the overall security situation in the fledgling country is "relatively calm, but potentially fragile."

Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008 and relations between the majority ethnic Albanians and minority Kosovo Serbs have remained uneasy since then.

Serbia has asked the International Court of Justice at the Hague to give its opinion on whether Kosovo violated international law by declaring independence. Serbian President Boris Tadic has said Belgrade's position is that Serbia will "never recognize the independence of Kosovo, either directly or indirectly."

Tadic was in attendance at the Security Council meeting and told members that the reconciliation process will not be easy. He said the psychological barriers are high and trust needs to be restored, but a promising first step would be to recommit to finding a peaceful solution through dialogue.

"We believe dialogue is the most effective means to achieve the only sustainable outcome: a mutually acceptable, viable solution, one that will not recklessly sacrifice the geostrategic priorities of all on the altar of the communal aspirations of a single party,” Tadic said. “Serbia seeks to resolve all outstanding political differences through negotiations. We are fundamentally committed to making 2010 the year of peaceful solutions."

Some UN diplomats speculated that Tadic's appearance at the Council was due in part to statements by outgoing Croatian President Stjepan Mesic, who said that he would use military means to cut off the corridor on the Bosnian side of the Sava River valley in the event of a referendum on the independence of the Republika Srpska, Bosnia’s ethnic Serb entity.

No New Negotiations

Kosovo's representative at the meeting, Skender Hyseni, thanked the 65 UN member states who have so far recognized the country’s independence. And he flatly rejected Tadic’s offer to renew negotiations on Kosovo’s status.

"We do reject any calls for renewed negotiations on the status,” Hyseni said. “Furthermore, we consider that calls for renewed negotiations on the status of Kosovo come from people who either are unaware of the situation and the great efforts made to achieve consensus, or worse, from those who actively seek to create disorder in the region."

Britain's Permanent Representative to the UN Mark Grant said that despite the challenges, important progress has been made in Kosovo, including a decrease in violence against minorities. But in order to consolidate its recent progress, he said, Kosovo must now work to improve standards of governance and the rule of law.

"Serious challenges in the areas of human rights and judicial independence which were highlighted in both the latest secretary-general's report and the European Commission progress report must be addressed,” Grant said. “Kosovo's European perspective in line with its neighbors offers clear incentives for further reform."

Secretary-General Ban has called on both Serbia and Kosovo to find ways to put aside status considerations in the interest of regional cooperation.