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Serbia and Montenegro: Foreign Minister Says Kosovo Now A 'Ghetto Of Suffering' For Serbs

United Nations, 12 May 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The foreign minister of Serbia and Montenegro says international reform efforts in Kosovo must be based on restoring full rights and security to the province's Serbian minority.

Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic told the UN Security Council yesterday that Kosovo's Serbs have suffered under the international administration of Kosovo. The outbreak of anti-Serb violence in March, he said, was a consequence of the UN's failure to address nearly five years of ethnic crimes that followed the ouster of Serb forces from the province.

Draskovic cited Belgrade's new plan for decentralization of power and self-rule for Serb-populated pockets of the province, saying it is the best path to reconciliation of Serbs and Albanians.

He dismissed talk of the province's final status under current conditions.

"We should not think today in terms of final status, since all the rights of Serbs are being tragically violated in Kosovo and Metohija. And this ghetto of human suffering cannot constitute the basis for any final status of Kosovo and Metohija," Draskovic said.

Kosovar Albanian leaders have pledged to help rebuild Serbian churches and other structures destroyed during the violence in March. But Draskovic called for an urgent program to rebuild what he estimated at 40,000 Serbian structures damaged in the past five years, including churches and monasteries.

The foreign minister said such a massive rebuilding effort should be internationally funded. The restoration of cultural sites, he said, should be supervised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Draskovic said international security forces in Kosovo should guard churches and monasteries because they belong to the world's cultural heritage.
"This ghetto of human suffering cannot constitute the basis for any final status of Kosovo and Metohija." -- Serbia and Montenegro Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic

"I call on the international community to assist and help the Serbs and other non-Albanians in the same way the ethnic Albanian population was assisted after 10 June 1999," Draskovic said.

The UN administrator of Kosovo, Harri Holkeri, said the improvement of welfare for the Serbian population is now at the center of the reform effort known as "standards before status." Holkeri also took note of the Serbian call for cantonization but said any new plans for power sharing must be agreed among Kosovar parties.

He encouraged Serbian officials to re-engage in the reforms implementation plan and in restarting the dialogue with Pristina over key technical issues, including the return of Serbian displaced persons.

"I understand their doubts after the terrible shock of the recent violence, but such participation is the best way to ensure their voice is heard and to protect their interests," Holkeri said.

Holkeri said he was taking steps to strengthen the partnership of the UN mission -- known as UNMIK -- and the Kosovo Provisional Institutions of Self Government (PISG). This includes efforts to devolve more power to ethnic Albanian authorities and to accelerate privatization efforts .

But Holkeri expressed concern at the level of commitment of the provisional authorities on issues such as safeguarding the return of Serbs. He said the pace of power transfer will depend on how local officials handle their responsibilities and improve conditions for minorities.

"Our efforts to build and increase engagement with the PISG will depend to a great extent on how seriously the PISG are committed to taking the responsibility we offer them. They must above all show real progress on standards implementation, reconciliation, and reform of local government," Holkeri said.

Albania's UN ambassador, Agim Nesho, also called on Kosovars to take steps toward building a multiethnic society by protecting the rights and freedoms of minorities. But he urged the Security Council to remain committed to the standards process as the best way of assuring democratic reforms in Kosovo.

He said the council should not consider Belgrade's proposals on decentralizing power in Serb-population areas.

"This process of building up a multiethnic society cannot be held back by new proposals of old ideas of division and cantonization, shaped with a legal cover and introduced as a democratic process for the decentralization of power," Nesho said.

Council members today generally reaffirmed their support for the standards implementation plan. There was a renewed call for Kosovar Albanian leaders to demonstrate their willingness to protect minority rights. Many spoke of the need for progress to come swiftly because the Security Council is expected to review the standards in about one year and make recommendations related to final status of the province.

Russia's UN representative, Aleksandr Konuzin, recommended postponing the deadline for reviewing the standards beyond the middle of 2005. He said that considerations of the final status process under the current deadline could serve to "incite extremists." Russia also supports Belgrade's cantonization plan for the province.

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