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Kosovo: Challenges To UN Authority Rising

United Nations, 11 June 2003 (RFE/RL) -- A senior United Nations official says increasing challenges to the UN's authority in Kosovo are slowing efforts to carry out reforms in the province.

The UN's assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping, Hedi Annabi, said yesterday that Kosovo Albanians, Kosovo Serbs, and Serbian officials in Belgrade are obstructing reconciliation by trying to press their own solutions to Kosovo's problems.

"Unilateral calls from Kosovo Albanians, Kosovo Serbs, and Belgrade for mutually exclusive definitive solutions for Kosovo's future have continued and have not contributed to reconciliation and interethnic dialogue and this has frozen movement forward on a number of key issues," Annabi said.

Annabi told the UN Security Council that the UN mission still faces numerous challenges, including: providing freedom of movement for minorities, developing local governing bodies, and establishing dialogue between Belgrade and ethnic Albanian authorities in Pristina.

Integration efforts suffered a blow, Annabi said, with the recent killing of an elderly Serbian couple and their son in their home in Obilic, north of the capital Pristina. "The murders in Obilic on 5 June are a serious setback for our efforts to foster multiethnicity in Kosovo and create conditions for the return of Kosovo Serbs and others to areas where they are a minority," Annabi said.

The killings drew condemnation from the Security Council. The UN mission in Kosovo has established a special police squad to investigate the killings and has adopted extra security measures along with NATO-led forces in the province.

The UN ambassador for Serbia and Montenegro, Dejan Sahovic, urged the council to ensure that the assailants in this case are brought to justice. "If now the perpetrators are not speedily brought to justice, as they have not been in previous cases of interethnic murders since 1999, the killing will serve to strengthen the culture of impunity surrounding the attacks against minorities. It will offer further evidence that minorities, particularly the Serbs, do not enjoy the basic human right to life, let alone any other right," Sahovic said.

Sahovic said nearly 250,000 minorities have not returned to Kosovo, most of them Serbs, because of security concerns.

But Annabi, the UN official, also faulted Serbian leaders for failing to work with the UN Mission in Kosovo. He said Belgrade continues to support parallel Serbian structures in Kosovo that undermine the UN's reform efforts.

Sahovic called on the UN mission to engage Belgrade more regularly in issues such as privatization, which directly affects Serbian companies.

A UN Security Council resolution, passed four years ago today, calls for Kosovo to gain "substantial autonomy" at a future date.

Council members today reaffirmed their support of the UN's "standards before status" policy of trying to reach reform benchmarks. The deputy U.S. ambassador to the UN, James Cunningham, stressed the need for cooperation on practical steps. "Standards before status must be more than just a slogan. More progress must be made on practical issues if we are to overcome suspicion and build trust and reconciliation that will be required for [Resolution] 1244 to be fully implemented," Cunningham said.

In Brussels yesterday, the UN administrator for Kosovo, Michael Steiner, urged the European Union to follow through on its commitment to rebuild the province. EU leaders are to review their engagement in Balkans at their summit in Greece next week.