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Kosovo: UN Official Cites Poor Record On Minorities

United Nations, 17 December 2003 (RFE/RL) -- A top UN official says Kosovo's Serbs and other minorities have little influence on decision making at any level of government in the majority-Albanian province.

The UN's undersecretary-general for peacekeeping, Jean-Marie Guehenno, told the UN Security Council in a briefing today that Serbs are under-represented and poorly integrated. He said less than 10,000 Serbs have returned to Kosovo from a pre-1999 population of about 250,000.

The return and integration of minorities is a key reform benchmark in the UN's "standards before status" policy for Kosovo. A document launched this month calls for the reforms to be reviewed in 18 months, but Guehenno stressed that it is not a formal timetable for the province's status to be decided. "It is clear that there is no deadline and that the future status process will not start automatically on the review date," he said. "A prerequisite for any discussion on Kosovo's future status remains achievement of the eight standards."

Other standards include functioning democratic institutions, rule of law, freedom of movement, and dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade. The United Nations runs Kosovo as a virtual protectorate but has been gradually returning authority in local government areas to local bodies dominated by ethnic Albanians.

Security Council members today expressed disappointment that reforms were lagging. They called, in particular, for Pristina and Belgrade to resume direct dialogue.

Germany's UN Ambassador Gunter Pleuger said that failure to engage in dialogue and other reforms will have an impact on Kosovo's European integration prospects. "The implementation of the standards will be closely linked with the EU association process, and conversely, obstruction of efforts to meet the standards will surely have serious consequences for aspirations to draw closer to Europe," he said.

The British and U.S. envoys also urged a resumption of talks first held in mid-October. British Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry also pressed Kosovo Albanian leaders to genuinely embrace the reform effort. "Kosovo has been given an opportunity, an opportunity to come out of the shadow of darkness and to move forward and the whole concept of 'standards before status' is not rhetorical. It's absolutely basic to the sort of Kosovo that all of us want to see created," Jones Parry said.

The leaders of Kosovo's provisional institutions, as well as the Kosovar president and prime minister, have stated their commitment to the process on implementing the eight chief standards. Kosovo Serb leaders have criticized the document launching the new process -- to be reviewed in mid-2005, as inadequate.

The UN peacekeeping chief, Guehenno, told the council that Kosovar leaders have not endorsed the dialogue with Belgrade on practical matters for political reasons. But he said preparatory work is ongoing within the local government.

He said Belgrade has not been willing to discuss the dialogue because of the Serbian parliamentary election campaign. The UN ambassador of Serbia and Montenegro, Dejan Sahovic, told the council Kosovar leaders were to blame for the failure to resume talks. "We express the full readiness of Serbia and Montenegro to engage in discussions on practical issues of mutual interest, which would improve the daily lives of all inhabitants of Kosovo and Metohija," he said.

Under previous agreements, experts from both sides are supposed to meet to discuss practical issues such as energy, transportation and returns of minorities to Kosovo.