As senior representatives from Serbia and Kosovo traded divergent opinions about the cause of regional insecurity and the reasons for the lack of progress in discussions between both parties, the United Nations top official in Pristina called for restraint and constructive dialogue through all available channels, as some delegates continued to question the need to maintain the Organization’s transitional administration mission in Kosovo.
Caroline Ziadeh, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), told the Security Council that, since last spring, several escalations in rhetoric between Pristina and Belgrade had led to tensions on the ground, threatening to impede many of the gains previously achieved through the European Union-facilitated dialogue. Although diplomatic interventions led to temporary relief in the form of extended deadlines and promises to continue discussions, the parties’ willingness to risk dangerous confrontations on the ground, at best, set the process back. “At worst, it may lead to much more serious consequences, even if unintended,” she stressed.
Despite such challenges, there have been positive examples of leadership and cooperation, she said, pointing out that the government of Kosovo remains focused on addressing critical issues in relation to the rule of law. While highlighting the importance of regional government-level cooperation initiatives to ease political tensions, she said sustainable peace requires much more, including direct engagement with communities, which UNMIK can support through bolstering trust-building actors and promoting communication efforts across ethnic and political lines at all levels of society.
Nikola Selaković, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Serbia, countered the picture put forth in the report of stability prevailing in Kosovo and Metohija over the past few months, stating that Pristina’s unilateral moves continue to systematically deepen ethnic differences, causing discrimination against the non-Albanian population. On the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, he said that by continuously insisting on mutual recognition as a central part, Pristina’s so-called policy of reciprocity demonstrates the essential unwillingness of its current political leadership to find any compromise solution. Further, he pointed out that Pristina’s destabilizing actions during the reporting period, including imposing measures on license plates, demonstrate that it is nullifying the results of negotiations and creating a new crisis all over again. Recalling that some Council members called for reducing or terminating UNMIK during the previous meeting on Kosovo in April, he asserted that current circumstances show that international presence in the southern province is still necessary.
Donika Gërvalla-Schwarz, of Kosovo, noted that her country will apply for European Union membership this year and aspires to become a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) soon. However, there are serious threats to regional stability and peace, she said, pointing to “the escalation that Serbian President Vučić is threatening for the end of October against our Republic.” Recalling that President Vučić had been Propaganda Minister to former Serbian President and war criminal Slobodan Milošević during the Serb genocide in Kosovo, she pointed out that he continues to celebrate war criminals as heroes. The United Nations once did not pay attention to Mr. Milošević’s propaganda, and it led to a catastrophic war, she warned, adding that President Vučić continues to build up Serbia’s military with support from the Russian Federation.
In the ensuing debate, Council members voiced concern about the flare-up of tensions in northern Kosovo over the issue of license plates in July, with many calling for restraint and pragmatism from both parties and underlining the need for continued, constructive dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade, facilitated by the European Union. Some stressed the need for more to be done to tackle reconciliation efforts, pointing to the stalled activities of the Working Group on disappeared persons in Kosovo in this regard, while others questioned the need for UNMIK, saying it has long fulfilled its mandate.
Among them was the delegate of Albania, who commended Kosovo for its sustained efforts to fight corruption and enforce the rule of law, despite which, for 23 years now, a peacekeeping mission remains stuck there “by a frozen Council resolution, a relic of bygone times and realities.” Joining the delegations of the United Kingdom and the United States in the call for a thorough review of UNMIK’s work and role, he said it would be better to invest some of the $42 million spent yearly for the Mission in areas where Kosovo has real and more acute needs.
Offering a contrasting perspective, the representative of Ghana said that UNMIK’s mandate to promote security, stability and the respect for human rights remains relevant. Highlighting unresolved issues regarding freedom of movement, energy supply challenges in northern Kosovo and the agitations to in-Kosovo voting during Serbia’s general elections held in April this year, he called for dialogue at the highest levels, backed by genuine commitment.
Mexico’s delegate was among several who voiced regret about the lack of progress made by the Belgrade-Pristina Working Group on disappeared persons in connection with the events of 1998-1999, pointing out that it has not met for a year and a half. He urged the parties to resume work on this issue, to facilitate progress in reconciliation between communities.
For his part, the representative of Ireland welcomed the 27 August 2022 agreement on free movement between Kosovo and Serbia after high-level talks in Brussels, noting that it demonstrated that acceptable, pragmatic solutions are possible when leaders engage openly and constructively. This European Union-facilitated dialogue, mandated by the United Nations, is the channel through which issues and tensions between Kosovo and Serbia can and should be resolved, he stressed, and encouraged both sides to continue their engagement to resolve all outstanding issues, including the issue of license plates.
On that point, the representative of the Russian Federation recalled that the issue almost resulted in bloodshed in July, and could potentially do so again on 31 October 2022, when the period to replace the license plates expires. Characterizing Kosovo as a hotbed of tension in the Balkans, where, since 1999, the rights of Serbians have been systematically violated and a “creeping ethnic cleansing has been taking place”, he added that although some continue to live in northern Kosovo, authorities create impossible conditions for them to live. He went on to state that many Western countries pretend as if Council resolution 1244 (1999) did not exist, as demonstrated by a recent Franco-German project geared towards forcing Belgrade to accept Kosovo’s statehood.
Also speaking were representatives of Norway, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, United States, Kenya, Brazil, India, China, France and Gabon.
The representatives of Serbia and Kosovo took the floor a second time.
The meeting began at 3:04 p.m. and ended at 5:28 p.m.