Thank you, Mr. President.
I, too, would like to welcome the Foreign Minister of Kosovo, Mr. Skender Hyseni, and the Foreign Minister of Serbia, Mr. Jeremic, back to the Council today and thank them for their comments. I would also like to thank Special Representative Zannier for his comprehensive briefing and for his excellent leadership of UNMIK.
Mr. President, the democratic and multi-ethnic institutions of the Republic of Kosovo are continuing to mature since Kosovo’s independence last year. We welcome the increase in cooperation on practical matters among Kosovo’s communities, cited by the Representative. We note the recent appointment of an Ombudsman to ensure that government institutions are held accountable to the public and to guard against any abuse of authority. The appointment by the President of Kosovo of a Constitutional Court, which includes minority representatives, is another important development.
So is the selection of new members of the Kosovo Electoral Commission in preparation for Kosovo's upcoming municipal elections. These will be the first elections run by Kosovo since its independence, and the United States offers our support to Kosovo’s efforts to ensure that they are democratic and transparent.
We also note the recent election of Kosovo to the International Monetary Fund and await the results of the vote on Kosovo's bid to join the World Bank. Membership in these international financial institutions will help Kosovo provide economic stability and prosperity for all its citizens—and help integrate Kosovo’s economy into the global financial system.
All of these developments in Kosovo are consistent with the vision of the Ahtisaari plan.
We note that 60 member states of the United Nations have recognized Kosovo as an independent and sovereign state.
Mr. President, I would like to address the issue of Kosovo’s Serbs.
We encourage the Government of Kosovo to continue its efforts to reach out to Serb and other minority communities. It is positive news that the rate of returns has at long last begun to increase, but returns remain at an unacceptably low level. The Secretary-General documents 660 minority families, comprising 3,000 individuals, who have expressed interest in returning home to Kosovo in 2009. We look forward to realizing that potential this year, and in this regard, we welcome Prime Minister Thaci's recent restatement of Kosovo's commitment to returns.
For Kosovo to become a truly multi-ethnic society, Belgrade’s cooperation is essential. We welcome the commitment of Belgrade authorities to cooperate with the EU Rule of Law Mission (EULEX), which is now fully deployed throughout Kosovo. We appreciate EULEX and KFOR's firm resolve to the recent violence over the reconstruction of ethnic Albanian homes in northern Kosovo—a response that helped support freedom of movement, safety, and security for all, regardless of ethnicity.
We encourage Belgrade to support the integration of Kosovo Serb communities into Kosovo’s institutions. In particular, to create conditions for Kosovo Serbs to return to their positions in the Kosovo police force and to support other pragmatic solutions that will improve the community’s welfare.
Unfortunately, the Government of Serbia continues to block goods from Kosovo, even though UNMIK has certified twice now that Kosovo’s new customs stamp complies with Security Council Resolution 1244. We encourage Serbia to support intra-regional trade, in keeping with its CEFTA commitments.
Mr. President, the United States fully supports the reconfiguration and downsizing of UNMIK, as outlined in recent reports from the Secretary-General and as reflected in the Secretary-General's current budget proposal. In light of the positive developments in Kosovo, we believe that the Secretary-General should continue to downsize UNMIK's presence to functions that the government of Kosovo or other international organizations cannot perform, such as facilitating Kosovo’s participation in regional organizations like the Regional Cooperation Council and the Central European Free Trade Agreement. Kosovo's participation in these fora promotes regional stability, cooperation, and growth, and it is in the entire region’s interest.
Mr. President, the stability of the Western Balkans remains a high priority for the United States. We strongly support the region's integration into European institutions and its full participation in the Euro-Atlantic community. Kosovo and other Balkan countries still face many challenges, and the United States will continue to support their progress and development.
Thank you, Mr. President.
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