Thank you, Mr. President. Let me begin by welcoming President Tadic of Serbia and Foreign Minister Hyseni of Kosovo to the Council today and thanking them for their comments. I'd also like to welcome Special Representative Zannier and thank him for his briefing and his service in Kosovo.
Mr. President, it's been nearly two years since Kosovo became an independent country. Kosovo has already made tremendous progress in solidifying its democracy, promoting reconciliation, and playing a constructive role in regional and international economic cooperation. As others have noted, sixty-five countries have now recognized Kosovo as a sovereign and independent state. We commend the people of Kosovo for the commitment they have demonstrated and the concrete actions they have taken to implement the Ahtisaari plan and to play a responsible role as a regional neighbor and member of the international community.
Special Representative Zannier and the UN Mission in Kosovo have made valuable contributions to this progress, as have the European Union, the OSCE, and NATO. Today I would like to stress five key points.
First, the United States congratulates Kosovo on holding elections in 36 municipalities, including one expanded Serb-majority municipality and three newly created ones. We look forward to the elections expected to occur in the remaining two new Serb municipalities later this year. As the Secretary-General noted in his report, the November elections and the December run-offs adhered to democratic standards and were held in a peaceful atmosphere. The Government of Kosovo undertook important outreach efforts to ensure Kosovo Serb participation, which contributed to the success of the elections.
Second, Kosovo continues to take significant steps to strengthen regional relations. In October, Kosovo and Macedonia completed demarcating their shared border and established full diplomatic relations. In January, the visit of Croatian President Mesic highlighted the growing friendship and cooperation among Kosovo and its neighbors. Further, the Kosovo Security Force recently deployed units to Albania to provide humanitarian assistance to flooded regions there. And on January 14, Montenegro announced that it too will establish formal diplomatic relations with Kosovo.
Kosovo has demonstrated it is ready and able to play a constructive regional role. We reiterate the Secretary-General's call for flexibility on defining a modus operandi that will facilitate Kosovo's full participation in regional and international mechanisms such as the Regional Cooperation Council and the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA). Kosovo's contribution to these groups-as well as its ability to export goods to all CEFTA members under CEFTA rules-is important to regional stability and growth.
Third, we would like to echo the Secretary-General's call to redouble efforts on returns and to safely increase both their number and their pace. To this end, we urge the reopening of the Kosovo Property Agency offices in Serbia without further delay. Belgrade's acceptance of UNHCR's offer to facilitate reestablishing this presence would promote further progress on returns and help resolve related property claims.
Fourth, let me say a few words on the questions of religious and cultural heritage. The United States welcomes UNMIK's efforts to facilitate the work of the Reconstruction Implementation Commission. We are also pleased to note that the Kosovo Electricity Corporation (KEK) and Serbian Orthodox Church officials in Kosovo were able to reach agreement on reconnecting Serbian monasteries and churches in Kosovo to KEK's electrical grid.
But we still need a mechanism to address significant remaining concerns such as vandalism and access to cultural sites. For this reason, the United States has supported appointing an EU facilitator to advance discussions on issues of religious and cultural heritage.
Finally, Mr. President, I'd like to address the issue of Northern Kosovo. Illegal parallel institutions, some of which were established in 1999, continue to threaten stability and the rule of law in Kosovo. We commend EULEX for the progress it has made toward integrating the Kosovo police force. We hope to see similar progress in Kosovo's courts, as envisaged in the Secretary-General's November report. So far, this has not been possible due to the Government of Serbia's continued opposition. We urge Serbia to look at the example of reconciliation taking place in other parts of Kosovo, to the clear benefit of Kosovo Serbs.
I'd also like to say a few words about the provision of a basic service, electricity that the Special Representative has referred to today. UNMIK regulations have established an Electrical Regulatory Office in Kosovo, which in turn gave the Kosovo Electricity Cooperation the sole license to distribute and bill for electricity throughout Kosovo. Attempts by the Serbian electrical company to take control of power distribution in Northern Kosovo undermine this exclusive authority, harm ordinary citizens' well-being, and risk confrontation and division within Kosovo. We urge those involved to act swiftly to resolve differences and to respect the legal framework for providing electricity in Kosovo, including the north.
Mr. President, Kosovo's independence is irreversible. Kosovo continues to make its way along the path toward greater European and Euro-Atlantic integration. The United States will continue to support Kosovo as it makes continued progress and strengthens its democracy. And we will continue to support the aspirations of all the states of Southeastern Europe for integration into Europe and the Euro-Atlantic community.
Thank you, Mr. President.
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