Thank you, Mr. President. Let me start by welcoming Kosovo Foreign Minister Hyseni and Serbian Foreign Minister Jeremic to the Council today. Let me also thank Special Representative Zannier for his excellent and comprehensive briefing. The United States deeply appreciates the work you and your team are doing to support peace and security.
Mr. President, February 17th was the second anniversary of Kosovo’s independence -- an occasion to mark Kosovo’s development as an open, multiethnic, democratic republic. Sixty-eight countries have now recognized Kosovo, and the United States congratulates Kosovo and its citizens on the progress they have made to strengthen their democracy and governing institutions and to contribute to stability in the Balkans during these two years. With this in mind, I would like to focus on five points.
First, we welcome progress by the Government of Kosovo in enhancing its institutional capacity as it pursues democratic development, regional stability, and Euro-Atlantic integration. Kosovo authorities are building on the strong foundation of last fall’s municipal elections, implementing the decentralization process laid out in the Ahtisaari plan, which will improve governance and empower all communities. With help from the central government, newly elected mayors in Serb-majority municipalities are putting good governance structures in place and reaching out to the population to address local needs.
Deputy Secretary of State Steinberg met with these Serb mayors in April. He found them to be enthusiastic about decentralization and the resources it affords them. We commend these forward-thinking leaders of Kosovo’s Serb community for their constructive and courageous engagement on behalf of their communities. This effort is still a work in progress, but we believe that success here will encourage engagement by Kosovo Serbs in the north, who also demand and deserve responsive local government that serves their community’s real interests. The upcoming June elections in Partesh provide another opportunity for citizens to make their voices heard and effect real change. In contrast, the parallel elections again planned for Mitrovica later this month are not the path to a thriving community; they only detract from good-faith efforts to promote stability and reconciliation in Kosovo and the region.
Second, improving governance and the rule of law in northern Kosovo is essential. We welcome the Government of Kosovo’s efforts to refine and implement a strategy -- which was endorsed by the Kosovo Assembly, with the support of representatives of all of Kosovo’s communities -- to extend the benefits of good, accountable, legitimate government to citizens in the north. We also welcome the European Union’s plans, with the help of a robust EULEX presence in the north, to step up efforts there. We call on Belgrade and Pristina to find opportunities for pragmatic cooperation that can improve life for communities in Kosovo’s north, including on cross-border crime, customs and other rule-of-law and judicial issues.
Third, we commend Kosovo and Serbia’s efforts to resolve issues affecting displaced persons, including setting the conditions for safe return to their homes in Kosovo. We welcome the recent decision to reopen the Kosovo Property Agency offices in Serbia under the auspices of UNHCR. We now look to the stakeholders to expedite the Agency’s work and remove impediments to resolving remaining cases. As the Secretary-General’s report notes, there were nearly five times the number of returns in January and February of this year than in the same period in 2009. We call on both Kosovo and Serbia to support conditions to extend this constructive trend and to facilitate sustainable returns.
Fourth, let me commend the statements made recently to promote reconciliation by the leaders of both Serbia and Kosovo, including President Tadic’s remarks on Orthodox Christmas and President Sejdiu’s remarks on Orthodox Easter. It is an encouraging sign that Easter services were held in the Sveti Sava Church in south Mitrovica for the first time since 2004. I should note that the United States is pleased to support the reconstruction efforts at Sveti Sava and other sites working with the Reconstruction Implementation Commission, in which the Government of Kosovo actively participates. We hope the Commission’s work can now move forward more rapidly with the cooperation and participation of all affected parties. To this end, we support the EU’s newly appointed Facilitator, Ambassador Moschopoulos.
Finally, Mr. President, we agree with the Secretary-General’s conclusion that overall, the situation has remained relatively calm, but fragile. We condemn recent incidents of interethnic violence, although, as the report notes, there has been no overall increase in the number of incidents, including those affecting minority communities. The April 20th attack against 26 Kosovo Serb returnee families in the Istog/Istok municipality was unacceptable. We commend Prime Minister Thaci’s swift response, including the commitment to provide financial and technical assistance to the victims and the provision of 24-hour Kosovo Police patrols for the returnees. In March, the Kosovo Police’s smooth assumption from KFOR of responsibility for protecting the Gazimestan monument offered another example of the government stepping up to its responsibilities.
We also condemn the recent incidents of violence against licensed telephone-system operators, apparently as retaliation against Kosovo government regulatory efforts. Violence is an unacceptable response that undercuts the rule of law and legitimate efforts to ensure that entities licensed by Kosovo can provide public services in Kosovo.
Mr. President, Kosovo’s independence is irreversible. Partition is not acceptable. Kosovo’s status and borders are settled. The development of effective democratic institutions and efforts to maximize the participation of all citizens is an ongoing process. The United States stands with Kosovo, Serbia, and all the Balkan countries as they advance along the path of building stable, secure democracies fully integrated into European and Euro-Atlantic institutions.
Thank you, Mr. President.
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