Thank you, Madam President.
I would like to welcome Foreign Minister Jeremic and Acting Foreign Minister Citaku to the Council, and thank them for their comments. I would also like to thank Special Representative Zannier for his comprehensive briefing today.
Madam President, let me take this opportunity to congratulate the people of Kosovo on the third anniversary of their independence tomorrow, February 17. In these three years, Kosovo has demonstrated a commitment to developing democratic institutions, to playing a responsible role in the neighborhood and in the wider international community.
Let me also take a moment to congratulate the people of Serbia on the celebration of their national day on February 15. Serbia, too, has demonstrated a commitment toward peace and stability in the Balkans.
The United States supports the aspirations of both countries to achieve lasting peace and prosperity and to complete their European integration. To this end, we look forward to the EU-facilitated dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo, and to improve the quality of life for their citizens, and to support both countries as they progress on their respective paths to membership in the European Union.
Madam President, I would like to make three additional points.
First, in its three years of independence, Kosovo has made substantial progress in building its democracy. It administered municipal elections in 2009 and snap national assembly elections at the end of last year. Implementation of decentralization has moved government closer to the people, and Kosovo has established new, Serb-majority municipalities that have fostered improved political engagement in minority communities. We note, however, that there were serious irregularities that occurred in some areas during the December parliamentary elections. That said, Kosovo's electoral and judicial institutions responded immediately and appropriately to hold orderly re-votes.
Kosovo Serbs south of the Ibar River turned out in record numbers during the December elections. This is a welcome sign of the benefits of decentralization and of the improved security and political situation in Kosovo. Still, significant work remains to strengthen the electoral system, and we join international partners' calls for further electoral reforms. These and other pressing reforms await the new Assembly and government in the coming days.
The story is not as encouraging in northern Kosovo. The ethnic Serb community's engagement in Kosovo's politics and municipal administrations is a critical element for the development of a prosperous, multi-ethnic democracy. We are concerned that Serbs in northern Kosovo who have engaged with Kosovo government institutions have faced organized opposition from parallel institutions, which use violence and intimidation to prevent the democracy and development that has taken root in Serb communities throughout the rest of Kosovo. It is also alarming that, as cited in the Secretary-General’s report, the targeting of international workers in Northern Kosovo has increased.
Second, Rule of law is paramount to stability and progress in the Balkans. The United States takes seriously any allegations of criminal wrongdoing, especially with regard to war crimes. Therefore, we take seriously the allegations contained in the Council of Europe report, allegations that had previously been investigated by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and UNMIK. We fully support EULEX leading a comprehensive, thorough, and impartial follow-on investigation. EULEX has the jurisdiction and mandate to deal with war crimes; it has dealt with similar issues in the past; and it will have the full weight of the European Union and its partners to support it. We welcome the declared support of the governments of Kosovo and Albania for such an investigation. We do not believe that an ad hoc UN mechanism is necessary or appropriate in light of the EU’s mandate.
Madam President, this brings me to my third point.
The process of reconciliation must continue in order to maintain peace and stability in the Balkans. We were encouraged that voluntary returns increased in 2010, with nearly twice as many Kosovo Serbs returning as compared to 2009.
We would also note that NATO’s KFOR continues to transfer protective responsibilities for Serbian Orthodox properties to the Kosovo Police without incident. Protection and support of the religious and cultural heritage of all of Kosovo's communities is critical to reconciliation efforts, and we commend UNMIK's efforts to facilitate the work of the Reconstruction Implementation Council. We also welcome the efforts of the EU facilitator for the protection of religious and cultural heritage and call on other members to aid in these and similar efforts. The United States has recently allocated $1.4 million for cultural preservation and restoration projects throughout Kosovo.
Madam President, let me reiterate the United States' commitment to a stable, prosperous, and democratic Kosovo that enjoys genuine cooperation with Serbia and the Balkan region.
Thank you, Madam President.
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