Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, Special Representative Zarif for your briefing. I would like to welcome both Foreign Minister Hoxhaj and Foreign Minister Mrkić to the Council and thank them for sharing their perspectives with us. I would also like to express again my appreciation to our long standing partners in Kosovo – the EU, EULEX, KFOR/NATO, the OSCE and other agencies who support UNMIK.
Mr. President, I would like to make three main points.
First, the United States commends Kosovo and Serbia for their efforts to move towards normalizing their relations and to continue on a path towards full Euro-Atlantic integration. The October 19 and November 7 meetings of Prime Ministers Thaci and Dacic with EU High Representative Ashton demonstrate a willingness to engage constructively. We also reaffirm that it is only through dialogue that both countries can realize their common goal of a European future and improve their citizens’ lives. We are pleased that the Serbian government has stated it will honor the dialogue agreement on regional cooperation, a step that can only benefit both countries and the region as a whole. Congratulations, as well, to Kosovo on its most recent recognitions from Fiji, Timor Leste, Burundi, and Papua-New Guinea and for deepening its regional economic integration through its impending membership in the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). EBRD membership will support economic development and cooperation, growth, and social stability to the benefit of the people of Kosovo and throughout the Balkan region. We hope that these positive developments continue as we approach the new year, and call for increased cooperation to address the many issues that remain. We also welcome the steps being taken by both sides toward implementing the agreement on Integrated Border Management (IBM), and we look forward to the establishment of the first four interim facilities by the end of this year.
Second, the United States remains concerned about attacks on international personnel, restrictions on freedom of movement - particularly that of EULEX - and the high level of tensions between ethnic communities. Just last week, tensions rose in northern Kosovo, when Serb parallel officials supported by Belgrade sought to halt the reconstruction of homes for displaced ethnic Albanians and to protest implementation of the Integrated Border Management agreement reached in the EU-facilitated dialogue. Regarding the former, I note that employees of the UNMIK office in north Mitrovica reportedly also tried to impede construction efforts. We call on all officials of Kosovo and Serbia, as well as UNMIK, to work to calm tensions and avoid inflammatory language and actions. We encourage close coordination between EULEX and KFOR to deter and respond to such actions aimed at undermining the rule of law and preventing legal construction and returns to the north. We are deeply troubled by the September 7 attack on a EULEX armored vehicle and the reports of attacks on staff of the newly-established Mitrovica North Administrative Office, including the attempted fire-bombing of the house of its deputy director on November 19. These efforts aim to intimidate the staff, many of whom are ethnic Serbs working to better their communities. We commend the Kosovo police force’s increased efforts to protect cultural and religious heritage as well as its action against organized crime and trafficking rings. We also encourage Kosovo and Serbia to redouble their efforts in cooperation with the ICRC and local organizations to locate the remains of over 1,700 persons who are still missing. Further, we continue to support the Special Investigative Task Force (SITF) in its work to investigate and if necessary prosecute allegations of organ trafficking and other wrongdoing. We note the judgment of the Appeals Chamber of the ICTY in the case of two Croatian generals. We fully support the ICTY and accept its rulings.
Finally, the United States congratulates Kosovo on reaching the end of supervised independence on September 10, pursuant to a decision of the International Steering Group that the Government of Kosovo substantially met all of its obligations under the Comprehensive Settlement Plan. We thank the International Civilian Representative and his Office for working diligently with the Kosovo Government to reach this milestone. To achieve full EU integration, Kosovo must continue its efforts, with support from the international community, to strengthen its multi-ethnic democracy and the rule of law.
Mr. President, the United States continues to support both Serbia and Kosovo in their pursuit of integration into European institutions. To that end, we reiterate our call for further constructive dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina under EU facilitation. As Secretary Clinton said during her recent visit to Pristina with EU High Representative Ashton in October, “We will stand with you as you make key reforms to improve governance that brings you closer to full Euro-Atlantic integration. We will stand with you as you work with Serbia to resolve practical problems and overcome obstacles, and we will be there for you as you take the necessary steps toward the future you so richly deserve.”
Thank you, Mr. President.
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