Thank you, Mr. President and, thank you, Special Representative Zarif for your briefing. I would like to welcome both Prime Minister Dacic and Prime Minister Thaci back to the Council and thank them for sharing their perspectives with us. I would also like to express again our appreciation to the European Union, NATO, the OSCE and other organizations that, alongside the United Nations, are supporting the international community’s work in Kosovo. And, I would like to congratulate Kosovo on the fifth anniversary of its independence on February 17.
Mr. President, the United States commends Kosovo and Serbia for their efforts in the ongoing EU-facilitated dialogue toward normalization of their relations. Prime Ministers Thaci and Dacic have shown courage in working to resolve longstanding issues through a pragmatic approach that will improve the lives of their citizens, bring greater stability to the region, and allow both countries to move forward on their respective paths toward European integration.
The United States very much welcomes the progress made in the seven rounds of the Dialogue, and we understand that the Prime Ministers are close to concluding an agreement on northern Kosovo. We encourage them to do so at the next Dialogue session on April 2. Both parties, with the assistance of the international community, should quickly and fully implement any agreement ultimately reached. These efforts will continue to require much cooperation and hard work.
Further, we applaud the continued implementation of arrangements under the Integrated Border Management agreement and look forward to the exchange of liaison officers to serve in the respective capitals. Such agreements are proof that the dialogue is producing results. We call on both Kosovo and Serbia to sustain the momentum toward normalization that their leaders have built in recent months.
Mr. President, we also commend the significant progress Kosovo has made in modernizing the justice sector. The new court structure, criminal code and criminal procedure code are major steps forward. We encourage the government of Kosovo, in coordination with its partner EULEX, to continue to prioritize reforms in this sector and increase efforts to address corruption, strengthen judicial independence, and remedy inefficiencies that would contribute to increased public confidence in the legal system and improve justice. Kosovo’s recent adoption of laws to increase the transparency and accountability of financial transactions will, once fully implemented, help Kosovo combat corruption and organized crime, promote the country’s economic growth, and help to ensure the independence of its institutions more broadly.
Further, we continue to support the Special Investigative Task Force in its work to investigate allegations of organ trafficking and other wrongdoing. We reaffirm our belief in the Task Forces’s capacity and commitment to operate consistent with established investigative and prosecutorial practices and in the interest of justice.
Mr. President, while the progress at the political level has been significant, the United States remains concerned about continuing security incidents, especially in the north. As the Secretary-General noted in his report, the overall number of recorded incidents affecting minority communities declined in 2012. Still, we are disturbed by the uptick of violent acts in recent months, much of which appears intended to harass and threaten those who are cooperating with Kosovo authorities to normalize relations. These acts represent a serious threat to peace and security. They must not be tolerated.
Of great concern is a string of grenade attacks in northern Kosovo that has targeted EULEX staff, officials at the borders, and Kosovo Serbs. In addition, an ongoing pattern of violence in Mitrovica North against personnel employed by Kosovo institutions and their families, particularly against Kosovo Serb employees of the Mitrovica North Administrative Office undermines safety, security, and the rule of law and hurts the ordinary citizens of the north whom the MNAO is trying to help. The United States continues to support the Office’s work to improve delivery of services to the citizens of Mitrovica North and hopes UNMIK will support these efforts.
We also insist on zero tolerance for vandalism, desecration of religious sites, intimidation and targeted violence and condemn the desecration of gravesites in Kosovo that occurred in reaction to the removal by the Serbian government of a monument in southern Serbia. The United States welcomed the prompt condemnation and assurances by Kosovo authorities that these criminal acts will be investigated fully and perpetrators prosecuted, and the government’s commitment to restore the gravesites at government expense.
Prime Ministers, as you continue talks under the auspices of High Representative Ashton in less than two weeks, it will be important to seize the opportunities presented by the dialogue to move beyond the past and look toward your common European futures. The United States will continue to support you and the EU’s facilitation efforts towards this end.
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