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Kosovo Serbs Call for Dialogue on Ethnic Violence and Governance in Kosovo

News and Press Release
Originally published
On December 17, a delegation of democratically oriented Kosovo Serbs, led by Bishop Artemije and Serb National Council leader Momcilo Trajkovic, will release a declaration calling for an end to all violence and the beginning of a dialogue between Kosovo Serbs and Albanians. The result of a special three-day meeting held in Sofia, Bulgaria, under the auspices of the United States Institute of Peace, the declaration underlines the delegation's commitment to equal rights under the rule of law for all people of Kosovo, including freedom of movement and the right to return home.

Expressing regret for and condemning ethnically motivated violence and crimes, the declaration calls for:

  • A complete accounting of missing persons and equity in the distribution of medical and humanitarian assistance.
  • The arrest, trial, and imprisonment of those responsible for interethnic violence before and after the NATO intervention, which could include prosecution by the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague.
  • Better representation of Serbs and others in the UN-created police force as well as open and independent Serb-language media not controlled by Belgrade.
The declaration also urges Kosovo Serbs to remain in and return to Kosovo, which, according to members of the delegation, "Should remain undivided, with local self-government, within a decentralized political system."

The meeting was organized by U.S. Institute of Peace Balkans Director Daniel Serwer and chaired by Mercy Corps official Landrum Bolling, with assistance from David Steele of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Ambassador John Menzies attended as a State Department observer.

The U.S. Institute of Peace is a non-partisan, independent organization created and funded by the U.S. Congress to promote prevention and resolution of international conflicts. Since 1995, the Institute's Balkans Initiative has played an important role in creating a forum for discussion among government and non-government experts to assist in building consensus on key issues in the Balkans.

Balkans Director Daniel Serwer will be available for further background, questions, and comments regarding the recent meeting in Sofia. To schedule a one-on-one media interview please contact Burt Edwards at (202) 429-3878.

The Sofia Declaration

We, the individuals identified below, gathered in Sofia, Bulgaria, December 10-12, 1999, with the facilitation of a team assembled by the United States Institute of Peace, and have reached consensus on options for building multiethnic democracy in Kosovo and Metohija (referred to below as Kosovo). We appeal to the international community and Kosovar Albanian leaders to reflect upon and respect the fruits of our deliberations, which were undertaken within the context of UN Security Council resolution 1244. As members of the Serb National Council, elected by local Serb constituencies, joined by several Belgrade-based advisors, we represent a broad spectrum of democratically-oriented political perspectives. We favor a democratic Kosovo, within a democratic Serbia, within a democratic Yugoslavia integrated in a stable and prosperous region linked to Europe. We regret and condemn ethnically motivated violence and crimes committed in previous periods as well as now. We envision a multiethnic and democratic Kosovo where all citizens:

  • Live under the rule of law,
  • Have equal rights,
  • Feel secure to return to their homes throughout Kosovo, and
  • Have free access to religious and cultural sites.
We pledge our cooperation with those inside and outside Kosovo who share these aims, and ask for the full support of the international community to achieve them.

Immediate priority issues for the Kosovo Serbs are Security, Governance, and Humanitarian Issues and Refugee Returns.


About 100,000 Serbs remain in Kosovo in four large enclaves and additional smaller ones. According to the Serb National Council, approximately 200,000 Serbs and 30,000 others have been expelled or have fled. Violence and crime against Serbs are prevalent, with more isolated areas and those with less communication with Belgrade faring worse. Serbs have been cleansed from Kosovo's cities, it is unsafe for Serbs to travel between enclaves without KFOR protection, and there is little communication between enclaves. Though relations between the Serb community and KFOR at the local level are correct, KFOR has done little to hold responsible those who order and perpetrate crimes and violence (some of whom come from outside Kosovo) and maintains communications with Milosevic-controlled Serb leadership in Kosovo. The existing Police Academy is located in an area from which Serbs have been expelled, and Serbs who attend it feel is insecure.

We call upon the international community to:

  • Improve UNMIK/KFOR protection for all;
  • Stop systematic persecution of Kosovo Serbs and other non-Albanian communities;
  • Complete the disarmament process;
  • Hold responsible perpetrators of violence, who must be arrested, tried, and imprisoned;
  • Establish police and judicial systems that reflect the ethnic composition of the areas in which they are located;
  • Establish branches of the Police Academy run by UNMIK in a Serb majority area;
  • Open secure roads between Serb enclaves;
  • Improve relations between the Serb community leadership and UNMIK and KFOR commands;
  • Improve control of all Kosovo's borders and boundaries.

The Serb National Council was established by an electoral process and includes individuals and representatives of democratically oriented parties independent of the Milosevic regime. It is not a governing authority, but an interim effort to organize the Kosovo Serb community and represent its interests.

While the specific form of governance in the future will have to be decided by the entire Kosovo population with assistance from the international community, the following points are essential:

  • No division of Kosovo;
  • Establishment of strong local self-government for all--including administration, police and judciary--within a decentralized political system;
  • No change in status of Kosovo until Milosevic is gone from power, and No elections without basic security for Serbs and other ethnic communities adequate to allow those who want to return to do so;
  • All Kosovo refugees should have the right to vote.
We acknowledge our own responsibility for establishing democratic and multiethnic institutions in Kosovo and pledge to:
  • Improve tolerance, restrain extremists, and insist on resolution of disputes by use of peaceful political means;
  • Encourage members of the Serb community to stay in Kosovo, to return from wherever they are, and to join the Serb National Council;
  • Cooperate with the international community to return property to its rightful owners;
  • Actively recruit Serbs to participate in police training.
We call on the international community to:
  • Establish a multiethnic court of appeals under international community chairmanship;
  • Establish a system that protects private property, ensures payment of rent to actual owners, registers refugee property, and provides legal procedures to remedy contracts signed under intimidation;
  • Stop long detentions without trial--citizens must be innocent until proven guilty;
  • Support the creation of a non-Milosevic sponsored, independent Serb media within Kosovo to which all political forces and ethnic communities will have access;
  • Include the Serb National Council in the December 17 Berlin Trilateral meeting among the US, EU and Serb democratic opposition, of which it is a part;
  • Encourage joint Serbian opposition, RS, and Montenegrin support for Serbs in Kosovo; and Call on The Hague Tribunal to investigate crimes against Serbs.
To demonstrate its respect for democratic principles we ask the Albanian community to:
  • End the violence;
  • Account for missing people;
  • Engage in dialog and meaningful negotiations concerned with security for all, freedom of movement, freedom to return home for all, and return of private property.
Humanitarian Issues and Refugee Returns

Return of refugees is essential. Serbs and other ethnic communities want to return home throughout Kosovo. In addition to security, this requires humanitarian assistance as well as tolerance and coexistence based on common and compatible interests of all ethnic communities. We recognize that Albanians as well as Serbs and other ethnic communities have been victimized. We respect the rights and interests of others and ask that our own rights and interests be respected.

We also ask for expedited and expanded delivery of financial resources and material, non-material and political and moral support:

Material Aid:

  • Basic services: housing, food, clothing, energy, medical facilities and municipal services (water, sewage, etc.);
  • Communication and transport;
  • Human and financial resources for educational services;
  • Reconstruction of homes as well as destroyed and damaged churches.
Non-material Aid:
  • Law offices to provide free legal assistance for individuals;
  • Treatment of psychological trauma;
  • Development of civil society;
  • An end to language discrimination (book-burning, media, traffic signs, and general conversation);
  • Development of respect for the right of religious belief Social aid for job development.
As possible first steps, we encourage the international community to:
  • Strongly support return of all Serbs and non-Albanian citizens;
  • Deliver aid via the Serb National Council, Serb Orthodox Church and appropriate nongovernmental organizations not controlled by the Milosevic government;
  • Ensure better representation of Serb interests in Western media;
  • Pay greater attention to the implementation of human rights and justice;
  • End expressions of understanding for acts of revenge;
  • Focus on the needs of the local population rather than the needs of the international community personnel in Kosovo;
  • Concentrate the aid effort on multiethnic communities in Kosovo;
  • Enable the return of the Serbian University to Pristina;
  • Immediately settle outstanding issues related to property, including the payment of rent to those families whose homes are temporarily occupied by others;
  • Provide legal identity papers for all people who have formerly lived in Kosovo;
  • Arrange for Serb and other non-Albanian ethnic community medical workers and other professionals to return to work;
    Provide equal humanitarian assistance and medical aid to all parts of Kosovo; and
  • Establish an ombudsmen commission comprised of an equal number of Serbs and Albanians and a representative of the international community to investigate complaints made by all citizens of Kosovo regarding return of refugees, exercise of criminal justice and the rule of law.
All Kosovo ethnic communities should:
  • Create multiethnic programs that promote youth and future leaders, including seminars outside Kosovo;
  • Establish schools in English attended by children of all ethnic groups; and
  • Organize multiethnic women's groups.
We call on all in Kosovo to contribute in every way to a multiethnic and democratic Kosovo, to be tolerant of different political perspectives, and to commit to non-violent means for accomplishing our mutual political interests--a stable, peaceful and secure Kosovo. We ask the international community to support and work towards programs that ensure our mutual security and an inclusive and fair political process.


Sofia Workshop Participants

His Grace Bishop Artemije, Bishop of Raska-Prizren and President, Serb National Council

Mr. Momcilo Trajkovic, Serb National Council, President, Executive Board, Kosovo and Metohija

Dr. Vuko Antonijevic, Serb National Council, President, Mitrovica area

Prof. Dr. Dusan T. Batakovic, Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Belgrade

Vlada Dimic, Serb National Council, Executive Board, Pristina

Dr. Milan Ivanovic, Serb National Council, Executive Board , Mitrovica

Dr. Marko Jaksic, Serb National Council, Executive Board, Mitrovica

Fr. Justin Jezdic, Archdeacon

Stojan Jovanovic, Serb National Council, Director, Information Center

Nenad Kojic, Serb National Council, Executive Board, Gnjilane area

Zoran Lutovac, Institute of Social Sciences, Belgrade

Randjel Nojkic, Serb National Council, Executive Board, Kosovo and Metohija

Slava Ristic, Serb National Council

Dr. Predrag Simic, Advisor to the President of the Serbian Renewal Movement, Belgrade

Prof. Gligorije Stojanovic, Serb National Council, Executive Board, Pristina

Dr. Rada Trajkovic, Serb National Council, Executive Board, Pristina area.

Dr. Josif Vasic, Serb National Council, Gnjilane

Dragan Velic, Serb National Council, Pristina

Mr. Aleksander Vidojevic, Advisor to Bishop Artemije

Background on the Balkans Initiative

The Institute's objective with the Balkans Initiative is to help policymakers formulate policy strategies that engage the entire Balkan region in securing a foundation the growth of democratic institutions, and create a forum for discussion among government and non-government experts to assist in building consensus on key issues in the Balkans. To help implement such a regional strategy, the Institute is working with practitioners to construct security, economic, and democratic political arrangements that foster peace and security for the region -- absent the presence of outside forces.

The Institute meets these objectives by using the four elements of its mission -- policy-relevant analysis, education and training, facilitation and public education. Working with policy makers and regional leaders, the Institute emphasizes sustainable and practical outcomes by:

  • Encouraging policy consideration of issues extending beyond peace implementation, such as democratization and the development of a civil society;
  • Identifying ways and creating opportunities for citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the leaders to assume responsibility for the peace process; and
  • Exploring prospects for the entire region to cooperate in building a just, stable and prosperous environment for all its citizens.
The Balkans Initiative is a natural extension of the Institute's long-standing work in post-conflict societies. The Initiative draws from "lessons learned" from past conflicts and settlements to guide policymakers and practitioners in constructing sustainable peace agreements through reconciliation, power sharing, and a strengthened civil society that protects human rights. Early in its assessment of the requirements to establish the peace process, the Institute recognized that few other organizations were working with the segments of society that were the most critical to the reconciliation process--justice officials and religious leaders and communities. Providing assistance and research to these segments are key components of the Balkans Initiative. Its long-term program investment in the region has won the confidence of these disparate communities and has produced inspiring results. Also important is the Initiative's Washington-based project--the Balkans Working Group which convenes policymakers and international practitioners working in Bosnia to discuss how to enhance and extend implementation of the accords.

Other Special Emphases

Advancing the Rule of Law - The Institute's Rule of Law Initiative is working in conjunction with the Balkans Initiative and with a variety of justice officials on a number of justice and reconciliation issues, including war crimes accountability, establishing protection for trial witnesses, more effective police screening procedures, and the development of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The Institute has taken the lead in shaping a proposal for a single Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Bosnia and Herzegovina, recognizing the importance for victims to have a forum in which to tell their stories and where a common history of the war can be documented.

Training Public Security Officials - The Institute since 1998, has provided training to public security officials involved in efforts to rebuild Bosnia-Herzegovina. These seminars focus on the principles of community policing in a democratic society. The Institute is cooperating closely with the Departments of State and Justice along with the UN in these continuing programs.

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