Mr. Verbeke said that, with such "important decisions" looming in the near future, the six-day trip to Belgrade and Kosovo - which departs New York tonight - would ensure that its members were fully informed on the matter, beyond what they had already gathered from numerous written and oral reports. Participants were particularly interested to hear first-hand from local leaders, he said, and to see the situation on the ground with their own eyes.
"[It is so] we can act responsibly on what is obviously a delicate matter," said Mr. Verbeke. "In any case, we cannot be reproached to have acted lightly on a file which we all know, intrinsically, is a very important file."
He stressed that the Security Council was firmly seized of the proposals made by Martti Ahtisaari, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Future Status Process for Kosovo, which had been submitted by the Secretary-General to the Council last month. He said the trip was not meant to sidestep Mr. Ahtisaari's own findings, but to ensure that the Council could act upon his recommendations in an informed manner. When asked, Mr. Verbeke declined to say whether the group expected to return from the mission with a viewpoint different from that of Mr. Ahtisaari.
Before making its way to Belgrade, the mission would first stop in Brussels, where it was expected to meet the Secretary-General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the commander of its Kosovo multinational security Force (KFOR), who Mr. Verbeke said were among the institutions that had played, or might be called on to play, an important role in the future of Kosovo. A meeting would also be held with the European Commissioner for Enlargement, Olli Rehn, symbolizing the aspirations of many Europeans of aligning the region more closely to the "Euro-Atlantic structure".
Mr. Verbeke added that, because the European Union's High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, was expected to be in Ankara on Wednesday, the group was unable to schedule a meeting with him, but would meet with his senior adviser on Balkan issues.
On Wednesday evening, participants of the mission would fly to Belgrade to meet Serbian President Boris Tadi? and Prime Minister Vojislav Koštunica, as well as with the country's civic leaders, to "measure the state of mind in Belgrade" with regard to the Kosovo issue, said Mr. Verbeke.
From Belgrade, the group would proceed to Pristina for a two-day stay, where a meeting with President Fatmir Sedjiu and Prime MinisterAgimÇeku had been scheduled, Mr. Verbeke said. There were also plans to speak with members of the Kosovo Assembly. As in Belgrade, the group would also speak with civic leaders, such as representatives from the Kosovo Serb community and those of other minorities, as well as religious leaders from the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church and the Imam of Pristina.
Mr. Verbeke said the group would try to visit Serbian and multi-ethnic enclaves within the region, as well as an Albanian village, so that their trip would yield a "comprehensive and balanced" outlook, but those visitshad yet to be finalized. The group had been working with the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) to decide which village or enclave to visit. Much of that decision would be linked to logistical concerns, such as whether the areas were reachable by bus or helicopter.
One correspondent asked whether the threat of protests on the Kosovo border would hinder the group's visits to the field, but Mr. Verbeke said he was confident the programme would be carried out with few problems.
On its way home, the group planned to stop in Vienna, where it would hold a meeting with Mr. Ahtisaari to discuss the Special Envoy's proposals in light of their findings, and to pose questions.
Talk of a mission had surfaced early in the year and had actively been put in motion at the initiative of the Russian Federation, said Mr. Verbeke. Asked about the likelihood of a veto by the Russian Federation on a Kosovo resolution aligned with Mr. Ahtisaari's thinking, he said that that country's idea to embark on the fact-finding mission in itself had been a "responsible act", and had demonstrated a keen interest in the true social, political and economic situation in Kosovo.
For information media - not an official record