The mission - the fourth such trip by the Council since April 2000 - will visit Kosovo, Belgrade, Brussels and Vienna before returning on Sunday to UN Headquarters in New York, according to a letter from the Council's monthly President to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
The six-day trip is designed to give Council members a first-hand understanding of the political, social and economic situation inside Kosovo, and talks have been scheduled with the leaders of the province's Provisional Institutions of Self-Government (PISG) and ethnic minority communities, as well as with the Serbian leadership.
The 15-member delegation, comprised of representatives of the Council's current membership, is tasked with assessing Kosovo's progress since the UN took over in 1999, particularly on the implementation of the agreed standards. Ambassador Johan C. Verbeke of Belgium will lead the group.
The agreed standards are a set of eight overall targets that include building democratic institutions, enforcing minority rights, creating a functioning economy and setting up an impartial legal system.
Today Council members received a closed-door briefing from Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno on the current situation on the ground in Kosovo, where the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) operates.
Mr. Guéhenno told reporters that he "did not paint a rosy picture" of the situation, adding that it would be valuable for Council members to see for themselves what conditions are like and whether the current uncertainty over Kosovo's final status is helping or hindering progress.
He noted that while some advances have been made, and Kosovo is a long way forward on the events of 1999, more progress is needed on the economy, the issue of returns and Serbian participation in the PISG.
Last month, the Secretary-General's Special Envoy for the future status process Martti Ahtisaari concluded that independence in a phased process with initial supervision by the international community was the only viable option for Kosovo.
Mr. Ahtisaari said in his report to Mr. Ban that the province, where ethnic Albanians outnumber Serbs and other minorities by nine to one, could only become politically stable and economically viable if it was independent because Kosovo's PISG and Serbia could not reach agreement on even small, practical issues.
Any further delay in reaching a permanent solution would cause further stagnation, threaten democratic development and imperil any hopes at ethnic reconciliation, he said, adding that an international civilian and military presence would be needed for some time, focused especially on such areas as minority community rights, the rule of law, decentralization and the protection of the Serbian Orthodox Church.