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SRSG address at the opening of the Conference on the "future status of Kosovo"


PRISTINA- SRSG Søren Jessen-Petersen this morning addressed the Conference on the "Future status of Kosovo", organized by the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia. Following is the text of his address: I am pleased to address this conference and I thank the organisers, the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia and the Gani Bobi Centre in Pristina, for this good initiative. The conference, bringing together, as it does, Serbs and Albanians in the centre of Pristina to talk about the issues that concern all of us and them most, is in itself a demonstration of an improvement in the climate for inter-ethnic dialogue which has recently taken place in Kosovo.

That the conference is timely is also demonstrated by the choice of topics that delegates will be discussing over the next two days. The issues of security, standards, the reform of local government, ethnic reconciliation and the resolution of Kosovo's status are some of the most important issues facing all of Kosovo's communities and the region more generally.

The progress made and the importance of the issues now facing us have indeed been recognised at the highest level. The decision by the United Nations Security Council on 27 May to endorse the recommendation of the Secretary General that a Comprehensive Review of Standards implementation should be carried out, highlighted the continuing progress made by the PISG, but also made clear just how much remains to be done.

The decision to go ahead with a Comprehensive Review has had a galvanising effect on all parties in Kosovo. All Kosovo's political forces have realised that they need to take a fresh look at their actions in the light of the upcoming Review and possible status talks. The Government in particular has analysed the further work it needs to do on Standards implementation. To this end, it has recently approved and adopted a work plan covering both the shorter and longer term to ensure that priority Standards are met.

Despite some difficult and, frankly, unhelpful disagreements between the Kosovo Albanian parties - which are experiencing the trials of parliamentary democracy and the Government-opposition dynamic for the first time - they have now realised the need for unity on fundamental goals facing Kosovo and have agreed to my proposal to establish a political Forum to discuss the key questions facing Kosovo in the immediate future. Goodwill and flexibility by all will be needed to ensure that there is a constructive dialogue and maximum consensus on those fundamental goals.

I was in Belgrade last Friday and welcomed the fact, in talks with Prime Minister Kostunica, Dr Covic, and representatives of President Tadic and other leaders, that direct dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade has been given fresh impetus recently, with working groups and constructive talks on missing persons, returns of displaced persons, and energy. I also welcome the fact that Kosovo Serbs have begun to take part in some of the political processes in Kosovo. At the same time, I regret - and I expressed that regret last Friday - that Belgrade is still failing to give the Kosovo Serbs the green light to join - and exercise their influence in - those institutions that matter most, the Assembly of Kosovo and eventually the Government.

All the priority Standards deal with the rights of Kosovo's minority communities - all of Kosovo's minority communities. Some Standards are of more concern to minority communities than others and it is on those priority standards that the PISG must focus - and act.

Some encouraging progress has been made. The Special Minority Recruitment campaign launched by the PISG has seen more than 200 applicants for 103 vacancies published across the Ministries. Indeed, minority representation in the government - at approximately 10% is good and improving. The 5th urban return of Kosovo Serb to Klina town took place last week. The Religious Heritage Reconstruction Implementation Commission held a key meeting on 7 June in Decani Monastery, paving the way for funds to be disbursed on church reconstruction, to begin in and around Prizren. On 6 June the Kosovo Police Service took control of the main bridge in Mitrovica from KFOR - a further sign of the improvement in security. Local Community Policing Councils now function in all 30 Kosovo Municipalities. The Kosovo Police Service, or KPS, is multi-ethnic, with a minority component of 16%; Kosovo Serbs make up about 10% of KPS numbers.

And the KPC is continuing its drive to recruit minorities and is working to improve conditions in areas where there are returnees - thus encouraging further returnees.

While the security situation in Kosovo is now good - thanks especially to the work of COMKFOR and the excellent collaboration that now exists between KFOR, UNMIK Police, and the KPS - we must at the same time acknowledge that the security situation remains fragile.

The leaders of Kosovo's majority community must reach out to minorities if the situation is to change from one of fragility to one of irreversible stability. Kosovo Albanians need to pay not just "lip service" to the idea that all Kosovo's citizens are equal under the law. There need to be more - as well as more consistent and clearer - statements that the leaders of Kosovo's Albanian majority are committed to minority issues. Whenever there are interethnic incidents - although fortunately they are very rare - it is essential that there be immediate condemnation from leaders. Representatives of central and local government need to do more to get out and meet minority communities and listen to their concerns. Recent visits by ministers, while encouraging and very welcome, have, unfortunately, been exceptions rather than the rule.

Such statements and visits are essential to demonstrating commitment and above all changing the atmosphere in which minority communities live. They are also crucial in showing the majority population that their leaders are committed to protecting the minority. Because, while security and freedom of movement are actually at reasonable levels, perceptions of them are not. How can we expect minority communities to want to travel, say, to markets in majority areas if they are never invited? How can they be invited if Kosovo's media do not cover all Kosovo's communities? How can they travel there if road signs are only in one language? How can Kosovo's communities communicate at all if they do not speak each other's language and have no opportunity to learn it?

So, Kosovo's leaders must do their bit, it is true, but Belgrade must also play its part. It is simply not serious to insist that progress be demonstrated on freedom of movement and returns for the Kosovo Serb community, and in the same breath make statements which are far from the realities on the ground and which are directly harmful to such progress. One cannot describe Kosovo in terms which would deter anyone from returning, and at the same time expect IDPs to come back. Minority communities are unlikely to exercise their freedom of movement if they are constantly told by leaders in Belgrade that they are in danger if they move beyond their homes. It is disingenuous to say that one has the best interests of the Kosovo Serbs at heart and then prevent their representatives from returning to the institutions in which they can represent their community's interests most effectively and where they can make a difference to their situation.

To deny them that right is to deny them the right to shape their own future.

The main players in the international community have made it clear that maintaining the status quo on Kosovo is unsustainable. They have made it clear that the talks on the status of Kosovo are scheduled to begin later this year. It is now up to the political leaders and institutions to show that they are acting to build a stable, tolerant, multi-ethnic, and democratic society in Kosovo - one in which all communities live in peace with each other and which is at peace with its neighbours.

The time has come for all sides to put short-term politics aside and to get involved, to talk openly, frankly, passionately, and constructively about the concrete issues and make the changes which we all recognise are needed. This conference today is a good start on that road. We need much more of this kind of dialogue.

Thank you very much.