Statement by Dr. Nebojsa Covic
Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Serbia and
President of the Coordinating Center of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and The Republic of Serbia for Kosovo and Metohija Before the United Nations Security Council

New York - March 27, 2001

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Mr. President,
Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Before starting on Kosovo, I would like to give you a brief update on the situation in Southern Serbia. I have prepared a more detailed briefing for your review. Thanks to the support and assistance of the OSCE, UNMIK, UNHCR, KFOR, and many of the countries represented here on a bilateral basis, we continue to consolidate the reconciliation process in Southern Serbia. To this end, I would like to list some of the most recent confidence building measures in this process:

- Over 345 new recruits (including 213 ethnic Albanians and 23 women) have gone through OSCE assisted training and been assigned in Southern Serbia as multi-ethnic police;

- The Serbian Government has spent more than USD 16, 882,000 on various infrastructure projects in 2001 and plans to spend a further USD 10,000,000 this year. This is in addition to the considerable assistance from other countries.

- Municipal elections are scheduled for June 15 or June 16, 2002;

- We have withdrawn 12,282 special unit soldiers from the region as peace has been restored;

- There is full freedom of movement and security;

- Integration of ethnic Albanian and Roma communities representatives into the state institutions has been intensified;

- Amnesty and abolition have been fully implemented;

- The army units will be withdrawn from the school building in Bujanovac and the shoe factory in Presevo by April 15, 2002.

- 8,982 refugees have returned to their homes;

- Document problems for the Albanians have been sorted out so that their diplomas and other certificates issued in Kosovo and Metohija are fully recognized.

More remains to be done, however. We must continue to improve the infrastucture, particularly for returning refugees, and we must increase employment possibilities for everyone. We need your continued help in these and other issues.

Briefly on Macedonia, I have been in frequent touch with the leaders of Macedonia and given that advice and encouragement best on the model we developed together for Southern Serbia.

Turning to Kosovo and Metohija, the most important point that I want to leave with you is that we are currently in a race against time.

Two different forces are going to be pushing harder and harder to come to a final solution for Kosovo and Metohija: the ethnic Albanians from Kosovo and Metohija and, for separate reasons, the international community, which is growing tired of investing in resources and energies in the Balkans. If you doubt this last statement, look only at the sharp reduction in refugee funding for the Balkans for next year or the statements by various troop contributors about withdrawing all or part of their forces.

I firmly believe that we have less time than most of us think or want to prepare for this final solution. So every day counts. I personally think that, unless we make major progress in key issues even this year, we will face immense troubles.

There are two basic, inter-related tasks in Kosovo and Metohija: building institutions and building a true multi-ethnic society. For obvious reasons, I am going to concentrate more on the latter than the former in my remarks, though both are crucial to real success.

Unlike the situation for ethnic groups in Bosnia, the Serbs of Kosovo have been given absolutely no assurances whatsoever that their language, culture, religion, or way of life will definitely survive and flourish in Kosovo and Metohija. Quite the contrary, everything really depends on the whim or good will currently of UNMIK and KFOR with absolutely no assurances about the future. This is an absolutely critical flaw, because nothing that the Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija see now can give them any comfort at all about their future. Freedom of movement outside of a few enclaves is totally impossible, refugee return is almost non-existent, and a climate of violence permeates the very air that the Serbs breathe. There are those who will tell you that the situation is "improving." Don't believe them. The Serbs and other minorities have simply learned the rules of the game and how to stay out of harm's way.

In November 2001, I signed with then SSRG Haekkerup a Common Document outlining how we would work together to improve the situation in Kosovo and Metohija. I believe that the key to our common future is to fully implement that agreement in good faith and with as much energy as possible. This includes making a major push this year on refugee return, confronting extremists on all sides and insisting that there be real freedom of movement throughout Kosovo and Metohija, working hard to make the institutions work, and trying to account for the missing on both sides.

As I am speaking before you today, virtually all of the remaining 146 Albanian prisoners from Kosovo and Metohija transferred from Kosovo prisons in the last days of the war to Serbia proper are on their way to UNMIK in an agreement worked out with UNMIK. A companion agreement will allow Albanians from Kosovo and Metohija arrested after Oct 5, 2000 in Serbia proper to apply to serve their sentences in Kosovo and Metohija and Serbs arrested and convicted in Kosovo and Metohija to apply to serve their sentences in Serbia proper. This takes away one of the key issues which has long been cited as a block to genuine reconciliation between the ethnic groups in Kosovo and Metohija. I hope that proves to be the case.

I am here today to ask for your help in moving forcefully on creating a true multi-ethnic society in Kosovo and Metohija. Because the stakes are very high. In Yugoslavia and Serbia, we are trying hard to overcome the legacy of the past and move towards a democratic, market-oriented society taking its rightful place in the European Union. But we face immense challenges from the legacy of problems left behind by Slobodan Milosevic, including a failed economy, the Kosovo and Metohija issue, coming to terms with our past (and the ICTY), and the Montenegro Question. If we are not successful in creating a multi-ethnic society in Kosovo and Metohija, the resulting turmoil and dislocation will have a dramatic, negative impact on the political situation in Yugoslavia. At the very, very least, it will shift the focus from economic, democratic, nation-building issues to nationalism. At worst, it could well bring back to power those forces of darkness and despair that ruled over my country for far too long.

But as difficult and dangerous as the above scenario may be, it in fact is just as bad or even worse for the future of Kosovo and Metohija. If extremist groups there are allowed to prevail, the real losers will be all the citizens of Kosovo and Metohija. Those same extremist groups that bomb buses carrying Serbs are also killing other Albanians from Kosovo and Metohija who do not share their extremism. What sort of society will result if the extremists prevail? What sort of relationship can they expect to have with Serbia if they drive the local Serbs out of Kosovo and Metohija. Believe me, for Kosovo and Metohija to survive and flourish economically, it must have a positive, constructive relationship with the rest of Yugoslavia. Otherwise, it will continue in perpetuity to rely on the generosity of the international community.

Finally, a word about the relationship today between Belgrade and the Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija. There are those, including many in the international community that would prefer to build a five-meter high wall around the boundary of Kosovo and Metohija with the rest of Yugoslavia. The theory being that the Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija must learn to live entirely within Kosovo and Metohija. That same theory seems to prejudge the future of Kosovo and Metohija, by the way, by ensuring that it would be totally independent of the rest of Yugoslavia.

Ladies and Gentlemen, let me say more with sadness than anger, that if you continue to build that wall, you will certainly succeed, because you undoubtedly have the power to do so. But virtually all the Serbs now in Kosovo and Metohija will be on the other side of that wall, in Yugoslavia and Serbia, both creating enormous social pressures on us and creating the very poisonous situation in Kosovo and Metohija, which I described above.

Unless and until the Serbs of Kosovo and Metohija feel secure in their positions in Kosovo and Metohija, free of violence and certain that their children will have full opportunities to speak their language, practice their religion, and travel freely, they as normal people anywhere will want a lifeline to Serbia itself.

We in the Coordinating Center have demonstrated by the get-out-the-vote campaign and now on the Kosovo Albanian prisoner issue, that we can play a positive role. Help us to continue to do so by working with us on enhanced refugee return from Yugoslavia to homes in Kosovo and Metohija, freedom of movement for all in Kosovo and Metohija, bringing to an end standoffs and confrontation with UNMIK and KFOR in Mitrovica, and a comprehensive program to locate the missing on all sides. This is the best way forward for Kosovo and Metohija, Yugoslavia, and the region as a whole.

Thank you, Mr. President.

New York - March 27, 2002

The circumstances in Kosovo, Macedonia and Southern Serbia are closely related and consequently contribute to each other's stability. In the climate of dissatisfaction and distrust that might deteriorate further, there is a genuine concern that any impasse in the political process may provide support to the more radical or extreme elements within the Serbian or Albanian community. Our approach is not of the win-or-lose type, but oriented to the building of a democratic political dialogue, for lack of such a dialogue brings in the risk of a recurrence of the violence.

The Governments of the FRY and the Republic of Serbia have proven that they are firmly committed to solving the crisis in Kosovo through a full implementation of the UNSC Resolution 1244. The most senior state officials have encouraged the Serbs from Kosovo to register and take part in the Kosovo elections under the unique list of the "Return Coalition". On November 5, 2001, the FRY and UNMIK signed the Common Document, which affirms the basic principles of the Resolution 1244 as well as a common belief that the Resolution can be successfully implemented only through joint efforts. The High-Ranking Working Group was constituted with the aim to provide for a permanent and sustainable cooperative approach to the issues of mutual interest and concern in order to ensure timely and regular consultations and cooperation. Within the framework of the High-Ranking Working Group, the following working bodies have been set up so far for:
1) return of refugees and IDPs,
2) judiciary,
3) missing persons,
4) railway,
as well as the Joint Committee for Police Cooperation. Furthermore, the FRY - UNMIK Agreement on the Transfer of Sentenced Individuals (Encl. P-2) has been brought into accord and facilitated the transfer of the Albanian prisoners from Serbia proper to penitentiaries in Kosovo and Metohija.

Regardless of major joint efforts, we have not accomplished satisfactory results yet in the areas of security, freedom of movement, protection of human rights and interests of Serbs and other communities in Kosovo. It is well known that several hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians were expelled or fled Kosovo during the war. I am aware that this had the characteristics of ethnic cleansing, or, in other words, of an ethnic transformation of the province. I am not, however, convinced that it has been sufficiently recognised that, following the arrival of the international forces in Kosovo, an inverse process of ethnic cleansing of the Serbian and other non-Albanian population has been taking place in Kosovo. In order to stop this process we must do our best to enable the Serbian, Montenegrin, Croatian, Moslem, and Gorani population to return to Kosovo. Since June 20, 1999, of the total of 226,000 Serb and non-Albanian refugees and IDPs, only 126 individuals have returned. If we compare these numbers with the data on the return of ethnic Albanian IDPs to Southern Serbia (of the total of 12,300 ethnic Albanian IDPs, 8,982 have returned in ten months), the comparison will speak for itself well enough. If this process continues, it will undoubtedly lead to a creation of an ethnically clean Kosovo, which would considerably jeopardise the stability of the region.

In cooperation with the international community and UNMIK, it is crucial to provide the following in Kosovo:
- full implementation of the Resolution 1244, the Constitutional Framework, and the FRY - UNMIK Common Document,
- full freedom of movement and security with the respect of human rights,
- return of all displaced persons and refugees,
- adequate response to the genuine concerns of Serbs and other communities regarding the future life in Kosovo,
- non-discriminative treatment of all citizens, as the basis for a multi-ethnic, multi-confessional and multi-cultural Kosovo,
- protection of rights and interests of Serbs and other communities in Kosovo, including the principles set in the Resolution, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the FRY and Constitutional Framework for Provisional Self-Government,
- confirmation of the position that the future status of Kosovo cannot be changed by any action undertaken by the institutions of provisional self-government,
- a stronger cooperation between Belgrade and Pristina, with the establishment of a sincere dialogue aimed at inter-ethnic reconciliation and normalisation of the life in Kosovo,
- solution to the issue of missing and kidnapped individuals,
- exhumation and identification of all human remains,
- ethnically unbiased judiciary through a stronger participation of international judges and prosecutors and integration of Serbian judges and prosecutors,
- solution to the problem of Serb detainees,
- stronger cooperation between the UNMIK and the Republic of Serbia in public sector, economy, fiscal and monetary system with the objective of better harmonisation with the EU standards,
- ensuring the inalienable right to private property protection, more active approach in the activities of the HPD (Housing and Property Directorate) - Habitat,
- protection of cultural monuments and cultural heritage,
- more energetic battle against crime and criminal organisations dealing with drug and human trafficking, money laundry and arms trafficking, through a better coordination, exchange of information and cooperation,
- battle against terrorism,
- Serbs' representation in the Kosovo Police Service, in order to restore confidence of all communities in professional and multi-ethnic police forces,
- multi-lingual and multi-ethnic administration through the representation of Serb and other communities in the provisional self-government institutions proportionately to their representation in the Kosovo Assembly,
- work of the structures of local communities in which representation of Serbs and other communities shall be proportionate to their representation in municipal assemblies,
- education in the Serbian language to Serb community, from elementary school to university, and corresponding compatibility of the curricula of the educational structures of Serbs in Kosovo with the educational system of the Republic of Serbia,
- careful, responsible, sustainable, and well-planned privatization, with respect to all investments, obligations, and properties from previous years and with clear mechanisms for the protection from the high-level crime and criminals who gained their wealth during the conflict,
- reactivation of all industrial and public potentials with the objective of providing employment to the large number of the unemployed in Kosovo,
- information network, including the FRY, and media focusing on the Serb community in Kosovo, along with the establishment of new independent television and radio stations,
- opening of the offices of Coordinating Center of the Governments of the FRY and the Republic of Serbia at locations in Kosovo that have been agreed upon.

In order to achieve all the aforementioned, it is necessary to reach a higher level of cooperation between the UNMIK and the FRY and the Republic of Serbia, as well as an enhanced coordination among the parties in solving numerous problems in Kosovo, with mutual respect among both parties. It is particularly important to organize municipal elections in the autumn of 2002, in cooperation with the OSCE and UNMIK.

In regard to the regional security, it is absolutely crucial to establish full coordination and synchronization of the activities of all international missions in Yugoslavia, including both the missions in Belgrade and in Pristina, with the international missions in Macedonia and Albania.

The FRY and RS authorities are committed to full cooperation and support to newly-appointed Special Representative of the UN Secretary General, Mr. Michael Steiner, in the implementation of the Resolution and the Common Document.

We should use our joint efforts to unblock the process of the establishment of provisional institutions of self-government in Kosovo, with an objective to form a genuinely multiethnic government that would provide equal treatment to all ethnic communities. It is necessary to establish a dialogue between the representatives of all ethnic communities, with the presence of the UNMIK and FRY, which would provide mutual guarantees for the freedom of movement, security, return of displaced persons and refugees, property security and a sincere commitment to the building of a multi-ethnic Kosovo, without any prejudging of the final status.

It is also very important to ensure stability and peace in Macedonia, and to preserve its territorial integrity and sovereignty. It is therefore necessary to carry out a full implementation of the Ohrid Agreement, to extend the mandate of the NATO forces beyond March 26, to withdraw the "Lions" special units back to the garrison barracks and train them with the assistance of the OSCE and other international organisations specialists, to pass the amnesty law that would include time limits for disarmament and moving out from the illegally usurped estates, to organize elections, to ensure border and cross-border security that should be viewed in the regional context, and in light of the multi-ethnic crime and terrorism prevention. We should apply a regional approach to all problems originating from the use of violence.

Quite certainly we would have not achieved the results we have in the Southern Serbia and Kosovo without the help of the international community. We therefore need your continued sincere help and support in the projects for: the return of the Serbs and other non-Albanians, establishment of security and freedom of movement, multiethnic police, media reforms, permanent mechanism for monitoring the implementation of the Plan, establishment of an independent judiciary, battle against corruption and crime, battle against all forms of violence, economic stabilisation, establishment of the rule of law and judiciary as preconditions for the development of the economy and enhanced investments.

Lastly, I would like to emphasize the only way to accomplish the aforementioned objectives will be through an enhanced and sincere cooperation between the FRY and UNMIK, with mutual respect and in partnership in finding solution to the problems in Kosovo and thereby in the region as a whole.