by Dr. Nebojsa Covic
Chairman, Your Excellencies,
The Kosovo and Metohia Multiethnic Assembly has been formed; the Government has been elected; while members of the Serbian national community have been appointed to the positions of the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Development, High Councilor in the Office for Return and Communities of the Special Representative of the Secretary General, as well as the Inter-Ministerial Coordinator for Return within the Office of the Premier of Kosovo and Metohia.
Furthermore, an agreement on appointing judges and public prosecutors has been reached, the Memorandum of Understanding Concerning Police Cooperation has been signed, as well as the Technical Agreement between UNMIK and the Serbian Railway, and the Protocol Concerning the Movement of Registered Vehicles. With the goal of making an honest dialogue possible, the Serbian side responded positively in the exchange of cultural treasures by handing over the 6,000 years old figurine "Goddess on the throne" to the SRSG.
The UNMIK and KFOR operations take place under very complex circumstances, which is precisely why their efforts and results deserve particular praise and respect. I would like to emphasize that the exceptional level of cooperation with Mr. Steiner, to whom I continue to give my full support, is contributing to the process of building confidence and mutual understanding between UNMIK and KFOR, on the one side, and FRY and RS, on the other.
The process of cooperation is slowly moving forward, but there are many things that still need to be done in order to create the conditions for building civil society in Kosovo and Metohia. Its full democratization necessitates not only time, but also the support of the international community and all the progressive forces within Kosovo and Metohia, along with the full cooperation with the democratic leadership in Belgrade.
Our principles are unambiguous: to build a multiethnic society in Kosovo and Metohia with full respect and implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution 1244, the Constitutional Framework, and the Joint Document FRY - UNMIK. The Serbian and the Albanian people, despite their changing roles in the past, must achieve reconciliation and make an effort in creating and sustaining conditions for the implementation of multiethnic, multicultural and multi-confessional principles.
The reality in Kosovo and Metohia obliges me to share with you some very disturbing facts: the deployed international peacekeeping forces, members of the international police task force and UN administration in Kosovo and Metohia are still incapable of preventing the violations of basic human rights. The remaining non-Albanian population and the few returnees to Kosovo and Metohia continue to be subjected to terror, murders and robberies on a daily basis.
Ladies and Gentlemen, let me remind you of my expose of April 24, 2002, at this very place, when I presented to you the Principles of the Program for the Return of Internally Displaced Persons from Kosovo and Metohia. On May 25, 2002, UNMIK Administration produced their Concept of Rights to Sustainable Return.
Both documents are based on the conviction that return is a voluntary act; that everybody has the right to return to his or her home across Kosovo and Metohia; that return also has to begin in urban areas; that the provisional institutions of the local self-government must direct considerable budgetary funds towards return and reintegration; and, above all, that return has to be made sustainable by the fulfillment of basic preconditions of personal and professional safety, freedom of movement and realization of property rights. Despite the indisputable uniformity of principles and goals that were presented in both documents, the process of return unfortunately remains more of a dead letter in writing than an action realized in the field.
It has been three years since the massive expulsion of Serbs and other non-Albanian population (280,000 people) from Kosovo and Metohia, and this process has in smaller proportions continued up to the present day. The patience of the displaced persons has been exhausted, which is why the realization of planned and organized return must be handled in a determined manner, without denying the right of individual return either.
The UNHCR report quotes the numbers of displaced persons who have returned to the area of Kosovo and Metohia in the period from 2000 - 2001 - 2002 as: 2,888 Serbs, 384 Romas, 769 Egyptians, 74 Bosniaks, 31 Gorans and 59 Albanians, which makes a total of 4,205 individuals. What the report fails to show is how many returnees came back to Central Serbia and Montenegro, after they were unable to get their previously held jobs. There are no Serbs left in public services, industry, agricultural farms or the system of electric power supply, which is currently also suffering the consequences of an accident which took place in mid July in the Thermoelectric Power Plant Kosovo B. By and large, those were the cases of spontaneous return to the predominantly Serbian communities, and in most of these cases, the participation of the international community was reduced to the mere organization of escort and transport services. According to the report made by our Ministry of Refugees, during the year 2001, the Ministry received 10,000 new applications for the ID cards for internally displaced persons, and the same trend has continued in this year as well, which means that even with the return of a limited number of Serbs, their expulsion from Kosovo and Metohia continues.
Ladies and Gentlemen, if we do not most urgently grasp the seriousness of this moment, as well as the difficult situation and vital conditions of the displaced persons, and if we fail to take decisive measures towards fulfilling the program of their return, the international community will have to bear the heavy responsibility of neglecting basic human rights.
The fact of the matter is that the Serbs have become a minority in one part of their territory and that they are deprived of their basic human rights in Kosovo and Metohija. Nobody disputes the right of the states in the region to look after their communities in the neighboring countries, while at the same time, our country is deprived of that right in the part of its own territory.
Examining the destinies of abducted and missing persons, the Coordination Center has collected eyewitness accounts and information on over 250 kidnappers, who would be able to shed light upon the destiny of 74 abducted citizens. This information has been submitted on more than one occasion to the international security forces and the investigators of The Hague Tribunal, but up to now, no action has been taken, and no arrests of kidnappers have been made.
The true international reconciliation will be possible only if and when all crimes suspects, regardless of their nationality or current position, are brought to justice. We owe this both to the innocent victims and the coming generations, who ought to be stepping into the future without a heavy burden from the past. The Government of the Republic of Serbia has taken initial steps towards fulfilling its obligations related to this matter. So far, we have initiated court proceedings against a number of individuals charged for crimes and violence committed in Kosovo and Metohia, or against Kosmet Albanians, since 1999. A number of those individuals are now serving their sentence in prison. This process will continue, under all circumstances, but we are also inviting the authorities in Kosovo and Metohia to fulfill their obligations in this respect.
Furthermore, it is necessary to respect the deadline of December 31, 2002, to investigate all the graves in Kosovo and Metohia and resolve the destinies of 4,000 missing persons from all communities.
In order to create the necessary conditions for a multiethnic Kosovo and Metohia, the international community has to show the same degree of determination as it did in the implementation of the Ohrid Agreement in Macedonia, and to implement all the mechanisms of pressure which are at its disposal. That would guarantee the actual implementation of principles of impartiality and equality before law, equal employment in public services and state enterprises, as well as rights to receive business development funds.
The economic aid from the international community is often not to be found at the right place and in the right time. An economic revival of production and exchange, new employment opportunities as well as the stimulation and engagement of the experts who used to live in this area, rather then the employment of foreign workers, would be an additional guarantee for the multiethnic character of Kosovo and Metohia. The shortage of multiethnic experts can be best exemplified by the fact that the Thermoelectric Power Plants A and B received $120,000,000 worth of investments from he UN Administration as part of the revitalization process in the period 1999-2000-2001, but the production in 2001 was almost 40% lower than in the period up to 1991. (Up to 1991, the production of electric power was 4,1 million kWh per annum, whereas after the revitalization, it dropped to 2,7 million kWh per annum). Experts and analysts may discuss the future status of Kosovo and Metohia as well as its degree of autonomy, but politicians should take into consideration the stability of the region and should reach the decision on the final status only after a truly multiethnic society has been established in Kosovo and Metohia. What should be addressed in this moment are the basic and vital issues of vulnerable groups, poverty, social and environmental problems. Security and freedom of movement, based on the unique criteria of the OSCE, the Council of Europe and received world standards, are necessary for the economic sustainability of Kosovo and Metohija.
The pacification of the region of Kosovo and Metohia shall be in vain, if mountain passes in Kosovo and Metohia continue to be used as passageways for new supplies of modern and sophisticated weaponry. One of our priorities is compliance with Article 2 of Chapter 8 of the Constitutional Framework for Self-Government in Kosovo and Metohia, which stipulates that the international peacekeeping troops should exercise their duty of monitoring the border, regulating arm possession and providing public law and order.
The way we understand demilitarization, and the way we believe the international community understands it, does not imply that new national armies ought to be created in the region. The existing Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC) should completely and fully adjust their function to their stipulated duties. If it is possible for the members of the former warring parties in Bosnia and Herzegovina to participate today in joint peacekeeping operations in the world, then it should be possible in our case as well. We will approach this goal much faster if we are given a chance to cooperate on security issues through the program Partnership for Peace and other forms of security liaisons in Southeastern Europe. In the realm of individual and property security, police task forces need to reflect the composition and distribution of population in the municipalities, as well as equal representation in courts.
What is seen as parallel structures in Kosovska Mitrovica should be carefully reexamined, but the administration of the city should also be elected with an equal attention, and measures ought to be taken to open the perspectives for joint life in that environment. During migrations, Serbs have always gravitated towards urban centers, which is why Kosovska Mitrovica is so important to them. In those few cities which are still inhabited by the Serbs, they occupy but a few buildings, in which children play behind "locked doors," since the streets are too dangerous places for them. Kosovska Mitrovica, as a center of their education, health services and economic links with other parts of Serbia is therefore of vital importance for their survival. The local population in Mitrovica should take over the responsibility in those areas in which language and religious reasons may present an obstacle (local self-government, health services and education). This is not an attempt at dividing a city. Local communities on the other side of the world have similar rights and obligations.
The local population in Mitrovica should also take over the responsibility of their own safety. Taking into consideration our contacts with the representatives of the Institute for Peace and the International Crisis Group, as well as my active dialogue with Mr. Steiner, we believe that the condition for the creation of a positive climate in the process of integration is, above all, the demystification of bridge watchers as well as their inclusion in KPS, upon their completion of necessary tests and training. Here I quote: "Except for the passers-by and busy citizens of Kosovska Mitrovica, a while ago the majority of people on the bridge used to be homeless beggars. When I was studying for one of my last exams at the Faculty of Civil Engineering, my mother would tell me: 'Keep studying, my son, so that you don't end up on the bridge.' Today, I am one of the bridge watchers." This is one statement, one of the many.
Ladies and Gentlemen, a deep gap of distrust divides the Serbian and Albanian people today, but they need to answer the questions whether the contradictions between them are unbridgeable and whether joint actions can be accomplished under the conditions of an economically backward society.
These questions are of a particular importance in this moment when local elections in Kosovo and Metohia are approaching. In these elections, Albanians should demonstrate that their goal is a tolerant society and safe coexistence of all ethnic communities. I expect the international community to exercise its rights and dispute the participation in the elections to those parties without a clearly defined democratic orientation.
In the realm of information, it is necessary to give the minorities a presence in public electronic media, and not only in special programs. Paragraph 4 of Chapter 5 of the Constitutional Framework, which stipulates the prevention of defamation and hate speech in Kosovo media, should be respected. This condition is vital in view of the forthcoming elections.
Political and security stability in Kosovo and Metohia requires the formation of stable institutions. The establishment and strengthening of the local democracy is a precondition for the accomplishment of this goal. The decentralization of power, which is now centralized in Kosovo and Metohia at the level of UNMIK, i.e. the creation of conditions for building the institutions of local, communal and regional self-government is an issue of vital importance. The process of power transfer, taking into consideration all the relevant documents, and, above all, the Security Council Resolution 1244, Constitutional Framework for the Provisional Government in Kosovo and Metohia, and the Joint Document FRY - UNMIK, will promote general and local democratization, as well as raising the awareness of individual and communal responsibilities. In order to accomplish decentralization efficiently, it is necessary to provide convincing security, political, economic and cultural guarantees for the Serbs, as well as Albanians and other national communities in Kosovo and Metohia.
Mr. Chairman, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you very much for you patience.