Mr. President, the most recent Secretary General’s report on UNMIK highlights the challenges to long-term peace and security in Kosovo and the Balkan region. But the report also highlights the successes Kosovo and the region have made, including the September 2nd agreement by Belgrade and Pristina to recognize each other's customs stamps, as well as ongoing cooperation on cultural heritage projects. Despite recent violence caused by the acts of a few extremists, the United States remains optimistic that Kosovo and Serbia can eventually resolve their differences, and that Kosovo will continue to develop the successful institutions of a democratic nation.
I’d like to make four points today.
First, we echo the Secretary-General's call for KFOR to continue its efforts to ensure freedom of movement throughout Kosovo. This Council has affirmed that Kosovo is a single customs space. This is fully in accordance with Security Council Resolution 1244 and was a key point in the Secretary General’s November 2008 report on UNMIK, a report that the Council welcomed in its presidential statement of November 26, 2008. Kosovo therefore has the right to control its borders and uphold rule of law in full cooperation with the international community. It cannot be considered unilateral action for Kosovo to enforce its customs controls. Moreover, Kosovo also coordinated its activities with the international community, including KFOR and EULEX.
Further, Kosovo announced its intent to establish full border and customs functions at the gates after Serbia agreed to recognize the Kosovo customs stamp at the September 2nd dialogue. Kosovo did so in accordance with an operational plan coordinated with EULEX and KFOR. The obstructions to freedom of movement are due to the actions of hard-line Kosovo Serb factions with the support of illegal parallel institutions and, in some cases with the endorsement of Serbian government officials. We call on all actors, including the Serbian government, to cooperate fully with KFOR and EULEX in the immediate removal of the remaining roadblocks, in ensuring proper controls at the borders, and in supporting rule of law through cooperation in the arrests of key criminal suspects. UNMIK can best facilitate these goals by clearly supporting the presence of Kosovo customs officials at the border gates and emphasizing that Kosovo is a single customs space.
We remain deeply concerned by the violence in northern Kosovo during recent months, including: the murder of a Kosovo Police officer on July 26th; attacks on nine KFOR soldiers on September 27th; injuries to 21 KFOR soldiers on November 23rd to 24th; and on November 25th injuries to over 25 KFOR officers, including two wounded by gunfire while attempting to remove roadblocks that obstruct freedom of movement. It is a serious matter that these incidents occurred while Serbian security structures remain illegally deployed in these areas. Members of this Council should be unequivocal in condemning the violence perpetrated against KFOR and in supporting the mission. Just as any attack on UN peacekeepers is unacceptable, so is any attack on KFOR. My government underscores that KFOR's actions have been and continue to be in complete accordance with its mandate under UN Security Council Resolution 1244. We commend KFOR for using minimal force, in self-defense, to de-escalate the situation and we believe that Serbia's request to the Secretary-General for a special investigation into the events of September 27th is unwarranted.
Second, we welcome the progress that has been made in the European Union-facilitated dialogue to date, but note that a long list of critical issues remains unresolved. We commend the government of Serbia for returning to the Dialogue as of November 21st for the seventh meeting, in which the parties agreed on mutual acceptance of university diplomas. And we commend the government of Kosovo for its progress on implementation of prior agreements reached. We call on both sides to demonstrate flexibility as they return to the table tomorrow, November 30th. The European Union continues to have our full support in its facilitation of the Dialogue. It is the primary – indeed, the only – high-level dialogue between the two countries, and should be vigorously supported by all parties.
Third, we would like to comment on some assertions in the Secretary-General's report. For example, the government of Kosovo has substantially increased human and financial resources to support its returnees, even though the number of returnees has decreased. Kosovo’s funding for reintegration of returnees increased ten-fold from 2010 to 2011. Further, the central government increased its coordination with municipalities and has established new mechanisms to better address the needs of returnees. The low number of voluntary returns is not surprising, given difficult economic conditions and still-unresolved property disputes. We also note that many potential returnees have integrated into their new places of residence over the past 12 years. Further, we do not agree with the claim that a government of Kosovo-imposed "embargo" has directly caused the supposed hardship in the Kosovo Serb community. Any denial of access to goods or services is a direct result of actions by northern Kosovo Serbs and their parallel institutions, which severely limited freedom of movement for persons and goods by installing numerous barricades and using threats and acts of violence. Neither KFOR nor the government of Kosovo can be fairly accused of blocking the import of any goods.
My final point, Mr. President, is that the United States fully supports Ambassador Clint Williamson in his new role as lead prosecutor for the international Special Investigative Task Force. The taskforce will continue EULEX's investigation into the allegations set forth in the report of the Council of Europe Special Rapporteur Dick Marty. EULEX’s mandate – as enshrined in Kosovo’s constitution and laws and the EU Joint Action – explicitly provides for EULEX to investigate and prosecute serious crimes, such as those alleged in the Marty report, and to do so independently. Further, neighboring states, including Serbia, have offered the task force their full cooperation. We believe there is, therefore, no need for the Council to interfere with EULEX’s ongoing investigations.
Mr. President, the international community has invested extraordinary time and resources to maintaining peace and security in Kosovo and the Balkan region. The entire region is now on the threshold of fulfilling its Euro-Atlantic aspirations. This opportunity should not be squandered as a result of the actions by a few extremists. In the long-term, the multiethnic communities in Kosovo will bear full responsibility for their own future. They will decide whether their future will be characterized by deadlock and strife or dialogue and cooperation. In the short term, however, the international community must ensure that physical and political barriers do not prevent them from attaining their goals and obtaining their rights. Thank you, Mr. President.