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BALKANS > Ban urges dialogue for tension in north Kosovo

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UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expresses concern over the tense situation in Kosovo’s north, mostly populated by Serbs. Ban urges dialogue to resolve ‘sensitive and complex issues related to northern Kosovo’

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UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (2 L) visits the Sinan Pasha mosque in the town of Prizren, Kosovo, in this photo. EPA photo

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (2 L) visits the Sinan Pasha mosque in the town of Prizren, Kosovo, in this photo. EPA photo

Ban Ki-moon said he was worried about rising tensions in Serb-majority northern Kosovo, during the first visit by a U.N. chief to the territory since it declared independence in 2008.

“I remain concerned about the situation in north Kosovo and the escalation of tension during the last year,” Ban told reporters at Pristina airport in the recent visit.

“It is essential that sensitive and complex issues related to the north of Kosovo be resolved through peaceful dialogue.” Over the past year tension has run high in northern Kosovo, which has a majority Serb population, Agence France-Presse reported.

The divided flashpoint city of Mitrovica has seen violent clashes as local Serbs refuse to recognize the ethnic Albanian government in Pristina and there has also been unrest on border crossings between Kosovo and Serbia where U.N. troops have stepped in to calm the situation. Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008 in a move recognized by around 90 countries including the United States and most European Union members, but rejected by Belgrade.

Serbia is encouraging the some 120,000 Kosovo Serbs to defy the ethnic Albanian authorities in Pristina. Since last year Pristina and Belgrade have been engaged in an EU-brokered dialogue aimed at solving some day-to-day issues faced by residents because of Serbia’s refusal to recognize Kosovo’s independence. Ban met Kosovo president Atifete Jahjaga and Prime Minister Hashim Thaci at the airport and said beforehand that he would stress the “crucial importance” of “greater understanding,” as he has been doing throughout the region on his weeklong Balkans tour. “In particular I expect strong efforts toward normalization of the relations with Belgrade including the same serious and sincere commitment to the dialogue which I have asked from the Serbian leadership,” he told reporters on July 24. 

Hailing Ban’s visit to Kosovo as “an extraordinarily important” and even “historic” event for the newly declared state, Thaci conditioned the dialogue with Belgrade on the “implementation of all the agreements that have been reached in Brussels so far.” This “has to happen in advance in order to assess the opportunity to continue the technical dialogue on good neighborly relations and normalization of the inter-state relations between” Pristina and Belgrade, he told reporters after meeting the U.N. secretary general.

Serbia asks UN to respect its sovereignty

To ease Serb fears that Ban’s trip could imply recognition of Pristina’s independence, the United Nations has stressed it is not a state visit but a visit to the U.N. mission in Kosovo.

Asked if the U.N. could play a role in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue after Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic said on July 23 that he wanted a U.N. representative at the talks from now on, but Kosovan leader Thaci dismissed the idea.

“The role of [the U.N. mission to Kosovo] UNMIK belongs to history and the past as the present and future belongs to strengthening the institutions of the republic of Kosovo,” he told reporters.

Nikolic asked Ban to respect Serbian sovereignty over Kosovo in a statement on July 23. Ban met Nikolic during his visit to the country, ahead of his Kosovo visit.

The president had “stressed that the U.N. should play a more active part in the struggle to uphold the principles of international law, territorial integrity and the sovereignty of internationally recognized nations – U.N. members - and to implement and respect resolution 1244 of the U.N. Security Council,” the statement said. 

U.N. resolution 1244, adopted in June 1999 after Serb troops withdrew from Kosovo, authorizes the deployment of a military and civilian peacekeeping mission in the territory.

But while providing for substantial autonomy for Pristina, it also recognizes Belgrade’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, leaving the question of Kosovo’s final status to a later date.

July/26/2012

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