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Russia, Serbia Oppose UN Chief's Plan to Diminish UN's Kosovo Presence

By Margaret Besheer
United Nations
20 June 2008

Divisions within the U.N. Security Council on the subject of Kosovo were apparent yet again on Friday, when the secretary-general spoke about his plan to transfer some responsibilities from the U.N. mission in Pristina to the European Union. Serbia, and its powerful ally Russia, have rejected the U.N. chief's plan, but the United States, Britain and France support it. From United Nation's headquarters in New York, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council that following Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia in February and the entry into force last Sunday of its constitution, the U.N. mission's ability to operate there has come into serious question. The mission is known by its acronym UNMIK.

"I intend to adjust operational aspects of the international civilian presence in Kosovo and to reconfigure the profile and structure of UNMIK," he said.

His plan includes allowing the European Union to gradually assume increasing operational responsibilities in the areas of international policing, justice and customs throughout Kosovo.

Saying there is no ideal solution, Mr. Ban defended his proposal as the "least objectionable" and one that was arrived at after lengthy consultations with the parties and other stakeholders.

Kosovo has been under U.N. administration since 1999, when NATO air strikes halted a Serbian crackdown on ethnic Albanians in what had long been a province of Serbia.

Kosovo's President Fatmir Sejdiu welcomed the secretary-general's initiative.

"I would like to assure the secretary-general that he will have the on-going support and cooperation of Kosovo as he moves forward with this initiative," he said.

Not surprisingly, Serbian President Boris Tadic said Belgrade cannot endorse the secretary-general's proposal, nor will it ever recognize Kosovo's independence.

"Only the Security Council can bring a decision to reconfigure the situation," he said. "The Security Council is the only institution endowed with the power to [enact] legitimate changes in the composition of the international presence in Kosovo."

Russia, Serbia's ally and a veto-wielding Security Council member, picked apart the secretary-general's proposal paragraph-by-paragraph. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin insisted if the secretary-general does not get approval for his plan in the council, it would be a violation of both the U.N. resolution that established UNMIK and of the U.N. Charter.

"We made it absolutely clear that this kind of reconfiguration cannot take place without the decision of the Security Council," he said. "It is also the position of Belgrade, but it is certainly our position. We think that should there be attempts to do this reconfiguration outside the Security Council, without the express consent of the Security Council, that would run contrary to [U.N. resolution] 1244 and to the U.N. Charter for that matter."

But U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said the secretary-general does have the authority to act.

"The United States believes the secretary-general has the discretion to reconfigure UNMIK and we support the initiative he has taken to do so," he said. "The United States has some concerns about this initiative, but on balance, this initiative may prove to be the most practical way forward."

Secretary-General Ban made clear the complexity and strong emotions tied to the Kosovo issue, when he told the 15-member council that in almost 40 years of diplomatic life he has never encountered an issue as divisive, as delicate and as intractable.

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