Testimony by Valery Percival before the US Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission) on Ethnic Harmony in Kosovo
O-CHAIRMAN SMITH: Good morning and welcome to this hearing on the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. And I want to thank all of you in advance for being here, especially our very distinguished panel of witnesses.
Beginning just over a decade ago, ethnic cleansing was in full swing in various parts of the former Yugoslavia. At that time and continuing for most of the 1990s, international efforts focus on how to stop the displacement of millions of people. As various phases of the conflict were brought to an end through a mixture of intervention and negotiation, the latter half of the decade and still today our efforts have concentrated on reversing the ethnic cleansing by giving the displaced an opportunity to return to their original, pre-war homes. This has been a challenge and a source of great frustration in Croatia, in Bosnia and in Kosovo.
Kosovo, in fact, appears to be almost unresolvable. If there is any chance for the various ethnic communities in Kosovo to integrate, were it necessary, and at least tolerate each other. The UNHCR and the OSCE report that the security situation for minority communities may have improved somewhat in recent years, but is it that things have really improved or is it because fewer people are willing -- not going to attack, or are those who remain simply more careful about stepping out of the enclaves in which they must confine themselves? Given the situation for minorities in Kosovo, what are the prospects for those still displaced from their homes outside of Kosovo? Finally, what about the city divided by ethnic hatred: Mitrovica; is that division here to stay?
We hope to get some answers and insights to these questions from our very distinguished panel of witnesses who are here this morning. However, even given the obstacles to return in ethnic harmony in Kosovo, I believe that the situation today is not unresolvable. Ladies and gentlemen, it is intolerable. The biggest mistake the international community could therefore make would be to conclude that the president situation is the best that we can hope for. Instead, we would respectfully suggest the international community must be determined to resolve this outstanding issue. And those in leadership positions within Kosovo have the responsibility to do likewise.
To the Kosovar-Albanians, I am well aware of the repression and the hardship -- and this commission has been following this for many, many years -- that you have faced, especially during the brutal regime and rein of Slobodan Milosevic. The best response for yourselves, as well as for many innocent Serbs, Roma and others from Kosovo, however, is to demonstrate that you are different from Milosevic's murderous visions and minions. Vandalizing or bombing churches is not just wrong, it should also be beneath the dignity of any Albanian who had to suffer under the Milosevic regime. Revenge is not justice. The ethnic diversity of Kosovo must be tolerated.
For those belonging to minority communities, whether in the enclaves or displaced, you, too, have not been forgotten. Your willingness to cooperate in last year's elections and the subsequent formation of democratic institutions, places the burden on the majority to let you participate, and participate meaningfully.
To those in Belgrade, your expressions of concern about caring for the many displaced are being heard. As the international community works with you to resolve this problem, however, there needs to be full cooperation in all aspects of the recovery from the damage that has been done by Milosevic during those brutal years. This includes cooperating fully with the tribunal in The Hague, which we view as linked to the long-term stability of the region.
In the meantime, I believe we must all realize that hundreds of thousands of innocent people are needlessly suffering in Southeastern Europe. Many became victims of traffickers and other criminal elements that thrive on instability. Ultimately, the crime and corruption takes its toll on everyone. And the only way to change things is to work together. I hope we come away from this hearing with a greater expectation that leaders will reach across ethnic divides and do so as quickly as humanly possible.
First, I'd like to recognize our panel and ask them if they would make a presentation this morning. First on our panel this morning are two representatives from the newly established parliament in Kosovo: Alush Gashi, from the political party of Kosovo's president, Rugova, and has, in fact, been a foreign policy adviser to the president. Dr. Gashi has been a witness at previous commission hearings and briefings, and we welcome him back.
Rada Trajkovic is a leader of the Serb coalition within the Parliament and a leader among the Serb community in Kosovo. As fellow parliamentarians, we welcome you to this hearing.
Next we will hear from Valerie Percival, the field representativein Kosovo for the International Crisis Group, or the ICG. She and the ICG have played a critical role in reporting what is happening in many of the problem areas around the globe and in advocating proper policy responses to these problems.
And finally, we will hear from Nebojsa Covic, the deputy prime minister of Serbia, who has the responsibility of representing Belgrade regarding this situation in Kosovo and southern Serbia. Dr. Covic has also participated in previous commission hearings, and we are pleased to have him here with us today, as well.
I'd like to now ask Ms. Percival if she would provide her testimony.
PERCIVAL: Thank you. It is an honor to appear before you this morning and share the analysis of the International Crisis Group on the situation in Kosovo. ICG recently released a report entitled "UNMIK's Albatross: Tackling Division in Mitrovica." This morning I will provide you with some background information on how this city came to be divided, and outline the recommendations in the report.
PERCIVAL: Mitrovica, as I'm sure you are all aware, is a city in the north of Kosovo that is split in two by the Ibar River. In the summer of 1999, the river became a line of separation between the Albanian-dominated south and the Serb-dominated north. This division was the result of several factors, including attacks by Albanian extremists against the Serb population, the deliberate policy of Belgrade to establish a de facto partition of Kosovo, the failure of KFOR to take sufficient measures to control the city, and the inability of UNMIK to assert their authority in the north.
Political leaders in Mitrovica north formed the Bridgewatchers, a group of young men whose ostensible purpose was to protect the north from extremist attacks. The Bridgewatchers are financed through support from Belgrade, extortion of the local population and the proceeds of organized crime. They hold the average citizen in the north hostage by threatening those Serbs who wish to work or cooperate with international communities, preventing UNMIK from providing effective services, intimidating and extorting the average citizen and creating a climate of criminality and impunity.
As a result of this division and the activities of the Bridgewatchers, Mitrovica has become a frequent flash point for confrontation and a source of instability. Early in February 2000, a rocket-propelled grenade attack on an UNHCR bus carrying Serbs near Mitrovica killed three and wounded many more. In the revenge attacks that ensued, 10 Albanians were killed in Mitrovica north.
In February 2001, the murder of an Albanian youth led to attacks on French KFOR by the Albanians. This was followed by the bombing of the Nic (ph) Express, the worst single attack against the Serb community in Kosovo.
In April of this year a routine traffic check in north Mitrovica escalated into an armed assault by the Bridgewatchers on UNMIK police officers which wounded 22. This was the worst act of violence against UNMIK personnel since the inception of the mission. Despite clear video evidence that identifies the perpetrators of this attack, no one has been arrested, which reinforces the impression that a climate of impunity exists in north Mitrovica.
In our report we highlight that the situation in Mitrovica is not sustainable. It destabilizes Kosovo as it plays on Albanian fears of partition. It maintains a climate of fear and instability for the Serb population. It also undermines the success of the U.N. and KFOR missions in Kosovo and the efforts of the international community more generally. A safe and secure environment, the rule of law, and a meaningful civil administration have not yet been established in the north of the city.
However, we also underline that the situation is not intractable. Solutions can be found. In our report we advocate a multi-track approach, with four interrelated elements. No single initiative will be successful on its own. This approach is guided by the principles of full implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1244, the need to maintain unity of the Mitrovica municipality, and the importance of taking the Serb concerns seriously.
The first element of this approach in international pressure on Belgrade. The evidence presented in our paper shows that the actions of Belgrade work to destabilize the north. Among some political circles in Belgrade, there's a deliberate strategy to partition Kosovo, with the northern three municipalities and north Mitrovica remaining part of Serbia. This strategy underlines Belgrade's demand that UNMIK create a separate municipality in the north of the city, and its continued support of parallel structures.
ICG has received evidence that the Bridgewatchers are employees of the Serbian interior ministry. Other illegal parallel institutions exist. The MUP arrests people and tries them in Serbian courts, and Kosovo Telecom was recently replaced by Serbian Telecom in the north. As a result of these activities, UNMIK is not able to fully implement its mandate.
Nationalist policies advocated by Belgrade not only affect the ability of UNMIK to implement its mandate fully, these policies also damage the interest of Kosovo's Serbs. They affect their ability to receive services from the international community and UNMIK and they impact on the security situation of minorities in the rest of Kosovo.
The international community must take the problem of Mitrovica more seriously, and should view Belgrade's cooperation to destabilizing the city as a clear violation of U.N. Security Resolution 1244.
UNMIK and KFOR will only succeed in fulfilling their mandate when Belgrade cooperates and implements its commitments in good faith.
Unfortunately, this cooperation does not appear to be forthcoming without serious international pressure. The international community should send a clear message to Belgrade that partition is not a final status option, that UNMIK will not accept a separate municipality, and that Belgrade must dissolve parallel structures, accept UNMIK's authority, including the Kosovo police service, and cease negative interference in Mitrovica.
Countries such as the United States can ensure that Belgrade implements its commitments by applying pressure equivalent to that used to secure cooperation with the Hague tribunal. The FRY, or its successor under the Serbia-Montenegro agreement, should be denied membership in the council or Europe and NATO's Partnership for Peace, and a stabilization and association agreement should not be signed until Belgrade clearly cuts support for parallel structures and cooperates with UNMIK's efforts to establish civil administration in the province.
The second element that we recommend is the rule of law and a safe and secure environment. A safe and secure environment does not exist in the north of the city. The 8th of April attack against UNMIK police shows that weapons, and the willingness to use them, are readily available. Security is impeded by the existence of the Bridgewatchers, the failure to secure the presence of the Kosovo police service, and the continuing poor coordination with KFOR.
The role of KFOR in establishing a safe and secure environment is crucial. KFOR should oversee the dissolution of parallel structures and monitor the boundary between Serbia and Kosovo, and ensure security for UNMIK officials.
French KFOR inherited the most difficult operating environment in all of Kosovo. As a result of this difficult environment, and because of accusations that they have not taken sufficiently robust measures in the north, ICG recommends that they should be rotated out of north Mitrovica with the upcoming force rationalization process.
PERCIVAL: The police, with the assistance of KFOR, should arrest members of the Serb Bridgewatchers where sufficient evidence of criminal activity exists, and undertake a crackdown on general criminal activity in the north.
The third element is establishing administration in the north. Serbs that live in north Mitrovica currently lack adequate services. They must be guaranteed that they will receive such services in an equitable and efficient manner, and that they will have a say in how these services are provided through elected municipal representatives.
The effort by the United Nations to establish their Local Community Office, which is an UNMIK municipal-level office charged with ensuring that the needs of minorities are met, have largely failed in the north of the city. The office remains a shell. Potential Serb employees have been threatened, and demonstrations against the office are a frequent occurrence.
Therefore we recommend that a specially administered area be established in the north, and service agreements should be developed between north Mitrovica and the municipality that outlines the services to provided and the terms of that provision. This would ensure that the rhetoric of the municipality, which has been quite positive, is turned into action, and would enable the international community to monitor the delivery of services to ensure that Serbs are treated as equal citizens.
And the fourth element is the transparency of UNMIK. The United Nations Mission in Kosovo has made great progress in bringing order and stability as well as forming autonomous institutions of self- government. But Mitrovica north remains a black mark on UNMIK's progress. Parallel structures still exist. Few Bridgewatchers have been arrested. The foundation of the long-promised, multi-ethnic market in Mitrovica has been poured, but no stalls operate there. The Local Community Office is also not operational. Serbs lack services, democratic institutions at the local level, and economic opportunities.
UNMIK has repeatedly stated that they have a plan for Mitrovica, but will not divulge the details of this plan. Officials cite concerns that if confidential elements of the plan are disclosed, its successful implementation will be affected. However, we argue that UNMIK needs to show that they have a vision for the north. Without disclosing the operationally sensitive aspects of their strategy, UNMIK needs to demonstrate leadership and commitment to fulfill their mandate.
In closing, we would like to emphasis that the real victims of the situation in north Mitrovica are the local Serb communities. They have no elected local-level representation. Most are unable to access services from UNMIK, receive sporadic and poor-quality services from the parallel structures, and continue to live in an insecure environment, where a climate of impunity reigns. Belgrade officials use these individuals as a pawn in a political game for their own personal and political benefit. Thank you.
SMITH: Thank you very much for your testimony.
And all of your testimonies, I think, have painted a very complex and very difficult situation in Kosovo. The extremism which all of you have spoken about and against, I think, underscores just the ongoing challenge to KFOR and UNMIK.
And, you know, Dr. Covic, you mentioned the 1,300 kidnapped that have -- for whom there has been no accounting, as well as the over 1,100 people who have been killed on their doorsteps.
I wonder if, Ms. Percival, you might speak to how well or poorly UNMIK and KFOR is doing with regard to these missing persons?
Let me also just point, Dr. Covic, that I think it's significant that this year -- as a matter of fact, I will be chairing a hearing at 1 o'clock, and especially the parliamentarians who may be interested, it's on this ongoing scourge of modern-day slavery called trafficking in human persons, which you are all very familiar with. It will be at 2172 over in the Rayburn Building. It's the full International Relations Committee. And we will be reviewing the most recent State Department report, Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000. This is the report that has just been put out.
And I think it's significant to point out that Albania is a tier- two country. It has a significant problem, but it is making significant efforts to try to overcome it. And significantly this year, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia dropped from tier three -- in other words, egregious violator and not doing anything to stop it -- to tier two, where there still is a problem, but Serbia is now making, based on our analysis, a significant effort to mitigate and hopefully end this egregious practice against women and boys and men.
And it does make some very disturbing -- or comments about Kosovo. It points out that UNMIK is aware of the serious problem that exists in Kosovo concerning trafficking and is working to conduct anti-trafficking efforts. I want to ask the panel if you would comment on that, as to whether or not those efforts are having or bearing any fruit. Are they yielding any results in prosecuting and ending this terrible practice of trafficking?
But, Ms. Percival, if you could start off -- and all of you, if I could.
And I'll just put this out as a final question. Dr. Gashi, you pointed out this issue of parallel institutions and how injurious and destructive it is in creating a tolerant, multi-ethnic based Kosovo going forward.
Ms. Percival, you pointed out that it's so important that you think that funding should be withheld until that is achieved.
And, Dr. Covic, you pointed out, you know, in your comments some of the ongoing problems, as you perceive it, against ethnic Serbs in Kosovo.
SMITH: How do we end this parallel institutions practice as quickly as possible? Because otherwise, that'll just perpetuate the extremism. And there will never be a bridge or a bond.
So, Ms. Percival, if you could begin.
PERCIVAL: In terms of the missing persons, both on the Serb side as well as the Albanian side, I'd like to also point out that there are about 3,000 missing Albanians, as well as some missing Serbs. And there are, sort of, three purposes to UNMIK police efforts. The first is for war crimes prosecution. The second is for ethnically motivated violence prosecutions. And then the third, and probably most important, is to put to rest the continuing hope, to try and put the families' minds at ease. And this is very trying.
UNMIK police are continuing their exhumations. The activities of ICTY in Kosovo have completed. There are a number of challenges to these efforts.
The first is cooperation between UNMIK and ICTY. ICTY had many exhumation teams, and they were all different nationalities. And getting all of these different nationalities to work together and put the evidence in a database that's easily accessible by UNMIK is a bit difficult. Another impediment is the quick rotation of some UNMIK personnel in the police department.
But there are efforts that are being made. This summer the exhumations are continuing. I think that it is a priority of UNMIK and also of ICTY. So efforts are being made.
COVIC (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Allow me only to comment, because I always prefer, when we are quoting figures, to quote them properly, precisely and specifically. Thus I would only comment that actually as regards the number, the total number of the missing and abducted citizens of our country, the right figure is 4,100 citizens of our country, out of whom the number of missing and kidnapped ethnic Albanians is 2,600, and 1,500 are missing and kidnapped Serbs and other non-Albanians, and 1,300 are Serbs, 1,500 are all other nations, excluding ethnic Albanians; 1,300 are Serbs.
Now venturing also to comment on the exhumations of the mass graves, I must underline that as regards Belgrade or Belgrade authorities, all the mass graves in the territory of Serbia proper or central Serbia have so far been exhumated and the identifications also have been carried out. And I must underscore that Serbia is the only in the region that has so far undertaken the exhumations of the mass graves in its territory. And additionally, there is also under the process the exhumating of the last remaining mass grave in the territory of Batajnica district in the capital in Belgrade.
Unfortunately, as regards the territory of Kosovo and Metohia, nothing has been exhumated, or better, more precisely to say, as regards the exhumations of the mass graves, so far result which is the identification of seven individuals. Naturally, I would like to underline that this is a very difficult, hard job, and that this is the job of the UNMIK (inaudible) and that certainly it is not for any crisis groups to deal with it.
I would also like to add that in cooperation, based on the agreement with the International Commission for the Missing Persons, Belgrade has just received the necessary equipment for the DNA analysis, which will start being carried out soon, quite soon; naturally, only once this equipment comes to Belgrade. And the method of work that we are going to ply shall be based on the coded samples, in line with the general practice in the network that is helped -- supported by the International Commission for the Missing Persons, which covers -- it's centered in Zagreb, Sarajevo and Tuzla.
COVIC (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Now, as regards to traffic (inaudible) slavery, Congressman, Mr. Smith, we appreciate much what you have done with us with the presented material. And must say that the legislation covering -- addressing these very important issue is currently in our assembly procedure. And we regard that it is of utmost importance to stop also this sort of crime in our area, because it is so strongly present.
And additionally, allow me also to underline that it is not trafficking only with white slavery, but what we also have to face is the trafficking in human organs.
Now referring to the finding of the (inaudible) instructions and suggestions, you could also hear from my statement that I'm deeply concerned with the situation in Kosovska Mitrovica. However, I must underline that it is certainly not reasonable to regard that Kosovska Mitrovica is the single, only unique problem throughout the territory of Kosovo and Metohia. Therefore, I'm afraid that those who would think, following these lines, that it is the only problem actually, could come to a conclusion or could generate the impression that the problem exists only in those areas where Serbs still exist. Which means, consequently to that, that the solution would be if we would have no more Serbs, because without Serbs we would not have any problems.
And I must also say that I am most thankful and appreciate the Albatross report by the crisis group. And I cannot but ask one question: What it is the purpose of the crisis groups? Is it to resolve the crisis or to produce the crisis?
PERCIVAL: May I respond?
SMITH: I know you want to respond, but then I'll go back to Ms. Percival.
GASHI: Yes, of course, it looks like we have a problem with the numbers of missing people. Unfortunately, there are about 4,000 Albanian-Kosovars who are missing and therefore the big number of Serbs who are missing, too. What I really care is that we should work very closely to exhumate and also work very closely to provide the data of the missing people, because that is a factor of the stability in this region.
Regarding sabotage from Belgrade on UNMIK's institutions is investment on parallel institutions. There are villages and cities in Kosovo where Serbs work and walk free in the cities. (inaudible) in Kosovo, (inaudible) is in Kosovo (inaudible) in Kosovo. In Pristina, I see them on daily basis are working.
So what we believe is that leaving them in place and not giving us a chance to help them, as we have discussed at (inaudible) House during last week, to deal with the concrete issues on freedom of movement. As the president of our parliament, Professor Dazi (ph) offered, members of parliament, Albanians and others, are willing to take the same bus with Serbian members of parliament, so they do not need to be escorted by military and police.
We are -- we have asked them to give us their home addresses. Members of Serbian community, parliament of Kosovo, they are living outside Kosovo. We want them to live in Kosovo. We ask them to come to their homes if they have not sell it. They cannot sell one apartment three or four times.
So to bring the psychological insecurity down, they have to demonstrate the will to respect us and work with us. We have worked for one week, (inaudible) facilitators and USIP and good will and very good support of people from State Department to target what are real daily life issue which will change the lives.
Like the education issue. There is no reason to take kids from Pristina to (inaudible) school when there are schools in Pristina. The school -- the houses do exist. So that escort, which is from Pristina going to the enclave, it's no need.
GASHI: We are offering to take both buses together. We are offering our will.
But again, with all improvements, Kosovo still is not the paradise. It's not the honeymoon. It's the place where three years ago genocide took place. But we should not forget the results of international community to establish Kosovo police service for less than three years over 4,000 of policemen which are working very hard, international police on the trafficking and on security. We have to trust KFOR. They are saying that the violence has down-scaled, but we are aware what still has to be done. And last week was very good week to target what is needed to improve life in Kosovo.
SMITH: Dr. Gashi, let me just ask you, Dr. Trajkovic mentioned earlier the destruction of headstones. We heard from Bishop Artemdja a number of times here at the commission. He has witnessed -- been one of our very distinguished witnesses and pointed out that, you know, nuns and others have been attacked. Matter of fact, the Kestin (ph) Institute put out a report on May 31st pointing out that -- and just so I quote it accurately -- "During the Orthodox Easter service on Sunday, May 5th, violence against Orthodox nuns, monks and lay people and Serbian graves continued over the Orthodox Easter season."
What can the parliament -- what can you as a parliamentarian and your colleagues do, especially working in a cooperative way with Serbian members or Kosovars of Serbian ethnicity, do to stop that kind of -- I mean, it just seems to me that the cycle of violence continues when those things occur.
GASHI: Well, there is a strong consensus among overwhelming majority in Kosovo parliament to pass the laws which will ensure and guarantee all human and national rights equal for every citizen of Kosovo. What can we do more than that? I think we have to be much more open to civic society and to really have dynamics of improving human rights in Kosovo for all citizens of Kosovo.
Freedom of movement, of course, is hard for Serbian minority, but also is hard for majority. If we cannot work in our property, in enclaves -- if I cannot go to my home in Bresovica (ph), it's a violation of my right too; that is right to not be able to go in certain towns. So we have to work together more closely and we are willing to.
And I really believe that we should not ignore such a deep progress in such a short time. There are still mass graves not opened and those are in hundreds. So that is not just Albanian problem. It's a problem of citizens of Kosovo.
So I am optimist that we will improve situation for all citizens of Kosovo working together with you.
SMITH: Mr. Trajkovic?
And then Ms. Percival, I think you wanted to respond as well.
TRAJKOVIC (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): As far as return is concerned, the citizens of the village of Kotrivo (ph) forwarded a petition to Mr. Kofi Annan, as UNMIK has informed them they will not be able to return to their homes since the security situation wasn't safe.
Serbs cannot integrate into Kosovo institutions while within those institutions are people who are responsible for crimes against Serbs. That is why I plead with you for your support and help in finding the perpetrators of these criminal acts.
There have been many killings, but we so far not had identified anyone from the Albanian side responsible for this. The recent (ph) situation is just keeping quiet by the Albanian people.
SMITH: Dr. Trajkovic, are you encouraged that The Hague may indict -- at least we hear, may indict criminals in Kosovo any time soon? Are these the people you are talking about that you find it so difficult to work with?
TRAJKOVIC (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): As far as The Hague is concerned, those who committed crimes against Albanians, yes, they are being tried in The Hague. But those that committed crimes against Serbs can be found in Pristina, Kosovo and the institutions of Kosovo.
PERCIVAL: I'd just like to say one thing about the numbers. There is no consensus on the numbers of missing in Kosovo. I have numbers from Aniquiris (ph) that I can quote to you, but I won't bother because it won't do very much good.
In terms of trafficking, we're coming out with a justice report in about a month that outlines three areas: war crimes, ethnically motivated violence, as well as organized crime, which includes a component on trafficking.
I think that UNMIK has taken very good measures. They've established a trafficking in prostitution unit. But one thing remains weak, and that's the witness protection program and the witness relocation program. It's very difficult to relocate people out of Kosovo and they're not really provide with any protection. Witness protection remains a shell. There are no equipment to provide that in courts.
In terms of parallel institutions, I think that this requires extreme acts of courage from both communities to dissolve them. There needs to be a recognition of Kosovo, Albanian institutions of the right of the Serb community to exist in equity in Kosovo. They are equal citizens. Those statements need to happen. And acts like Prime Minister Rexhepi going to Pashpaya (ph) for the Orthodox Easter was an important step in that regard.
In terms of the role of ICG, I don't think that I need to outline for this commission the work of ICG in the Balkans.
PERCIVAL: We provide analysis of conflict and post-conflict situations and outline how to increase stability in these areas. In Kosovo, our program -- our reporting program, in the next few months is going to include a report on returns where we will -- returns and security of community, where we will outline the very precarious situation of minority communities throughout Kosovo.
And, of course, our mandate is not to increase crises, but sometimes we have to say things that people don't want to hear. And that's the role of an organization like ours in efforts to build democratic and transparent institutions in Kosovo.
SMITH: First of all, I just would point out that it has been my experience, and I've been in Congress now 22 years, that human rights organizations are universally hated by those who don't like the news that is brought about an offending government or a policy.
So you're speaking truth to power. And that may be unpopular, but it is absolutely vital. And you are here because this commission respects, not only the work you do, but the wisdom and the counsel that you bring to light for us so that we can analyze and do a better job.
So thank you for being here.
And Dr. Covic, you wanted to respond?
COVIC (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Allow me only to comment on this. Actually, the crisis group's reports are always very valuable. And it is certainly not the question of whether we do like them or do not like them, the question only is whether the figures are right or the figures given are not. And we certainly do always very much appreciate these reports because these reports make our own work much easier.
Now as regards this question of the missing and kidnapped persons and (inaudible) the numbers related to the number of refugees and internally displaced persons, we see that there is no consensus on the figures. But I would say that it is extremely important always to have figures in mind, because precisely the figures or statistics are the only valid measure with which we can measure the results of our work to see how good we are working or if we have failed.
Now as regards to illustrate this, you know that in Gnjilane, for example, there used to live, because there was mentioning of Gnjilane. Once in Gnjilane there were 8,000 Serbs living. Nowadays, there are only 250 Serbs remaining living there, which surely proves how important figures are.
Now also allow me to refer to a couple of items. The first refers to the exhumation of the mass graves. I am really happy that initiatives toward this objective, completing exhumations, have started. And I really do believe that the results shall be achieved in Kosovo and Metohia properly and well. And as regards Belgrade, Belgrade is always going to be constructive in its approach to the exhumations.
And as regards the second item referring to this idea that we've just heard about, actually, a proposal to Serbian representatives to Kosovo assembly given by the representatives of Albanian nationality which implies that Mr. Dazi (ph) and Mr. Rexhepi have offered the Serbian representatives to go on the same bus to the assembly, I think that it is quite a sign of good will, which is quite appreciated and this may be an idea worth thinking about.
Though I am also afraid that taking into consideration that 22 representatives are living on different addresses, it might come to the fact that Mr. Dazi (ph) and Mr. Rexhepi would be all the day long just traveling with Serbs to come to their offices which would leave them without any time to do their job. But anyway, we appreciate such a suggestion and proposal.
COVIC (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): And in conclusion, allow me only to say it is of greatest importance that we relax somewhat our approaches because, allow me to remind you, Mr. Milosevic is no more living in Belgrade.
VOINOVICH: I just have one other -- it's a big question here. There's been an allegation made by Ms. Percival that one of the basic problems in Mitrovica is the fact that the government in Belgrade is meddling in that situation and making it difficult for the local people to get control over the situation.
Dr. Covic has got some recommendations on what he thinks needs to be done in Mitrovica.
Mr. Gashi, I'm sure you have some ideas. But it would seem to me -- first I'd like to have Ms. Percival go into more detail on that and see if there is a disagreement on it.
But the most important issue is, is there some way that the Serbs and the Albanians and the people at this table could come together with UNMIK -- I guess you've got to do it with them -- to figure out what kind of organizational structure will satisfy the respective groups and maybe work out some compromise?
Because we're going to have elections coming up in -- what? -- October, I think, and if the question of how things are going to be done in Mitrovica are up in the air, or in question, it seems to me that you might miss an opportunity with these elections coming up to do something constructive to bring some stability there to that area. So that's the concern I have.
So I think the first one is, is Belgrade involved in making it difficult for some conclusion to be arrived at? And then number two, is there some way that the parties could get together and figure out some way that this could be worked out where people are happy, or relatively happy with a setup so that we can end the bridge watching and all the rest of the stuff that's going on there in Mitrovica?
PERCIVAL: Would you like me to begin?
VOINOVICH: Yes, you're the one that made the statement.
PERCIVAL: The first thing that I'd like to say is that Belgrade is not a united entity. There are some elements in Belgrade that are involved in destabilizing Mitrovica.
The second thing is that our report speaks for itself. We outline quite clearly in the report the role that Belgrade is playing as well as the role the more extreme elements of the Serb population in the north and how there is a lack of cooperation with UNMIK, how they're impeding the operation of UNMIK police and UNMIK institutions in north Mitrovica.
But I think that it's -- in our recommendations what we tried to do was outline and underline the legitimate fears and concerns of the Serb population in the north. Many -- 5,000 Serbs in north Mitrovica are IDPs from the rest of Kosovo and they were expelled from their communities and they fear that the same thing will happen to them in Mitrovica.
And we also tried to recognize the legitimate Albanian fears of partition of the north part of Kosovo to Serbian. It's important to note that Mitrovica north is probably one of the most multi-ethnic city areas in Kosovo. There is a significant Albanian, Bosniac, Roma population there. And so we tried to come up with a solution that would maintain the unity of the municipality while recognizing these legitimate concerns.
And from my discussions with OSCE and UNMIK officials, they are currently in the process of exploring how to do precisely that. How to provide some sort of autonomy for North Mitrovica within the framework of a unified municipality.
VOINOVICH: Prior to the election.
PERCIVAL: Prior to the election, yes, sorry.
I did note that you pointed out -- and I say this to my colleagues in the assembly -- we want to be helpful in a whole host of areas. But one of the most basic and mundane and fundamental is physical plant. And I notice that was part of your discussions.
You pointed out that the OSCE, USAID and NDI should continue their help, but physical facilities are necessary. Of course, the greatest asset of any parliamentarian, hopefully, is his or her mind. But you need word processors. You need office space to reach out to your constituents.
The more specific the assembly can be to us -- and perhaps you can be helpful in this as well, Mr. Serwer. We can make requests and then even put a specific appropriation into the appropriate bill to make sure that that physical plant is up and running because that does help facilitate all of the work that they will do. Hopefully, the good work that they will do. So be helpful in that.
KURSCH: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I don't want to prolong these discussionions but I would like to just see if there are any recommendations that the panel might give us on promoting practical cooperation between Kosovo and its neighbors without getting bogged down in the recognition issues and the political issues. There are so many problems -- practical problems. They were mentioned this morning. We have the problems of human trafficking, the problems of law and order. We have the lack of any real economic development within Kosovo. And Kosovo can't exist as an island for the foreseeable future. Any comments you might make on this I believe would be most useful.
GASHI: For many of the issues for which we, as the Kosovars are being blamed, those are reserved power of special representative and institutions (ph). So to be successful in this issue, the transfer of power should be speeded up.
KURSCH: Thank you.
TRAJKOVIC (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): In order to be successful, it
would be priority that UNMIK still has the power until the newly elected institutions show that they do work for the benefit of the people. For now, this is not so.
PERCIVAL: For the near future, such cooperation, as Dr. Gashi said, will have to be joint UNMIK-government because of the nature of the reserved powers.
But I think one important thing that happened in the last couple of months is the Kosovo status at the Stability Pact, of which you're intimately aware. And I think that regional mechanisms like that are important for helping the people in Kosovo to look outwards and facilitate cooperative mechanisms with the members. And not just their northern neighbors, neighbors throughout the entire region.
COVIC (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Just as you have said, Kosovo is not an island and it should not be an island. So far we have signed with UNMIK an agreement on cooperation between the Serbian Railways Company and UNMIK railways. We have also signed a protocol on police cooperation. And we also plan to continue with that effort in future in order to harmonize all the activities and homogenize them.
The same applies with the cooperation with the Stability Pact, with the European Union Council of Europe, and quite naturally also with NATO.
COVIC (through translator): Now it is also of great importance to realize and keep in mind that it was for quite long time that our territories were burdened with disintegrational processes. And therefore it is so much the better that right now we are in the integrational processes, which is of greatest importance, because they ought to lead us to a common goal, and we know what the common goal is: the integration with the European Council and European Union, and that is goal that can be achieved only if you go towards on a whole and not in part.
And quite certainly it shall take some more time before the powers -- authorities can be transferred from UNMIK to the local authorities, local citizens and representatives.
SMITH: I want to thank -- I understand that all of you are going to be catching a flight later on this afternoon and need to check out at 1:30. So if you have additional comments, we will make them a part of the record.
Dr. Gashi, I think you...
GASHI: Just one sentence. We welcome your engagement in entire process of democratization of Kosovo. And it's very important that you're witnessing the prosperity of Kosovo and in all the bad things you're going to help us, and together we will improve that.
But just to make it clear that Kosovo is working very hard to integration to Europe, but none of overwhelming majority are not seeing that integration together, and that (inaudible) does not go through Serbia. Kosovars are seeing Kosovo as independent country. They want to take ownership of the future (ph) and secure the human national rights for everyone.
COVIC (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): First of all, also allow me to thank you for organizing this hearing. And I think that this hearing was of greatest use to all of us, and (inaudible) benefit because we had a good opportunity, that we see what are our views, and to watch them from all the perspectives.
And allow me only to say that I would be most happy if we would be all together here the next year, speaking. And that on that opportunity we would be able to state that the returns process has delivered excellent result, that the killings and that abductions have stopped actually, that the ethnical cleansing has been put to an end. And it is only then and thereby that it will be possible for us to state that we have made good results, and that was the objective of this hearing too.
And otherwise we would find ourselves, it would be as finding ourselves again in the similar situation that in '28 (ph) there were some certain things -- references to Milosevic regime, and we know what results we did manage to deliver afterwards.
SMITH: Dr. Covic, thank you very much.
I want to thank all of you for your very, very excellent insights. As Daniel mentioned a moment ago, you know, we -- I wish we did have a magic wand. But hard work, a great deal of hope, prayer and good will certainly can help secure a much better day for Kosovo.
And I look forward to working with my colleagues in the near future. I will be leading a Parliamentary Assembly to Berlin of OSCE Parliamentary Assembly members. And in the not-too-distant future, hopefully your delegation will be there working with us and the other countries of Europe and Canada on mutual reforms and trying to confront the problems that we all face collectively. And I look forward to working with you in the future on that as well.
Thank you for your testimony and your work. Hearing is adjourned.