UNMIK chief Harri Holkeri: Work in Kosovo continues

“The process has not come to a halt”, said UN administrator to Kosovo Harri Holkeri at a press conference in Helsinki on Wednesday, 14 April. The recent unrest has kept Holkeri from leaving Kosovo and made his visit to Finland brief.

A relatively positive spell of progress in Kosovo was interrupted on 17 March by a series of violent incidents. A spontaneous reaction to the deaths of three Albanian youth led to a wave of unrest directed at the Serb population in Kosovo. The circle of violence revealed that there are widespread plans among the population to create instability in the region, said Holkeri.

“The violence was a major setback to all our efforts in Kosovo. Rising optimism disappeared instantly and the abhorrence of reality returned. But I don’t want to say that the process has come to a halt”, said Holkeri quickly.

As a result of unrest many Serbs lost their homes, churches were burnt and altogether 19 people were killed. There were numerous injured, among them peacekeepers and representatives of the international police corps.

Although working under tremendous pressure, Holkeri did not show signs of defeat. “This is not the end”, he said. Holkeri himself has been critisised. “Evidently this is also a personal loss”, Holkeri admitted. He has launched an internal investigation within UNMIK to find out how the organisation operated in an extremely difficult situation. “I will perfom my duties as long as so requested by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.”

The lack of a fully unilateral policy by the international community is also a problem, says Holkeri. “The difference of emphasis was evident in the UN Security Council meeting yesterday, but it is clear that the marching order will not be changed: standards before status. That will keep”, Holkeri assured.

There are eight different standards set for the development of Kosovo. Amongst these the most important are securing the functioning of the democratic institutions and enhancing the rule of law. “The Security Council should not, at this stage, start discussing the status of Kosovo. Evil-doers must not be rewarded.”

Holkeri says there are many reasons for the eruption of violence, frustration with the political situation being a major one as the definition of Kosovo’s status will take time. The economic situation is also a cause of frustration. It is not difficult to guess the consequences of mass unemployment among a population whose average age is only 24 years and whose future prospects are bleak.

Holkeri cannot guarantee that further violence will not occur, but the tragedy in March taught something. KFOR troops were reduced to 7 500 and there were not enough troops at a time when they were most needed. Troops have now been increased and regrouped.. Holkeri has received positive feedback on the actions of his fellow Finns involved in the peacekeeping operation.

“The next democratic election in Kosovo will be held on 23 October as scheduled. The election has not been cancelled or postponed. On the contrary, the need for elections has grown”, said Holkeri.

A more positive athmosphere for the continued dialogue between Pristina and Beograd and the operation of the four working groups is required. The work, however, will not cease. There is enough work to be done: finding missing persons and solving problems in transport, energy and telecommunications.

“Undoubtedly it is a hindrance that the Serbs cannot participate in the standard work which affects them also”, said Holkeri regrettingly. “But we cannot give them a right of veto to stop the whole process either”.

With the combined aid provided by various assistance agencies and international organsations, the Kosovo people, per capita, are “the most expensive people in the world”. However, investments would be wasted if Kosovo was now deserted by the international community. “It would give a wrong signal to the world”, said Holkeri. “Kosovo, most of all, is a humanitarian task.”

The worst obstacle for Kosovo on the path to a multiethnic democracy is the human mind, thinks Holkeri. “Human mind and common collective memory. It makes forgiving and reconciliation so difficult”, mooted Holkeri.

The press conference of Mr. Holkeri can be seenhere