Response to Head of the OSCE Mission in Kosovo, Ambassador Werner Almhofer

As delivered by Ambassador Ian Kelly
to the Permanent Council, Vienna
September 6, 2012

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

The United States joins in welcoming back Ambassador Almhofer to the Permanent Council, and we thank you for another comprehensive and enlightening report.  As this will be your final report as the Head of Mission in Kosovo, we wish to thank you for the valuable work you have done there.

The Mission in Kosovo continues to demonstrate its critical role in facilitating cooperation and relationship-building among the people of Kosovo and its neighbors.  We welcomed OMiK’s facilitation of peaceful Serbian elections for dual nationals in Kosovo – thanks in part to their efforts, dual nationals exercised their right to vote without infringing upon Kosovo’s sovereignty, demonstrating how both countries can work effectively with the international community to overcome political differences.  It is unfortunate that two Serbian parallel municipalities in the north flagrantly ignored Kosovo and Serbian law by improvising a parallel voting process.  We welcomed Belgrade’s rejection of these actions.

Now that the new Serbian government is in place in Belgrade, it is time to return to the unfinished business at hand.  This includes implementing agreements previously reached in the EU-facilitated dialogue, including on integrated border management.  We welcomed Belgrade’s recent announcement of its intent to participate in regional fora also attended by Kosovo representatives in an effort to implement the agreement on regional cooperation.  The United States continues to support the EU’s efforts to foster constructive dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia with the goal of normalizing relations between the two states in order that both countries move closer to their European and Euro-Atlantic futures.

The United States remains concerned over threats to security and freedom of movement in northern Kosovo.

It is disappointing that these tensions and incidents have persisted well into this reporting period.  The sustained higher levels of security incidents, continuing impediments to freedom of movement for EULEX, and violent incidents directed at KFOR personnel which you have outlined in your report illustrate the challenges which remain.  Hard-line, parallel, and criminal elements in the north must cease acts of violence and intimidation against citizens and international personnel.  The actions KFOR has taken, in support of EULEX, to close illegal border crossings and remove road blocks are legitimate, necessary, and fall within its mandate.

We note the excellent work done by OMiK in helping local institutions and communities gain a greater capacity to promote and ensure the protection of human rights, and to lay the foundation for a more transparent and equitable judicial system.  The Mission’s work to strengthen the capacity of the Kosovo Police has proven essential to the protection of the rights of persons belonging to minorities, the returnee population, and religious and cultural sites and to identifying and investigating potential hate crimes.  We commend the Kosovo Police and EULEX for their efforts to protect local communities and remain confident of their investigative capacity and professionalism.

The work OMiK has done to increase public input into the formulation and preparation of municipal budgets should not be overlooked, as this represents a fundamental way in which citizens of Kosovo from all backgrounds can participate in their own governance.  Likewise, OMiK’s role in supporting community policing programs is essential to developing the citizens’ trust in the security sector.

The United States also wishes to express its appreciation to the EU and remains committed to strengthening the rule of law throughout all of Kosovo as a contributing state to EULEX.

In the overall context of ongoing deliberations on the OSCE’s budget, we continue to seek input on identifying and highlighting the Mission’s core programs.  We want to ensure that the OSCE provides the most effective support possible to all the people of Kosovo and their hopes for a more stable, secure, tolerant, and prosperous future.

The OSCE Mission in Kosovo continues to perform exceptionally well in assisting Kosovo in reaching those goals.  Ambassador Almhofer, as you complete your assignment leading OMiK, the United States thanks you for your outstanding work and your service, not just to the Mission itself, but to all the communities of Kosovo, and we wish you well in your endeavors.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.