21 March 2006

Kosovo still lags on international standards - UN

Reuters, 26 Jan 2006 21:01:08 GMT By Irwin Arieff


UNITED NATIONS, Jan 26 (Reuters) - Kosovo is still moving too slowly toward meeting international standards intended to ensure it becomes a just and smoothly functioning multiethnic society, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on Thursday.


The pace of implementing the standards in the U.N.-administered Serbian province has failed to substantially pick up even after the start of international negotiations on its future status, Annan said in his latest progress report on Kosovo to the U.N. Security Council.


The negotiations were put on hold this week following the death of Kosovo President Ibrahim Rugova, who succumbed to lung cancer on Saturday and has no obvious successor.


While still legally part of Serbia, Kosovo has been under U.N. administration since 1999, when Serbian forces were driven out to halt what the West saw as Serb repression of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority.


The United Nations has set out a series of standards on human rights, democratic institutions, ethnic tolerance and law enforcement that the province must meet to demonstrate it is ready for a change in status, such as independence.


The ethnic Albanians who make up 90 percent of Kosovo's 2 million people want independence, but the Serb government in Belgrade is trying to hold on to the province by offering it considerable autonomy.


Diplomats have said some form of conditional independence under European Union supervision was the most likely eventual option for the volatile province.


But Annan said the status talks, which began in November, had failed to spur the Kosovo authorities toward greater progress on the standards.


"I am seriously concerned that there have been delays or setbacks in most areas of standards implementation," he said. "Implementation of the standards by Kosovo's political leaders and institutions is an obligation to Kosovo's people and must be vigorously pursued."


Annan also criticized Kosovo's Serb minority for failing to actively participate in local government and called on Belgrade to encourage the local Serbs to do so.