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U.S. Helsinki Commission Addresses Diplomatic Developments Regarding Kosovo’s Status

WASHINGTON -Today, Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and Co-Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), along with Helsinki Commissioners Congressman Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Ranking Minority Member, Congressman Mike McIntyre (D-NC), Congresswoman Hilda Solis (D-CA), and Congressman Robert Aderholt (R-AL) and Senator George Voinovich (R-OH), Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY), Congressman Robert Wexler (D-FL), and Congresswoman Melissa Bean (D-IL), held a roundtable discussion regarding the current situation in Kosovo and the latest diplomatic developments regarding its status.

Participating in the discussion was Ambassador of Serbia Ivan Vujacic, Ambassador of Montenegro Miodrag Vlahovic, Ambassador of Albania Aleksander Sallabanda, and Ambassador of Macedonia Zoran Jolevski as well as the Director of East European Studies from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Martin Sletzinger, Director of the Institute for Strategic Studies Ljubljana (Slovenia) Borut Grgic, Professor at Clemson University Vladimir Matic, Principal of The Albright Group James O’ Brien and Wilson Center Program Associate Nida Gelazis. This roundtable discussion follows an event hosted yesterday at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars entitled “Kosovo in the Balance: A Trial for Diplomacy.”

During the discussion, it was agreed by many in attendance, but not all, that a conclusion on Kosovo’s status must come soon. Although acknowledged as a European problem which the EU must squarely address, the United States needs to be involved in the process to help bring about an expeditious, yet stable and just result. Concerns were also raised about the protection of minority rights and the need for concrete mechanisms to be implemented to ensure minority and other human rights are protected. On this, there was unanimity.

“Since the late 1980s, Kosovo has remained an important human rights issue for the U.S. Helsinki Commission. Today’s discussion addressed the current diplomatic impasse, which has led to continued talks, and its impact in Kosovo, Serbia and the region. I was pleased to bring together individuals from all sides of the Kosovo issue to express their views on this very complex and important situation. I think my colleagues and I learned about the potential for problems in Kosovo, especially if there is further delay. As Members of Congress, we are concerned about this and hope an outcome can be reached which results in long-term stability and peace in the Balkans. It must be done right.” Hastings said.

Senator Cardin noted, “Whatever Kosovo’s status, it is clear that peace and stability is achieved through the respect for human rights and democratic development. These will remain a priority of this Commission as talks continue until December, and we hope they will remain an integral part of any decisions reached. The Helsinki Commission will certainly press for further improvements in these areas after Kosovo’s status has been determined. I should also add that cooperation with the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague has also been a concern of the Commission, and an issue on which I have been particularly active. Full cooperation is important for Serbia, but it is also impacts the entire region, including Bosnia and Kosovo. It is my hope that resolution of the situation in Kosovo does not come at the expense of justice for horrible crimes that include genocide.”

In 1999, a NATO air campaign against Serbia ended a conflict between Serbian forces and the local Albanians in Kosovo, placing the Serbian province under UN authority. However, recent efforts to determine Kosovo’s future status have been effectively blocked by Russia, which supports Serbia’s opposition to a proposal that balances supervised independence for Kosovo and a range of rights for Kosovo Serb communities. New talks have resumed until December in an effort to resolve current differences, but tensions have risen in light of these recent talks and the outcome remains uncertain.

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