Dáil Éireann - Volume 598 - 02 March, 2005

Written Answers. - Foreign Conflicts.

  158. Mr. Gregory asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the ongoing request of the Kosovo action network for the return of approximately 800 bodies of Kosovan Albanians killed by Serbian paramilitaries and related demands; if he will raise this issue at international fora; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7282/05]

  Mr. D. Ahern: More than five years since the end of the conflict in 1999, the unresolved fate of missing persons is a continuing tragedy for many families in Kosovo. This is, above all, a serious humanitarian issue. It is also an obstacle to the reconciliation between communities which is essential for the creation of a democratic, multi-ethnic society in Kosovo.

[1546] The International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations interim Administration in Kosovo have determined that over 3,000 people are still unaccounted for since the end of the conflict in Kosovo. The majority of these are from the Kosovo Albanian community but the figure includes several hundred Kosovo Serbs and people from other ethnic minority communities. The Kosovo Action Network has focused in particular on the unacceptable failure of the Serb authorities to release the bodies of some 800 people believed to have been killed in Kosovo, which were exhumed from mass graves in Serbia in 2001.

I agree fully with Mr. Soren Jessen-Petersen, the special representative of the UN Secretary General in Kosovo, that the families of the missing have been suffering for too long. The authorities concerned have a clear responsibility to do everything in their power to resolve this issue without any further delay.

As a result of the efforts of the EU and the UN, in co-operation with the Government of Serbia and the provisional institutions of self-government in Kosovo, progress was made in October 2003 on the opening of a direct dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina on issues of mutual concern. A working group on missing persons was established, but met only once, in March 2004. The direct dialogue was suspended following the outbreak of ethnic violence in Kosovo on 17 March 2004.

The EU and the wider international community have strongly encouraged both sides, and Belgrade in particular, to resume the direct dialogue. I welcome the progress which has been made in recent weeks as a result of meetings between Mr. Soren Jessen Petersen and the authorities in Belgrade. As a result, the direct dialogue on missing persons will resume on 10 March, with a meeting in Belgrade, under the auspices of the special representative of the UN Secretary General and chaired by the International Committee of the Red Cross. It is essential that all parties engage in the dialogue with a determination to achieve early results for the families of all the missing in Kosovo.

This will be a crucial year for Kosovo. During the summer, the UN will preside over a comprehensive review of the implementation of reforms based on European standards. If the review is positive, it will be followed by the opening of a process to agree the constitutional status of Kosovo, which will be facilitated by the international community. The EU will play an important role in this process, in order to ensure that the agreed outcome is fully compatible with the process of European integration. In these circumstances, it is essential that a real dialogue resumes between Belgrade and Pristina and that the Kosovo Serb community now has the confidence to re-engage in the political process as soon [1547] as possible, and take its place in the provisional institutions of self government.

The EU has given a clear commitment that the long-term future of the western Balkans region, including Kosovo, rests within the European Union. The meeting of the External Relations Council, which I attended in Brussels on 21 February, confirmed that Kosovo will not return to the situation which existed before 1999, and reaffirmed the commitment to a multi-ethnic and democratic Kosovo which contributes to the stability of the region and which adheres to the values and standards of the EU. I am convinced that an [1548] early resolution of the tragic issue of missing persons would not only ease the suffering of families across Kosovo, but make a significant contribution to the work of building a truly multi-ethnic society.