Daily Archives: August 25, 2016

Young fundraiser abseiled off Roseberry Topping for the GNAAS

A YOUNG girl proved she had a head for heights when she abseiled down Roseberry Topping in aid of the charity.

Poppy Whitehouse, a pupil at Crooksbarn Primary School, in Norton, abseiled 12 metres down the top of the distinctive landmark with her godfather, Chris Jones, on July 30.

Now the eight-year-old girl has handed over £225 to the Great North Air Ambulance Service (GNAAS) to mark her endeavours.

Poppy and Mr Jones climbed to the top of Roseberry Topping along with her mother Caroline, father David, sister Tilly, four, brother Henry, three, Caroline’s mother, Susan Padgett, and Mr Jones’ wife, Helen, before the pair abseiled down the south-east corner.

She said: “I was scared but I would do it again. I wanted to support GNAAS because they do such a good job.”

Her mother said: “She’s a bit of an adventure-head but she doesn’t just do things for fun, she always wants to do them for a reason and that’s why she supported GNAAS. She’s so thoughtful. I’m so proud of her.

“Her godfather, who used to be a paramedic, has told her a lot about the air ambulance and mountain rescue and so she knows how much they help people, especially those in remote locations, and so she wanted to do something for them.”

Her proud father added: “She’s braver than I am.”

The young girl visited GNAAS’ Durham Tees Valley Airport base with her parents on August 23, where she saw the aircraft return after a call-out in Seaham.

She handed over a large cheque to pilot, Jay Steward, and paramedic, Paul Burnage.

Mr Steward said: “I hope when Poppy sees the aircraft in the sky she feels proud knowing that she has helped to keep it there.”

The charity, which is supported by donations and fundraising activities, has just submitted a funding application to build a new base to hold all of its operations.

Several sites are being considered for a new £1.9m centre of medical excellence, which would include a helicopter landing facility

A public consultation process will begin shortly. Visit gnaas.com/our-new-home for the latest on the project.

Golf teams urged to sign up in aid of hospice

CHARITY golfers are returning to the fairways for an annual event that has raised close to £200,000 for charity.

Teams are being urged to sign up for the Heritage Healthcare Charity Golf Day that every year raises thousands of pounds for St Teresa’s Hospice in Darlington.

For the past 14 years, director Sally Pickersgill has organised the day to support the work of the much-loved hospice.

Mrs Pickersgill and Landteam boss Adrian Speare decided to launch the initiative in 2002 because St Teresa’s had no in-patient beds then and people had to travel out of the area for anything other than hospice day care.

The hospice now boasts a recently opened ten bed in-patient unit to serve people from Darlington, south Durham and North Yorkshire and offer support for their families.

The popular fundraising golf tournament will be staged at Blackwell Golf Club, Darlington, from 9am to 3pm on September 2.

Teams are being urged to sign up, with four player rounds costing £200 and tee sponsorship available for £150.

The day also includes competitions and an evening prize presentation that will feature an auction and raffle, for which organisers are still looking for prizes.

Anyone wanting to take part or offer sponsorship, auction or raffle prizes should contact sally@fairwaysgsp.co.uk.

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing – August 25, 2016

2:02 p.m. EDT

MS TRUDEAU: Good afternoon everyone. Welcome to the last briefing of the week.

Secretary Kerry met with King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the foreign ministers of the GCC, Minister Ellwood from the UK, and the UN Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed in Jeddah to discuss a way forward to restart peace talks in Yemen with the goal of forming a unity government.

During his visit, Secretary Kerry announced nearly $189 million in additional humanitarian assistance in response to the crisis in Yemen, bringing the total U.S. humanitarian assistance for Yemen to more than $237 million in Fiscal Year 2016. This contribution will help meet urgent humanitarian needs of the most vulnerable people in one of the Middle East’s poorest and most food-insecure countries, as well as Yemeni refugees in neighboring countries.

As you’ve seen in the remarks that we just released on the transcript, Secretary Kerry emphasized that the bloodshed has gone on for far too long and needs to stop. We need to return as quickly as possible to a ceasefire that can lead to a permanent end of this conflict.

Next, I’d like to welcome a group of 15 Afghan diplomats who are joining us today in today’s daily press brief. We do extend our deepest condolences to them and the family and friends of those who were injured in yesterday’s attack on the American University of Afghanistan. I think you’ve seen the Secretary’s statement, which he also just released. We are committed to continuing our work to help the people of Afghanistan build a more peaceful, stable, and prosperous future, which our visitors today represent.

This program – for the room – provides entry-level Afghan diplomats with diplomatic statecraft training in the United States and in China. Yesterday, Under Secretary Shannon welcomed and congratulated these special guests on being selected for the program, which highlights the continued U.S. commitment to build a more peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan. We’d also like to thank and recognize the Chinese Government for its partnership in sponsoring this program. Welcome to the briefing.

And with that, Matt.

QUESTION: Really? The Chinese sponsored the program?

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. It’s actually – it’s a partnership that we have had with the Chinese for quite some years working with the diplomatic corps of Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, sounds interesting. Can we just start with a brief update on American citizens in three places —

MS TRUDEAU: Yes.

QUESTION: — Afghanistan in the wake of the attack, Italy, and Burma after the quakes? Can you give us a brief update on any of them?

MS TRUDEAU: Sure. I would say first for Italy as well as Burma, we continue to account for all U.S. citizens in those areas. We do ask U.S. citizens who may have been impacted to check in with family and friends on social media. We are pleased to say in Afghanistan that we have accounted for all U.S. citizens who are at the university, and we have no reports of any U.S. citizens killed or seriously injured in that attack.

QUESTION: Okay. And have either the Italians or the Burmese taken you up on your offer of assistance?

MS TRUDEAU: I have nothing to read out on that. We have extended our help. We stand ready to support.

QUESTION: Okay. All right. And then I was going to move on unless someone —

QUESTION: Well, let’s do one more on the American citizens.

MS TRUDEAU: Of course.

QUESTION: I think you will by now have seen the report that American Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte is going to be summoned to return to Brazil to give testimony. This is different from an extradition request, but – and so I’m hoping you can actually perhaps comment on it, whether this has been raised to the State Department, whether there are any kind of diplomatic issues in the Brazilians seeking his return to offer testimony.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. So we’ve seen those reports as well. Due to privacy considerations, I don’t have information to offer. I would say, speaking broadly, we do encourage U.S. citizens, as always, to cooperate with law enforcement.

QUESTION: Okay —

QUESTION: Do privacy considerations apply even for public figures, people who are clearly in the public domain already?

MS TRUDEAU: Privacy considerations apply to every U.S. citizen.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS TRUDEAU: Except me, because I’m standing up here right now. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Okay, Iran.

MS TRUDEAU: Yes, Matt.

QUESTION: A couple. One, in the Secretary’s comments in Jeddah that you just referred to, he said the following – it’s just two sentences, I’ll read: “We were deeply troubled by the photographs which were shown to me early on by His Royal Highness Mohammed bin Nayef showing missiles that had come from Iran that were positioned on the Saudi border.” This is obviously the Saudi border with Yemen.

How early on were you guys shown that the Iranians were supplying the Houthis with missiles?

MS TRUDEAU: So I don’t have a specific date to read out on that. What I would say is what we’ve said many times from this, which the Secretary points out, is we’re certainly not blind to Iran’s activities – destabilizing, unhelpful activities in the region. In terms of a specific date, let me see if I can get that for you.

QUESTION: Okay. But isn’t it the case that the supplying of missiles or any kind of weaponry, that what you just – that in your own words, destabilize the situation – doesn’t that draw U.S. sanctions?

MS TRUDEAU: So it’s something that we continue to look at. Obviously, the Secretary has spoken of – spoken to this. We are aware of this. We continue to look into it.

QUESTION: Well, no, he didn’t speak to whether it’s sanctionable or not. Is it your understanding that —

MS TRUDEAU: No, but he did speak to our awareness.

QUESTION: Yeah. But —

MS TRUDEAU: I would say I’m not going to get ahead of what would trigger a sanction on that, but I would say that we are looking into it.

QUESTION: Yeah. But if it was early on —

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, I just don’t know the date on this, Matt.

QUESTION: Right. But I mean – okay, so this thing with the Houthis started, what, early last year.

MS TRUDEAU: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And if you were shown photographs early on, presumably that means closer to when it started than now, and comments from U.S. officials between when it started and now have always been rather circumspect about the support that Iran was giving to the Houthis. This seems to indicate that you guys knew that the Iranians had supplied missiles to them early on, and I’m just wondering why a decision – or why there has been no – why there hasn’t – why there wasn’t then or still hasn’t been a decision on whether this violates U.S. sanctions or UN sanctions.

MS TRUDEAU: I would say we’re looking into it. As the Secretary noted, we’ve seen those photos and we’re very aware of Iran’s actions.

QUESTION: All right. And then the last one.

MS TRUDEAU: Sure.

QUESTION: On the incident or incidents with the U.S. ships and the Iranian navy. Do you know if the Secretary or anyone else, any other official, has raised this with your new – in your new channels of communication with the Iranians?

MS TRUDEAU: I don’t have any calls to read out today on that.

QUESTION: Okay. Do you know or can you say whether there is going to be a diplomatic response to this, either directly or through the Swiss?

MS TRUDEAU: What – I would actually back up a step and actually say that we are aware the four Iranian vessels approached the USS Nitze as it was transiting international waters in the Strait of Hormuz. We’ve also just now seen the reports of another incident that happened yesterday as well. The Department of Defense spoke to this some yesterday. We assess the actions were unsafe, they were unprofessional. We would note we don’t know what the intentions of the Iranian ships were, but that behavior is unacceptable, as our ships were in international waters.

We believe that these type of actions are of concern. They unnecessarily escalate tension. I would refer you to the Department of Defense as this is very much in their lane in terms of further engagement.

QUESTION: With the Iranians?

MS TRUDEAU: In terms of how they would raise these concerns.

QUESTION: Well, yeah. But wouldn’t —

MS TRUDEAU: I just press – I just don’t —

QUESTION: Isn’t it up to this building to —

MS TRUDEAU: As I was saying, I just don’t have any calls or engagements to read out as of right now.

QUESTION: Well, but do you know if there are plans to? Or is this something that you’re just going to kind of let slide?

MS TRUDEAU: I just – I have nothing to announce.

QUESTION: All right.

MS TRUDEAU: Arshad.

QUESTION: Is it – you said that the Department of Defense had spoken to this yesterday, but yesterday, if I’m not mistaken, were they not speaking to the prior incident?

MS TRUDEAU: I believe they were speaking to the Nitze incident, yes.

QUESTION: Yes. So to your knowledge, they have not yet spoken to —

MS TRUDEAU: Not to my knowledge. But I think we saw the same reports coming in. I know they’re aware of it, obviously.

QUESTION: And when you said that these actions, referring to the reports of the second incident plus the first one that DOD has confirmed —

MS TRUDEAU: Yes.

QUESTION: — are a concern and unnecessarily raise tensions, you’re – therefore, you’re applying it to both the Nitze incident but also to this other incident, even though you haven’t confirmed it?

MS TRUDEAU: So it’s – the Department of Defense would speak to that. It’s my understanding that both are being characterized as unsafe, correct.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS TRUDEAU: Lalit.

QUESTION: I wanted to follow up on Afghanistan.

MS TRUDEAU: Of course.

MS TRUDEAU: President – Afghan President Ghani today issued a statement after his national security council meeting in Kabul. According to the statement, he says the attack on the American University in Kabul was organized and orchestrated from Pakistan. The statement also says he called General Sharif, the Pakistan army chief, and demanded that action be taken against those who were behind this. Do you know who were behind this? And what do you make of the statement?

MS TRUDEAU: So we can’t comment on the responsibility for the attack. As we have in the past, we encourage the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan to work together, not only in the wake of this attack and to ensure that such attacks don’t happen again, but to increase their cooperation countering violent extremism writ large.

For your question, we have consistently raised our concerns to the highest level of the Government of Pakistan on the need to deny safe haven to extremists. We have pressed the Government of Pakistan to follow up on their expressed commitment, their stated commitment, to not discriminate among terror groups regardless of their agenda or affiliation.

QUESTION: So do you think Pakistan has taken – is not taking enough steps against these terrorist groups or —

MS TRUDEAU: I would, again – and we’ve spoken about it from this podium – call your attention to what General Sharif himself has said, saying that they would not discriminate. This attack against the best and brightest of Afghanistan is a sign that we can all do more.

Sir.

QUESTION: Hi. Disavow us, if you can, the idea that with the former secretary there was a pay-for-play arrangement with Laureate University.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. So we’ve actually spoken about this quite a bit, and there’s been media reports and fact checks from a number of independent media outlets. As we previously explained, the State Department is not aware of any grants provided directly to Laureate Education since 2009, though we are aware of some grants to educational institutions within or affiliated with the Laureate Education network.

I think it’s also important to emphasize in recent weeks Laureate Education has been conflated with an entirely separate organization, the International Youth Foundation, which is a nonprofit that funds international development initiatives. The International Youth Foundation, the separate organization, has received federal grants from USAID and State going back many years, both under Democratic and Republican administrations. Information about grants and contracts awarded by federal agencies is publicly available online.

QUESTION: And what about the idea though that the former secretary had – wanted them invited to a dinner here? There must have been something that she thought was key about what they were doing, in spite of some of the external criticism about the type of debt that they pile on students and so on.

MS TRUDEAU: So —

QUESTION: What was the value that the former secretary saw?

MS TRUDEAU: So I can’t speak to the former secretary’s thoughts. I can’t speak to any specific invitation that was issued. But as we’ve said many times, the State Department regularly engages with a range of academics, NGOs, think tanks, business leaders, speakers, commentators on a range of issues. I’m just not familiar with this specific event that you’re speaking of.

QUESTION: But – so we don’t know, in your view, what the – what the value might have been to have them to that dinner because that’s from the former —

MS TRUDEAU: Well, I just don’t know the dinner you’re speaking of.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS TRUDEAU: Laurie.

QUESTION: Could you give us a readout of Secretary Kerry’s phone conversation with the Turkish foreign minister in which he informed him that the YPG was withdrawing east of the Euphrates River?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. Well, I can confirm that he did speak to the foreign minister. I cannot confirm that detail. It’s my understanding they spoke broadly on the U.S. commitment to Turkey’s security and spoke about the fight against Daesh and spoke about our bilateral relations.

QUESTION: Well, the YPG initially protested that it wouldn’t withdraw; then the U.S. military spokesman for Inherent Resolve said that the YPG was withdrawing. And then there’ve been reports that the YPG is asking the U.S. for guarantees. Would you know what – kind of what the situation is? Are they withdrawing, not withdrawing?

MS TRUDEAU: Well, I’d point you, actually, to their own statement, which they did release. We support them moving forward on their commitment. Their statement was very clear. I would note that the SDF has proved to be a reliable partner and a highly effective and capable force, seen most recently, as we spoke about I think yesterday, in Manbij. It’s important to note that Kurdish forces are a critical component of the SDF. We’ll continue to support all components of the SDF – Arab, Kurd, Turkmen, all, as we look to pressure ISIL and ultimately liberate Raqqa.

QUESTION: Okay. And one final question.

MS TRUDEAU: Sure.

QUESTION: Could you provide more details about the agreement between the coalition and the SDF that they’re now being asked to implement about withdrawing once they’ve defeated ISIS in a certain area? Did Turkey – there is an agreement —

MS TRUDEAU: Well, I would – I would just point to you what the Kurdish commanders have said themselves —

QUESTION: I didn’t see that —

MS TRUDEAU: — which – well, we spoke about this yesterday – that they’ve made the commitment, as these areas are liberated from Daesh, that it’ll be local leaders, local forces who will move in and stabilize.

QUESTION: And – did Turkey agree to that understanding?

MS TRUDEAU: I would – I would direct you to the Turks to speak to their commitments.

That was – sir, I’m happy to do this, you guys. (Laughter.) It’s last brief of the week, but —

QUESTION: Yeah. I’m Julian Borger from The Guardian. In the wake of the chemical weapons report yesterday, what does the U.S. want to get out of the UN Security Council meeting next Tuesday in terms of outcomes, in terms of enforcing the Chemical Weapons Convention?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. Well, we would never preview our actions within the Security Council. What I would say is that the Administration will continue to pursue all appropriate legal and diplomatic options to hold accountable any individuals, entities, groups or governments responsible for the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

QUESTION: So on Syria —

MS TRUDEAU: Yep.

QUESTION: — just in terms – and on meetings.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.

QUESTION: It looks like there might be or there has been some progress, at least on the Aleppo situation in terms of the 48-hour pause and getting humanitarian aid in with the Russians having agreed to this now. Are – is this something that you think is going to be finalized tomorrow in the meetings in Geneva? And whether it is or not, is – aren’t you looking for something more broad than just Aleppo?

MS TRUDEAU: We are. I would disconnect the conversations the UN is having about these 48-hour ceasefires from the talks tomorrow in Geneva, but you’re exactly right. We do support, however, the UN’s efforts to bring much-needed humanitarian aid to all parts of Aleppo city. It’s the UN, as we’ve said many times, who determines which areas need aid, how they get aid, how that access happens. Given the UN’s technical expertise and knowledge on the ground, it’s the UN and its partners, as I said, who need to determine who’s in need and how aid is delivered. It’s our understanding they’re still engaging with all partners and trying to determine the mechanics and the logistics on that. If the UN says they need 48 hours, of course we support the UN. But as you point out, our focus is on a nationwide, sustainable cessation of hostilities that will provide the access needed so the Syrian people can get the aid they so, so strongly deserve.

QUESTION: Okay. And so it’s the much broader proposal that is being – that will be– that is the top – the main topic of discussion tomorrow.

MS TRUDEAU: On Geneva we have a number of things, as we spoke about yesterday. We’re very focused, obviously, on the cessation of hostilities; yes, on wide humanitarian access, and yes, creating the grounds for a political transition.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

MS TRUDEAU: Did you have another question, Matt? I feel like I – if it did, I’m forgetting it, but – hi.

QUESTION: I’m forgetting it too, then.

MS TRUDEAU: But that’s okay. I’m sure it was pithy.

QUESTION: Pithy.

QUESTION: Hi, Elizabeth. I’m (inaudible) —

MS TRUDEAU: Nice seeing you.

QUESTION: — from (inaudible) News. Nice to speak to you. So I think in South Sudan there’s some need in the region for some clarification on a statement that John Kerry made a couple of days ago in Nairobi. I just wanted to focus on the bit of the statement that he made that will help us. He said, relating to Riek Machar, the exiled vice – former vice president, “legally, under the agreement, there is allowance for the replacement in a transition of personnel, and that has been effective with the appointment of a new vice president.” So in the previous phase of the South Sudanese crisis, there was a lot of emphasis on having Riek Machar come back into that job. Has that emphasis shifted in the eyes of the State Department?

MS TRUDEAU: So I’d reiterate what the Secretary said. It’s up to the South Sudanese to decide on their political leaders in compliance with the peace agreement. The peace agreement contains procedures and requirements that govern transitions and changes within the transitional government. Specifically, the agreement provides the – and I quote – “the top leadership of the armed opposition,” end quote, has the power to nominate a new first vice president if that position is vacant.

I’d speak more broadly: We do expect the transitional government and all parties, including all leaders of the opposition in South Sudan, to take every step possible to avoid fighting and to reach a peaceful resolution of their differences. The way forward is not through violence or military action but through implementation of the agreement and through peaceful resolution of differences. We’ll continue to engage with all parties in South Sudan as we have been, including the government and opposition leaders, to support peace and the implementation of the agreement.

Sir.

QUESTION: If I can ask on another —

MS TRUDEAU: Oh, of course.

QUESTION: — another topic. And I should’ve identified myself – Chad Pergram with Fox. Nice to meet you.

MS TRUDEAU: Nice meeting you.

QUESTION: On another subject here, has there been any communication with Capitol Hill, with Congress coming back to session in the next week and a half, about the Secretary going to appear before the House Oversight Committee or other committees to talk about the Iran deal, the so-called “ransom,” quote-unquote, and also the email situation with former Secretary Clinton?

MS TRUDEAU: So yeah, I don’t have any appearances to announce at this point, but certainly as a former senator the Secretary takes very seriously our responsibilities to Congress. I just don’t have anything to read out.

QUESTION: There was some suggestion from some sources I had spoken with this week that there had been an effort – of course, Congress hasn’t been there in seven weeks, but they had tried to get him in before. I know he’s had some travel and things, but they —

MS TRUDEAU: Some travel. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: But there was some thought that there hadn’t been, at least from those sources, as much cooperation as they would like from —

MS TRUDEAU: I would dispute that. I think our colleagues, certainly here in the room and around the world, know that Secretary Kerry is very committed to engaging as appropriate and will continue to do that.

Arshad, you had more.

QUESTION: Yeah, on the Philippines.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.

QUESTION: I think you may have had a chance to see these comments by Philippine President Duterte regarding Philippine Senator Leila de Lima, who has criticized the increase in extrajudicial killings of alleged drug traffickers or people involved in the drug trade. And President Duterte on Thursday essentially verbally attacked the senator, saying you are finished, handing out a diagram purportedly showing links between officials and politicians and big drug dealers with the senator at the top of that list of alleged webs or alleged connections. Do you have any concerns that Duterte is not taking seriously the concerns you’ve expressed about all these killings, and that in fact he’s attacking legislator – a legislator who is also raising doubts about these killings.

MS TRUDEAU: There’s a lot there.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS TRUDEAU: So I’d say a few things. As we’ve said both publicly and as we’ve engaged with our very good partners, the Philippines, we’ve spoken about these reports of extrajudicial killings. As we noted, I think just maybe earlier this week or last week, we’re very deeply concerned about these reports by – extrajudicial killings by or at the behest of government authorities of individuals who are suspected to have been in drug activity in the Philippines. We have also made our concerns known.

The United States believes in rule of law. We believe in due process; we believe in universal human rights. And we believe that these support long-term security, which is the goal not only for the United States, but also for the Philippines. We strongly urge the Philippines to ensure its law enforcement efforts comply with human rights obligations. In terms of the exact comments of the president, I’m going refer you back to the Government of the Philippines to better understand perhaps what President Duterte —

QUESTION: Look, but you have been very explicit about your concerns with this country –

MS TRUDEAU: We have.

QUESTION: — which you describe as a very good partner. In fact, it’s a treaty ally. Just this week, you made clear those concerns yet again. And in the same week he, the president, is attacking a domestic legislator raising the same concerns. Are – do you think he’s taking your concerns seriously?

MS TRUDEAU: I would say that we continue to engage with the government of the Philippines on our concerns privately, as well as from the podium, and raise those. I understand your question. It’s hard for me to characterize how seriously they take that. We continue to raise it. We think that our relationship, which has spanned 70 years, is a frank and open enough relationship that we can have those conversations.

QUESTION: Longer than that, if you consider U.S. colonial rule. (Laughter.)

MS TRUDEAU: Yes, thank you. Well, yes. Thank you.

Lalit.

QUESTION: I had one quick one on Afghanistan–

MS TRUDEAU: Of course.

QUESTION: Has this special representative for Afghanistan/Pakistan reached out to his counterparts in Kabul after this attack?

MS TRUDEAU: I don’t have a call readout to do that. I would say that our Embassy in Kabul has been very close in touch with our colleagues in the Afghan Government. I just don’t have a readout from our special representative.

QUESTION: And when did he last travel to Afghanistan?

MS TRUDEAU: I actually don’t know, Lalit.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS TRUDEAU: Thank you, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:28 p.m.)

Despite Increased Stability in Kosovo, Tensions Still Lurking, UN Mission Chief Tells Security Council, Urging Strong Leadership, Safe Return of Displaced Persons

The situation in Kosovo over the past three months had become more stable, but the threat of security and political tensions still lurked beneath the surface, the head of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) told the Security Council today.

Presenting his Mission’s latest three-month report, Zahir Tanin, Special Representative of the Secretary-General, said that, at the local level, economic, educational, health-care issues, the rule of law and corruption — not interethnic politics — were the dominant concerns.  Throughout the former Yugoslavia, he added, the immediate post-conflict generation was reaching voting age and looking for better opportunities.  With the European Union perspective as the region’s main driver of reform, he said, leadership from both sides would be as important as pragmatism and commitment going forward.

With around 16,000 people still displaced in Kosovo, and many more outside, the voluntary, safe and dignified return of displaced persons remained a fundamental right, Mr. Tanin said, appealing for the issue to be put back into focus.  And while recent months had seen no large-scale interethnic disturbances or significant attacks on cultural sites, vulnerable groups — in particular non-majority communities — had faced higher rates of intimidation.  Meanwhile, the fate of more than 1,600 persons still listed as missing from the time of the conflict required attention from all sides, including UNMIK.

Discussing the presence of radical Islamist elements and organizers, he said Kosovo authorities had implemented a strong law enforcement approach that would only succeed if it went hand in hand with efforts to address the socioeconomic drivers of extremism.  There, he said, the international community — including the United Nations — needed to play a major role.  Given the changing situation in Kosovo, Mr. Tanin added, UNMIK was developing ways to optimize its work, better engage with stakeholders and implement its objectives in a more up-to-date way.

Ivica Dačić, First Deputy Prime Minister for Foreign Affairs of Serbia, said the Secretary-General’s report should be viewed in the broader context of the complexity of the situation.  The section related to the normalization of relations between Belgrade and Priština did not adequately address the importance of the Community of Serb Municipalities, which had yet to be established.  The report also made no mention of the situation of the Serbs and other communities living south of the Ibar River, and noted simply that the level of returns was unacceptably low, he said.

While security in Kosovo and Metohija had always been unstable, he said, the radicalization of the political climate and the worsening of the security situation due to the rise of political and religious extremism had only increased such instability.  With respect to the size of the population, Kosovo and Metohija Albanians accounted for the largest percentage of those fighting in the ranks of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), he said, calling also on all countries that had not recognized Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence to persevere, despite the pressures to which they were exposed.

Vlora Çitaku of Kosovo said that Kosovo was “a young republic” that faced challenges, but not of the kind that required the Council to meet every three months to debate its situation.  “Kosovo is ready to move on, but Serbia needs to be ready to let go,” she said, recalling a visit by Hashim Thaçi to two memorials honouring Serbian civilians killed after 1999.  She said Kosovo was committed to a European Union-led dialogue in Brussels, but it also believed that the process needed to become more dynamic and results-oriented.  Kosovo would implement every agreement reached in Brussels, she said, but Serbia was making that difficult by financing parallel institutions inside Kosovo.

Kosovo would remain an active member of the coalition of nations fighting terrorism, she said, noting that it had adopted measures regarding foreign fighters and radicalization.  In the last 12 months, she said, the number of people from Kosovo who had joined ISIL was zero.  She concluded by recalling Kosovo’s first Olympic medallist, Majlinda Kelmendi, calling her and others like her Kosovo’s new heroes.

In the ensuing debate, several delegations questioned the need for the Council to continue taking up the situation in Kosovo every three months.  Some suggested that briefings every six months would be more appropriate.  Others emphasized that resolution 1244 (1999) remained the legal basis for resolving the Kosovo situation.

The Russian Federation’s representative called the situation in Kosovo far from normal, notably for its Serb minority.  More robust legal guarantees were needed to protect historical and sacred sites, he said, adding that dialogue between Belgrade and Priština was in a “deep freeze”.  He called Kosovo a “grey space” for recruiting and training terrorist fighters and stated that — in light of instability and ongoing interethnic conflict — UNMIK must continue to be resourced and supported.

His counterpart from the United States — one of several delegates who saluted Kosovo’s Olympic Games debut at Rio de Janiero — noted “with some disappointment” a slowdown in the pace of normalization between Belgrade and Priština in the past year.  She called upon leaders on both sides to uphold their commitments, and on all Member States to recognize Kosovo as an independent State.  To do so, she said, would be good for the international community, as well as “inevitable”,

Representatives of the United Kingdom, China, Japan, Ukraine, Angola, Uruguay, Senegal, Egypt, Venezuela, New Zealand, France, Spain and Malaysia also spoke.

The meeting began at 10:10 a.m. and ended at 12:25 p.m.

Briefings

ZAHIR TANIN, Special Representative of the Secretary-General, introducing the report on the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) (document S/2016/666), said the situation in Kosovo over the past three months had been more stable.  “Nonetheless, the threat of security and political tensions remained beneath the surface,” he said.  In the Kosovo Assembly, ratification of an agreement on Kosovo’s border with Montenegro had prompted political arguments and accusations which often strayed far from facts, irritating public sentiment.  Acts of political violence — including three incidents in August targeting the Assembly, the home of a Kosovo official and the headquarters of a public broadcaster — were “absolutely unacceptable,” he said.  However, recent talks with leaders gave him the impression that they understood the need to put realism and practicality higher on their political agenda.  Many had their eyes on emerging trends that might help remove old obstacles and lead to faster progress.

At the local level, he said, economic, educational, health-care issues, the rule of law and corruption — not interethnic politics — were the dominant concerns.  Throughout the former Yugoslavia, the immediate post-conflict generation was reaching voting age.  That generation needed clear directions and better opportunities, as Europeans and as world citizens.  “A lack of promising trades and professions, public corruption, and extremes of economic inequality all fracture the communities far more than do the ethnic or religious nationalisms,” he said.  He said that, during his recent conversations with leaders in Belgrade, he was struck by their emphasis on regional cooperation.  As in Pristina, they stressed the need for a successful European Union-led dialogue.  The European Union perspective was the region’s main driver of reform, he said, adding that leadership from both sides would be as important as pragmatism and commitment in taking the process forward.

Around 16,000 people were still displaced in Kosovo, with many more outside, he said.  With the passing of time, many had built new lives in their places of displacement.  However, the voluntary, safe and dignified return of displaced persons was a fundamental right.  That issue should be brought back into focus, he said.  According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), some 9,400 displaced persons were registered to return.  For them to do so, requisite resources and proper conditions would be needed.

Although the past three months had seen no large-scale interethnic disturbances or significant attacks on cultural sites, vulnerable groups — in particular non-majority communities — had been subjected to higher rates of intimidation, with an average of around 25 potentially ethnically motivated crimes recorded every month, he said.  Meanwhile, more than 1,600 persons remained missing from the time of the conflict.  That issue must not slip off the political agenda, he said, calling for a sustained commitment by all sides, including UNMIK.

Turning to the presence of radical Islamist elements and organizers in Kosovo, he said the authorities had implemented a strong law enforcement approach regarding those who advocated violence and facilitated volunteer fighters.  Such an approach could only work, however, if it went hand in hand with efforts to address the socioeconomic drivers of extremism.  The international community, including the United Nations, had an important role to play through well-coordinated assistance.  In recent days, the Mission had significantly strengthened engagement with Kosovo leaders, while constructive engagement with Belgrade leaders remained essential for its balanced and objective role.  UNMIK had meanwhile reviewed its activities, developing a focused vision to optimize its work, better engage with all stakeholders and implement its objectives in a more up-to-date way.

IVICA DAČIĆ, First Deputy Prime Minister for Foreign Affairs of Serbia, said his delegation had always made every effort to address the Council in a constructive manner, while the representatives of Priština continued to levy falsehoods and outright propaganda.  Among recent fabrications, the Council had heard in May that Albanians in Kosovo and Metohija had been beaten and arrested by Serbian police because they were playing football.  It had also heard repeatedly that Kosovo and Metohija Albanians had been loyal and good citizens of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia before Slobodan Milošević took power.  That contention was just another historically unfounded fabrication propagated to the international community with the aim of winning support for separatism and ethnic cleansing conducted systematically in Kosovo and Metohija in the last 100 years.  Kosovo’s representative would, presumably, speak about genocide and ethnic cleansing, which were more propaganda and lies.  History did not record evidence of such genocide.

Turning to the report of the Secretary-General, he warned that the document should be viewed in the broader context of the complexity of the situation.  The section related to the normalization of relations between Belgrade and Priština did not adequately address the importance of the Community of Serb Municipalities, which had yet to be established.  Instead of being the central issue, its establishment had become the subject of political blackmail.  The report also made no mention of the situation of the Serbs and other communities living south of the Ibar River, where the majority of the Serbs of Kosovo and Metohija lived.  It also noted simply that the level of returns was unacceptably low, without offering concrete reasons to explain why that situation was so worrisome.

What all reports of the Secretary-General had in common was the failure to characterize the incidents in Kosovo and Metohija as ethnically motivated, he said.  Absent from the current report was an account of the institutional reaction to incidents affecting minority communities, including by the police, prosecutorial and judicial authorities.  The danger of such an approach was the risk of a gradual acceptance by all — including the international community — of virtual impunity for criminal offenses committed against Serbs and other non-Albanians, including murder.

Security in Kosovo and Metohija had always been unstable, he continued.  However, the radicalization of the political climate and the worsening of the security situation due to the rise of political and religious extremism had only increased such instability.  With respect to the size of the population, Kosovo and Metohija Albanians accounted for the largest percentage of those fighting in the ranks of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh).  He called on all countries that had not recognized the unilateral declaration of independence of Kosovo to persevere, despite the pressures to which they were exposed.  Doing so showed respect for international law, the United Nations Charter and Council resolution 1244 (1999), which upheld the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Serbia. 

Expressing his delegation’s hope that an opportunity would arise for dialogue and agreement in full accordance with international law, instead of unilateral acts, he went on to urge the countries that would use their statements today to call for the violation of a legally binding resolution to refrain from doing so, and to reconsider their decisions to recognize the unilateral declaration of independence of Kosovo.

VLORA ÇITAKU of Kosovo said that Kosovo was “a young republic” that faced challenges, but not of the kind that required the Council to meet every three months to debate its situation.  The millions of dollars spent every year to maintain UNMIK could be put to better use.  “Kosovo is ready to move on, but Serbia needs to be ready to let go,” she said, recalling a visit by Hashim Thaçi to two memorials honouring Serbian civilians killed after 1999 in Kosovo.  Serbia, meanwhile, wanted to erect a statue revering Slobodan Milošević.  Kosovo was committed to dialogue in Brussels, but it also believed that the process needed to become more dynamic and results-oriented.  On behalf of the government of Kosovo, she reiterated that every single agreement reached in Brussels would be implemented.  But, that job was made difficult when Serbia financed parallel institutions in Kosovo and tried to build colonies in the north of Kosovo in breach of the Brussels agreement of 19 April 2013.

Such dualism — implementing Brussels agreements on the one hand, and maintaining parallel structures on the other — allowed Serbia to report progress in implement while maintaining interference in Kosovo, she said.  Kosovo institutions had shown commitment through actions.  In the north, Serbian majority municipalities had received an additional €10 million from a special quality-of-life fund.  Kosovo would do all it could to demonstrate that every citizen, regardless of ethnicity or religion, felt at home and lived without fear.

She said Kosovo would remain an active member of the coalition of nations fighting terrorism.  It had taken very serious measures to fight the phenomenon of foreign fighters and radicalization.  Nineteen non-governmental organizations which fed radicalization and financed with suspicious funds had been shut down, while 34 people had been convicted.  “Today, around 50 Kosovars are in Syria and Iraq,” she said, adding, however, that in the last 12 months, the number who had joined ISIL was zero.

During the three-month reporting period that ended on 15 July, Kosovo had established diplomatic relations with three more countries, become a party to the Apostolic Convention and joined the International Exhibitions Bureau, she said.  While political discourse inside Kosovo remained fierce, all political parties condemned acts of violence such as attacks on the parliament building and public broadcaster RTK.  “Although the sky might seem grey sometimes, I know that there is hope for Kosovo,” she said, recalling how Majlinda Kelmendi had brought home Kosovo’s first Olympic medal.  She, like others, including a teenager who won a medal at the International Math Olympics, were Kosovo’s new heroes, showing there was no excuse for failure.

Statements

VITALY CHURKIN (Russian Federation) said the situation in the province was far from normal, with a trend towards deterioration including in the levels of security for Kosovo Serbs.  Acts of aggression had been seen against journalists, as well as refugees and internally displaced persons that had dared to return to their homes, and such acts had been ignored by the authorities.  More robust legal guarantees were needed to protect historical and sacred sites and the dialogue between Belgrade and Priština was in a “deep freeze”.  He expressed concern over efforts to create a “pan-Albanian State” and urged restraint in that respect, as such actions were ethnically fraught.  Expressing further concern over recent statements that UNMIK was a vehicle for Russian influence, he also raised concern about unjustifiable delays in establishing the special international tribunal.  That structure must learn from the mistakes of the past and hold accountable all those that were guilty.  As a result of the weakness of its security, Kosovo remained a “grey space” used to recruit and train terrorist fighters, and which fed such fighters to groups including ISIL.

Recalling that representatives of the Russian Federation had been unable to engage with the Kosovo Force (KFOR) officials during a recent visit, he warned that ignoring his country — as a permanent member of the Security Council — was unacceptable.  Given the unstable situation and ongoing interethnic conflict, UNMIK must continue to be resourced and supported, and resolution 1244 (1999) must remain the basis for any resolution of the situation in the province.

STEPHEN HICKEY (United Kingdom), recalling that Kosovo had recently participated in the Rio Olympic games under its own flag for the first time, drew a sharp contrast to the negative vision of Kosovo that was often presented before the Council.  He welcomed progress made in establishing the Special Court, as well as the return of the opposition to the Assembly and the downsizing of the European Union Rule of Law Mission (EULEX) and the transfer of power to Kosovo authorities.  Challenges remained, and he was concerned that the dialogue to normalize relations between Kosovo and Belgrade had stalled.  The Council once again found itself debating an issue that did not need to be on its agenda, and which did not represent a threat to international peace and security.  Calling for a reduction in the number of meetings and reports on UNMIK, which would allow the Council to focus on more pressing issues, he stressed that “we have to accept that discussions in this chamber exist in a bygone era” in which the existence of Kosovo was still questioned.  In that regard, he called on all States to help Kosovo seize its new future instead of dragging it back to the past.

WU HAITO (China) expressed respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Serbia, and understanding for its legitimate concerns on the question of Kosovo.  Resolution 1244 (1999) was the basis for any resolution to the conflict, which must be in line with all the principles of the United Nations Charter.  The Government of Serbia had sought a political solution to the question of Kosovo, and he hoped that both sides would strive to maintain peace and security in the region.  The current security situation was generally stable, but it faced a number of uncertain factors.   In that regard, the rights of all communities of Kosovo must be protected, and actions that would further complicate the situation should be avoided.

YOSHIFUMI OKAMURA (Japan) said the people of Japan were deeply moved to see a Kosovo athlete, Majlinda Kelmendi, winning the Olympic gold medal for judo.  That achievement sent a strong message of hope to Kosovo’s people.  However, Kosovo had yet to qualify for a medal in institution-building.  Citing dozens of security incidents, he said:  “We see no significant progress in the relations between Serbia and Kosovo”.  It was important that Kosovo train police forces in communities, and enhance the rule of law and human rights, and promote capacity building of legal institutions.  He noted, however, Kosovo’s efforts in the area of counter-terrorism.  Kosovo was among the poorest countries in Europe, largely reflecting conflict legacies.  Coal and zinc represented promising export sectors.  Agriculture provided jobs for 40 per cent of the population, with potato and berry exports the main wealth creators.  Tax and revenue reform, and fair welfare distribution, were crucial for growth, he said, stressing that the key to peace was the formation of robust institutions.

YURIY VITRENKO (Ukraine) welcomed improved political conditions in Kosovo, but regretted that implementation of agreements resulting from the European Union-led dialogue had not significantly moved forward.  There was no alternative to the Brussels process, he said, fully supporting the Secretary-General’s call for both sides to resume engagement and show willingness to compromise.  Another issue requiring attention was the safe and sustainable return of refugees and internally displaced persons, “a problem applicable to Ukraine, as well”, he said, emphasizing the right of such persons to return to their places of origin.  Special attention should also be paid to assaults on the cultural and religious heritage of minority communities.  Ukraine strongly supported the important work of UNMIK and other international missions in Kosovo and welcomed the extension of the EULEX mandate for another two years.

JULIO HELDER MOURA LUCAS (Angola) said he was encouraged that that the overall security situation in Kosovo had remained stable and that political conditions had improved.  Underlining the fundamental role of UNMIK, he said a number of sensitive issues remained outstanding, such as the border demarcation agreement with Montenegro.  Efforts to tackle organized crime and corruption had yielded positive results, with no recent reports of anyone from Kosovo joining the conflicts in the Middle East.  Angola remained confident that the political leaders of Belgrade and Priština would be able to reach agreement under the European Union-facilitated dialogue, he said, adding that resolution 1244 (1999) remained the applicable legal framework for a comprehensive solution for Kosovo.

MICHELE SISON (United States), congratulating the Olympic athletes of both Serbia and Kosovo, said Ms. Kelmendi’s gold medal was preceded by years of practice.  The Council, too, had spent years discussing Kosovo, she said.  Having largely fulfilled its mandate, UNMIK should be further consolidated.  While there had been some excellent political reporting from the Mission, she asked what its remaining tasks were.  With the Secretariat and the Council facing more pressing business at hand, she said the Council should debate Kosovo every six months.  Doing so should not be construed as a lack of support for Kosovo.  She noted “with some disappointment” that the pace of normalization had slowed in the past year, and called upon leaders on both sides to uphold their commitments.  Recalling the recent visit by Vice-President Joe Biden to Belgrade and Priština, she called on all Member States to recognize Kosovo, and looked forward to the day it would have a seat in the General Assembly.  That would be good for Kosovo, good for the international community, “and it’s inevitable”.

BEATRIZ NUÑEZ (Uruguay) stressed that resolution 1244 (1999) should serve as the internationally accepted legal basis for resolving the situation in Kosovo, ensuring strict respect for the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity of Serbia.  Challenges remained on the security front, with tensions and increasing reports of attacks on members of Kosovo’s minority communities.  Firmly rejecting the use of such violence, she regretted the lack of significant progress in the dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade and urged all parties to reach a compromise.  Efforts to address of the situation of disappeared persons were particularly important, she said, welcoming the recent meeting of a working group in that regard.  Nevertheless, concerns remained.  With regard to migration, she stressed that regional cooperation focused on a human rights approach was fundamental.

FODÉ SECK (Senegal) welcomed the fact that, despite the tensions that remained, there had been an improvement in the situation in Kosovo marked by a decrease in violent acts and the holding of elections without incident.  While his delegation regretted the lack of progress since the Brussels meeting, he nevertheless encouraged both parties to continue along the path of such momentum.  Other recent positive developments included steps by Kosovo to liberalize the visa regime and promote the rule of law.  The extension of the EULEX mandate was appropriate, he said, urging all parties to work together.

MOHAMMAD ABOULWAFA (Egypt) reaffirmed the importance of building on the parties’ commitments to implement past agreements and to achieve a peaceful settlement of all pending issues, which would only be achieved through the creation of a environment conducive to such aims and continued dialogue under the aegis of the European Union.  Welcoming the decision of the Netherlands to host the special tribunal to investigate war crimes, which would help enforce the rule of law in Kosovo, he stressed the need to bolster efforts on voluntary repatriation of displaced persons, complete reconciliation and non-discrimination, the protection of minority rights and other key areas.  In addition, he expressed his delegation’s support for the five-year strategy to combat extremism announced by Kosovo authorities.

WILMER ALFONZO MÉNDEZ GRATEROL (Venezuela) said resolution 1244 (1999) remained the legal basis for a peaceful solution in Kosovo, and called for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Serbia to be guaranteed.  The support of the United Nations remained vital, especially through UNMIK.  Regretting the absence of significant progress, he encouraged all parties to intensify their efforts to transform the situation.  It was important to support the voluntary return of Serbs who had been displaced from their homes and to promote full respect for the human rights of displaced persons and minorities.  He expressed concern over incidents against Serbo-Kosovar citizens, urged parties to work together on protecting religious and cultural heritage, and highlighted efforts by Kosovo authorities to address terrorism and violent extremism.

CAROLYN SCHWALGER (New Zealand) welcomed improvement in the standards of political engagement, following disruptive incidents in the Kosovo Assembly earlier this year, expressing hope for a more settled political future, with respect for democratic institutions, courts and judges.  She urged renewed efforts to normalize relations between Kosovo and Serbia, expressing hope that progress would be made in implementing agreements for energy, telecoms and Serb-majority municipalities in Kosovo.  She welcomed progress towards establishing the specialized court to try cases brought forward by the European Union Special Investigative Task Force, encouraging the Council to consider adopting a more flexible approach to addressing the agenda item, as there were other issues of more immediate importance.

ALEXIS LAMEK (France), assuring the Special Representative of France’s support, said the future of Kosovo and its regional integration should be decided within the framework of the European Union-led dialogue, rather than in the Council.  He called on the authorities in Kosovo and Serbia to achieve more concrete results in the coming months, citing such issues as the Mitrovica Bridge and Serb-majority municipalities.  Normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina remained indispensable for progress on the path to European integration.  Efforts to strengthen the rule of law in Kosovo must remain a priority.  He welcomed rapid ratification of an agreement with the Netherlands for a specialized judicial chamber in The Hague and reiterated support for the EULEX mission.  Expressing France’s support for international recognition of Kosovo, he reiterated its wish for a progressive transfer of competencies from UNMIK to Kosovo authorities and a change in how often the Council debated Kosovo.

JUAN MANUEL GONZÁLEZ DE LINARES PALOU (Spain) said his delegation had long supported the critical dialogue between Priština and Belgrade.  Circumstances such as election cycles could explain the absence of dialogue in recent months, but the parties must now return to dialogue in a committed manner.  Noting that progress had been achieved, he nevertheless underscored the importance of establishing Serbian municipalities as a necessary step towards reconciliation.  Expressing support for UNMIK, whose role in Kosovo remained crucial, he also stressed that all political leaders must set an example by abandoning incendiary rhetoric and support for violence.  Discussions on the issue of Kosovo remained important and should continue to be held on a regular basis.

RAMLAN BIN IBRAHIM (Malaysia), Council President for August, said in his national capacity that he was encouraged by recent political and economic improvements in Kosovo.  Calling for the continued implementation of Kosovo’s economic reforms, including tackling unemployment, he also took note of significant reductions in violent protests and progress in implementing the 2013 15-point Brussels Agreement.  The Community of Serb Municipalities should be established and efforts should continue to combat terrorism, he said, welcoming Kosovo’s introduction of a law to counter terrorist financing.  There was value in the calls for the Council to reduce its number of meetings on UNMIK, as the situation no longer merited such attention.

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*  The 7759th Meeting was closed.

Lost Wollongong rediscovered through images: photos