Notes following Briefing by Ambassador George Nene on Kosovo’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence, Union Buildings, Pretoria, Tuesday 19 February 2008

Ladies and gentlemen of the press, welcome again to our regular briefings on issues of international importance to our government and the people of South Africa.

Today, as always instructed by our Chief Mamoepa here, that I should come and give you an update – not a critical analysis, an update on what is happening on the issue of Kosovo in the (UN) Security Council.

As you know I am George Nene, responsible for multilateral issues in the Department of Foreign Affairs.

We did say when we started this year that in our last year in the membership of the non-permanent of the Presidency of the Security Council, we will be dealing with very difficult and complex issues. Some of them we have been very much familiar with, some of them we are still grappling to intimately be acquainted and know them, and one of those is Kosovo.

I think like all South Africans, we never had Kosovo high on our agenda. But it is such and exciting and complex situation that if you work in international relations or if you are a politician you will always find the issue of Kosovo very interesting  but also very challenging.

So the latest development as it relates to the Security Council – the issue of Kosovo’s future status has been one of the most divisive issues for the Council and it has failed to take any action on the matter.

As you can recall in 2006 the Secretary General of the UN launched a process to look at the issue of Kosovo’s future status. He then appointed a special envoy, former President Martti Ahtisaari in March 2007.

Atisary presented a plan for the supervised independence of Kosovo to the Security Council. This proposal, opposed by Serbia, was not adopted by a divided Council, as many members; especially the Russian Federation and China held the opinion that such an imposed solution would be illegal.

Following failure in the Security Council, the contact group for Kosovo appointed a Troika, that is the European Union, the US and the Russian Federation to engage in a 22-day process of intense negotiations with Serbia and Kosovo to provide the two parties with the opportunity to reach a negotiated process on the province’s future status.

Options discussed included Full Independence, Supervised Independence – that is the Ahtisaari plan; Territorial Partition, Substantial Autonomy, Confederal Arrangements and the Status Neutral of Arrangements to agree to disagree, that is delaying a decision on the sovereignty while implementing other areas of the agreement.

The Troika concluded that while the negotiation process served a useful purpose, in that it provided the parties with an opportunity to bridge their differences on technical matters, the parties’ inability to reach an agreement on the future status of Kosovo was regrettable, as a negotiated settlement is in the interest of both parties.

Serbia has declared its willingness to proceed with negotiations process and to give Kosovo substantial autonomy with Serbia. Kosovo Albanians have indicated that further negotiations would serve no purpose as they want nothing else but independence.

For them it will be impossible to rejoin Serbia given the history of Kosovo. Independence was therefore inevitable.

On February 15 2008, the Security Council convened at an emergency private debate at the request of the Republic of Serbia and the Russian Federation to discuss, I quote: “the preparatory activities of the provisional institution of self-government for a unilateral declaration of independence”.

That meeting was addressed by the Foreign Minister of Serbia who requested the Council and the EU not to break up Serbia and to allow for negotiations to continue.

He stated unambiguously that Serbia would never accept or recognise Kosovo, and I quote: “not in a year, not in a decade, for Kosovo and Metohija to remain part of Serbia for ever”.

At this meeting, South Africa and seven other members of the Security Council called for continuation of negotiations. As you might be aware, over the weekend the unilateral declaration of independence by the provisional institution for the self-government of Kosovo on the 17th was declared.

The UNSC held an emergency session to discuss the developments in Kosovo but Council members were divided as to how to proceed on the matter.

This is how they were divided:

Serbia and Russia rejected the UDI with Serbia stating that Kosovo is an integral part of Serbia and always will be. The government and the National Assembly of Serbia have declared the UDI null and void.

A number of European countries – France, Italy, Germany, United Kingdom, recognised Kosovo on Monday the 18th after a meeting of EU Foreign Ministers in Brussels.

The US also announced its recognition on Monday the 18th.

The three EU states indicated that they will not recognise Kosovo, that is Cyprus, Romania and Slovakia.

On the 18th of February 2008 the Security Council held an open emergency meeting to consider Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence. The meeting was addressed by the President of Serbia and the Secretary General of the UN.

The President of Serbia again reiterated his country’s views regarding the illegality of the declaration and its violation of the Security Council 1244. He added that the act legalised the threat of violence as a means of creating new states.

He also reiterated the issue of precedence.

The Council again remained divided on the way forward and the legality of the declaration as well as the legality of the proposed EU mission to Kosovo.

We have always participated in these discussions as South Africa and have consistently reiterated the principle of peaceful political dialogue in the resolution of any conflict.

Patience and perseverance, and not might, we think will deliver a better solution which will have a lasting effect.

The UN Charter and international law and sovereignty must be upheld at all times.

South Africa holds the view that even at this late hour there remains space for dialogue and negotiations that could help contribute to long-term peace in the Balkans.

South Africa as a member of the UN, a member of the Non-Aligned Movement and the African Union upholds and promotes the principle of territorial integrity of states. So it is clear that the current developments in Kosovo have serious implications for the international community.

Our government will be studying and will be studying the political and legal implications of this new development.

We would have preferred a solution to be found within the legal and the political principles set out in the Security Council resolution.

The unilateral declaration of independence by the provisional institutions of self-governance of Kosovo presents the international community, together with ourselves, with a serious challenge.

In view of this South Africa will remain ceased with this complex and serious matter.

That is what we wanted to present to you on the latest developments on issues around Kosovo. It is an issue that is still ongoing. The interested parties keep on calling for different types of meetings, whether they are open, private, emergency or scheduled, so we expect that anytime developments around this issue in the United Nations may continue.


Question: Pardon me for my ignorance but to me it sounds like South Africa doesn’t want to come out clearly on whether it recognises or doesn’t recognise the unilateral declaration of independence of Kosovo.

Answer:  I wish you were a diplomat not a journalist then you’d understand why the statement is carved the way it is carved.  There is no way South Africa can consciously not want to take a position on this.  But you can only take a position in a matter that is not ongoing.  If the matter is ongoing you engage it guided by your own principles and values as enshrined in our own Constitution and in our foreign policy objectives.  As we engage in this issue with members of the Council and people who are outside of the Council, and as you may be aware we were visited last year by a lot of delegations from both sides.  So we continue to engage this issue and I can safely say to you, we were given instructions to make sure that what we present to our political principals and Cabinet is information that is not lacking.  We can’t go to Cabinet now on an issue that is ongoing and if you listened to me, the countries that are very definitive on their stand are the three EU, the US, both parties that is Serbia and Russia and to a large extent China.  And a very big part of the Security Council members and some members of the EU.  Others are very definitive like Spain.  But because this is not a bilateral issue, this is not the General Assembly it’s the Security Council the rules of the game are very different.  We would be jumping the gun if even before our politicians consider this, because this is a political issue than a diplomatic issue.  It has serious implications as I did say in my statement, those issues be they political or legal, and me and my colleagues we are not legal experts.  So whatever we are going to prepare we are still going to take to the state law advisors before we take it to the politicians.  But we must do a thorough job, Ambassador Kumalo gives us reports everyday we reply to him everyday.  It’s a question of time before South Africa takes a definite position. 

Question:  …(inaudible) legality of the declared independence of the Serbian region of Kosovo.  Do you think that it creates a very dangerous precedent on other situations in the world, especially in Africa, I mean this danger of secessions?

Answer:  I can’t pronounce on the legality or illegality, or whether this will set a precedence or not.  I can only say the Serbians have said so, the Russians have said so.  The other side has a different view because they think everything has been exhausted, they think Kosovo will just be following what has happened after the Balkans war.  So it’s a question of how you interpret and where you stand.  But, as I said, when we finish we’ve got our own legal experts.  If it proves to be legal and legitimate, it will create a precedence.  This is my own interpretation from where I stand as a layman.

Question:  Ambassador you mentioned only one thing that I think could be considered as implied position.  You said that South Africa upholds the principle of territorial integrity of states, and that seemed to imply a rejection of what has happened with the unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo.  Could you comment on that.  And whether you see any balancing virtues in what has been done in the sense perhaps of an expression of the right to the Albanian people for self expression and independence, as a counterbalancing principle.

Answer:  There is no implication as far as we are concerned.  Whatever we do anywhere internationally, as I’ve just said, is guided by our own values and principles.  And it is these values that made us very active members of the AU, SADC, Non-Aligned Movement or the Security Council, General Assembly, and of the Human Rights Council.  And these values are known.  So if you belong to these organisations you uphold those values otherwise there is no need for you to be there, you might as well be an observer and move out as Mexico did move out some time ago.  And we are not ready to move.  We think NAM has a role in international relations.  But we felt we should put this paragraph because whether we like it or not, as we say it has implications.  What’s happening now has implications for everybody. So we felt we should say to we felt it has implications for NAM.  How NAM as a body is going to treat this we don’t know, until whenever NAM is going to meet.  We are just stating the principles that underpin what NAM and AU and the United Nations stand for.  We are not implying anything.  You are talking about the virtues of balancing.  We’ve not said publicly anything about UDI.  We engaged the Kosovas, we engaged the Serbians both in New York and in the Capital, especially last year.  It’s not an easy case of saying you can dismiss one of the two, that’s why it is complex.  If it was an easy question like when you say it’s an issue of the occupying power, we know where we stand.  We don’t need to go to legal experts.  We’d not need to go to politicians because our instructions are very clear.  We can’t support an occupying power, whether it is in Western Sahara or anywhere else, so we’d know what to do.  So why we are seized with this matter it’s because we think it’s a new and a serious challenge.  And once you make a mistake at an international level it’s very difficult to retract it.  So in order to do a thorough job as officials, we can’t rush the politicians.

Question:  Ambassador, are we then in the majority by not yet taking a position?  A minority of countries have taken a position on this.  How does our indecisiveness square with our declaration going into the Security Council that we would take principled stands and brave stands on difficult issues?

Answer:  It’s not a question of us being in the majority or minority, as it has never been.  It’s not a question of us being with Russia or China and it has never been and it will never be.  We’ve got our own principles that guide us.  So we are not guided by saying we want to be with the majority on this issue.  If it works out that South Africa believes that here are the guidelines, go and negotiate here are your red-lines, we find ourselves in the minority as we have before, we’ll take that bold step underpinned by our values and principles.  It will continue like that until the 31st of December 2008.

Question:  Ambassador, in the meantime Kosovo will be preparing itself to establish an army, currency, stock-exchange and all sorts of things that a so-called independent state will be doing while the United Nations Security Council fiddles.  What would be happening then in the meantime, because these guys are moving on they’ve made a decision and they are going on, while at the same time Serbia is preparing itself for war because it believes this is a declaration of war?

Answer:  It’s not a major issue because if you read the Matisaria report and you read reactions to it, the negotiations went ahead so far as to say: ok you can do everything while we continue to discuss your final status.  They can belong to NATO, they can belong to the EU, they can create banks, they can create anything.  These two people who are relatives, or one person as far as I’m concerned, they’ve discussed more elements than the ones you’ve enumerated.  But there the other party had said please let’s not touch that one.  For historical reasons, moral reasons, political reasons, let’s continue to find ourselves let’s close the gap.  So I don’t think it creates a serious problem, the creation and establishment of elements of statehood.  And as far as I know nobody has promised retaliation by violence.

Question:  Ambassador, in terms of the timeframes you say you are still going to be consulting with legal experts.  How soon are we to expert government to pronounce itself on the matter?  And as a follow up, this is not an issue that came yesterday or this week, as you said South Africa has been engaged and there have been presentations by envoys from those areas, in terms of where do you stand people want to know in terms of your assessment, countries pin their trust on South Africa as a member of the UN Security Council.  People really want to know where do we stand.  Many countries in the 3rd world that support South Africa in Security Council would want to know South Africa’s interpretation, where do we stand?

Answer:  As I’ve said in my statement, we’ve engaged this process.  First we realised that Kosovo was not top of the agenda of South Africans.  But when we entered the Security Council we knew that those issues that were not top of our agenda we’d be confronted with.  We prepared for that.  We sent experts to go and learn more about Kosovo, learn more about the Balkans, so that when we inform and seek guidance from the politicians we shall have made our own interpretations from where we sit as South Africans.  That’s where we come from.  It’s not only a complex matter for South Africa, as you can see with what’s happening in the Security Council.  I think since we’ve been in the Security Council this is one issue where the Security Council has met three times and remain divided almost in the middle with no outcome.  So it is a serious issue not only for South Africa.  Why should South Africa rush to make a conclusion.  If we rush to make a conclusion, we’d be doing something contrary to what we believe: that it is never too late to find time to negotiate for a settlement that will be sustainable.  So you are saying we should rush and the politicians must rush and pronounce.  We say when we receive today a report about what happened in the Security Council, we’ll compile a report with all the facts.  But it is not South Africa that dictates what happens next in the meetings of the Security Council.  We are going to prepare so that if it happens next time this is how far this issue the Security Council has dealt with it and this history will then guide us to seek guidance from our Minister.  But I’m saying to you we have been instructed to draft a Cabinet memo for politicians to discuss.  So far after there was no agreement we will continue to monitor the situation.  Whether Russia will call the meeting or whether any of the P5 will call another meeting, whether any of the non-permanent members will call the meeting on this issue, we will stay ready.  By that time we will have handed the issue to Cabinet.  When Cabinet hands it over back to us we will keep it in our arsenal because then it is our instruction on how to handle the matter in the Security Council.  So I can’t give you dates.  In multilateralism you never give dates especially if you are not one of the P5 who can dictate.  That’s how the game is played, we found it like that in 1994 and can’t change it.  To change it you need all the P5 not to veto that.  I said to you we make reports from our missions and because it has legal implications we ask the legal section to give us a legal opinion before we hand over to the politicians.  They’ll then give us their instructions and we’ll wait for the Security Council.

Question:  Can I ask you two questions please Ambassador.  Is there any chance of us taking the New Zealand option?  They said they don’t feel any need to jump in and make a decision now.  They will allow their relations with Kosovo in the years ahead to show how they recognise the state or not.  It seemed to me a decision not to make a decision.  The other question I wanted to ask you is how you would define the difference between Kosovo and Western Sahara.  You mentioned one element now which is that Western Sahara was occupied by military force.  Is that in essence the difference between the two?

Answer:  New Zealand decided on a particular path, we respect their right to do so.  Whether our minister and our politicians need to follow that route, we’ve not discussed that as yet.  I’m not making comparisons between Kosovo and Western Sahara.  They fall under similar principals of international law but are not totally similar.  I was just trying to explain how you handle issues at the multilateral level, especially at the Security Council.

Question:  Can you tell me what do you think is there something else that the Security Council can do to resolve peacefully this situation of Kosovo?  And secondly, if so what could be the role of South Africa as part of the Security Council to seek this resolution? Thank you.

Answer:  The Security Council’s overriding aim is to ensure that the issue of Kosovo is resolved to the best interests of both parties.  That is their overriding aim.  We are part of that.  So we will contribute to anything that will see the Security Council achieving its objectives.  And what we are going to do will be dictated by developments as they occur.  So I can’t say South Africa will do this tomorrow.  We will just continue to play our part within the Security Council and will always make sure that if we have a fore-warning to say this might erupt into violence then the Security Council must be warned that this seems to be going out of control.  But so far from where we are standing, both governments and especially the new elected government don’t intend to go to war. The other ones say they just want their independence.  To me there’s no recipe for war for now. But if there will be that’s the work of the Security Council that if it gets indications at the Secretary-General’s level then the Secretary General will have to bring it to the Security Council for discussion and a way forward.  Thank you.

Issued by Department of Foreign Affairs
Private Bag X152

19 February 2008

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