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Kosovo: United Nations, ICRC, call for renewed dialogue on missing persons

14-01-2005 News Release N° 05/1

Geneva (ICRC) –Søren Jessen-Petersen, the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative for Kosovo, and Jakob Kellenberger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), today called for a resumption of direct dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina on the issue of missing persons.

Following a meeting with Mr Jessen-Petersen at ICRC headquarters in Geneva, Mr Kellenberger reaffirmed the organization’s commitment to chairing a working group to find out what has happened to more than 3,000 persons still unaccounted for since the conflict ended five years ago. The working group, which brings together representatives of the authorities in Belgrade and Pristina, has only met once since it was set up in March 2004.

“This is above all else a humanitarian issue,” Mr Jessen-Petersen said. “The families of missing persons have been suffering for a long time. I am grateful for the ICRC’s offer to take a lead role in facilitating dialogue because we now need to move on this issue. It has been dormant for too long.” Further delays, he added, would only aggravate the suffering of families in all the communities involved. They had a right to know what had happened to their loved ones.

The urgent need for progress was also stressed by François Stamm, the ICRC's head of operations for South-Eastern Europe, who serves as chairman of the working group. “Thousands of families have been waiting for years now to learn what happened to a missing relative. The authorities on both sides have a responsibility to clear up this question. As a neutral intermediary, the ICRC stands ready to help them. "

A resumption of direct dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade would accelerate the process of returning mortal remains. Better exchange of information would also help overcome technical difficulties and make it easier to determine the whereabouts of missing persons, as well as improve coordination between the different agencies involved.

“T he UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo is ready to move on this issue straight away with the backing of the international community,” Mr Jessen-Petersen said.

In Kosovo, as in other countries in the region, the ICRC is involved in various humanitarian efforts to resolve the problem of missing persons. These include collecting and centralizing personal information (including “ante-mortem data”) on missing persons, publishing books containing details about the missing persons and the clothing and belongings they had with them when they disappeared, and providing their families with both legal and psychological assistance. The ICRC also supports various mutual aid associations set up by the families.

 For further information, please contact:  

 Florian Westphal, ICRC Geneva, tel.: ++41 22 730 2930 or ++41 79 217 3226  

 Marcia Poole, UNMIK, tel.: ++381 38 504 604