New head of UN Kosovo mission optimistic about a status settlement

Speaking at the headquarters of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) in Pristina yesterday, Joachim Rücker said work would focus on preparing for the operation’s departure and the handover of Kosovo to the appropriate authorities, as determined by a final status settlement. The UN has run Kosovo, an Albanian-majority Serbian province, since international forces drove out Yugoslav troops in 1999 amid ethnic fighting. Independence and autonomy are among options that have been mentioned for its final status.“I recognize and I respect that minority communities in Kosovo, especially the Kosovo Serb community, need special reassurances, and I would emphasize that the majority population has an obligation and responsibility to reach out to the minorities more than ever before,” said Mr. Rücker, who assumes his post on 1 September and said he expects to be the Secretary-General’s “last” Special Representative there.He said the key tasks ahead included the creation of stable institutions, a peaceful and secure environment, economic development, and minority participation in Kosovo’s life.“I have great faith in the people of Kosovo, and in particular I have great faith in Kosovo’s young generation, a generation that has the opportunity to live in peace and prosperity,” he said.Mr. Rücker added that UNMIK would work to leave behind a united Kosovo, despite the fact that Serbia rejects the idea of independence and Kosovo’s Serbs have been boycotting the province’s local government.“We cannot and we will not accept partition as an option,” he said. “Engagement with UNMIK and with the Kosovo Institutions is the only method of ensuring that the Kosovo Serb concerns are addressed and an acceptable solution is found.” read more

Last mile in fight against Ebola will be the hardest says senior

“There is most definitely a fantastic combined community, national and international effort that has turned this crisis around,” John Ging, Director of Operations for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told reporters at a press briefing in New York earlier today.“But there is no room for complacency,” Mr. Ging added. “The last mile is the hardest mile. We must stay the course.”Confirming the need for ongoing vigilance, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported today a surge in new Ebola cases this past week, ending a series of declines the agency noted when it reported that the number of new cases in the three hardest-hit countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone recently fell below 100 for the first time in seven months.“While remarkable progress has been made, we must not forget that it only takes one new case to start a new outbreak,” stressed Mr. Ging.He also noted that as optimism among Ebola responders grows, a simultaneous shift towards recovery is also taking place with efforts focusing on sending children back to school and rebuilding the local economies that were gutted by the epidemic. Mr. Ging, who recently visited countries in the Ebola-affected region to assess existing emergency coordination structure, explained to journalists that emergency health workers had undertaken “heroic” efforts in educating communities and treating Ebola patients as “human as possible.” Above all, he said, they had been instrumental in broadcasting the mantra that “early detection, early treatment is the key to survival” despite the strident communication difficulties present in many of the West African countries. “If you get into detection centres early, survival rates can increase and they do,” he noted, in response to questions.In Guinea alone, communication remained a “big challenge” with only two per cent of the population owning a television. Moreover, community outreach had encountered much resistance with suspicion and fear breeding misperceptions and misinformation and fomenting, in some cases, acts of violence against the health workers. Nevertheless, Mr. Ging continued, communities remained mobilized with children returning to school and reclaiming their futures – a key to helping these countries “get back on their feet as soon as possible.” “This crisis has exposed weaknesses in the health services delivery for the populations in these countries,” he said, warning that Ebola would only be defeated if responders also confronted the issues that prompted the crisis. As a result, he urged donors to remain focused on combatting the disease and maintain “the resolve to stay the course, to eliminate the virus.” It is not a question of if West Africa will get to zero cases, but a question of when, Mr. Ging concluded. “The number of cases has been reduced dramatically,” he said. “It has brought a sense of hope for people in the region.” read more