The EU’s representative in Kosovo, Samuel Zbogar, said the issue of the 1,762 people missing since the late 1990s war with Serbian forces was an “emotional bomb”.
“I understand it’s an emotional bomb and there’s emotional energy behind this issue,” said Zbogar during a visit to the Kosovo city of Gjakova/Djakovica on Thursday, where he met members of the Missing Persons Association.
“This is an issue that has to remain open - it has to remain on the table until it is closed,” he said.
Since the end of the late 1990s war, the International Committee of the Red Cross has been arranging contacts between Kosovo and Serbia on the issue, but progress has remained slow.
However Kosovo and Serbia’s prime ministers agreed during EU-sponsored talks in December last year to intensify cooperation between their respective commissions for missing persons.
“I hope normalisation of relations between Kosovo and Serbia, which we hope to achieve in this [EU-backed Pristina-Belgrade] dialogue, will help to solve this issue as well,” Zbogar said.
But he also suggested that “it is probably best to leave it to the humanitarian field and not to make it too political”.
Some of the families of the missing have expressed frustration that the Kosovo government has not stepped up its efforts to solve the problem, as it has promised.
“You’re always waiting for something, but you never know what you’re waiting for,” Myrvete Hoti-Kosumi, sister of Ukshin Hoti, a politician who went missing during the conflict, told BIRN.
She said that “hope has faded away that something will be done with regard to the missing”.
Pristina and Belgrade’s missing persons commissions met twice during 2012, but the timeline for the future meetings remains unclear.
“More pressure has to be put on Belgrade,” argued Prenk Gjetaj, chief of Kosovo’s missing persons commission.
Gjetaj said that in the meantime, the commission would continue to gather information about possible mass graves before excavations become possible again in the spring.
But of the 36 locations where excavations were planned during 2012, only 19 were carried out, partly because of security concerns.
“There are some problems with regard to some locations in the northern part of Kosovo. [The EU rule of law mission] EULEX says the lack of security is the main reasons excavations cannot take place there, but the conditions could be met if [NATO’s force in Kosovo] KFOR deals with that,” Gjetaj said.