at the ceremony for change of responsibility Italy – Iceland at Slatina airport on 3 March.
President Rugova, Prime Minister Rexhepi, General Mini, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen;
It is with great pleasure that I take part in this ceremony marking the transfer of responsibility of Slatina airport from Italy to Iceland. Let me say at the outset that we are well aware of the important role that Slatina airport has in Kosovo in terms of making possible safe and secure air communications for goods and people to and from the region. We therefore take very seriously the task that we are taking on and will make every effort to carry it out in such a way as to ensure the effective operation of this airport.
To our Italian friends who have had this responsibility for the past two years let me say that we highly appreciate the cooperation and the manner in which you worked with our team in making this transfer. I am well aware of the excellent work that you have done during your time here. I also recognize the important contribution that you will continue to make in terms of providing for the radar at the airport which is in fact crucial to the whole operation. For all this we are certainly grateful.
As of today, this work will be carried on by a multinational effort with contributions from altogether 14 nations. Our team here is looking forward to a smooth and effective cooperation with all of them during the time ahead.
We find ourselves in the midst of a process which aims at the transfer of all airfield operations to UNMIK and civilian control, the target date being 1. April 2004. The implementation and success of this transition will require the continued good cooperation of KFOR and UNMIK. I would like to take this opportunity to thank these two organizations for their valuable support extended to us during the past months. I can confirm here that Iceland is ready to carry on its lead nation responsibility into the spring of next year by which time we hope that the transition will be successfully concluded.
The passing on to UNMIK and civilian control next year will indeed be an important step in the process of returning Kosovo to a more normal life. As such it also contributes to ongoing developments which aim at making Kosovo an integral and valuable part of Europe. Coming from an island nation we realize how important air communications are for connecting with the world at large. It is in this context that I see the role of Slatina airport in Kosovo.
Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen. Let me conclude by bringing you the best wishes of the Icelandic people and I sincerely wish you and the Kosovar people every success in the future.