EU mission launch delayed amid protests and doubts

Other News Materials 2 December 2008 17:13 (UTC +04:00)

A European Union mission designed to oversee law enforcement in volatile Kosovo will begin operations on December 9, a week later than planned, a spokesman said Tuesday.

"We are ready, but there is some fine tuning to be settled first," said Viktor Reuter, spokesman for the Eulex mission, referring to wrangling between Belgrade, Pristina, the EU and UN, reproted dpa.

Brussels promised to deploy the Eulex shortly after Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in February. However Belgrade, which is backed by Russia in its insistence that the secession was illegal, won concessions from the EU and UN.

The concessions materialized in a 6-point plan the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon unveiled last week.

According to the plan, the UN, which has governed Kosovo since 1999 and was due to leave when Eulex arrives, would retain control over areas in Kosovo which are dominated by Serbs.

The leadership in Pristina, representing the territory's 90-per cent Albanian majority, angrily rejected the plan and now insists Eulex must deploy and take control over all of Kosovo.

The mission was designed to comprise some 2,000 police, justice and customs officials helping Kosovo implement laws. Some 1,300 are already in place, EU officials say.

But it is not clear how Eulex can act without controlling the areas where Serbs are in a majority, most of all in their largest enclave in the north, which borders Serbia proper and in which Belgrade supports a parallel administration.

Kosovo Albanian politicians fear that splitting jurisdiction would cement the existing ethnic partition of Kosovo and eventually cost them the northernmost 25 per cent of its territory.

"For us it's important ... to see Eulex deployed as soon as possible across Kosovo," President Fatmir Sejdiu said Tuesday, stressing that he did not "understand the delays."

"Eulex will deploy on December 9 ... the mission will be meaningful only if from day one it is also installed in the northern Mitrovica," Prime Minister Hashim Thaci told a round table Monday.

"If Eulex doesn't start in the north on the very first day, then this mission will become senseless, Thaci said. Mitrovica is a tense, divided town, with its northern section the Serb hub in Kosovo.

While Pristina officials say they welcome Eulex, some groups vehemently oppose it on the grounds it limits Kosovo's independence and have called for protests against its deployment.

On Tuesday several thousand Kosovo Albanians rallied against the mission in central Pristina. The turnout was however lower than a similar protest a week ago.

There also was a bombing attack on Eulex offices in Pristina on November 14 - an obscure, possibly fictional Albanian group claimed responsibility for it.

Three agents of the German intelligence service BND were arrested in connection with the attack, but were controversially released on Friday, after 10 days in investigative custody.

Kosovo has been recognized by more than 50 nations since its proclamation of independence, including the United States and most EU nations.

Russia has, however, blocked its full-fledged acceptance in the UN and Serbia has launched an initiative at the UN's International Court of Justice for a ruling on the legality of the secession.

Serbia regards Kosovo as a core province, but lost control over it when NATO ousted Serb security forces there in 1999 to put an end to ethnic bloodshed.