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EU Launches Rule-Of-Law Mission In Kosovo


A Hungarian EULEX police officer (left) walks with his local counterpart in the Serbian enclave of Gracanica.

A Hungarian EULEX police officer (left) walks with his local counterpart in the Serbian enclave of Gracanica.

(RFE/RL) -- The European Union has launched EULEX, its rule-of-law mission in the fledgling Balkan state of Kosovo.

A total of nearly 2,000 international and local EULEX staff workers began work on December 9 throughout the country.

Speaking at a press conference in Pristina, mission chief Yves de Kermabon said the workday had begun without any reported incidents of violence or delay.

"It means that from this morning, in all the police stations, the courthouses, and the customs, our people are starting this mission of monitoring, mentoring, and advising their local counterparts," he said.

The deployment marks the formal transfer of power to the EU from the United Nations, whose mission in Kosovo had administered the former Serbian province for nearly a decade.

Some Pristina residents welcomed the change.

Artan Mustafa, an ethnic Albanian, told RFE/RL that EULEX offered the hope of a fresh start following years of what he called muddled UN administration that focused mainly on political matters.

"Today we have the beginning of an EU system of justice administration, which can be of fundamental help for this society to prosper," Mustafa said. "Even though the image of this mission is low at the moment, it can really offer extraordinary help for Kosovo's progress."

EULEX, which is expected to employ a total of 3,000 European, American, and local staff when it comes to full capacity in a few months' time, is tasked with bringing Kosovo's law-and-order institutions in line with European standards.

It also aims to bring a measure of stability to the fragile new state, which is plagued by continued tensions between its ethnic-Albanian majority and an ethnic-Serbian minority that is backed by Belgrade.

Pieter Feith, the EU's special envoy in Kosovo, called the launch an important step in EU-Kosovo relations. But he warned the success of the mission would depend on the support of all of Kosovo's communities.

"I would like to make a special plea to the Kosovo Serb community to work closely with EULEX in the interest of its own people, and to be assured that the mission of EULEX will fully respect the way of life of the Kosovo Serb community here in Kosovo," Feith said.

EULEX, officially known as the European Union Rule of Law Mission, was created at the time of Kosovo's independence declaration in February 2008.

Mission's Disputed Role

Its deployment, however, has not been a simple process.

Originally scheduled to launch in June, the mission was put on hold amid strong objections from Serbia. Belgrade, which refuses to accept Kosovo's independence, was angered when 22 of the EU's 27 member states recognized Pristina's declaration.

Serbian officials argued the EU was politically biased and could not adequately protect the rights of Kosovar Serbs.

Together with the United Nations, it backed a six-point plan that would keep responsibility for Serbian-majority areas under the UN mission's control.

Graffiti in Pristina
Albanian officials in Pristina balked at the proposal, saying it amounted to a de facto partition of Kosovo.

Kosovar Prime Minister Hashim Thaci underscored Pristina's determination that the EULEX mission support Kosovo's territorial integrity and bring an end to dual Serb and Kosovar institutions.

"We expect the functioning of all legitimate institutions of the Republic of Kosovo -- across all of its territory," Thaci said. "[We also expect] no functioning on the part of illegitimate parallel structures, and that there be only one legislation, one set of laws, on the territory of Kosovo."

EULEX begins its work under a compromise arrangement allowing it to function throughout Kosovo -- but under temporary UN supervision in Serb-majority regions like northern Mitrovica.

That decision has angered Serbs and Albanians alike.

Nebojsa Jovic, a member of the Serb National Council in Mitrovica, expressed concern that the sudden absence of UN police might create a dangerous security situation. He says it would have been better to postpone the EULEX deployment until its mandate was clarified.

"If they demonstrate above everything that they will be status-neutral, then there will be no problems from Serb community's side, on the contrary, it would bolster confidence," Jovic said. "But, within 24 hours, UN police will take off their uniforms and one may ask who are we going to cooperate with, since EULEX is not in total control."

Kosovar Albanians, who initially saw the EULEX mission as a final stage in their long struggle for independence, have been disappointed by what they see as a watering down of EULEX's original mandate.

Pristina resident Jonuz Krasniqi said the EU mission will be a success only if its work is based on the Kosovo constitution and its commitment to independence.

"If they operate according to those six points [put forward by the UN], it's a bad thing -- not only for us, but also for EULEX itself, because it would lack respect," Krasniqi said.

Some Pristina residents welcomed the change. Artan Mustafa said that EULEX offered the hope of a fresh start following years of what he called muddled UN administration that focused mainly on political matters.

"Today we have the beginning of an EU system of justice administration, which can be of fundamental help for this society to prosper," Mustafa said. "Even though the image of this mission is low at the moment, it can really offer extraordinary help for Kosovo's progress."

More than 100 EULEX personnel have been dispatched to police, border, and court posts in northern Kosovo.

The 16,000-member NATO peacekeeping force in Kosovo, KFOR, has been put on heightened alert in case of protests or riots.

"I expect for them to finally be on our side, on the Serbs' side," said one woman, a Serb resident of north Mitrovica. "They definitely need to be real and work in the right way. If they do that, no one will stand in their way. But if they work against Serbia and the Serb people, then of course no one will be on their side."

Such attitudes put EULEX in a delicate position as it seeks to gain the trust of Kosovo Serbs. EULEX chief de Kermabon has acknowledged it may take the EU mission longer to fully deploy in Serb-controlled areas.

In the longer run, EULEX faces numerous bureaucratic challenges, including a massive backlog of judicial cases, many involving war crimes stemming from the 1998-99 war in Kosovo between Yugoslav and Serbian forces and Kosovar Albanian guerillas.

The rights group Amnesty International has called on EULEX to ensure that progress is made on more than 1,500 unresolved war crimes investigations.

RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service contributed to this report, with agency reports.
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