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Interview: Kosovo's President Defends Decision To Control Northern Border


Kosovo's President Atifete Jahjaga in conversation with RFE/RL's Kosovo Unit

Kosovo's President Atifete Jahjaga in conversation with RFE/RL's Kosovo Unit

Tensions remain high along Kosovo's northern border with Serbia following a move by the Kosovar government last month to establish control over checkpoints there.

NATO peacekeepers moved into the region on July 28, following clashes between Kosovar police and ethnic Serbian nationalists.

RFE/RL Kosovo Unit Editor in Chief Arbana Vidishiqi sat down in Pristina with Kosovo's President Atifete Jahjaga to discuss the tense situation in the north and the future of Kosovo's relations with Serbia.

RFE/RL: The situation in northern Kosovo remains tense. How do you think things there will resolve themselves?

Atifete Jahjaga: There is no choice other than the rule of law and the full implementation of constitutionality and legality across the entire territory of the Republic of Kosovo. The issue of autonomy at the municipal level and the realization of the collective rights of communities have been organized by the Ahtisaari package and by decentralization policies.

The government's decision on reciprocity measures on trade between the Republic of Kosovo and the Republic of Serbia, as well as the engagement of the police force to oversee and implement this decision by controlling custom checkpoints No. 1 and 31 and the entire border between Kosovo and Serbia to prevent illegal crossings and smuggling, is a proper decision in keeping with the rule of law.

It is in the best interests of all our citizens -- in the interest of Kosovo and Serbia as well.

RFE/RL: The EU has called for the situation in the north to return to what it was before, but the Kosovo government has said there is no turning back. In your view, how can this be resolved?

Dialogue should continue on practical issues, but cannot touch the constitutional order or legality of Kosovo or of Serbia. Kosovo will not talk to anyone -- cannot talk to anyone -- on issues of its internal affairs.
Jahjaga: The EU’s request should be seen as a request to return to normalcy and the creation of a calm situation without polarizations. Nobody should feel that the EU is insisting on returning to the previous situation, when organized crime and smuggling flourished.

The integrated management of borders -- meaning control and respect for rules -- is a fundamental principle of the EU.

The government's decision attests to the commitment of our state to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity as a fundamental right of Kosovo and to allow customs [procedures] to function at border checkpoints with other countries.

RFE/RL: Still, the EU mission on rule of law (EULEX) has been criticized by Kosovo authorities for "delays in implementing its mandate in the north." The government has requested a change in the approach this mission has. Is it time for a change?

Jahjaga: This criticism of EULEX is right because EULEX should be implementing the rule of law and should be fighting organized crime and smuggling -- which, in the past, it has not done successfully.

EULEX, as a European mission, maintains a neutral stance on Kosovo's status. But its stance on implementing the rule of law should not be neutral as well.

This mission was invited by Kosovar institutions and its mandate is very clear. It was quite properly expected that EULEX would support the government's decision and the action of Kosovar police because its mission involves coordinating with Kosovo's institutions in the fields of law and law enforcement.

RFE/RL: International authorities have appealed for these issues to be discussed in a dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade. What chances does this dialogue have now -- after the events in north?

Jahjaga: The dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia, which has begun in Brussels with EU mediation and is based on a UN General Assembly resolution, is intended to find practical solutions by which the life of ordinary citizens in the region can be improved.
Belgrade should play a constructive role. It should accept reality, and it should strive for normal relations with the state of Kosovo.

Serbia unilaterally decided not to continue the scheduled round of that dialogue, and there was no alternative left other than to implement reciprocity measures on trade and full control of the border, which is a constitutional obligation of Kosovo.

Dialogue should continue on practical issues, but cannot touch the constitutional order or legality of Kosovo or of Serbia.

Kosovo will not talk to anyone -- cannot talk to anyone -- on issues of its internal affairs. The solutions produced by this dialogue should be European, based on the standards and practices of EU member states.

Kosovo is ready to talk to any country -- including Serbia -- about issues that are in the interests of our country and our citizens.

RFE/RL: How do you see official Belgrade’s role in this regard?

Jahjaga: Belgrade should play a constructive role. It should accept reality, and it should strive for normal relations with the state of Kosovo.

This is in the interest of Serbia's citizens and in the interest of Kosovo's citizens -- including those of Serbian ethnicity, whose interests Serbia claims it protects.

The Republic of Kosovo is a sovereign and independent state. It is a state built on the principles of multiethnic, multicultural, and multiconfessional citizenship, which respects the rights of everyone, but insists that everyone should also respect the constitution and the laws.

Kosovo and Serbia should establish a normal relationship, like other countries in the region have, because only in this way can peace and stability be sustained in the Balkans. And only in this way can we move forward toward EU integration.

RFE/RL: Would you be prepared to meet with Serbian President Boris Tadic?

Jahjaga: Kosovo has already begun a dialogue process, and I admit that this dialogue is not the best way. But it is the only way for two countries that have undergone a war and a conflict among themselves to resolve their problems, their differences.

I have also said previously: I am ready to meet anyone, at any place, if such a thing is in the interests of Kosovo's citizens and in the interests of Kosovo itself.

Like other countries in the region, Kosovo has its future in European integration. And the golden rule of the EU is that all countries aspiring for membership must resolve their disputes among themselves.

People should avoid 19th-century ideas regarding divisions and territorial rearrangements. Kosovo and Serbia should move toward EU integration by supporting one another, not by opposing each other.

I strongly believe that Kosovo will, as with other countries, sign bilateral agreements with Serbia and will establish diplomatic relations as well.

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