It is a day many Kosovar Albanians have waited for since they declared independence nearly 10 months ago.
Hundreds of European Union and U.S. personnel have assumed responsibility
for bringing Kosovo's rule-of-law institutions in line with European standards. They take the place of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), which has administered the territory since 1999.
"We're at initial capacity. We'll have about 1,300 or so people here," deputy chief Roy Reeve said in describing the European Union Rule of Law Mission, commonly known as EULEX, ahead of its deployment. when it reaches full capacity will represent the EU's largest civilian mission to date.
"We will have a couple of months to build up to the full operational strength of the mission, which is the 1,900, plus 1,000 national staff working with us," Reeve said.
The December 9 transfer from UNMIK to EULEX was meant to be a high-water mark in Kosovo's evolution from a former Serbian province to a UN protectorate to an independent state.
Instead, the chaotic lead-up to the deployment has prompted fears the EULEX mission may ultimately lead to the de facto partition of the ethnically divided territory.
EULEX has had several false starts since the mission was first approved in December 2007, two months ahead of Kosovo's independence declaration. Compromise Plan
The EULEX launch was repeatedly postponed amid protests from Serbia and its ally Russia that the mission would fail to protect the rights of Kosovo's Serbs, who make up the majority in north Mitrovica and elsewhere.
Ultimately, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon proposed a six-point compromise plan that would clear the way for the EU mission to begin.
The plan, however, substantially weakened the EULEX mandate, proposing that its access be limited in Serbian-majority regions and that it remain officially "neutral" on the question of Kosovo's independent status.
Such a provision is soothing to Serbia, which rejects Kosovo independence outright. It may also allow Serbian-majority areas to maintain parallel institutions that will keep them outside Pristina's administrative reach.
For Kosovar Albanians, who have looked to the EULEX deployment as an affirmation of their independence and territorial integrity, the consequences are troubling -- as is the apparent inability of Western officials to speak with one voice on the status issue.
OSCE Chairman Alexander Stubb, the Finnish foreign minister, refused to address the status question during an interview with RFE/RL on the sidelines of the OSCE Ministerial Council in Helsinki on December 5.
"I'm not going into the existential question of status neutrality or not," Stubb said. "What I'm interested in is the peaceful solution and the establishment of the EULEX mission in Kosovo."
But at the same meeting, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Friend said the EULEX mission was "not status-neutral at all," and that the mission would "greatly strengthen Kosovo's territorial integrity."
Pieter Feith, the EU's special representative in Kosovo, is taking a more moderate approach, suggesting EULEX may ultimately prevent a de facto partitioning of Kosovo by providing "greater confidence to all its communities."
"Increasing freedom of movement, opening up to investment and to greater cultural exchanges," he said. "So I think in that sense, [EULEX] will be working for reconciliation as an ultimate objective."
Serbia's minister for Kosovo, Goran Bogdanovic, has said EULEX must be status-neutral until a new dialogue is started on the question of Kosovo's status. He also said that EULEX activities in Serbian-majority areas can begin only once "the trust of Serbian residents has been established." Critical Step
The head of the EULEX mission, Yves de Karmabon, says the mission will be deployed throughout Kosovo. This appears to reflect a four-point counterproposal put forward by Kosovar President Fatmir Sejdiu in response to the Belgrade-backed UN plan.
The role of EULEX deployment in Serbian areas like north Mitrovica is unclear. Some 100 EULEX officials will be deployed in north Mitrovica, including a handful of police and border officers at administrative crossings into Serbia. The border crossings were the scene of violence following Kosovo's independence declaration in February.
Ramush Tahiri, a political analyst based in Pristina, says allowing EULEX to deploy throughout Kosovo is a critical step that brings Kosovo closer to the EU. "I think this mission will implement the same principles over all the territory, while respecting both the six-point plan and the four-point plan," he says.
Still, the risk of potential violence has made security a top priority for NATO peacekeepers serving in Kosovo. The head of NATO forces in north Kosovo, French Brigadier General Michel Yakovleff, says he will be "more ready than usual" when the EU mission takes over policing from the United Nations on December 9.
Kosovar Justice Minister Nekibe Kelmendi dismissed concerns of major violence, saying she believes both sides had reached agreement about the EULEX launch.
"I don't think there will be any opposition to the deployment of the EU mission, because, as you know, the regime in Belgrade has given the green light," she says. "The delay in the deployment was done in order to eliminate any remaining opposition from Belgrade." RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service contributed to this report