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Kosovo At Another Crossroads

Kosovars protest the six-point plan on November 19.
Nine months after it declared independence, Kosovo is facing a new challenge: the deployment of the European Union's largest civilian mission, EULEX.

The mission is intended to mentor police, the judiciary, and customs officials in the new country and should have been functioning on June 15, when Kosovo's constitution came into force. But Serbs in Kosovo and Belgrade opposed it, arguing it is illegal and "legitimizes" Kosovo's independence. Brussels tried various methods to persuade Serbia to accept EULEX, but it was only after the proposal was repackaged and reintroduced as the brainchild of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that Belgrade began to soften its stance.

Now Serbia has outlined three conditions for its support of EULEX. First, the plan must be approved by the UN Security Council. Second, it must be neutral regarding Kosovo's status. And, third, it must take no measures to implement the proposals of former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, which are regarded by Belgrade as the basis of Kosovo's independence bid.

The latest plan consists of six points and is actually a combination of a downsized UN Mission in Kosovo and EULEX, which will take over some responsibilities from the UN. Among other things, the plan envisages an autonomous chain of command for the police force in Serb-majority areas. Police there would receive directives from the UN mission, while police in Albanian-majority areas would be the responsibility of EULEX. Customs controls on the border between Kosovo and Serbia would be managed by international officials instead of being transferred to the control of the Kosovar government, as the original plan intended.

Despite prodding from the EU and the UN to accept the plan -- and more gentle nudging from Washington -- authorities in Prishtina remain steadfastly opposed to this conditional EULEX deployment. They argue that the plan is too conditional and that some of the six points cast doubt on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Kosovo. The separation of the management of police, customs, and judicial functions in northern Kosovo, they believe, will further undermine Prishtina's authority there.

Public opinion in Kosovo is also running against the six-point plan. Many Kosovars feel that Kosovo has its own constitution and its own sovereignty, which the government is in no position to compromise. Kosovars know the constitution was drafted on the basis of the Ahtisaari plan but see it as already a painful compromise forced upon them by the realities of the relatively recent conflict in Kosovo.

Nonetheless, certain EU officials -- mostly the ones who came up with the new arrangement -- resist the notion that the plan is a step toward the partition of Kosovo. They argue it is a first step that will permit Prishtina gradually to extend its authority into northern Kosovo for the first time since the end of the war.

There seems to be no end in sight to the disagreement, even though EULEX should have been operating by the beginning of December. But the UN Security Council has twice postponed discussion of Kosovo, a session that is supposed to develop a new configuration of the international presence in Kosovo and give the green light to EULEX.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Political Affairs Daniel Fried was in Kosovo recently, calling for quick action on EULEX. "We agreed that we need to find a way forward which takes into account the position of the government of Kosovo," Fried said after talks with Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu and Prime Minister Hashim Thaci.

Following those talks, Kosovar officials seemed more at ease, pleased that someone of Fried's stature had paid respect to Kosovo's standing as a sovereign, independent state. Prishtina reiterated that it supports the EULEX deployment, as it was foreseen by the independence declaration, the Ahtisaari plan, the constitution, the EU operational plan for deployment, and by the EULEX invitation -- which has already been signed by Sejdiu two times.

But despite the goodwill, there is no real sign of progress toward a compromise. In the meantime, a tenuous status quo is being stretched increasingly thin.

Arbana Vidishiqi is the Pristina bureau chief for RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL