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Landmark Belgrade-Pristina Deal Faces Hurdles In Northern Kosovo

An ethnic Serbian boy looks at people demonstrating against the accord on the normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo in the ethnically divided town of Mitrovica on April 22.
An ethnic Serbian boy looks at people demonstrating against the accord on the normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo in the ethnically divided town of Mitrovica on April 22.
The Serbian community in northern Kosovo is angry about an EU-brokered deal that is meant to normalize ties between Belgrade and Pristina -- and their anger could complicate the implementation of the accord.

RFE/RL’s correspondent in Mitrovica reports that several thousand Serbian demonstrators gathered in the northern part of the divided city on April 22 to protest Belgrade’s acceptance of the deal. Many demonstrators said they felt betrayed by Belgrade’s acceptance of the accord, chanting that the Serbian government had committed "treason."

Some Serbian municipal leaders in northern Kosovo have threatened to declare their own independent state if Belgrade gives final approval to the deal with Pristina.

Krstimir Pantic, the deputy head of the Serbian government’s office for Kosovo, hinted at those threats.

Pantic told the Mitrovica rally that Serbs in northern Kosovo now face "three roads" -- one leading to Belgrade, one leading to Pristina, and a "third road to uncertainty."

"The third road is the road to uncertainty, the road to risk," he said. "But in these conditions it seems to be the only one possible. Today we can reach a decision to take the risk and start creating something new."

'Illegitimate And Void'

The leaders of four Serbian-majority municipalities in northern Kosovo also spoke to the angry demonstrators, calling for the creation of their own assembly to represent the region.

They called the deal "illegitimate and void," declaring that the people of northern Kosovo will "never allow its implementation." They also called for a Serbia-wide referendum to determine whether the accord should be accepted.

To be sure, the deal still needs to be approved by the parliament in Belgrade. But Serbia’s government on April 22 announced its support for the accord -- and all parties in Belgrade’s ruling coalition said they would support it. That has raised expectations that Serbia’s parliament will approve the deal later this week.

EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton, who brokered the deal, paid tribute to the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo for what she called their courage and vision.

The deal also paved the way for the European Commission to make a recommendation that EU membership talks be opened with Serbia.

'Comes With The Turf'

Stefan Fuele, the EU's enlargement commissioner, told EU ministers meeting in Luxembourg that both Serbia and Kosovo "deserve to move on decisively" along the path to EU membership.

But Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt admitted that bringing the accord into effect would be difficult. "As we know from every single other case in international diplomacy, implementation can sometimes be tricky," he said. "But that comes with the turf."

Indeed, successful implementation of the accord hinges on how it is received by local Serbian authorities in northern Kosovo.

Under the accord, the government in Pristina is offering autonomy to Serbian-majority municipalities in the north in exchange for Belgrade’s recognition of Kosovo’s authority there.

An "Association-Community" of Serbian municipalities in Kosovo would be formed. It would operate under the existing legal framework of the government in Pristina.

Local police and courts in northern Kosovo would be obliged to enforce and apply the laws of Kosovo. Ethnic Serbian officials from the four municipalities in the north also would select the candidates for a regional police commander in the north.

But the nominee for that post would be chosen by the Interior Ministry in Pristina.

An appellate court also would be set up in Pristina to deal with all Kosovar Serb-majority municipalities. A permanent division of that appeals court also would be set up in northern Mitrovica.

'Practical' Recognition

The deal omits any recognition by Belgrade of Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia.

But Serbian leaders in northern Kosovo say they think the elimination of Belgrade-based institutions under the accord means that, in practical terms, Belgrade would be recognizing Kosovo’s independence.

Democratic Party of Serbia leader Marko Jaksic, a member of Serbia’s parliament who represents northern Kosovo, told RFE/RL that Serbs in the region will never recognize Kosovo’s independence from Belgrade nor accept any authority coming from Pristina.

Belgrade has retained de facto control over northern Kosovo since the end of NATO’s 1999 bombing campaign that pushed Serbian forces from the rest of Kosovo. Tensions between Serbs and the ethnic Albanian majority to the south of the Ibar River have remained high for the past decade.

Written by Ron Synovitz, with additional reporting by Jasmina Scekic in northern Mitrovica and Rikard Jozwiak in Luxembourg

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