Wednesday

18th Jul 2018

'Crunch time' for EU diplomacy after Kosovo killing

  • Enver Zymberi's photo outside his home in Dubovc. Visitors from Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia have made the trip in recent weeks to pay respects (Photo: EUobserver)

The recent killing of an ethnic Albanian policeman in north Kosovo has roused strong emotions, but diplomats see it as an opportunity to end the "frozen conflict" in the region.

Enver Zymberi, a 22-year-old special forces officer and father of four was at 2.15pm local time on 26 July hit in the face by a high-calibre bullet fired by a "specialist" using a sniper rifle, according to police sources. He died at 10pm, becoming the first uniform-wearing victim of the Kosovo-Serbia conflict since Kosovo declared independence in 2008.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... our join as a group

The incident took place in Serb-controlled north Kosovo after central authorities in Pristina sent in special police to seize control of crossing-points on the border with Serbia.

Zymberi's family and many Kosovar Albanians believe it was a political murder ordered in Belgrade and designed to perpetuate local divisions, which undermine Kosovo's ambition to become a normal country and to join the EU.

"For me, the order was given by the Serbian government, because if the Serbian government really wanted to prevent it, it wouldn't have happened. They want trouble and tension in the north - they want the conflict between Kosovo and Serbia to continue," Muharrem Zymberi, Enver's father, a 56-year-old retired miner and former Kosovo resistance fighter, told EUobserver in his home in the village of Dubovc.

Serbian officials have yet to publicly deny responsibility.

But the outgoing chief of Nato forces in Kosovo, German major general Erhard Buhler told press in Pristina on Tuesday (6 September) it was probably the work of an ethnic Serb organised crime group.

Asked if he could rule out Belgrade's involvement, he told this website: "I wouldn't rule out anything in this part of the Balkans. But I would rule out that any official persons would do this. That's certainly not the case." He also exonerated ordinary Kosovar Serbs: "The vast majority of the population [in north Kosovo] wants to live a quiet life and to earn their living honestly ... the population is a kind of hostage to the [criminal] structures."

In the meantime, the incident has roused painful memories of the 1998-1999 Kosovo War.

Recalling the moment when he told Sokoloj, Enver's seven year old son, what happened, Muharrem Zymberi said: "I tried to console him, explaining why his father died. I kissed him and I stroked him ... I kissed him on both cheeks and I said 'Don't be sad because your dad has died, I am your dad from now on'."

He added: "We are proud that my son died for this land ... We are ready to give our blood again if necessary. There are a lot of Envers in Kosovo ready to go out and die for it."

The aftermath of the incident also shows how the region has moved on, however.

With Nato soldiers taking control of the crossing-points and with the EU police mission, Eulex, trying to track down the killer, Muharrem put his trust in Kosovo's international sponsors instead of calling for revenge attacks. "I hope they [the EU and Nato] really mean it. I hope they will guard our border together with our police because they have the power to do it," he said.

Asked if he could forgive his son's killer for the sake of peace, he said: "Yes."

Shaking the tree

For his part, the International Civilian Repesentative (ICR) in Pristina, Dutch diplomat Peter Feith, who oversees Kosovo on behalf of countries that recognise its independence, believes Enver Zymberi's death is an opportunity for change.

"It was shaking the tree and perhaps something good can come out of it," he said, referring to Pristina's controversial decision to launch the special police mission. "It's not likely that we will go back to the situation of before. Something has changed for ever."

Feith praised Kosovar Albanians for their restraint and advised Pristina to do more to win Kosovar Serbs' trust. He also urged Eulex to "step up activities in the north ... We need to see arrests - people actually taken off the streets and arrested."

But he added that EU-aspirant Serbia has the biggest part to play by using its massive influence in north Kosovo to make peace.

"We cannot tolerate a new candidate for membership of the EU that is bringing in a frozen conflict ... You cannot have it both ways - candidate status moving nicely along and at the same time having a stranglehold on northern Kosovo. That sentiment is shared by a number of EU countries," Feith said.

The ICR explained that the best model for a lasting solution is "Ahtisaari-plus", referring to the Ahtisaari Plan, a blueprint for Kosovo statehood which envisages giving autonomy to north Kosovo on local issues like education and healthcare but which rules out any form of Kosovo partition. "In Spain you have Catalonia for example - they are part of Spain but they are very autonomous," he added. He declined to give details on how much further beyond the Ahtisaari model ICR-sponsor countries are willing to go.

Looking at the bigger picture, Feith noted that ethnic Serbs in Bosnia and ethnic Albanians in Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia are watching to see what happens next in Kosovo in case it has implications for territorial integrity where they live.

"This is crunch time not only for Kosovo and Serbia but for the [whole] region ... They see it as the final stage of a long drama that has played out for years and that could bring lasting stability provided it is properly handled. The EU has a big responsibility at this point," he said.

Serbia will never recognise Kosovo, says foreign minister

Undeterred by the eurozone turmoil and the borders debate, Serbian foreign minister Vuk Jeremic hopes to start EU membership talks as soon as possible, but warns that his country will "never" recognise the independence of Kosovo.

Serbia shows sympathy for Kosovo amid EU talks

Serbia has voiced sympathy for the family of an ethnic Albanian policeman killed in north Kosovo. But the gesture of good will comes amid harsh words on the future of the disputed region.

Nato and EU expand mission in northern Kosovo

Nato and EU police stepped up their patrols in northern Kosovo and said they will dismantle barricades set up by Serbs, advising them to stay away from "illegal" protests.

Opinion

Coal plant could revive Kosovo economy

Kosovo needs economic development more badly than anything else. A new coal plant with enough capacity to export electricity to the region could be part of the answer.

Opinion

Appeasement will not work with Erdogan

As EU leaders Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker meet president Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Bulgaria, their reluctance to use their diminishing leverage with Ankara means his dismantling of Turkey's democracy only speeds up.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  2. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  4. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  6. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  8. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  9. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  12. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs

Latest News

  1. EU and Japan wave light in Trump's 'darkness'
  2. How Israel silences Palestine in EU circles
  3. Putin asks Trump to go after British activist
  4. May caves in to Brexiteer demands, risking 'no deal'
  5. EU and China agree on words, not yet on action
  6. EU is 'foe', as Trump seeks to make friends with Putin
  7. Let's not be 'naive' with Chinese partner, says senior MEP
  8. Trump, trade, and Brexit in EU headlines This WEEK

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  2. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  4. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  5. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  7. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  8. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  9. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  10. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  12. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us