Kosovo to Serbia: Time to face reality
Kosovo's foreign minister has said the end of supervised independence should make Serbia realise it can never divide Kosovo or get it back.
Speaking to EUobserver from Pristina on Sunday (9 September), ahead of solemnities to end supervised rule on Monday, Enver Hoxhaj said the "historic day" will make Kosovo "a more sovereign nation."
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"It's going to change the perception of Kosovar citizens about the nature of statehood. Whatever we do now is in the hands of our people. It is no longer in the hands of the international community," he noted.
Dignitaries from 25 Kosovo-recognising countries - including 20 EU states plus Croatia, Norway, Switzerland, Turkey and the US - will on Monday meet in Kosovo's capital to formally close the International Civilian Office (ICO).
Run by Dutch diplomat Peter Feith, the ICO has for the past four years made sure Kosovar politicians stick to the so-called Martti Ahitsaari plan - a template for a democratic, secular country which respects the rights of ethnic minorities.
Kosovo MPs on Friday voted by 98 to 10 to take out mention of the ICO from the country's constitution.
EU police and Nato soldiers are to stay for the foreseeable future.
But "Kosovo now has all the structures of a functioning, democratic, multi-ethnic state ... [with] realistic prospects of a normal pre-accession relationship with the European Union," ICO spokesman Christian Palme told this website.
The events take place in the shadow of a new nationalist government in Serbia, putting in doubt previous agreements on day-to-day co-operation, however.
They also take place amid a frozen conflict with Serbs in north Kosovo, who do not accept Pristina's rule - masked gunmen on Friday took potshots at EU and Kosovo police vehicles in the northern region of Zubin Potok, wounding a Kosovar policewoman.
Hoxhaj told EUobserver that: "European institutions and the international community as a whole should put pressure on Serbia to withdraw its security and police forces from municipalities in north Kosovo."
He added: "We were very surprised that 12 years after [the late Serb ultra-nationalist leader] Milosevic we now have in power in Serbia pro-Milosevic forces ... The best thing for Kosovars and for Serbian citizens is for Serbia to accept the realities on the ground so that we can all move forward with our European [accession] agenda."
"Kosovo has been recognised by almost half the members of the UN in its current borders. It is high time for Serbia to start behaving in a European way, to modernise its society and not to seek its destiny outside of the borders of Serbia."
With the ICO's Feith in the past mooting a "Catalonian" solution for north Kosovo by reference to devolved government in the Spanish region, Hoxhaj ruled out any form of autonomy for the Serb enclave.
"The option of partition is totally off the table. We are going to integrate these municipalities with the rest of Kosovo," he said.
He predicted the next step in Kosovo-EU relations will be a European Commission report in October recommending the two sides craft a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) - a standard EU pre-accession pact for Western Balkan countries.
The move would bolster Kosovo nationhood by designating it as a legal entity which can enter into contractual relations with the Union.
Five EU countries - Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain - do not recognise Kosovo, with little prospect of a shift in their position.
But Hoxhaj said the group has played ball on EU-Kosovo state-building in the past and that the commission will find a way to solve the SAA legal quandary. "Let's wait for the report ... I will give you the answer [on the legal solution] when the time comes," he noted.
For his part, the outgoing ICO spokesman said the biggest threat to Kosovo's future is not Serbia, but lawlessness and poverty inside Kosovo itself.
"The rule of law should be further strengthened and Kosovo needs to improve its international image and reputation. These are basic conditions for economic growth," Palme said.
The Kosovar foreign minister noted: "We are more than committed ... to really fight organised crime."
But with the EU police mission, Eulex, currently collecting evidence on allegations that Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci himself ran an organ-smuggling mafia in the 1990s, international observers, such as MEPs Ulrike Lunacek and Pino Arlacchi, have in the past voiced fears that the rot goes to the very top.
Serb prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic on Sunday said he has found a former Kosovar Albanian guerrilla willing to testify to organ crimes in the 1998-1999 war.
"He described an operation to take out the heart of a Serb prisoner in a place near Kukes [in north Albania] ... The heart was then sold on the black market," Vukcevic said, according to AFP.