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25th Jun 2021

EU and UN to work side-by-side in Kosovo mess

The EU's police and civil administration mission for Kosovo, EULEX, is set to start work side-by-side with the existing UN mission, UNMIK, in a legal and organisational mess surrounding Kosovo's struggle to establish independence.

"It is my intention to reconfigure the structure and profile of the international civil presence...enabling the European Union to assume an enhanced operational role," UN chief Ban Ki Moon said in a letter to Kosovo and Serb leaders on Thursday (12 June).

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  • Kosovo has a constitution, a flag and an anthem but is struggling to put its independence on a firm footing (Photo: European Parliament)

The letter - parts of which were published by Reuters - added that the joint EULEX/UNMIK presence will last "for a limited duration and without prejudice to the status of Kosovo," with the EU force to operate under a UN "legal umbrella."

The exact timeframe and division of duties remain unclear, but western diplomats say EULEX deployment will be staggered in time, with UNMIK maintaining a "symbolic" central presence and keeping control of police in ethnic Serb-controlled areas, where the EU flag is not welcome.

UNMIK has been running Kosovo under UN security council resolution 1244 since 1999, when NATO bombers stopped a Serb crackdown on the ethnic Albanian majority. A 16,500-strong NATO force, KFOR, remains in the country to provide hard security.

A new UN resolution drafted in 2007 was to see UNMIK cede powers to the government of an independent Kosovo, supported by the 2,200-strong EULEX police and customs force and overseen by an EU special representative and his International Civilian Office.

Russia blocked the new UN resolution but Kosovo declared independence unilaterally on 17 February, creating the current situation in which just 20 of the 27 EU states have recognised Kosovo independence and just 300 EULEX officials have so far been deployed.

Moscow on Thursday complained that the UN is making "scandalous" and "illegal" de facto preparations to hand over Kosovo to the EU in violation of resolution 1244, calling for the dismissal of UNMIK chief Joachim Ruecker.

To complicate matters further, Kosovo's new constitution comes into force on Sunday: the text recognises EULEX oversight powers over an independent Kosovo but does not contain a legal mandate for UNMIK, with Kosovo president Fatmir Sejdiu saying he expects the UN to leave by autumn.

"Three masters [the EU, UN and an independent government] are too much for Kosovo," Bardh Hamzaj, editor of Kosovo daily Zeri, commented for the Washington Times. "It's not clear who will do what."

NATO mission also problematic

EULEX's future cooperation with the NATO peacekeepers was also thrown into question Thursday, when NATO member Turkey enforced its veto on official NATO-EU information exchange due to its long-standing territorial and trade row with EU member Cyprus.

NATO chief Jaap De Hoop Scheffer said KFOR and EULEX will work together on an ad hoc, on-the-ground basis despite the Turkish ban. "No KFOR commander would stand idly by if there was an emergency and there would be people in harm's way," he said, AP reports.

NATO members on Thursday also agreed to train a lightly-armed, multiethnic "Kosovo Security Force (KSF)" and to disband the ex-ethnic Albanian guerrilla outfit, the Kosovo Defence Force. A NATO spokesman said the moves can be carried out under UN resolution 1244.

Some of the EU and NATO states who refuse to recognise Kosovo's independence - Spain, Slovakia and Romania - will not take part in the training mission however, saying it implies de facto recognition. The KSF project will be funded from outside NATO's general budget, newswires say.

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