22nd Oct 2020

EU police in Kosovo: We are not interested in popularity

  • Anti-Eulex graffiti in Kosovo. The EU police is haemorrhaging support as it targets alleged ethnic-Albanian war crimes (Photo: Pim de Kuijer)

A spokeswoman for the EU police mission in Kosovo, Eulex, has said its work in pursuing alleged Kosovar war criminals will not be swayed by protests.

Speaking to EUobserver from Pristina on Wednesday (30 March), Eulex spokeswoman Kristiina Herodes said: "We are a rule of law mission and we have to carry out our mandate. We have executive power on war crimes cases, so we have to carry out our duties. This is not a beauty contest. We are here for serious business."

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She added: "We respect people's freedom of speech and their right to protest."

Herodes' remarks come after the second large-scale anti-Eulex rally in the Kosovo capital in the space of a week on Tuesday saw about 2,000 ethnic Albanians carry banners such as "Free the Freedom Fighters" and "Eulex go away."

The protests were organised by the Association of War Veterans, representing the interests of former anti-Serb guerilla fighters in the Kosovo Liberation Army [KLA], in reaction to the arrest of nine ex-KLA members on Eulex charges of torturing and killing both Serbs and Albanians in the war.

Eulex has also begun a "preliminary" investigation into accusations by the Council of Europe that Kosovo PM Hashim Thaci was himself part of a Serb organ-trafficking ring in the 1990s.

Herodes said there is no time-frame for launching the investigation proper. She noted that Eulex has a witness protection programme for people who may give evidence and admitted that the new probe risks aggravating anti-Eulex feeling.

An EU official who asked to remain anonymous compared the unfolding process to the Nuremberg trials in post-WWII Germany.

The contact added the negative reaction is understandable because it is "reopening old wounds." The source added that some ethnic Albanians see revenge crimes against Serbs as perfectly justifiable, but find it hard to stomach that their heroes may have committed atrocities against their own people.

Eulex is equally unpopular in the Serb-dominated north of Kosovo but for opposite reasons.

The Belgrade-controlled Serb authorities in the north on Tuesday said they will cease all contacts with Eulex because it is trying to promote Kosovo statehood.

Eulex' Herodes said the mission has a 24/7 presence in the north and is "still committed to work there." But in practice the area is becoming a black hole in terms of law enforcement, Kosovo commentators say.

Western powers on Monday suffered another blow to their credibility when Kosovo's Constitutional Court ruled that the election by parliament in February of pro-Thaci president, Behgjet Pacolli, was illegal.

The US ambassador in Kosovo was at the time caught out by local media who reported that he had meddled in the vote. The EU also speedily welcomed Pacolli's victory despite noisy concerns about violation of parliamentary procedure.

The court is expected later on Wednesday to give a more detailed judgment, including whether Pacolli can stand again in a new vote.

"We respect the decision of the court and we will study the judgement as soon as it comes out," EU foreign affairs spokeswoman Maja Kocjancic said in Brussels on Tuesday.

When asked by reporters if the earlier EU endorsement now embarrasses the Union's position, she added: "We welcomed the outcome of the procedure, but we understood there were irregularities."

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