Clashes in Kosovo

A series of clashes in Kosovo have further exposed EULEX’s perceived and actual shortcomings with respect to its proclaimed status neutrality.

By Ian Bancroft

In a near-repeat of April 2009’s protests, ethnic Serbs and Albanians in the Brdjani/Kroi i Vitakut neighbourhood of northern Mitrovica have again clashed over the controversial issue of housing reconstruction, with EULEX police units once more resorting to tear gas in order to disperse the one hundred-plus Kosovo Serb protestors. In tandem, members of the ethnic Albanian movement, Vetevendosja (‘Self-Determination’), opposed to the recently announced protocol on operational co-operation between EULEX and Serbia’s interior ministry, damaged around 28 vehicles belonging to the mission. Both these incidents serve to demonstrate EULEX’s deficiencies in navigating the stormy waters of the Kosovo status issue.

The Kosovo government has firmly opposed the signing of a protocol regulating operational co-operation between Serbia’s Interior Ministry and the EU’s rule of law mission in Kosovo (EULEX), with the cabinet of Kosovo prime minister, Hashim Thaci, warning that “by ignoring relevant Kosovo institutions, it will worsen the relations between the European mission and the Kosovo government”. Dzavit Beciri, a spokesperson for the Kosovo president, Fatmir Sejdiu, meanwhile, added that “the signing of international agreements is in the sole jurisdiction of the institutions of the Republic of Kosovo, since Kosovo is an independent and sovereign country and no one is allowed to sign anything on its behalf”. EULEX, however, insists that the mission’s executive powers mean that it can sign the protocol; with Christophe Lamfalussy, EULEX spokesman, stressing that “it is part of our mandate, even though the core of our mandate is to monitor and advise the Kosovo institutions in the fields of justice, police and customs”.

Though Yves de Kermabon, EULEX’s head of mission, met with Sejdiu and Thaci in order to emphasize that the protocol is not related to the so-called six point plan of UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, and that “EULEX cannot and will not sign any protocol agreement on behalf of Kosovo”, Vetevendosja’s protests in Central Pristina are a sign of the growing unease felt by ethnic Albanians towards EULEX’s apparent bypassing of Kosovo’s institutions. Vetevendosja have publicly stated that they “oppose the presence of EULEX in Kosovo, and all its activities in and for our country, including the protocol which EULEX is going to sign with Serbia… [which] is just the latest symptom. EULEX is the sickness. EULEX calls upon the rule of law, but its members, together with their families, are immune from the law”.

Coinciding with a visit to the region by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, protests in the Brdjani/Kroi i Vitakut neighbourhood of northern Mitrovica have re-focused attention upon the lacklustre returns process in Kosovo. The failure, particularly on the part of the international community, to ensure that the necessary conditions exist for the safe and sustainable return of all displaced persons – described as “the most vulnerable of all vulnerable” people by Guterres – continues to provoke considerable tension throughout Kosovo. In addition, the incident also puts into perspective the statement of NATO’s new Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, regarding the proposed gradual reduction of KFOR troops deployed in Kosovo; a decision that Serbia’s defence minister, Dragan Sutanovac, insists should be made in agreement with the Serbian government.

These respective incidents have underscored EULEX’s shortcomings with respect to the contentious issue of Kosovo’s status. Though Yves de Kermabon continues to insist that EULEX is a purely technical mission, the factors motivating the recent clashes have distinctly political connotations. In order to reinforce both its often ambiguous role and the stability of Kosovo, EULEX must reemphasize that its legitimacy derives from UN Security Council Resolution 1244 and reassert its neutrality towards Kosovo’s status. Failure to do so will only serve to prompt and provoke further such confrontations with both ethnic Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo.

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