By Ian Bancroft
Serbia’s Interior Ministry is set to sign a protocol regulating operational co-operation with the EU’s rule of law mission in Kosovo (EULEX). Previously agreed in July during the visit of the EU’s High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, the protocol, which is one of the key technical conditions that Serbia must fulfil before acceding to the Schengen white list, will be primarily concerned with the exchange of information relevant to the fight against organized crime and other such illegal activities. Coming at a sensitive time for matters relating to the administrative boundary line and war crimes investigations, the protocol constitutes a positive and constructive step towards strengthening the rule of law in Kosovo.
Following a spate of incidents in southern Serbia, including a grenade attack on the Gendarmerie near Bujanovac and an explosion in Presevo, Serbia’s Interior Minister, Ivica Dacic, emphasized how “such cooperation is necessary when at issue are groups crossing the administrative line, whether it is about terrorism, illegal trade in drugs or arms or the smuggling of goods… it is in our interest to prevent as much crime in our region as we can”. Dacic also specified that the protocol is based upon UN Security Council Resolution 1244, which reaffirms Serbia’s sovereignty over Kosovo, the decision of the EU Council of Ministers on which the mandate of EULEX is based, and the six-point plan of UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon.
The draft protocol has, however, been rejected by the Kosovo government, which maintains that EULEX does not have the mandate to sign international agreements and complains that it has been neither informed nor consulted about the protocol. In response, EULEX insists that it possesses certain authorities, agreed upon before the mission was deployed, that enable it to enter into such arrangements, whilst Serbia’s Interior Ministry added that the agreement was very similar to the one previously signed with UNMIK’s Police and Justice Pillar.
The expected protocol comes at a sensitive time for issues related to policing and war crimes investigations. On the seventh anniversary of the murder of two Serb children in Gorazdevac, near Pec, on August 13th, for which no-one has ever been charged, Oliver Ivanovic maintained that the “solving of that crime, as well as of many other crimes, is a test for EULEX“. Serbia’s minister for Kosovo and Metohija, Goran Bogdanovic, meanwhile, has requested that Yves de Kermabon, EULEX‘s head of mission, take a central role in the investigation into the murder of an elderly Serb couple in the village of Partes, near Gjilan, on August 7th. Bogdanovic pointed out that since 1999, a vast number of crimes committed against Serbs and other non-Albanian communities in Kosovo have remained unsolved and unpunished.
The signing of a protocol for co-operation between Serbia’s Interior Ministry and EULEX constitutes an important development for the rule of law in Kosovo. Following a spate of attacks in Bujanovac and Presevo, greater attention has centred upon the suspected smuggling of weapons across the administrative boundary line between Kosovo and Serbia. In addition, the failure to adequately investigate and prosecute crimes committed against Serbs and other non-Albanian communities in Kosovo continues to severely undermine attempts to strengthen the rule of law and transform latent conflicts. By providing a framework for operational co-operation, therefore, the protocol will allow for tangible steps to be taken to finally resolve such issues for the benefit of all communities in Kosovo.