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EU takes over from the UN in Kosovo

Latest update : 2008-12-09

The European Union's justice mission for Kosovo begins Tuesday. Some 2,000 observers will be deployed throughout the country to supervise its transition toward independence from Serbia.

AFP - The European Union's justice mission for Kosovo -- the bloc's biggest ever civilian operation -- officially starts work on Tuesday, taking over from the United Nations despite ethnic frictions.

The task of the mission, known as EULEX, is to supervise ethnic-Albanian majority Kosovo's transition after it declared independence from Serbia, superseding the almost decade-old UN interim mission UNMIK.

EULEX says "some 1,400 internationals and 500 locals will be deployed in police, courts and on the borders of Kosovo," including the volatile north where Serbs who oppose the EU mission form a majority.

"There is an order that we switch on at 8:00 am (0700 GMT)," EULEX spokesman Victor Reuter told AFP. "EULEX will be responsible for the rule of law area... our people will take their positions in police, judiciary, customs."

Delayed for around six months largely thanks to opposition from Serbia, the launch of the European mission of up to 2,000 personnel has been far from a simple changeover, however.

Belgrade, which continues its diplomatic battle against Kosovo's independence, agreed to EULEX's deployment in a six-point plan reached with UNMIK chief Lamberto Zannier.

Under the deal, EULEX will remain neutral regarding Kosovo's status, while Serb-majority areas will initially remain under the UN umbrella, which ethnic Albanians have protested against fearing partition.

But it will progressively take over from UNMIK in the Serb strongholds like the northern half of Kosovoska Mitrovica, the flashpoint northern town ethnically divided by the Ibar river.

EULEX, which already numbers some 1,200 police, law experts and customs officers, was launched in February just as Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia.

But it finally received UN Security Council approval in November, ending a power vacuum in Kosovo where the EU mission was to originally take over from the UN one in June under a plan for its "supervised independence."

The outgoing UN mission came in for criticism for failing to properly use its powers during its administration of Kosovo, ever since NATO's 1999 air war drove out Serbian forces waging a brutal crackdown on Albanian separatists.

Led by former NATO commander in Kosovo, French General Yves de Kermabon, EULEX members will have limited executive powers, notably to investigate serious crimes.

Leading global rights group Amnesty International warned on Monday that the EU mission must address a huge backlog of war crimes and other violations neglected by UNMIK.

It called for "much greater scrutiny and accountability" for EULEX, whose contributors include almost all 27 EU member states plus several non-members including Croatia, Norway, Switzerland, Turkey and the United States.

Date created : 2008-12-09