UN begins Kosovo handover to EU

UN begins Kosovo handover to EU

PHILIPPA RUNNER, euobserver, 19.08.2008 @ 09:22 CET

The UN has begun the handover of office space and vehicles to the EU's "EULEX" police and civilian administration team in Kosovo, amid Serbian and Russian complaints that the move does not have a legal mandate.

"The technical agreement gives UNMIK [the United Nations Mission in Kosovo]...the green light for transferring assets to us," EULEX spokeswoman Karin Limdal told AFP, after the two sides signed a memorandum on the transfer on Monday (18 August).

Serbs see the move as a de facto recognition of the new Kosovo state (Photo: Pim de Kuijer)

The move is part of an informal "reconfiguration" of the UN team announced by UN head Ban Ki Moon in June in the absence of a UN security council resolution on EU-supervised Kosovo independence, which was blocked by Russia and China.

In line with the Ban Ki Moon plan, the EU will work under a UN "legal umbrella" alongside UNMIK for an unspecified period of time, with some 300 EULEX officials already in Kosovo amid plans to deploy the full 2,200-strong staff by the end of the year.

The UN has run Kosovo since 1999, when a NATO bombing campaign stopped a Serb crackdown on the majority ethnic Albanian population.

Kosovo unilaterally declared independence in early 2008 in a move recognised by 20 out of 27 EU states but fiercely opposed by Serbia, which is seeking a legal opinion on the move from the International Court of Justice.

Serb authorities say the creeping takeover of UNMIK by the EU shores up the de facto Kosovo state, while Russia has in the past few months cited the Kosovo "precedent" to justify its strong support for breakaway republics in Georgia.

"As with every similar provocation, this technical move cannot be ignored, and the government will submit a protest to the UN security council. You can't go about it [the EULEX transfer] this way," Serbia's top Kosovo official, Oliver Ivanovic, told the B92 news agency.

"Brussels plans to have EULEX enter Kosovo through that process. We are aware of this, and it is illegal," Russia's ambassador to Serbia, Alexander Konuzin, said in an interview with the Politika newspaper. "Russia will give [Serbia] the most energetic support in this."

"The latest bloody events [in Georgia], unfortunately, only proved us right," he added, when asked if Kosovo had enflamed Georgian separatists' calls for independence. "It is not ruled out that the Kosovo precedent will echo in other regions of the world as well."

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