Serbia’s new leaders should look to the future and “forget about Kosovo,” Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said after the international community agreed to stop overseeing the former Serbian province.
The end of the monitoring will bring full sovereignty to Kosovo, which will help it join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Thaci said July 6 in an interview in Dubrovnik, Croatia, speaking through an interpreter.
“A lot will change,” said Thaci, 46, who led Kosovo when it gained independence from Serbia in 2008. “We will have the full support of the international community and we are working toward having Kosovo gradually integrated into NATO.”
Kosovo is recognized by the U.S. and 22 of the 27 European Union states and improving relations with its former province is a condition for Serbia to join the EU. About 130,000 Serbs live among Kosovo’s mostly ethnic Albanian population of 2 million. Serbia lost control over Kosovo in 1999 when NATO bombing forced it to hand over control to the alliance.
The U.S.-led International Steering Group said July 3 it will stop overseeing the breakaway province and close its International Civilian Office in the capital, Pristina, in September. The EU police and justice missions, or EULEX, will remain at least until their mandate expires in June 2014. Serbia supports minority Serbs in Kosovo and maintains its own civil institutions in the northern part, where Serbs are concentrated.
About 6,000 peacekeepers from NATO’s Kosovo Force, or KFOR, which last intervened in ethnic clashes in northern Kosovo on June 28, will remain deployed.
“EULEX will remain as facilitators of Kosovo police,” Thaci said, adding that the government is looking into the “legal basis to have a mild presence of EULEX in an advisory capacity until June 2014.” After that, Kosovo will be closer to joining the EU, he said.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon, who’s in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, to meet with President Tomislav Nikolic and premier-designate Ivica Dacic, urged the Balkan country to end its “illegal” security presence and judicial entities in northern Kosovo.
The U.S. and the EU don’t expect Serbia to recognize Kosovo “at this point,” Gordon told the conference in Dubrovnik July 7. “Still, Serbia will have to come to terms with the reality of a democratic, sovereign, independent and multi-ethnic Kosovo within its current border.”
Serbia would need to amend its constitution for any Serbian leader to recognize independent Kosovo, which many Serbs regard as the cradle of their nation.
Dacic said July 3 the new government will implement all the international agreements made by the previous government regarding Kosovo, so the nation can continue on its path toward EU membership. Dacic, the leader of the Socialist Party that was ousted with its founder Slobodan Milosevic 12 years ago, has a mandate from Nikolic to form a government.
EU-mediated talks with Serbia “will definitely continue,” according to Thaci.
Kosovo is raising funds to finance its budget and rebuild its communist-era infrastructure, which was devastated in 1999 when NATO drove out Serbian troops during the bombing campaign.
About 32 international companies are bidding for a 75 percent stake in state-run telecommunications company Posta dhe Telekomunikacioni i Kosoves Sh.A. after a tender was opened June 26, Thaci said. The winner will be chosen by year-end, he added.
Deutsche Telekom AG (DTE) and Telekom Austria AG (TKA) said in separate statements July 6 that they aren’t interested. They were finalists in a 2011 tender that Kosovo’s government halted because of a graft investigation at the Pristina-based company.
To contact the reporters on this story: Jasmina Kuzmanovic in Zagreb at firstname.lastname@example.org; Irina Savu in Bucharest at email@example.com
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