By Muhamet Brajshori and Igor Jovanovic
A decision by the International Steering Group for Kosovo to close the International Civilian Office (ICO) in September brings the country closer to its goal of NATO and EU membership.
But it has opposition parties worried that Pristina will move towards dialogue with Belgrade on a political settlement for the country’s north, which would not be in line with Athisaari proposal.
Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, speaking after the steering group meeting on Monday (July 2nd), said that Kosovo will continue to respect the accords of the proposal.
“I would also like to reiterate our commitment to increase our involvement in relation to all the communities in Kosovo, and especially to the Serbs living in the north of the country who deserve to have all the rights stipulated by the Ahtisaari Plan and all the laws and the constitution of Kosovo,” said Thaci.
Glauk Konjufca, a Vetvendosje MP, told SETimes that the process of supervision is reduced in regards to the ICO closing, but not ending.
“But, in terms of international mechanisms present in Kosovo, supervision and control are evident. We have EULEX as an international organisation with clear executive powers over the institutions of Kosovo in the field of security, police and judiciary. But in informal terms, we have the decisive influence of foreign offices and embassies,” Konjufca said.
Seb Bytyci, executive director of the Balkan Policy Institute, said that the end of supervision is a good sign.
“This is a positive development, which is meant to show that Kosovo has made progress in implementing the provisions of the Ahtisaari compromise. Kosovo has shown that it is willing to implement its international obligations for a long time, so the answer is yes, Kosovo is ready to be a sovereign nation without international supervision,” Bytyci said. Konjufca says that the end of supervision is preparation for talks regarding northern Kosovo.
“If the government ends up in negotiations where the topic will be the north, Kosovo is likely to create an autonomous territorial entity controlled by Belgrade. This would be the end of state functionality of Kosovo,” he said.
The decision was received with caution in Serbia.
Oliver Ivanovic, state secretary at the Ministry for Kosovo, told SETimes that the International Steering Group’s decision was based on an unfounded assessment. The real situation is far more difficult, and Kosovo may even be facing social unrest. “I think that is also an elegant attempt to withdraw from the problem,” Ivanovic said.
Predrag Simic, professor at the Belgrade Faculty of Political Sciences, said the decision to end supervised independence could be harmful to Serbia, as it comes at a time that the state has no government in place.
“If Pristina uses the decision to try and introduce its own institutions in the north, that could destabilise the situation, and there is no one in Belgrade to respond to that at the moment,” Simic told SETimes.
He added that the decision would not help Kosovo achieve full sovereignty, especially in the north, where the Serbs constitute the majority.
“The issues of relations with Belgrade, further recognition of Kosovo and KFOR and EULEX remain open. There are still many uncertainties. And those open issues do not contribute to stabilisation now, on the contrary,” Simic said.
Serbs in northern Kosovo welcomed the departure of the ICO.
“As far as we are concerned, the International Civilian Office had no legitimacy and we are happy that they’re leaving, because the Albanians will realise their statehood was virtual and they will have to start honest talks with the Serbian government in order to find a solution for the status of Kosovo,” Mitrovica Mayor Krstimir Pantic told Belgrade news agency Beta.
Hajdin Alshiqi, 54, from Pristina said that although he doesn’t support the Athisaari proposal, the decision is a positive sign for Kosovo.
“We will have our future in our hands, but how much our leadership is ready to do that remains a concern for me, with corrupted politicians in government and opposition, you do not get positive hopes,” he said.