By Fatmir Aliu and Gordana Andric
Serbian and Kosovo negotiators have disputed the meaning of the recent, EU-mediated agreement on control of the Kosovo-Serbia border with both sides claiming victory.
The head of Kosovo’s negotiating team, Edita Tahiri, on Monday said that the recently agreed deal implied Serbian recognition of Kosovo’s independence.
Tahiri said that only independent states could reach agreements on Integrated Border Management, IBM, the EU-designed model to which Pristina and Belgrade have now assented.
“Serbia is far from showing good will to implement the agreement that we have reached on IBM… but for us Serbia’s signature on the protocol represents a recognition of Kosovo’s border,” she said. “[This is] because IBM can only be implemented between states.”
Belgrade has rushed to dismiss such claims.
Serbia’s chief negotiator, Borislav Stefanovic, said Serbia did not recognise the Kosovo border as a state border and two custom regimes within a single state were nothing new as far as Serbia was concerned.
Stefanovic said the words “border crossing” did not exist in the agreement and that a footnote explained that while Kosovo sees the “line” as a border, Serbia sees it as an “administrative line”.
“We found a solution that is not ideal, but which preserves our national interest and constitution”, Stefanovic said.
The two sides reached an agreement on management of the controversial border crossings in Brussels on December 2.
Serbia had come under strong pressure to shift its hard-line position on Kosovo ahead of a key meeting in Brussels concerning its bid for EU candidacy.
The European Commission developed the concept of Integrated Border Management, IBM, specifically for the Western Balkans.
The basic principle is that all the relevant authorities and agencies involved in border security and trade on both sides of the frontier work together in coordination.
Under the terms of the deal, Kosovo and Serbian customs and police officers will stand under one roof once the agreement is put into operation.
“Kosovo Police and Customs officers and Serbia’s Police and Customs officers will be jointly stationed in one building in all six border crossings,” Tahiri explained.
Police from the EU law mission, EULEX, “will be there to watch the implementation of the agreement on IBM,” Tahiri added. The two sides will jointly control the cross-border flow of goods and passengers.
Belgrade, however, has again disputed Kosovo’s interpretation of this part of the deal. Serbia insists that Kosovo customs officers will only be observers at the border.
Stefanovic said that while Serbian police and custom officers will control the Serbian side of the line, police from the EU law mission, EULEX, will control the other side, on behalf of Kosovo.
“This is what the so-called Kosovo government could not say to its citizens,” Stefanovic claimed.
One undoubted concession to Serbia in the deal is that the two sides agreed that no flags or state symbols will be displayed on the border checkpoints.
But Tahiri said the deal could not prevent anyone from hoisting Kosovo’s flag directly outside the “perimeter of the joint [border] post”.
The crisis on Kosovo’s northern border began on July 25 when the Kosovo government deployed customs and police officers to two northern border crossings with Serbia at Jarinje and Brnjak. Serbs in the area have been manning barricades and road blocks in protest ever since.
However, following an agreement reached with NATO peacekeepers in KFOR, Kosovo Serbs started removing their barricades at Jagnjenica and Jarinje on Monday.