By Muhamet Brajshori
The end of supervised independence in Kosovo on September 13th will send a message of success to the region and other conflict-ridden countries, according to Pieter Feith, the International Civilian Office (ICO) representative in Kosovo. “It will also serve as an example of co-operation between locals and the international community.”
The ICO was initiated in 2008 to oversee the status settlement for Kosovo, and assist local institutions in the process of EU integration.
The office representative is the “final authority regarding interpretation” of the Ahtisaari Plan — the proposal covering issues related to Kosovo’s status process — and has the “ability to annul decisions or laws adopted by Kosovo authorities and sanction and remove public officials whose actions he/she determines to be inconsistent” with the Plan, according to the office.
However, despite the progress made allowing the ICO to withdraw, the country will still face hurdles on its road to integration.
“Kosovo hopefully will soon be fully integrated in the region, but this is something that the European Union will have to facilitate — we have still to face the challenge of Serb resistance. I am very positive about Kosovo’s European future,” Feith told SETimes in an exclusive interview.
But, he said, steps have been taken to ensure the country is setting off on the right foot.
“We have ensured that the communities have their protection and rights; religious and cultural heritage has been preserved. [With] the government opening an office in northern Mitrovica. the implementation of the decentralisation plan in the northern part of Kosovo [has begun],” Feith told SETimes.
It is important for Kosovo to facilitate contacts with the Serbian community in northern Kosovo in order to solve the impasse there. The solution, Feith said, must be based on three key principles: violence should not be tolerated, the country is not partitioned and the north should not end up as a frozen conflict.
“The government must make this office functional as a municipal authority in northern Mitrovica so that it can provide services to its citizens,” he said.
The end of the mandate may cause delays in dialogue between the two sides, officials said.
“Feith never was an interlocutor to Belgrade, and as such he will not be missed in Belgrade. But, any reduction of the international presence in Kosovo can hamper Belgrade’s communication with Pristina,” Serbian Ministry for Kosovo State Secretary Oliver Ivanovic told SETimes.
He said that Belgrade and Pristina did not communicate directly for decades due to mutual mistrust. “The reduction of the international presence could mean it will be harder to reach good solutions,” said Ivanovic.
Kosovo Serbs, however, have opposed the office since its launch — as they consider it a pro-independence mission.
“What did they do for us? Nothing, so even if they go this will be the best for us and them. They supported Albanians to become independent so they should not expect a goodbye from us,” Kosovo Serb Rada Radovanovic told SETimes.