By Linda Karadaku and Igor Jovanovic
Media reports in Kosovo last week suggested that Belgrade and Pristina have reached an agreement on joint administrative control of the northern border, though this has not been officially confirmed. Local Serbs, meanwhile, have already indicated they would oppose it.
The plan, as reported in the daily Koha Ditore on Friday (November 11th), would involve joint patrols by Kosovo, Serbian and EULEX customs and border police officers. According to chief Kosovo negotiator Edita Tahiri — who is also the country’s deputy prime minister — the prospects for such co-operation were discussed with EU facilitator Robert Cooper during talks in Pristina last week.
The head of Belgrade’s negotiating team, Borislav Stefanovic, asked Cooper last month to present an integrated border management proposal to the Kosovo side. Serbia intended for it to cover only the Jarinje and Brnjak administrative crossings, but the EU facilitator reportedly expanded it to include all six administrative crossings with central Serbia.
“Yes, the Cooper proposal has been officially delivered to us, which foresees the integrated management of the borders. Consultations for its practical implementation will continue,” Visar Xani, a spokesperson for Tahiri, confirmed for SETimes.
Tahiri has told Kosovo media that the idea is acceptable because it would amount to an accord between two sovereign states and is accordance with the Kosovo Constitution.
“I do not see difficulties in implementing this agreement because Kosovo has its unique customs system and border management. According to the EU model of integrated border management, the two states which decide on this co-operation, work on the jurisdiction of their states. Therefore, both implement their laws,” the daily Epoka e Re quoted her as saying.
Representatives of the Kosovo Serbs, however, say they will reject any plan that amounts to turning the crossing points into a state border.
“The point is that we do not want the administrative lines to turn into customs and so-called state crossings. That is the essence of the struggle of this people and any option that envisages the Kosovo customs is unacceptable to us,” Zubin Potok Mayor Slavisa Ristic said. Serbian State Secretary at the Ministry for Kosovo Oliver Ivanovic said opinion among the Serbs in the north is almost unanimous.
“I am certain that 99% of Serbs from Kosovo north are against that proposal, and I am wondering how to carry it out. But, I am also sure there will be no split between Belgrade and the Kosovo Serbs,” he said.
A spokesperson for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton spoke of continued efforts to settle the border problem.
“Contacts are ongoing to find a solution and have the new round of dialogue start as soon as possible,” the spokesperson, Maja Kocijancic, told SETimes.
The founder of TransConflict, Ian Bancroft, said the integrated management of crossings proposal is a step in the right direction. He added, however, that it does not resolve the delicate issue of customs.
“Integrated management of the crossings — the word “border” won’t be mentioned, except by Pristina and the Quint — would certainly improve co-operation between the three respective parties [EULEX being the third], which will help tackle the problem of smuggling,” he said.
“Serbs in the north, whose legitimate point of view has largely been ignored during the negotiations, thereby further fuelling their resentment, will continue to reject the presence of any Kosovo customs officials and fee collection,” Bancroft said. “Hence the blockades will remain. A clear commitment not to collect customs fees for goods being used in the north could, however, be acceptable to the Serbs, thereby allowing a diffusion of the current situation.”