By Muhamet Brajshori
The visit, just one day before Pristina and EULEX resume customs and police control over the northern border gates 1 and 31, prompted Serbs in Northern Kosovo to block the main roads with make-shift barricades, as well as the main bridge over the Ibar that connects the ethnically divided city of Mitrovica.
After meeting with Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, NATO chief Rasmussen emphasised that the Alliance “is committed to the future of Kosovo. I believe that Kosovo’s place is within the Euro-Atlantic family.” He added, “What happens here is important to us — and for the wider stability in the region.”
Rasmussen also urged all parties to continue the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue and to restrain from violence. “Much has been achieved in the last 12 years. But we cannot take that progress for granted,” he said, warning that “nobody will benefit from a return to the tensions of the past.”
Rasmussen noted that NATO has been able to reduce its number of troops, evidence of Kosovo’s progress in recent years. He stressed that KFOR will not allow this work to be challenged.
Thaci addressed the nation, urging people from all ethnicities to refrain from violence, and underscoring Pristina’s backing by the international community. “Police and customs officials, jointly with NATO and EULEX, will begin implementing the operational plan for the north, and I am proud that we have your understanding and support of international partners,” he said.
“One of our ongoing commitments for a democratic and multi-ethnic Kosovo has been and is the rule of law and, even within this new development in the north, it has been committed to fully respect the constitution and laws of Kosovo, the [Ahtisaari] document and UN Resolution 1244,” Thaci underlined.
Security studies professor Abdullah Hajdari told SETimes that Rasmussen’s visit demonstrates NATO’s commitment to Kosovo and the region. “In a time when NATO is dealing with Libya, it has showed that Kosovo and the Western Balkans are still on the highest agenda of the Alliance. This visit should be considered a warning that violence will not be tolerated.”
Engjellushe Morina, executive director of Kosovo Initiative for Stability, told SETimes that the visit “is a good thing, because has confirmed that KFOR is responsible for the situation, and [Rasmussen] reminded both sides , Kosovo and Serbia, that NATO will not allow the situation to return to 1999”.
In the north, she adds, “There must be a clear commanding structure. Courts must be open, police and customs must be present there and [deal] carefully with local Serbs who are being manipulated by Belgrade. No state can function with two chains of command,” says Morina.
The ambassadors of France, Germany, Italy, the UK and the US issued a statement confirming that Friday’s operation has been co-ordinated with EULEX and NATO, which was not the case in late July when violence erupted at Gates 1 and 31.
According to EU Special Representative Fernando Gentilini, “It is very positive that the Kosovo authorities have consulted us on this. I hope this will enable the implementation of the agreement reached at the dialogue table. The plan should help prevent smuggling and improve safety in the single customs zone of Kosovo.”