By Linda Karadaku
Just days after agreeing with Serbia on its regional representation, the arrest of four Serbian police officers near Gnjilane on Saturday (February 25h) is threatening to complicate relations between Belgrade and Pristina.
Media reports indicate that four Serbian officers were among six people arrested by Kosovo police special units, on charges that they “threatened Kosovo’s legal order and obstructed police officers in the execution of their duty.” Five of them were sentenced to a month in custody in a closed-door hearing that ended early Monday, Serbian news agency Tanjug reported.
The arrests angered Serbia Interior Minister Ivica Dacic, who told a reporter that Serbia should have its own police in Kosovo.
“I am sorry Serbia does not have police in Kosovo, because if it did the things done to Serbs by Albanians would not be happening and neither would things that Serbs are doing to themselves,” Dacic told Belgrade-based B92.
The arrests occurred shortly after a dramatic sequence of activities in Kosovo, highlighted by the regional representation compromise with Belgrade.
EULEX reached an agreement with local authorities in northern Kosovo to allow freedom of movement, a right that the mission had been denied for several months.
The agreement allows EULEX to move over land routes to the administrative crossings Brnjak in Zubin Potok and Jarinje in Leposavic with the condition that they do not carry Albanian customs officers and police officers.
The evening of February 23rd, barricades put up by the local Serbs close to the northern Kosovo border crossings with Serbia, were removed. KFOR Deputy Chief of Public Affairs Major Marc Stümmler told SETimes that “the last barricades have been on Kosovo soil, very close to the Administrative Boundary Line (ABL).”
“In close co-operation with Serbian authorities it was clarified on whose side it was. There had to be [one] hundred meters of thick snow to be removed from the street right up until the ABL by KFOR. The snow on the Serbian side was also removed by Serbian authorities. The gates are now open and there is traffic,” Stümmler said.
A barricade and a tent set up since the last summer in the neutral area between Kosovo and Serbia on Raska-Leposavic road in front of Jarinje border crossing, was also removed.
The move came as Kosovo and Serbia agreed to compromise on Kosovo’s regional representation. The country will be recognised as Kosovo, with a footnote to signify, “This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSC 1244 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo Declaration of Independence.”
The compromise allows Kosovo to speak for itself, and it clears the way for Serbia, which does not recognise Kosovo, to pursue EU candidacy.
“This is important as it makes Kosovo a full participant in its own right in regional meetings and events and will allow for further progress to contractual relations with the Union,” EU High Representative/Vice President Catherine Ashton said.
Analyst Ramadan Ilazi, former head of Kosovo NGO Fol (Speak), said the compromise is painful for Kosovo.
“I don’t think it will obstruct the functioning of Kosovo as a state within its own territory, and it might have a positive impact in the removal of the parallel structures. The footnote will give Kosovo a new status in the regional relations and this is welcomed, but it does not solve the problem between Kosovo and Serbia as the EU hopes. It just postpones it and complicates further more the relations between the two countries,” Ilazi told SETimes.
Opposition movement Vetevendosje planned a protest for Monday in Pristina against the compromise. Kosovo Democratic League of Pristina Mayor Isa Mustafa is also against the agreement, and said that Kosovo should be represented in the regional for with its constitutional name, as a sovereign and independent state.
Kosovo analyst and university professor, Belul Beqaj, says having an agreement with the Resolution 1244 tacked onto it is concerning. “This issue has taken a personal character as there is no co-ordination with the opposition, the parliament, the president … .”
Beqaj is also pessimistic about the EU guarantees. “What guarantees are there that Kosovo will start contractual relations with the EU, what guarantees are there that after this compromise, there will not be another one to be made, which could mean loosing control officially in the north of Kosovo,” he told SETimes.
“UNSCR 1244 should have been replaced long time ago, it should have been updated accordingly with the reality … at least for the sake of vocabulary as Federal Republic of Yugoslavia still ‘breathes’ in this particular resolution,” Arbana Vidishiqi, head of Radio Free Europe Byro in Kosovo told SETimes.
Agreeing to the regional representation, as well as removing barricades, created preconditions for Serbia to get candidacy for EU membership at the next meeting of the European Council, said Philip Ejdus, a board member of the Belgrade Center for Security Policy.
“It is important that the Serbian government is now doing everything in its power in order to, together with all international actors, forestall any attempts by this and allow the application of the agreed settlement, ” Ejdus told SETimes.