By Ethan Bilby
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union's biggest crisis-management mission has failed to bring crime under control in large parts of the breakaway former Serbian province of Kosovo, an EU watchdog agency said on Tuesday.
A report by the Luxembourg-based European Court of Auditors said that EULEX, an EU project to improve Kosovo's rule of law, had met with only "modest success" in spite of the bloc having spent roughly 680 million euros ($882.50 million) between 2007 and 2011.
"Levels of organized crime remain high. The judiciary continues to suffer from political interference, inefficiency, and a lack of transparency and enforcement," the report said.
The majority-Albanian state which seceded from Serbia in 2008 has suffered from widespread corruption and organized crime since the 1990s.
Serbia lost control of Kosovo in 1999 after an 11-week NATO air war to halt the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanians by Serb forces fighting a two-year counter-insurgency war under late strong man Slobodan Milosevic.
With roughly 2,500 staff, EULEX is designed to assist the Kosovo government to strengthen institutions against graft.
Although Kosovo's traditional "clan-based" society makes it especially hard to tackle cronyism, the report said that management problems by the EU mission had made things worse.
The watchdog's audit found, for instance, that EU member states assigned "insufficient and unqualified staff to EULEX, and for too short periods".
It said EULEX could work better with other major donors like the United States to coordinate support projects.
Kosovo's judiciary remains fundamentally weak, the audit said, with political interference common and court cases slow and inefficient.
Border tensions with Serbia have also limited the reach of its legal institutions.
Kosovo's mainly Serb-populated north is propped up by Belgrade in a de-facto ethnic partition of the country, with road blocks a part of a long-running Serb campaign to prevent the Kosovo government from imposing its rule in the area.
"Since 2008 no local judges or prosecutors have been able to work in the north. Similarly, road blocks have restricted the mobility of EULEX judges and prosecutors," the report said.
The EU, which made Serbia a candidate for membership in March, wants Belgrade to loosen its grip on the north, but the Serbs there refuse to have anything to do with the government in Pristina and function largely as part of the Serbian state.
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(Reporting By Ethan Bilby; Editing by Michael Roddy)