West moves to close Kosovo supervisory body

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 07, 2012 5:48 AM
West moves to close Kosovo supervisory body

By Fatos Bytyci

PRISTINA (Reuters) - Kosovo amended its constitution on Friday to allow for the closure of a Western-led supervisory body created when the territory split from Serbia in 2008, though EU police and NATO soldiers will stay on in the volatile and impoverished state.

The International Civilian Office (ICO) will formally close on Monday, a step billed by Western powers as the end of a period of "supervised independence" for the country of 1.7 million people, the last to be carved from the remains of socialist Yugoslavia.

Parliament in the capital Pristina adopted amendments to the constitution, removing references to the ICO.

The ICO was created by mainly Western states that recognised Kosovo and was given powers to fire government officials and reject legislation in order to make sure the Albanian majority protected the rights of the Serb minority. It never used those powers.

More than 90 countries, including the United States and 22 of the European Union's 27 members, have recognised Kosovo as a sovereign state, but Serbia says it will never do so.

Kosovo remains dogged by a de facto ethnic partition between the Albanian majority and a small region in the north which is dominated by ethnic Serbs and propped up by Serbia.

Tensions in the north have kept NATO from reducing its peace force in Kosovo to below 6,000. The EU also has some 1,250 European police, prosecutors and judges in the country, a mission known as EULEX and which has significant powers to tackle corruption, war crimes and inter-ethnic violence.

"The supervision of independence is not ending; this is just the closure of the ICO," said Ardian Arifaj, senior researcher at the Pristina-based KIPRED think-tank.

"EULEX is an international mission with the power to arrest government ministers if it wants," he said. "It's good we have EULEX, but you can't say we're not under supervision from now on."

Serbia lost control over Kosovo in 1999, after an 11-week NATO air war waged to halt the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanians by Serb forces fighting a two-year counter-insurgency war under late strongman Slobodan Milosevic.

Kosovo is steeped in history and myth for many Serbs, and Belgrade says it will never recognize the territory as independent.

But Serbia is under pressure from the European Union to improve relations with its former southern province and loosen its grip on the Serb-populated north if it is to make progress on its bid to join the bloc.

(Editing by Matt Robinson and Tim Pearce)