EU begins Kosovo mission

The European Union began its police and justice mission in Kosovo yesterday after an eight-month delay as international peacekeepers stepped up security in the north where Serbs oppose the move.

European and US police officers, customs agents, judges and prosecutors will make up a 1,900-strong deployment force known as Eulex, which takes over from the UN. "Today is a special day, a day in which Kosovo is opening a new chapter with Eulex deployment throughout its territory," said Kosovo's Prime Minister, Hashim Thaci.

Pieter Feith, the top EU official who will oversee the implementation of Kosovo's independence, said: "Today marks an important new step in the ever closer relationship between the EU and Kosovo." The minority Serb population of about 120,000 refuse to recognise Albanian Kosovo, which seceded from Serbia in February, leaving them in an uncertain legal status.

The situation is especially stark in the northern city of Mitrovica, where Serbs live on one side of the river and Albanians on the other with little interaction. Serbia consented to the deployment after the EU allowed police, judiciary and customs officers in Serb-held areas to report to the remaining UN administration. Albanian counterparts will work with Kosovo's Ministry of Interior and with Eulex. Pristina's leadership opposed the plan which said it would lead to a de facto partition of Kosovo and several thousand ethnic Albanians have staged two protests against Eulex in Pristina in the past two weeks.

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