Thirteen years after the end of the Kosovo war, international supervision of Kosovo will end later today, even though foreign involvement and supervision in the country is far from being over.
The International Steering Group (ISG), comprised of 25 countries including the UK and the US, has been supervising Kosovo’s independence since the former Serbian province unilaterally proclaimed it in 2008.
During a recent conference in Vienna, the ISG said it had determined that the UN Comprehensive Settlement Proposal - more commonly known as the Ahtisaari Plan and precondition to independence – was “substantially implemented.”
Serbia, however, doesn’t recognise Kosovo’s independence, and hasn’t accepted the Ahtisaari Plan and never cooperated with the International Civilian Office, set up to implement it.
“This is an important step for Kosovo and for its people,” ISG-appointed International Civilian Representative Pieter Feith told The Independent, calling the decision “appropriate and timely.”
Kosovo’s people “will now have to demonstrate themselves that they’re willing to use the institutions that we have helped to set up to move towards a truly multi-ethnic decentralised democracy in the Balkans,” he said.
But though Kosovo might become fully sovereign nation, the many international organisations present on the ground will not be going anywhere anytime soon. Overall, the total cost of the international presence in Kosovo is still about half a billion dollars a year, and some 5,000 Nato Kosovo Force (KFOR) peacekeepers are currently deployed on the territory.
The mandate of the EU mission in Kosovo EULEX has just been renewed for another two years, with an annual budget of 111 million Euros. Chief Spokesperson Nicholas Hawton admitted that although much progress had been made, EULEX was “still needed” in Kosovo in the area of rule of law.
He added that the fact EULEX was able to consequently downsize its staff and budget “and save European tax-payers’ money” was an indication of the progress Kosovo had made.
“But we’re not out of the wood in any sense, there is still a lot of work to do.” He said organised crime and corruption especially remained “big challenges.”
The ISG announcement was unsurprisingly acclaimed in Kosovo. During a press conference after the meeting in Vienna, Prime Minister Hashim Thaci called it a “symbolical and historical date” for his country.
Outgoing Serbian Minister for Kosovo Goran Bogdanovic for his part told The Independent it was no more than a “political decision” that could “only bring new tensions on a territory where life is anything but normal.”
Serbs make up most of northern Kosovo and reject Pristina’s institutions. Recent troubles included clashes between Serbs and the KFOR and attacks on Serbian civilian buses during a Serbian holiday.
Mr Bogdanovic blamed Pristina for “doing nothing” to protect the Serbs of Kosovo but Mr Feith said there were sufficient guarantees that the rights of the Serb community would be respected. He praised the opening earlier this week of a Kosovo government administration office in the northern part of the country aimed to extend Pristina’s authority on the Serb-run area.
“Kosovo needs to move on and become a normal state in the region,” Mr Feith said, also believing it will help Kosovo access membership in the UN and the European Union. Russia and five European member states have not recognised Kosovo’s independence.
He hoped the end of supervised independence would lead to an increase of countries recognising Kosovo as a sovereign state. So far, 91 out of 193 UN member states have recognised Kosovo’s independence.