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interview 29 Apr 13

Ivanovic: Belgrade Must Sell Deal to Kosovo Serbs

Serbia’s former top official for Kosovo says only Belgrade can pursue Serbs in North to respect EU-brokered agreement.

Bardh Shkreli BIRN Belgrade

Serbs in northern Kosovo will need much convincing before they can embrace the recent landmark agreement between Kosovo and Serbia, a prominent Kosovo Serb leader said.

Appearing on BIRN Kosovo’s “Life in Kosovo” TV programme on Thursday, Oliver Ivanovic, Serbia’s former state secretary for Kosovo, said Kosovo Serbs distrust the deal because they didn’t have a seat at the negotiating table.

"Since they didn’t participate directly in negotiations, they do not believe in them very much," Ivanovic said.

The EU-brokered agreement, reached on April 19, calls for the establishment of an association of Serb municipalities that will operate under Kosovo’s laws but retain full power to manage its economy, urban planning and health and education systems. The agreement also provides for locally elected police chiefs and judges.

The largely Serb northern Kosovo has remained outside the control of authorities in Pristina, while Serbia has financed local security, judicial, health and educational institutions.

Ivanovic, who lives in North Mitrovica, said Serbia’s government is the only party capable of convincing Serbs in northern Kosovo - who have responded in protest - to accept the deal.

"The reaction of the north was expected, however the situation should be solved by those in charge and those who are trustworthy," said Ivanovic. "If Pristina wishes to explain negotiations results to the people from the north, then there will be nothing out of this. Brussels, too, is not to be trusted."

“The Government of the Republic of Serbia is the only party that can be trusted in the long run. They are obliged to explain negotiation results to the people," Ivanovic added.

Fear, too, is a major barrier to Kosovo Serbs agreeing to operate under Pristina’s authority, Ivanovic said.

"The fear is primarily about contact, of course, fear of direct contact with any Albanian, because in the last 14 years we have not had any contacts with Albanians," he said.

"I had the opportunity to be part of the Kosovo Assembly and had the opportunity to interact with Albanians and it is not a shock for me. However, it represents a shock for ordinary people, because there are huge prejudices among Serbs and Albanians since 1999."

Ivanovic served in Kosovo’s Assembly from 2004 to 2007 and speaks Albanian. He responded in Serbian to questions on “Life in Kosovo” that were posed in Albanian, without the aid of translator.

Scepticism about elections in 2013:

The deal between Kosovo and Serbia calls for local elections be held in for Serb-majority municipalities in northern Kosovo by the end of the year, to be organised by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE.

Ivanovic said holding elections this year would be politically impossible and likely would have a very low turnout.

"The participation of five or 10 per cent in the polls would be disastrous and affect the credibility of the OSCE," he says. "I suggest we should not hurry and next year will probably be the best solution."

Nikola Gaon, the spokesman for the OSCE in Pristina, said the organisation is familiar with its role in the agreement and that the situation is being monitored.

"We cannot say anything yet until we consult with the parties," he said.

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