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News 25 Jan 16

Kosovo Fails to Integrate Serbian Civil Protection Members

In spite of an agreement on re-integrating members of the Serbian Civil Protection Corps into Kosovo institutions, many of these people remain in working limbo.

Sanja Sovrlic, Valerie Hopkins BIRN Pristina
A sign in Northern Mitrovica thanking the Civil Protection | Photo: BIRN

It seemed so simple on paper. Under an EU-brokered agreement between Kosovo and Serbia, almost 500 former employees of the ethnic Serbian “Civil Protection Corps” were to be integrated into the relevant Kosovo state agencies.

Kosovo announced that the process of integration was complete on January 12.

In reality, implementation of the deal, one of several agreements signed in Brussels that seeks to bring Kosovo’s restive Serb-majority north under Pristina’s authority, has not run smoothly.

Little has gone according to plan, Veroljub Petronic, a former adviser on civil protection in the northern municipality of Zvecan, said.

Zvecan has been a municipality in the Kosovo system since 2013 but the old Serbian-run municipal structures, where Petronic works, still operate.

“Under the agreement from Brussels members of the Civil Protection Corps were supposed to resign from Serbian institutions and Pristina was supposed to open a call for employment for Serbs in the north of Kosovo in 19 ministries and agencies,” Petronic recalled.

“But we haven't resigned and Prishtina has not open the call for work,” he said.

“They couldn't publish a call for work because then it would be public," he explained.

The competition was intended only for former members of the Civil Protection force and was not there an “open” call.

Kosovo institutions have created 483 job places for people who worked in Serbian institutions in northern Kosovo.

Eighty firemen began work in July 2015, and in September another 25 went to work in the prison service.

But since then the process of reintegration has slowed.

“The main problem is that there was not enough transparency in presenting the open positions, but it went ministry by ministry, agency by agency,” Petronic said.  

“The Serbian side evidently did not try hard enough to present the new work places in Kosovo institutions on time."

Petronic says he and another 377 would-be Kosovo employees have signed “acts of appointment” - but this is not the same as an official contract and they have not started working yet.

“Everything is uncertain,” says Petronic. “One year is a trial period, and it is quite possible that we will be in a situation where Belgrade doesn’t have our back and Pristina doesn’t either - and what comes after?

“It seems very possible that some people could get fired,” he added.

After the 1998-99 conflict ended, northern Serbian–majority areas in Kosovo refused to acknowledge the existence of Prishtina-based institutions and continued to function as part of Serbia.

At the time, members of the Civil Protection Corps manned barricades along the main roads in northern Kosovo.

They also acted as a first response unit, putting out forest fires, cleaning ice and snow from the roads, and repairing bridges.  

The barricades have been disbanded and most of the property owned by the Civil Protection has been handed over to the Pristina government in accordance with the agreement.

But Petronic worries that despite the integration of some former members of the Civil Protection force, Kosovo institutions are not ready to react rapidly in the event of a natural disaster in northern Kosovo.

He is also concerned about the reception that he and his colleagues will encounter once they start working.  

Kosovo Albanians have the wrong idea about the Civil Protection force, he says, and he worries that they will hold it against him and his colleagues.

“Pristina exaggerated the role and function of Civil Protection by considering it a paramilitary force, which is not true,” he concluded.

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