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News 13 Sep 17

Kosovo’s New PM Gambles on Fresh Border Commission

Ramush Haradinaj has axed the old commission for border demarcation, in a bid to try and change the deal signed with Montenegro in August 2015 – but never adopted by parliament. 

Perparim Isufi
Ramush Haradinaj. Photo: Beta/AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu.

Kosovo’s new Prime Minister, Ramush Haradinaj, one of the fiercest critics of the controversial border deal with Montenegro, wasted no time on his first day in office on Tuesday before firing the State Commission on Demarcation and appointing another team, which will be in charge of finding a solution to the deadlock.

The new head of this commission, Shpejtim Bulliqi, declined to speak in detail on Tuesday about a working plan, arguing that he had not yet settled into the job.

“It’s only first day today so I have nothing concrete [to say]. I don’t have anything to say, except my position, which I have expressed already many times,” Bulliqi told BIRN.

An MP from the Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, which was in government during the last term, Bulliqi has long maintained that the state commission formerly headed by Murat Meha made key errors in the agreement with Montenegro, which cost Kosovo over 8,200 hectares of land.

He has said also he possesses “facts” that the demarcation negotiations with Montenegro were not handled properly by the Kosovo delegation.

Haradinaj’s cabinet told BIRN on Tuesday that new border commission would take its time to make its corrections before the government takes a decision.

“Now it’s up to the new commission to come out with its assessment. After that, the Prime Minister, the government and other institutions will act in accordance to the law,” Arber Vllahiu, Haradinaj’s adviser, said.

Analysts in Pristina, however, are not convinced that Haradinaj can turn things around at this stage.

Bekim Baliqi, a lecturer in Political Sciences at Pristina University, told BIRN that only goodwill from Montenegro can now resolve this “Gordian knot” that has lasted since 2015.

“It will depend on the position that Montenegro takes. If they agree to review the deal, then I think the [Kosovo] parliament would ratify it. But, if Montenegro refuses any review, it would make the work of new commission irrelevant,” Baliqi added.

In his view, Haradinaj’s tactics are about “buying time” before the commission comes out with a new proposal.

Ardian Çollaku, an editor in Pristina, said Haradinaj’s decision was not surprising because he had taken a harsh line with the former head of the commission, Murat Meha.

In the summer of 2015, Haradinaj showed his contempt for the proposed deal by throwing a map of Kosovo at Meha during a session of the Kosovo Assembly.

“During his time in opposition, Haradinaj was always convinced that this commission worked erroneously, so now he is trying to make some corrections,” Çollaku said.

Following numerous opposition protests in Pristina, the US State Department in December 2015 said that, following a review of maps from the 1940s to the present, including those used by the commission demarcating the border, the delineated border closely aligned with the border as defined by the former Yugoslav state's 1974 Constitution.

The European Parliament has meanwhile warned that it will not recommend the abolition of visa requirements for Kosovars wanting to the travel into the EU until Kosovo has ratified a border agreement with Montenegro.

But Çollaku says that, when it comes to visa liberalization with the EU, the border deal is only one of several factors.

“Demarcation is not the only condition. It is known that the main condition [for Kosovo to secure the end of visa requirements with the EU] is to fight corruption and organized crime,” Çollaku concluded.

The deal was set to be put to a vote in parliament on September 1 2015, but amid fierce opposition protests outside the building, former Prime Minister Isa Mustafa withdrew it from the agenda.

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