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11 Sep 12 Era of Supervised Independence Ends in Kosovo

As the period of international supervision of Kosovo's independence draws to a close, Prime Minister Thaci hails a milestone in the country's history and promises a new deal for disaffected Serbs in the north.

Fatmir Aliu BIRN Pristina

After 13 years of international oversight, Kosovo formally obtained full independence on Monday when Western Powers terminated their oversight.

The International Steering Group, in its final meeting with the authorities in Pristina, declared that the Comprehensive Proposal for the Kosovo Status Settlement, known as the Ahtisaari plan after its Finnish UN creator, had been substantially implemented.

"The International Steering Group today declares the end of the supervision of Kosovo’s independence and the end of the mandate of the International Civilian Representative,” a press release issued after the meeting in Pristina said.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia on February 17, 2008. Since then 89 states, including 22 EU member states and the US, have recognized it.

The ISG, which guaranteed implementation of the Ahtisaari plan, in its final meeting on Monday ruled that the Kosovo authorities had done all that was required to close the International Civilian Office by the end of 2012.

Kosovo’s Prime Minister, Hashim Thaci, said the decision marked a milestone in the country’s history and was a sign that Kosovo was progressing and consolidating itself.

“Today we are closing a chapter, the one about supervision of our independence... which is proof that the state of Kosovo is respected by the world,” he said.

“Of course, there are new challenges ahead of us, which Kosovo will face, like the challenge of integrating the Kosovo Serb community in the north and the rule of law there,” Thaci added.

Northern Kosovo, which borders Serbia and is mainly ethnically Serbian, does not recognise Kosovo's independence or the government in Pristina.

Thaci said that he had drawn up a plan, which he called the “integration plan”, to extend the hand of friendship to the northern Serbs and integrate them into society.

He said the plan would offer Kosovo Serbs free elections to choose their future and their leaders, as well as more investment to help up the area develop.

Thaci said that the plan's success depended on it being supported. Western powers also needed to put pressure on Serbia to stop financing its own structures in Kosovo.

“The international community must put pressure on Serbia to withdraw its security institutions from the north, namely the [Serbian Secret Service] BIA and the [Serbian Interior Ministry] MUP,” he said.

The former International Civilian Representative for Kosovo, Pieter Feith, said the international community could not be blamed for the failure to integrate the north into Kosovo society, and the problem was the responsibility of the government.

Feith who has led the International Civilian Office since Kosovo declared independence in 2008, said that the authorities in Pristina need to reach out to the Serbs in the north by offering them firm guarantees.

“The government is responsible for finding a solution for the north... Only the government can integrate the north, extend them its hand of friendship and reconciliation and offer opportunities and better services for them," he said.

"A solution doesn’t rely on the international community and I hope the government will deal with that,” Feith said.

North Kosovo is under the de-facto control of so-called parallel institutions funded by Belgrade, which include town councils, health authorities, post offices and schools.

According to a Kosovo government report from 2011, Serbian security structures have operated continually in the north since 1999.

These include Interior Ministry forces, various other police departments, the State Intelligence service, BIA, the military intelligence service, the VBA, and others.

Thaci said that the country would not agree any form of partition - nor could the north obtain any special status beyond what has been offered in the Ahtisaari plan.

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