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By Linda Karadaku | 12/04/10
The EU has decided to increase its presence in northern Kosovo with the March 26th opening of the EU House office in Mitrovica. Attending the opening was EU facilitator for the north Italian diplomat Michael Giffoni, European Commission Liaison Office in Kosovo officer Kjartan Bjornsson and EULEX chief Yves de Kermabon.
In an exclusive interview with SETimes, de Kermabon addressed a range of issues pertinent to northern Kosovo as well as his desire to remain as EULEX chief when his current term expires in June.
SETimes: What challenges do you see in establishing the rule of law in Kosovo?
Yves de Kermabon: The work of EULEX focuses on two areas: Mentoring, Monitoring and Advising (MMA) and executive functions. Although it is not emphasised enough in the media, our MMA functions are the bulk of EULEX efforts. It aims to move Kosovo’s police, justice and customs towards sustainability, accountability, multi-ethnicity, freedom from political interference, and adherence to internationally recognised standards and European best practices. The long-term plan is to bring these institutions to a European level.
SETimes: How long will this take?
De Kermabon: That depends on the Kosovo institutions. In the first six months of our operation in Kosovo, there were more than 2,500 assessments carried out by 400 EULEX monitors. The comprehensive report showed that, compared with the Kosovo Police and Customs, the criminal justice and judiciary systems are considerably weaker in their ability to deliver justice independently.
The report made a number of key reform recommendations [in the areas of justice, police and customs] that are being implemented by local institutions and their EULEX counterparts. We consider that progress is being made. However, at the heart of EULEX’s concerns is the need to enhance public confidence by reducing the vulnerability of judges and prosecutors to pressure and corruption.
SETimes: What specific progress can you point to?
De Kermabon: EULEX has done remarkable work in its executive mandate. In our justice component, EULEX judges have passed 63 verdicts and held 516 hearings, while EULEX prosecutors are in charge of 1,073 cases.
As far as organized crime cases are concerned, the Organized Crime Section of the Special Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Kosovo has dealt with 45 cases. There are 33 organised crime cases are in pretrial stage, three in the main trial stage and three verdicts have been delivered.
Furthermore, EULEX judges have passed verdicts in six corruption related cases. We have a 24/7 presence of special police units, border police and customs officers at Gates 1 and 31, and [have] re-established a customs regime at these gates. This shows tangible improvement in revenue collection and a considerable drop in the smuggling of oil.
Although there have been improvements, there remains a lot to be done. However, in order to see greater results, EULEX and Kosovo institutions need to work together. Alone we can do nothing, together we can do a lot.
SETimes: What is the EULEX approach to establishing the rule of law in northern Kosovo?
De Kermabon: All 27 EU member states are committed to both Kosovo and Serbia’s European perspective … naturally this also includes northern Kosovo. The objectives of the EU and EULEX for the north are the same as for the whole of Kosovo — to promote good governance, socio-economic development, the strengthening of the rule of law and local initiatives, while contributing to a stable and multi-ethnic society.
The status quo is not sustainable, and therefore the EU wants to find pragmatic ways to move things forward in all these areas.
SETimes: When do you expect Albanian and Serb judges and prosecutors to return?
De Kermabon: My top priority is to get Kosovo Serb and Kosovo Albanian judges and prosecutors back to the Mitrovica District Court [for] justice to be delivered by a local, multi-ethnic and single judiciary. EULEX is working on an agreement with Pristina and Belgrade and hope a solution will be found quickly. Justice [must be] delivered by a single, multi-ethnic judiciary.
SETimes: As a neutral mission, how would you evaluate your communication with authorities in those capitals?
De Kermabon: I believe that progress can only be achieved through dialogue. Contacts on a technical level with both Pristina and Belgrade are essential to move things forward. These contacts take place at a regional level, with Skopje, Tirana and Podgorica as well.
The Kosovo government is regularly informed of these discussions. The aim of these discussions is to improve the exchange of information to fight organized crime, crossborder crime or smuggling. The discussions are done by our technical experts, who, on occasion, go to Belgrade. Our liaison officer in Belgrade, working alongside the EU high representative, is also involved in those issues.
SETimes: There have been a lot of discussions and recommendations concerning fighting corruption and organized crime in Kosovo. EULEX senior officials have also confirmed there are high-level investigations under way. When can we expect results?
De Kermabon: EULEX has never announced, and [never will announce] arrests, as this would counter the work of the prosecutors and the police investigators. All that was said was that the prosecution is working on some interesting cases. Only at the end of such investigations can a conclusion be made whether individuals will be brought before a court for a fair and public trial.
SETimes: When do you expect to restart collecting custom revenues at the northern border?
De Kermabon: The EULEX customs are present 24/7 at the gates to re-establish customs control. They do not collect taxes. Our customs officers are registering vehicles, drivers and goods, and photocopying documents. This information is shared with Kosovo and Serbian tax authorities. Since EULEX has been present at Gates 1 and 31, smuggling has been reduced by approximately 60%. This has led to an increase of 1.5m euros in revenue collected monthly at South Mitrovica Terminal. The question of revenue collection at the Gates 1 and 31 needs to be decided on a political level, and we as a technical rule of law mission cannot decide on that.
SETimes: How would you comment on the recent attacks against your cars and people in the north?
De Kermabon: This criminal act has only underlined further the necessity to continue strengthening the rule of law in northern Kosovo. The perpetrators of such acts will not succeed in refusing people access to proper rule of law. EULEX, together with the Kosovo rule of law institutions, will continue working towards giving the people what is their basic human right.
These sorts of incidents don’t serve the interest of the people in a region with a European perspective, and we ask for all parties to use their influence to prevent any such incidents in the future. Both EULEX Police and Kosovo Police are investigating the case.
SETimes: Do you see yourself continuing in your current position?
De Kermabon: I have expressed my readiness to stay on beyond June 14th. However, the tenures of heads of missions are linked to the duration of the joint actions [or council decisions]. This is a standard arrangement for all EU missions around the world. EU member states will consider this in connection with a decision from Brussels on the overall mandate extension.
This content was commissioned for SETimes.com