U.N. Kosovo mission awaiting word on power handover

A213112.jpgPRISTINA (Reuters) – U.N. authorities in Kosovo expect instructions within days on how to proceed after June 15, when Albanians hope to receive a raft of new powers under their first state constitution, a U.N. spokesman said on Wednesday.

U.N. veto holder Russia is blocking the transfer of powers from the U.N. mission (UNMIK) to Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian leadership and an EU police mission still waiting to deploy.

Serbian and Russian opposition to Kosovo’s Western-backed secession in February has left the new state staring at a patchwork of international oversight that could hinder its leaders for years to come.

“We are expecting to receive very concrete guidelines on the reconfiguration of UNMIK in the next days,” UNMIK spokesman Alexander Ivanko told a news conference.

“We fully understand the reality on the ground and fully understand that this will change dramatically on June 16,” he said, referring to the first day after the new constitution enters into force.

Kosovo already runs much of its own affairs, nine years after NATO bombs drove out Serb forces accused of ethnic cleansing and the United Nations took over.

But the U.N. mission still has the final word on issues such as policing, the judiciary, customs, privatization and publicly-owned enterprises.

Russia says the transfer of powers and the deployment of the EU police mission are illegal without the green light from the U.N. Security Council resolution, to which Moscow holds the key.

Local media reports suggest U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is looking to bring the EU mission under a U.N. umbrella.

U.N. officials say a deal might include greater involvement of Belgrade in the running of areas in Kosovo populated by the 120,000 remaining Serbs, particularly the north – something the 90-percent Albanian majority fears borders on partition.

The EU police mission, known as EULEX, conceded last month it would not be up and running by June 15. Only around 300 staff have deployed, out of a planned 2,200.

An International Civilian Office (ICO), charged with overseeing a Western-backed plan blueprint for the new state, is already operational, but has no presence in the Serb-dominated north, where Serbs consider it illegal.

NATO also has 16,500 soldiers patrolling the country.

“There will be a compromise between the ICO, EULEX, the U.N. and the Kosovo authorities on how to run this place,” a Kosovo political source said.

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