Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci talks with SETimes about the crisis at the border with Serbia.
By Linda Karaduku for Southeast European Times – 28/07/11
“The situation that existed in the north of the country has been [ruled by] crime, smuggling, corruption and violation of the sovereignty of the state of Kosovo,” Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said. [Reuters]
The situation is tense in Kosovo's north after special police units attempted to gain control of two border crossings. The action follows the refusal by EULEX and Serb members of the Kosovo police stationed at the border to implement Pristina's recent ban on Serbian imports to Kosovo.
In an exclusive interview with SETimes, Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci discusses the intervention and the goals of his country.
SETimes: What does the intervention of police in northern Kosovo mean? Is it a matter of establishing sovereignty in this part or simply implementing trade reciprocity with Serbia at the two border crossings in the north?
Hashim Thaci: The actions of the government of Kosovo are aimed at ending the smuggling, organised crime and continuous violation of Kosovo's sovereignty by the Serbian parallel criminal structures that terrorise the population living in that part of Kosovo.
We cannot allow criminal gangs, sponsored by Serbia, to forever hijack the future of our state because it is unacceptable -- not only based on our constitution, but also by international law and European principles.
SETimes: There has been criticism that Kosovo did not conduct this intervention in co-ordination with the international community. How would you answer this?
Thaci: The situation that existed in the north of the country has been crime, smuggling, corruption and violation of the sovereignty of the state of Kosovo. This was the status quo, which for me has always been unacceptable. Unfortunately, the international community in the last ten years, and now the EU mission (EULEX), has done nothing to change this situation.
In our recent actions, [of which] we informed the international community, we have changed the bitter reality that has existed there. EULEX has been reluctant to assist in establishing law and order in the north as is provided in its mandate, and [this] cannot be regarded as a lack of co-ordination.
Now police and customs officials who respect the chain of command and the law of Kosovo will accomplish their duties at the border crossings in the north. These officers will be from different ethnic groups, but they will take care to implement the laws and orders given by the Kosovo state authorities.
SETimes: How will you manage relations with the Serbs in the north who do not recognise the authority of Pristina?
Thaci: I am convinced that Kosovo Serb citizens want to live a normal life with equal opportunities as everyone else. We do not have any kind of problem with the Serbs who are citizens of Kosovo and living in Kosovo.
They are now part of the legitimate institutions of our country and have decided to build their future here. We only have a problem with police and paramilitary parallel structures which are installed in Kosovo from Serbia and are operating in the north. These are illegal structures that we will undo by legal means defined by the constitution and law.
SETimes: Is there agreement on a withdrawal from the north, and would you accept such an agreement?
Thaci: The bitter status quo that existed there for the last ten years has now changed and there will be no step back. This would be a step back towards anarchy and organised crime. I don't believe the international community would ask us to do something like that.
SETimes: Is there a risk the situation could escalate? What would you do if the situation escalates?
Thaci: This threat has existed and is constantly exerted by the Serbian parallel structures. This risk exists even today and will continue so long as Serbia does not give up [its] direct violation of the sovereignty of our state. Instead, with our well-planned actions, the risk will continually decrease.
SETimes: How would you describe the situation in the north?
Thaci: It remains a sensitive situation because the operations are still ongoing, but the situation is under control and manageable.
SETimes: How would you manage radical groups in the north that are directly under the influence of Belgrade?
Thaci: There is only one answer. No one is above the law and the law must be respected by all.
SETimes: What do you expect from Serbia regarding recent developments?
Thaci: I expect that Serbia, as a country aspiring to EU membership, will begin to behave according to EU standards. I expect that Serbia will give up violence and its sick appetite to rob by force the territory of another country. These are last century's ambitions which have been condemned by the democratic world. It would be fatal for Serbia not to dispel itself of the Milosevic policy of expansionism.
Ultimately, we all must work so that the entire region becomes part of a larger European family, where borders become relative thanks to co-operation.
SETimes: You've had support from all political and social factions within the country for this intervention in the north. Do you think intervention has homogenised Kosovo's political class and do you expect this support to continue, regardless of international reactions to the intervention?
Thaci: The institutions of the Republic of Kosovo, all political parties, Albanian and non-Albanian in Kosovo, are for our country's sovereignty and enforcement of the rule of law. This always unites us in every circumstance.