Kosovo office in northern Mitrovica causes controversy

19/07/2012

Touted as a step toward decentralisation and a separate municipality, the office is scorned by Serbia and Kosovo Serbs.

By Linda Karadaku for the Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 19/07/12

photo

Adrijana Hodzic heads the Kosovo government's administrative office in northern Mitrovica. [Laura Hasani/SETimes]

The Kosovo government opened an administrative office in northern Mitrovica last May, but its attempts to reach local Serbs by offering funds and services through the office has been met by scorn as well as by accusations from Serbia it is engaging in a provocation.

The Kosovo government claims to spend 4m euros annually, distributed through the UNMIK office, on salaries, firefighting, social welfare services, parks and road cleaning.

The office issues Kosovo identification documents; birth, death and marriage certificates; and supports sporting and cultural activities as well as social projects.

The office is the next technical step in creating a separate municipality in Mitrovica north as per the Ahtisaari proposal, which offers a high-level of decentralisation, according to the international civilian representative Pieter Feith.

The Ahtisaari plan calls for establishing two municipalities in Mitrovica -- north and south -- and a joint board for both consisting of 11 members, five from each municipality and one selected by the international civilian representative.

With the closing of the international civilian office, it is now unclear how the plan will be implemented and by whom.

Serbia called the Kosovo government's move a provocation that will antagonise Kosovo Serbs, but will in turn strengthen their local Serbian administration.

"Somebody is trying to provoke the reaction of the Serbs and then blame Serbia. We consider this office bad, not necessary, not useful and an attempt to change the situation on the ground before the negotiations start to find a solution," Oliver Ivanovic, outgoing state secretary of the Serbian ministry for Kosovo, told SETimes.

Ivanovic said both Albanians and Serbs are clear there will be talks about Kosovo's north.

"The office does not mean the Serbs should accept it because they already have their own local government," Goran Bogdanovic, Serbia's Minister for Kosovo, said.

Adrijana Hodzic, who was appointed to head the administrative office with responsibilities of a municipal president, said politicising the opening of the office does not serve the citizens there.

"Citizens do not want pressure, they are fed up with politics, and only want to live better," Hodzic told SETimes.

Hodzic explained the office works without the involvement of any political or other mediator. "Municipal services are offered on an individual level," she said.

While 38 people already work in the office, that number is expected to reach 80 by October. About a quarter of the budget will be spent on projects and capital investments.

"Like most Serbs in the north, I am against the office. ... It is unnecessary and does not serve anything, 90% of the Serbs will not use its services," Dragan Ilic, resident of northern Mitrovica, told SETimes.

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Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci acknowledged his government continues to face challenges in developing a relationship between Kosovo's institutions and the Serb community, but vowed to continue trying.

"The municipality of Mitrovica North should be formed as soon as possible, and there should be rule of law and free elections which will produce local legitimate leaders there," Thaci said.

Hodzic is aware of the challenges and difficulties for those citizens who seek the office's services.

"Citizens always come ... [by] keeping a low profile because the rhetoric used by the existing structures discourages and causes fear among them," Hodzic said. "We should definitely not miss this chance, because I am afraid, we will not have a second chance."

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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