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Europe

Kosovo Gets New Constitution Amid Uncertainty Over its Future

Kosovo's President Fatmir Sejdiu has signed a series of laws putting his country's constitution into effect. But many diplomatic and legal question marks still hover over the fledgling state's future.

Kosovo Albanians celebrate with the new Kosovo flag independence in Kosovo's capital Pristina in February 2008

The constitution is a further step toward strengthening Kosovo

"We reached a historic moment to complete the process of completing our statehood," Sejdiu said on Sunday, June 15, after signing into law the new constitution, which was passed by parliament two months ago. The ceremony was attended by representatives of more than 40 countries which have recognized Kosovo.

Still, doubts over Kosovo's future linger as the United Nations, which had governed the former Serbian province since NATO intervened against Belgrade in 1999, remains unable to let go of it owing to the power of Serbian ally and UN Security Council member Russia.

Moscow is backing Belgrade's claim of ownership over Kosovo, which Serbs see as their heartland province.

Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaci and President Fatmir Sejdiu (from left)

Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaci and President Fatmir Sejdiu (from left)


Belgrade on Sunday said it considered the constitution illegal and dangerous.

"Serbia does not accept the proclamation of Kosovo's constitution as a legal fact," President Boris Tadic told reporters in the Serbian capital. The move was "a political event with ... harmful consequences," he added.

Kosovo declared independence four months ago and was quickly recognized by the major Western powers. Russia, however, threatened to block a roadmap to independence designed by a UN mediator, Martti Ahtisaari, in 2007.


Shift of authority from UN to locals

The new Kosovar constitution envisaged the transfer of authority from the UN mission (UNMIK) to local institutions. UNMIK was introduced to Kosovo by UN resolution 1244 nine years ago.

But the UN Security Council, deeply divided over Kosovo, now cannot undo the resolution, so UNMIK legally remains in place though developments have clearly overtaken it.

The new developments include Kosovo's proclamation of independence, its recognition by the US and its allies and the EULEX law-enforcing mission sent by the European Union to aid Kosovo in its first sovereign steps.


German soldiers in Kosovo

Germany has over 2,000 soldiers stationed in Kosovo

Because of the "new situation on the ground," UN chief Ban Ki-moon last week proposed to reshape UNMIK and leave it in Pristina to share power with Pristina and EULEX, instead of moving it out of Kosovo's way.


Opposition to Ban

The plan angered the ethnic Albanians -- a 90-percent majority in Kosovo -- who want UNMIK to make way for the much smaller EULEX. Officials, such as assembly speaker Jakup Krasniqi, have said that Ban is afraid to recognize the reality of Kosovo's independence.

At the same time, Serbia dismissed Ban's plan as an illegal change of the UN mandate in Kosovo and an attempt to let EULEX -- to which Belgrade vehemently objects as a facilitator of Kosovo's independence -- in through a back door.

Adding to the confusion are the minority Serbs, mostly grouped in the northern Mitrovica enclave, who boycott both Pristina authorities and are openly hostile to EULEX. Ethnic Serbs have said they will launch their own parallel structures of authority in late June.

Neither the international missions nor central Pristina institutions have so far attempted to assert their authority, and it may remain so under the new constitution.

The declaration of independence in February was followed by violent Serb protests in the north, which were encouraged and aided by Belgrade. A UN policeman and a protester were killed.



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