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Report: Italian Diplomat to Take Over UN Kosovo Mission

Italian diplomat Lamberto Zannier will take over as the new head of the UN interim mission to Kosovo -- UNMIK -- when the incumbent Joachim Ruecker leaves his post later this week, according to a senior UN official.

Joachim Ruecker

Germany's Joachim Ruecker stands down this week to make way for Italy's Zannier

"The appointment should be made this week," a senior UN official told Reuters on condition of anonymity on Tuesday, June 17. "The planned arrival is on Friday."

Zannier, a career diplomat and former director of the OSCE's Conflict Prevention Center in Vienna, becomes the seventh special representative of the UN secretary-general in Kosovo since a NATO bombing campaign in 1999 forced Serb forces to halt the killing and ethnic cleansing of Albanians during a crackdown on guerrillas.

Serbia , Russia oppose end of UN mission

Kosovo Albanians celebrate with the new Kosovo flag the independence in Kosovo's capital Pristina, 17 February 2008.

Kosovo declared independence on Feb. 17

German diplomat Ruecker was supposed to be the last special representative and would leave once the newly independent state's constitution took effect on Sunday.

But UN veto holder Russia, which backs Serbia in opposing Kosovo's secession, has blocked the withdrawal of the mission, believing that the new state would claim more credibility without its overseers in attendance.

Ethnic Albanian-majority Kosovo's parliament declared its independence from Serbia on February 17. It has since been recognized by the United States and most members of the European Union.

Serbia and Russia vehemently oppose Kosovo's independence and the introduction of an EU police and justice mission dubbed EULEX to the territory, without the approval of the UN Security Council.

New representative's powers unclear

The appointment of Zannier appears to be an attempt at a compromise by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has said that the Italian's appointment would be part of proposals to "reconfigure" the mission. It cedes certain powers to Pristina and for the European Union to take over policing and justice oversight in return for a continued UN presence.

Serbian police stop hundreds of ex-army reservists from going to the border with Kosovo, Sunday, March 9, 2008

Serb opposition to Kosovo has turned violent in recent months

However, with Serbia and Russia still insisting on Security Council authorization, it is unclear what powers Zannier will have and how he will be expected to implement the new UN proposals on the ground in Kosovo.

It had been the EU's hope to have a 2,200-strong police and justice mission up and running by June 15, when Kosovo's first state constitution came into being.

The EU currently has only around 300 staff on the ground, and there is no immediate prospect of it deploying in the north, where hostile Serbs say the mission is illegal.

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