One day before Kosovo said it will declare independence from Serbia, the European Union on Saturday, Feb. 16, approved sending a 2,000-strong police and justice mission to the province.
Kosovars are gearing up for independence over the weekend
The EU civil mission was formally approved at midnight on Friday, after none of the 27 bloc members objected to the mission's plan, which represents the EU's biggest civilian mission ever.
An emergency session of the parliament has been called in Pristina, with the declaration of independence expected at on Sunday afternoon.
"[Sunday] will be a day of calm, of understanding, and of state engagements for the implementation of the will of the citizens of Kosovo," Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaci told reporters on Saturday.
Once Kosovar leaders declare independence, the EU will take over responsibility for supervising police, judicial and civil administration from the current UN mission after a 120-day transition period.
The majority of Kosovo's ethnic Albanians are in favor of independence from Serbia
"It is already more or less clear," Slovenian Prime Minister Dimitrij Rupel, whose country holds the EU presidency, told a Polish daily Dziennik in an interview published on Friday. "The European Union will send a mission to Kosovo to replace the United Nations."
Serbia and Russia both strongly oppose the mission, saying it would be illegal without the backing of an explicit mandate from the UN Security Council.
Kosovo Serb leader Milan Ivanovic on Saturday called the EU's police and justice mission a form of "occupation."
"In essence, the mission has characteristics of the occupation and it will be accepted neither by Serbia nor by the Serbs in Kosovo," Ivanovic told the AFP news agency. "The EU mission is not welcome. We will boycott it and use all methods of civic resistance."
Ethnic Serbs make up about 120,000 of Kosovo's 1.8 million people and want to stay part of Serbia. Kosovo has been under UN administration for 10 years since a NATO bombing campaign ended ethnic violence there.
Easing the road to independence
German peacekeepers in Kosovo
The EU's mission, slated to cost 205 million euros ($301 million) for the initial 16 months, will consist of a political entity to supervise the transfer of powers from the UN mission to the local authorities.
EU experts will train and mentor police, justice and customs officials and have wide-ranging legal powers for the transition period. Some 100 members of an advanced planning team are already in Pristina.
In launching the mission, the EU officially appointed retired French general Yves de Kermabon to head it, and named Dutch ambassador Pieter Feith as special EU representative.
"These appointments further illustrate the EU's enhanced engagement in the Western Balkans," EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said in a statement.
The European Commission and the World Bank are also planning an international donors' conference to help build Kosovo's economy. Kosovo, which will not be admitted to the United Nations because of Russian and Serbian opposition to its independence, faces huge challenges to tackle mass unemployment and become a viable state.
The EU rejects Russian arguments that the EU presence will be illegal. It argues the existing UN Security Council resolution 1244 on Kosovo provides a legal basis for the mission and cites a Jan. 3 report by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noting the EU's readiness to play "an enhanced role."
Not speaking with one voice?
Though most EU states as well as the United States plan to recognize Kosovo, at least six EU members -- Cyprus, Greece, Slovakia, Spain, Bulgaria and Romania -- have said they will not do so immediately.
EU members agree Kosovo's future should be democratic, stable and multi-ethnic
"Our position remains the same: we will not recognize a unilateral declaration of independence," Cypriot Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou Marcoullis told Reuters news agency. "Our position is based on principles of the UN charter, the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states and the role of the UN Security Council."
Kosovo, home to 2 million ethnic Albanians, has raised fears in some European capitals that separatist movements in their countries may use the Serbian province as a precedent for their own unilateral decelerations of independence.
EU supporters of Kosovar independence say Serbia has no moral right to rule the province because of the brutality it perpetrated against the province's ethnic Albanian majority under the late Slobodan Milosevic.
Rupel sought to play down differences in the EU over recognizing Kosovo.
"It is not the independence declaration that is most important," he said. "Of course, there have been doubts or negative feelings in some countries. But there are not that many after all. When the moment comes, I think the EU will speak with one voice."
Serbia remains opposed
Serbia, backed by Russia, has vowed that it will never accept Kosovo's independence.
Tadic has pledged never to recognise Kosovo's independence
On Friday, Boris Tadic who was sworn in as president of Serbia reiterated his opposition.
"I will never give up fighting for our Kosovo and I will, with all my might, fight for Serbia to join the European Union," Tadic said.
Tadic is at odds with Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica over Serbia continuing to pursue EU membership if EU states approve Kosovo's secession.
Kostunica called the EU's mission plans as a "brutal violation" of international law, and his government has already officially "annulled" in advance Kosovo's independence move.
But Tadic has said Serbia would risk losing its international influence if it cut ties to countries and institutions that recognize Kosovo.
"If some countries, including some European Union members, recognize Kosovo, it is in my opinion that we will certainly enter a frozen conflict," he said. "It will be a challenge for Serbia, but also for the EU and the international community."