New EU Kosovo envoy says north main challenge
(LJUBLJANA) - Kosovo's biggest challenge is integrating the ethnic Serb population in the north of the territory, the European Union's newly-appointed representative to Kosovo, Samuel Zbogar, said Wednesday.
"My goal will be to bring as much EU to Kosovo as possible and to bring Kosovo as close as possible to the EU," Zbogar, outgoing Slovenian foreign minister, said in an interview with Slovenia's news agency STA.
"We need to tackle the existing situation where Serbs in the north are afraid of Kosovo... and the Albanian majority... have no access to the north," Zbogar said.
"That is the main challenge that we will have to overcome as soon as possible, probably by making a small step at a time."
The EU, with an annual budget for Kosovo of some 70 million euros ($92.1 million), "can assist with advice and its support through projects," he said.
The two-million-strong mainly ethnic Albanian territory has been under some form of international administration since a NATO bombing campaign ousted Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic's forces in 1999.
But it has steadily been building up democratic institutions and declared independence in 2008. It has been recognised by 86 countries, including most EU nations, despite opposition from Belgrade, Kosovo's ethnic Serbs and Russia.
There has also been unrest, most recently on the border crossings between Kosovo and Serbia.
In November some 50 soldiers from the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force were hurt as they moved to dismantle barricades erected at the border by Serbs from northern Kosovo.
Ethnic Albanian hardliners, who oppose all contact with Belgrade and want unification with neighbouring Albania, have also tried to blockade the crossings.
The 25-nation International Steering Group for Kosovo (ISG) said last month Kosovo has made such progress that an end to "supervised independence" should be possible by the end of 2012.
Zbogar agreed with the report but warned "that does not mean that everything in Kosovo is working optimally."
"We (the EU) will have to make sure all the institutions and legislation are implemented in the direction we both, Kosovo and the EU, want," Zbogar said.
Text and Picture Copyright 2012 AFP. All other Copyright 2012 EUbusiness Ltd. All rights reserved. This material is intended solely for personal use. Any other reproduction, publication or redistribution of this material without the written agreement of the copyright owner is strictly forbidden and any breach of copyright will be considered actionable.