June 13, 2008 / 8:43 PM / in 11 years

Serbia rejects UN proposal on Kosovo EU mission

(Adds diplomats, paragraphs 11-12)

By Ivana Sekularac

BELGRADE, June 13 (Reuters) - Serbia on Friday rejected a proposed European Union police mission for Kosovo and accused U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of overreaching his powers in its former province.

Days before Kosovo’s constitution comes into effect, Ban put forward a proposal to "reconfigure" the activities of the U.N. Mission in Kosovo, or UNMIK, and allow the EU to pursue a police mission there.

"Ban Ki-moon overstepped his powers. The Security Council is the only relevant authority to decide whether the UNMIK mission should be reconfigured," Slobodan Samardzic, Serbia’s minister for Kosovo, told reporters.

The United Nations has administered Kosovo since a 1999 NATO bombing campaign to drive out Serb forces from the majority ethnic Albanian territory, but the EU wants to take on more tasks after Kosovo’s disputed Feb. 17 claim of independence.

Ban proposed the 2,200-strong EU police mission, known as EULEX and months delayed because of Russian objections in the United Nations, be deployed under a U.N. legal "umbrella." The mission will operate alongside NATO’s 16,500 peacekeepers.

The U.N. chief stressed such arrangements would apply "without prejudice to the status of Kosovo," whose independence has been recognized by 43 U.N. members.

"I’m aware this package may not fully satisfy all sides, yet it is my honest belief ... that what I have proposed will prove to be the least objectionable course to all and can offer us a way forward," Ban told a joint news conference with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in London.

"My aim has been to pursue a modus vivendi that is acceptable to the parties and would be supported by the key international stakeholders. I sincerely believe this package achieves that goal," he added.

Nationalist Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said the proposal violated Serbia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, while pro-Western President Boris Tadic told Ban in a letter his proposal required Security Council approval.

"The reconfiguration of the international presence... must be decided by the Security Council," Tadic said in the letter, released in Belgrade.

Western diplomats at the United Nations told Reuters on condition of anonymity they were pleased that Ban, despite the risk of angering Russia, stood firm in the face of the Security Council’s unbreakable deadlock on Kosovo.

They said they had expected Moscow and Belgrade to reject Ban’s position. But they hoped the two would accept the fact a decision had to be made given the council’s inability to do so — and that they would gradually learn to live with it.

Serb officials have said they expect to be given extensive rights to administer the Serb-dominated north of Kosovo as part of the UNMIK reconfiguration, in what some analysts fear could be the first step toward a de facto partition.

"The proposal is for the EU mission to be deployed but also to legalize the so-called ‘soft partition’," said Argon Bajrami, editor in chief of the Kosovo daily Koha Ditore. "We will see the U.N. taking care of Serbs, and the EU of Albanians."

Serbia also said Kosovo Serbs planned their own governing institutions.

"As a response to the Kosovo constitution, the Serbs in Kosovo will establish their own assembly of their own representatives. The assembly will be established on June 28," Samardzic said. (Additional reporting by Fatos Bytyci in Pristina and Katherine Baldwin in London and Louis Charbonneau in New York, writing by Dina Kyriakidou, Editing by Catherine Evan and Peter Cooney)

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