In newly 'independent' Kosovo, what's the U.N. to do?

After running the tiny state for eight years, UN workers here are awaiting orders from headquarters.

By , Correspondent

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    Protest: Kosovo Serbs have been protesting Kosovo independence since Feb. 17. Here, UN police watched a rally on Feb. 20.
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After more than eight years of running Kosovo, the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) has suddenly found itself idling in neutral.

Unable to recognize the newly declared state without a new mandate from headquarters in New York, workers on the ground are left wondering what exactly their job is – and how long they'll be here. For now, any work on a planned European Union takeover of police and justice responsibilities is on hold.

"We have received no instructions to proceed with transition," says Alexander Ivanko, the UN's spokesman in Pristina.

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EU leaders agreed to send an 1,800-strong police and judiciary mission to Kosovo to replace the UN administrative mission following Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence on Feb. 17, and it is preparing to deploy.

The UN uncertainty could complicate logistics for the EU's mission (EULEX), says Karin Limdal, press officer for the EU Planning Team laying the groundwork in Kosovo. But she remains optimistic.

"It's not a problem to deploy," says Ms. Limdal. "[The UN] will have a decision by then, but it's clearly up to them to decide and they don't have any orders yet. They should have them within a week or two."

However, Russia – a strong ally of Serbia, which has vigorously opposed UN endorsement of Kosovo independence – has insisted that the EU mission would be illegal under UN Security Council Resolution 1244, which brought the UN in to govern after the 1999 NATO bombing campaign drove Serb forces from Kosovo in 1999.

Last week, Russia's ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, pointed to a Feb. 17 statement from Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, which disputes any EU takeover.

In the statement, Mr. Ban said that until there is a new decision by the Security Council, UNMIK will consider Resolution 1244, adopted in 1999, "as the legal framework for its mandate and will continue to implement its mandate in the light of the evolving circumstances."

Meanwhile, Kosovo Serbs are showing new respect for the UN and its refusal to support Kosovo's independence after 14 months of negotiations failed to produce a deal agreed to by all parties.

Interpreting Resolution 1244 to the letter, the Serbs have been holding anti-independence protests at 12:44 p.m. daily in their half of Mitrovica, a gritty former mining town divided by the River Ibar into Serb north and Albanian south, and have done so for more than two weeks.

"We need the UN here, but we don't accept the EU mission," says Tijana Simic, a law student in north Mitrovica who has attended the daily protests. Serbs in the north and in the handful of Serbian enclaves south of the river, Ms. Simic says, are free to disregard the Kosovo government bodies – and such local action will be supported by Belgrade. "The Serbian government is responsible for taking back all the Serbian institutions."

Some 200 Serb members of the Kosovo police have resigned, refusing to take orders from the majority ethnic Albanians rather than the UN. On Monday, Serbia retook control of a 30-mile train line in northern Kosovo.

Some moves in that direction are "coming very close" to a bid for Serb-Albanian partition, said EULEX head Peter Feith last week. EU planning team staff pulled out from the Serb-dominated north nearly two weeks ago amid violence. There's no word on when the EU mission will be able to deploy there.

• Material from the Associated Press was used.

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