February 11, 2008 / 10:51 AM / in 10 years

EU to launch Kosovo mission before independence

<p>A vehicle of NATO's Kosovo peace force, with a Swedish flag, drives past a billboard advertising a new hotel with the banner 'INDEPENDENCE' in the capital, Pristina, February 6, 2008. The European Union is set to complete authorization of a big supervisory mission in Kosovo this week, just before the territory is expected to declare independence from Serbia, diplomats and EU officials said.Hazir Reka</p>

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union is set to complete authorization of a big supervisory mission in Kosovo this week, just before the territory is expected to declare independence from Serbia, diplomats and EU officials said.

They said the 27-nation bloc will use a low-profile diplomatic procedure to approve an operations plan for the 1,800-strong police and justice mission -- the last of four preparatory documents required to launch deployment.

"The O-plan will be adopted this week by written procedure," one official said.

A senior EU diplomat said the decision did not need to go to ministers since the bloc's leaders had agreed in principle in December to send the mission, due to replace the U.N. administration in Kosovo.

Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leaders are expected to declare independence next Sunday, despite fierce opposition from Belgrade and Moscow. EU foreign ministers hold their monthly meeting in Brussels the following day.

Russia has argued the EU would be acting illegally but EU lawyers contend that U.N. Security Council resolution 1244, adopted in 1999 after a NATO air war drove Serb forces out of the province, provides a legal basis.

RECOGNITION

EU ministers are expected to adopt a general statement on Kosovo's future next Monday, taking note of the declaration of independence, calling for stability and leaving it to each member state to decide on recognition, diplomats said.

<p>Kosovo Albanians walk past a giant Albanian flag with the words "Happy Independence" painted on a wall in the south Kosovo town of Kacanik, February 11, 2008.Hazir Reka</p>

Between 20 and 22 EU governments are likely to recognize Kosovo rapidly, but at least five -- Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain -- are not expected to recognize the new state initially, the diplomats said.

Cyprus is the most adamantly opposed, partly because of what it sees as a precedent that could lead to acceptance of the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

"We have repeatedly stated that Cyprus will never recognize a unilateral declaration of independence, which is beyond the U.N. framework and particularly circumventing the role of the Security Council," Cypriot Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou Markoullis said on Monday.

"This position has been accepted by our EU partners. We are not on our own, there are other countries which will not recognize the unilateral declaration of independence," she said.

The EU has also approved a civilian high representative for Kosovo, Dutchman Pieter Feith, who will oversee the police and justice mission and the implementation by Kosovo's government of standards protecting the province's Serb minority.

The EU mission will take 120 days to complete deployment and take over from the U.N. Mission in Kosovo.

EU diplomats and officials had been hoping that U.N. Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon would give at least a vague endorsement of the EU mission, despite Russia's prevention of a Security Council resolution on Kosovo's future.

But the U.N. chief has declined to comment on the legitimacy of the EU move under strong pressure from Moscow, which says it undermines the authority of the Security Council.

Additional reporting by Michele Kambas in Nicosia; Editing by Tim Pearce

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