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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 February 2008, 08:09 GMT
Kosovo independence a long haul
By Ray Furlong
BBC News, Kosovo

UNMIK headquarters, Kosovo
The UN headquarters may become a symbol of Kosovo's independence

Mud-splashed jeeps with "UN" painted on the side rumbled past the concrete security barriers at the headquarters of the United Nations mission in Kosovo.

As an independence declaration looms, it is rumoured around Pristina that this ageing office building will be handed over to the Kosovan authorities as a symbol of them taking control.

But in many respects, independence will not go far beyond symbolism.

"We will have a kind of independence like Germany or Japan after World War II," says political scientist Lulzim Peci.

"Even if we are lucky, if we have political stability, it will take five to eight years before we are really independent."

You can't have sovereignty with 16,000 foreign soldiers or nearly 2,000 police, judges and prosecutors from the European Union
Tom Gashi, Kosovo lawyer

The economy will remain reliant on two sources: EU aid - more than 1.6bn euros (1.2bn) to date - and trade with, ironically, Serbia.

Unemployment stands officially at 44% and basic amenities, such as power and hot water, are unreliable even in Pristina, the provincial capital.

National pride

In the countryside it is even worse. But many Kosovo Albanians are defiant.

"What is important is the state. We will live without electricity. We will live without anything, as long as we have the state," says a builder in the central Kosovo village of Bletar.

Ditran Morina and his beehives
Ditran Morina's home was once used as a Serbian command post

Another villager, local primary schoolteacher Ditran Morina, is more realistic.

"If we have the support of the United States and Britain and other European countries, things will get better here," he says.

He too is pro-independence. During the Kosovo war of 1999, his house was turned into a Serbian command post. A tank stood in his garden, where he now keeps bees and chickens.

As we talk, a small boy comes from next door. "His father," says Ditran, "was shot by the Serbs".

Kosovo will remain unable to defend itself. Instead of a Kosovan army, 16,000 Nato troops will provide security.

Criminal networks

The EU is planning to send hundreds of police officers to safeguard the Serb community, and judicial officials will deal with a justice system devastated by corruption and intimidation of witnesses.

Serbia map

An EU report on Kosovo in November noted that "criminal networks extend to various socio-economic sectors and into politics". The local response to all this is sometimes ambivalent.

"You can't have sovereignty with 16,000 foreign soldiers or nearly 2,000 police, judges and prosecutors from the European Union," says Tom Gashi, a well-known lawyer soon to become adviser for judicial reform to Prime Minister Hashim Thaci.

"We appreciate the help of the international community. But local people need to start changing the system," says Mr Gashi. "We need to remove officials identified as corrupt."

Mr Thaci won parliamentary elections in November promising to fight corruption and declare what Kosovans call "supervised independence".

European influence

The EU mission will do the supervising - and its influence has already been felt.

When he was forming his cabinet, Mr Thaci was quoted by local newspapers as referring to "the request of the international community in Kosovo not to include former ministers who have a history of [corruption] scandals".

But the head of the EU liaison office in Pristina, Renzo Daviddi, insists there was no interference.

"The international civilian presence is quite limited. It has no executive role, which makes an enormous difference from the administration of UNMIK (the UN mission in Kosovo) or the office of the EU High Representative in Bosnia-Hercegovina," he says.

Pinning anyone down in Pristina on what, precisely, the delineation of powers between the elected government and the new EU mission will be is difficult.

Officials say the Kosovan government will be able to agree international treaties and enact important legislation on border controls or visa policy, important for fighting organised crime.

But enforcing this will depend on the support of those EU and Nato security forces, and there will also be geographical limitations on the authority of the government in Pristina.

North of the Ibar river, where the majority population is Serb, people look to Belgrade for social services, health, pensions and education: everything the state does.

While Kosovo's official currency is the euro, here they use the Serbian dinar.

Dialling Monaco

The cars have different number plates and they use Serbia's international dialling code. Kosovo uses Monaco's.

The makeshift bus station in Kosovska Mitrovica is a scrum of beaten-up minivans and people milling around on their way to and from various Serbian enclaves scattered among the Albanian-dominated south.

"I live like a mouse, scurrying from one Serbian town to another," says one passenger. "I came here today to extend my driving licence, and to get some medical papers."

The driver of the van, a young student called Alexander, is dismissive of Pristina's authority.

"They've done nothing in the past eight years. Their only business is crime and narcotics. They don't produce anything. All they do is what America and the West tell them to do."

Ray Furlong spent a week travelling in Serbia and Kosovo recently.

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