Page last updated at 22:48 GMT, Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Kosovo underwhelmed by EU handover

By Helen Fawkes
BBC News, Pristina

Agim Binaku in Pristina
Agim Binaku says it is too early to see any real changes from the handover

Red balls of light glow in the sky above Pristina's main shopping area.

This is where ethnic Albanians gathered to celebrate Kosovo's break from Serbia almost a year ago.

Now it is the festive lights in the capital that are attracting people here.

Like the declaration of independence, the deployment of the EU mission called Eulex is another historical moment for Kosovo.

''We invited the EU here so it must be a good idea," says Agim Binaku, a football commentator, who is an ethnic Albanian.

"I don't see any real changes today, but we feel closer to these people because they are from Europe. Time will tell, but we hope they will bring our two communities together," he says, referring to Kosovo's Serbs and Albanians.

''The deployment of the EU force is happening as we approach new year. We hope that next year will bring something good for Kosovo."

UN handover

The main aim of Eulex is to strengthen the rule of law.

Eulex police officer Imre Pallagi (L) with his local counterpart Popovic Nebojsa in the Serb enclave of Gracanica 9/12/2008
A symbolic handshake glossed over concerns from Kosovo Serb police

Latvian dog handlers and Polish police are among the European officials that started work here on Tuesday.

The EU's role is to oversee the running of the police, the courts and the customs service in Kosovo.

When it is at its full strength in a few months it will have almost 2,000 international staff.

They are taking over many of the duties from the United Nation's mission in Kosovo, Unmik.

It means that after almost a decade in charge, the UN is leaving and will only retain a small political role.

The new EU officials with their big blue and yellow armbands now have a visible presence in Kosovo's capital.

Serb opposition

The deployment started bright and early on Tuesday morning.

In Gracanica, the Serb-dominated town in central Kosovo, police officers from the EU mission met their counterparts.

The visit at the regional police station didn't last long, but it was symbolic.

Street vendors in Pristina
Many ordinary people are sceptical about the Eulex handover

Eulex has been opposed by many Kosovo Serbs.

But a handshake between the Serb police commander and an EU official sent out a signal that the Kosovo Serb police officers are willing to work with the new mission.

Across the road from the police station, Kosovo Serbs lined up to sell their produce on the pavement.

Some had laid out a basket with a few eggs or vegetables, others just a couple of bottles of milk.

A man selling walnuts told me that he didn't care that the European Union had launched its new force in Kosovo.

He was sceptical about whether it would make any difference.

The trader said he had gone to the UN and the police to report a crime but nothing happened. There was some denial and disbelief.

''As far as I know, UN will be here for another three years and I don't know anything about this Eulex," says Olga Milosavlivic, a Kosovo Serb villager.

The force should have started work sooner, but it was delayed for months following opposition from Serbia.

Belgrade has now accepted the plan.

Albanian apprehension

Meanwhile some ethnic Albanians are not happy with the way that it will operate, they believe that too many concessions have been made to Serbia.

A couple of protests were held in Pristina in the run up to the official launch.

I am not sure what is going to happen...I just hope it will bring peace to Kosovo
Lavdie Simnica
Mother of three

Outside the old UN headquarters there is graffiti that says "Eulex - Made in Serbia".

This mission is the biggest ever deployed by the EU.

As well as ethnic tensions, it faces a huge challenge.

The top priorities of the force are to help the authorities tackle war crimes, corruption and organised crime.

People from both sides want to see tangible results that improve their standard of living.

Lavdie Simnica, an ethnic Albanian who lives in Pristina pauses by the festive lights to take a picture of her three children.

She cleans houses to support her family.

''I have to work so hard. I'd like to have a better life for my children. It is all bit confusing - some people say Eulex is good, others don't agree with them, so I am not sure what is going to happen,'' Lavdie says.

''I just hope that there will be no repeat of any violence, I just hope it will bring peace to Kosovo,'' she adds.

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