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EU Kosovo Justice Mission to Consolidate Rule of Law

The European Union said Friday its justice mission to Kosovo would be up and running next week. The mission aims to mentor Kosovo's transition since it declared independence from Serbia earlier this year.

Known as EULEX, the European Union's justice mission to Kosovo amounts to the largest civilian operation launched by the 27-member bloc. In a statement Friday, the EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, said the mission would be crucial for consolidating the rule of law in Kosovo and strengthening institutions to the benefit of all ethnic groups in Kosovo.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in February, a move opposed by Belgrade and Russia, as well as Kosovo's ethnic Serbs. The EU mission aims to progressively take over control from the United Nations, which has been operating in Kosovo since 1999.

The EU mission's commander, French General Yves de Kermabon, said it aimed to work in both the majority ethnic Albanian and ethnic Serb communities of Kosovo.

"I can affirm today that we are ready, beginning of December, to start fulfilling the mission," he said. "It means that we have the minimum requirements to do this and to begin to work with our local counterparts."

The mission already numbers about 1,200 police, law experts and customs officials, a figure that will grow in the coming weeks and months to about 1,900 members. Their work will include controlling police, justice and customs during Kosovo's transition, while remaining neutral about its status. Most, but not all EU members recognize Kosovo's independence.

The mission includes almost all 27 EU members. The United States is also participating for the first time in an EU mission, and will provide about 80 police. EULEX is scheduled to operate for two years, but may stay longer.