Kosovo postpones vote on border deal as protest rages outside parliament

Kosovo postpones vote on border deal as protest rages outside parliament
By Dimitar Koychev in Sofia September 1, 2016

Kosovan Prime Minister Isa Mustafa has withdrawn the ratification of a controversial border demarcation agreement with Montenegro from the parliament’s agenda for September 1. The prime minister assessed that conditions for the vote were not favourable, a parliament statement said. 


Kosovo’s opposition parties are against the border deal, which was signed by Kosovo and Montenegro on August 26, 2015. It has become one of the two main causes of a deep political crisis in the country. The opposition and border region residents allege that the deal deprives Kosovo of several thousand hectares of land.


Earlier on September 1, Kosovo’s largest opposition party Self Determination (Vetevendosje) launched a protest against the ratification. Several hundred people reportedly joined the protest, according to Radio Free Europe. 


“The government withdraws the bill from today’s agenda and parliamentary procedures. We will try to reach a common position regarding the law, because I think that is wrong to deal with it in a situation where we have pressures and threats … we do not want to make any concession on a law that determines the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Kosovo,” Mustafa told the parliament. 


He added that the decision to withdraw the law did not mean Pristina plans to reconsider or renegotiate the agreement. 


In order to come into force, the agreement must be supported by two thirds of the lawmakers. This means that the two parties in the ruling coalition, the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) and the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), with 35 and 33 lawmakers respectively, cannot muster enough votes in the 120-seat assembly to ratify the deal. Even within PDK and LDK, the support for ratification is not unanimous.


The Serb List political group decided to not participate in the September 1 parliament session, Kosovan public broadcaster RTK reported. The Serb List has 11 lawmakers.


In 2015 and 2016, the opposition has released repeatedly tear gas in the parliament and has held protests against the border deal, as well as against an agreement with Serbia about the formation of an Association/Community of Serb majority municipalities.


The government, the US and the EU have been pushing for the deal to be accepted, and reject the allegations that Kosovo would lose land. The EU has set ratification of the border agreement as one of two conditions to be fulfilled before the European Parliament and Council adopt a proposal from the European Commission for lifting visa requirements for the people of Kosovo.


On August 30, Kosovo police arrested six Vetevendosje members as suspects in an incident that took place on August 4, when an explosive device was thrown at the parliament building. On September 1 RTK reported that the police had found many Molotov cocktails in a Vetevendosje warehouse. 


The opposition party denied the claims of the police and the state prosecutor, BIRN reported. On the same day, Vetevendosje leader Visar Ymeri told a press conference, "Today's arrests are a classic act of how political opponents are persecuted.”