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Northern Serb judges take oath in a first for Kosovo

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Ethnic Serb judges in Kosovo’s north were sworn in to the country’s judicial system on Tuesday for the first time, as part of an EU-brokered deal between Pristina and Belgrade.

Forty judges and 13 prosecutors most of them ethnic Serbs and the rest from other minority groups took oath in Kosovo’s capital in a ceremony led by President Hashim Thaci.

“I welcome your readiness to integrate with Kosovo’s judiciary and work in accordance with Kosovo’s legislation,” Thaci said at the ceremony, according to a statement from his office.

Since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, judicial officials in its Serb-dominated north has refused to integrate with the country’s institutions, instead running a parallel Belgrade-backed justice system.

Serbia refuses to recognise the independence of Kosovo, its former province, which is home to 1.8 million people, most of them ethnic Albanian.

The agreement to integrate judges was taken in February 2015 during EU-facilitated talks to improve relations between the two countries.

The two sides fought a war in 1998-1999 that claimed around 13,000 lives and ended after NATO launched a bombing campaign to oust the forces of Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic from Kosovo.

“An integrated judiciary representative of all communities in Kosovo is a critical feature to ensure that justice is delivered, on behalf of the whole population,” said Maja Kocijancic, a spokeswoman for EU foreign affairs, on Tuesday.

Serbs make up the largest ethnic minority group in Kosovo, numbering around 120,000. About 40,000 of them live in the north.

More than 110 countries recognise Kosovo’s independence.

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