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In newly 'independent' Kosovo, what's the U.N. to do?

After running the tiny state for eight years, UN workers here are awaiting orders from headquarters.

Protest: Kosovo Serbs have been protesting Kosovo independence since Feb. 17. Here, UN police watched a rally on Feb. 20.

Srdjan Ilic/AP

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After more than eight years of running Kosovo, the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) has suddenly found itself idling in neutral.

Unable to recognize the newly declared state without a new mandate from headquarters in New York, workers on the ground are left wondering what exactly their job is – and how long they'll be here. For now, any work on a planned European Union takeover of police and justice responsibilities is on hold.

"We have received no instructions to proceed with transition," says Alexander Ivanko, the UN's spokesman in Pristina.

EU leaders agreed to send an 1,800-strong police and judiciary mission to Kosovo to replace the UN administrative mission following Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence on Feb. 17, and it is preparing to deploy.

The UN uncertainty could complicate logistics for the EU's mission (EULEX), says Karin Limdal, press officer for the EU Planning Team laying the groundwork in Kosovo. But she remains optimistic.

"It's not a problem to deploy," says Ms. Limdal. "[The UN] will have a decision by then, but it's clearly up to them to decide and they don't have any orders yet. They should have them within a week or two."

However, Russia – a strong ally of Serbia, which has vigorously opposed UN endorsement of Kosovo independence – has insisted that the EU mission would be illegal under UN Security Council Resolution 1244, which brought the UN in to govern after the 1999 NATO bombing campaign drove Serb forces from Kosovo in 1999.

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