Kosovo's bid to join Interpol rejected at agency's assembly

Kosovo's bid to join Interpol failed on Tuesday during a vote at the body's annual general assembly, dealing a blow to the country's efforts to boost recognition of its statehood.

"An application for membership by Kosovo was rejected by the INTERPOL General Assembly," the organization announced from its meeting held in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates.

The bid's failure marks a significant setback for Kosovo — if it had been approved, Kosovo would have been able to request "red notices" from Interpol for arrests of Serbian officials or figures that authorities in Kosovo consider war criminals.

Supported by its ally Russia, Serbia had been lobbying against Kosovo's entry into Interpol. Serbia does not recognize Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia. The United States and most of the Western states support Kosovo's statehood.

Serbia's leaders rejoiced over the outcome. President Aleksandar Vucic held a press conference hailing the vote as a "victory" for Serbia.

"I am proud of our country's struggle," he said. "I want to believe that this will be a clear, undoubted message to Europe and the world to understand that things cannot be solved with one-sided pressure."

Kosovo's government expresses disappointment, saying in a statement that "Serbia's wild campaign shows once again its stand against Kosovo and against the idea of normalizing ties."

"Voting against Kosovo's accession in this international organization only serves ... criminals and no one should rejoice," it said.

The U.S. Embassy in Kosovo also expressed disappointment with the outcome of the vote in Dubai.

"Support for Kosovo's INTERPOL membership was never about recognition of Kosovo's independence, but about strengthening global law enforcement cooperation and closing a critical security gap in the Balkans. With this outcome, we all lose," it said.

Kosovo needed two-thirds of votes cast to be approved for full membership to Interpol. The body, instead, approved new member countries Kiribati and Vanuatu to join Interpol, brining global membership to 194 countries.

Interpol acts as a clearinghouse for national police services that want to hunt down suspects outside their borders. Its red notices are alerts circulated to all member countries that identify a person wanted for arrest by another country. Interpol says there are 57,289 active red notices around the world.

The body, however, has faced criticism that governments have abused the "red notice" system to go after political enemies and dissidents, even though its charter explicitly proclaims its neutrality and prohibits the use of police notices for political reasons. Member-states have final say on whether or not to make arrests based on the red notices.

Two years ago, Interpol introduced new measures aimed at strengthening the legal framework around the red notice system. As part of the changes, an international team of lawyers and experts first check a notice's compliance with Interpol rules and regulations before it goes out. Interpol also says it enhanced the work of an appeals body for those targeted with red notices.

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Stojanovic reported from Belgrade, Serbia, and Llazar Semini from Tirana, Albania.