Reuters International

European Union flags flutter outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, June 4, 2015. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

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By Fatos Bytyci

PRISTINA (Reuters) - All court cases in Kosovo handled by European Union prosecutors and judges were suspended on Wednesday after the Balkan country failed to extend their mandate because of a dispute over the role of the EU legal mission.

The EU police and justice mission, known as EULEX, arrived when Kosovo declared independence in 2008 to help the new nation fight crime and corruption, and to try war crimes cases considered too sensitive for local prosecutors and judges.

Western sources said the EU and Kosovo disagreed over the role of the mission. Kosovo wants it to have more of a monitoring role but the EU wants EULEX to continue its job of investigating and trying cases.

The EULEX mandate expired early on Wednesday. The Kosovo government approved extending it until 2018 on Monday, and on Tuesday the EU also backed an extension.

The matter must still be put to a vote in parliament, which has been scheduled for Thursday.

Political sources said the government may not be able to muster the necessary two-thirds support. The EU mission is not popular with the biggest party, the Democratic Party of Kosovo, after it arrested three of its MPs for war crimes and in connection with organised crime.

Lawyer Arianit Koci said a trial before EULEX judges he had been expecting on Wednesday had been suspended.

"I think the EULEX mandate needs to be extended, we need Europe more than Europe needs us. We have to thank them they are helping us and we are not paying a cent for this," Koci said.

Kosovo, a former province of Serbia, is one of the poorest countries in Europe, with high level of crime and corruption often cited as the main obstacles to foreign investment.

The country of 1.8 million people is still is guarded by NATO soldiers.

(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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