Accessibility links

Yugoslavia: UN Struggles To Assemble Kosovo Police Force

  • Jeremy Bransten

The issue of security continues to dominate in Kosovo, threatening to overshadow efforts at reconstruction. The UN -- which has been given a broad mandate to administer the province -- is now starting to assemble an international police force that will be charged with creating a new Kosovo law enforcement agency staffed with newly trained Kosovars. Our correspondent says the effort is off to a slow start.

Pristina, 29 July 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Gary Day has a tall order to fill. As chief-of-staff of the UN's Kosovo police force, this veteran U.S. cop is in charge of deploying 3,000 international police officers across the province and training a further 4,000 locals to take their place.

The task will not be easy, and Day is the first to admit it. But as last week's massacre of 14 Serbian farmers in the village of Gracko demonstrated, the issue of security in Kosovo remains paramount. The return of refugees, food distribution and reconstruction are all important, but without security, none is possible.

Yet for the moment, Kosovo has no police force -- no one except KFOR troops to maintain law and order. By September, says Day, the new Kosovo police force will be operational, at least in the provincial capital, Pristina. The UN has already distributed 10,000 application forms to local candidates, and 2,000 have been completed. At the start of August, 150 of the best candidates will be recruited for an express training course at the UN's Kosovo police academy. By September, they will be patrolling the streets. Day says: "Once we have the academy up and running, and we get the first 150 Kosovo police service officers trained -- it takes a five-week training course -- then they will be deployed in the Pristina district. We will first build a police station with police officers in Pristina. You will have one international police officer with one Kosovo police officer. You will have a language assistant and a KFOR patrol team. That group will go out and do police work."

Eventually, Day aims to have 29 police stations throughout Kosovo. After three years, locally trained police officers will be permanently certified and the 3,000-strong international force will leave the province in their hands.

For now, though, the UN's international police force numbers only 148 officers -- most of whom were reassigned from nearby Bosnia. The UN's chief civilian administrator for Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner, recently appealed for more policemen from UN member countries. And Day, who still has no telephone in his provisional office, expresses exasperation at the slow pace of UN bureaucracy:

"To get 3,000 officers here, you can see it's going to take a large number per week to get that done, and we're behind as I speak. We're very frustrated because we felt we should be on the street immediately, and we're not."

An added complication is that the 3,000 UN officers are to come from 43 countries, all with widely differing policing traditions. They will have to be taught to work together and to act with the same degree of cultural sensitivity.

"It's going to take a lot of training for us to get our own officers ready. At the same time, we're going to be training the Kosovo police officers through the academy. So that kind of gives you an overview of what we're trying to do on two parallel paths -- to come together, then assume full authority from KFOR and take over the law and order and police functions here in Kosovo."

While the UN makes appeals and Day plans strategy, houses continue to burn in Kosovo and people still die. In the southwestern town of Djakovica, near the Albanian border, local inhabitants have already organized their own local government and entrusted the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) with police duties.

Mazllom Kumnova runs Djakovica and the surrounding district of 150,000 people as the de-facto mayor and governor. His authority is not recognized by the UN, but Kumnova says his people have immediate needs and cannot afford to wait for decisions from New York, Geneva, or Brussels:

"Let me ask you: how would your people react if, after the war, for more than a month, they did not have an army or police or other essential structures? Would they wait for the UN and EU bureaucracies to establish them? Or not?"

Kumnova's deputy, Ardian Gjini, says plans are afoot to make new license plates, to tame the chaotic traffic situation and to stop smugglers from Albania. Serbian police confiscated most identity documents from Kosovo's Albanians when they expelled them from the province. Re-creating the paperwork that structures people's everyday lives will take much effort.

"If the UN comes in here as partners, then we will be glad to see them," says Kumnova. "But if they come as colonizers, we will treat them like a second occupation."

Rexhep Selimi is the interior minister in the self-styled government of UCK political leader Hashim Thaci. Selimi fought against Serbian forces in the recent conflict and his war-time heroism propelled him into the ranks of this provisional cabinet. Neither Selimi nor Thaci's government are acknowledged by the UN, which -- according to Resolution 1244 -- has sole authority to administer Kosovo until elections are held.

Selimi says this is unfortunate. The UCK's experience on the ground and knowledge of local conditions, he notes, could make a valuable contribution to law enforcement efforts. And he says, the UCK already has 9,000 volunteers ready to be trained for police work. So far, legal considerations have prevented the UN from having direct talks with the UCK. Selimi hopes this will change:

"It's a delicate job to coordinate actions with the UN and the UN police authority. But because it's an urgent issue, we need to clarify matters, and I hope this will occur very soon."

Gary Day is conscious of the virtual minefields he must negotiate to get his project off the ground. He must not only try to reach an understanding with the UCK, which in effect controls several strategic towns, but he must also try to find a modus vivendi with the province's remaining Serbs.

As he does several times a week, Day stops by a Serbian household in Pristina for a chat and to drum up potential recruits for his multiethnic police force. No one knows how many Serbs are left in the capital. Estimates range from 200 to 2,000. Most remain holed up in their apartments, contemplating the past and fearful of the future.

Day sips a beer and tries to ease the tension. He says that when he was a police chief in the U.S. state of Ohio, having a Republican administration replace a Democratic one or vice-versa meant big changes in his job. He says it is a weak analogy, but maybe the situation in Kosovo is a little bit like that.

The Serbian family looks unmoved. Biljana, who has been looking out from the balcony at the city she is now afraid to walk, shakes her head and laughs to herself. Every night, threatening young men knock at the door, urging them to leave town.

"No, Gary," she says. "I'm afraid things are not quite the same here." She closes the balcony window and lights her 20th cigarette of the night.