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Kosovo: UN Not Yet Able To Adopt Policing Responsibilities

  • Joe Lauria

As part of its unprecedented administration of Kosovo, the United Nations was supposed to take over security duties. But as correspondent Joe Lauria reports, delays in getting police in place and a resurgence of ethnic violence make the handover from NATO troops to UN police a distant prospect.

United Nations, 25 February 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The recent disturbances in Mitrovica are the kind of incident the United Nations feared most when it set up its virtual protectorate in Kosovo last June with the aim of containing ethnic hatred and establishing democracy.

Most countries that pledged to send civilian police officers have yet to fulfill those pledges. Until they do, and until the ethnic violence is brought under control, NATO troops will continue to be responsible for security in the province.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said yesterday (Thursday) that NATO troops have a continuing security role.

"Clearly the situation in Mitrovica poses a challenge for us, and it's very important for KFOR to make clear that it is in charge, because it deters violence, and it sends a very strong message."

The UN administration of Kosovo (UNMIK) is an operation that the United Nations shares with NATO, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, and with the European Union. The United Nations runs the civil administration -- setting up courts and local governments, taking over legislative and executive powers, and running public utilities.

The United Nations is also to set up a political process that would determine Kosovo's future, as well as promote human rights, support reconstruction, provide humanitarian relief and return refugees to their homes. Nearly all of the ethnic Albanian refugees have returned.

The EU is tasked with economic reconstruction, the OSCE with setting up democratic institutions, and NATO, through its KFOR force, with providing security in the initial phase.

But KFOR's security role was supposed to be temporary. Thirty thousand NATO troops from the United States, Britain, France, Italy, and other NATO countries, plus a contingent of 7,000 Russian troops, are not trained for the kind of crowd control that they successfully pulled off this week in Mitrovica, when more than 60,000 angry Albanian Kosovars were prevented -- with tear gas, riot shields and bare hands -- from crossing the bridge into the Serbian side of town.

UN spokesman Fred Eckhard says that from early on in the UN administration, KFOR troops were eager to get back into barracks and turn security over to a UN police force. But like many other UN missions, finding qualified policemen and deploying them in Kosovo has not been easy.

So far, only about 2,200 of the envisioned force of 4,700 police officers are on the ground.

Earlier this month, Sven Frederiksen, the police commissioner for UNMIK, told reporters at the United Nations in New York:

"We need international police and we need them desperately, especially on the so-called special police units. These are police units which are going to be used to deal with riot control, demonstrations, to secure areas, protect UN buildings, carrying out VIP transport and these kind of things."

In Mitrovica, 100 UN police were rushed to the volatile town this week, but they played a largely support role to the KFOR troops. An additional deployment of 300 Indian and Pakistani UN police, trained in crowd control, are headed there.

Yet some analysts say it is unlikely that even the full deployment of UN police would keep peace in the region. The UN's goal in Kosovo, to end the cycle of hatred, suspicion and revenge, is a task that some observers believed was doomed from the start. Last June, Ivan Eland, director of defense policy studies at the Cato Institute in Washington, told RFE/RL that the campaign would likely be a lengthy, difficult one. And Eland remains pessimistic.

In an interview this week, he said that for the KFOR troops to go back to barracks and for UN police to take over would require a social contract that citizens will be law-abiding. But, he says, that is not realistic.

Ethnically motivated attacks have continued since the UN took over, including recent grenade attacks against Serbs and counterattacks against Albanians. Serbs in Pristina have been afraid to leave their homes. There have also been attacks against international personnel, including the murder of Valentine Krumov, a UN official, last October.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has reported that organized crime in Kosovo is entrenched in protection rackets, smuggling, extortion, gambling, drug trafficking, prostitution, and even trafficking in human organs. With Milosevic apparently stirring up trouble in the province, the U.S. believes his removal from power might be the only way to give peace and ultimately democracy a chance in Kosovo. And while UN officials won't admit it, the ultimate status of Kosovo -- which many believe will be independence -- might not be solved until Milosevic goes.

Eland believes, however, that the hatred is at the neighborhood level and needs no prodding from outside forces. in his view, Milosevic's departure might solve nothing in Kosovo.