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Kosovo: Pristina Returns To Life, With UN Police Help

  • Jolyon Naegele

A year after NATO-led troops entered Kosovo, the province's capital city, Pristina, has sprung back to life. In addition to the countless cafes, shops, and restaurants now lining the streets, a feeling of relative security has returned to the city. That is largely thanks to the efforts of the UN civilian police force and newly trained local police officers. RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele reports from Pristina for the second part of a series on life in Kosovo today.

Pristina, 10 July 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Pristina is a city that barely sleeps -- its streets are lively and loud from before seven in the morning until well after midnight.

Just a year ago, cafes, grills, pastry shops, and pizzerias were burned-out ruins. Today, they are not only rebuilt but modernized -- and business, particularly in the evening, is booming.

The nightly blackouts of the past winter that forced residents to forsake television and read by candlelight are just a fading memory now that electricity supplies are approaching normalcy.

Water supply remains a problem, however, and whole neighborhoods of Pristina are currently without water for days at a time. This is nothing new -- Pristina has suffered an annual water shortage virtually every summer for more than two decades -- but certainly for residents with small children, a potentially unhealthy situation is made all the worse by a series of heat-waves.

Traffic, which had reached catastrophic proportions earlier this spring, is finally flowing smoothly through the city, thanks to the introduction by KFOR and the UN of one-way streets. Much of the postwar traffic congestion had been caused by the large numbers of UN vehicles. Their use appears to have been restricted, and now it is a common thing to see international bureaucrats walking to work.

Ethnic-based crime is down in the city as there are few indigenous non-Albanians left. Nevertheless, one evening last month, a Pristina Serb reporter for Swiss-financed Radio Contact, which broadcasts in Serbian and Albanian, was shot in the chest while walking down Pristina's main street. The attackers shot her Serbian companion in the leg.

But for those who are not Serbian and do not speak south Slavic languages in public, Pristina does not appear to be any more dangerous than other Balkan cities.

The UN civilian police, who now number 740 just in Pristina, are increasingly visible as they make greater use of foot patrols and do less cruising in their big red and white vans. Bicycle-riding UN police are also a new addition, maintaining order by ticketing illegally parked cars and flagging down vehicles that still lack license plates.

The foot patrols in Pristina now consist of at least one officer each of the UN civilian police and the fledgling Kosovo Police Service, a heavily armed detachment of British KFOR peacekeepers, and a KFOR interpreter.

On a recent joint police patrol of Pristina's main market area, British KFOR Captain Neil Wright (of the Second Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers) was effusive about the degree of security in Kosovo's capital.

"We have patrols out all night, every night, and you know it's a pretty safe place to be in, Pristina. I believe it's as safe as any city in this part of the world. But that's achieved through the patrolling of KFOR and UNMIK policemen 24 hours a day in the city," Wright said.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, in cooperation with the UN Mission in Kosovo has been training the Kosovo police force since last October, and hopes to have 4,000 trained officers by next May. More than 1,000 police officers have been deployed so far.

More than two-thirds of the trainees are Albanian men. But 22 percent of them are women, 9 percent are Serbs, and 5.5 percent are from other non-Albanian ethnic groups.

Policewoman Valbona Kamberi was a member of the first class of postwar Kosovo civilian police and has been working in central Pristina since then. On patrol in Pristina's main open air food market, the diminutive blonde dons sunglasses and blows a whistle to get truck drivers to obey her commands. Accompanied by a Jordanian U.N. police officer and a small platoon of British peacekeepers, she clears a seemingly hopeless gridlock of cars and trucks in a couple of minutes.

Kamberi says it has taken time for her and her female colleagues to gain the public's respect in this male-dominated society. "The first time we had a lot of problems because people don't like to see a policewoman. But now it is very good. I have respect from people and I respect them," she says.

Kamberi says passersby come up now and congratulate her and say it's better to have Albanian police. A decade ago, the Belgrade regime sacked Albanians from all civil service jobs, including the police.

Rashdan Nedal is a policeman from Jordan, nine months into his one-year tour of duty as a UN police investigator in Pristina. He is Kamberi's training officer and accompanies her on all patrols. He says the current situation is substantially different from what it was last summer. "When we came here before nine months, it was very dangerous and for the infrastructure everything was destroyed. There was no electricity, no water, no services. But now everything is going better than before," Nedal says.

Nedal notes that the kind of crime he faces in Kosovo differs substantially from the street fights he was used to dealing with in Jordan. "And also we don't have house occupations [in Jordan]. We don't have ethnic discrimination. But you can find this here, a lot of cases like these house occupations. Every day we receive in our station complaints against house occupations, especially Serbian houses occupied by those [Albanians] who lost their houses or their houses were burned in villages and they came here," he says.

Nedal says much time will still be needed to stabilize the situation in Kosovo.

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