A new police force is being launched in Kosovo. RFE/RL correspondent Alexandra Poolos reports from the provincial capital Pristina that while the training provided the force is being widely praised, there are concerns about its future effectiveness.
Pristina, 9 November 1999 (RFE/RL) -- As the world continues to express dismay at the high rate of crime across Kosovo, a new police force is on the streets of the province. Kosovar police cadets have been freshly trained by the United Nations Mission In Kosovo, known by the acronym UNMIK. While UNMIK still has the primary police force, the cadets will soon take over the policing of Kosovo. The international community hopes the creation of the Kosovo Police Service (KPS) will launch a new era of law and order in the province.
Many in and out of the KPS applaud the training the cadets have received from UNMIK police. But underneath the enthusiasm, there is a growing concern that the low salaries allotted to the KPS will soon lead to corruption.
Presently, a KPS cadet earns 280 Deutschemarks a month. That salary is one-sixth of what an average UNMIK translator makes and less than one-tenth of an UNMIK police officer's pay. The European Union estimates that an average Kosovar family of five needs more than 700 DM a month to survive.
Last week, the first class of 176 Kosovo Police Service cadets graduated from a police academy, run by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Stationed in villages and cities across the province, they have now begun 19 weeks of field training with UNMIK police officers.
A college educated 23-year-old, Haki Raca, says he feels privileged to have been chosen for the KPS. He says he joined because he wanted to "help his nation and fight against criminality."
But even Raca admits that the 280 DM a month he and his colleagues will earn will severely influence their ability to do their jobs. He is afraid that soon after taking the streets, members of the KPS will take bribes to supplement their salaries.
"If we have to fight against corruption here, that money is too little for us to be paid. Because, as you know among these new police officers, there are many people who are married and have families. They will need money. I hope that we will stay alive some way, because we have enthusiasm and because we are forming a new police force. And this is the first time that a police unit has been formed from the best men the nation has to offer."
UNMIK currently polices Kosovo with 800 police officers from 39 nations. But UNMIK spokesman Bruce Lloy says UNMIK's goal is to build a law enforcement force for the future.
"Certainly the intention of the international policing community is not to stay in Kosovo forever and ever. We are here to establish and maintain law and order, then to bring on the Kosovo Police Service. Give them their training, give them their field training and eventually the process will be that they will take over and you will see UNMIK gradually reduce their numbers."
Lloy says UNMIK officers are very satisfied with the performance of the KPS cadets so far.
"I think that these people are excited. They've gone through five weeks of school. They've got nice uniforms. This is something they want to do is be police officers. And now to be actually on the street, doing work, they're quite excited and I've heard nothing but good reports about them."
An official at the European Union Task Force for the Reconstruction of Kosovo says the discrepancy between KPS and UNMIK salaries is not the result of discrimination. Roy Dickenson says UNMIK police are paid from the UN mission's own operating budget. The KPS, like other civil servants in Kosovo, must be paid according to projections of the province's national budget. Kosovo's lack of income has affected all civil servants, including teachers, doctors, and government officials. Many have not been paid for months and work only with the hope of one day drawing a salary to live on. But Dickenson says problems like these do not just occur in Kosovo:
"I think the problem of public sector workers being relatively badly paid particularly in developing countries and transition economies is universal. There's always pressure to keep the budget in balance with very limited revenues and therefore the states can only afford very very limited salaries."
Dickenson adds Kosovo is also similar to other developing countries where international organizations are working. He notes these organizations have their own budgets with which to pay locals and these salaries are much higher than local authorities can afford.
Understanding the commonness of such problems is of little comfort for those on the front lines of the fight against crime. A field-training UNMIK police officer, who wishes to remain anonymous, is very worried about the future of the KPS:
"I see in the police officers that we are training one of two things. Either they will quit because they cannot support their family or they will in turn become corrupt. Because in the past, we've learned from this region, that the police were very corrupt in the fact that they would take money on the streets for personal gain. And I believe we're going to see that happen again. And it's very sad."
The UNMIK officer says that one of Kosovo's biggest problems is the openness of its borders. He says this allows organized Balkan crime rings to operate freely in the province. He feels as though his work in attempting to establish law and order has been in vain. And he criticizes UNMIK for not realizing a low-paid police force would severely compromise the future security of Kosovo.
"It bothers me because I know what it's like to raise a family and to see somebody who really wants to be a police officer and has all the good intentions to become a very good skilled policeman and to know that he may be tempted by corruption.
The officer says that he is already seeing corruption seep into the KPS force. There are reports that just last week, four KPS officers kidnapped an unidentified Kosovar. UNMIK has remained silent about the affair. Other officials say they are investigating. The UNMIK officer says he was not surprised by the report.