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Yugoslavia: KFOR Soldiers Resume Policing Duties In Kosovo

As crime and violence continues to plague Kosovo, NATO peacekeepers have resumed policing duties they had earlier handed over. KFOR soldiers hope that by sharing some of the duties with the understaffed United Nations police force, they can bring the level of crime down. RFE/RL correspondent Alexandra Poolos speaks with a KFOR officer about policing in Kosovo.

Prague, 23 December 1999 (RFE/RL) -- In the hopes of curtailing the ongoing crime and violence in Kosovo, the commander of the NATO-led peacekeeping force, KFOR, has ordered his soldiers back onto the streets of the province.

Gen. Klaus Reinhardt's decision last week was made largely to compensate for the lack of United Nations police officers operating in Kosovo. Although some 6,000 police officers had been pledged from countries around the world, only some 1,900 are actually on patrol in Kosovo. KFOR spokesman Lt. Colonel Henning Philipps tells RFE/RL by telephone from the provincial capital Pristina that these numbers are not enough to stabilize the province:

"Just recently we realized that we needed to beef up the police force a little bit. You know we have only 1,900 policeman, UNMIK policemen, right now in Kosovo. That was just not enough. So KFOR needed to take up again a role in policing. So we resumed joint patrols with UNMIK police to show a bigger security presence for two reasons: the first reason is to show the criminals that they can't do anything here and that we are ready and able to fight them. And to show the people in Kosovo that they can rely on us and that we are here together with UNMIK police to secure the environment."

Starting last week, hundreds of KFOR soldiers joined police officers of the UN administration in Kosovo -- or UNMIK -- for joint patrols throughout the province. They have set up more roadblocks to spot-check cars for weapons and to look at the identification papers of drivers and passengers. Force levels have been boosted especially in mixed areas, where ethnic violence has been more likely to erupt. For example, the troop level in the Serb area of Kosovo Polje, located just outside Pristina, was raised from 600 to 2,000. Philipps says that overall, crime has been declining in Kosovo, but that NATO and UNMIK want to see the numbers even lower:

"In the whole we brought violence down since we arrived here in June from a rather high level. When we arrived here there were about 40 murder cases per week to a very low level now of three to four murder cases every week. This is still three to four too many, but we have it rather under control and we would like to keep it that way. And to find a way to eliminate the remaining murder cases."

Philipps says that the decision to re-establish joint patrols does not reflect a failure on UNMIK's part:

"It's not really a failure of UNMIK, because you know [the head of the UN's Kosovo administration] Bernard Kouchner requested 6,000 policemen and so far the international community has only provided 1,900. That's just not enough."

But Philipps says that although the increased check points and security presence can help curtail much of the crime in Kosovo, in his words the real obstacle lies in the "people themselves." He says that until the local population begins to cooperate with international peacekeepers, KFOR and UNMIK officers will be handicapped in their ability to establish security.

"There is only one major obstacle which I should mention. We need the support of the population here to go after the criminals to find the culprits. And there is still a lot of calmness in the population. Many of them are not really cooperating with the police and KFOR about finding criminals -- they [say they] just haven't heard anything, they haven't seen anything. And we need the support of the population to really find the criminals."

Philipps says that many people remain silent out of fear of being attacked themselves. But he also says it's important to remember that Kosovars have lived in fear of the police for over a decade. "The Kosovars have lived through a lot," he says, adding: "It's going to take time for officers to earn their trust."