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Yugoslavia: Commissioner Appeals For More Police For Kosovo

As a semblance of civilian administration begins to take shape in Kosovo, concern for stability and an end to ethnic reprisals is especially high. The police commissioner for the UN Interim Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), Sven Frederiksen, visited the United Nations yesterday to brief officials and the press on the crime situation in Kosovo. Like previous UNMIK officials, he says violent crimes have dropped sharply but urged the international community to send more officers to help properly police the province.

United Nations, 3 February 2000 (RFE/RL) -- There are still almost daily reports of incidents showing that Kosovo remains a dangerous place. Yesterday's rocket attack on a UN bus carrying Serbs was another case in point.

But UN officials in charge of policing and administering the province have said repeatedly during the past month that the rate of such violent crimes continues to fall sharply from the levels seen last summer when UNMIK began its work.

The police commissioner for UNMIK, Sven Frederiksen, told reporters at the United Nations in New York yesterday that the level of hatred between Serbs and Albanians is "so extreme you can feel it." But he, too, said there has been a noticeable improvement on the ground.

"After seven months, if I look at the situation when I arrived in the mission seven months ago -- no people on the streets, fear amongst the population, an extremely high number of crimes, hate crimes. And if we look at the situation on the ground now, the situation has improved dramatically, both because of KFOR but certainly also because of us deploying all over Kosovo."

Frederiksen says he has an international police force of 1,970 currently under his command. They patrol an area, he says, covering about 70 to 75 percent of the population. And he notes that the international force, composed of civilian officers from 42 nations, is so far not equipped to deal with special situations such as riots. The United Nations authorized a force of 4,700 when UNMIK was established, and envisioned among them were special units able to go beyond daily policing duties.

Frederiksen yesterday repeatedly called on member states to contribute more officers to help the force realize its goals.

"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."

The UN police commissioner noted that the international force's main duties are to patrol the province and also provide training for a Kosovo police service. He said his department is in the process of interviewing thousands of candidates. At present, he says, there are 176 Kosovars -- ethnic Albanians, Serbs and Gorans -- out patrolling as trainees.

The overwhelming focus of police work so far, Frederiksen says, has been on reducing the number of hate crimes. Since the deployment of NATO forces last summer and the subsequent establishment of the UN mission, there have been hundreds of incidents in which ethnic Albanians have carried our reprisals on Serbs in the province.

This has forced the flight of thousands of Serbs and fed the suspicion that the UN mission was biased against the Serb population. Moderate Serb leaders in Kosovo are now considering ending a four-month long Serb boycott of the UN-backed provincial council. Easing ethnic crimes is crucial to allowing the fledgling local administration to take root.

Frederiksen says there are currently 130 people in detention charged with murder and the international force is devoting a portion of its resources to prosecuting all ethnic crimes. The evidence so far, he says, shows many of those charged acted alone rather than in gangs. He takes hope in the sharp decline in murders since last summer.

"When I came to the mission in July, you would see around 50, 60, maybe even up to 70 murders, just to take one of the capital crimes. The week before last we had seven."

As for manpower, there will likely no major increase in officers in the near future. With scores of UN member states behind on annual dues and payments to peacekeeping operations, contributions to the Kosovo force may not be a top priority. But Frederiksen says he's hearing a "little bit of good news" on his current trip to New York. He said the United States has committed 100 more officers to the force.