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Kosovo: KFOR Peacekeepers Discuss Multinational Cooperation

The thousands of KFOR soldiers who are trying to prevent and defuse ethnic conflict in Kosovo come from almost 40 countries. RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele recently visited several KFOR bases to see how the international peacekeepers are working together.

Podujevo, 20 April 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Spanish Lieutenant-General Juan Ortuno took up his six-month posting as commander of KFOR, the NATO-led peacekeeping force, in Pristina this week. But the change in leadership does not change the mission.

Ortuno says the key word for all activities is "continuity."

A British adviser to KFOR's British-led Multinational Brigade Center, Mark Roberts, told RFE/RL recently that Kosovo's long-term political status is of no interest to KFOR.

"Our job is actually to create the conditions in which a political settlement can be reached. Being quite cynical, it doesn't matter to us whether that final settlement is independence, substantial autonomy [within Yugoslavia] or whatever. All our job is about is trying to create the conditions in which politicians can discuss peacefully, democratically, and people can decide what system they want to live in."

Roberts said the slight differences among the various national armies participating in KFOR constitute a strength rather than a weakness, as the soldiers learn from each other.

At last count, 39 countries are supplying some 39,000 peacekeepers to KFOR.

KFOR spokesman Major Damian Plant says each of the national units has strengths. He notes that some 40 members of Northern Ireland's police force (Royal Ulster Constabulary) are working as part of the UN police, bringing to Kosovo 30 years of experience from patrolling cities in Northern Ireland.

Plant says units from other countries have similarly valuable experience to share.

"The Canadians, for example, have these terrific Coyote reconnaissance vehicles and a great capability there. So actually if, for example, there were any gaps in capability -- and it is difficult for any armed force bar perhaps the United States to actually cover all the bases -- then actually it is the skills and it is the equipment of different organizations that really contribute. And certainly the Czechs up at the boundary -- again they have a particular strength in looking after boundaries, perhaps based on decades of looking after an Iron Curtain."

But Major Plant hastens to add that "there are no Iron Curtains in Kosovo."

A kilted bagpiper skirls a welcome to visitors to the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards' base at Podujevo northeast of Pristina, where the British Army's new main battle tank -- the Challenger-2 -- is based in the hope of deterring Yugoslav forces.

British Captain Conrad Turpin heads a Scottish reconnaissance unit based close to the boundary with Serbia. He says his forces not only watch Yugoslav forces across the boundary, but also keep a close eye on Kosovar Albanian activity.

"A prime example: We've had patrols out every single night and every day at the moment. And those patrols not only look east and north over the boundary, but they look inside our [area of operations] to watch for everything, and we know every single route there is across the mountains. And we watch for anything both coming in and going out of Kosovo."

Turpin praises the cooperation between his Scots Dragoon Guards unit and a Canadian reconnaissance unit.

"So far, we've done a lot of foot patrols, helicopter patrols, covert patrols, VCPs ( Vehicular Control Points, i.e. road checkpoints), everything in this area, and everything we do is a combined effort as well as having a Norwegian crew with us as well. So actually we are quite a mix of troops up here, Canadians, Norwegians, and Scots."

His Canadian colleague, Captain Ashley Fleming, is just as effusive.

"Certainly I think from a NATO perspective it all fits together well. Surprisingly, it does, and we haven't had a problem working with Swedes, Finns, Norwegians -- we work with them all without any difficulty. We all operate on the same sort of platform and understand the same sort of things that need to get done."