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Balkan Report: April 21, 2000

21 April 2000, Volume 4, Number 29

In The Field With KFOR And The TMK. The new commander of international peacekeepers in Kosova took up his six-month posting in Prishtina this week. He announced that his top priorities are to create a safe environment in Kosova--in part by reinforcing the province's borders--and to allow the continued return of refugees. The installation as KFOR commander of Spanish General Juan Ortuno marks the first time that a non-NATO grouping has military control of Kosova since KFOR's arrival more than ten months ago. That is because Ortuno commands a non-NATO body--Eurocorps--and is accompanied by 350 Eurocorps staffers who will make up nearly 30 percent of the staff at KFOR headquarters for the next six months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April 2000).

RFE/RL veteran correspondent Jolyon Naegele recently visited several KFOR bases to see how the peacekeepers have been managing their mission. This is his account from Podujeva.

The installation on 18 April of Eurocorps commander Lieutenant General Juan Ortuno as commander of KFOR, the NATO-led peacekeeping force, appears to be more of a test for the eight-year-old, five-nation Eurocorps than for KFOR.

Ortuno told reporters at the ceremony in Prishtina at which he took over command of KFOR from German General Klaus Reinhardt that KFOR remains "an integral part of NATO." He noted that he will now report to NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), U.S. General Wesley Clark. Ortuno says KFOR's mission remains unchanged. And he stresses that the key word for all activities is "continuity."

As before, KFOR's mission consists of five key points: deterrence; creating a safe and secure environment; support to the UN administration in Kosova--UNMIK; maintaining the multinational aspect of the peacekeeping force; and ensuring compliance by all sides to their agreements.

Mark Roberts--who is a British Defense Ministry political advisor to KFOR�s British-led Multinational Brigade-Center headquarters--says it is "unlikely but possible that (Yugoslav President Slobodan) Milosevic could send his army over the boundary" into Kosova. As Roberts puts it, "the easiest way is to deter it from happening in the first place--for example by deploying the Scots Dragoon Guards with the Challenger-2 battle tank on the boundary with Serbia."

Roberts says Kosova'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 and democratically, and people can decide what system they want to live in."

Roberts says the slight differences among the various national armies participating in KFOR with its unified chain of command and single alliance mission constitute a strength rather than a weakness as the soldiers learn from each other how to do things. 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 troops of the British Green Jackets unit in KFOR as well as some 40 members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC-Northern Ireland police) working as part of the UNMIK police bring to Kosova 30 years of domestic security 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 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." Major Plant hastens to add, however, that "there are no Iron Curtains" in Kosova.

KFOR British Army Captain Conrad Turpin, speaking at an armored reconnaissance unit based close to the boundary with Serbia, 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. Those patrols not only look east and north over the boundary, but they look inside our AO (area of operations) to watch for everything--and we know every single route there is across the mountains. We watch for anything both coming in and going out" of Kosova.

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"

Another, quite different, form of cooperation is underway at the Kosova Protection Corps (TMK) concentration area at Lukare, north of Prishtina. The TMK, which largely consists of veterans of the now disbanded Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), controls the area. But a platoon from KFOR's Swedish battalion has the task of decontaminating a large former Yugoslav Army storage depot at Lukare. NATO bombing of the depot resulted in extensive contamination to the area by ammunition from the storage facility, as well as by cluster ammunition dropped by NATO aircraft.

The deputy Swedish commander at Lukare, Lieutenant Niklas Nordstrom, says the purpose is to make the area safe for local inhabitants as well as for KFOR personnel. He also wants to ensure that unexploded ammunition "does not fall into the wrong hands." He said: "I think that to clear this area we would need a few more moths. It is very contaminated and we have only done top clearing right now, which means we don't go anywhere below surface. As soon as you start digging in one of the holes here you will find more stuff. You could keep digging until you die."

The TMK commander at Lukare, Ferhat Malloku, praises the Swedish platoon's decontamination work. But he says the TMK is not engaged in decontamination operations because it has not yet received decontamination training from KFOR. (Jolyon Naegele)

Three Recent Comments On Serbia. From British scholar Timothy Garton Ash in a recent interview to RFE/RL's Branka Trivic: "I think that there is a danger of the sort of popular stereotype of Serbia spilling over into Western policy, of failing to distinguish between the regime and the whole nation, and that's something we really do have to avoid. We have to be ready to come in and help the democratic opposition--such as it is--as soon as that becomes possible."

Second, Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski: "Milosevic is not the only problem. What is important is that true democracy wins in Serbia. If Milosevic is replaced, but not through a democratic process, I think that another Milosevic might replace him." (Quoted in "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 20 April 2000.)

And third, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic said in Bijelo Polje on 18 April that the current struggle in Montenegrin politics is not between supporters and opponents of union with Serbia, but between "the concept of dictatorship personified by the Belgrade regime" and the concept of democratic and economic reforms as advocated by the government in Podgorica. He added that Milosevic is "the worst ruler in the history of the Serbian people."

All electoral rhetoric aside, when one thinks of the huge swathes of centuries-old Serbian settlements that are now probably lost to the Serbs as the result of Milosevic's wars, Djukanovic may have a point. But it is not hard to find Serbs--including among the members of the diaspora with Western university degrees--who firmly believe that Serbian forces will someday retake Kosova when the West tires of the place. (Patrick Moore)

Former Yugoslav Republics Sign Italian Commercial Pact. Representatives of the five former Yugoslav republics signed a multilateral agreement in Trieste to promote economic contacts between each other and with Italy, "Jutarnji list" reported on 19 April. This is the first such agreement since the dissolution of former Yugoslavia began in 1991 and is sponsored by Confcommercio, or the Italian Chamber of Commerce. The agreement contains few concrete pledges but paves the way for cooperation between firms in the various former Yugoslav republics with the backing of Italian money. (Patrick Moore)

'For Your Freedom And Ours.' Once again, Poland has shown that it takes its responsibilities as a member of NATO very seriously. The Polish military were among the first to respond to the alliance's request for more peacekeepers for Kosova. Nearly 200 troops from the 10th Armored Brigade have already gone to the province this week, and an additional 220 are due to arrive by train by the end of the month.

Colonel Zbigniew Piasecki told AP in Warsaw that the troops will be part of a Polish battalion under French command and stationed either in Prishtina or Skopje. (Patrick Moore)

Plavsic: Milosevic Subverting Her Party. Former Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic said in Banja Luka that her Serbian People's Alliance (SNS) is under pressure from "the other side of the Drina" River, i.e. from Serbia. She said that Milosevic is trying to use the same tactics to split her party as he recently used against the Bosnian Serb branch of his own Socialist Party. Plavsic added that the SNS "will stand firm in the face of such attacks," "Vesti" reported on 19 April.

Even though the SNS did poorly in the recent local elections, Plavsic predicted that it will rebound with new strength. She added that her Sloga (Concord) coalition is not breaking up but that the terms governing it will have to be "redefined." She did not elaborate. Plavsic and Milosevic have been feuding publicly since even before the end of the Bosnian war in 1995. (Patrick Moore)

Srpska's Own Goal. Representatives of Bosnian Serb soccer clubs (FSRS) said on 17 April that they will not join the revived Soccer Association of Bosnia--Herzegovina (NSBiH). The Serbian clubs accordingly will not be allowed to play in the upcoming playoffs to determine Bosnian's representatives in the competitions for the UEFA Cup, Reuters reported.

FSRS officials said they had not been consulted in plans to bring Serbian, Muslim, and Croatian clubs together. Munib Usanovic, who is secretary general of the NSBiH, said that all three groups "were party to a statute" drawn up in January by officials of FIFA, UEFA, the IOC, and representatives of the international community in Bosnia. (Patrick Moore)

Quotations Of The Week. The Americans did not come to the Kosovo mission to help solve problems, but to prepare Albanian separatists to extend terrorist activities to the territory of the municipalities in southern Serbia." -- Milosevic's Tanjug news agency, quoted by AP on 17 April.

"The main problem is the sheer lack of political will--that we were prepared to spend $13 billion to fight the war [in Kosova but] we haven't been prepared to spend $2 billion to secure the peace. -- Garton Ash, in a recent interview to RFE/RL's South Slavic Service.

"Nobody ever received the right to kill someone's children in the name of the Croatian state." -- President Stipe Mesic on Croatian Television, 17 April. He was referring to the 1991 Gospic killings.