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Commanding KFOR

General Klaus Reinhardt reflects on KFORs contribution to the Kosovo peace process and highlights difficulties that lie ahead.

Helping hand: KFOR soldiers are helping rebuild Kosovos shattered society, as well as keeping the peace.

(Nick Sidle Allied Mouse and Heartstone photo - 35Kb)

When NATO-led peacekeepers entered Kosovo in June 1999, tens of thousands of Albanians were feared dead and over a million people had been forcibly evicted or had fled in fear of their lives. The capital, Pristina, was a ghost town with no shops open and few cars on the streets. There were no controls at Kosovos borders and boundaries, no civil structures, no functioning economy, no administrative services and no law and order.

Today, most Kosovars have returned to their homes. The streets of Pristina are filled with buses and cars, and crowded with people who feel safe to go out. Bars, restaurants and shops have reopened. There is a thriving market and street stalls abound. People are well clothed and nobody looks hungry. Newspaper stands carry uncensored local newspapers, as well as international publications. Radio stations are free to broadcast what people want to hear. Many Kosovars are enjoying freedoms denied them for years.

The Kosovo Force (KFOR) has been instrumental in much of the progress made in many areas of the provinces daily life. Mandated by the United Nations with prime responsibility for preventing renewed hostilities, securing the province and ensuring public safety, KFOR was also tasked to support the lead civilian agencies in the areas of humanitarian relief and reconstruction, as well as the work to rebuild Kosovos civil society.

A Military Technical Agreement (MTA) was negotiated in early June with the Yugoslav military authorities to ensure the withdrawal of Yugoslav forces, and KFOR supervised its implementation. As of today, the Yugoslav Army (VJ) and the police of the Yugoslav interior ministry (MUP) pose no immediate threat to Kosovo. KFORs troops, which have included contingents from 20 non-NATO countries, including Russia, are more than capable of preventing them from re-entering Kosovo by force. Frequent exercises help maintain the troops readiness for a wide range of contingencies.

KFOR has successfully implemented The Undertaking to demilitarise the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and to transform it into the Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC), a civilian emergency organisation under the control of the UN interim administration. Its 5 000 members have sworn to abide by the instructions of legal authorities, to respect human rights and to perform all duties without any ethnic, religious or racial bias. It is intended to be a multiethnic organisation and Bosniacs, Roma and Turks have joined, but no Serbs as yet.

This is the first time a guerrilla army has been disbanded and its weapons decommissioned in this way. But KFOR remains vigilant to the risk of renewed hostilities, keeping a particularly watchful eye on the dan-gerous situation building up due to rebel Albanian insurgency by the Liberation Army of Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja in southern Serbia.

Health check: KFOR is providing essential medical care, including more than 1,000 consultations a day. (Nick Sidle Allied Mouse and Heartstone photo - 28Kb)

KFORs other key responsibility is to create a safe environment in which all the communities of Kosovo the Serb, Bosniac, Roma and Turkish minorities, as well as the Albanians can rebuild their lives. One priority has been to clear mines, which are a danger to men, women and children whatever their ethnic origins. Explosive experts have cleared mines and other devices from 1 700 kilometres of roads, over 1 200 schools and 16.000 houses or public buildings.

But the main challenge has been keeping a lid on ethnic tensions and tackling crime. On any given day, two out of every three KFOR soldiers are out conducting between 500 and 750 patrols, guarding over 550 key sites and operating over 200 vehicle checkpoints. During the past year, the number of serious crimes, such as looting, kidnapping and arson, has decreased dramatically and the murder rate is down from some 50 revenge killings a week to an average of five lower than in many Western capitals.

In Mitrovica, a flash point for ethnic tensions, KFOR has up to 11 companies working to ensure the security of the different communities. Confidence areas have been set up on both sides of the river Ibar to reduce tensions and encourage displaced families to return to their homes. The challenge in Mitrovica, as in the whole of Kosovo, is to convince the population that there will be no partition and that it is possible for the two main communities to co-exist peacefully.

Civilian policing remains an area of concern, however. Common criminals and organised crime are flourishing in the partial power vacuum that will not be filled until municipal elections are held later this year. There is an urgent need both for more UN police and for more local Kosovo police, as well as the infrastructure to support them. Until the international community provides the resources needed, KFOR soldiers are having to step in to fill the gap, carrying out duties for which they are not trained.

KFOR has also played an important supporting role in helping the international communitys humanitarian and reconstruction effort. From the start, a close working relationship was built up between KFOR particularly its civil-military cooperation staff and the UN team. A massive programme was immediately launched to provide food aid, shelter kits and temporary emergency accommodation centres in preparation for winter. Thanks to this effort, nobody died from hunger or cold in Kosovo despite the harshness of last winter and the World Food Programme, which started out feeding 900 000 people, has been able to scale down its operations, as more people start meeting basic needs them-selves.

As part of the reconstruction effort, KFOR soldiers have built or repaired 200 kilometres of roads, six bridges and several bypasses, helping relieve congestion and assist the flow of humanitarian aid. Military engineers have restored the railway network, repairing 200 kilometres of track and rebuilding two bridges. Damage to Pristina airport has been repaired and the airport reopened to commercial flights.

In one sector alone, KFOR worked with the local population to build 1 600 houses; provided shelter for 17 000 people; supported the restoration of the basic necessities of life such as electric power, water, heating and communication systems; and helped provide essential medical care, including a daily average of more than 1 000 consultations, as well as emergency hospitalisations, immunisation programmes, ambu-lance and aerial medical evacuation services.

Close cooperation between KFOR and the UN administration has been key to regenerating many aspects of everyday life in Kosovo and setting up civil structures. An early, key step was the decision to fill the governmental and administrative vacuum left by the Yugoslav withdrawal by establishing joint interim administrative structures open to all ethnic communities. The problem, as with so many initiatives in Kosovo, has been that the Serb leaders were initially reluctant to participate. But some hope is offered by the courageous decision taken by the Serb National Council in April to participate as observers in the Interim Administrative Council and the Kosovo Transitional Council.

The university in Pristina has reopened and most primary and secondary pupils are back at school. KFOR helped rebuild buildings and escorts teachers and schoolchildren through areas where ethnic tensions remain high. Local media and telecommunications projects have been assisted through the airlift of material, the erection of antennae and the reconstruction of major transmission and relay sites. The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which is responsible for media democratisation, is being helped to establish a database of authorised transmitters and organise the management of frequencies.

After a slow and faltering start, the judicial system now has the judges and prosecutors required to operate the courts. They have proved able to administer justice when there is no strong ethnic element to the crime. But international judges and prosecutors are still needed to handle the more difficult cases, and a lot of work lies ahead in the area of law reform.

Kosovos increased stability and security have allowed the local populations entrepreneurial flair to flourish and small businesses are springing up everywhere. Cafs and restaurants, in particular, are doing a roaring trade under the patronage of international personnel. Still, unemployment remains a major challenge. Official figures put male unemployment at between 80 and 90 per cent. Resources could be better targeted at providing modest start-up investment loans to small businesses, rather than ploughing huge sums into a few, large projects which tend to benefit international contractors. Priority should also be given to helping Kosovos many small farmers get back to working the provinces rich soil. Many farms were destroyed during the conflict, forcing farm workers into the cities to look for jobs.

One large project of note is the initiative to resurrect the sprawling Trepca mining and metallurgy complex, which has suffered from years of neglect and under-investment. International support has been enlisted to revitalise it, which could generate many jobs and much-needed revenue for Kosovo. KFOR has been heavily involved in the assessment and strategic planning stages of the project and provides the day-to-day security for individual sites, many of which straddle the ethnic divide.

KFOR has also provided guards, helicopter trans-port and armoured vehicle escorts to help distribute over 80 million German marks ($40 million), as part of an emergency financial assistance programme launched last December to kick-start the economy, which had no functioning banks. Now, the basics of a financial sector are slowly starting to emerge.

The international community has made much progress over the last year. But much remains to be done and several thorny issues lie ahead. My successors will be kept busy trying to provide the safe and secure environment that is vital for democracy and tolerance to take root in Kosovo, and for all its people to live peacefully and prosperously.

The question of Kosovos final status needs to be clarified. According to UN Security Council Resolution 1244, it will be a province enjoying substantial autonomy within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. But what exactly is meant by this? The vast majority of the Albanian community view any return to Serb rule as unacceptable. Even Ibrahim Rugova, who is considered the most moderate Albanian leader, has made it clear that: Independence is unavoidable and I hope to be elected as the first President of an independent Kosovo. They will need to be convinced that they can, nevertheless, co-exist peacefully with Serbs and all other minority groups in an autonomous province.

Another challenge will be to make sure that the municipal elections planned for this autumn are free and fair and to encourage all communities to take part so far, the Serbs seem intent on boycotting them. The OSCE is organising the registration of voters and KFOR will help the UN police secure polling stations and ballot boxes. Unfortunately, voter intimidation appears to have started already, with people being asked to join a particular political party or risk losing their job.

Finally, there is the issue of how to organise a phased, slow, humane return of refugees under safe and secure conditions, as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, recommends. Many Western host countries are calling for speedy repatriation. But Albanians are likely to feel more safe returning than Serbs are. A large influx of returning refugees this year would also put further pressure on scarce resources in the province, while swelling the ranks of the unemployed and presenting KFOR with considerable security challenges.

The international communitys resolve to push ahead with this agenda and to provide the resources needed will largely depend on the Kosovars themselves. As NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson has made clear: You all have a responsibility to work for the future. NATO does not risk the lives of its soldiers to see their efforts washed down the Ibar river. The killing and ethnic cleansing must stop or donor money will stop.... We are not in the business of creating just another mono-ethnic country in southeastern Europe.


Hand-over: General Klaus Reinhardt (left) shakes hands with Lieutenant-General Juan Ortuo (right), in the presence of then SACEUR, General Wesley Clark. (NATO photo - 32Kb)

After six months as KFOR commander, General Klaus Reinhardt handed over to Lieutenant-General Juan Ortuo in April in a move which illustrates the strengthening of the European role in security matters. Lieutenant-General Ortuo, a Spaniard, is commander of the five-nation European military force, Eurocorps.

Originally a Franco-German initiative, Eurocorps is today made up of soldiers from Belgium, Luxembourg and Spain, as well as France and Germany. Eurocorps headquarters will form the core of the KFOR headquarters until October, augmented by personnel from other KFOR-contributing nations.

Relations between Eurocorps and NATO are based on a 1993 agreement between the French and German chiefs of defence and the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe (SACEUR). This specifies that the Eurocorps will adapt itself to NATO structures and procedures, which will allow a rapid integration into NATO in the case of engagement.

Under the system of six-monthly command rotations, KFOR first deployed under the command of the Allied Command Europe (ACE) Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC). This was headed by British Lieutenant-General, Sir Mike Jackson, who handed over in October 1999 to General Reinhardt of the Allied Land Forces Central Europe (LANDCENT).

Lieutenant-General Carlo Cabigiosu, an Italian from Allied Forces Southern Europe (AFSOUTH), has been designated to take command of KFOR in October 2000. KFOR commanders all come under SACEUR, who, since May, has been US General Joseph Ralston.

Read more: Kosovo, balkans
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