Updated: 27 August 1999 KFOR Press Updates


26 Aug. 1999

KFOR Press Update

by Lieutenant Colonel Fordham MBE - CO 1 Royal Irish

Good morning everybody. My name is Simon Fordham and I am the Battle Group Commander that is responsible for the security of Pristina itself.

Just as a bit of background, I command a regiment called the Royal Irish Regiment, and we came across at D-Day and spent the first 7 weeks in Lipjan and that general southern region, all the way down to Purestro up to Glockovac and Stimle. So we have actually been dealing with that rural area, with quite a lot of the reassurance issues to the Serb population and also the general security situation in that large area already and quite similar problems that we now have in Pristina.

We came up to Pristina on the 1st August and that was as part of the re-deployment with us then following on from the 1st Battalion Parachute Regiment and indeed, us, 1 Para and the Royal Gurkha Regiment, all 3 of us had worked together back in the UK before coming out here. We were the 3 units that specifically came out at short notice and that is why we are here in this principle area of the sector at the moment.

What I want to spend 2 minutes on is to just to give you an idea of how, I as a Commander, plan the security of the city and secondly give you an insight as to how successful that I see we are being and the kind of issues in the city at the moment.

Firstly my Battlegroup is one of 700 men, and there is a lot of experience of this type of peace support operation, indeed in urban cities. When you bear in mind that I myself come from Belfast, and being born and brought up there as indeed are about 85% of my men, we have an intuitive knowledge of the kind of issues that we have with a divided community here. Seven Hundred men, well trained, well experienced, and already well orientated to Kosovo itself.

Those 700 are split up into 3 Company Groups and they cover the entirety of the city, and then I have a Special Company that does special designed operations that then reinforces the situation. Clearly, we are in the process here at the moment of incorporating the UNMIK Police Force and I myself have been largely instrumental in getting them to come into the city and be successful in what they do. My personal view of the UNMIK Police is one that they bring a lot of Officers who have got a lot of relevant and commonsense Policing experience, which is ideally needed here.

To give you an insight into what a soldier does in Pristina on a daily basis, what he is required to do is patrol 24 hours a day, day and night. If you were to come into my Operations Room at 3 o'clock in the morning, you would see the amount of patrols that are there throughout the city. The way that we patrol this city is by our Saxon vehicles, by our Quick Reaction Force in Landrovers, but principally by foot. This is a human problem it is therefore a human operation, Irishmen at the best of times have got the gift of the gab, and we with the interpreters go out on the ground and live within the community.

Whilst I say we have 3 Companies that are there they are not just living in 3 bases, these 3 Companies live amongst the population, all my Platoons are in these appartment blocks where people are being intimidated or being threatened or we place them in areas where we know their physical location will deter quite a lot of basic criminal activity. There are certain parts of the City that are crucial to its running, certain parts that are important that remain, if you like in UN and KFOR responsibility. For example there are certain places like the Telephone Exchange that we have to make sure keeps on running and I have a guard on that.

Similarly the University, the Hospital and various Government Buildings it is absolutely important that people can come and work in these buildings, from both sides of the community, and we employ escorts so that can be done and we do 24 hour guarding, day and night to ensure that the building does not get attacked or people going about their normal daily business do not get attacked either. With regard to the population, my mission is to implement law and order, to create a safe and secure environment for a return to normality and we work hard to do that, and we have a very good idea of what we actually should be doing. In that respect it is an open handed approach and what we do see here now is criminal activity in amongst the Albanian population, this is not just the serious crime, it is not just directly related on the revenge or reprisal aspect against the Serb population.

If you were to ask me the question, well how successful are you being in reassuring the Serb population that they can stay here? Well clearly I can talk from the 1st August at first hand knowledge, but I am aware of what went on beforehand. What I can tell you is this, the way that we are trying to get the judicial system rolling and the rule of law here, we have changed the operation slightly so that we capture people in the act of attempted murder, arson, kidnapping, hostage taking, burglary or indeed straight forward intimidation red handed. As red-handed means we then have the witness statements, evidence, forensic evidence that would then lead to the judicial machine to go round.

In that respect, the first 17 days that we were here, we arrested more people red handed, who are currently in detention now, than in the first 6 weeks put together here in Pristina. I think that this has an effect on the criminal in the city because if he knows somebody that has been caught red handed he is not back in his house now he is currently out in the Force Holding Centre or in Lipjan Detention Centre. That is something that I am sensitive to and this is part of my mission, if you like, to implement law and order and this is the way that we do it. In terms of the general levels of violence, there is without doubt now a drastic reduction in the murder rate, there is quite a significant reduction actually, now in the levels of intimidation, but say from some of the records that we have held to date it would appear to me that the levels of intimidation have reduced by 50% from the first week in August.

We have seen a marked reduction in serious incidents such a grenades being thrown, over the last 2 or 3 weeks, and indeed the level of fatal shootings has drastically reduced. So you can see a return to normality, while in my personal view, firstly, clearly it is the way that I go about my business, implementing law and order in the city and the effect that my men have on the ground. Secondly, I think that to a degree, there is a lowering of the temperature in the city here.

One of my main aims is reassurance to the Serb population that they can live a normal life here, and I provide the security for that and that is what we will continue to do. Quality of life for the Serb population is one that also, whilst not an immediate task for me, is one that I would clearly like to influence and to that effect we run operations that run doctors to them, where they are needed both day and night, we take food and health and hygiene emergency supplies or regular supplies.

We are about to run some operations where we look at where the markets are in the city, and this will be in conjunction with the UNMIK Police, to ensure that what goes on in the market is proper, authorised, legal and that it is a safe location for anybody in the city to go and shop. I have got a vested interest to make sure that the University is up and running. My principle part in that is ensuring that there is security both of the faculties and the dormitories down in the south of Upijana and I very much see these as institutional magnets that will ensure that people will retain where they are at the moment because it is viable for them to do so.

Okay that is a short brief, any questions?

Question from Radio 21:

From the beginning of your action here in Kosovo, Pristina actually, how many people have you arrested, and can you compare the level of violence at the beginning and now?

Answer from Lt Col Fordham - Commanding Officer 1 Royal Irish:

Okay, if we are talking in the month of August, to give you an example rather than specific numbers before they change. In the first 5 days that we were here we arrested 40 people, that is 40 people red-handed, which means that they are going to go through the judicial system, and the first estimate of that was the bust up of an armed hostage taking and that was over a 4 day weekend and that finished off with 3 intimidators being caught literally there on the spot with weapons in their hands attempting murder.

The level of arrest does not necessarily give, it is one of the indicators of a reduction in the tempo, if you like, or the temperature of the security situation. I would say that people that are intent on criminal activity, whether it is intimidation, threatening behaviour, burglary or attempting to threaten people out of their flats that we have seen , as I have said, a 50% reduction in the last 3 weeks. We have during the period of this month in excess of over 200 people have been processed through the Holding Centre and clearly in the Detention Centre down in Lipjan we have in the region of about 78 at the moment.

Question from UPI:

Can you say how many Serbs are left in he city and also in the Transitional Council Meeting, I guess a proposal was brought forward that these remaining Serbs will all be put in one place? You are saying that all 3 Battalions or whatever are within the areas that they are located, can you say how that may effect your operation if they were all put in one place?

Answer from Lt Col Fordham - Commanding Officer 1 Royal Irish:

Okay. To answer your first question about the Serbs, I gather that we have a residual residential Serb population in Pristina. I do not think that they are quite so beleaguered now as they were 6 weeks ago, also to say what numbers there are I believe we are in the region of just under 2000 Serbs being here. Clearly these figures are very difficult to quantify exactly but we have a pretty good idea. The way that my Battle Group is deployed on the ground in amongst the population is largely, clearly in amongst where the areas are of the residual Serb population is to reassure them.

Really I provide security, I do not give any policy as to whether these people should move from where they live. Indeed what my job is, is to ensure that law and order is carried out in that area, or that part of the city where they live, irrespective of whether they are Serb or Albanian. We see acts of intimidation, we see threatening behaviour, attempted murder in the Albanian population now. For example now to further on from what you said (Radio 21) in the Tovarno District 3 days ago, and Albanian was shot by another Albanian, 2 days later we arrested the attempted murderer and he is currently inside now.

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