|Updated: 18 November 1999||KFOR Press Updates|
KFOR Press Update
by Ole Irgens, KFOR Spokesman
Good morning ladies and gentlemen. Many of us might not have noticed this but, in the last days, KFOR has reached another milestone. Since November the 12th, our soldiers have completed five months of operations in Kosovo. Five challenging months we acknowledge, but also it is fair to say that this difficult mission has been rewarded through many remarkable achievements.
We arrived in the province when at least 800,000 people, mostly Kosovo Albanians, had either been evicted, or had fled in fear for their lives. Under KFOR's protection, the vast majority have now been able to return while VJ forces withdrew without major incidents. Since then, the priority has shifted towards the protection of minorities in order to allow them to feel safe here in Kosovo and to encourage others who left the province to come back. Many Serbs have already returned, and we will pursue our efforts to facilitate more returns.
To prevent attacks, or act of revenge, KFOR has increased the number of troops that we have out on the ground at any time. One example: In Multinational Brigade East alone, 190 security patrols are mounted every day, 65 checkpoints are manned and 64 facilities, such as Serb patrimonial sites, are guarded. The growing UNMIK Police presence throughout the province is also helping to deter violence and maintain law and order. Together, in partnership, we provided a relatively safe and secure environment in accordance with our mandate.
Since our arrival, the KLA has been demilitarised and transformed. Its former members are now contributing to the rebuilding of Kosovo as civilians, through their participation in the Kosovo Police Service or in the provisional Kosovo Protection Corps for example.
In addition to the thousands of weapons voluntarily handed over as part of the demilitarisation process, over 2000 illegally held weapons have been confiscated and are now in the process of being destroyed. Some of their former owners are in custody and the amnesty campaign currently ongoing has resulted in many more weapons being voluntarily surrendered.
When we arrived, there were an estimated 40,000 mines in the province, laid either by Yugoslav forces or the KLA. KFOR explosive ordnance disposal teams have cleared all the major routes and population centres, and also marked the remaining sites known to contain mines or other unexploded ordnance. KFOR has run an extensive mine awareness campaign in the media and through visits to local schools. Unfortunately, this work has taken its toll: Two KFOR explosive ordnance disposal personnel have lost their lives and three have been injured in clearing the mines.
Crime statistics also show a huge decline since KFOR arrived. We have seen murders, arsons, kidnappings and looting going dramatically down.
In many other areas, KFOR has provided support to UNMIK and NGOs through its involvement in reconstruction and humanitarian projects. We have built or repaired 200 km of roads and reconstructed or repaired 6 major bridges. Key infrastructure such as schools and utilities have been repaired and brought back into service. Medical assistance has been brought to the people though our field hospitals in which we have so far treated approximately 20,000 local patients. We have assisted UNMIK in importing and distributing humanitarian aid, including food, clothing and rebuilding materials for houses. Key to this effort has been the restoration of the province's transport system, including the reopening of Pristina airport.
The presence of crowds of people walking safely on the streets, doing their daily business or shopping, or simply buying a local newspaper printed without censorship, provides further testament to our achievements.
A lot remains to be done. And we are the first to acknowledge this. KFOR can only provide a secure and safe environment. Real peace must be built by the people in Kosovo themselves. Mutual acceptance of the different ethnic groups is key to the future, which lies in a multi-ethnic, democratic Kosovo.
Another point of interest: on November 15th, Commander KFOR General Dr Reinhardt, visited Mitrovica and held private talks with Mr Oliver Ivanovic and Dr Rexepi. These talks were held to familiarise General Dr Reinhardt with the views and concerns of both parties.
General Reinhardt's position was quite clear: He denounced again any kind of cantonisation and emphasised that the eventual creation of a Serb Protection Corps would not be acceptable. He told both parties that he was determined to improve the situation for all citizens of Mitrovica, both north and south of the Ibar River. The goal of KFOR, together with UNMIK and the International Community) is to see a multiethnic, peaceful Kosovo, and Mitrovica is key to reach that goal.
Two KFOR soldiers were injured in Trepza, Multinational Brigade East, yesterday at 16:12 hrs when a KFOR vehicle overturned. The soldiers were taken to Camp Bondsteel for treatment, one with a broken leg, the other only slightly injured.
A pistol was confiscated from a Serb man when his car was stopped in a KFOR vehicle checkpoint in Vitina yesterday at 16:15 hrs.
Three men tried to cross the border illegally at the border crossing point at Morina, Multinational Brigade South, yesterday at 16:10 hrs. KFOR soldiers fired warning shots, and the persons returned to Albania.
In Prizren, an uninhabited Serb house burnt yesterday. The fire spread to a Kosovo Albanian house, and was subsequently put out by fire brigade personnel.
The brigade also reported the arrest of three suspects: one for blackmail arrested by the Multinational Specialized Unit in Pristina and brought to Prizren, and two for attempted murder and illegal possession of weapons.
A search was conducted by KFOR troops in Dakovica, Multinational Brigade West, yesterday, resulting in the confiscation of one M-59 rifle. In another search operation in Crnce, one AK-47, two pistols, three hand grenades and 400 rounds of ammunition was confiscated.
In Vucitrn, Multinational Brigade North, a grenade was launched at a butchery shop, but fortunately failed to explode. A KFOR explosive ordnance disposal team disposed of the grenade and the investigation was handed over to UNMIK Police.