Saturday, May 10, 2008

Monitoring My Bordom

Today I joined a routine KFOR patrol around north Mitrovica. At a brief meeting a week ago in the UNMIK head-quarters in Pristina with Major HervĂ© Cozettie I discussed going up to the Kosovan/Serbian border well north of Mitrovica with a KFOR patrol. Yesterday I received a call from Lieutenant El Ouardi, a KFOR press officer, inviting me to join an afternoon foot patrol in north Kosovo with a unit of French Marines. Sadly we didn’t leave Mitrovica, staying well south of one the most controversial borders in Europe.

I met El Ouardi and our driver at the main bridge over the Ibar. From there we drove up to the hill above north Mitrovica. At the top of the hill, on which sits a huge soviet monument to Mitrovica’s miners, I met a French marine commando unit. They have been here since January and patrol this region of Kosovo in two hour shifts, 24 hours a day. Their purpose is to keep the peace and monitor the situation. When asked exactly what this meant they said that they walk around looking for anything unusual. Anything out of the ordinary they report to KPS. They gave an example from last week when they had seen some Serbians burning pictures of the moderate Serbian president Boris Tadic and had radioed KPS about it. It is hardly the kind of work you associate with marines.

I asked them about March 17th, when a group of Serbs over-took the courthouse in north Mitrovica. In the ensuring violence a Ukrainian UN solider was killed by a grenade. Several others were injured. KFOR were called in and the situation was resolved relatively quickly. The marines said that they are only called in if a situation is too much for the KPS. Effectively they are the third line of security forces. They said that if they had been policing the town on that night the disturbance would never have escalated to the levels of violence that it did, and that a life would not have been lost.

It is unlikely that they would say otherwise, and their opinions are likely to be true. The problem is that KFOR is a military outfit, and to have international soldiers on the streets in the place of local police officers is not sustainable. UNMIK is here to administer the development of Kosovo from a violent and fractured region to a stable and self-sustaining state. A large part of this is developing a police force that can maintain the rule of law without having to rely on the presence of foreign military power. UNMIK has spent the last nine years helping Kosovo to develop an efficient and effective police service. If they still relied on KFOR alone for the rule of law then they wouldn’t have been doing their job.

The result is that KFOR’s day-to-day routine is little more than running the kind of mundane patrols that I went on. Before I met the marines I had expected to be told where we were going and to tag along with them. Instead they asked me what I wanted to see. They obviously felt there was little else for them to do but show me what I wanted to see. Sadly they wouldn’t take me up to Serbian/Kosovan border. Instead we worked our way back down the hill and walked through Mitrovica, monitoring the peace of a fairly relaxed Saturday afternoon. We’ll wait to see if this attitude remains throughout tomorrow when Kosovan Serbs go to vote in the Serbian general elections.

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