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Kosovo’s Apparently Suicidal Police Minders Power Down

July 7, 2007

( Research Service)- The July 3 decision by Richard Monk, the UN police commissioner in Kosovo, to ban rubber bullets in anticipated upcoming showdowns with Albanian protestors angry at the slow pace of independence bodes ill for the efficacy of UN policing, against protestors who have already been emboldened by the apparently weak-willed nature of the UN mission. A scenario by which UN peacekeepers could actually be taken hostage and used as political collateral by protesters is thus becoming likely, for the first time.

Behind the commissioner’s decision was the deadly events of February 10, when two Albanians from the Vetevendosje (Self-Determination) group were killed by UN peacekeepers firing rubber bullets. The police involved were reprimanded and sent back to their home country,Romania, but no further charges were filed as the UNMIK claimed it could not allocate individual responsibility.

The Romanians, like the Serbs Orthodox Christians, were already unpopular among Muslim Albanians. But the February incident increased the hatred even more so. “Now, you cannot find a Romanian living outside of [the Serbian enclaves of] Gracanica and Caglavica,” attested a local Serb in May. “They do not trust and are not trusted by Albanians.”

Where this has become a problem for the United States owes to the fact that, as American law enforcement officials complained to last fall, the US has effectively “farmed out” its intelligence-gathering operations to Romanian and Ukrainian underlings.

With the best American assets shipped out to Afghanistan and Iraq, doing the legwork in Kosovo — which could blow up at any time — has been left to assistants who have zero trust or credibility among the Muslim Albanians, who view them quite rightly as pro-Serbian. And since the only counter-terrorist investigations in Kosovo involve Albanian organized crime and foreign-funded Albanian Islamic extremists, the reliance on Romanians and Ukrainians seems at very best counter-productive, and at worst downright stupid.

The police commissioner’s decision to ban rubber bullets was no doubt meant as a confidence-building measure designed to assure Albanians that there would be no repeat of the fatal February shootings.

At the same time, however, UN programs to diminish the lawlessness and violence of Kosovar society through voluntary gun collection programs have failed miserably. A province-wide operation conducted a few years ago, and billed brightly as a major step in demilitarizing Kosovo, succeeded in collecting only a few hundred guns, and most of them old or unserviceable. In Kosovo, therefore, the surreal situation exists where the international police force meant to be safeguarding the police disarms itself while allowing fanatical and paramilitary elements to stay well-armed.

The absolutely farcical nature of this disparity becomes evident in the earnest words of Commissioner Monk, who instituted in March “a bottom to top review” of peacekeeping procedures and tactics for dealing with protesters:

“I received notification from [UN headquarters in] New York that all police contributing nations are being consulted with a view to banning their use in peacekeeping missions. I also directed that all out-of-date rubber bullets be returned to their respective state or destroyed and I have prohibited the carriage or use of rubber bullets by any police unit in Kosovo for whatever purpose.”

In other words, even as Kosovo is awash in guns, grenades and heavy weaponry, and even as the Albanian clan chiefs’ historic decision to allow contract killings in the case of inter-Albanian vendettas has sent murder rates soaring, the UN is intent on nothing other than destroying its own deadly arsenal of rubber bullets.

In thus bending over backwards to appease its disgruntled, independence-craving subjects, has the UNMIK signed its own death warrant? There is ample precedent for scenarios in which angry protesters might overpower police- with dark consequences for Kosovo’s vulnerable minorities.

During the March 2004 riots, for example, American and other UN police testified that the only thing that saved them was, as a very last resort, the use of deadly force. But this was a luxury that was a long time in coming as the riots unfolded. “As Americans, our philosophy is that deadly force can be used,” said one Texan peacekeeper interviewed at the time by director Christopher Deliso. “The UN takes a somewhat different approach. So it is sometimes frustrating and restricting, working for the UN. To save life and property we were not allowed to use deadly force.”

The policeman recounted how a multi-national force tried to deter heavily-armed Albanians who were rapidly burning down Caglavica and marching on Gracanica. Some 5,000-6,000 rioters were “lined up with rows of Molotov cocktails prepared beforehand. [They had] AK-47’s, heavy machine guns, hand grenades, pistols, hunting rifles, farm tools, knives, rocks, you name it. We were ordered not to fire.”

Further, he added, “the Indian policemen, who were facing the worst of it at the front, were asking for permission to use rubber bullets. That permission was not granted at the time. The ground commander thought that we could deter the mob with our presence alone. But with the use of firepower we could have driven them back, thus saving a lot of houses.”

In the end, not even a powerful water cannon proved sufficient to disperse the mob: it was only when an Albanian bore down on the peacekeepers in a dump truck, with the intent of running them over, was one policeman forced to disobey orders and shoot the man in order to save the contingent. The Albanians, who had felt it their right to act with impunity, were stunned: “the crowd went silent when they saw that he was dead,” recounted the Texan. “Now we’re probably going to have a new monument go up somewhere in Pristina, for this latest hero of the national cause.”

Now, three years later and with independence for the restive Albanian majority still deferred, the UN is predictably panicking. But in its bid to prevent the creation of such future “martyrs’ by disarming itself, the international mission has perhaps just signed up for its own martyrdom in the line of duty.

No wonder that front-line riot-control duty, formerly the domain of Eastern Europeans, has been assigned to Indians and other purportedly “expendable” third-world contingents. After all, they should have no trouble adapting to the new rules. They already know how it is to keep the peace with barrels empty.

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