NATO Mission in Kosovo Rejects Calls to Police Tense North

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KFOR mission dismisses Serbian and Albanian calls for it to start policing the restive Serb-majority north of Kosovo, saying these duties are ‘the exclusive prerogative of the Kosovo Police’.

NATO has said it has no intention in taking over policing responsibilities in the Serb-majority north of Kosovo, after Albania’s PM, Edi Rama, called for its peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, KFOR, to increase its presence in the region.

The calls came armed local Serbs on September 24 ambushed Kosovo Police in the village of Banjska/Banjske, leaving one policeman dead and another wonded.

In a written response to BIRN, KFOR explained that it “does not conduct law enforcement activities, which are the exclusive prerogative of the Kosovo Police and monitored by EULEX. KFOR is the third responder to security incidents after the Kosovo Police and the European Union Rule of Law Mission, EULEX”.

In an interview for the Financial Times on Wednesday, Rama warned that “Kosovo is a hot-spot”. Northern Kosovo “has become over the years a no man’s land, where all kinds of crimes are combined with growing nationalism. The border between crime and politics has faded,” Rama told the FT. Rama earlier wrote on Twitter that “KFOR should take control of the north” of Kosovo as soon as possible.

But Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti, in an interview for the Bosnian media outlet istraga.ba, said the current arrangement was sufficient.

“We need joint patrols involving our police and KFOR along the Kosovo-Serbia border. As for other matters, the protocol is already established. Anywhere in Kosovo, our police are the first responders, followed by EULEX, and then KFOR. I don’t believe this protocol should be altered,” he said.

Rama’s request was also dismissed by Germany’s Ambassador to Kosovo, John Rohde, who said such a move could happen only if Kosovo authorities call on EU’s EULEX and the KFOR mission to “take over”. “I don’t see the need that KFOR takes over [the north] because we have a sovereign country [Kosovo] with a law enforcement agency who acted very professionally,” Rohde told BIRN’s Kallxo Pernime show on September 29.

On September 27, in a meeting with the QUINT ambassadors, [the US, France, Germany, Italy and the UK] Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic also asked for KFOR to take over security in the north of Kosovo.

Vucic claimed that the EU’s EULEX “was denied [permission] by the Kosovo Police to be present during the operation conducted in the territory of northern Kosovo”.

However, in a written response to BIRN, EULEX denied this. It said it “was not in any way prevented from monitoring the investigations” into the attack, explaining that “the Mission could never have actively participated in investigations, or offered itself for such investigative functions,” considering that since 2018 it “no longer possesses an executive mandate to conduct investigations”.

“The Kosovo institutions bear full responsibility for the conducting of investigations pertaining to the events at Banjska on 24 September,” EULEX explained, highlighting that a EULEX official was present during the autopsy of the three gunmen who were killed in the shootout, as a monitor, in accordance with the mandate.

The UK has meanwhile deployed an additional 200 troops to Kosovo to join a 400-strong UK contingent already exercising there, which KFOR told BIRN “are drawn from NATO’s strategic reserve for the Western Balkans”.

“The decision follows the violent attack on Kosovo Police on 24 September and increased tensions in the region. This is a prudent step to ensure KFOR has the forces and capabilities it needs to fulfil its UN mandate: to maintain a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement for all people in Kosovo,” KFOR told BIRN. In a written response, it also urged “Belgrade and Pristina to re-engage in the EU-facilitated dialogue”.

KFOR is a NATO-led international peacekeeping force and has been present in Kosovo since the war there ended in 1999. Once about 50,000 strong, it now numbers about 4,500 troops, from 27 contributing nations with Italy (852 soldiers), Turkey (780) and United States (679) as three top contributors, according to KFOR’s last update in June.

Source : Balkaninsight