NYT - German general's Kosovo peackeepers are fighting crime

December 21, 1999


PRISTINA, Yugoslavia -- In the absence of a strong international police force in Kosovo and facing a rise in crime, the commander of peacekeeping troops in the province has ordered his soldiers back out onto the streets in force.

He is not happy about it, but six months into the peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, he says the 1,800-member U.N. police force was not able to cope.

"We realized there was no success and that we had to back up the police," the commander, Gen. Klaus Reinhardt, said Monday in an interview at his headquarters, perched on a hill above Pristina, the Kosovo capital.

Over the weekend a marked increase of troops was evident here, as they set up road blocks to spot-check cars for weapons and to look at the identification papers of drivers and passengers. The troops were reacting to the increase in violence of recent weeks and a fear of kidnapping.

Reinhardt joined in the call for nations to contribute more people to the police force, but in the meantime he is stepping in to fill the gap, sending some of his forces out from their bases by the hundreds. "You cannot fight the high-level criminal with a tankist or a soldier -- they are not trained to do it," he said. "But there is a gap which we try to bridge by being there."

Reinhardt took over command of the 50,000 members of the peacekeeping force for Kosovo in October, after his predecessor, Gen. Mike Jackson, said the job was no longer one for the military, but for the U.N. police and civil administration.

Now two months later, Reinhardt and the overwhelming presence of his soldiers represent the only realistic chance to prevent violence in the province. Alongside ethnic killings and intimidation -- mostly by Albanians against Serbs and other minorities -- there has also been an increase of crime among the Albanians and a spread of organized crime, all of which falls to the general's lot.

The general, who began his military career in the German Mountain Infantry and went through the U.S. Army's Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. in the 1970s, is a gray-haired, unassuming man. In his loose-fitted German camouflage jacket, he lacks the charisma of the tall, battered figure of Jackson.

Yet in his quiet way, he is tackling the nasty climate of ethnic retaliation with a firm resolution and some unorthodox ideas that he says are bearing results.

Each of his five military brigades in Kosovo has 120 patrols out on the streets, in the villages and countryside every day, he said, and 1,000 of his forces are day and night guarding Serbian families in their homes and protecting buildings and installations.

He is moving troops from areas that are relatively calm, dominated by one ethnic group, to mixed areas, or "fault lines," where there is violence. He has boosted the troop level in the Serbian area of Kosovo Polje, just outside Pristina, to 2,000 from 600, and improved security considerably.

He has also sent an extra battalion to the town of Gniljane, in the American sector, and moved in three companies to protect the various ethnic minorities -- Serbs, Muslim Slavs or Goranis and Turks -- in and around the town of Prizren in southern Kosovo.

German forces in the Prizren area have been criticized for not doing enough to stop the intimidation of minorities there, but the general sticks by his policy. "With 50,000 men, you cannot safeguard everyone, but by being there we can prevent things happening," he said.

He has been resolute, too, in ordering sweeps through districts where there has been an outbreak of violence, often traveling to watch the operations himself. He was there when French troops sealed off and searched an area in the Serbian part of the divided town of Mitrovica last week after a grenade attack. "We put on a big show of force," he said, "to show we take counter actions immediately."

Road blocks or barricades are not tolerated, and even the residents of Orohovac have been persuaded to remove their weeks-old blockade against Russian troops who were to deploy there.

"I took them away by persuading people that this is the better way," he said. He does not seem to have solved the issue of the Russian deployment there, which local Albanians vigorously oppose, but the tension has subsided.

The general also supports an unorthodox tactic used in Pristina, where the British commander of the city is using former policemen of the Kosovo Liberation Army as a source of information and a conduit for solving problems.

There are clearly parts of the mission that chafe the general. "It is tougher than I expected as far as the workload, and more difficult as far as human relationships," he said in a reference to the ethnic tensions.

He is impatient to see the judicial system up and running so he can rid his soldiers of the job of being prison guards.

Yet he has clear ideas about the running of the province that go beyond his role as a soldier. Just back from a lunch with four Serbian bishops in the monastery at Gracanica, outside Pristina, he was clearly determined to defend the Serbian minority. His men will protect Serbian convoys and buses to allow Serbs to travel to market and to other Serbian enclaves. "By doing that we take the pressure out of the pot," he said. "If people feel under siege they become aggressive."

He called for financing for education and employment, saying a majority of young Albanians were jobless and frustrated, and were taking out their frustration on the minorities.

He also said he disagreed with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, which is advising displaced Serbs not to try to return to Kosovo for the moment, and he spoke with satisfaction that a few hundred Serbs had managed to return to villages in northern Kosovo under protection of his troops.


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