By Charles W. Corey
Washington File Correspondent
Cape Town, South Africa -- The number of police dedicated to the United Nations civil police force in Kosovo must be doubled or perhaps tripled, U.S. Defense Secretary William S. Cohen stressed February 14 while on a three-nation tour of Africa.
Responding to a reporter's question about the recent shooting of two French peacekeepers in Kosovo by snipers, Cohen said, "There are some 6,000 police authorized. We have roughly 1,900 or 2,000, and so that is [what is causing] the pressure." More police on the ground in Kosovo is something "we continue to insist upon."
"In the meantime, the [military peacekeeping] forces there will have to do what they are doing and intensify" their operations in the short-term -- "keeping the ethnic rivalries as tempered" as possible.
Asked if the United States has taken any casualties in the Kosovo peacekeeping effort, Cohen said "No. There was one shooting incident yesterday that appears to be a self-inflicted wound. We don't know for sure, but there was one soldier who was wounded in the leg and it may have been an accidental discharge of his own weapon. That is the only peacekeeping casualty as such that we have seen to date."
The lack of police "does not jeopardize the [peacekeeping] mission," Cohen said. The forces are able to carry out the missions that have been assigned to them," Cohen said. But he reminded reporters that those troops "are not well-suited for police work, namely arresting people, detaining them and interrogating them. That is something they are not really qualified to do."
"They can arrest people today, for example -- those who are engaged in hostility -- but then there is an ineffective judicial system," he continued. "There are insufficient judges and prosecutors, and so the people they are arresting will be turned loose in a matter of a few days. That is the reason why we have to keep the emphasis on getting the police in there and getting a [fully functioning] judicial system."
Cohen asked reporters to "consider the kind of horrors that have taken place in the past in Kosovo, the fact that people still have smoldering resentments and ethnic hatreds is understandable. It has been only a year since what we saw take place last year with 800,000 to 1,000,000 purged out of Kosovo now returning. So you can expect there are going to be, in the short-term, some very strong, intense feelings of retribution."
Until the police and a judicial system are fully functioning, Cohen warned, it is going to "delay the successful conclusion of the mission."
Asked what more can be done to get more police on the ground, Cohen reminded reporters that he called attention to the situation last week at the 36th Munich Conference on Security Policy. "That is the most effective way" to raise international concern, he said.
Additionally, Cohen noted that Senator John Warner, Republican from Virginia and chairman of the Armed Services Committee, plans to hold hearings on the issue. "None of the Europeans want to see this mission fail," Cohen stressed. The Europeans clearly know that success means ultimately "having more police on the ground."
Asked if violence against opposing factions and against peacekeepers could spill over into other sectors in Kosovo, Cohen said, "If the groups feel that there are insufficient military personnel on the ground or that they can get away with it, then it can have a cascading effect. So that is why it is important for this to be calmed immediately, so it does not serve as an example for others."
(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.)