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Press briefing by UNMIK Police Commissioner

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The United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) urgently needed international police officers, the UNMIK Police Commissioner told correspondents at a headquarters press briefing this afternoon.
"We need international police, and we need them desperately", Police Commissioner Sven Frederiksen told journalists. Mr. Frederiksen was in New York to brief Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Bernard Miyet on the situation in Kosovo.

"If I were to look at the situation when I arrived in the Mission seven months ago -- no people on the streets, fear amongst the population, an extremely high number of hate crimes -- the situation on the ground has improved dramatically", he said. The improvement was due both to the work of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)-led security force (KFOR) and UNMIK's deployment of police officers throughout the country. Continued success, however, depended on resources, he said.

The UNMIK police operation was very different from that of other United Nations peace missions, Mr. Frederiksen said. The UNMIK police was a law enforcement unit, and it was the only law enforcement unit in Kosovo. The Security Council had tasked UNMIK with two strategical goals. The first was to establish an international police force with the strength of 4,718 officers, to carry out normal police business. The second was to establish an independent Kosovo Police Service (KPS). Both those tasks were difficult to carry out.

If the police operation were to continue to be a success, the countries that had supported the Security Council resolution establishing UNMIK would have to come up with people, Mr. Frederiksen said. Out of an authorized strength of 4,718 officers, only 1,970 officers were actually on the ground. "I guess everyone could understand that we are understaffed", he added.

He said Special Police Units, which would be used to deal with riot control, demonstrations, secure areas, protection of United Nations buildings and VIP transport, had not yet been formed. Ten companies of officers had been promised, but none received.

Regarding the training of Kosovo police officers, 27,000 applications had been handed out, he said. Of the 19,000 applications returned, some 13,000 applicants seemed to have met minimum qualifications and would be called in for interviews and background screening. The Organization for the Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) was responsible for the police school. One-hundred seventy-six trainees, consisting of Albanians, Serbs and other minority groups, were on the streets, but did not have law enforcement authority. The force would eventually be built up to a strength of 3,000 to 4,000 officers. There had been some logistical problems with the training, but they had been resolved.

Asked if there would ever be a judicial system in Kosovo to back up arrests made by police, Mr. Frederiksen said that there would be, but that it would take time. With the appointment of 300 prosecutors, judges and lay judges by Bernard Kouchner, the head of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo, the court system was starting up.

When asked for his reaction to the attack on an Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) bus making a weekly supply trip, Mr. Frederiksen said that he could not comment on the attack since he had arrived in New York prior to the incident. It would, however, be investigated, and it would be a joint investigation by both KFOR and UNMIK police officers.

A correspondent asked if he was satisfied with the quality of police assigned to UNMIK, and if there was still a future for a proposal to develop a school for training police. Mr. Frederiksen said that, despite some problems in the beginning, the situation was now good, and he was satisfied with the officers. While he was not aware of the status of the discussions to establish training schools, he would welcome the idea.

Asked to describe the make-up of the UNMIK police force, he said that the police officers came from 42 countries around the world -- from Fiji to Canada. They had done an extremely fine job under very difficult circumstances.

In response to a question on UNMIK's cooperation with police forces from neighbouring countries, especially in regard to organized crime, Mr. Frederiksen said that UNMIK worked with police forces in both Albania and in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The purpose of their interaction was to exchange information and to set up the structures for formalizing their cooperation. The big problem with organized crime was that no one knew the scope of it. Before a criminal intelligence system was in place, organized crime could not be effectively combated. It was not possible in the short term to fight organized crime in an organized way.

Asked if there had been any progress made on receiving additional police officers, Mr. Frederiksen said that there had been some encouraging news. The United States, for example, had promised an additional 100 police officers. But there was still a need for officers.

A correspondent asked if part of the problem was that police were not sufficiently supplied with proper equipment, such as riot gear. The police officers in the theatre were civilian police, and were not expected to deal with riots, Mr. Frederiksen said. That was a KFOR responsibility. Once the 10 companies or Special Police Units were in place, they would bring their own equipment, including shields and helmets. Whatever logistical problems might have affected equipment, procurement had been improved, he added.

A correspondent asked how he managed such a diverse police force. While it was not always easy, police officers had the same understanding of criminals, and they knew what they were there to do, Mr. Frederiksen said. They formed friendships across religions and nationalities. The challenge was to make the first-time officers in a United Nations Mission understand that it took teamwork and patience to accomplish their job.

What were the chances of getting military police to do the petty crime work that the soldiers had been doing? a correspondent asked. Military police were soldiers and would not be the solution to strengthening UNMIK's police force, Mr. Frederiksen said. Working with KFOR, UNMIK had established joint security operations, in which two KFOR soldiers would back up one UNMIK police officer. It worked, but it was not the perfect solution.

In response to another question, Mr. Frederiksen said that it would be difficult to say when KFOR would hand over full security responsibility to UNMIK. The UNMIK presently covered 75 per cent of the population. Covering the remaining 25 per cent would take time, not only because of a lack of resources, but because of a step-by-step approach that involved first, taking over investigative authority, and then protection authority.

Asked to describe the improved crime situation in Kosovo, Mr. Frederiksen said that the number of murder cases per week had dramatically declined, from 50 to 70 per week in July 1999, to one murder last week. Although the level of crime had come down dramatically, it was still too high, he said. The goal was first to stabilize the overall situation, and then to focus on individual crimes.

In response to a question on the recruitment process for police officers, Mr. Frederiksen said that the process would be transparent. Once UNMIK selected potential recruits from among the applicants, they would then list the names for the public to see.

Asked whether the deployment of civilian police would one day be more important than the deployment of troops, Mr. Frederiksen said it depended on the situation on the ground. In Kosovo, where there were no police, civilian police had an important role. It would be important to see if future missions would include police with a law enforcement mandate.

What sorts of crime were the police dealing with now? a correspondent asked. While UNMIK dealt with all kinds of crime, the focus was specifically on hate crimes, Mr. Frederiksen said. UNMIK's priority in dealing with such crimes was first to be visible, to show the population that UNMIK was there for them, especially in minority areas, and second, to allocate resources to investigate serious crime.

In response to a question on the level of cooperation from the local population in dealing with organized crime, Mr. Frederiksen said that the local population did not always come forward to help in investigations. While most Kosovars were still pleased to see UNMIK officers, "the honeymoon was over". In murder cases, there had been some cooperation, but it was by far too little. That was why the KPS, the local police force, was needed.

Asked whether individuals or organizations carried out the majority of hate crimes, Mr. Frederiksen said that while some had been carried out by gangs, most were individual. Because some cases had not been closed, he could not go into detail.