Kfor Commander in interview
"We want to avoid escalation"
NATO has increased its commitment in the crisis region at the border between Serbia and Kosovo. Much too long has the lawless space in the North of Kosovo left to fence for itself. The German Kfor Commander Erhard Bühler on the sources of the conflict.
General Bühler, at the border between Serbia and Kosovo there are increasingly tensions. The KFOR troops, that you command, have been strengthened. How do you judge the situation at this point?
We have more talks. There will also be more talks at the European level. We have officially closed both border crossings: they will stay open for civilian traffic, humanitarian goods are of course passed through. Because of the severe threat of the bordercrossings and the large number of troops are they closed for heavy transports. We will keep this situation under control.
When I say "we" I mean KFOR, EULEX, but also the police. One must give the people more trust that the security organisations have the situation under control. And one must try to avoid any further escalation, and that is what we do. We will strengthen KFOR with the ORF battalion, an operational reserve from Germany and Austria. They will come here one of these days, not to escalate but simply to have more people. At the moment is everyone very tense, we are in essence with all people outside. I don't have any reserve left. That's why I welcome the step of NATO to send this battalion here.
The North of Kosovo was and is in fact a lawless zone. The government in Pristina doesn't control it. The influence of Serbia is limited. There are local kapo's, who are a mix of smugglers, businessmen and members of organized crime. Shouldn't one finally enforce the rule of law?
That should have been done long before. That is one of the causes of the present problems. It has much too long been allowed that radical structures arose. Those are specially very criminal structures, that by the way are multi-ethnic. These structures, radicals and criminals, are focused on keeping their power. It is about money, and they are the people that really have the power in the North. They are also the people that direct and pay the armed forces. They are the people that direct the roadblocks and they also pay the people that stand at the roadblocks. In essence they take the peaceloving population in the North to a certain extent as hostages.
This conflict in the North is not a direct conflict between Albanians and Serbs because there are very few Albanians there. How big do you estimate the danger that the tensions will spread to the South where the SErbs live in enclaves?
I am grateful that the population in the South of Kosovo looks very calm at the situation. I am grateful that they trust KFOR. We work on it and we keep also an eye on the South. We certainly cannot exclude incidents. But I believe that we don't have to expect larger incidents.
How do you judge the role of Serbia?
I believe that it is in the interest of Serbia that the situation in Kosovo, in the North of Kosovo, stays calm. In that sense I believe that the governmental actors - also in Pristina, also the international community - have a very high interest that the dialogue is continued and that as condition for that the situation calms down.
Kosovo is now more than 3 years independent. Formally, because it doesn't control its whole territory. Which security policy lessons should the European Union draw from these events, concerning the North? Shouldn't one inevitably conclude that this shouldn't continue.
I believe that this conclusion has been drawn, for a long time already. But I think that we must step-by-step also act: Law and order should also apply to the North, that is the deciding question. We have enough EULEX police in the country, that can act with support of KFOR. Law and order must there be enforce, so that subsequently the politicians can achieve political solutions.
Erhard Bühler (55) is major-general in the German army and since 1 september 2010 Commander of KFOR in Kosovo. The interviewer was Christian Wehrschütz.