|Sofia, 19-20 November 2005|
Lieutenant General Giuseppe Valotto, Commander KFOR (presented by Maj. Gen. Alberto Notari, DCOS, Supreme Allied Command Transformation)
Ladies and Gentlemen, as Commander of the Kosovo Force it is for me an honor and pleasure to be here before such a prestigious audience.
I have to make some preliminary remarks: when I received the invitation to participate in today's seminar, I first wondered what would be my best thoughtful contribution to this seminar, designed to strengthen the development of democracy in the Countries of Central and Eastern Europe, with the specific intent to facilitate dialogue among the political institutional actors in the Balkans.
In this view, I preferred to favor my military role of Commander of the Kosovo Force.
Aware of the privileged observatory I enjoy, I decided to set up my intervention to elaborate on a picture of the general situation, in order to provide valuable elements of information aimed to provide a better understanding/ interpretation of the current issues in Kosovo.
My intervention, therefore, does not have a political cut, but is aimed to illustrate my perception of the situation in Kosovo as Commander of soldiers, the course of the mission, its future prospects and some personal assessments.
Therefore, I will follow the agenda on the slide; in particular:
- I will make a brief introduction on the origins of the mission;
- I will describe the activities and the principal assignments developed by KFOR, assessing military/ civil aspects and their connections;
- I will illustrate some personal assessments on the general situation with specific reference to the operational aspects and those factors that influence the ongoing operations in Kosovo;
- I will delineate the future prospects of the mission and the next passage to the new Task Force concept, with particular reference to the aptitudes and positions of the contributing nations;
- and finally, I will formulate my conclusions.
Before proceeding to an overall description of the Forces under my command, I believe it is necessary to remind you that KFOR is a NATO-led Multinational Force deployed in Kosovo under a U.N. mandate since June 12th 1999, following the adoption of U.N. Security Council Resolution n. 1244.
In accordance with this Resolution, up to now, the mission assigned to my Contingent has not changed.
Our task is still to maintain and develop a Safe And Secure Environment, in order to support the Special Representative of the Secretary General Mr. Søren JESSEN-PETERSEN and, therefore, UNMIK (the U.N. mission in Kosovo) in the transfer of increasing responsibilities to civil authorities and facilitate the progressive diminution of military operations in Kosovo.
Let me here underline that, before KFOR intervention, Kosovo had become ground for clashes, a suffering society forced to face a major economic and humanitarian crisis, worsened by heavy interethnic tensions that caused the exodus of around a million people.
Today, more than 5 years after the arrival of the Multinational Peace Contingent, I am absolutely convinced that the situation is radically changing.
The establishment of forces in the area has changed over time and, from the initial 50000 soldiers, at the moment to accomplish the mission COMKFOR has an international force of around 17.000 soldiers.
The decreasing trend of the commitment of the military international community, in terms of troops from the beginning of the operation until today, is underlined in the slide.
The units that are subordinate to me, are currently divided in four Multinational Brigades, with personnel from 35 NATO and non-NATO Countries.
These are light infantry units, motorized or airborne, particularly suitable to operate in a difficult environment, given the few routes that link the most important places, generally radiating from Pristina toward the bordering Countries of the administrative boundary with Serbia and Montenegro, as well as Albania and FYROM, and a minor road system that is bumpy and almost completely worn out.
Among the operational units, I mention the presence of a MSU regiment (Multinational Specialized Unit) and a KTM Portuguese Battalion, that are giving a valuable contribution for the strong professionalism of our Carabinieri who work both as a typical military unit and as "Military Police" for operations such as investigations, searches, arrests; when needed, they carry out crowd control operations (what we, at KFOR HQs, call "Crowd and Riot Control operations"), and actively participate in the training phase of new units as they arrive in Kosovo.
3.ACTIVITIES AND TASKS ASSIGNED TO KFOR
To guarantee the accomplishment of the mission, my Headquarters coordinates and directs the activities of subordinate units by planning, organizing and supervising the execution of various operations, activities and exercises to support the SRSG and UNMIK, so as to provide a Safe and Secure Environment.
In particular, the specific activities can be organized in three categories: presence and surveillance, deterrence, and direct support to the authorities and population.
Trying a simple outline and without using technical details, presence and surveillance activities are carried out daily in order to assure freedom of movement, and for control of the territory and the borders. Examples of these activities include patrols, checkpoints, escorts and observation posts.
Just to give you an idea of the figures, I can say that from September 1st to November 13th we conducted 23.886 patrols, both mounted and dismounted, and 5759 checkpoints.
Deterrence activities are aimed to show to everyone, and especially to those intending to sabotage the peace process, that KFOR is able to intervene with the firmest determination, timeliness, effectiveness and necessary strength against any negative change to the current scenario.
All the activities in the sector of crowd control, rapid deployment, military operations in urban areas, defense of sensitive areas and vulnerable spots fall in this category.
The activities of direct support to authorities and population are put into action through the active participation of KFOR units in police operations conducted by UNMIK-Police and by the Kosovo Police Service, that resulted in 309 arrests (12 of which were murderers and war criminals) from September to November, and in the development of projects of civil-military cooperation (CIMIC).
The support to police is implemented with the cordon and search of inhabited areas, while CIMIC projects (115 underway or completed from September to November) are aimed to the reconstruction of the social and economic fabric, such as construction of roads and bridges, and humanitarian interventions in the medical, veterinarian and educational sectors.
We must consider also the activities of explosive ordnance disposal (mines and unexploded munitions), a dramatic problem in every post conflict period and still felt in Kosovo, considering that from September to November my soldiers destroyed 215 devices.
It is indeed a whole range of activities requiring professionalism and determination, a constant and stressing commitment for my soldiers, that are on the ground every day, with an operational strength equal to about 55% of the total.
And the results are not lacking: to give you an example, in this slide are summarized the main achieved results since September 1st, the day I began my mandate.
But I remind you that KFOR is first of all a military force, well trained and above all well led, ready to intervene "on short notice Kosovo wide" to face any possible threat or aggression towards sensitive objectives.
Not by chance, I have made specific reference to the tangible and evident determination, shown with periodic emphasis during realistic tests of rapid deployments, to face military threats or situations of internal instability (disorders, strikes, interethnic provocations, inter-religious hostility, etc.).
This has been done to send a clear message to that part of Kosovo society (in my opinion it is only a small percentage) that does not believe in the principles of democracy and peaceful cohabitation, but on the contrary thinks they can solve controversies with violence, abusing the rights of the weakest ones.
KFOR will not allow events such as those of March 2004 to be repeated, and all our activities, all our training events go in this direction: our personnel are trained to automatically react with strong determination against any criminal initiative that is carried out for misguided political or religious ideals, and forgetting that ideals, above all the religious ones, should unite, and not divide people.
Everything has direct and specific reactions from my units on the ground, that are gradually rearticulating in order to adopt a more flexible and elastic set up, aimed to immediately intervene against any kind of threat.
The practical application of this concept is the transformation of the Brigades into Task Forces, a gradual process that has just begun, but will probably last more than one year and will be hinged on the creation of 5 TFs out of 4 Brigades, each one with the capacity to swiftly move throughout Kosovo, each able to sustain itself for limited periods, and above all able to carry out any operation, military or anti-riot, with a professionalism never reached in the past.
Worthy of further mention, concerning the evolution of KFOR towards Task Force concepts, are the Liaison Monitoring Teams, recently established.
They are the best tool to acquire and maintain contacts with the population and subsequently to improve trust in KFOR among the local population.
Their job allows me to feel the pulse of Kosovo through daily and permanent contacts with people, municipalities and local leaders. Such daily contacts and accurate dialogue make sure that KFOR is not overtaken by events, acts quickly, and is able to rapidly and effectively face the events that can escalate a crisis from local to regional level.
In fact, at a local level, it is necessary to listen to everything, to understand what are the concerns, to explain the future responsibilities in security issues and, above all, to persuade the leadership to improve the standard of life of all the people of Kosovo.
Instances of progress are numerous and have been achieved thanks to collaboration at all levels of the political-social scene in Kosovo, including the cooperation with all local and non local organizations.
The highest level, for example, is represented by the extremely beneficial collaboration with the SRSG, the UNMIK chief, with whom I meet at least three times a week.
During such meetings we discuss about common problems; our objective is to realize the necessary coordination, an essential condition to proceed in the same direction, according to the same political common logic in all its forms, both in the working groups, and in the studies about the next state structures.
This common approach finds its practical realization during visits, sometimes joint, to various towns all over Kosovo, as well as in meetings with various political leaders during which we give the proof of the common action of the international community, or during the joint direction of fundamental processes such as the Internal Security Sector Review (ISSR) and the development of the Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC DG).
On such point, let me add that being immediately in tune with this dynamic UNMIK chief, expert in the area and its problems, allowed me to face Kosovo problems from the start at the beginning of September.
The relations with political-military counterparts from Serbia and Montenegro have also had an extremely profitable result: we develop meetings both at my level and at inferior ones.
Such meetings allow us to exchange vital information, to avoid dangerous misunderstandings, as well as to plan and to conduct along the administrative boundary line of the province some joint activities (synchronized patrols) aimed to fight illegal trafficking and crime in general.
The operational value of such activities is not very important; but the reached results, even though on the military point of view are little, confirm the quality of the collaboration between NATO and the Armed Forces of Serbia and Montenegro.
Moreover, such connection represents also the only effective link between the International Community and Serbia and Montenegro.
4.GENERAL ASSESSMENT OF THE SITUATION
As COMKFOR and therefore as a soldier, I think is not appropriate to give an assessment of the political situation and its potential developments in the next months.
I have my opinions that come both from my direct experience on the ground, and from my reading of EIDE’s report, which I wish for you to read as well; I found it very balanced, because it reflects the results reached by Kosovo authorities but also confirms the lack of progress in some areas, and decentralization is one of these.
Based on my experience of these last two months, I agree with Ambassador EIDE that a meaningful decentralization of powers and competencies at local level would be a good contribution in reestablishing trust among the communities, without undermining the central institutions.
It is an ambitious and difficult objective, that will require generosity and above all the capacity to accept reasonable compromises from all the involved parties.
The Status Talks will be led by a dexterous Diplomat such as the former President of Finland Martti AHTISAARI: he is a wise and balanced man, with a good team, and under his clever direction I believe in a satisfactory solution of the problem.
In this respect, I am firmly confident: my trust comes from the direct knowledge of the most important Authorities from all ethnic groups of Kosovo.
I have found very prepared people, open to dialogue, animated by a highly constructive spirit, often illuminated and wise.
I am sure that all the parties who will participate in the Status Talks will know how to face with wisdom and far-sightedness the difficulties of a meeting that, as everybody knows, starts from different positions (at least from the statements we read), having as the only objective the good of Kosovo people, no matter what the ethnic group, religion, or place of residence are.
Nevertheless, I must share with you my current feeling. Apart from the political problems and their future developments that I do not consider secondary, my biggest concern is the economic situation in Kosovo. The great majority of the population is facing extreme difficulties in this field.
For instance, it is not normal that, after six years from the end of the war and with the oncoming winter, people still suffer cuts of electricity and water; the rate of unemployment reaches 70% and the existing infrastructures are absolutely inadequate for any entrepreneurial initiative.
Recently, the World Bank stated that poverty is still widespread in Kosovo, and 52% of the population live on less than 1,42 Euro a day. This data is self explanatory.
As I recently stated during a meeting in Brussels with Mr. Javier SOLANA, the true problem in Kosovo is, in my opinion, the economic situation, and I basically think that the true keystone is the identification of economic development projects in all their forms.
If the international community will be able to back up the region we will have more security, and if we will have more security we will have more investments.
Increased investments will produce a better economy with consequent effects in terms of security.
It is a closed and "self-contained" circle, whose fulfillment must flow from, in my opinion, four essential elements: security (KFOR’s main task), the perception of security (linked to the image of the institutions and Kosovo society, as they are perceived by the population and ethnic groups from outside), foreign investments (that will take place only if this perception will be positive and broadcast to foreign countries the image of a Kosovo as a region in which it is possible to invest with a "low risk") and economic revitalization (that will take place only if there will be the abovementioned investments and in turn, through the consequent reduction of tensions and crime, will close the circle helping KFOR to guarantee security).
The facts show that the core of the problem is security perception by the observers of the International Community and all those who live “the Kosovo reality”.
And finally a glancing reference to IDPs who have not returned because they do not perceive a safe Kosovo, above all because they do not see reliable economic prospects, despite the fact that there is more than one municipality where Kosovo Serbs and Kosovo Albanians live in peace, in a multiethnic environment.
Therefore, I think that the key to success, to support Kosovo’s population and reach the ambitious objectives of the International Community, is to sustain the economic development of the region in all its possible forms (industry/ agriculture and services).
I think, in fact, that the absence of a true project of development is the motivating factor of phenomena such as destabilizing nationalism, crime, corruption, smuggling and prostitution.
Only by seriously addressing the situation of economic development, will it be possible to produce stability in the long term, offering real prospects to the people.
I believe that we can and we must reach peace in the Balkans.
It is an objective that goes well beyond the status of Kosovo, affecting Europe itself.
The conclusion of my intervention will be a very strong and determined message: peace can be reached only if two crucial components are developed: dialogue between the parties, and economic development.
I am sure we can win this challenge if all the actors will be able to work together.
KFOR will always be one of the fundamental builders.
It is in Kosovo to support this process and will do it as long as the International Community will want.
The road will be uphill, but I, as COMKFOR, am confident.
My motto is “Together We Can” and this is the best way to overcome fears, avoid misunderstandings and prevent incidents.
For three months I have been meeting Kosovo people and I am convinced that Kosovo can peacefully face the process.
At the same time, I cannot underestimate the sensitivity of the process and the challenges before us and as COMKFOR, above all on the military point of view, I want to reaffirm that KFOR is and will be determined to accomplish its mission to facilitate this process with all its energies and assets.