KFOR commander Buhler vows to protect "global treasures"

08/12/2010

General Erhard Buhler talks to SETimes about handing off more duties to local police. Part two of a two-part interview.

By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Pristina – 08/12/10

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Commander Erhard Buhler says KFOR is committed to protecting Kosovo's cultural heritage. [Laura Hasani/SETimes]

Describing the overall security situation as "calm and stable" despite occasional "challenging" incidents in the north, General Erhard Buhler says Kosovo's upcoming snap elections pose no threat. In the second of a two-part exclusive interview with SETimes correspondent Linda Karadaku, Buhler discusses turning over more duties to local forces.

SETimes: What point has been reached in the process of transferring KFOR's responsibilities to the local police, especially with regard to protection of Serbian and non-Albanian religious shrines and other cultural heritage?

General Erhard Buhler: First of all, let me outline the vision that leads our efforts. These extremely valuable treasures of Serb Orthodoxy are global treasures. This applies also to treasures of Islamic or other origin. They all will, at one point, become major magnets for tourists, academics and believers. These travelers will all require transport, accommodation and food and will therefore contribute to the well being of the economy in Kosovo.

Securing these sites and welcoming those that visit them will create additional jobs and opportunities. A visitor from Asia or another faraway place may well decide to hire a tour guide through the beautiful mountains, visit a museum, or take a bus ride to Pristina for a concert. All in Kosovo have an interest in this becoming reality even more than it is already. In regards to security, it is first of all, the neighbourhood of these sites that is responsible for the security. Every citizen can be proud to live in the vicinity of these immeasurable treasures.

Currently, we are in the process of continuing the transfer of security arrangements from KFOR to the police. The decision when to transfer a site is taken at the highest NATO level, the North Atlantic Council. It follows a very careful assessment on the ground. In this context, KFOR has already transferred the responsibility to guard some of the religious and cultural heritage sites, such as [the Serb] Gazimestan Monument in March and [the Serb Orthodox] Gracanica Monastery in August of this year. Others are following.

This reflects the confidence that NATO and the KFOR troop-contributing nations have in the people in Kosovo, who, in general, respect the sites also as their precious property. Nevertheless, KFOR remains prepared to support the Kosovo Police to guarantee the security of these sites.

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SETimes: Will KFOR reduce the number of soldiers, and, if so, can it deal with all the security challenges?

Buhler: Yes, there will be a troop adaptation process in KFOR decided by the NATO Atlantic Council. This is a good thing, because the message is that we did a good job! The new structure will be finalised around spring 2011. That process implies a further reduction in the number of our soldiers in Kosovo to about 5,000. Simultaneously we will significantly increase mobility, air mobility, flexibility and readiness of KFOR contingents. There will be also a reallocation of troops to a reduced number of camps.

SETimes: What other key challenge is KFOR facing now? What activities is it undertaking?

Buhler: Another challenging task that KFOR is dealing with is the training and mentoring of the Kosovo Security Forces. We support the KSF in order for that force to reach the final operational capability in the long term. This will be presumably in 2012, in 2014 at the latest. In this context, the KSF has gained a good reputation and increasing confidence from the people of Kosovo due to their actions on the ground, like providing support to returnees, for example. The KSF is improving even more its capabilities and has reached a very good level of expertise in many fields, such as mine-clearing and search and rescue.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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