Kosovo officials have critised KFOR for its lack of action in the country's north.
By Muhamet Brajshori for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 28/08/12
The barricade on the main bridge in Mitrovica was set up in July 2011. [Reuters]
Less than a month before the command of KFOR changes, sparks are flying between the NATO-led mission head and officials in Pristina.
A barricade constructed by Kosovo Serbs more than a year ago on the bridge over the Ibar River in Mitrovica is at issue. As KFOR is the only mechanism able to freely move through the whole country, Pristina said it should remove the barrier.
Kosovo Interior Minister Bajram Rexhepi has said that KFOR is not showing any motivation to remove the barricade -- the only one that still remains in the country's north.
KFOR Commander Erhard Drews, who hands over his command to General Volker Halbauer on September 7th, maintains that establishing law and order in the north requires political action, not force.
"I can say that the KFOR mission is the most successful international mission in Kosovo so far, however there is a part that KFOR could have done more, but it has not done," Rexhepi told Kosova Press earlier this month.
Drews visited Mitrovica on August 9th, and told reporters that the barricade is a strong political symbol and it is not reasonable to remove it by force.
"I think that this barricade is a shame not only because it prevents the freedom of movement, but rather because it is a symbol of division of a city which is capable of and ready to exist as a unity," Drews told Belgrade-based B92. He underlined that they had many situations in the past "when removal of political symbols by military means did not yield good results."
Mitrovica Mayor Krstimir Pantic told Beta news agency that the barricade was put up "because of unilateral and violent actions undertaken by Pristina, as a consequence of the violence that is being perpetrated against Serbs in Kosovo for the past 13 years."
The mayor added that the roadblock was "not meant to cause instability, but to respond to the violence Serbs had been exposed to."
"It's true that the barricade on the bridge is, as the KFOR commander put it, shameful," Pantic said. "But those who should be ashamed are KFOR and the international community because it was in their presence that Albanians made their attempt to take control of the entire north of the province, sidestepping UN Security Council Resolution 1244 and all agreements reached between the international community and the Serbian government."
Shkurte Sadiku, a senior policy researcher from the Pristina Centre for Conflict Research and Studies, told SETimes that it not surprising that KFOR and Kosovo officials are at odds regarding northern Kosovo.
"Both sides are affected by the situation in the north, Kosovo cannot extend its control, and KFOR also [has] credibility in the game, and it is normal then they disagree on certain issues," Sadiku said.
KFOR remains the most important international partner for Kosovo, he said. "Kosovo's goal is to become a member of NATO, and KFOR's goal is to stabilise Kosovo, including the north. Relations will remain good enough, but time to time different positions can be expected."
Citizens remain divided regarding KFOR's performance and the issue of northern Kosovo.
Shyhrete Gashi, 38, an accountant from Mitrovica, told SETimes that citizens trust KFOR because of the work it has done.
"They have done a great job, they were injured several times, and I don't think that KFOR alone can resolve the problem in the north," Gashi said.
Hajdar Belegu, a doctor from Pristina, says that KFOR has tolerated the situation in northern Kosovo, while Pristina has not done anything to improve this.
"It is easy to accuse each other, but frankly no one has done enough to change things. KFOR has known for years what is going on in the north, while Kosovo's government did not show readiness to get engaged and to take actions on its own," Belegu told SETimes.