Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Independence Strains Kosovo's Police Force

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Independence Strains Kosovo's Police Force

Article excerpt

- In this ethnically Serbian enclave in northern Kosovo, Sinisa Milic's blue sweater and badge are a sign of betrayal. Mr. Milic is a Serb, but as a member of the Kosovo Police Service (KPS), he's seen by his neighbors as a representative of a state they consider illegal.

Take, for example, the instance of two tractors stolen here on March 17, one month after Kosovo declared independence from Serbia. Milic and his colleagues know about the theft but can't find anyone to help their investigation.

"Ninety-nine percent of the people here, they don't agree with the independence of Kosovo," he says. "So we try to explain to those people that it is better to have some sort of law and order than none of it. But we don't have the support of the people."

The small police station here - and the KPS more broadly - are a symbol of fragile hope for this divided nation. But Kosovo's Serb minority and their backers in Belgrade refuse to accept the institutions of an independent Kosovo, testing this delicate organization - one of the only institutions in Kosovo that has had some success integrating Serbs and Albanians.

Many believe Serbs would like to see Kosovo's Serb-dominated north partitioned. Last week, Serbia's foreign minister said that may be Kosovo's only hope - although a foreign office statement later said Serbia was not seeking formal partition, according to the Associated Press.

Eight Serb policemen work here alongside five Albanians. In the KPS as a whole, prior to the declaration of independence, about 10 percent of the 7,100 policemen were ethnically Serbian. In Priluze, as in other Serb enclaves, the police were the only Kosovar institution with any real presence. Hospitals, schools, and other institutions are still largely administered and funded by Serbia.

But after the Feb. 17 declaration, about 300 Serb police officers walked off the job and have been suspended. …

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