Die Presse, Vienna, May 23, 2004
Interview: "Lying next to a sleeping lion"
Colonel Chris Platzer, commander of the Austrian KFOR contingent, on the problems of the Kosovo peacekeeping force.
Die Presse: What errors did KFOR peacekeeping forces make during the March unrest?
Chris Platzer: We have problems at the operational level: there are too few peacekeepers in the province. Before March there were about 17,500 men. During the unrest KFOR was reinforced by around 2,000 soldiers. With that number of people we could not deal with the demonstrators. The opposition was so organized that the situation could have escalated everywhere at the same time and they were able to block our reserves.
It was also established that there were very strong limits within some national contingents. Some countries prohibit the use of teargas while others prohibit their contingents from going outside their zone of engagement.
How was it possible that the situation was assessed so incorrectly?
Platzer: The organizers of the unrest kept it perfectly secret. It is completely obvious that a single organization whose members have military training is behind everything.
According to UNMIK chief Harri Holkeri, the intelligence services of the NATO countries failed.
Platzer: I cannot agree with that. It is true that the services did not cooperate sufficiently. But that would not have helped at all because nobody knew anything. Now information exchange has been intensified. How adequate it is I cannot judge. Every country has its national secrets.
The Americans use mainly technical means to arrive at information. We Europeans use sources in the country. However, we can only work in uniform, not in civilian clothes. Naturally there are limits.
Do you fear that the violence may also be directed against the KFOR peacekeeping forces?
Platzer: I believe that it is very improbable that it will be turned against KFOR. As long as the status question is unresolved, the situation will remain unbalanced.
But if KFOR ever finds itself in the position of having to make the decision for or against independence, then the situation will have to be reviewed again. It’s like lying next to a sleeping lion. As long as it's sleeping, everything is fine.
What are the lessons from the events in March?
Platzer: A detailed analysis is in progress. We have intensified training for handling demonstrators. We flew in additional equipment and improved cooperation between military police and civilian police. We also tactically analyzed how new threats might look.
And how might they look?
Platzer: We are afraid that guerrilla war tactics may be used against the Serbian enclaves, for example, by planting explosives or grenade launch attacks.