Ristuccia: Special police have the right to stay in the north, but there is a lack of trust and cooperation with the population

KFOR is fully committed to implementing its mandate and to work for peace and stability in the interest of all peoples in Kosovo. This was why Serbia’s request to return part of its military and police personnel to Kosovo was denied. The letter in question was carefully analyzed, but the answer sent back was negative precisely because of the assurances KFOR gave to its Serb counterparts. KFOR has good relations with Serbia and excellent cooperation with the Chief of General Staff, General Milan Mojsilovic. So far, not a single incident with the Serb army along the administrative line has been recorded.

In an interview with KoSSev, KFOR Commander Angelo Michele Ristuccia revealed that he has nothing to complain about when it comes to cooperation with the Serbian Army and that NATO is a partner for peace with Serbia.

„We have good relations in terms of the implementation of technical agreements, but also an integral part of Resolution 12 44 of the UN Security Council – our joint implementation commission, with our counterpart, works really well. We did not experience any incidents along the administrative boundary line. I have never perceived Serbia in such a way,“ said the Italian general.

When asked whether the request he received from the Serbian Prime Minister in mid-December was a „hot potato“ in his hands or a „joke,“ the Italian general replied that he took the letter seriously, because it deserved it, as the Prime Minister had conveyed the concern of „her nation“.

„I was deployed here neither to manage ‘hot potatoes’, not to joke. I take everything seriously. The Prime Minister sent me a letter, who expressed concern of her nation and sent a request. So, my staff and I analyzed it. And I replied, simply assuring that KFOR is fully committed to the implementation of our mandate and is fully committed to working for peace and stability in this area in the interest of all the peoples of Kosovo. Therefore, the request was denied, because of these assurances. We took it very seriously, as it deserved.“

KFOR has no evidence of Wagner’s presence in Kosovo
Today marks the anniversary of the outbreak of the war in Ukraine. One of the most frequent criticisms of Kosovo officials from this year referred to the „malign influence“ of Russia „via Serbia“ on Kosovo and the alleged presence of the paramilitary group „Wagner“.
Ristuccia confirmed that KFOR does not have any evidence of the presence of the Wagner group in Kosovo, nor that Russia could possibly attack Kosovo, through its proxy – Serbia, as repeatedly claimed by Kosovo officials headed by the Kosovo Prime Minister.
„Up to now, we have no evidence of it. To be more precise, all the events that happened in the area in the past months, weeks, are more related to internal dynamics than to external influences“, said Ristuccia.

A dangerous vacuum created in the north after Kosovo Serbs left Kosovan institutions; KFOR increased its presence

Ristuccia assessed the current situation as sensitive and volatile, but also calm and significantly better than it was in December.

“Nowadays we can say that the situation is much better than it was in December. Anyway, there are a lot of issues that concern us, such as the dangerous vacuum that was created in the north after the resignation of the Kosovo Serbs from the institutions. This vacuum is very dangerous, especially from the security point of view,” he warned, adding that the population feels “a sense of insecurity and anxiety.” He also stated that there is still “too much tension.”

This is why KFOR has increased its presence in the north since July last year, thus sending a message to the population that they are present on the ground, the KFOR commander said.

According to him, the vacuum created by the withdrawal of Kosovo Serbs from the institutions is the biggest concern of KFOR.

Ristuccia underlined that they should return to the institutions as soon as possible and that dialogue is the most effective way to solve this issue. He also welcomed the upcoming meeting between Vucic and Kurti, set to take place on Monday.

Belgrade and Pristina do not want a win-win solution, but a zero-sum game

For the Italian general, one of the most difficult things in his new post is to find a way to help build mutual trust and convince the Serbian and Kosovo leaders to „transform challenges into opportunities“. Instead, what he observed were unilateral actions that challenged even previous success stories.

The hardest thing that I’m facing here is that they don’t have the ability to take advantage of their own achievements, and some really great results have been achieved.

He alleged that the current environment is overwhelmed by various operation, and that this creates pressure, which is very dangerous because it implies a mutual reaction of the parties – not for the sake of a win-win solution, but a zero-sum game.

“Pressure which comes from the approach used by both parties – Serbia and Kosovo, based on the principle of action-reaction-counteraction, which is very dangerous. Both parties show not to see a win-win solution, but a zero-sum game solution,” Ristuccia described the crises that have been taking place since October 2021.

Each crisis, Ristuccia added, required more energy from the international community and KFOR, in order to create conditions for both sides to come back to the table and continue negotiations, to find a solution.

Return to the table, return to negotiations. Sit down and start working on reaching a peaceful agreement and a common solution, said the general.

KSF not allowed in the north without prior consent from KFOR, but special police units are permitted

He reiterated that the Kosovo Security Forces cannot be deployed to the north without his consent, noting that they never made such a request so far. Ristuccia also pointed out that the special police forces do not need permission to stay in the north, citing the Brussels agreement.

„The Brussels agreement was also signed by Serbia and clearly identified the Kosovo Police as the only authority to deal with law enforcement and police tasks. Regardless of the types of police, whatever they are – ROSU units, special forces, they must deal with crime, and organized crime groups. There is no constraint or limitations for the Kosovo Police to exercise and do this kind of task all over Kosovo.“

When asked whether KFOR is okay with the construction of special police bases in the north, Ristuccia said that he understands the concerns of Kosovo authorities in dealing with organized criminal groups, especially after police officers in the north left the service, noting that this requires cooperation with the citizens, which is lacking due to mistrust.

Someone has to deal with crime, and this is in the interest of citizens. Therefore, the real problem lies in the acceptance of the Kosovo Police by the citizens, especially in this situation. And again we come back to the fact that the key problem lies in mistrust – he added.

No KSF bases in the north
The KFOR commander denies allegations that police bases built in the north may become „military barracks“.
„These are bases of the Kosovo Police – not military bases. We have clear evidence that there are only Kosovo police officers there. It’s clear. These are not military bases. For sure,“ he said.

He revealed that there are some positive indicators from both parties – as Belgrade and Pristina are approaching the issue in a more constructive way – at least when it comes to the expectations of the upcoming Monday meeting between the two leaders.

“The dialogue is the only means to solve outstanding issues,” the KFOR commander concluded.

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