Wigemark: EULEX started foot patrols in the north as of today, but they cannot replace the Kosovo Police


As of today, EULEX police officers started foot patrols in the north, primarily to show their presence in the security vacuum, but they cannot take over the role of the Kosovo Police, the head of EULEX, Lars Gunnar Wigemark, said in an interview for KoSSev. The situation remains calm, but very fragile from a security perspective. Brussels is working hard to find an immediate solution to de-escalate tensions. Wigemark also expressed hope a solution would be found „sooner rather than later“.

Wigemark visited North Mitrovica yesterday in the midst of the latest license plate-related crisis, following the Kosovo government’s decision to introduce reregistration of Serbian license plates to RKS in phases, which culminated in the withdrawal of Serbs from almost all Kosovo institutions in the north.

In an interview with KoSSev tonight, Wigemark pointed out that the citizens from different communities he spoke with while visiting North Mitrovica warned about fear and the mutual lack of trust.

“About 135 police officers of EULEX are working in shifts in the north. Not all of them engaged at once, they are working in shifts, they conduct mobile patrols. As of yesterday, we also started with foot patrols in Mitrovica and elsewhere, to show that we are there as police.”

He reminded that EULEX is the second responder in the security chain, providing support to the Kosovo police, which, unlike KFOR, is a civilian formation.

“The primary responder is the Kosovo Police. We are the second responder and we also provide some degree of police support to the Kosovo Police. KFOR, on the other hand, is military, they also have military police, but they are not supposed to engage in law enforcement, that is not their mandate. Our mandate, as EULEX, we are engaged in policing. But within certain limits, we can only do it in coordination with the Kosovo Police, we cannot take over and replace the Kosovo Police,” he explained.

He added that the remaining staff in the police stations in all four municipalities are trying to do their job as best they can by working longer shifts.

“This is not really a sustainable situation, everyone is trying to do their best. I think, the local citizens, the local population, are wondering what will happen next. Some people I spoke with are even afraid of what could happen. There’s a concern with police coming from other districts and taking over, and that there could be tensions, even clashes, if that happens. EULEX is there primarily in a preventative capacity. We are not there to take over the regular duties of the Kosovo Police. We work closely with the Kosovo Police, we coordinate with them, we also coordinate with NATO, KFOR. We have been requested by the Kosovo Police, about a week ago, to increase our monitoring of the situation, our reconnaissance. We have done that. We have also received a reinforcement of our formed police unit. But in the long term, we cannot take over or even replace the Kosovo Police, whichever group they may represent in terms of ethnicity.”

Wigemark does not see the solution in the return of international military or police presence. The head of EULEX has pinned his hopes on the ongoing talks of European mediators with the Serbian and Kosovo leadership.

High Representative Josep Borrell and the envoy for dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina Miroslav Lajcak are working hard on a solution that would de-escalate the situation on the ground before November 21, he confirmed.

“I hope for a resolution sooner rather than later. We know that November 21st is one of the deadlines,” he said.

He recalled that there had been many deadlines in the past that have not been met, adding:

“To quote the high representative – we are in a more serious situation now than for many years and nobody should take that lightly. Nobody should believe that this will simply resolve itself.”

He noted that there has been an increase in tensions in the north for some time, adding that the citizens on all sides are scared and show a lack of trust.

“Some of the comments I heard in Mitrovica yesterday is that people don’t trust, at the same time, they are afraid, they see that there is not local police, there are other elements of institutions that are not functional in the way they need to be.”

“It is perhaps the most important missing element – trust at different levels,” the head of EULEX said.

“When trust is eroded – this is always a recipe for conflict,” he warned, adding that the EU and anyone supporting the dialogue process wishes to see peace and eventually reconciliation.

On the other hand, the picture in the north is “not entirely black”, and the majority of citizens want to avoid conflict – as evidenced by the fact that some institutions, which are essential for the safety of citizens, continue to function, Wigemark added.

“For instance, the prison in Mitrovica is still functioning, the people that are working there, regardless of ethnicity, are still working there, the fire brigade in Mitrovica and elsewhere, they have not been affected by this walkout or boycott. I think that will remain the case. It’s not all bleak and it’s not entirely a black picture, and I think that most people don’t wish to see this situation to escalate into a physical conflict,” he stressed.

Wigemark told Srpska Lista yesterday that peace on the ground must be maintained – a message he also conveyed to all sides.

„My main message not just to Srpska Lista, but to everyone in Kosovo, and my colleagues in the international community, for everyone to remain calm, not to contribute in any way to tensions, to avoid any inflammatory rhetoric, be it from political leaders or social media and other ways of expressing yourself. It is a very sensitive situation, tensions are high and I think we all need to do our best to lower tensions.“

“You cannot have different systems, you cannot have a parallel system or whatever you want to call it, even though from time to time, it’s a reality, in particular in northern Kosovo, but that is not sustainable in the long run. You cannot have two systems of law of different jurisdictions in the same territory,” he told KoSSev.

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