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from issue no. 04 - 2003

Four years after the humanitarian war

Guarding a fragile peace

General Fabio Mini, commander of the KFOR, confirms that the Italian soldiers will continue to protect the Serbian Orthodox monasteries. And describes the objectives achieved and those still unaccomplished by the international peacekeeping mission, in an area where "inter-ethnic conflict still represents a threat". An interview

by Gianni Valente

General Fabio Mini, commander of the KFOR during the meeting with Orthodox Bishop Artemije

General Fabio Mini, commander of the KFOR during the meeting with Orthodox Bishop Artemije

The Sauro task force is to stay in Decani. The contingent of Italian soldiers protecting the ancient Serbian Orthodox monastery and the community of monks living there will not be removed, as was instead in the plans to relocate the troops of the KFOR, the multinational peacekeeping force under NATO stationed in Kosovo since June 1999. After the report printed in the February issue of 30Days, interventions, appeals and even Parliamentary questions, like that from Senator Giovanni Russo Spena, have underlined the need to keep up the level of protection for the old Orthodox churches of Kosovo, always in the sights of Albanian extremists. On Sunday 2 March, during a visit to the monastery of Decani, it was General Fabio Mini, the present commander of the KFOR, who swept away all doubt. «The Sauro task force», he told the monks, «will not be redeployed during my tour of duty. I gave precise orders on the matter some time ago.»
The official bulletin of the Orthodox of Raska and Prizren dioceses has made known that this firm decision countermands the transfer of the Italian troops stationed in Decani that was planned during the command of the previous head of KFOR, Frenchman Marcel Valentin.
Starting with the Decani “case”, 30Days asked General Fabio Mini some questions about the Kosovo situation and the results of the peacekeeping mission. Born in Manfredonia 60 years ago and reared in Pesaro, married and the father of two children, General Mini is known for his outstanding professional and human career. Among his various academic qualifications, two postgraduate diplomas in the Human Sciences from the Accademia Agostiniana stand out. He commanded the Brigata Legnano in the Sicilian Vespers operation against organized crime in Sicily. From 1993 to 1996 he was in China as military attaché at the Italian embassy in Beijing. In 2001 he edited the Italian version of War without limits by two Chinese colonels, Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, for the Libreria Editrice Goriziana, a manual on the art of “asymmetrical” war which has become a cult with students of military strategy since the 11 September attack.
General Mini, the last attacks on two Orthodox churches in Kosovo happened in November. Would the same thing happen to the monastic complexes of Pec and Decani if military protection of Serbian Orthodox holy places were withdrawn?
FABIO MINI: The danger exists. In Kosovo inter-ethnic conflict is still a threat. In that sense, the two monasteries mentioned constitute a notable target and, not least because of their high historical and artistic worth, they are included in the list of fixed sites still to be protected.
Three and a half years since the start of your mission, does the Kosovan situation appear stabilized?
MINI: The current situation is totally different from that of three years ago. The KFOR has managed to establish security throughout Kosovo and people have begun to live normal lives again. Obviously those who benefit most are Albanian Kosovans. The KFOR represents to them the force of liberation and the hope for a different future. As for the minorities, the KFOR continues to guarantee the security of Serbs through direct protection. But certainly the situation remains fragile.
Are there any case plans for a gradual demobilization of the international military forces?
MINI: Within NATO we don’t speak of demobilization, which implies the ending of the commitment, but of rationalization, which implies greater and more efficient commitment. The KFOR operates in accord with UN Resolution number1244, which sets out the tasks and features of the mission of the NATO forces in Kosovo. The KFOR presence serves precisely to guarantee the security and stability of the region, to work for a more peaceful and livable climate for the population. Given the improvements in the situation, NATO is examining the possibility of recalibrating its presence in the Balkans, in particular in Bosnia and in Kosovo. Criteria of rationalization of the forces will be followed, allowing for the need to carry through the assigned tasks in any event. And also taking into account the new threats from organized crime, from inter-ethnic violence and from political intolerance among Albanian groups themselves. Factors making for instability that demand measures of an educational and preventive sort, apart from those for crime control. The KFOR is involved in the fight against crime in function of support and deterrence. Furthermore it is involved in the prevention and repression of the inter-ethnic and political extremism that might develop into the creation of armed groups. But the military presence may be modified in qualitative and quantitative terms. The intention is to further reduce the KFOR forces by next summer, acting in the support sector where we are seeking to achieve the maximum of synergy and multi-nationalization. Further reduction again in this sense are foreseen within the end of the current year.
Do you not see dangers in the reduction of military deployment?
MINI: I’m aware of facing a certain level of risk linked to the reduction of the military forces and their visibility. But I’m also aware that unless we grant more responsibility and more trust to the civilian authorities, they’ll never be able to learn to be self-sufficient and they’ll never become legitimated. And in this precise sense the reduction of the military presence and of the dependence of local government bodies on the KFOR is of fundamental importance for the building of Kosovo. With the constitution and the functioning of international and local civilian government bodies, it also aims at ridding the population itself of the perception that the KFOR is playing the role of an army of occupation.
You recently stated that in 2003 the priority of the international institutions will be the return of Kosovan refugees. How is that being organized?
MINI: It’s a complex UN program and difficult to put into operation but necessary to encourage the establishing of a multi-ethnic society, a condition that the international community considers indispensable if Kosovo is to become part of Europe. The KFOR will back the program to the best of its abilities, seeking to guarantee a secure environment in which refugees and exiles can come back to their homes in safety, as set out in UN Resolution number 1244 I mentioned. The security to be guaranteed, however, is not only of a military nature. If return is to be possible the conditions for survival and dignity also exist. The economy at the moment does offer good prospects. Unemployment in Kosovo is around 60% and for the Serbs and the Rom is almost total. The places for return must be chosen as a function of the sustainability of presence, and that means work, schools, the possibility of free expression and movement. Aims that for the moment have not been achieved. To get refugees to return and then keep them in ghettos or camps surrounded by sentries is against their dignity, but also against that of those who are to receive them. My major concern doesn’t lie in the technico-military business of protecting those who return, but in getting it understood that a different mentality is necessary.
Up till now small Serb enclaves survive protected but under siege in the middle of the mass of Albanians. Isn’t it an unrealistic idealism to think of “imposing” multi-ethnic co-existence?
MINI: The return of the refugees is, beyond any possible debate, a necessity. There is no country in Europe that does not accept the principle of peaceful co-existence among different ethnic groups. It’s clear, however, that the process of integration must be conducted according to principles of gradualness and sustainability and, hence, it will be a long one and not without difficulties. The idea that integration is assimilation must be combated tenaciously. Above all those who have, thanks to international intervention, won a great social battle must be the first to show themselves ready to tolerate differences and accept everything and everybody who belongs to this country. That according to me is a test for Kosovo. If Albanians, Serbs, Roms and others can’t pass the test it will be difficult to think of Kosovo as stable and ready for entry into Europe. An unstable and intolerant Kosovo, leaving aside the causes, is a problem for the Balkans and for the whole of Europe.
Italian soldiers guardind an ortodoxe church in Mitrovica

Italian soldiers guardind an ortodoxe church in Mitrovica

The Orthodox spokesmen reacted badly to the announced cutting of military protection for the churches. Have differences been healed?
MINI: Relations with the Serbian Orthodox authorities are very good, as they are for that matter with the heads of the other religious community present in Kosovo. The problem of the protection of religious sites is felt by all. The Mufti of Kosovo recently published a report on the destruction of as many as 212 mosques in 1998 in reply to the report from the Orthodox on the destruction of 107 churches in 1999. These are the results not of wars of religion but of inter-ethnic hatred.
On my arrival I told the religious leaders of my personal commitment and that of the KFOR to the maintaining of the security of religious sites of historico-artistic importance. I also told them that I shared the policy adopted up till then by my predecessors of passing, where conditions permitted, from defense of individual buildings to defense of “areas”. The November incident involved churches that had passed months earlier into local jurisdiction, in areas where the KFOR ensured a saltuary patrol in a phase of transition in which no serious problems had occurred for long time in any case. The incident brought to light the danger of provocation and instrumentalization. With the attacks timed for the eve of Kofi Annan’s visit someone wanted to send a message about the unreliability of Kosovo, doing great harm to its development and sowing fear in the Serb community. After the bomb attack the Serb religious authorities reacted badly by instrumentalizing a previous communiqué from the command about the international commitment to the religious sites in which direct protection of sites with artistic value and of those serving for worship was confirmed and which spoke of the gradual passage to area defense for the remainder. That prospect, which the religious authorities knew of for months and of which they had not complained, was distorted in Kosovo and taken even more out of context in Italy. I asked for a meeting with Bishop Artemije and, despite a little friction due more than anything to the fact that the bishop wanted to speak to me in front of a tele-camera and in front of the microphone of a Serb radio station, we got on very well. After that meeting and other later meetings, the bishop and his colleagues understood our policy better, just as I had a chance to understand some singular aspects of the political sensibility that concern the religious leaders more than one might imagine. The reduction to “archeological presence” is my main worry about the survival of Serb culture in Kosovo. Without a substantial change of attitude on the part of Albanian Kosovans and without cultural, intellectual and spiritual acceptance of Serb presence, the danger that the cradle of the Orthodox spirituality may become an archeological park of ruins is real. Unfortunately the ethnic factor is still predominant and the Orthodox Church is seen more as ethnic bulwark than religious prop. By both sides.

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