Struck admits failures in Kosovo
22 September 2004 , BERLIN - German Defence Minister Peter Struck Wednesday admitted mistakes involving the country's armed forces during their mission in Kosovo. Struck said there was poor communication between the NATO-led multinational force in Kosovo (KFOR) and United Nations police (UNMIK) during rioting in March which left nearly 30 dead and hundreds injured, according to reports at the time. A Bundeswehr report to the defence ministry has acknowledged shortcomings by German forces during the outbrea
22 September 2004
BERLIN - German Defence Minister Peter Struck Wednesday admitted mistakes involving the country's armed forces during their mission in Kosovo.
Struck said there was poor communication between the NATO-led multinational force in Kosovo (KFOR) and United Nations police (UNMIK) during rioting in March which left nearly 30 dead and hundreds injured, according to reports at the time.
A Bundeswehr report to the defence ministry has acknowledged shortcomings by German forces during the outbreak of ethnic violence in the UN-administered province on 17 and 18 March.
Struck said before reporting to a parliamentary defence committee on the affair that German soldiers had regarded the situation in Kosovo as routine and consequently may have dropped their guard.
"I think one has to be surprised about some of the things which are contained in our reports," he said.
"There were most definitely shortcomings in the area of military communication between KFOR forces and the UNMIK police forces.
"However soldiers are only human, and of course mistakes are made."
The German forces in Kosovo have come under fire for their role when ethnic Albanians targeted Serbs and other minorities in two days of ethnic rioting and burning of homes, churches and other property.
In July, the New York-based Human Rights Watch accused KFOR and UNMIK of failing "catastrophically" to protect minority communities during the March violence.
KFOR, UNMIK and the locally-recruited Kosovo Police Service "almost completely lost control" as at least 33 major riots broke out across Kosovo involving an estimated 51,000 people, it said.
"In Prizren, German KFOR troops failed to deploy to protect the Serb population and the many historic Serbian Orthodox churches, despite calls for assistance from their UNMIK international police counterparts, who later accused German KFOR commanders of cowardice," the report said.
The confidential Bundeswehr report, seen by Deutsche Presse- Agentur dpa, admits that the German forces in Kosovo had no crisis plan to deal with the clashes and that soldiers were not mentally prepared for the danger.
The report says Bundeswehr troops were also uncertain how to use their weapons, their equipment was deficient and their knowledge of English insufficient. According to the report, all the shortcomings have now been rectified.
Struck is being asked to respond to a catalogue of questions on the affair from the opposition Christian Democrats.
The opposition is calling for an investigation after it was revealed that Struck had not been informed about the death of a Serb civilian in Prizren during the rioting.
Struck only found out about the incident in August following a German newspaper story. The government had previously insisted there had been no Serb deaths in the area under German command.
Reports said the man had been killed after Albanians stormed and burned down a Serb-Orthodox seminary.
The Bundeswehr report said German forces in Kosovo had not reported the civilian's death at the time because there appeared to be no connection with the Bundeswehr or the outbreak of rioting.
Opposition politicians are accusing the defence ministry of not revealing all its information about the Bundeswehr's response to the violence.
Christian Social Union defence expert Christian Schmidt said the ministry was only revealing "piecemeal" information on the affair.
"It now turns out that there is an internal ministry report which had been withheld from us," he said.
The report was only presented to the parliamentary committee at the start of the hearing Wednesday. As a result, a decision would probably not be taken until next week on whether to set up a committee of inquiry, he said.
Subject: German news