US senators warn Europe on Kosovo police

WASHINGTON, Feb 3, 2000 -- (Reuters) NATO's military chief said on Wednesday that a multinational peacekeeping force desperately needed civilian police in crime-ridden Kosovo, and U.S. senators warned Europe to help or risk an American pullout.

"We are desperately, urgently in need of civilian police. The international community has to move forward and deal with these challenges," U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Kosovo and Bosnia.

Clark, supreme commander of NATO's military, said ethnic violence and organized crime were major problems in Kosovo despite the presence of 44,000 peacekeepers, but that only about 2,000 of a required 6,000 civilian police had been sent to the province, including some 500 Americans.

Committee Chairman John Warner, a Virginia Republican, and other senators charged that the European Union had sent few police and none of the $35 million it promised for the police force.

Warner and Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan suggested that congressional funding for future U.S. military participation in the Balkans might be made contingent on allied contributions and on increased progress by the U.N. and civil-support organizations in the region.

"I am gravely concerned with the current situation," said Warner, who recently visited the region. He said the narrow military mission to stabilize both Bosnia and Kosovo was on track but that "unacceptable, dangerous levels of criminal activity continue, and put our troops at constant risk."

Warner and Levin said the hearing, first of a series on only creeping progress toward ethnic harmony and peace in the region, could be a major turning point on continued U.S. military support for that effort.

"I am mystified why our own NATO allies have not provided more police for service in their own backyard," Levin told a packed committee room. "On my scorecard, the European nations and the European Union are flunking the test."

Georgia Democratic Sen. Max Cleland, who lost both legs and an arm while fighting in Vietnam, was even more harsh, saying he did not mind when Washington did its part in NATO's air war to end ethnic cleansing in Kosovo last spring.

"But I do mind being a patsy for the European nations who don't carry their own load," he added.

"I think the Europeans should inherit the Kosovo quagmire and we should extricate ourselves from it as soon as practically possible," said Cleland.

The United States currently provides about 5,800 of the 44,000 international troops in Kosovo and will reduce its presence to about 3,900 in an international force of 20,000 in Bosnia by April.

But Warner said that that U.S. participation could be in future jeopardy.

"Why are our troops still in Bosnia over four years after they first deployed?" he asked. "Why is there no end in sight in Kosovo?"

"The reason is that the United Nations and other international organizations charged with the responsibility of rebuilding the civilian structures in Bosnia and Kosovo are simply not doing their job."

In Kosovo, meanwhile, ethnic violence continued on Wednesday when attackers fired an anti-tank rocket at a United Nations bus with 49 Kosovo Serbs on board, killing two elderly people and wounding five other passengers, international authorities said.

The NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force said the bus was travelling between two Serb enclaves when the attack took place on a foggy road southwest of the city of Mitrovica.

The Balkans envoy for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees called it "a vicious attack on a clearly marked UNHCR bus carrying civilians."