US worried about changing tasks in Kosovo

MUNICH, Feb 4, 2000 -- (Reuters) U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen said on Thursday that peacekeeping commanders in Kosovo were worried about soldiers having to take on police tasks for which they were not adequately trained.

Cohen, who arrived in the south German city of Munich for a weekend international security conference, urged Europe to help build a civilian police force in the southern Serbian province of Kosovo.

"I think it has reached the level of concern on the part of not only members of the U.S. Congress, but military commanders," Cohen told reporters.

"They are concerned about the possibility of mission creep - that the military is being called upon to engage in police functions for which they are not properly trained and we don't want them to carry out," he said.

Organized crime and ethnic violence are major problems in Kosovo nearly a year after NATO's air war against Yugoslavia. Only 2,000 of the 6,000 members needed for the civilian police force have been sent to Kosovo.

The European Union has been slow in contributing police and in sending $35 million promised for the force.

Cohen said he would press for quick action in the matter during the annual two-day Munich Conference on Security Policy beginning on Saturday. It will include lawmakers and military officials from Europe and the United States as well as security experts from think tanks.

He will speak to the meeting, also know as the "Wehrkunde Conference," on Saturday on Kosovo, cross-Atlantic security and promises by European states to forge a greater role in their own military security.

Civilian police force

Cohen told reporters that peacekeeping in Kosovo by a 44,000-member multi-national military force and the need for civilian police and courts would be a key issue at the meeting.

"We have to intensify the concern and the commitment on the part of those who have indicated that would be fulfilling that obligation. It's important that these voices be raised at this forum so that there is no misunderstanding in the trans-Atlantic communication," he said.

"I intend to raise this issue in conjunction with lessons learned from Kosovo" on the need for improving allied military capabilities ranging from more smart weaponry to military communications and troop transportation, Cohen told reporters.

NATO's supreme military commander, U.S. Army General Wesley Clark, and military leaders in Kosovo have increasingly complained about police duties such as investigating crimes being performed by their troops.

U.S. forces said in a report released in Kosovo last month that American peacekeeping soldiers in Kosovo may have mistreated and threatened local civilians and made "inappropriate physical contact" with local women while trying to control demonstrations.

That revelation came just over a week after a U.S. soldier was charged with the murder of an 11-year-old Kosovo girl and dealt a second blow to the army's reputation in the province.

Cohen spoke to reporters en route to Munich a day after Clark told a U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington that the Kosovo KFOR peacekeeping force "desperately" needed police help to address ethnic violence and crime in Kosovo.

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

Defence ministers from a number of NATO countries and Ukraine are to attend the Munich meeting. Sunday's final session will be devoted to China and other emerging military and financial powers in Asia.