U.N. Police Measure Progress in Small Steps
DUGI DIO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Every day at 11 a.m., two Bosnian Serb police officers walk down the rugged dirt road from the ramshackle house that serves as their outpost to Dugi Dio, a village of about 100 Muslims just inside Serb territory.
Two U.N. police officers and an interpreter bounce along behind in their white Nissan pickup. In town, the group meets with the town’s de facto mayor, exchanges pleasantries and strolls through the remains of the village, heavily damaged in the 3 1/2-year war.
Sometimes the Serb police ask to see a villager’s identification papers. Sometimes, they simply walk around amid playing children and bleating sheep.
``Everybody happy?″ U.N. police monitor James J. Ness asked when the prescribed 10 minutes were up on a recent day. After exchanging perfunctory signatures, the Serbian police headed back up the hill, their work done for the day.
``It’s a big show,″ said Ness, a retired police officer from Mesa, Ariz. ``But I guess that’s part of the process.″
After five months in Bosnia, the U.N. police count such brief and uneventful encounters between Serb police and Muslim civilians as progress _ even if everyone admits it’s only possible when the monitors are there.
But few believe they are anywhere close to accomplishing their goal of molding local police forces into a professional body that respects human rights of all Bosnians _ Croats, Muslims and Serbs.
On top of the bitterness and mistrust left over from the war, the U.N. police task force has had its own problems: short staffing, poorly trained officers, lack of equipment and money, and little authority.
``It’s very possible we could have a viable operation _ in a few years,″ said Charlie Hayes, a former New York City police officer who commands the U.N. police team based in the northeastern Serb town of Zvornik.
Slow in getting started after the Dayton peace accords, the force is still more than 100 officers short of its mandated level of 1,721.
More than 30 countries have sent officers, some highly trained and motivated, others less so, drawn more by the $90 per diem each officer receives _ a high wage in some parts of the world.
``You have good cops and bad cops everywhere,″ said Alexander Mikulich, a 30-year-old Russian who is the Zvornik team’s chief operations officer.
The United Nations is looking into claims that some U.N. police are working with Muslim gangs smuggling drugs, guns and other contraband. A U.N. spokesman in New York said Friday that an initial investigation found little evidence to substantiate the charges.
Since the U.N. police are unarmed, their main weapon in defusing potential flare-ups is bluster and the power of persuasion.
New York-based Human Rights Watch warned last week that shortages of hand-held radios and vehicles could put civilians and U.N. officers at risk, especially in light of recent threats and attacks on U.N. police.
And language barriers _ some of the officers have a limited grasp of English, the force’s operating language _ and cultural differences make some less willing or able to stand up to a defiant local police chief.
Andrea Angeli, a spokesman for the U.N. mission in Tuzla, insists such problems are rare, but said the United Nations tries to screen out officers who are ill-suited for the job.
A group sent by an east Asia country, for example, arrived last winter but couldn’t drive on snow. ``We sent them back,″ he said.
Hayes says his office can count some small victories: getting a police chief replaced in one town; forcing police to arrest a man who brought two grenades to a political demonstration.
Residents are beginning to treat his office, responsible for a chunk of land about the size of Connecticut, as a regular police station, he says.
They ask for help with everything from family problems and retrieving personal documents for refugees to the cows that wander across the boundary line to graze.
``It’s not part of the mandate,″ Hayes said. ``But if I can fetch somebody’s driver’s license so he can get a driver’s license over here, I’ll do it.″
The Zvornik team also counts its daily patrols in Dugi Dio as a small success, since they were established after a near-riot in April when Muslims began moving back into their houses.
Asked whether he thought the patrols were helping to build trust, Ismet Huseinovic, an aide to Dugi Dio’s mayor, shrugged. ``It’s nothing good, nothing bad _ it’s just the agreement.″
And what would happen if the Serbian police tried to come unescorted? He just laughed. ``They don’t.″