By Patrick Markey
Officers from the RUC will be part of a British police contingent sent to patrol the streets of Kosovo as the United Nations works to rebuild the war ravaged province.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced the decision while visiting UK armed forces based in Kosovo’s capital, Pristina. The RUC officers would be part of a UK policing force working on civilian peace-keeping operations.
Britain’s Guardian newspaper reported that the RUC will make up the largest percentage of the British contingent with as many as 60 officers. In a memo sent out to all ranking officers last week, a senior RUC officer said the force had the relevant experience for Kosovo, including handling sidearms, working alongside the military and dealing with a divided community, the paper reported.
While NATO troops have been policing Serbian and Albanian communities, the United Nations hopes that a civilian police force will the first step to rebuilding a multi-ethnic Kosovo.
The RUC had been made aware of the decision to involve the constabulary in an international police force, but the details were still being worked out, an RUC spokeswoman said. The RUC already operates as part of an international police force in Bosnia, she said.
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But the decision had met with harsh criticism from the nationalist community, who described the move as offensive. Speaking on a BBC Radio Ulster news program, Sinn Fein assembly member Alex Maskey slammed Blair’s decision as propaganda.
"I think the nationalist people here find it offensive that the RUC are being described as the best police force to police a divided society," Maskey said.
Responding on the same program, Ulster Unionist member Ken Maginnis said the RUC’s experience made it well qualified for the region.
"The establishment of a police service in Kosovo in fact reflects, when one looks at it on a broader basis than Mr. Maskey is able to do, the vast experience and control that the RUC has exercised within itself for the last 30 years under the most aggravating and terrible circumstances," he said.