Volker Halbauer, German commander of the KFOR troops in Kosovo, is confident that troop numbers in the region could soon be reduced. He is counting on Kosovo's political leaders to secure the future.
DW: Mr. Halbauer, what is the current situation of the roughly 6,000 NATO-led KFOR soldiers in Kosovo? Is it realistic to say that the number could soon be reduced even further?
Volker Halbauer: Thanks to the political dialogue which by now has been well established between Belgrade and Pristina, there's a good chance. If the dialogue develops, a further troop reduction will be possible.
Last year, there was serious unrest after the Kosovo government sent border police to the border with Serbia without coordinating with the European Union and KFOR. In retrospect, what's your view on this?
This was not an easy task for KFOR. Over the past year we had to clear more than 20 street blockades, a great effort, in order to create a situation which today I'd describe as much safer.
But still, many Serbs in the north of Kosovo are against compromises between Belgrade and the Kosovar government in Pristina because they reject Kosovo's independence. In light of the recent talks between Belgrade and Pristina, what kind of reaction do you expect from the radical Serbian elements?
The fact that the two prime ministers, [Ivica] Dacic and [Hashim] Thaci, have meant twice in the past weeks goes to show that the efforts of the international community and the EU are bearing fruit. The talks have begun, there are working groups and soon we will see actions to back up this dialogue. I very much hope that the political opinion makers - in Belgrade as well as in Pristina – will be able to bring about a situation that will have people in the north of Kosovo believe in a better future.
The Serb-dominated north of the country has become a lawless region since the independence of Kosovo. There are no courts, no proper police. Does this put KFOR and your efforts at risk?
It is important to tackle this very question in the further development of the political dialogue. I am responsible for a safe and stable environment. I don't bear the responsibility for creating law and order; that's the job of the EU's EULEX (police and justice) mission in cooperation with the Kosovar police, which is also present in the north of the country.
Do you actually have enough information to accurately judge the security situation in the north? Some experts believe you don't have enough personnel for that task.
We have a very good network in the north. And by that I don't only mean the troops at the checkpoints and the observation points, but also direct contact with the responsible authorities. By that I mean the mayors, the political representatives and the population itself. That way, I hear about how the people themselves see the situation in the north - this gives me a clear picture.
The majority in the north has a strong interest in leading a quiet and peaceful life and to see economic and personal progress. It's important to support those people and to ensure that it's their will that prevails. The radical elements - which certainly do exist - will have to gradually be won over so that they support us in future development and the removal of the last remaining roadblocks.
In Europe, Kosovo doesn't have a very good reputation and often is described as a mafia state. How do you see Kovoso?
I get out a lot and get to meet many interesting people. I try to talk to everybody, people with the most different interests at heart. All in all, I have a very positive impression. The people are very positive here. When I talk to the Kosovar police, I see highly motivated staff. When I talk to the population, I can see that there's a strong desire for things to move forward. And when I travel through Kovoso with open eyes, I see a country full of young people - I believe those young people are the key for a good future.
General Volker Halbauer is the German commander of the NATO-led KFOR troops in Kosovo.
Interview: Frank Hofmann / ai