A police academy organized by Kosovo's foreign caretakers and meant to help preserve a multi-ethnic society opened today, but of 24 Serbs recruited for the first class of 200 students, only one showed up.
The Serbs' decision to stay away illustrated Western difficulties in meeting the stated goal of creating a mixed force of ethnic Albanians and Serbs that ultimately will work alongside the U.N. force currently policing Kosovo.
During an orientation gathering Monday in which 11 of the 24 Serbs participated, ethnic Albanian workers on the academy's campus accused two of Serbs of committing atrocities in Vucitrn, a town in northern Kosovo, during the 78-day NATO bombardment of Yugoslavia. Among the alleged crimes was the torching of civilian houses.
The Serbs, some of whom were police officers when the province was administered by the Belgrade government, were ejected from class and transported to their homes in nearby Kosovska Mitrovica, where they face a criminal probe by U.N. investigators.
Steven Bennett, the school's director, said the Serbs who did not attend the first day of training today feared they, too, could be fingered.
Bennett said he had tried Monday to ease the Serbs' concerns, saying that only criminal accusations that appeared to be well-founded would result in suspension. Arrangements would also be made to ensure the safety of the Serbs, who were expected to live on campus with the ethnic Albanians inside Vucitrn, a town from which all the Serbs have fled since the end of the bombing in June. "I don't yet know if today's absences were the answer to my assurances or not," Bennett said.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe runs the police school, which is staffed by instructors from several countries, including the United States. After 18 weeks of training and a 19-week field apprenticeship, the recruits will work with the U.N. police force, which was established recently to combat rampant crime and ethnic terror in Kosovo, a province of Serbia, Yugoslavia's dominant republic.
Just about any Serbian police officer is suspect in ethnic Albanian eyes. During the war, Serbian police looted and burned ethnic Albanian houses and participated in the killings and expulsions of ethnic Albanian civilians from Kosovo.
Stanisha Asinin, the lone Serb in class today, is a former traffic cop from Kosovska Mitrovica. He said he was worried someone might accuse him of atrocities, but decided to attend school anyway. "My wife asked me if I was crazy. But I want to be a policeman again," he said.
"I think I can work with other ethnic groups. If my colleagues are good to me, I will be doubly good to them," he added during a class break. "If the public treats me as a human being, I will treat them humanely too."
The class included several members of the Kosovo Liberation Army, the ethnic Albanian guerrilla force that fought for Kosovo's independence from Serbia. Among other tactics, the KLA carried out armed attacks against Serbian policemen.
Inclusion of KLA members is part of a program to incorporate them into a civilian force. Under an agreement with the NATO-led peacekeeping force, the KLA is scheduled to be demilitarized by Sept. 19.
"We want a multi-ethnic force," said Nuradin Ibishe, who identified himself as a KLA brigade commander. He said the KLA had discovered many Serbian police officers on candidate lists and informed recruiters of alleged crimes they committed. They also scanned the lists for ethnic Albanians who collaborated with the Serbian police.
"I am content. If we disagreed with a name, it was taken off the list," said Ibishe, who said he once worked for the Serbian police but he quit to protest ethnic Albanian repression. He said he expected the majority of the new police force to be recruited from KLA ranks.