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Last Updated: Monday, 15 December, 2003, 18:13 GMT
EU's first military mission ends

By Oana Lungescu
BBC European correspondent in Brussels

The EU's High Representative for Foreign Policy, Javier Solana, has joined Macedonian leaders at a ceremony to mark the end of the union's first ever military mission, Operation Concordia.

EU High Representative for Foreign Policy and Security Javier Solana, left, accompanied by the Head of the EU Police Mission Bart D'Hooge from Belgium
Solana says there will be lots of challenges to be tackled together
The peacekeeping operation is being replaced by an EU-led police mission, with an initial mandate of 12 months.

Speaking in Skopje, the former Yugoslav republic's capital, Mr Solana said that the end of Operation Concordia was in no way the end of the EU engagement in Macedonia.

"At the same time that we lower the flag here, the flag will be hoisted at the headquarters of the EU police mission, Proxima. We will have lots of challenges to tackle together in the future," he said.

The 400 EU soldiers wearing the blue badge with a circle of golden stars will be replaced by 200 European police officers wearing the same distinctive badge.

What we noticed when we were looking at the Macedonian police was that they have a bunker mentality... - and that is not very welcoming for people to report a crime or to go and make a complaint because they were a victim of crime
Proxima chief Bart d'Hooge
For the next year, 10 of them will work in the Macedonian interior ministry, advising on the battle against organised crime and the transformation of the local police into a multi-ethnic force.

Another 30 will be stationed at various border crossings, especially in the mountainous borders with Kosovo, Albania and Serbia, often used by traffickers of drugs, arms and people.

The rest will be deployed in local police stations all over Macedonia, in Skopje, Tetovo, Kumanovo, Gostivar and Ohrid.

Bart d'Hooge, a Belgian officer who has already spent two years in Macedonia at the head of an OSCE police mission, is the commander of the EU police force.

Unarmed

Mr D'Hooge says that one of the reasons they are there is to advise on how to actually get people back to the police stations.

"For example, what we noticed when we were looking at the Macedonian police was that they have a bunker mentality," he said. "It is police stations where police officers in camouflage uniforms, bullet-proof vests and Kalashnikovs are - and that is not very welcoming for people to report a crime," he says.

To emphasise the idea of proximity or community policing, the EU mission is called Proxima and very few of its members will carry weapons.

Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski, left, EU representative Solana and Concordia Commander General  Luis Nelson Ferreira Dos Santos inspect EU troops during a farewell ceremony
EU sees no risk of ethnic violence, hence no need for Concordia
The 30 or so who will be armed are primarily there to ensure the security of the mission.

So the EU police are not expected to intervene directly in case ethnic clashes break out again.

The EU insists it does not see any immediate risk of a resumption of violence in Macedonia.

The risk, diplomats say, is of small armed groups of criminals, especially in the areas dominated by ethnic Albanians.

The Macedonian Government says it has gone so far in implementing a peace agreement with the Albanian rebels and in carrying out democratic reforms that it intends to apply for EU membership by next February.

Testing ground

Macedonia was also a successful testing ground for the EU's fledgling defence policy.

Last April, the EU took over from Nato peacekeepers.

If the EU is going to use the Nato-integrated structure, she should use it as it is and not change an established command structure
Nato commander Admiral Rainer Feist
It used Nato's planning, logistics and communications.

Fifteen military planners from EU countries - incidentally led by an officer from Sweden, a neutral nation that is not a member of Nato - were placed at the heart of Nato's military headquarters outside Brussels to run Concordia.

The operation commander was German Admiral Rainer Feist, who is Nato's deputy commander for Europe.

He thinks Macedonia provides a successful model of EU-Nato co-operation which can be used again in Bosnia, where the EU is expected to take over from alliance peace-keepers later next year.

Politically, the message from Concordia is also clear, just as EU leaders have managed to approve plans for their own military planning cell outside of Nato, which will go ahead despite the failure of the EU summit last weekend.

The message is - the Europeans can go ahead and do things on their own, but it is much better if they do it together with Nato.


SEE ALSO:
EU approves Macedonia mission
29 Sep 03  |  Europe
EU force deploys in Macedonia
31 Mar 03  |  Europe
Q & A: Macedonia violence
08 Sep 03  |  Europe
The EU gets its gun
28 Mar 03  |  Europe
Timeline: Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
13 Jul 03  |  Country profiles


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