NATO's efforts to stem ethnic violence in Kosovo and end an exodus of minority Serbs are "starting to work," the commander of U.S. forces in Kosovo said Thursday.
Ethnic Albanians continue to kill and kidnap Serbs while also burning and looting property, Army Brig. Gen. John Craddock said in a telephone news conference from his Kosovo headquarters. But he said U.S. peacekeepers are beginning to stop the violence before it starts in the Serbian province.
"It's tough work, it's difficult and complex but it's starting to work," Craddock said. "We believe the situation is better now than it was a week ago or a few days ago," as a result of several new tactics by U.S. forces.
Craddock was describing the situation in a southeastern sector of Kosovo that is controlled by U.S. troops as part of a larger NATO-led peacekeeping operation since June 12. Some of the worst violence has been in a sector controlled by British troops.
Craddock said his troops have shifted their patrols to areas where crime reports indicate the problems are most acute. They also have increased aerial surveillance in order to detect and respond more quickly to roadblocks by ethnic Albanians to impede Serbs. More criminal investigative teams are at work, he said, enabling U.S. troops to solve some crimes and make more arrests.
Also, the peacekeepers have begun to broadcast on local radio stations the numbers and types of crimes reported each day. This is intended to persuade the Serbs that NATO is making a genuine effort to protect them.
Critics have said NATO is losing in the battle to stabilize Kosovo and to assure a multi-ethnic society. Craddock said it is too early to make that judgment.
"Is there hope? You bet there's hope," he said. "We haven't won this thing, but we're making progress."
There are 5,800 U.S. troops in the southeastern sector of Kosovo. Eventually there are to be 7,000. A Russian contingent of 725 soldiers also is helping keep the peace in that area, along with Greek and Polish brigades.
By some estimates, more than 160,000 Serbs have left Kosovo for safer parts of Serbia. Serbs numbered about 200,000 _ or about 10 percent of Kosovo's population _ before the war started in March.