- The Washington Times - Monday, January 31, 2000

The U.S. Army's honeymoon in Kosovo is over, with ethnic Albanians complaining that soldiers are mistreating local women and bullying the men.
One soldier already has been charged with the sex-related killing of a young girl.
The Army is investigating complaints that soldiers groped female Kosovar demonstrators. Other women complain they have been aggressively body-searched by Americans.
A resident of Vitina, a town near the Army headquarters, Camp Bondsteel, said U.S. peacekeepers beat him while questioning him about the bombing of a Serbian store.
"They started to beat me nonstop, telling me to admit that I did it," he told the Associated Press. "Then they pulled a knife out and threatened to cut me into pieces."
The complaints point out the quandary for Army soldiers. Sent to Kosovo to keep the peace, they find themselves thrust into the role of street cop and detective. They are trying to stop ethnic Albanian vengeance against the small Serbian population who used to rule the province with an iron fist before NATO bombing forced Yugoslav forces to withdraw.
The Army said that the incidents are isolated, and that military-civilian relations remain strong in Kosovo's U.S.-watched sector.
However, U.S. authorities have been forced to investigate several embarrassing episodes. The latest: an unspecified number of soldiers accused of improperly touching civilian women during a protest.
They were the kind of purported offenses that Kosovars in the town of Vitina have complained about since 7,000 U.S. peacekeepers arrived last summer to police the war-ravaged Yugoslav province.
More embarrassing, the Army announced the investigation just a week after it charged a sergeant with murder and a sex offense in the death of an 11-year-old Kosovo girl.
Army headquarters at Camp Bondsteel issued a statement last week that several soldiers are suspected of "inappropriate physical contact with Kosovar females" earlier this month. The contact occurred outside a cafe where demonstrators were protesting the Army's detaining of two witnesses in an unrelated murder case.
"The U.S. Army takes these matters very seriously and will continue the investigations until all facts are known," the Army stated. "The vast majority of U.S. Army soldiers of Task Force Falcon continue to superbly perform their dangerous and stressful mission of bringing peace and security to the people of Kosovo."
Army Maj. Erik Gunhus, a spokesman in Kosovo, said, "We thought obviously they would hinder relations, but the family of the girl came out strongly that 'we understand this is the act of one individual. We don't think all Americans are like this.' We have a very good relationship with them down there and Kosovo as a whole."
Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said the problems stem from U.S. soldiers being called upon to conduct police operations for which they are not trained.
He said the United Nations must increase its police force to deal with civil disturbances and other lawbreaking.
"Let me say that I think what has taken place only emphasizes, for me at least, the need for more police to be trained and deployed to the region," Mr. Cohen said. "We have a long-stated position that the United States and our NATO forces can carry out a military operation quite successfully, but they are not for the most part … trained to carry out police work. They are not trained for that. They are not competent really to carry out police work, nor should they be doing it.
"In the absence of adequate police in the region, then they have been called upon to undertake those missions. And that's the reason why we have tried to emphasize to the U.N., to our NATO allies, those who have pledged to help produce and to train police, that they get there as soon as possible."
Daut Xhemajli, president of the Vitina Municipal Board, says relations between the Americans and locals are strained.
"One night they randomly entered a bar and started shouting at the customers, 'What are you going to burn next?' and 'Who are you going to kill now?' " he told AP. "They were treating all of the customers as criminals."
The new investigation comes as some legal experts believe the Army and NATO's apologetic statements to the family of the slain Kosovo girl have the potential to taint a military jury.
Brig. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top U.S. officer in the Kosovo peacekeeping force (Kfor), sent his condolences to the father after Army Staff Sgt. Frank J. Ronghi was charged in the Jan. 13 death.
"The Department of the Army will spare no effort to bring this matter to justice," Gen. Sanchez told the family. He has promised the ethnic Albanian population "closure" on the case.
Sgt. Ronghi, a 35-year-old divorced paratrooper, is being held on charges of murder and indecent acts with a child. The investigation, and any subsequent trial, falls under Army jurisdiction and the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).
German Gen. Klaus Reinhardt, the Kfor commander, said publicly, "The very reason that Kfor came here was to stop the violence. To discover that one of our own members may have been involved in the ultimate act of violence murder fills me with horror and anger."
Some legal experts say the statements come close to saying Sgt. Ronghi is guilty. The UCMJ forbids commanders from making statements that can sway judges or jurors.
"The legal point is that when a general officer sends a signal of guilt, it does two things," said Henry Hamilton, a former Army prosecutor and now a civilian lawyer in South Carolina. "It taints the jury pool of everyone serving under the general officer. The second thing it does, it makes defense witnesses refuse to come forward because to come forward puts them in opposition to the general."
"I can anticipate the Army's defense: 'That was this general's action. But the general who convenes the court-martial has a total, flexible open mind.' The counter to that argument is, when a general speaks, the troops listen," he said. "Public pronouncements of that nature taint the jury selection process."
Not all legal experts agree.
"I think it is more properly viewed as an expression of sympathy rather than any admission that a U.S. soldier was responsible," said Mark Wample, a West Point graduate who practices law in Fayetteville, N.C., home to Fort Bragg and the 82nd Airborne Division.
"I don't see any harm done. Soldiers would have the same awareness if someone at the State Department or executive branch made the same apology. I don't see any real difference."
Army officials say they are abiding by the law and must walk a fine line between placating the ethnic Albania population and not violating the UCMJ.
"When we make a press release, command influence is always a concern," said Maj. Gunhus "That's why we're always careful about what is released."
Gen. Sanchez has made at least two public comments on the slaying: one a letter to the 11-year-old girl's father, the second a statement to leaders in the town of Vitina, where the family lives.
Gen. Sanchez told the townspeople. "I cannot release specific details on the investigation at this time. The appropriate criminal charges will be filed once the investigation is complete. I assure you that we will do everything we can to see that the family and community will have closure on the incident and see that justice is served. No one is above the law and I hope that you understand this."

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