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X. Bout De Marnhac (EULEX): "violence is not an option and I will not accept it"

(credit: Eulex November 2010)

(Interview) General (French) Xavier Bout de Marnhac is the new commander of the European civilian “rule of law” mission (Eulex) in Kosovo. A man for whom this region is not entirely unknown since he was the commander of Kfor in 2007-2008. I was able to meet him a few days ago now. The period which is opening today in Kosovo is undoubtedly less crucial than two years ago but just as important and sensitive as the latest incident has just proven (a Bosnian coalition activist shot dead on December 8 in northern Kosovo, near Leposavić), and filled with unknowns as the second election since independence comes to an end.

You were in Kosovo in 2007-2008, you are returning there today. What did you find?

It hasn't changed that much. Of course, there are transformations in the appearance (roads have been redone for example...). We also feel a lot of energy in the activity, the desire to work. But it remains a little disorganized; Kosovo remains Kosovo. What I sense at first sight, however, is that the leadership has grown in density. They learned, bumped into realities. It's a young state with people who don't automatically have experience of the international scene, of the rules of the game, of the unspoken. It's rather encouraging.

Your three essential priorities today?

Firstly, to intensify the visibility and action of the mission in northern Kosovo, hence the importance of maintaining permanent contact with the population; second, the fight against organized crime and corruption, Finally, start thinking about the future, about the evolution of the mission.

“Violence is not an option
and I will not accept it”

The general visiting with the mobile gendarmes in reserve (Eulex November 2010)

How do you assess the security risk in Kosovo. It is often said that it is quite weak?

There is no big threat for the moment, indeed. But it doesn't take much for it to spread. We must remain vigilant. Most of the incidents in the north are incidents between Serbs, Serbs against Serbs. This is why violence is not acceptable. There are people who would like to discuss. But on each side, there are radicals who do not want it. Pressure on voters or judges is not tolerable. It is unacceptable that, during elections, those who would like to vote cannot go. Ditto on the holding of trials.

The north of Kosovo (NB: mostly Serbian) still remains sensitive. What do you have to say to its inhabitants?

A single, main message: violence leads to nothing at all. I persist and I sign: violence is not an option and I will not accept it. I expect a minimum of acceptance of the mission's presence and activity throughout Kosovo, including the North.

Can the fact that the mission is present in northern Kosovo help?

Yes. We are deployed, for the moment, during the day. And the staff come home at night. I want us to develop visibility, and to immerse ourselves in the local reality. I don't expect to be kissed “on the mouth”. No. But that we are seen as part of the local landscape.

There will be no economic development
without a stable framework of justice, without the rule of law.

And relations with Belgrade?

We see that Serbia is committed to the European game. It is an important choice. What change will this bring? We'll see. The important thing is to involve all the players. As long as we talk to each other, we can hope to reduce misunderstandings. At our level, with Belgrade, what we want is to establish bridges.

Do you take part in the political dialogue initiated by the European Union?

Not precisely. We subscribe to the hypothesis of initiating dialogue, endorsed by a UN resolution. But we are not an actor in this political aspect. Our challenge is to make progress in the rule of law and the fight against corruption.

Are you, however, a bit like a Kosovo proconsul?

No. Eulex does not deal with the administrative, economic or political aspects. We remain focused on three subjects: customs, justice and the police. What is called the rule of law. It is an important part. We cannot hope for sustainable development without this. What investor will come here if he is not guaranteed to recover his investment? There will be no economic development without a stable legal framework, without the rule of law. I'm convinced. The rule of law is the preamble to any hope of political, economic and social improvement.

Everything we do in Kosovo is what there is
less to do in member states (for our internal security)

Can we manage to remain “neutral” in Kosovo?

Yes. You have to keep a balanced approach, be able to discuss with everyone. The trap is precisely to fall into this political role. Rome was not built a day. Kosovo will not happen in a day.

With the economic crisis, we could still wonder if the money put into this mission would not be better used elsewhere, for security in our suburbs for example?

No way. Everything we do in Kosovo is the least that can be done in the member states. We fight against different forms of trafficking at the source. When in Grenoble, we recently dismantled a clandestine shooting range, the weapons came from the Balkans. We cannot leave a black hole in the Balkans. , even if we cannot say that all the traffic comes from there. To imagine that this remains limited to the Balkans is an illusion. The mission therefore has a direct impact on our internal security.

Your predecessor, De Kermabon, said that justice remained Kosovo's weak point?

Yes. But the problem with justice is that it takes time. We must accept that the justice calendar does not automatically follow the rhythm of the media, of opinion. There are the expectations of the population, of the international community, of course… But the worst would be to have to cancel a procedure because we wanted to go too quickly. We probably had premature impulses, believing that we were going to settle everything quickly. It's been two years since the mission was deployed, a year since the cases came out, since we started to investigate. Let the judges work. Back to the time of justice.

You have to think about the next move.
We are not going to stay in Kosovo for 50 years.

You said in your priorities that you have to think about the future. What do you mean ?

You have to think about the next move. For example, on justice, the judges and prosecutors we advise will be retired in a few years. The generation of tomorrow is currently at university. How to train the next generation? This action is not within the role of Eulex's mission. But we have to think about it, develop a complementary action, otherwise we will return to the old demons. We are not going to stay in Kosovo for 50 years.

Does this mean that this mission will evolve?

This is a question to think about even if we do not have all the answers. How to evolve the mission? How will the transfer to the local authorities take place, as well as the follow-up? This will depend on the progress of our interlocutors. Successfully exiting this mission will be as essential as starting it. Now we have to be careful. We are in a context where not all countries have recognized Kosovo. Things are not yet ripe either in Kosovo or within the 27 for that matter.

At Gate 1, the "border" post with Serbia (Credit: Eulex November 2010)

Xavier Bout de Marnhac in a few words.

Born on July 7, 1951, in Trier (Germany), he is a man of the cavalry (armored) and he will serve several times in his land of birth even if he has today chosen another land of adoption: the Sarthe. He first joined the 7th Chasseurs Regiment (at Arras 62), as platoon leader then commanded the 2nd armored reconnaissance squadron of the 4th Hussars Regiment and the 2nd research squadron of the 13th Hussars Regiment. paratrooper dragons. After the superior school of war which he finished in 1989, he moved to the General Staff of the II Army Corps (in Baden-Baden), then in 1991 to the DPMAT Directorate of military personnel of the army in the army and, in 1993, in the office of the Minister of Defense (F. Leotard then Ch. Millon). In 1996, he returned to the field as Commanding Officer of the 6/12th Cuirassier Regiment and moved to the "Pool" (the DGSE) from 1999 to 2004. In 2005, he took command of the staff of force no. 2 and was the weapons commander in Nantes, before leaving in September 2007 for Kosovo.

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).