NATO: No Request to Help Kosovo Douse Fires

There is some confusion over whether the Kosovo authorities have asked KFOR to help put out the fires that have been rampaging in the south and west.NATO’s peacekeeping force in Kosovo, KFOR, says that it has not received any request from the government to help fight the blazes that have erupted in western and southern areas.

A source in KFOR told BIRN on Tuesday that no official request for help had been sent by the authorities in Pristina.“For security reasons [KFOR commander] General Drews discussed the fire issue with his staff this morning and what it means for overall security. But as far as I remember, there was no mention that the government had sent any SOS requesting assistance,” the source said.

According to the media, the Kosovo Ministry of Interior asked NATO to help extinguish the wildfires several days ago, citing the lack of specialized machinery for such operations.

KFOR’s spokesperson, Colonel Uve Nowitzki confirmed to BIRN that by late afternoon, no such call by the central government has been sent to the peacekeeping force.

“We have not received any request from the government,” Nowitzki said on Tuesday.

In a press statement, the government said that the Agency for Emergency Management had recorded fires in the Prizren, Malisheva, Dragash and Decani regions, and that hundreds of fire fighters, Kosovo Security Forces and volunteers had been engaged.

“Lacking necessary specialized tools to fights the blazes, the Ministry of Internal Affairs has requested the assistance of KFOR and of the neighbouring countries,” it said.

“Because of the landscape, managing the fires in certain zones remains a challenge,” the statement on Monday added.

The mountainous area of Decani bordering Montenegro and Albania in the west has been burning for a week, mostly owing to strong winds that have carried blazes deep into the forests.

Mayor Rasim Selmanaj has called on the government to help, saying local fire fighters cannot handle the blazes. His municipality was first hit three weeks ago by fire, which reduced to ashes hundreds of hectares of forest.

The Kosovo Security Forces, KSF, have been fighting the blazes for a week now, but owing to a lack of capacities, they have had to pull back in the forests round Dragash in southern Kosovo.

On Monday, opposition parties criticized the government for not calling an emergency meeting of the National Security Council, or sending a formal request for help to NATO.

Civil society groups have also reacted, criticizing the authorities for their slow response, which they say has led to huge amounts of damage.

An NGO that monitors the performance of the central and municipal authorities, the Initiative for Progress, on Tuesday said that the authorities had failed to cope with the situation on the ground.

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