Police AssociAtion of novA scotiA 23 Keeping the Kosovo peace Keeping the peace in Prince Edward Island’s capital city has long been a career way of life for Sgt. Gordon McConnell. But in 2003/2004 this member of the Charlottetown City Police Service stepped it up more than a few notches when he traveled to Decani, Kosovo for seven months to provide peacekeeping services in the war-torn province of the former Yugoslavia. And as his time in that city wrapped up, McDonnell found himself smack dab in the middle of violent rioting by ethnic Albanians against Serb and other non-Albanian communities that lasted three days and 19 people dead, more than 1,000 wounded and 4,100 displaced. “There was a lot of gunfire and rioting (during those three days),” remembers McConnelly who is one of a number of officers from the Charlottetown Police Service who have been involved in this type of international policing mission, which is under the banner of the United Nations (UN). McConnell was a corporal in 2003 when the opportunity to volunteer for peacekeeping service, working with the Kosovo Police Service (KPS) at a local police facility in Decanti. This deployment was part of an RCMP-run peacekeeping unit that supplies officers from the RCMP and municipal police forces for deployment for UN peacekeeping missions around the world. “With me (my reason for signing up) was a veteran,” McConnell says of his late father, George McConnell, who fought in the during the Second World War. “I was always proud of the fact that he was a veteran... so I thought I’d like to do an over seas mission if I had an opportunity to do that.” McConnell and a team of eight other Canadians joined a mission force that included UN Police representatives from all over the world. “Our core mission was to build up an interim force and to protect human rights and that means mentoring and training to the police service…. Without security you can’t have anything. You need security before you can build that society…,” McConnell says. “(And as an example, fundamental human rights means) you can’t just detain and arrest somebody without cause; and you don’t strike or hit a prisoner or torture a prisoner for statements.” Due to his experience and supervisory skills, McConnell was signed chief of investigations at a local Decani police facility, which took in 43 villages in their area of responsibility. He also did a short stint as station commander. That station came under attack during that fateful day on March 17, 2004, which was the start of the three days of rioting. The root of it all stems from unsubstantiated reports by Kosovo news agencies that said that Serbians had chased three young Albanian children into a river where they drowned. “That was just the torch that the population needed. One day in Decani, dump trucks came in and they blocked all the entrances to the road and the riot was on, “ McConnell remembers. “And so all these people came out and thousands of people gathered and they protested. They burned our cars and they burned everything with UN on it and they wanted to come and tear down our UN flag. (They) fired shots at our feet and tracer fire over our heads and around our accommodations through the night to intimidate us.” Things reached a major crisis point on the second day when a crowd of more than 1,000 angry young Albanian protesters swarmed toward a 700-plus-year-old monastery filled with Serbian monks. “They started to head to the monastery, yelling and chanting that they were going to burn it,” McConnell says. The monks were by no means unprotected. Each area in Kosovo had a UN military component and the Italian military had a strong presence close by. “(The monastery) is up a muddy road up the mountain and the Italians were up there with tanks pointing down at the road with orders to protect (it) at all costs. And there’s this bunch of protestors coming up the road and (some were) firing AK(- 47)s.” Knowing the carnage that is about to erupt, a KPS officer and McConnell grabbed onto one of the organizers of the protest and drove through the crowd, ignoring the guns pointed at them, then turned to face the rioters. “We ended up getting between the crowd and the tanks and we were able to diffuse the crowd through this organizer and the KPS, (plus the threat) of the tanks,” he says. “It was more diffusing them than anything. They were just wanting to do something.” When McConnell returned home to his wife, Sandy, whose support he credits for his being able to do this mission, he carried with him a much greater appreciation for Canada overall. “What did I learn? Canada is the greatest country in the world. Canadian police are amongst the finest police in the world, I would say, “ he says with a smile. “In general terms (I have a better appreciation for) most things that we take for granted here in Canada, like paved roads, street lighting, garbage collection, running water, electricity.” Originally published November 10th, 2009 Mary MacKay ~ The Guardian PANS Board of Directors and Cyber Cop presentation to National Kids Help Line Brian Gairns, John Haggerty, Dave Hirtle at Town of Amherst employee golf game.