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On 26 December 2008, Slovenian police officers in Kosovo attended a ceremony, at the invitation of the members of the Slovenian Armed Forces, celebrating the occasion of Independence and Unity Day. The ceremony took place in the KFOR-Kosovo Force base, near the city of Peč.

The 18th contingent of members of the Slovenian Armed Forces who, like the Slovenian police officers, operate within peacekeeping missions in Kosovo is accommodated there.

They were honoured by a visit of the President of the Slovenian Government, Borut Pahor, and the Minister of Defence, Dr Ljubica Jelušič, who were received by the Chief-of-Staff of the Slovenian Armed Forces, Lieutenant General Albin Gutman. The members of the police and the Slovenian Armed Forces presented the nature of work in the peacekeeping missions in Kosovo to the honoured guests.

DanSamostojnostiNaKosovu01 Slovenian police officers in Kosovo with the President of the Slovenian Government, Borut Pahor.

The ceremony was attended by Boštjan Velički, head of the Slovenian Police Contingent in the UNMIK mission, Gorazd Dreisiebner and Sašo Zidar, both from the EULEX mission, along with the head of the Slovenian Contingent in this mission, Branko Stermecki. The other members of the Slovenian Armed Forces who operate in the two missions in Kosovo made their apologies since they were unable to attend, spending the holidays with their families in Slovenia.

There are currently 14 police officers operating within the EULEX mission in Kosovo, which took its mandate from the UNMK mission, within which the Slovenian Police has the last six police officers who are due to return home at the beginning of 2009.

Mr Pahor stated that "statehood for nations, in particular smaller nations, is normally not granted but fought for", highlighting the decision to choose an independent path for the Republic of Slovenia 18 years ago and protecting this position in the war for independence in 1991. Speaking at the ceremony, the prime minister stressed that Slovenian independence, "at the peak of the historical venture" for Slovenes, was fought for and protected with arms. "You are heirs of this most elemental courage and you have all reason to be proud of this", the Prime Minister told the members of the 18th contingent of the Slovenian Armed Forces within KFOR, and police officers participating in the EULEX and UNMIK missions in the Italian base of Villagio Italia in Peč.

Mr Pahor described Independence and Unity Day as "meaningful for our future". He emphasised: "we can undertake big ventures only when we manage to maintain unity". In the prime minister's view, "it would not be fair" to compare independence superficially with other strategic projects. Joining the EU and NATO might justifiably be compared with independence, added Mr Pahor. In this context, he commented that "we are reaching ever closer to circumstances that can help us achieve our ambitions again, but only if we can maintain unity."

According to the prime minister, these circumstances will not be as demanding in politically or militarily as those 18 years ago; however, they will be more demanding in an economic and social sense. Mr Pahor is convinced that the crisis can be overcome and a path for "the group of most developed countries, showing solidarity with other countries" can be followed as long as we can rely on each other: "A society of consensus does not mean a society without differences". The prime minister also stressed that differences must be taken into consideration in forging unity. "18 years ago, independence was also achieved in a democratic manner; it is not different today, but we are politically more mature", he concluded.

DanSamostojnostiNaKosovu02 The minister of defence highlights the importance of the co-operation of Slovenian police officers within peacekeeping missions

In her address, the minister of defence stressed that Slovenian troops in Kosovo are helping local residents to spend their holidays in peace and with hope for the future, when the presence of international forces will no longer be necessary. She commented that soldiers and police officers would gain valuable experience and maintained that in the future it will be necessary to consider the scope of units, and the crisis areas, for the next missions in which Slovenian soldiers and police officers will participate. She is convinced that "it is becoming evident that we have to act reasonably with our resources, human and material". The minister emphasised that Slovenia must consider its presence in the missions a basic military task, and at the same time one of the essential tasks of foreign policy. Participation in such missions contributes a great deal to the reputation and recognisability of Slovenia, a country that "we could not imagine 18 years ago", added Dr Jelušič, before wishing the soldiers and police officers a healthy and safe return home. As soldiers and police officers miss their families, and must spend their holidays working under risky conditions, "we think of you and your families in these days", the minister concluded.

At the ceremony, the most deserving members of the 18th contingent of the Slovenian Armed Forces acting within the KFOR peacekeeping mission were awarded recognitions and medals. Furthermore, a number of promotions of individual members were announced.

After the ceremony, the prime minister and the minister of defence met and held talks with members of the Slovenian armed forces and police, completing their visit to the peacekeeping missions in Kosovo.

Text and photos: Boštjan Velički,
Head of the Slovenian Police Contingent in the UNMIK peacekeeping mission