on 20 September 2001
at the NATO Press Centre in Skopje
Sorry for the delay, we got caught up in a traffic jam and then we had
to do our preparations when we got back, so our apologies.
by Major Barry Johnson
Good morning, as always, and thank you for your patience. As you all know
we did establish a weapons collection site today in the vicinity of Radusa.
The unit there, as I said yesterday, is the French battle-group, along
with its German and Spanish contingents. The site is going to remain established
there, but we do not anticipate weapons actually being turned in today.
And as a result of that we postponed the pool and we'll get more information
on that as it clarifies. But, as I said the collection site will remain
established there. We also have some route clearing activities occurring
today and tomorrow; this is in the vicinity north of Kumanovo, along the
Opae - Slupcane road. (Sorry if I butchered those names). I hope everybody
understands where that is. The purpose of this is to facilitate future
weapons collection sites in the area. It has a secondary purpose of assisting
a Macedonian army unit in that area to use the route in order to move
itself back towards its Kumanovo barracks. This is being conducted by
a company of the 2 battalion of the para regiment, the UK unit. Once again
we ask as this occurs that media not go to that area and not interfere
with the clearance process. There are, of course, inherent dangers in
route clearance and we want to ensure our troops have their full attention
to the task at hand.
by Mark Laity
First of all, I see that there is an article in Vecer about me today.
And there's some concern about my health. And obviously, I am really quite
touched that Vecer should be concerned about my health. So, many thanks,
it's nice to know you care. I just want to let you know, don't worry,
I'm fine. Thanks for the concern, but you don't need to worry.
There's also some material about Mujahedin and Aracinovo. Now, I had a
peripheral involvement in Aracinovo and the pullout from Aracinovo. All
the colleagues who were very closely involved, who were in Aracinovo,
are friends of mine. So, I know quite a lot about Aracinovo, how it happened
and what happened. I want to make crystal clear - there were no Mujahedin
in Aracinovo. I know it's caused some amusement and I've aided, I hope,
to that amusement about the significance of beards or otherwise. And I
am glad to see that somebody who wears a beard has not been deterred from
coming to the press conference. But, that does seem to be the only evidence
we've seen of Mujahedin in Aracinovo - is beards. But, my colleagues were
in Aracinovo and they didn't see any Mujahedin. The reason they didn't
is because there were no Mujahedin. I also want to make clear because
of some of the comments around this event, to remind you of why NATO was
in Aracinovo - because the government of Macedonia asked us to be there.
That's the whole government. I was a witness to some of these meetings
and I saw and was a witness that the President asked us to be there, the
Prime Minister asked us to be there, the interior minister was involved
in the operation, otherwise we wouldn't have done it. We only got involved
in Aracinovo because we were asked to. And it was a hugely successful
operation, because the threat to the heart of Skopje was removed. It reflects
great credit on the Macedonian government that they wished it to be done
and if I may be a little bit personal here, it reflects great credit on
my colleagues and friends, who took great personal risk to work on behalf
of the Macedonian people, to remove this threat to the heart of Skopje.
They take pride in their action and there were no Mujahedin there. So
I hope that those of you who do not believe me, would at least recognize
the sincerity of the people who were there. And the close cooperation
that they had was not just with the Macedonian government, but the Macedonian
security forces in the removal of those NLA people from a position where
they could have threatened your capital. Aracinovo may seem to be a cause
for controversy to you, but in fact it was a huge success for the Macedonian
government and one NATO is pleased to have played a significant role in.
If I could just move on, with reference to events in Semsevo and the area
around there, for the third night it has been extremely quiet. We recorded
five single shots and that was it. So, I think what we are seeing over
the last three days has been a significant calming down of that area,
which is especially significant because of how active the events of the
previous days have been. We come from a time of active and nightly gunfire
to one where I have to inform you that there were only five single shots.
There were also reports about the presence of NLA in Semsevo. The Harvest
liaison teams were in that area yesterday and they reported no uniformed
people that they saw. It is quite possible that there are some people
still in there with guns, but this would be a very small number of observations,
one or two. But overall, Semsevo was extremely calm. I know that the road
blocks about which we have been concerned yesterday appear not to have
been what we thought they were. With that, I'll finish.
1: What's delaying the weapons collections?
Johnson: The collection site is there and is open. As
we keep saying, we are prepared to take weapons when the so-called NLA
is ready to turn them in. We had enough indications that they were willing
for us to establish this site as we had planned. So, if there are some
new concerns that are being addressed and we are actively facilitating
the process, so we that can continue and get those weapons that are there.
What the specific concerns are right now that they are trying to resolve,
I just don't know at this time.
It is not a tap we can turn on and off. When they want to give us weapons,
we'll take them. I think it just emphasizes that this is a process where
we are receivers of weapons, not controllers of the process.
Journalist: Have you been told by the NLA that they are not turning in
weapons? They are not going to start turning them in today?
Johnson: I don't know if later today, if they are going
to at this time. There are indications that there are concerns that need
to be addressed. In this process we are continuing to try to facilitate
those concerns so that they will turn in their weapons. I don't know how
significant those concerns are, but of course we are staying in place
and we are hopeful to get this resolved as soon as possible and we'll
take weapons as soon as they are ready to turn them over to us.
2: (MTV) A question for Mr. Laity. You have mentioned
that there were no armed members of the so-called NLA in Semsevo. I haven't
been to Semsevo and Zilce myself, but a colleague and a close friend of
mine has, and I believe him. The MTV team was held up for several hours
by NLA members and they were allowed to go into Zilce few hours later.
When was this?
Journalist: Yesterday afternoon, around 1500 - 1600 hrs.
The only report we have of anyone being held at a checkpoint was for
civilian people who stopped people at checkpoints and checked their credentials.
When the correspondent from Vecer raised this issue yesterday of a team
that had been held at what appear to be gunpoint, we checked that out.
Indeed, we checked with Vecer to ensure that they were OK and their report
this morning was that they were stopped by unarmed NLA members, who asked
for IDs and searched the vehicle. We have no reports of armed gunmen at
checkpoints. Certainly, detained for several hours is something that we
know nothing of and it's very late to suddenly bring this up now. But
I did ask specifically if there were any reports of such incidents of
our teams last night, and they said there were no such incidents. I've
also spoken to people who were not in the liaison teams and they did not
report armed people at checkpoints yesterday. So, if you have specific
things you wish to bring up, then you should give us notice of them so
we can check them out. As we did with Vecer when they raised their concern,
we followed up and we spoke to Vecer.
3: Do you have any information about the explosion on
the Tetovo-Skopje road, near the service station "Seven Brothers"?
We just have a report of it happening and our indications from Macedonian
police sources, it's probably a criminal activity. But I would emphasis
that this is not our information. So, other than the fact of the explosion,
I've got no further information and I think probably the Macedonian police
would be the best people to go to.
4: I would like to go back to the delay of weapons collection.
Do you have any indications that this is any way connected with the delay
of the parliamentary procedure?
No, we don't. But obviously it's a matter of record that there was a phasing
expected in this process. That the first weapon collection was followed
by the first parliamentary stage, the second followed by the second parliamentary
stage, with the third stage to start after that. I imagine it was expected
by the NLA that the Parliamentary Commission would complete its work and
be voted upon yesterday. And I think it does emphasize that, for everyone's
benefit, we need to move the process as fast as possible. The sooner we
get the guns of the NLA, the sooner we can all get on with our lives in
a normal fashion, so the faster, the better. Because it obviously emphasizes
the need for everyone to work hard to move quickly, because then the displaced
people can return home, then normal politics can resume and therefore
the need for haste I think is being emphasized all the time. We've come
so far really quite quickly. It will be a pity if the process slowed now.
But, obviously, this is up to parliamentarians. Their constituents, the
displaced people, all of those will doubtless make their feelings clear.
But as to whether this was the reason the NLA appear not to be delivering
weapons at present, we simply don't know.
5: This is a question for Maj. Johnson. After what has
happened in the US and after we have seen that there's been a state of
alert in the US army, even in NATO, what has changed with NATO troops
in Macedonia? What is the state of alert? Is it something very serious
now, if you can elaborate on the changes that have been done after a week
now of what's happened in the US? And for you, Mr. Laity. You are saying
that the process has to move faster. Could you just elaborate which are
the steps that you are undertaking to help this process move forward?
Johnson: Of course, this is an extremely serious situation,
and it's not just here in Macedonia, it's worldwide. We hear the American
president and the American government, they state daily, if not hourly
on our televisions that we are in a state of war. As an American soldier
this is not something that I take lightly, it's a very serious situation.
Here we are with a NATO force and we are taking, again, all these concerns
worldwide, as with forces everywhere, very seriously. This is a new threat,
a somewhat unanticipated threat, and we are taking appropriate measures
at all of our bases and with all of our soldiers to ensure their security.
I know everybody would like us to elaborate further on what those are,
but of course we don't, because we are not going to compromise the security
of our soldiers. But every commander has the responsibility to assess
the situation and take the appropriate steps that he or she deems necessary.
And that's exactly what we are doing here in Macedonia with all the NATO
forces, just as forces around the world are doing.
I am slightly concerned because a Mujahedin has just entered the room.
He is even wearing combats. I hope that's just a camera. Just don't point
it at me too obviously.
Well, we've given ourselves an extremely tight deadline - 30 days and
we are meeting it. When we first came here, speaker Andov scheduled the
first vote even before for a date when we had actually planned merely
to had deployed. But, we rose to that challenge. In effect, we collected
the first third of weapons ten days ahead of schedule. We then deployed
early for the second phase, when there were, perhaps, concerns that we
hadn't got weapons, we kept the collection sites open for extra periods
and on the political front, we have put in a very intensive effort, offering
advice and support to the Macedonian government. We are in constant consultation
with them on a variety of issues. Getting their views, offering ours,
moving forward together. As you would expect with a NATO-aspirant nation
and member of the Partnership for Peace. The EU must really speak for
itself, but I think it's a matter of record that they have moved very
quickly on matters of aid, on numbers of EU monitors. The OSCE is in intensive
consultations about its own monitoring force. Everywhere you look there
is a remarkable unity of purpose by the international community, moving
quickly on a variety of fronts. I think that the international community
has often been accused of being slow and unwieldy. Let's be frank, coordinating
the efforts of scores of nations is not easy, but the commitment has been
remarkable - police advisors, EU monitors, OSCE monitors, promises of
aid, UN assistance, NATO troops rushed here from their homes to disarm
a dangerous rebel group in 30 days. I think this is a remarkable achievement,
all very fast. We are all still here, waiting for the next phase. It's
not ending, it's changing, continuing, developing. Macedonia is the focus
of a huge international effort. A small nation with very many friends.
Now we want everybody to move fast. We want the weapons in fast, we want
the Framework agreement in fast, we want the displaced people home fast.
But, we'll stay on because we are all partners, to make sure that Macedonia
takes its rightful place in the European community of nations. I think
that should be enough. We are doing our bit.
6: Is there a chance that Essential Harvest is going
to be delayed, because of delays in weapons turn ins and in parliament
at this point?
We are planning to be out when our mandate finishes.
7: Parliament is supposed to vote today on whether to
hold a referendum. What happens if they vote for submitting the reform
package to a referendum? Will the peace process break down?
I don't know. Clearly there will be months of delay and who knows what
would happen in those months. We are on the fast track to peace now. So
I don't know. But it's inevitable that there will be big delays. But this
is the choice of the Macedonian parliament. It's their decision. So, presumably,
this is a fact they are taking into account but I wouldn't presume to
make their decision for them or tell them what to do. But who knows what
8: I didn't mean to make another question, but just to follow
this. Do you have any plan B or C or D if something like that happens,
if there are months of delays and you don't know what's going to happen?
What are you going to do because you'd feel entrapped here in this country?
We are not entrapped in this country. We are partners with the government
of Macedonia. We are here because we want to be here, we are here because
the government wants us to be here. So I think being trapped is the wrong
word. And we will adapt to circumstances as they arise.
9: Do you have any new information from the NAC about the new
The meeting yesterday did not arrive at a definitive
conclusion. But the president's request was studied by the Alliance and
it was looked at in a very positive light. But, as to our exact response,
I think it's too early. Because although the request is simple, the response
requires careful thought and considerations to what exactly do we do.
So, positive but a lot of work and a lot of discussion needed. I can say
it is being regarded as a very high priority issue. Obviously, the events
in the USA last week are a focus of considerable concern and time by the
NAC. But, they've not taken the eye off the ball in this area. There are
lot of meetings going on, a lot of discussions going on. So we'll be replying
as fast as we can. It won't be for lack of effort or lack of commitment
to fast decision.
10: Mark, if the request is relatively straightforward
and simple as you mentioned, what are the issues that make it so complicated
to resolve? Could you give us some examples?
Well, the request is simple because it is asking for a NATO mission to
support the protection of the monitors and it talks about a light presence.
But the Macedonian government has said that exactly what that means is
for discussion, what's the best way for the monitors to be protected,
how many people are needed, what kind of structures. So, the request may
seem simple, but we are not going to do things in a overhasty way, we
are going to make it right. And there are 19 nations in NATO and they
have to talk to each other about exactly what they believe is right. It
took some time for this government to make the request and it's one government.
It is now being assessed by 19.