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Updated: 28 May 1999 Morning Briefings

NATO HQ

28 May 1999

Morning Briefing

By Jamie Shea

Jamie Shea : Ladies and gentlemen. Good morning. I'd like just to start off by informing you that immediately after my brief operational update, Ambassador Kuku, the Ambassador of Albania here at NATO Headquarters, who is a familiar face to many of you, will replace me at the podium and would like to give you his latest information on the situation. So there will be a double bill today, but I shall begin in the usual way and, again, welcome you all.

A couple of days ago we had day 64 of this campaign as you well know, and on that day I said that we had established the highest number of strikes so far against the military forces of a repressive dictator. Yesterday, we surpassed once again that number, that record, and you have had the details of the strikes last night in the operational update that we gave you. In fact NATO aircraft took maximum advantage yesterday of the weather and carried out 792 missions including 310 specific strike sorties and another 92 sorties designed to suppress Serb air defences.

But the only difference over the last 24 hours is not in the intensity of the air campaign which continues as you can see unabated, but that now we are acting not only against a repressive dictator, but one who has now been formally indicted for war crimes. We yesterday went after Milosevic's forces in Kosovo everywhere we found them, and of course we are, as I made clear yesterday, going to continue to go after those forces until they stop their crimes against humanity and withdraw from Kosovo. I don't want to delay you with a read-out of all of the targets. You can see that the list today is the longest we have produced thus far. You have all received it, so you all have the essential details. At this moment operations on Day 66 are well under way, and of course planning for Day 67 is moving briskly ahead.

At the same time the diplomatic pressure on Milosevic to accede to the non-negotiable demands of the international community continues, and in fact I have just left very briefly a Council Meeting at which Deputy Secretary of State, Strobe Talbott, is updating the Ambassadors, as he does on a regular basis on the progress of his talks in recent days in Moscow with Mr Chernomyrdin and with President Ahtisaari of Finland.

And of course as you know Strobe Talbot came here directly from Bonn where yesterday he also with President Ahtisaari briefed Chancellor Schroeder. He has been updating the Council, in fact this is still going on, on his ongoing efforts to work with the Russians and to engage their continued assistance in persuading Milosevic to meet our demands and we will await the outcome of Mr Chernomyrdin's visit to Belgrade in that connection today.

Just a couple of things to brief you on finally. First of all, the Secretary General and SACEUR will be going together tomorrow to Italy to visit the NATO airmen and the NATO crews, the NATO military personnel at Aviano firstly, and then Istrana air bases and the Secretary General will be going of course to get a first-hand briefing on the day to day running of the operations, but of course also to thank, and this is the important thing, to thank the pilots on behalf of the North Atlantic Council, for the valiant efforts, at great personal risk, which is something we often overlook and in night after night, day after day, continuing our air operations.

So we will be there tomorrow, and the Secretary General will join you here at 3.00 p.m. on a live video link with SACEUR from Aviano and will give you his impressions and answer your questions. So that will be at 3.00 p.m. tomorrow.

Also next Tuesday, June 1st, we are currently anticipating the visit here of the Slovene Prime Minister at NATO Headquarters. I will give you more details as the programme for that visit develops.

Question: I would like to know if the rumours are true that the leader of UCK, Hassim Thaqi, is coming here? I would like to know also if you have any details of the speech given by Mr Talbott this morning in the Council?

Jamie Shea : Those details I think should best remain confidential. Diplomacy often works best if it remains confidential. Although, Mr Talbott, on his way out at the main entrance I am sure will answer a few questions if you happen to be there. But, as I have said, Strobe Talbott has stressed the hard work that he is doing, and the Allies are doing, to engage the Russians and to come to a common understanding as to how we are going to implement the five conditions. And that work moves ahead. It is very important.

Secondly, Mr Thaqi will make an informal visit to NATO today, but I stress it is an informal, private visit. He is not seeing the Secretary General, whose schedule is very full today, but he will be seeing some NATO delegations. Let us go to the next question.

Gyorgy Foris, Hungarian TV: In connection with the search and visit regime, have you made contact with the Romanian and Bulgarian Governments with regard to the Danube problem?

Jamie Shea : Well, yesterday, Gyorgy, you saw an announcement by the Romanian Government saying that it had tightened up its procedures to ensure that the oil embargo on the Danube, at least the extent where it goes through Romanian territory, is going to be actively policed, and we very much welcome that declaration by the Romanian Government which was a very rapid response, I must say, to the appeal that we made a few days ago to ensure as tight an embargo on the Danube as we are seeking to do in the Adriatic, and naturally we will be working with all the governments in the area for that end.

So we are very grateful. Let me also add if I may in this connection, Gyorgy, although you didn't ask me this, but I have seen in some press reports that Malta is not applying the oil embargo. I want to make it clear that Malta is, and since I believe, the 11th of May already applying the EU oil embargo and we are grateful for the solidarity of Malta.

Gyorgy: Is there any joint mission foreseen with the Bulgarians and Romanians?

Jamie Shea: No, not at this stage. Although SACEUR is due, I believe, to visit Romania in a few days, but in connection with the general co-operation between Romania and the Alliance, particularly in the field of air defence co-operation of course and the access of Romanian air space.

Philippe Rater, AFP: Si j'ai bien compris, M. Solana ne veut pas voir un reprsentant de l'UCK aujourd'hui. Est-ce que a veut dire que M. Solana refusait de recevoir....?

Jamie Shea: Non, absolument pas...

Philippe: ...il a dit qu'il allait le voir...

Jamie Shea : Non, Philippe, l'ordre du jour du Secrtaire gnral aujourd'hui est trs, trs, trs charg, mais M. Tashi va tre reu par quelques dlgations de l'OTAN mais comme je dis a s'agit d'une visit informelle, j'insiste sur le mot "informelle".

Philippe: Il voit Wesley Clark?

Jamie Shea : a je ne sais pas. Je vais demander Wesley Clark si c'est vrai mais je n'ai pas de confirmation de cela.

John: Jamie, more a request than a question. You have been telling us how airstrikes have intensified in the last few days, it would be very useful if we could get some picture on what the current status is of Serb assets in Kosovo.

Jamie Shea : You mean a kind of collateral damage assessment, John? OK, noted.

Pierre: ...mto sont encore pour l'OTAN bonnes?

Jamie Shea : J'ai ici le rapport mtorologique et tu vas me dire si jamais je passerai la tl comme l'expert, le Monsieur Mto, dans ma prochaine carrire. "Weather continues to be excellent in the area of responsibility, no cloud ceilings or precipitation are expected through Monday and conditions will remain favourable for all air operations. The long term outlook through Friday 5th June is for continued favourable conditions". How did I do? a va? J'ai pass mon audition?

Julie: We are hearing that NATO is not really happy with the Albanian training exercise that is going on near the border. Could you give us a little bit more on that? If you don't have it now, can we get some more on it this afternoon? Apparently it is obviously more provocative than it is anything else.

Jamie Shea : I am aware of that actually, I have been monitoring that as well, it is going on in the Kukes area, it is a live fire exercise. No, it is not that we are not happy about it, I want to make that absolutely clear because as you know the Albanians have faced a number of cross-border incursions by Yugoslav forces in recent days, they have deployed their army assets, including some tanks, up to the border. In some cases, as the Albanian Prime Minister, Mr Meko, made clear just a few days ago, they have fired back and driven back the Serb forces in doing so.

Albania, despite the assurances it has received from NATO, still has the right obviously, or notwithstanding let me say, the assurances it has received from NATO, still has the right, like any state, to take whichever measures it deems necessary to defend itself. Clearly there will be the necessary co-ordination with the humanitarian relief operations, as given the number of refugees in the Kukes area, but this is not something that gives us any displeasure, Albania has the right to take those measures.

And of course for our part, AFOR will continue to do what we can to help to evacuate the refugees from the border area down to at the moment the Hamula 2 camp near Dures, and that evacuation is now going on in conjunction with the UNHCR. Let me just say one thing, the only thing is because of the live firing exercise we are not at the moment using helicopters for that evacuation, but we are continuing to use trucks and so on, but the helicopters will be used when the live firing exercise has been completed.

Doug Hamilton, Reuters: I am sure you read Viktor Chernomyrdin's article. He seems to rip the last shreds of diplomatic camouflage from the idea that they can somehow bridge the gap. He is saying that what is happening in Kosovo is a domestic conflict, it seems so far from NATO's appreciation of the problem. How long do you think it will take before the Russians simply get out of the game and give up their mediation effort?

Jamie Shea : Yesterday, as you saw, there was a statement by the Russian Defence Minister, Sergeyev, making it clear that Russia was going to remain engaged. Mr. Ivanov has been also participating in the talks in Moscow, having seen the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan in Stockholm. Mr. Chernomyrdin is in Belgrade today, it is his fourth mission by the way, so clearly he is not giving up, quite the reverse, he seems more engaged than ever and we welcome that.

So, yes, I did see the article, but I see no material proof to suggest that Russia is disengaging; in fact quite the contrary, it is clear from what Strobe Talbott has been saying today that the Russians are very, very engaged and are working with us constructively to try, as I say, to come to a common understanding. There is obviously work to be done, as you would expect, but that is engaged, so obviously in all of these matters I like to study the facts.

Now I ask Ambassador Kuka to come along and take over.

Ambassador Kuka: Good morning everybody. I have a statement to make with regard to yesterday's indictment of the International Tribunal for crimes in the Former Yugoslavia. I will then give you the description of three events that have been taking place within Kosovo for the last couple of days, that once more demonstrate the intentions of the policies of Slobodan Milosevic who by now is already an indicted war criminal.

Albania agrees and strongly endorses the indictment brought yesterday by the International Tribunal for Crimes in Former Yugoslavia against Milosevic and his four associates. I tell you that this is also a feeling shared by half a million deportees Albania is hosting at this moment. This is a step in the right direction. There can be no peace without justice. The blood of tens of thousands of Kosovar Albanians killed in operations commissioned by Milosevic and his inner circle, the deliberate destruction of Kosovo, the deportation of more than 1.5 million Albanians of Kosovo are all the result of his deliberate policies. Facts are gradually emerging and whatever the efforts of Milosevic's regime to hide them, he will not be able to delete the truth.

In any case there are 1.5 million Albanian witnesses ready to testify in his trial. Milosevic is the chief architect of the genocide and the ethnic cleaning campaign in Kosovo, which is still on-going. I have warned in the other meetings with you that he will stop at nothing in order to achieve his aims. A demonstration was his interview with the United Press International last month where he puts the number of the non-Albanian population in Kosovo at 650,000. However, everybody knows that according to the Serbian census themselves, the latest one in 1989, the Albanian population constituted 90% of the overall population in Kosovo and only 10% were non-Albanians.

The Chief of Staff of his Army puts the overall number of the Albanian population in Kosovo at 800,000. Those two figures, combined with the fact that the Albanians are being stripped of their identity papers, give you a clear intention of what might happen even by the time the agreement is signed for those people to go back to Kosovo.

Milosevic is also trying to involve Albania in the conflict. There is an almost everyday pattern of shelling and sniping of Albanian villages from Serbian forces. The day before yesterday two civilians lost their lives, yesterday three people were hurt in the Albanian-Kosovo border as a result of Serb activities. Two of them were Albanian policemen, hurt by mines thrown by the Serbian Army in our territory; the third one was a colleague of yours from Chile hit by a Serbian sniper.

We think that Milosevic is also the worst enemy the Serbs themselves have. For those who doubt it, let them have a look at the way he got Yugoslavia smaller and smaller, poorer and poorer, let them see the isolation of a country that was once proud of its relations with the west. This is more than enough to demonstrate that he is trying to run his country against the

Albania strongly backs the policy and action of the Alliance and will continue to do so until the five conditions the Alliance has put are fulfilled, until Milosevic and the ideology he represents are finally defeated. The indictment against him means that he cannot count any more in the formula no winner, no loser. Milosevic should also be under no illusion. His strategy of defeating Albania through the humanitarian bomb will not succeed.

I wanted to also draw your attention in some facts that we have managed to collect from Kosovo. On 26 May in the city of Jelan a campaign of maltreatment and ethnic cleansing has started in this city, mostly the aim of the Serbian Armed Forces are the intellectuals that have remained in that city. We don't have as yet the number of those who have been killed and hurt, but we do have indications that at least 30 Kosovar intellectuals have been arrested and we know nothing about their whereabouts.

Another example, or rather information that we have received, is another action of ethnic cleansing, that the Serbs have started on 26 May in the city of Ferise. More than 400 houses in this city have been set alight, they have been set on fire, and some 20 people who happened to be in that area by that time were all burnt alive.

Another fact that I wanted to bring to your attention is information that we have received concerning massive raping in Kosovo. It regards a village very close to the city of Suva Reka, I am not going to mention the name of the village, and this event belongs to the date of 6 April, after having totally destroyed that village which is very close to Suva Reka, they have displaced the Albanian population of this village in a valley where there is a river running into that. After having displaced them from that valley to other places, they have brought again all the people to that village close to Suva Reka. Then they have segregated men from their families and then they have taken some 70 women and 115 children away. The women have been brought into a certain place within this village where they have been systematically raped.

As I told you, we have no indication where the men have gone, it is a number of approximately 100 men, but it is very disturbing because the clothes of those people have been found by those who remained alive and escaped after this raping campaign in a place close to that village. When they segregated those families, the women and children have been told that they will not see their men again. Now this group of women and children has already arrived in Albania and I think they will be a very useful source of information with regard to the investigations that cover the indictment of Milosevic and his four close associates.

Question: I was reading a piece in the New York Times just yesterday and it was mentioning in Kosovo the poisoning of wells and the destruction of crops and the rape of women and girls, only the date was not 1999, but 1989 and the victims were not ethnic Albanians but ethnic Serbs. Doesn't that indicate that this is all a little more complicated than you suggest in trying to blame the entire tragedy of Kosovo on Mr Milosevic?

Mr Kuka: You are referring to an article that appeared yesterday, describing events in 1989?

Question: Yes, don't you think that that really focuses on a problem that is much more complicated than is suggested by blaming everything on Mr Milosevic?

Mr Kuka: I think it is very clear here. We have a state which is engaged in a continuous campaign of ethnic cleansing, and if you are going back to history to those days of Albanians poisoning the wells of the Serbs and destroying their historical monuments and raping the Serbs, the Serbs have been making this case since after Tito's death I believe, so the one that has written that article couldn't have even gone deeper into history.

But if you want my opinion on that I can tell you something. Go and ask the Serbs in Kosovo, go and ask the religious people in Kosovo themselves, they know the history and they know who has defended their sacred places, even during the time of the Ottoman invasion of Kosovo, and those have been Albanians. I wonder if you have ever heard of any single case of those sacred places being hurt or attacked or destroyed by the Albanians. Not only today in 1999 or l981, or whatever date you might have in mind. I wonder where this information comes to the gentlemen who has written that article.

Question: How do you think the politics of Mr Milosevic originated then? Did he just spring from nowhere or how is it that people support him and people vote for him?

Mr Kuka: My understanding is that he is a production of a very sad history of the Serbian people combined with the worst brand of communism and nationalism. That is my understanding of this.

Question: And you don't think that sad history will have to be addressed in order to remove the root cause of Milosevicism?

Mr Kuka: It's not up to me to address history. I simply hope the Serbs will not remember the present events as another case when they were defeated and will again celebrate the defeat that they have suffered. That is my hope at least.

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