|Updated: 29 March 1999||Press Conferences|
29 Mar. 1999
by NATO Spokesman, Jamie Shea
The current situation: President Milosovic has adopted what can only be described as a siege mentaility. He believes he can "realign his ethnic problems" in one week and that NATO unity will crack in that same period. In Kosovo, he continues his violence against Kosovar Albanians.
Helicopters are being used against the civil population. Paramilitaries enter towns and villages and terrify the people; they are followed by the FRY military and police who give an official slant to these activities and cynically issue leaflets stating that now it is safe to leave the town or village. I can cite Pristina as such an example of this ethnic cleansing. The main outflow of refugees is towards Montenegro and Albania.
This graphic will give you an indication of some of the actual incidents that have taken place to date and I'll pause a minute while you take some of it in. If you need to look at it closer, I am sure there will be a hand-out at the end. Additionally, seven villages were set on fire between Pec and Klina. Three villages west of Pristina were also burning. More examples of the 'Scorched Earth' policy to discourage refugee returns.
I received this next inject just before coming to the stage.
Reliable sources report that Fehmi Agani, a member of the Kosova Albanian Delegation at Rambouillet, principle Rugova advisor and peace negotiator over much of the past year, was executed on Sunday sometime after he attended the funeral of Bajram Kelmendi. Four other prominent ethnic albanians were reportedly executed on Sunday, including Editor-in-Chief of Koha Ditore, Baton Haxhiu.
Serb Police ordered ethnic Albanians on Sunday to leave Pec by Monday or be slaughtered. On Saturday night, Serbian forces rounded up Albanian men throughout Pec and marched them off in an unknown direction.
Looking at our own air operations against targets in the FRY and Kosovo, these are the areas in which last night's targets were located. Weapons were launched or dropped with considerable success. We suffered no aircraft losses and while we did not shoot down any FRY aircraft, we hit one MiG 21 and one Galeb and some MUP helicopters on the ground. We have also located the second MiG that was shot down 2 nights ago - it is lying in a minefield 15 miles south west of the town of Bijeljina on the federation side of the zone of separation between RS and the Federation, and we have sent technical experts to examine it.
Most significantly we have begun our operations against field forces in Kosovo. Major attacks last night took place at Donja Semanja, where we struck a deployed combat group - the 243rd which participated in ethnic cleansing and other deplorable activities in south Kosovo.
Finally, we have always stated that our objectives have been to signal NATO resolve and unity, coerce the FRY to cease hostile action and withdraw VJ and MUP forces from Kosovo and to restart negotiations. Those remain our objectives.
Jamie, can I hand over to you please.
I mentioned yesterday the figure of over half a million who have been displaced since the beginning of the current fighting a year ago. This is an absolutely horrendous figure and it is going up unfortunately all the time. Now at the same time as these refugees come out they are able to tell us what is happening. One thing that is particularly disturbing is that cars are being asked to pay between 1000 DM - or rather the occupants of the cars - before they are allowed to cross the border. Refugees entering Albania are being stripped by the Serb border forces of their passports, their ID cards, their papers. It's almost as if their identities are being cancelled out, as if they are being declared non-persons and of course that makes any subsequent effort to return to Yugoslavia much more difficult.
But at least I think we see from everything that is happening now, and this is no longer speculation, this is now from all of what these refugees are telling us, an established fact, that we clearly see who is the victim and who is the victimiser in this very difficult situation. We have an impression from the current sweep operations of the Yugoslav Forces in Kosovo that there is a campaign underway to ethnically re-engineer the make-up of Kosovo, particularly in the northern and central parts of that province, to reshape the political map of Kosovo, so that Milosovic later on would hope to achieve a negotiated solution more favourable to Belgrade and in this effort we have reports that whole towns and villages, including the city of Pec, have now been substantially destroyed.
Together with this strategy of ethnic cleansing, I think that these terms are now wholly appropriate, we see an effort to destabilise neighbouring countries by flooding them with refugees that their economic and social structures are not well equipped to handle at the moment. Obviously one of the most urgent things for all of the international community, including the NATO countries, is to mobilize all our resources to try to help Albania, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and other countries in the forefront receiving these refugees to help them with money, to help them with supplies, whatever is necessary.
Yesterday evening the Secretary General spoke to Madam Ogetir, the Head of the UNHCR, and assured her that all of the resources of our Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre have been activated to coordinate the assistance of NATO to the UNHCR and I think you know already that in just a few moments - or at least in an hour - Emma Bonino, the EU Commissioner who handles humanitarian issues, will be coming in to see the Secretary General to discuss the very grave situation and they will be here at around a quarter to five to report to you at a short Press Conference.
I would like to return to the points that I made yesterday and to some of the questions that I had about whether this appalling humanitarian situation is a response to NATO action or is something that was planned well beforehand. And I would like to recall in this respect the agreement last October 25th between NATO and President Milosovic, when as you recall Milosovic promised to return his forces in Kosovo to the levels that they were at in March 1998, to put them back in their barracks, including the special police, to have only three companies actually deployed outside the barracks and to respect a ceasefire. But already by December there was mounting evidence that the Yugoslav army unit in Kosovo were not in their barracks, but were going back in to the field as well as the special police and that this agreement was being violated and we already had, as you know, in December an outbreak of fighting in the north around the town of Podujevo.
Then, over the next few weeks we have seen a gradual augmentation of the number of forces operating outside their barracks in the field. We have seen that the special police have received special armaments which are not normally associated with police duties. We have seen more forces being taken south and positioned on the border of the province of Kosovo. We have seen this winter many live fire field training exercises. In fact the exercises of the Yugoslav armed forces this winter have predominantly taken place in Kosovo and not elsewhere in the FRY and therefore to our eyes all of these activities clearly indicate a hostile intention towards the Kosovor Albanian community. I cannot think of any other explanation. And therefore once again I would stress that the current campaign is not a spontaneous outburst following NATO's operations. It looks much more like a planned, conceived and executed new campaign against the civil population which was being finalised even as Milutinovic and the other members of the Yugoslav Delegation were arriving in Rambouillet for the peace negotiations and it started immediately the talks in Rambouillet concluded.
Moreover, I think if we look at President Milosovic's record as an ethnic cleanser we see that he has been involved in this activity for some time already and well before the Kosovo crisis began. Particularly in Croatia and Bosnia where we have seen the same systematic efforts to create mono-ethnic territories by permanently changing the identities of towns and villages. Unfortunately we are seeing the same again and it's NATO's conviction and we have seen this before in our experience in Bosnia that the only time President Milosovic has stopped doing this has been when he has met with a combination of firm diplomacy and a readiness of the international community to use force as a last resort. It is true that President Milosovic is very tenacious, so are we.
Finally, are we being effective, is the mission working? Yes, we are being effective, yes the mission is working. This is a methodical, systematic and progressive air campaign to strip the Serb leadership bare of their military capabilities. We have begun by neutralising the integrated air defence system, taking out the key nodes, the brain of that system that allow it to operate. We are now, as David Wilby told you, targeting the Serb military machine in Kosovo. President Milosovic is beginning to run out of options and as the days go by he will have less and less options, so we are having an impact. We're on plan, on timetable and we're on target and we are going in the next few days to progressively tighten the noose around the Serb war machine in Kosovo. So thank you and now, as always we will take as many questions as time permits, Freddy Bonnart please...
Freddy Bonnart: Has there been any sign of a reaction by the air defence forces to the present attacks, which are low flying I presume, and therefore more vulnerable, and if not can you give any interpretation of that?
Air Commodore Wilby: I can say that last night we actually suffered less response from the air defence system than we have on previous nights. I can give you no more that that. And my deduction remains the same as I gave you a couple of days ago, that I would think that our efforts are working and it's beginning to show in the air defence system not always being able to come up plus the fact that we do go in with very good co-ordinated packages designed to help us penetrate and to carry out our air attacks.
Jamie Shea: Yes, I've seen like you the reports that Prime Minister Primakov may be undertaking a mission to Belgrade tomorrow. If Prime Minister Primakov and the Russians can go to Belgrade and convince President Milosevic to see reason and to stop the killing in Kosovo, to take his forces back to where they should be inside their barracks, to agree to a ceasefire and then to agree to start political negotiations on the basis of the Rambouillet peace plan, we would welcome that, but those are the objectives of the international community and I don't think it makes any sense for a Russian mission to go to Belgrade if it is not fully intending to tell Milosevic that those are the things that he has to do. But if they can do that, if they can be successful, we would welcome that.
Patricia Kelly: Jamie can you explain how you intend to negotiate, if that happens, with President Milosevic when you're intending to indict him for war crimes?
Jamie Shea: Well, I haven't commented on any intention of indicting President Milosevic for war crimes, Patricia, that doesn't depend on us, it depends on Justice Arbour and her colleagues at the International Tribunal in The Hague.
Patricia Kelly: But everybody's made it very clear in all the capitals that you consider that he's responsible and therefore is likely to be indicted, so how can the international community then negotiate with him?
Jamie Shea: Well, all I can say is for the moment President Milosevic is the leader of his country and therefore it's his signature which has to appear on an agreement so that we can move Kosovo towards autonomy. Therefore, of course he, or at least his representatives, are the people who have to be at the negotiating table, that's all I can say for the moment. But our objective remains to have a negotiated political settlement that's why we're using force, not as an alternative to a negotiated settlement because it isn't an alternative but as the only thing that we now see as a possible way of getting the political process back on track, given the Serb stonewalling in Paris at the end of the last round of negotations.
Mark Laity, BBC: Two questions, one specifically to David Wilby and whoever wants to pick up the other one. Given the urgency of the mission which you are outlining, are you in a position to go to daylight attacks because you have been attacking the air defences to break them down, just so that you can operate more freely? And secondly, more generally, for reasons which you fully explain you were not able to attack the forces in Kosovo at the beginning, you focussed on other targets. The Serbs in that sense have had a very big head start, you are now playing catch-up, are you now in a position where you can actually feel confident that you can complete your mission before they complete theirs?
Air Commodore Wilby: Two very good questions. As to daylight attacks, we have already started daylight attacks in one way, shape or form and these attacks will continue to go round the clock, around the full clock, to make sure that we get our pressure on. In terms of 'can we catch up?', we will have to catch up, we are throwing as much effort as we can into it. I can assure you that every military person in the NATO chain is very well aware of the urgency and we are moving heaven and earth to get up to speed and get into there and to address the problem as quickly as we can.
Jamie Shea: Yes, Mark, it's a sad reality that it's easier for people to commit crimes than it's easier for the international community to apprehend criminals, that's a fact of life, otherwise we would live in a crime-free world, but that is not a reason for doubting the need or the efficiency of those that go after criminals and let me in that respect again say that any member of the Yugoslav armed forces, special police forces or paramilitary forces against whom there are indications of war crimes activities will be liable to indictment by the International Tribunal and to spend a great number of his remaining years in prison and I hope that they will think about that in the current situation.
Luc Rosenzweig, Le Monde: Je parle en franais, je m'excuse, mais je peux parler en anglais mais je prfre parler en franais.
Jamie Shea: Luc, il n'y a aucun problme vous avez le choix de votre langue.
Jamie Shea: As you know Luc we are an Alliance of 19 free, democratic countries and each minister of our governments describes the situation as he or she sees it, that is their right. I have used the terms that I have used because they are the terms which I think are broadly accepted in the Alliance. But clearly what we are seeing is a situation which drives us to more dramatic language simply to be able to capture the deteriorating reality of what is happpening on the ground.
Bill Drozdiak, Washington Post: Jamie, have the Allies responded to General Clarks request for many more aircraft in order to carry out a more intensified campaign? Secondly for Air Commodore Wilby, have the air defences been degraded sufficiently so that the Allies can introduce tank busting aircraft, such as the Warthog and Apache helicopters, to go after the forces on the ground. Can you confirm that they have been used?
Jamie Shea: Well, Bill, on the first point, although I think that David will probably have a more expert information on that to give you, we saw yesterday the two countries, the US and the UK announce that they were sending further aircraft. Other countries I am certain will be doing that in the next few days simply because in a rolling air campaign such as this there is of course the need not only to have further specialized aircaraft but also rotation, as pilots have rested and other aircraft replace them and I know although David will obviously comment in greater detail SACEUR has an operational plan to provide for reinforcements and every Ally is totally committed to this operatrion and we'll have whatever resources we need to do the job.
Air Commodore Wilby: Let me pick up the first part of that question and really it's one that's been asked quite regularly over the past couple of days and I keep trying to give you a balanced answer on that first of all. Yes the reinforcements are coming and we are getting some very good aircraft and support aircraft as well to help us to do our job. Secondly as to the efficacy of the air defence we have to degraded it hard, there's no doubt in our minds that it is shaky, I'm not saying it's down I'm not saying it's a totally neutralized threat, there will always be a threat from that air defence but we have got very capable aircraft and we will prosecute the job that we need to do to get the job done.
Journalist: Jamie you said that working is on time, on plan, are you saying that NATO is exactly today where you expected NATO to be and does it means that all calculations have been correct, beside the bad weather?
Jamie Shea: We agreed that we would start with the air defence system no matter how anxious we were to start moving against those targets on the ground which of course are responsible for the current mayhem. We knew from the word go that we had to first take out the integrated air defence system, that is the basis of being able to conduct effective operations over Kosovo. As David has pointed out we're well on the way to doing that and you've seen already that phase two targets are being hit now. You saw yesterday that two MUP - that's special police - headquarters in two cities were very severely damaged indeed. That's only the beginning, there were a large number of so-called phase two targets that we went after yesterday. Now I know that also in this connection you've seen reports of bad weather and it's true that the weather hasn't been ideal, but the Chairman of the Military Committee when briefing Ambassadors earlier today made it clear that we can drop ordnance in all weathers, and if NATO aircraft sometimes return to base not having dropped their weapons it's not because of bad weather which is sometimes assumed to be the case, it's simply because they cannot be certain of hitting the target accurately, and again I stress that avoiding civilian casualties, avoiding collateral damage, is one of the uppermost factors that we have in mind.
Air Commodore Wilby: Let me just pick up one thing in there from a military perspective. First of all we always said there was no time line. Ideally we would like to have been into phase two as soon as possible, obviously we know where the problem is, it's on the ground, and we want to address that problem. If we could have addressed the air defence system in one night then we would have been there far quicker. We couldn't do that, we're in the state where we're going in and we are addressing those problems and we will do that as quickly as we can.
Doug Hamilton, Reuters: You told us a moment ago of the summary executions of two men who spoke up for their people and you've spoken of going after criminals Is it correect that SACEUR was denied permission to attack the Interior Ministry headquarters in Belgrade, which presumbably is where they are masterminding this campaign?
Air Commodore Wilby: I don't think that's a question that I would like to address today.
Albanian TV: Jamie, do you have contact with the prosecutor of Louise Arbour, because before she was denied to go into Kosovo for these war crimes, now she's allowed to go into Albania to collect all the evidence and into Macedonia. Second question: do you have contact with Emma Bonino because we just heard five minutes ago from Pristina that situation of humanitarian food is disaster?
Jamie Shea: Well on the second point ,as you know, Emma Bonino is coming in a few moments and of course what we can do rapidly as NATO countries, with also NATO as such helping to move supplies to Albania, is one of the top priorities at the moment and I hope to be able to have more to say on that subject as the hours progress. With regard to Justice Arbour, yes, she has been here many times, we have been to the International Tribunal many times, we have very, very close contacts, we worked together in Bosnia, as you know, extremely closely, and I must add with ever better results in terms of the number of war criminals - 14 - that SFOR has detained in Bosnia and we're not going to stop until every single one is in The Hague and although President Milosevic has tried to play tricks by refusing Justice Arbour a visa, she is gathering evidence and if Milosevic believes that by denying Justice Arbour a visa he is somehow going to protect those people on his territory who have committed those crimes, he's mistaken. Sooner or later they will be in The Hague. That's the best assurance I can give you.
Greg Palcott, Fox News: Jamie, lurking in the background however is the possibility that ground troops, combat ground troops, might have to be introduced. Secretary General Solana last night on Spanish TV refuesed to speculate about the future, left that open, there have also been some reports over night about new equipment being introduced to the troops in Macedonia, Bosnia, and new orders. Is there any, at least early, contingency plans for the possibility that you might need to get combat troops in there to get the job finished in Kosovo?
Jamie Shea: Greg, not for the time being. We are confident and our military commanders are confident that provided we continue to show the unity and the resolution to keep going we will have, on a cumulative basis, more and more effective results on the actual fighting in Kosovo itself. It's not proven by the way that by sending in the ground force you could immediately improve the situation either. We are confident that with our air assets we can make a decisive difference. Our policy is still the same, that ground troops will be sent when, and only when, there is an effective peace agreement.
Greg Palcott: Not even preliminary planning?
Jamie Shea: We have done in the Alliance last October some preliminary planning, I mean we are not only an implementing organisation but we are a planning organisation and therefore I think you would be rather surprised if I told you that we didn't have a plan for every contingency, so yes we've done some detailed planning, but the policy of NATO is for the time being that troops will go only as part of a peacekeeping mission after a political agreement has been conducted, and by the way I don't want to suggest that we've given up that objective, we haven't, that is still the objective. Now, regarding our forces in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, they have been given a certain amount of equipment in terms of counter battery radar systems so that they can better protect themselves if they are fired on, which I hope will not, and do not expect to, happen. I think that would be a foolhardy thing to do, and I've said that already, and secondly, they have been given some air defence systems as well because obviously (rest inaudible).
(Next question and beginning of Jamie's reply inaudible) from the briefing this morning that the situation in the FYROM is calm and that is heartening.
Journalist: M. Shea, on parle d'un plan de Milosevic prpar en dtail par l'acadmie serbe sur la division de Kosovo. Le mme scnario que Bosnie (inaudible) de l'OTAN et la communaut internationale ce plan de la division, partition de Kosovo? Et comment vous pouvez empcher ce plan en tenant compte du nettoyage ethnique maintenant en cours? Jamie Shea: Well, I can't comment on whether President Milosevic is planning to partition Kosovo, I think we've seen elsewhere in that area and elsewhere in the world that partitions are rarely successful for long term stability, in fact quite the reverse. Certainly what we are doing at the moment is not only designed of course to avert a humanitarian catastrophe - our primary aim - but to create the dynamics which have not been there, unfortunately, in the past months, for a political solution to Kosovo which would guarantee that area autonomy. Now this worked until 1989 - I'm not saying it was perfect - but I think we all agree that the situation, when the Kosovar Albanians had autonomy, both for them and also for Yugoslavia as a whole, was infinitely better than what we have now. The fact is in Europe today there is no scope for reengineering borders, this rarely solves problems, it simply creates many new problems, so we do not condone that in any way.
John Dahlberg, LA Times: Given the reluctance or the lack of plans which you have spoken of so far to commit ground troops, is NATO considering, given the magnitude of the suffering going on in Kosovo, giving arms to the Kosovo Albanians, and if not why not? It's one thing to prosecute war criminals, but wouldn't it be better to prevent the crimes?
Jamie Shea: Well, John I agree with you that this an important moral issue, but I think there are some practical considerations. The first one is that there is an UN arms embargo vis--vis Yugoslavia and that has to be respected. Secondly, irrespective of the debate, the moral debate, on this question, given the urgency of the situation on the ground and the time that it would take even if this policy were the right one, to send weapons to the KLA, which often require trainers and so on, I very much doubt given the rapid hour by hour deterioration of the situation that such a thing would have any significant impact. The only thing that's going to have a significant impact is those NATO aircraft, so I think that what we have to do is create the conditions to make those aircraft as effective as possible because there is no alternative salvation for the Albanians at the moment.
Norwegian News Agency, NTB: Do you have nay more information of Yugoslav soldiers using civilians as human shields and does this affect in any way the way you conduct your operations targeting the ground targets in Kosovo?
Air Commodore Wilby: I'll give you the same answer I gave yesterday: that we have no concrete evidence of human shields, and 'yes' if human shields were placed around our targets we'd have to think very carefully about our operations.
NTV, Turkish TV: Jamie, il y avait dans un journal franais il y a quelques jours un papier disant que avant de bombarder une industrie militaire, une fabrique militaire, vous avez prvenu les gens pour qu'on vide les civils. Est-ce que c'est vrai? Quel est le bilan des dommages quand vous bombardez les quartiers gnraux serbes? Est-ce qu'on a un petit peu un information concernant les bilans du nombre de morts, de blesss, des militaires serbs?
Jamie Shea: If I may answer that question, although I think David will have something to say on that - on do we inform civilians in advance. You saw a day ago on Serb television in about a nano second after the F117 A crashed, pictures of the burning wreckage on TV, but we haven't seen on the same television images of large numbers of civilian casualties or damage to civilian property. It's a controlled society, no free press, no journalists are allowed - at least free journalists - but nonetheless I believe that if there were evidence of NATO having caused major civilian casualties you would be the first ot know about it, in nano seconds, so that's my remark on that one. As to the first part of your question, as we are attacking exclusively military targets, and taking every precaution - and I think we have demonstrated this in the last few days - to be certain of attacking those targets only when we are convinced we can minimize the civilian damage, then I don't believe there is a need for us to warn civilians in advance, but, David, from a military perspective, do you have anything to add there?
Air Commodore Wilby: Not really. It's fairly obvious I'm afraid in my profession you don't expect an invitation and you don't expect to send a calling card to say that your're coming. However, most of the operations that have taken place so far against those installations have been at night and at night we don't expect the places to be fully manned. I iterated to you the other day about some of the problems of going for headquarters once people are in firing and field conditions and that is you leave your headquarters and go to dispersed operations, so we are fairly confident that the casualties that we are inflicting are incredibly small and they are planned for in our pre-planning.