Updated: 15-Feb-2001 NATO Press Releases

PR (2001) 020

15 Feb. 2001

Statement by the Secretary General

Today North Atlantic Council held a very useful, and indeed historic, meeting with Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Covic and Yugoslav Foreign Minister Svilanovic. Dr Covic briefed NATO on his proposals for a long-term solution to the problems of Southern Serbia.

NATO strongly welcomes the initiative that has been taken by Belgrade, even though the proposals themselves raise many questions. It is a significant break with the past. The fact is that these proposals are a constructive and encouraging basis for negotiation. We call on the ethnic Albanian community in southern Serbia to enter into a dialogue with Belgrade to build a balanced, long term settlement.

But let me be clear that this is indeed just a beginning. These proposals must not be seen or used as an ultimatum, and indeed Dr Covic and Dr Svilanovic assured us that they do not see their proposals in this way. NATO strongly opposes any effort to resolve the problems of the region through violence or so-called "anti-terrorist" operations.

Equally, NATO condemns, without reservation, the violence of those extremist groups in southern Serbia who are seeking to undermine what I believe are real prospects for peace. The local ethnic Albanians must take this chance for dialogue. Milosevic is gone and everyone must seize the new opportunities his departure has opened. The only basis for long term peace and stability is something that is negotiated and agreed by all sides.

The Belgrade proposals are complex and will require a great deal of study. No one should underestimate the difficulties involved and we must be realistic about how long it will take to reach a solution. The problems of forty years cannot be solved in four months.

But it is important to start now. The Yugoslav and Serbian authorities should implement confidence building measures immediately, without preconditions. They could start by removing from southern Serbia the Pristina Corps - those military forces involved in the operations in Kosovo in 1998 and 1999. The presence of those who have previously been involved in ethnic cleansing is a clear obstacle to peaceful reconciliation. Integration of ethnic Albanians into political, administrative and social structures, and local police -- as well as the reform of security forces in the area - should begin right away. Dr Covic and Dr Svilanovic made clear in their meetings today that they are committed to moving ahead rapidly with such confidence-building measures.

Part of the plan calls for changes to the Ground Safety Zone on the boundary between Kosovo and southern Serbia. NATO is prepared to consider such changes if it will not create a vacuum or lead to new fighting, and is part of a settlement to the problems in the region. Premature changes, however, carry the risk of only making matters worse.

I'd like to close by also drawing attention to the very fact of this meeting. A few weeks ago I met with Foreign Minister Svilanovic, and today we welcome him back, along with Deputy Prime Minister Covic. We have come a very long way in a very short time. We have already created a constructive and sensible relationship, and I feel this is just the beginning. I made clear to Dr Covic and Dr Svilanovic that NATO wants very much to open direct working-level channels of communication with Belgrade in order to follow-up the dialogue that they have initiated in their meetings here in Brussels.

NATO became involved in the Balkans to stop the bloodshed and help lay a basis for peace. This remains our fundamental objective and we are in no way altering our commitment to the security of Kosovo and all its people. After all, KFOR and SFOR still have 60,000 troops in the region.

But there is now a new mood in Belgrade. Today's meeting is a part of that, and it offers hope for a rising stability that can benefit all parts of the Balkans. Let me repeat what I have said at the outset: NATO welcomes this initiative. We must all seize this opportunity, after so much conflict, to create a new era of peace. The Yugoslav and Serbian governments have shown that they are prepared to do so, and NATO, for its part, is also prepared to do whatever it can.

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