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Updated: 27-Mar-2003 Transcripts

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Press Briefing

held on 12 February 2003
at the NATO Press Centre in Skopje

Statement by Craig Ratcliff:
Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to today’s press conference. Obviously, a small crowd, other important things going on today. Obviously, we have got the visit with the Minister of Foreign Affairs over at “Gazela” this afternoon. Certainly we will wait from here and go up there. Anybody in attendance today need a ride…Nobody? OK.

A lot of rumours this week again about proposed activities and actions in the future. I think the other people on stage have other things to say on that, but suffice it to say, despite rumours to the contrary, the LM teams or liaison monitoring teams of the NATO contingent out in the former crisis area continue to routinely patrol in the Tetovo area and the outlying villages, despite what some rumours have been saying. Continue to support the legal institutions in their fight against corruption and crime and armed groups and other suspicious characters out in the former crisis areas. I certainly applaud the Ministry of Interior’s recent actions to fight crime and corruption, and certainly I fully support the minister’s comments early this week, and the Prime Minister’s comments on their campaign against crime and corruption.
I think tomorrow there is a visit to Pristina sponsored by the Ministry of Defence along with the group going up there for a visit by the minister. I think they have a bus scheduled, we will provide an escort officer to go on that bus with you guys, if anybody from here is going, to facilitate a smooth transition to Kosovo. I think, Irina you asked me yesterday about “Rapid Guardian”. I think they are having a close up conference Tuesday, at their regular press conference. It is actually on Saturday, but they will do the thing on Tuesday, and if anybody is interested in going, we will try to work something to get you up there as well.

OK, I guess I will end up with a question before I pass it to Wolfgang. Does anybody shop at the big Vero? Wednesday and Thursday, to be exact. OK, well, I was just curious.

Wolfgang, the floor is yours.

Statement by Wolfgang Greven:

Thank you. The OSCE is organising training on strategic planning for six municipalities in the Kicevo valley on Friday and Saturday in Ohrid. The seminar, a joint collaboration with the Canadian Urban Institute and their partner organisation in Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina, is focused on strategic planning principles and sharing practical experiences. Thirty participants comprised of mayors, municipal officials and representatives of relevant ministries will take part in the two-day training sponsored by OSCE, Canadian International Development Agency and the Royal Norwegian Government.

The objectives of this two-day workshop are to share experiences and knowledge in regional development and inter-municipal cooperation between Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Canada; develop an understanding of the shared issues, challenges and opportunities facing municipalities in the Kicevo region; and finally, develop a joint action plan for pursuing a cooperative municipal project.

And I must say that one of the lecturers, as the most interesting person you maybe interested in as well, is Mr. Selim Beslagic, former mayor of Tuzla and Nobel Peace Prize nominee.

So, what we would like to do is give media an opportunity to meet all these people at the seminar by inviting you for lunch on Saturday, in between 12:00 and 13:30 hrs in Ohrid. We will give out a media advisory this afternoon, to give you the exact location and where it takes place. I really would appreciate if you would give us an answer, so we can do a proper planning, that you really get what you want.

Finally, a reminder, I guess you already got the invitation or you heard about it – tomorrow at 11 o’clock, the new course at the Police Academy will be opened by the Minister of Interior. That takes place at 11 o’clock, as I said, at the Police Academy. That is all I have.

Statement by Irena Gjuzelova:
I just want to make a couple of comments. One is about the meeting, which is scheduled for later this week, among the signatories of the Framework Agreement. And the other one is about the recent arrest of suspected criminals involved in organised crime.

We look forward to the meeting which is scheduled for later on this week among the signatories of the Framework Agreement and welcome the decision of all the signatories to take part. The meeting will give the Government the opportunity to present its Action Plan to all the signatories. We think that the Action Plan will provide an excellent basis for further discussion and we hope that it will also stimulate discussion on the priority for the submission of laws to parliament beyond the timelines that are set down in the Action Plan. Let me just clarify that point a little bit more. The Action Plan separates the laws that are not related to the decentralisation process and says that they should be presented and adopted by Parliament before the summer recess. We hope that the participants will make use of the meeting to give more precise priorities and a more precise timeline for these laws.
On another issue regarding security, as you know, the Macedonian police last week arrested two suspected criminals in Tetovo and over the weekend arrested another suspect. The fight against organised crime is one of the main priorities for the EU, and these arrests show that the police is serious about tackling organised crime, human and drug trafficking. The arrests, which were also carried out in a very professional manner, are also a step forward in the return of rule of law. That is all.

Ratcliff:
Subject to any questions you might have at this time.

Question 1:
A question for Mr. Ratcliff. You said that the liaison teams are still working on the ground and continue with routine patrols in the crisis regions, and that they are supporting the legal institutions in the search for suspicious characters, as you said. So, do you say that there are suspicious persons and movements in the country?

Ratcliff:
No, I did not say that, did I? They are out there. Anything we find that affect the security and stability, we report to legal institutions so that they can make a firm assessment and truthful assessment of threats that maybe out there in the area. Tino, you should know that since last spring, probably almost a year ago, we have seen very little that constitute any serious stuff out there in the former crisis area. It had been pretty stable, for the most part.
Now the other Tino.

Question 2:
A list of questions. First, Craig, can you tell us what is the meeting today with the Foreign Minister, does she need a new pair of shoes in “Gazela”?

Ratcliff:
Well, you know, “Gazela” has been struggling for business, probably they have a sale going on. I think probably about two months ago, the Minister and the NATO Headquarters commander with Ambassador Biegman had a conversation about a visit to “Gazela”. She was very interested in seeing the NATO operations. So, she is visiting the commander, will get a tour of “Gazela”, they are going to give her a little back brief on the NATO operations in support of the Government, and then I think there is a formal lunch set up after this. So, I guess that is an opportunity to explain what we do and she gets a better grasp and understanding of how we fully support.

Journalist:
Second question. There have been many articles that mention that the Iraqi policy gap between the NATO allies could possibly affect the European forces’ deployment in the country. Is that true or not?
Ratcliff: I think both of us have a comment on that, Tino. First and foremost, it has never come up in discussion at NATO recently. We have always felt that there would never be a gap in security during the normal transition from NATO to EU, nor do we see anything that is being discussed currently as having an effect on the operations in the Balkans.

Gjuzelova:
Iraq is one thing, the Balkans is another. All international organisations, all major powers are in agreement about the policy that has been pursued in the Balkans. Disagreements over possible policy or lines to take over the Middle East are not reflected in the Balkans. The Macedonian Government has requested continuing international security presence in Macedonia, and the technical details of the handover from NATO to the EU are ongoing. As you know, last week NATO appointed its deputy SACEUR to be the operational commander. Preparations are just continuing.

Journalist:
Craig, can you deny that the United States could veto the European forces deployment in the country as punishment to France and Germany?

Ratcliff:
As a reminder, Tino, I am the spokesperson for NATO, not for the US.

Journalist:
I am asking you like a NATO Spokesperson.

Ratcliff: I know, but that is an issue…You ask could the US do it and would they do it? That is strictly a question to the US mission to the NATO in Brussels and that is an issue you would have to address to them. So, your question is correct. Could they? Yes. Would they? I do not know. You got to focus on the US and talk to the embassy and see what they might say.
Journalist: And the last question for the moment. The Prime Minister hinted last night in an interview that he could not exclude violent actions in the former crisis areas. What is your comment?

Ratcliff:
It is an appropriate question as well. Can you exclude it? No. But you could argue that there is violent activity today, with the vandalism in the homes, criminal activity with the murders…those are all violent acts. So, I think you are absolutely correct, and he was correct – you cannot exclude the possibility of more violent acts being committed. Are you asking it that will grow into a more violent…

Journalist:
I am asking in the context of an escalation of the conflict, having in mind that there is a possible eruption of conflicts, eruption of discontent with what has been done with the Ohrid Agreement, whether it is possible to renew the Ohrid Agreement with some new demands...

Ratcliff:
Everybody is asking that question, could it grow into something bigger? You know, there is always a potential for something, but do we see that potential happening here, do we see it growing into something much larger? No. It remains very stable and very calm, but we have always said it is fragile at times. So, you know, the police and the army have their hands full with the criminal groups, but we do not see that growing into something much larger.

Gjuzelova:
Just to add, really, and support Craig’s comments. Several incidents do not add up to a war, several incidents do not add up to anything you could call an offensive.

Greven:
And, if I may add, at least to our information, what we see at the moment, what is showing up as violence has only criminal background, we cannot see that there is any political support from which side ever for what may happen or what happens from time to time.

Gjuzelova:
And these groups are small and they are not united. And furthermore and most importantly, they do not enjoy the support of the local population. Furthermore, there is nothing new about them. There were rumours of an imminent spring offensive last year, and nothing happened. So, again just to repeat, several incidents do not add up to an offensive. As far as the Framework Agreement is concerned, an agreement already exists that was reached in August 2001. Since then a lot of work has been done to implement it, to interpret it, and both the Government and all the signatories are party to this. I think the one agreement is that there is no rewriting of the Framework Agreement, that is it, there is only one Framework Agreement.

Question 3:
A question for Irena. The law on passport is once again on the table for political negotiations. Mr. Le Roy at the time said that an agreement has already been reached and that the languages of the ethnic communities would be used on the third page of the passport and that there would be no other model. So, what is your comment now about this new development?

Gjuzelova:
Just a little comment, it was not Le Roy who said that. The basic principle behind all of these discussions is that a consensus agreement is found among all the signatories. That was the whole idea behind the Framework Agreement. Basically, if there is no consensus, the outcome is not as solid, it will not necessarily stick, so therefore you have to have everybody behind the agreement.

There clearly wasn’t a consensus. I mean, you read the newswires. If you just go back to May, June, you will see clearly that DPA say one thing and the other parties are saying another thing. I mean, clearly, there was not a consensus.

Ratcliff: Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you very much for attending. Be careful out with the snow.