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Updated: 27-Mar-2003 Transcripts

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Press Briefing

held on 19 February 2003
at the NATO Press Centre in Skopje

Statement by Craig Ratcliff:

Hopefully it will be quick today, Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to today’s press conference. Sometimes I think that it is just as painful for you as it is for us. Actually, I think that there is very little to say today that has not been said on a couple of occasions last week. Obviously, there was a joint press statement yesterday concerning recent events and of course the obvious thing to say today is that we are all back to chasing rumours again. Obviously about the four cycles in the year, whether it is a winter, whether it is a spring, summer or fall offensive or if we come up with something in between. I think the rumour we were chasing yesterday was Men in Black stopping people on the roads in the Tetovo area again. I think that everybody has been chasing that rumour for almost a year now. So, suffice to say to the public and of course to you today, we need to maintain some sort of relativity to rumours and speculations, it is not meant to chastise you or to lecture you, you guys are very competent professionals. It is really for the people, some people get nervous and anxious when a rumour spreads like wall fire. The reason why I say this is that we work very hard to chase those things down, the liaison monitoring teams are out there, they go out, they try to find, confirm, search, look for things that are suspicious, anything that might affect stability, so with all the statements from the MOD, the NATO Ambassador and everybody else, security is fine, we are chasing down rumours and we are still watching things. Think I need to say, earlier this week, I think the EU ground forces commander was here, he was here on a coordination visit, getting information from NATO Headquarters, talking about transition, it is moving forward, we are all very pleased with the process, obviously there will be no security vacuum and the level of professionalism and expertise will be maintained. We had some very good discussions and again we are very pleased with the process. I have two more points, I think the other representatives on stage appreciate Sitel showing the mock press conference of the international community on Saturday night., we support the police and commend them on their professionalism so much I suppose, it is not a surprise that I was a cop. Although, I must have put on a little bit of weight, so I appreciate that, also from me, before you ask the question, I had raisin brand this morning for breakfast…

Statement by Wolfgang Greven:

You should have told me before that you were a cop and maybe my behaviour towards you would be different. I like these press conferences, all these secrets we learn about Craig, it is really great, so maybe I will be able one of these days to write your biography. OK, dobar den, we have two points today, the rule of law unit of OSCE, is financing the first eight editions of a new monthly magazine called ‘Legitima’ published by the domestic non-profit organization Jurist and Partner. The first edition in Macedonian language will be distributed Friday via Dnevnik and in Albanian language on Monday via Fakti. The magazine is free of charge, it aims to increase public awareness on a variety of issues concerning the rule of law in this country , OSCE fully supports and endorses the effort to spread knowledge and understanding of vital legislative changes and developments that will affect the lives of all Macedonian citizens. ‘Legitima’ can also be received via Human Rights NGOs, municipalities, ministries and several different companies. And as you know, I like you very much, so you will have the privilege to get the first edition in advance after this press conference, so if you see this, you may grab it.
OSCE’s Rule of Law Unit also carried out a civil society assessment. The report gives information about the mandate, main activities and contact addresses of 50 domestic NGOs active in the field of rule of law. It is available for the interested public via OSCE and of course, you may get a copy as well, after the press conference, that is the second paper out there. And as Irena told us before, she is very ill, so she will say ‘yes’ to everything we say, so maybe her statement today is not that long.

Statement by Irena Gjuzelova:

I have got no statement, I will just answers questions.

Ratcliff: As it goes sometimes, Wednesdays are a repeat of earlier information, certainly, this is another opportunity, so we are open for questions at this time.

Question 1: Craig, I got a telephone call from some Czech journalist last night and they said to me that the ANA were gathering money and weapons for attacking Macedonia, do you have any information on that?

Ratcliff: Actually, I think that Dnevnik is the best source for that, the article this morning was talking about collection of money and all that stuff from I think both internal and external to Macedonia from the Albanians living outside the country. We did say before that there were people that represented themselves using political cover, colleting money. But we did tell you that we felt that was collection of money for protection purposes and for profit for criminal purposes not for political gain but strictly for criminal gain. I think suffice to say, I don’t think it is unusual for people to collect money outside the country, the Macedonian diasporas in many countries collect money to fund causes in the country, both good and bad.

Question 2: So, Craig, first of all to tell you that Dnevnik may be the best source for this but you need to do something as well, you need to work as well, and my question is: a few press conferences ago you called upon people not to pay racketeering money, but at that time you did not have any information on who those people were. Do you have any information on their identity now?

Ratcliff: Yes, that is a very good question, but again, the MoI and the appropriate legal institutions here are collecting that data to continue that fight. And yes, it is obvious that the international community is supporting them and working closely, however, and I know you don’t like the answer, but the local institution is the best one and the one responsible for that information and the distribution of that information if they feel any interest of security in current operations to release that. Seriously, if I knew anything I would not tell it to you without coordinating with the MoI, first because they have got things that they are doing and I would not want to compromise anything that your police are working on.
Journalist: yes, the local institutions may be the best source for this but you were the ones who called publicly upon people not to pay racketeering money…

Ratcliff: Yes, exactly, we support them, and in spite of the fact that you do not like the answer, I won’t talk about it unless the MoI is coordinated with it to coordinate the information, you cannot compromise current operations. They are doing a very good job Zana, they really are, but I will not risk that. MIA, in the back…

Question 3: MIA has two questions for this press conference, and actually, Craig my name is Cvetanka.

Ratcliff: Ah, there we go, thank you…

Journalist: My first question is for the OSCE. What is the assessment of the OSCE on the recent frequent contacts between the MODs of the neighbouring countries. For example, I am referring to the visits that Minister Buckovski made to Serbia and Montenegro and to Pristina and the recent visit of the Serbian Defence Minister to Skopje and also the forthcoming meeting that is scheduled between the Albanian and Macedonian Defence Ministers. So, basically, the question is: to what are these meetings due, does it mean that there is some sort of danger that the security situation might escalate again? And my second question is for NATO, do you have any information on who is Alban Vjosa, the man who is declaring himself as the political secretary of the Front for the National Liberation Army of Albania and also about who is Valdet Vardari?

Greven: Ok, Cvetanka, I think you probably think too much into it, it is a normal process, the OSCE is not involved in this, to state that very clearly, but it is a normal process that neighbouring countries meet at different levels on regular basis with each other, they do that in western Europe as well and elsewhere, and I think it is a good thing that especially the Defence ministers meet and talk about security issues concerning the whole regions, as long as they talk to each other, they may find common solutions, we all know, and I think that this is without doubt that the borders still are used also for criminal routes to change countries, and also to escape from police or whatever, so if they come together and talk about for example about security at the borders, I think that is a good thing and they should continue to do that. Does that answer your question? No? What else do you want to know? I mean, we are not the politicians to be involved in these talks so, we also have to rely on what we hear about it, what they are talking about, and you also know that NATO may answer that more clearly than I can. And NATO probably knows more, and as you know for example, Macedonia, Albania and Croatia try to find a common way to get ready to join NATO and that of course needs talks on very high level as well. And you also see that others, like Ministers of Foreign Affairs or MoIs meet on more or less regular basis. But if you are not satisfied with the answer, give me another question, I mean what can I say, it really is a normal thing and it should be a normal thing that politicians meet on that level, especially between neighbouring countries.

Journalist: Everything you have said is OK, but don’t you think that it is a bit striking that these meetings have become very frequent in the last period when we have an escalation of the situation in southern Serbia, in Bujanovac, in Presevo, and also the recent declaration for independence of Kosovo proclaimed by the Kosovo Parliament. So, don’t you think that all these issues are a bit striking?

Greven: Well, you may be right in one point, but again, everybody knows probably that what the people in southern Serbia request or think at the moment does not really please the international community or the neighbouring countries, but the question is, is it a small group or a big group, I think it makes sense that the politicians of different countries meet and talk also about these problems, yes I agree, because then they may find a solution, because if they just let it run, what would happen? And if my information is right, so I am very careful about saying this, I mean, declaring independence of Kosovo, is it really within the mandate of the Kosovo Parliament. But this question needs to be of course answered by those who are really in the business, so I think that Mr. Steiner is better to be addressed on that. Was that answer better for you? Yes? Thank you.

Ratcliff: OK it has been so long…the short answer to your question is no. Yes, we collect data on names, people whatever, we got to keep files and try to keep track on people, so specifically on that person, right in front of me, no. Certainly, meet with me afterwards and we will get the name and position and all that stuff and I will see what we can do for you. OK?

Question 4: Two questions Craig, not for you. There are a lot of statements that these gangs or whatever groups are emerging now have no support by the locals, but there is another sophisticated danger with Mr. Xhaferi who hinted at the possibility that there is no satisfaction from the Ohrid Agreement, and that the possibility for something to happen is always possible. How dangerous, Irena, do you see this statement of political leaders of Albanians?

Guzelova: First of all, last week, we already expressed the disappointment that Xhaferi and DPA would not take part in the Ohrid signatories meeting, these meetings are a part of the implementation process and therefore the importance of all signatories and their active participation cannot be overestimated. I think that we also reminded everybody that full implementation of the Ohrid Agreement is a vital part of the integration process to the EU. No implementation, no integration. But then, to go on to the ANA question, as far as we know, yes, these groups do not have the support of the local population and they are small and they are fragmented and it is extremely important that to emphasise they don’t have the support of the local population. I think what you are trying to do is tying in a lot of ‘ifs’ and possibilities for the time being, the Ohrid agreement is being implemented, it should continue to be implemented and I think we have emphasised that very very clearly.

Journalist: Sorry Irena, do you recognize that Mr. Xhaferi is trying to give sophisticated support to the groups that are emerging now? Do you recognize this threat?

Guzelova: I am not going to put myself into Xhaferi’s shoes, I can’t now speculate what he is doing or what DPA is saying, I am not going to speculate that. And I think you should ask that to Mr. Xhaferi himself, I am sure he could give you good answer.

Journalist: Third, an explanation for this and then I am going to drop. Do you recognize the threat because one of the signatories of the Ohrid agreement is trying now to give support to the gangs, to the groups who are going to be a possible threat for the stability of this country, do you have a message for the leaders like him?

Guzelova: We came out with a very strong message I think last week. And what we said quite simply was that the full implementation of the Framework Agreement is necessary for the integration within the EU and anyone who is obstructing the implementation of the Framework Agreement is also therefore indirectly blocking or hindering Macedonia’s integration to the EU.

Journalist: Thank you. Wolfgang, the second question for you. How do you comment the fact that in the operations of the Macedonian police, in the areas where the criminal groups are being chased, there is no ethnic Albanian; for example at the operation in Struga, there was only one ethnic Albanian into the police troops. What are the suggestions, because I think that the credibility of the police into the areas where the ethnic Albanians are a majority, is somehow disturbed by the fact that there are no ethnic Albanians in the police groups. Thank you.

Greven: OK, let me first if you allow, add something to what Irena said before to your first question. I think it is out of any doubt that anybody, whatever his name is, who is and that can be proved supporting criminal groups, puts himself out of the law. I think that should be clear to everybody. Concerning your question, yes, I think that the Minister himself stated that it was a mistake that not to have more Albanians in these police groups, however, I think that the MoI is doing a great job on educating police officers in this country, and especially now, as you know with the new course at the Academy, the fourth one, Albanian police officers, so, in the future, it may show up more often that you have really mixed patrols but you also have to think about the actions like the one after the attack in Struga, they need very special police. It also had to be done very fast to my understanding, so even if you intend to bring a mixed patrol in there or mixed police forces, you first grab those who are available that day, who are on duty, and as I said before, the education of police officers is going on, the part of ethnic Albanians in these courses now is something like 64%-65%. So, if this training is finished, it will be much easier to have mixed police forces. I also would like to state very clearly, at least from the reports we have, that the way the police acted after the attack on this courthouse was very professional. And I think one positive outcome of this is obviously that the police acted according to the law, they did damn good police work and I think in the end it is first of all important that they showed that they are able to react very fast. I mean, this is very personal, and if I were a citizen of this country, I would not care whether these policemen are of Turkish ethnicity or Albanian or whatever as long as he is a professional. Does that answer your question?

Guzelova: And I just want to add something on that, to tag in your last question to me with the question to Wolfgang. Simply that the implementation of the Framework Agreement is not something that happens overnight, it takes time. It takes time to train the relevant police force, it takes time to train and hire and recruit the necessary translator, it takes time, this whole process is not an overnight process.

Question: Irena my question is to you, is Serbia creating the crisis in Macedonia and whipping up anti-Albanian hysteria in order to re-enter Kosovo?

Guzelova: I think this is a question for Serbia, I mean quite honestly I think you should call Brussels on that but I doubt that they would give you anything more than I have now.

Greven: And if may add to this as well, I think that in the last months we had a couple of statements by he international community that stated out very clearly that the borders on the Balkans as they are now, are untouchable.

Ratcliff: OK? That should be it, thank you for attending, have a great afternoon….