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Updated: 27-Mar-2003 Transcripts

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Press Briefing

held on 5 March 2003
at the NATO Press Centre in Skopje

Statement of Craig Ratcliff:
Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to today’s press conference. Certainly, today is not really a very good day for NATO. Suffice to say that everyone is well aware of the incident yesterday afternoon and unfortunately, I think for most of you, we will not go into great many details today. But I talked to great many of you yesterday evening and to quite few of you this morning, certainly it is an unpleasant task to confirm that two NATO soldiers unfortunately lost their lives in the course of their normal duties yesterday afternoon. And you know, we discussed really at length yesterday evening, there was a routine patrol, a NATO liaison monitoring team that unfortunately, in accidental explosion of a device yet to be determined, it suffice to say at this point that unfortunately the two soldiers were killed, another one was injured, there were a couple of civilians that received some serious injuries. I cannot go into details; we are doing a more complete investigation this morning, after the initial investigation last night, but certainly as more details are revealed and an investigation is completed, we will be releasing more information to get a clearer picture on what has actually occurred. We do not believe that it was an intentional act, we believe that it was purely an accident but further details will follow as we find out more. As you go of course through your normal routine today and daily lives, take a moment to remember, as we said once before, those individuals that unfortunately made sacrifices along their way for peace and stability.
On a different note, we mentioned last week that there would be a transfer of authority from the current NATO HQ Commander to the incoming commander on 11 March, at this point it is still scheduled. What we are hoping for the media is that we are hoping to have a press opportunity immediately following the transfer of authority, what we are hoping to have at this point is CINC South present, we are hoping to have the COMKFOR, General Mini, present as well as the outgoing Commander, General Cigna and the incoming Commander. I can’t promise that they will all commit and be there but we are hoping to provide an opportunity to the media to discuss issues on both sides of the border as well as the future advisory role for NATO. Now, I’ll pass it to Harald.

Statement of Harald Schenker:
Thanks Craig and good morning. Before I start with any of our business, I would like to use the opportunity to extend my, i.e. the OSCE’s condolences, it is a tragic event and at the same time I would like to say that our team in Kumanovo has had a very good and continues to have a very good cooperation with the liaison teams on the ground, so there was a personal relationship involved as well. At the same time, I would like to express our hope that those who are injured will recover timely and well from their injuries.
Ok, let’s go down to OSCE business, I have two announcements to make. One is the fact that the OSCE will organize or co-organize with the SCED, South-Eastern Europe Enterprise Development, a workshop in Kicevo on the week-end which has as target group young possible or future entrepreneurs. This is part of the wider Kicevo valley pilot project that we are having with regards to the reform of local self-government. There will be 25 people participating ion this workshop and a press release will come out timely, tomorrow, and we are also hoping to be able to organize a possible for the media to attend. The second is a announcement that is connected to an expert report prepared by the ODIHR. The ODIHR, during the autumn of 2002, last year, worked with the authorities here at central and local level here in Skopje, Gostivar, Mavrovo, Ohrid and Veles, and of course with our mission here, to assess the current capacity in the country to respond to major incidents and disasters. The project consisted of a pretty large number of interviews and three regional workshops, which are now being compiled into a report, there will be recommendations both for the international community and the local authorities and the main recommendation is based on something that they call a public safety concept for the country. A media advisory is prepared and will be available for you at the exit. And that is from my side, Irena…


Statement of Irena Guzelova:
I have no announcements regarding EU matters, but I would like to extend condolences to the friends and the families of the two soldiers who were killed.

Ratcliff: Certainly, at this point we will entertain any questions that you might have…

Question 1: One question for Craig and one from Irena. Craig, how do you explain your statement that it was not an intentional incident, do you mean that the explosive device was placed there by accident or maybe it was meant for another vehicle?
Ratcliff: Obviously I expected the question, you know, we said the assumption at this point is that we do not believe that is was meant to intentionally harm anybody but certainly an investigation is being conducted and we will find out more as we go. There is a tendency for people to assume that because it was there it was meant to hurt somebody, but it does not necessarily mean that. The thing that I hope to do is avoid opening a can of worms but in the past year we have had many cases where people have found unexploded items and then placed them along the road to be picked up by the authorities. That does not mean that this was the case, but it does not mean that it wasn’t the case as well. So, good question, but at this point we are going to assume that it was not meant to intentionally harm anyone, so we will complete the investigation and we will see where it goes.
Journalist: My second question is for Irena. The middle of March is approaching, and it is for then that it was announced that the EU forces would come to the country.
Guzelova: Ok, well, there has been an awful lot of speculation in the press and it is just that, it is speculation. The negotiations on the technical arrangements of Berlin Plus are ongoing, we always said that they need to be completed for a timely hand over.

Question 2: A question for Ratcliff. Can you explain and tell us why would an explosive device be placed on the road if not to hurt somebody?
Ratcliff: As I said, there were many cases even last year when we asked people that if they found an unexploded ordnance to mark it and notify the authorities, but we still had cases last year where people picked them up and put them on the road. So, there is a tendency here for people to assume the worst. For once, let’s assume that it is a positive thing, that somebody tried to do the right thing but it resulted in an unfortunate accident.
Journalist: Can you tell us more concretely what really happened, did the local population call somebody or what happened?
Ratcliff: Like I said, they are doing an investigation to clearly outline the details of exactly what happened. And of course, the problem with my job is that it would be inappropriate for me to comment on all details until what exactly happened is clear. So, I don’t mean to dance around it, but there is just no way to really talk specifically until they complete the investigation. But I understand the question, and I think that what we have got initially is that somebody locally had witnessed and heard and insisted to bring emergency services out in the area, but specifically we do not know who it was or if it was a local civilian, but that will be defined this morning.
Journalist: Just one question for Irena. We just got the information that the signing of the Agreement between EU and NATO has been postponed until next week, do you have any information on what was the reason for this?
Guzelova: Well first of all, there seems to be some kind of misunderstanding. There was an agreement on Berlin Plus that was reached at the end of last year in December. Now, that was a political agreement which basically gives means that NATO grants EU access to some of its capabilities. Following that agreement, there has to be technical arrangements that map-out how this political agreement will work in practice. These arrangements are technical, they are not political and they are ongoing.

Question 3: First a question for Irena. You are saying that there is a political agreement and what is happening now are technical difficulties as I can understand it. What, or who is making those technical negotiations so difficult? So what is going on, if it is technical, it was not supposed to be that difficult, was it?
Guzelova: First of all these are not problems. It takes time, you know, a political decision is made, but then how will this actually work in practice has to be arranged. And everybody knew that it was going to take time.
Journalist: Sorry, if I may repeat my question. So, you are saying that this needs time because you have to have some technical arrangements. What makes these technical arrangements take so much time?
Ratcliff: Realizing that it does not make sense at points, it is interesting, she said you have a political decision, but you get into all the nitty-gritty details even for us here in Skopje, Irena and myself have had to have discussions about how we are dividing responsibilities here, as an example, because one of the things about Berlin Plus is that NATO and EU will not duplicate what they are doing. So, part of the issue is dividing task and then further defining how the task will be conducted and how they inter-relate to each other. So, the catch phrase is technical discussions but it is more groundwork on just dividing up responsibilities and defining who does what, when and how.
Journalist: The last question is for Harald. Concerning that report of ODIHR, what is the basis of it, what is the primary suggestion for the local people here, for the Government and for the international community about the public safety concept, what are they suggesting?
Schenker: There are no details about this yet, because they are just compiling the report, they hope to have the report up on the web as soon as possible. All I know about it , I told you, they are recommending a public safety concept, which would entail a number of institutions, authorities and so far, and another thing that they mentioned is that they recommend top use the current police academy as an academy for public safety. As I said, about other details, we will all have to wait until the report is out.

Question 4: A question for Craig. Regarding the road between the villages of Sopot and Susevo, how frequently does NATO use this road, when was the last time that NATO used this road and do you know whether it is frequently used by the army or the police?
Ratcliff: Well, as far as the army and police go, I cannot answer. But it is a well-travelled road, not only by NATO and even I think by the OSCE who frequently use this road. That was one of the questions that we asked last night as well, it is a well-travelled road, routinely travelled by great many people from the international community.

Question 5: We are chasing the Fox obviously about this explosive device. Sorry Craig, but you have to explain a lot of this because I am just amazed that you do not want to put a finger for the people who are responsible for the killing of two NATO soldiers. Whether the responsibility is on the people who actually were responsible to clean the field from the landmines, whether this explosive device is newly set. You need to give us much more information on this. It is very cautious, obviously that you do not want to pu0ut a finger for the people who are responsible but we need to have something on who is responsible for this. Thank you.
Ratcliff: OK, well Tino, the truth is that we want to know as well. But you are asking me to speculate and initiate a rumour on who might be responsible, and you know I will not do that. They are conducting an investigation, the Ministry of Interior is participating, they are the lead agency, and they will figure it out. But I refuse to speculate and spread rumours about what might be the possible cause. As we discussed last night, it is not a question of not being transparent and not being forthcoming, it is a question of determining the exact truth and the cause before we release details. So, don’t mistake, I am not trying to hide anything, not at all, you guys have known be for a long time now, I will be as truthful as I can be and as transparent in everything we do. When we figure it out, we will tell you.

Question 6: Two questions, one for Craig and one for Harald. Craig, NATO and the OSCE have an extensive operation last year for clearing the former crisis areas from mines, so do you think that it is safe to go there, because, if there are explosions, does it mean that the operations has not been successful? Harald, I have information that 40 Albanians of the mixed police forces did not pass the test in Macedonian language, so what will happen with them?
Ratcliff: OK, first, to imply that mine clearing was not successful is not a true statement. The fact is that there were many explosive ordnances placed without maps and people marking the locations. So, there are many international organizations, not NATO, that are working very hard with the Government to clear dangerous materials. But if you recall, in the last year and a half we have repeatedly said that there are unexploded ordnances and people need to be careful. People find it every day. To day that it is not safe is not a true statement, it is relatively safe to travel around the country, however use common sense when you discover something that is dangerous. We had the mine assistance team, we had the international mine action team here of some sort to talk about unexploded ordnance and as we have said repeatedly over and over again, it is out there, be careful. But to imply that it is not safe is not a true statement, to imply that it is perfectly safe is not true either. There are hazards and there are dangers and people need to be careful, and this is a prime example of an unfortunate accident occurring and basically result in a loss of life that did not have to happen. Actually, Harald will back me up on this, I think that we have asked at least five times for the media to continue to repeat the message for the people out there that there are hazards, so beating the dead horse, yes, it is dangerous.
Schenker: Yes, I find the way in which you put the question a little bit harsh because I think that every effort has been done to clear the terrain from mines. However, anyone who has ever dealt with mines could tell you that there is no absolute safety in this business. I mean, in every area, that has gone through a conflict there is still unexploded ordnance found many years after, I can talk for my country. This is completely detached from yesterday’s incident. But there is a huge educational effort that needs to be done here as well as elsewhere where this problem occurs- yes, you can clear a terrain, there is a high degree of confidence that they have managed to do the job, but there is a risk left-always. OK, with regards to your other question, I cannot confirm numbers here. I mean first and foremost, the recruitment is not done by the OSCE, it is done by the appropriate authorities, by the Ministry of Interior, and so is the validation of exam results and all that. Now, if somebody fails an exam, regardless of whether it is a language exam or any other subject related, there are procedures in place for that. He or she can repeat the exam once or twice, depending on the subject, and if not, well, then it is a loss…I can get back to you with more concrete figures, also the overall figures what the output of the Academy ahs been so far compared to the number of people who have been accepted.

Question 7: A question for Craig. You have mentioned that last year there were cases when people picked up those explosive ordnances and put them along the road so, can you tell us whether that was the case yesterday, and whether there was a mine field in that area?
Ratcliff: Well you know, that is the problem: we don’t know. And this goes back to every question that people asked this morning, we do not know exactly what happened. But the assumption is that it was not with ill intent. I don’t know whether there was a minefield there or not, like I have said, nothing was marked, we do not know.

Question 8: Craig, who has got the priority over the investigation, is it you or is it the Macedonian authorities?
Ratcliff: The primacy at this point will be with the Ministry of Interior. It is an incident that has occurred in a sovereign nation. However, NATO is on the site and is doing a parallel investigation specific to NATO interests. And we will provide all the information, the Ministry of Interior will do a cross-sharing of information so a more complete detailed report will be made, but certainly NATO has a vast of interest with our national interests that are contributing to provide the information more specific to the NATO interests. And yes, we are talking to the Ministry of Interior, I have talked to the Spokesperson, when we found out things, yes…
Journalist: Is it possible that you and the Ministry of Interior will come out with two different versions on what happened?
Ratcliff: Well, certainly, they are free to make their own determination.

Question 9: So far, the MoI has very rarely found the culprits or the perpetrators of these criminal acts, and would NATO be satisfied if in this case also the perpetrators are not found?
Ratcliff: Well, nobody is ever satisfied if the case is not resolved. You know, there are many cases where the Ministry of Interior has solved the case and obviously there were cases when they have not. But certainly, that is the purpose of the investigation and we will see where it leads. Suffice to say that everybody would be very pleased if we had a complete resolution to it. OK? Thank you.