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
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.