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Updated: 27-Mar-2003 Transcripts

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Press Briefing

held on 11 March 2003
at the NATO Press Centre in Skopje

Statement of Craig Ratcliff:
Ladies and Gentlemen welcome to today’s press conference and transfer of authority, certainly this is a rare opportunity for the media in Macedonia and I challenge you to take the opportunity to ask three different theatre commanders as well as the Commander in Chief Allied Forces South, we have a rare opportunity to talk about regional security and border issues. At this point, I would like to turn the podium to Admiral Johnson, CINC South.

Statement of Admiral Johnson, CINC South:
Thank you very much. Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen. For the past few years, NATO has had the privilege of working with your nation to build enduring peace and stability in the Balkans. We have a long-standing relationship that began in the early nineties, continued with your accession into the PfP, and NATO’s operations in the region. We are thankful for that relationship and we know that it will continue to grow and mature with the NATO advisory role and development of the Membership Action Plan. The progress that we have seen together through operations Essential Harvest, which involved a brigade, to Amber Fox, involving a battalion, to the current operation Allied Harmony, involving a company size unit gives me optimism for the future and provides testament to the remarkable progress made by NATO and the Government and the citizens of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. As you know, I am here today to celebrate the accomplishments of the outgoing Senior Military Representative, Lt. Gen. Gaetano Cigna and thank him for a job well done. Due to his leadership and vision, NATO HQ Skopje has become a very effective command. As Lt. Gen. Cigna departs, I look forward to establishing the same working the same working relationship with Maj. Gen. Bernardo Alvarez del Manzano and I am fully confident that he is the right man to lead NATO’s ongoing command to this country and its people. The staff at NATO HQ Skopje makes a capable and dynamic team, a team that is well-connected to other regional Headquarters and Kosovo and Albania to provide a synergistic regional approach to NATO’s work in the Balkans, and as evidence of this I point to the presence today of the Commander of the Kosovo Force, Lt. Gen. Mini, to my right and the SMR in Tirana, Brigadier General Claudio Tozzi. Before I turn this over to my colleagues and to your questions, I want to mention the tragic and senseless mine incident that killed two fine Polish soldiers, Master Corporals Lezinsky and Mikulski, injured another soldier and seriously injured three of your citizens. Although the motive and target are uncertain, we believe that it was deliberately placed to cause death and injury. NATO strongly, in no uncertain terms, condemns such cowardly act, we will not tolerate such violence and as always we reserve the right of self-defence in such situations, this incident will not deter us from our mission to help bring enduring peace, stability and the rule of law to the region. With that, I will now turn it over to others to comment, thank you very much.

Statement of Maj. Gen. Alvarez del Manzano

Good morning. I am looking forward to getting to know this country. I am ready to do my best for the course of peace, security, stability and prosperity. Makedonija ima idnina a nie sme tuka da pomogneme (Macedonia has a future and we are here to help). Thank you.

Ratcliff: Ladies and Gentlemen, at this point we are open and subject to questions.

Question 1: (Linda Karadaku- Voice of America): I have a question for you Admiral Johnson, you just said that the mine was deliberately placed to cause injury, death or whatever…We have heard kind of different comments here in Skopje, i.e. that people did not intend to cause death or hurt anyone, can you clarify a little bit whether you are saying this as a result of this investigation; I also have a question for the Generals that are coming from Kosovo and Albania, for General Mini, how is it now in Kosovo, do you see any activities that are not normal, do you have and do you expect any changes in the security situation and how much is it related to the situation in the Presevo Valley?
CINC South: Thank you very much for your question and good morning. I think my part of the question is whether the mine was deliberately placed on the road. I think that the evidence is overwhelming since that road is fairly heavily travelled and there are many convoys and many vehicles that have gone over that road that very day, in fact very close to the time of the incident, so, sometime, after the last vehicle had gone there, I do not know precisely when that was, but before our vehicle, the polish vehicle, went down that road, that mine was placed. It was done with malice and forethought to inflict serious damage and harm, and we do not know what the intent was, we don’t know precisely at whom it was aimed at, but we do know precisely that it is heinous criminal act and we deeply regret that it happened, and it will not deter us in any way from our mission.
Journalist: Just a follow-up…So, do you think that it was aimed against NATO soldiers or against anyone who would have crossed that part of the country?
CINC South: As I have said previously, I can say with certainty that it was done deliberately, I can’t tell you what the intent was.
Gen. Mini: About the Kosovo situation and the security aspect. We know that there are extremists, very active in the area of Kosovo and of course following an usual pattern, these extremists, try both to export some kind violence in the Presevo valley and this is very actual, and also having violent acts inside Kosovo. We have established a very good relationship with the Macedonian Government, I have met the Minister of Defence, so we have established new ties for the security along the border with Macedonia. The same good cooperation is with the Serbian and Montenegro Government and their forces, we have the MTA and the JIC, the Joint Implementation Commission, actively engaged in every security aspect on both sides of the EBL. We are concerned about what happens on the border and beyond the borders, but what we can say now is that we have evidence of extremist activities but not very well organized and not very well spread. It is not a consistent force. There are small groups of extremists, it is not so far an organization of an organized uprising. Thank you.
Brig.Gen. Tozzi: As far as Albania is concerned we have a very good relationship with the Albanian Government and the Albanian armed forces as far as the security issues are concerned. We are working very closely with the leadership of the security border police and they are coming out with an effective plan, in order to which we can work out some specific issue to improve the situation. We don’t have any indication of danger or unsafe or insecure situation so far. And we will keep on monitoring the situation for the next future of course, the situation remains calm at this moment.

Question 2: (Valentin Nikolovski- Sitel TV): I have two questions. My first one is for Gen. Cigna, does NATO still patrol on the dirt roads in the former crisis areas, and my second question is for Admiral Johnson, does NATO have an intention to withdraw from Macedonia and from Kosovo by the end of this year?
Gen Cigna: Yes, our liaison monitoring teams are still patrolling all around the former crisis areas. They are performing this job during the night and during the day. They are divided regions of the former crisis areas, I mean, Tetovo, north of Skopje and Kumanovo area. They have established a very good relationship with the population on the ground. That is it.
CINC South: Thank you so much for your question, this gives me a perfect opportunity to say in emphatic terms that NATO has no intention of withdrawing from Skopje or from this nation, in fact we are here at your invitation and we will stay as long as we are invited to stay. There is much speculation and I think there are negotiations going on in Brussels today as to whether aspects of the Allied Harmony Mission might be taken over by the EU. But even if our political masters make that decision and that transition takes place, the NATO advisory role will continue here, under the very able leadership of General Manzano, so NATO has every intention of staying here as long as we are invited. And with regards to NATO’s mission in Kosovo, we are there under a very different mandate. It has to do with UN Security Council Resolution 1244 and until that work is done, and we still have some work to do in conjunction with UNMIK, NATO will continue to support that mission. Thank you.

Ratcliff: Ladies and Gentlemen as promised we are going to cut off at ten till, we have to meet the President, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and other dignitaries. I am sorry, after the transfer of authority there will possibly be another opportunity, but we will work on that, if you need a chair out in the area, please take the one you are sitting on…

CINC South: Join us for the ceremony and thank you very much…