on 19 March 2003
at the NATO Press Centre in Skopje
Statement of Craig Ratcliff:
Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to today’s press conference.
I guess it has been almost two weeks since we have actually been in here,
but, of course, the press event last week at the Gazela counts. I hope
that it was rewarding to watch the transfer of authority, but, more importantly,
that it was rewarding and helpful to have the three theatre commanders
in one location. Realising, of course, that it was a short opportunity,
but it was an opportunity anyway. Obviously, everybody was expecting another
major event this week with the Council coming to visit on their annual
trip to Macedonia, and I think everybody has gotten the word already,
but certainly based on international events and commitments they postponed
the trip this week, it will be rescheduled at a later date, however, that
has not been determined. For current events and future events –
on the 31st is our target date for a transition of some of the missions
here, in Macedonia. Certainly, we are looking at the handover to the European
Union of the tactical portion of the current NATO mission here. And certainly,
NATO will remain here in the role with advisory and support. We have been
working very hard in expending that role, and we will get more information
to you with some of the subject matter experts that are participating
and opportunities for you to highlight and expand what we are doing in
that area. Certainly, one of the things we need to get clear is that even
though the European Union is coming to work with us and you and the security
situation, NATO will continue to be here in the near, long and medium
future. The Admiral said it last week, and I think most of you heard it,
we are very interested in staying and working with you as long as you
still want us here. I think most of you got the press release from the
principles yesterday, and certainly, to express publicly again, our hearts
and sympathies go with the family of the individual who died as a result
of the mine incident, and certainly we are pulling for the wife of the
individual, and hopefully she will pull through as well. With that, I
will pass it over to Wolfgang.
Statement of Wolfgang Greven:
Thanks Craig, and good morning. I have a lot of points for you, at least
two. First, glad to be back, although I had a great time in Germany, at
least the first five days, the rest was not that nice. Secondly, I would
like to personally welcome a new member of the PIC here in the Continental,
that is Phillippe Moreux. While I am doing that, when I saw his face I
was very much surprised because we know each other from out time in SFOR,
so a colleague here. And funny enough, he was following our running gag
here when I came in here he said “Oh, an old face”. OK, that
is all I have because we have no special points today. Of course, we are
open for your questions afterwards.
Statement of Irena Guzelova:
I just have a couple of points. The first one is regarding the Framework
Agreement. I think everybody here would agree that it has been an extremely
good week as far as the Framework Agreement is concerned. We have seen
significant progress made in its implementation, important decisions have
been made and there has been substantial build-up in momentum. And last
week’s agreement, that is on the passport, the use of languages,
on census and covering various other issues was, as I think I told many
of you who called on Thursday night and on Friday, a significant step
forward in the implementation of the Ohrid Agreement, and it really reflects
the spirit of the Ohrid Agreement, and that is a multiethnic unitary Macedonia.
And we also welcome the Government’s debate, which began earlier
this week on its Action Plan for equitable representation. That is as
far as the Framework Agreement is concerned, and I am sure you will ask
me some questions about the handover from NATO to EU. As probably most
of you already know, and it is already on MIA and on the other wires,
the EU foreign ministers last night made a decision that they will take
over, as Craig said, on 31 March. And the anticipated duration is six
months. All outstanding issues regarding the arrangements between EU and
NATO, I think you are fully aware of and I have explained them on many
occasions, are settled. And yesterday’s decision followed NATO’s
earlier decision on Monday that it would hand over. That is it.
Ratcliff: Certainly, subject to questions at this point.
Question 1: Perhaps it is a misunderstanding, I don’t
know whether it is a matter of equal representation or equitable representation,
as it is in the document.
Guzelova: It is equitable representation.
Question 2: The agreement between NATO and EU has been
settled. Can you give us more details about the SOFA arrangement between
the EU and Macedonia, and are there any misunderstandings regarding this
Guzelova: Basically, the SOFA arrangement is a technical
document, and the political decisions have been made, and were made on
Monday, over the weekend and yesterday. And our office and the Government
here, and representatives of the Government have been working to finalise
the SOFA document. And we hope to have this by the end of the week, after
which it can to Government and Parliament. But, basically, because this
is a technical document, this is not a political issue here at stake,
we really don’t expect any problems.
Question 3: The Macedonian Defence Ministry announced
today that the Pentagon gave some assessments about the security in the
region, which one of the assessment for the region is the so-called unconventional
war threat. That is the estimation from the Pentagon, for development
in the near future. Do you have any comment on that? The second question
is – are you going to be prepared as NATO or European Union for
the eventual Iraqi attack whether the Macedonian Government ask you to
give the specific logistic support for the possibility even the United
States will ask NATO to use the capacities here in the country in the
Ratcliff: OK, Tino, good question. I have not seen the
Pentagon report, so certainly I cannot comment on that, I have not seen
it, but I will look at it and we will talk later. But, if they did say
unconventional, that is fair because we do not see a conventional threat
in the region. We have said time and time again that there is no threat
of an armed spring offensive and that would be a conventional threat.
For your question with NATO, Iraq and all that, quite honesty, that is
over my head. I can give you a phone number of a guy you can call and
talk about that one. That is a good question, it is not my area, I would
not be authorised to talk about it any way, I will give you Mark’s
number, we will go from there. And then, show me the report, and we will
go from there on that one as well.
Question 4: A question for Mr. Greven. How do you comment
today’s article in daily Vest which says that the money that were
planned for 600 new Albanian police officer to be employed are going to
be transferred and to the “Lions”?
Greven: Well, to be honest, we already got this morning
this question from I think it was Radio Free Europe. We do not have this
information at this moment, and we were surprised by this article as well.
We just translated it, and we check on it by speaking to the MoI, though
at the moment I do not have an answer. Maybe only one number was wrong.
I think what the article says is that this money may be used for 600 “Lions”
to be re-educated and brought into other units. But, as I said, we do
not have the information at the moment, we were surprised by this article
as well, but we check on it now, and maybe I come back to you later this
day, when we have the first answers.
Question 5: Craig, you mentioned that it was fair some
how to say that it was a matter of unconventional threat, but what are
your assessments considering that there were some incidents and some hand
grenades in the areas of Tetovo and Kumanovo, so since this is a question
also for Wolfgang because your teams, both of NATO and the OSCE, are on
the terrain, what are your assessments regarding this unconventional threat?
Ratcliff: Actually, we talked about that this morning,
and actually we talk about it quite often. I made a phone call over to
the Minister of Interior, we talked about violence and criminal acts and
what appears to the media to be perceived increase of violent criminal
acts. So, your question is appropriate, we do not have the statistics
to support and trend in relation to that, but we are looking into that,
and hopefully we will have some answers soon on how that is transitioning,
I guess. But, going back to Tino’s question, I would agree on the
surface not conventional because you are surrounded by NATO countries,
and there is no build up of an army, if we go back to spring offensive
or all those offensives in the last year that have supposedly come. (inaudible)
The US did the study, it is probably more a question back to the US Embassy
here or back to the Pentagon to see what they are thinking. (inaudible)
I have to go back and read the report and check with NATO and see what
they are thinking on current threat situation in the region. It is not
an easy question to answer. So, I owe both of you, and let’s talk
briefly afterwards and let’s do a lot of research and I owe you
an answer later on on the report about that situation.
Greven: Whatever you think about statistics. We have
the feeling that yes, we see the increase of violence, not huge, but maybe
especially violence crime. However, we must say, and I think very carefully
into it, we do not see any political background on that, and I think that
is most important. What we see is criminal activity probably raising a
little bit, but as I said before, we do not see a political background,
and I think that is a very important message, at least till today.
Question 6: Do you include in these criminal activities
the placing of a mine on the railway, and do you think that this event
does not have a political background?
Greven: That is a very hard question. Let me put it this
way, I mean I am not an expert, but to the best of my knowledge, the police
is investigating this incident at the moment. First of all, we do not
have any information at the moment about a political background. On the
other hand, if you look at the location where these mines were placed,
but this is a speculation now, and I do not want to be involved in the
police investigation, but you may ask yourself the question where it was
placed. It is a smuggling route, as you know, that was last week, at least
to the best of my information, very well controlled and patrolled by police.
So, maybe, and again maybe, and I really want to quote that, this could
have been a warning to the police not to control that much. I mean, I
do not know, I am not an expert, we are all very sad about this event,
and I think we all agree that mines, whoever uses them, are weapon of
devils, and we should all try to get rid of this shit, if I may say that
Guzelova: The bottom line is that the international community
takes any threats to security very seriously. It is vigilant, but at the
same time still isolated.
Question 7: Isolated, and, I would add, more frequent.
My question is whether NATO still patrols on the dirt roads in the country
and whether it has increased its combat readiness?
Ratcliff: As far as patrols go – yes, we are back
patrolling. What I will do for you is go and make a phone call with a
specific question are they patrolling on that road. I know they are patrolling
in the area, specifically on that road, I cannot answer that. We will
make a phone call and confirm it. I believe we are, but we have to make
sure that I am correct in that information. So, we will confirm that.
Journalist: General Cigna was not specific.
Ratcliff: That is the reason why you ask that question.
I believe we are, however I have to make a phone call for you to confirm
that. The second part of that was – combat readiness. About what,
Ratcliff: To this point no change. But, certainly, that
has been looked at, and we are awaiting guidance whether that is necessary,
but we are looking at that locally to see if there is a need to do that
or not, just like your Government, your MoD and everyone else is looking
at it as well.
That is it? OK, longer than I expected. Thank you.