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Updated: 27-Mar-2003 Transcripts

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Press Briefing

held 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 arrangement?
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 accidental situation?
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 clearly.
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, international events?
Journalist: Yes.
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.