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Updated: 27-Mar-2003 Transcripts

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Press Briefing

held on 26 March 2003
at the NATO Press Centre in Skopje

Statement by Craig Ratcliff:
Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to today’s press conference. Did we catch you by surprise? OK, we have got a much larger crowd today than normal. I think it is a support group for the OSCE. It is true, isn’t it?

Greven: Hopefully, you wouldn’t get jealous. It would be like this all the time.

Ratcliff: Probably will. Well, welcome. Couple of issues to address today. Obviously, we are looking at many changes in NATO’s mission with the assumption or welcoming of the EU for their assumption of the portion of the mission. Obviously, there would be a lot of activity within next week. Certainly, we have been going through a training and orientation process for the European Union during this week. It runs across the whole spectrum, from press information through operational procedures and through the liaison monitoring teams. I guess the key point is that the European Union and NATO are very interlinked and that there is a very strong sense of cooperation and coordination as we go through this process. You should know that it is not just this week, but it will continue through the whole time that the EU and NATO remain in the country. We are talking on a daily basis and we are working together already as we transition. In reference to that, it should be noted that we have said before that there is no room for any person out there that thinks that there is an opportunity that violence will win them any favours at this point. There is no seam in the cooperation or the continuity of the mission. NATO is still out there and the EU would be out there just the same. And there is no opportunity to exploit any political or criminal intent. I guess one of the things to say is that the political impact of Berlin Plus through close cooperation and continuity is finally being practically applied on the ground. Reference the assumption of the tactical portion of NATO’s overall mission in Macedonia, we are still working out some of the details for the actual transfer on Monday. And it is still unclear exactly who will be on stage and at what time, but we expect to have a press opportunity with some very serious people representing the European Union and NATO on Monday afternoon. But, based on time constraints, it will probably be more of a press opportunity than a press conference. And since most of you are here, remember to bring your blue cards with you. Because based on security requirements, you have seen the advisory, if you do not have your press registration card, I cannot help you.
OK, it should be noted that NATO remains in the country as a continuing NATO Headquarters and we will remain interlinked with the government and the community and with the EU throughout their mission. And NATO will remain in their advisory role and assist in any way possible.
And, I think at this point I have said enough, Wolfgang, probably your turn.

Statement by Wolfgang Greven:
Thanks, Craig. Dobar den from OSCE and very special welcome to the supporters, as you named them. They are actually students from the Journalists Faculty at the Skopje University and we will try to give them an impression about the OSCE after this press conference for the whole afternoon. So, welcome again and hopefully you will feel comfortable here and maybe one or other of the colleagues when we have a short break after the press conference will also be able to talk a little bit with you in a personal talk, so you may ask these acting journalists how their job is. But please don’t go too much in detail with these acting colleagues, because maybe then you may change your choice and maybe you will study law, medicine or something else.
So, beside what Craig already briefed, the normal work is going on and I would like to draw your attention to a seminar. The OSCE and the Nansen dialogue centre will host their third joint youth leadership conference at Mavrovo, beginning in the afternoon of March 28th and ending the evening of 30 March. The event will bring together a range of secondary school students from ten Skopje area schools to discuss and learn about leadership development, conflict resolution and solutions they can implement to the challenges facing their communities.
The first two seminars that were done were highly successful. As you probably remember, participants of the first two were students from Kumanovo and Tetovo. And there will be a fourth one for students from Ohrid and Struga. The seminars are funded through the Canadian International Development Agency. Whoever of you is interested to go there over the weekend, probably to do some interviews with the students and with those who are the teachers, in quotation marks if you want to put it this way, please let us know. Most charming Ida is here, behind the cameras this time. So we may arrange probably transportation or whatever you need for you.
And that is all I have.

Statement by Irena Gjuzelova:
I just have a few comments about the EU-NATO handover which would complement, really, what Craig has already said. As Craig said, it is going to happen next Monday, but the exact details of the ceremony are not yet clear. But we will keep you informed about the various developments when they are eventually finalised.
So, as you already know, the force commander, who is Major General Pierre Marral, arrived in the country last Friday. He met with representatives of the government and essentially he will be here for the duration of the mission. And the mandate which was given by President Trajkovski is six months.
So, there will be 27 participating countries in the mission. This includes EU member states, soon to be members; as you know, there will be ten new members who will be entering the EU in 2004, as well as non-EU members who are members of NATO. So, it is not an EU force, it is an EU-led force.
Essentially, again just to emphasise what Craig talked about, and that is continuity. Both the EU and NATO share similar assessments of the security needs of this country, and the EU will adopt a similar military presence as NATO has done in the former crisis areas. Obviously, there will be frequent contacts between the mission and the government, and the transition will be, as Craig said, seamless.
On another note, I just wanted to welcome the adoption by Parliament on the Law for Passports. The agreement which was reached between the governing coalition is fully in line with the Framework Agreement.

Ratcliff: So, as usual at this point, we are subject to questions. Good, I was hoping there would not be any. We want the EU guys to wave when I introduce them. We have got two press officers from the EU. Where are you at?

Question 1: Is there any change of the troops at this moment, through the period of transition of the NATO forces, now on the field?
Ratcliff: Any change?
Journalist: Any change, yes. Are there still the remaining troops that we had before, 350 NATO soldiers on the field at this moment?
Ratcliff: OK, currently, no. You know, we will work through the transition process. Obviously, when we talk about transition, some of the people from the current NATO Headquarters will go to the EU. Obviously, the liaison monitoring teams will go, but there are some people in the Headquarters that will move over to maintain continuity. And then, as NATO realigns its mission, there will be a natural change in the number of personnel, but that is yet to be determined.
Gjuzelova: I think the other thing is that, as we have continually said, is that the vast majority of soldiers currently serving under NATO are from EU member states. And this is another reason to say that transition will be smooth.

Question 2: Irena, the second question. What was the criteria to have the 27 members within this mission? Does it mean that every nation could give ten soldiers? What was the criteria?
Gjuzelova: Well, first of all, as I said, these countries are members of the EU, and as the EU will be enlarging with ten new members in 2004, obviously it is also open for the soon-to-be members, it is just by logical deduction. And because this is not just a EU mission, this is a EU mission which is happening in close cooperation with NATO, and therefore, it is also open to the states that are members of NATO, but are not members of the EU. So, that is the logic behind it. And as far as the actual composition, this does not mean that there is going to be ten representatives from every country. Some countries will only contribute one person in the planning department, say. And, as you already know, this mission will be led by France.

Question 3: Please, can this changing of the mission be understood as a symbolic move that the crisis is over and that we are entering a period of building the peace in the country?
Ratcliff: Well, Tino, I think you can say that the beginning of peace in the country began with “Essential Harvest” and with the Ohrid Agreement. But, certainly, we have said time after time that it has gotten a hack of a lot better over the last year and will continue to get better, and we hope that we don’t have to remain here, the international community as military force any longer than probably this last mission.
Gjuzelova: And the aim of an international military presence is, obviously, to contribute towards the stabilisation of the country and a considerable amount has already been achieved. This allows the government to implement the Ohrid Agreement, other reforms, economic reforms, that are indeed also part of the stabilisation and association process, which is obviously the process which will eventually lead Macedonia to closer integration with the EU. But essentially it is a part of a process, I do not think you can see it as the end of one phase and the beginning of another.

Question 4: How will Turkey participate in these forces, will there be only one representative or more?
Gjuzelova: I will have to go back to you on that. I do not have the details in front of me. Again, as I said, the exact composition…the framework is there, but the exact names and who is going to come, etc. has not bee determined.
Journalist: Is it known that Turkey will participate?
Gjuzelova: Again, I will have to get back to you. I think it will, but I have to get back to you. I am not sure it will, don’t…I will have to call you back on that.

Question 5: A question for Irena. You said that EU and NATO have similar assessments about the security needs of Macedonia, so what are those assessments?
Gjuzelova: I think it is essentially just to continue…as far as the EU is concerned, is to continue the very constructive work that NATO has done so far. It is going to be consisted of similar liaison mobile teams, as NATO has at the moment, the bulk of it being mobile light teams and the other one is heavy liaison teams.
Journalist: What is your comment about the latest events in Kumanovo with the barricades on the railway, because there are blockades put on the railway every day?
Greven: If I may, Zana. I was expecting a question like that and I was speaking to our field office about this. The answer that we got from the MoI is that they are seeing this for years now taking place. So, I was a little bit surprised by that answer, to be honest, and we are checking on that now. These information came actually from the chief of the uniformed police in that area. He also said that they are sending out patrols on regular basis, but they could not catch the perpetrators yet nor see them in action. So, what I tell you know is not our information, but the information that we got from the police and they say that they are suspected to be locals. Probably, as they say, shepherds who spend most of their time near the railway tracks. That is the information we got when we heard about it, but we are going deeper into it now and as far as I know, our monitor teams will go out there to check what is really going on.
Journalists: Why weren’t those shepherds there four months ago, for example?
Greven: I have no clue, I am just giving you an honest answer. I read about it, I checked about it and I spoke to our teams in the area and they are going out there to check. But, the first information we got, we got from the local police and of course we were asking what are you doing. And this was the answer we got.
Ratcliff: No, I do not know anything about shepherds.

Ratcliff: I think that is the end of the questions, right? Unless Tino has got another one, but…

Greven: To make it understandable, we are not investigating this. The local police is investigating this case. The only thing we can do as a first step is to ask them what did they find out. This was the answer we got from them. Now, we have to go deeper into it.

Ratcliff: Our two European Union guys are hiding behind the cameras. Step forward so they can see you. Philippe Soulie is going to remain with the European Union in their press office. They have been apprehensive about coming on stage before they actually took the mission. We have been working closely with them, helping them set up and I think, as you find starting next week, we are actually going to change the location for the press conferences. Philippe will be hosting over at the European Reconstruction Agency the press conference starting next week. And he is setting up a press office downtown, which would be much more convenient for most of you to drop in and get more information on European Union activity. But, we are actually happy he is here. Could you guys welcome Philippe in the EU. You will not see much change in the press conferences. I think two of our translators will still be doing the press conferences and we will be there, just not being host for it, right?

Gjuzelova: First of all, I do not know whether you have been…I think you have been to the European Reconstruction Agency, Alain Le Roy once had a very lengthy, very, very long press conference there. It is just next to Hotel Bristol and it is downstairs. Now, the door people may be a little bit difficult, so if you could please bring your press cards for the first week. And can I have your number as well, because I want to check that up.

Ratcliff: OK, thank you for attending.