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Updated: 02-Oct-2001 Transcripts

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Press briefing

held on 2 October 2001
at the NATO Press Centre in Skopje

(Technical difficulties prevented us from recording the entire news briefing. Our apologies.)

Statement of Major Tim Dunne:
Good morning ladies and gentlemen, welcome to today's news briefing. First of all, over night shot reports: We have two to report, one at 21:30 last night, and in the area of Lipkovo, there was a drive-by shooting, but we have assessed this as not against any targets, it was just a drive-by shooting into the air.
And sometime after this, there was another shooting in the Zelino area, again, against no target. And following yesterday's news briefing there were some questions regarding information we had about a shooting at the police check points, we made an inquiry and we issued a clarification yesterday afternoon. For those who may not have read the clarification, I will read it now:

Following questions this morning about reported attacks on police positions in the Tetovo area the APIC said it had no information on the incident, but would follow-up the questions and report back. We can now add the following information:

Our observer teams in the area did record a small number of gunshots in the Tetovo area late last night, followed by a short burst of automatic gunfire, (about x20). The timing and approximate location appears to correlate with a report from the Ministry of Interior police that shots were fired at two of their checkpoints in the cemetery area of Tetovo, and that they briefly returned fire.

Due to darkness and the geographic location of our observer team we cannot verify the police report, but liaison teams are following up the incident. The MoI report on the incident was passed on to NATO through normal channels, but unfortunately had not reached us in time for the briefing. We would strongly condemn any attack on police positions.

That concludes our clarification for yesterday. Going on with today's information:

Yesterday a farmer picked up or disturbed a piece of unexploded ordinance, which exploded and seriously injured him and less seriously injured one other.


Statement of Mark Laity:
[...] over plans for the return into the conflict zones. We did make progress but there will be further meetings today. These regular meetings indicate how keen we are to get this process moving and the atmosphere at this meetings is good, we are cooperating well over some difficult issues. That's it for me and I'm open to your questions.

Question 1: Could you give us an information about the exact number of TFH soldiers that have departed already?
Maj. Dunne: I would have to get a calculator in order to that. If you want to wait until after the briefing, I will get that for you. It should only take a few moments.
Mark Laity: We will try and get that for tomorrow. There is an overlap because some of the troops that have been working for TFH will change their function and become part of TFF. Although this will be within the total figure of some 700 additional troops to KFOR Rear's normal total.

Question 2: Mr. Laity, since you mentioned that there are discussions and regular meetings ongoing, can you tell us at what level they are being conducted, who is participating on behalf of the , MOD, MoI and also from the NATO side?
Mark Laity: They happen at various levels. So, for instance, yesterday's meeting was at a middle-ranking level, colonel-brigadier level, other main meetings involved the state secretaries, and other officials of equivalent rank. Normally, we would characterize them as meetings at the expert level. The practical level of people that would actually have to implement the return to the former conflict zones. Sometimes they also involve specialist sub-groups, for instance on media, but there is usually one meeting a day and they involve representatives of EU, UNCHR, OSCE, NATO.

Question 3: What are the difficult issues that need to be solved?
Mark Laity: On a technical level, it's a multi-phase plan, which involves a preparation phase, for instance an information campaign, and assessment of utilities and things like this, but also we need to agree and discuss on deciding which zones are low-risk to be entered first, medium risk to be entered later and high-risk to be entered last. And the timing of the phasing, we need to agree in which order, but how long between each phase. These are quite technical issues and of course they are not always discussed at this level, and how they are affected by other bigger strategic issues. For instance, amnesty and the implementation or the voting to approve the Framework Agreement.

Because these are all connected with the confidence building process. And both of those issues are critical in the area of confidence building. And in particular of course, amnesty. Because the issue of amnesty will have a critical impact on how the return of police forces is viewed by those who are in the former conflict zones.

So, it is hard to understate the importance of a quick amnesty in order to facilitate the fast return of the Macedonian security forces and particularly the police, to the former conflict zones. And obviously, on the wider level, the Framework Agreement is a signal to everybody that we can have a different kind of future, in which all sectors of the society can feel confident that things are going to continue to improve. But, as I said, the technical agreements are often more practical than mundane. We need to get these details and these practicalities right because they are critical to success. In a fragile situation, small incidents can have great consequences.

Question 4: What about the issue of the kidnapped persons. You may be aware that the families have been received yesterday by Parliament Speaker Andov and President Trajkovski and this whole issue might have a negative effect on the voting in favor of the Agreement. What is your comment on that?
Laity: We've had the issue of conditionality before. In the initial phase one, vote, there was a suggestion that there should be conditions set before people voted for the Agreement. And the very firm view at the time was that there is no conditionality. When the agreement was signed there was no conditions set for it. And the same issue applies to amnesty. When the President wrote his letter, made his statement which was supported by the Government, where was no 'ifs' in that statement. Clearly, one can appreciate the strength of feelings of those who have people who are missing. But, that does not mean that there can be conditionality on unrelated issues. The amnesty issue and the signing of the Framework Agreement is about the future of whole of Macedonia. That process is a process that people have pledged, so there can be no linkages, it would be unfair to the whole of Macedonia which benefits as a whole for the return in the former conflict zones. So bringing in of conditionality would be a breach of the commitment already made. And there was no conditionality set when these things were agreed or stated. It is up to other people how they vote, but there is no question that there was no conditionality set.

Question 5: Do you have the impression that the parliament, and the MPS are distancing more and more from the Framework Agreement and the Plan of President Trajkovski. Do you think that we are coming to a dead-end?
Laity: My opinion on that is irrelevant. I was stating the situation as it is up to MPs what they do. We are not going to interfere in the sovereignty of Parliament. I was merely pointing out the logical consequences. If you decide not to have an amnesty, there will be consequences. If people vote against the Framework Agreement, there will also be consequences. People have to understand what those possible consequences are and live with them. But I would not never dream of telling an MP how he should or should not vote. But we all know that the question of the Amnesty and the Framework Agreement charted the way ahead. So, if there is no amnesty and no framework agreement, what is the way ahead? That is a choice that lies before the MPs. And I repeat, with some emphasis, it is their choice, not mine.

Question 6: Do you have any information regarding the kidnapped persons?
Laity: The best people to speak to on this are the Red Cross. The first point to make is that we do not refer to those as kidnapped persons, because we do not know their faith. We refer to them as missing people, because were they kidnapped? Are they dead? Merely missing? We do not know. The information that the Red Cross is giving out is that there are in fact 12 missing Macedonians. And 5 missing Albanians. And we just do not know the faith of any of them at present. Ali Ahmeti has been questioned both by NATO and in meetings with other international organizations. He has emphasized repeatedly that he does not know what happened to them, but that they are not detained. Those were his words, not ours. We just don't know. I think that is very easy for anyone to understand the agony and the grief of the families of the 17 people who are missing. But it is to avoid more than 17 families having further agony and grief, that we need to get this peace process concluded. We do not want the 17 families in agony and grief but we do not want it to be 117 or 1017. The Framework Agreement, the amnesty, the return of the DPs, and the return of Macedonian authority over its whole territory, that is what we want so that the 17 people who were grieving will be the last.

Question 7: ???
Laity: The reality about an amnesty is that if you are an ex NLA member who has committed illegal acts by taking up arms then you at present will be fearful of arrest. So how you view a policeman. Quit possibly as a threat and we wish to avoid that. So the return of people in former conflict zones is meant to be confidence enhancing not fear inducing. The commitment made by President Trajkovski and supported by the government of doing an amnesty where the only exclusion was war crimes subject to ITFWC jurisdiction was a feature in giving people confidence to hand in their weapons. It has been stated publicly by the ex NLA that that amnesty was a major reason for giving the confidence to give up their weapons. So if there is no amnesty then there will be fear on their side, and people who are fearful nervous do stupid things. You ask me what will happen if there is no amnesty. And the real answer is I don't know. Because we're all uncertain. What I would say is I would ask you if you have committed an illegal act and a policeman comes near what would you do. And so the answer is I don't know. But the problem is we are in a situation where we need certainty and confidence; we need to know with some confidence what is going to happen when people return to former conflict zones. I there is an amnesty we can predict with some confidence. And I prefer certainty to uncertainity, and I know there are many people in the government who feel the same because they've said so publicly.

Question (second part): Ok, the second question is that you keep mentioning trust building however two days ago minister Buckovski stated that there are training camps in Albania, how do you think this will influence the further process.

Laity: Well there seems to be some debate over the training camps clearly. And this is a matter between Macedonia and Albania. But clearly the NLA said it's disbanded the best available evidence that we have are suggesting this is right. But clearly they must stay disbanded. It's over. They've got to stay disbanded. Now this does not mean that there will not be individuals who behave badly. We know that Albania itself has security problems. We know Kosovo has security problems but we are here talking about Macedonia. And there are views that NLA has done the right thing and must stay doing the right thing. There was never any sympathy for the NLA on the part of NATO, never. It was necessary at the request of the government for us to deal with them as intermediates. But if, we had never sympathy before, if they would turn to arms now, then our view of them would be even harsher if that is possible. They've done the right by disbanding and they must stay disbanded.