Updated: 10-Jul-2002 Transcripts


Press Briefing

held on 3 July 2002
at the NATO Press Centre in Skopje

Statement by Craig Ratcliff:

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to today’s press conference. Obviously, several of you had trouble getting here this morning, as well as I think, a couple of us. Thank you for being patient. As things go, the major issue on the agenda for this week, considering that things have actually been relatively calm, really goes back to yesterday and today. The whole reason why we started the press-conference late was because of road blocks. So, I guess the theme and the message today is really a reference to the past and some past statements is that road blocks are worthless, useless and a terrible way to get a message across. You know we’ve said before, NATO ambassador, myself, the US ambassador and any other person who said that road blocks are useless, worthless, poor political tool and should be abandoned. It is obvious that it’s easy to do that, but it’s also obvious to you and me and everybody else that really all it does is screw up your day. It really screwed up my day yesterday and it’s screwing up today yours. That would probably be a quote.

In reference to yesterday, we know that there was a protest up at the border crossing, we know why and certainly there are some questions about the obvious start of that protest and the reasons why. Certainly, there are no clear answers right now, I guess except that some people were arrested or detained, and I think they’ve been released. So, obviously, the message there is that citizens in a free and democratic society have a right for a civil protest. We don’t necessarily like to see them any more than anybody else, but that’s their right to do that. We would encourage them to not do that, but we know that they have a right to protest and demonstrate for a good cause. In contrast to that, we want to note that the police performed reasonably well, with restraint in reacting to the protest. I know that special police were sent up, but they acted with restraint and handled it in a professional manner.

That should be about it. I was chastised this morning. I hope that everybody could hear me clearly. My translator told me I had to speak louder and clearer, I hope that’s better today.

The theme that we want you to walk away with today is that road blocks are useless and we insist they stop.

I will pass it over to Florin.

Statement of Florin Pasnicu:

Thank you, Craig. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Except for saying “se nadevam ke imate dobar den”, I have no other introductory statement. Just a short reminder for the press conference that we are planning for tomorrow, at 1:30 at the Holiday Inn Hotel, featuring Ambassador Studman, the head of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. ODIHR is, as you know, the specialised department of the OSCE for elections, and Ambassador Studman will visit Skopje together with a few colleagues in preparation of the upcoming observing mission of ODIHR. Courtesy of the spokesman of ODIHR, Mr Jens Hagen Eschenbacher, we have a short fact sheet describing the ODIHR activities at large. If you are interested, you may get a copy by the end of the press conference.

Thank you, and now I pass the floor to Irena.

Statement of Irena Guzelova:

Good morning everyone. I don’t have a statement this morning and suffice to lend support to Craig’s comment about road blocks. I think Craig said it very well and very clearly - road blocks just screw up your day. There are legal channels through which to pursue demands. That is all from me. I am just going to introduce my colleague to you – Guy Mustard and he is the coordinator for the European Reconstruction Agency here in this country.

Statement of Guy Mustard:

Thanks very much, hello everyone. The reason I’ve come to this press conference this morning is to inform you that Commissioner Chris Patten this morning in Skopje announced an allocation of an additional 3.6 million euro for housing reconstruction. This should be enough money to reconstruct around 200, 200 plus houses. Those houses will all be in the more seriously damaged categories, categories 3 and 4. Mr Patten added that the EU is not the only donor who was planning further housing reconstruction. Germany, Italy and the Netherlands will all allocate additional funds for reconstruction of houses. It wouldn’t be proper for me to go into details about their individual allocations. But, suffice to say, between us we think there is sufficient money to complete reconstruction of all eligible houses. We’ve started discussions with the government here, in particular the Ministry of Transport, to determine the exact location of the houses and who does what. We hope that process would be rapid and we would have an agreed plan very soon. I should emphasise that what I’ve just announced is in addition to the 900 houses that the EU has already reconstructed. That current programme will wind up at the end of July, by which time we expect the figure to have reached at least 960 houses. So, the 200 plus is on top of all of that. That is all I want to say. Thank you.

Guzelova: We are open to questions.

Ratcliff: A couple of administrative notes before we start. Some people know, but I am going to slip out of the country for a about a week and a half. The gentlemen sitting in the left corner here, Lieutenant Colonel Peter Fuss, is going to be taking the temporary role for the Press Centre while I’m gone. Peter, if you will…

Peter Fuss: Ladies and Gentlemen, since I am going to replace Craig Ratcliff for the next two weeks, I only brought one set of clothes. So, if you forget my name or my name, please remember my jacket. Thank you.

Ratcliff: Trust me, I saw it this morning, we won’t forget it.

Anyway, I’ll be gone for about two weeks to see my daughter in the States.

For those that are covering the British press conference, I think part of you here are staying, is scheduled for 12 o’clock in this same room, same stage.

Subject to questions.

Question 1: Other than the road blocks screw your day, do you see a threat that the road blocks are going to screw up the security in this country?

Ratcliff: Are the road blocks a direct threat to security? No. Road blocks are in bad taste, in bad form and in bad use for political purposes, but they won’t screw up the security situation. Generally speaking, the truth is that road blocks will eventually work against the interest of those that are trying to use them as a tool to send a message. I think we all know that. How many people here are in favour of road blocks? No hands. Bad form, stop.

Journalist: The second question is about yesterday’s blockade and the protest at the Blace border crossing. Do you have any reasons why those three people, three Albanians have been detained. What is the story about the so-called Commander Rusi, do you have something about that? As I heard, they have been released today, as you mentioned. Do you know whether this commander Rusi is covered by the amnesty?

Pasnicu: While Craig is waiting instructions from Brussels directly, let me try to address this question. We are not aware of all the details regarding this situation. We understand that the people who were travelling with that car were asked by police to participate in an interview. We didn’t have the sense that there was an arrest involved, but there was an information by the police for, as they call it, an informative talk. We believe that police is entitled to carry out normal policing activities. So, those talks lasted few hours, by late afternoon, early evening we understand the people were set free, they could continue their travel. There are a few good things about this situation. One, police carried out a normal policing activity. Then, that policing activity involved a multi-ethnic police team. And there was an OSCE team on the scene, which upon the invitation of police, tried to do confidence building among people who raised concerns about that situation. The only unfortunate thing about this situation is that some people resorted to this manifestation…Craig is much better than me in labelling it – of blocking the road, this is not helpful.

Ratcliff: Of course, the connecting issue is, yes, the international community watches to ensure that amnesty is complied with. Every one agrees amnesty was a good thing, we are making sure that it applies equally and is followed. And the assumption is that it’s good police procedures and processing at the border check point and those things as this point as routine checks. There was nothing to indicate at this point that it was other than that. But obviously, there is an increased awareness because of the association of people those persons had in the past.

Question 2: First a question for Florin. You come from a former communist country, Romania. Do you know what exactly is an informative talk by the police? And my second question – because you are talking about it as something normal, Craig, do you mean that you really support this kind of police operations now at Blace, before the elections, during the election campaign. One of the people arrested yesterday was quite a well-known person who could have caused trouble later. And there were not 100 people as you say, but around 400.

Ratcliff: Nobody said we supported bad police procedures, we said we support good police procedures. Yesterday was what we consider a good response, adequate and fair. We didn’t say anything different. Nobody said it was a pattern of harassment. At this point, the assumption is that it was a good police procedure and checking at border. Everyone suspects and there is suspicion that it wasn’t, but at this point, that’s what we are assuming.

Generally speaking, we support good police procedure. Yesterday, as it appears, was good police procedure. At this point it doesn’t show that they acted irresponsibly. They acted professionally and it’s a good police procedure.

Pasnicu: Blagodaram za prasanjeto, Linda, but perhaps you can tell me what the real question is.

Journalist: Are you really aware of what an informative talk actually means?

Pasnicu: Well, I think it is normal, as Craig just said, that police investigates a situation that the police considers appropriate to investigate. This applies equally to all countries. Police treatment of citizens has to be fair and even, and at the same time, there are no citizens above the law. So, as a matter of principle, police has the right to investigate and an obligation to carry out normal policing activity. If police is carrying out these activities in accordance to laws and procedures, there is nothing wrong about that situation.

Ratcliff: OK, well I went to the crowd prior, and I was warned that nobody had any questions today.