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Updated: 19-Dec-2002 Transcripts

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Press Briefing

held on 11 December 2002
at the NATO Press Centre in Skopje

Statement of Craig Ratcliff:

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to today’s press conference. Obviously, the year is winding down, it is the end of the year. Obviously, you can tell that we have a special guest on stage today, Mark is visiting from Brussels, he doesn’t necessarily need an introduction, there are people who love him and hate him.

Mark Laity: There are people who hate me?

Ratcliff: Yes, it surprises me too when I hear that. But obviously, Mark is down here to support us as we transition Task Force Fox, as they terminate this week-end, which is of course a reminder to everybody that 11 o’clock Saturday, General de Jonge and General Cigna will be present at the press conference here in the hotel. We figured out that if we are working 6 days a week, you have to too. That’s it, everybody shakes their head now…That’s why I made editorial visits this week, to make sure that Zana will be there. So, that’s Saturday at 11 o’clock, and then Saturday at 4 p.m. or 16:00 hours, the actual ceremony will take place at Camp Fox. So, media advisories will follow later this week to remind you and we will be all set up, it will probably be in a small room in the hotel with coffee, tea and hors’ d’oeuvres. I made several visitors to editors and media owners this week, so if anyone wants me to make a visit, then we would certainly want to come by and chat. In some cases it is good, Darko gets to keep his job and no, I am not coming to Sitel. I will…but I have to put a mask on me…OK, with it, after 10 minutes of saying nothing, I will put it over to Mark…

Statement of Mark Laity:

OK, well, hello and it is very nice to be back here, I just have a brief statement about what I think is an extremely significant event this week-end. The successful conclusion of Task Force Fox which itself was the follow-on to Task Force Harvest, brings the curtain down on a very rare success of pre-emptive action. All of us who were here last year knew that Macedonia was at grave risk, but together, with our partners from the international community and the Macedonian people, we implemented a plan of action which prevented a crisis from turning into a war. Those of you who follow international affairs will know that the international community usually comes in when the crisis is full-blown and many people are dying. Task Force Harvest and Task Force Fox arrived in time and in partnership with the Macedonian Government and the rest of the international community, we prevented the crisis from getting worse. That is a rare international success. So, when Task Force Fox closes this weekend, it is not just a success for NATO, for Macedonia, it is a symbol of how people working together can prevent crisis turning into war. So, it was a remarkable success not just for NATO but for the Macedonian Government and nation who partnered us in overcoming the crisis, and we want to celebrate this success. But of course, we will continue in a different form. This form will reflect that we have ended the crisis but we still have problems to deal with and even more, that the nature of the relation between NATO and Macedonia is still developing. We now want to emphasise the advisory side of our mission, you are a sovereign country, you want to control your own affairs. And you are capable of that, you just wish us to help you and we are very pleased to do that. So, the new mission will put stronger and stronger emphasis on advising you to reform and develop your own structures, and this is also appropriate to a country that still wishes to be a member of NATO and to fully integrate within Europe. We support 100% the Macedonian aspiration to be a full close partner to the Euro-Atlantic structures. So, there will be more work on this advisory element. But, there is still an operational mission to be fulfilled and you will be reading a lot about that. It will mean that the overall size of the mission is much smaller but I want to emphasise that it is still highly capable and robust. In the areas where we operate, the former crisis regions, the people in those areas will probably not notice much difference. The number of liaison teams is very similar, somewhere around 25 although the exact number may change. And they will be extremely active, so I want to emphasise: our commitment remains on the operational level, we are robust, we are capable and you will be seeing a lot of us but the situation is so much improved that a change in structure is appropriate. We don’t need a separate task force, the whole operation can be commanded by NATO Headquarters Skopje. So, the size of the mission will be somewhere around 450 or maybe a few more. And that is plenty enough to do the mission we have to do and to ensure that the people in the former crisis areas are confident in having NATO’s support. And their jobs will be very similar to what they have been doing until now, we look forward to continuing this mission and having close cooperation with the people in the region who can be confident that when they need us, we will be there, and obviously when my colleagues have made their statements, I‘m happy to take any further statements on that issue.

Statement of Wolfgang Greven:

Dobar den. Of course, I can not talk that long, so I only have two short announcements today and that you will receive this week also as a press release, but that may be of importance for your agenda. The OSCE and the Nansen Dialogue Centre will host their first joint youth leadership conference at Mavrovo on December 13-15. Nearly, 30 students aged between 14 And 18 years from different secondary schools of Tetovo region will form the audience of this conference. Students of economical, musical, textile and agricultural and other background will represent the broad card of the community life of their region. They will practice in leadership development, conflict resolution, team building and role-plays. During this seminar they will try to find solutions they can implement to the challenges facing their communities. The main tutor of this seminar will be Albert Haney from the Nansen Dialogue Centre who has experience in more than 25 tutorials of this kind. The OSCE tends to run similar conferences with high school students from other municipalities throughout the country over the next 6 months and the second announcement is concerning a press conference that will be held on Monday. During the fall of 2002, the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), initiated a follow-up project to the ODIHR’s crisis management seminar which was implemented during the 2001 crisis period. During the fall 2002, ODIHR consulted with the OSCE spillover mission to Skopje, the Macedonian Ministry of Interior, the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Swedish National Police board, the Swedish Rescue Service and ODIHR’s donors on a follow project to ensure that this important process continues. And as I sad, the interim report of this group, if you want to name it like that will be presented to the media on Monday. We will give you the exact dates at the latest tomorrow. And I am sure that Irena has much more important news for you.

Statement of Irena Guzelova:

I actually don’t have any news but I am here to answer your questions.

Ratcliff: OK, Ladies and Gentlemen, we are subject to any queries and questions you may have at this time. Seven more seconds…Oh, we have one…

Question 1: The number of 450 people who would be comprising the new mission that you mentioned. Will they arrive in the country after the departure of the Foxes on Saturday or are they already here?
Laity: It is a mixture. Because the command element is now NATO HQ Skopje which is already based here, than a large number of the people are already doing duty. With regard to the liaison teams, many of them will be going home and others will be coming in. So, it is difficult to put a precise mix. I mean I should emphasise that because this is a new kind of organization in mission, we don’t any longer have one nation leading it. So, it is no longer a German lead or a Dutch lead or indeed the fact that General Cigna is an Italian does not mean that it is the Italians who will have the bulk of troops. So, it will be difficult to say which nation has most of the troops, they will be from all over NATO.

Question 2:Mark, this is going to be a hypothetical question for you. The extension of the mission is up to 6 months, if it happens that the EU takes over the mission in February, will NATO remain here in the country to help the Macedonian authorities with the reform process, the structures and the reconstruction of the army and things like that and to help the country join the European Union. The second question is for Irena and Wolfgang, it seems to be that this mysterious poisoning of the students in Kumanovo rises again the inter-ethnic tensions on the field out there. Do you have something on that, a comment? Thank you.
Laity: OK, I don’t normally like answering hypothetical questions. But this one I can. There is two elements to the mission, the operational and the advisory. Regardless of what happens to the operational side of the mission, the advisory one is here to remain. So, in a theoretical case of an EU mission coming to help with the operational elements for support to Macedonia than the advisory side would remain unaffected. So, if there were no NATO liaison teams in the field, there would still be NATO advisors helping the Macedonian Government with the process of reforms and restructuring. And of course, Macedonia is still an applicant to become a member of NATO eventually and of course, we want to help Macedonia in that aim. So, I can emphasise very strongly that whatever happens with regard to the liaison teams and the operational element, NATO will remain, because we are partners and we are going to remain partners. Now, with regard to a possible EU take-over, as you said, that is still theoretical, it will be on the basis of NATO and the EU completing their permanent arrangements. And if that does happen, than it is feasible that the EU could take over the mission, the operational element of it. But of course that would be only with the agreement of the Government. Just as NATO is only here with the agreement of the Government. But as a matter of principle, NATO is willing to hand over that responsibility to the EU if the Government is happy that should happen. But NATO and Macedonia have come a long way together and we are not going to part company now. You are our partners and you are going to stay our partners.

Guzelova: As far as the Kumanovo cases, as you know, we are really not involved in it and it is not our role to become involved in it at all. But certainly, yes, it is an example on how certain individuals can manipulate events to raise tensions and basically to undermine some of the very hard work that has been done so far. But again, I will just repeat what we always repeat here and what we have been repeating over the past few months, and that is really the facts speak for themselves. There are far far fewer incidents on a daily, on a weekly basis, they are dropping all the time. And, all I can say is that for this trend to continue and it is continuing, people need to continue to rise above petty nationalisms.
Laity: Speculation may be fun, but it not usually very helpful. So, the less speculation, the better.
Greven: I support what Irena said and I would like to warn that the pain and illness of kids is used to promote any ethnic conflict.

Question 3: Mark, will NATO in the future ask the Macedonian Government to commit troops to any potential war areas, and particularly in Iraq, as an act of good faith in its NATO application?
Laity: Nobody has asked NATO to commit to a future war in Iraq. I think that you are way way ahead of any potential decisions about anything to do with Iraq. You will be well aware of the very strong statement that came out from the NATO’s Heads of States and Governments in Prague, and that put very clearly that we support the UN process that is going on now. So, your question is pre-mature about NATO policy let alone anything to do between NATO and Macedonia. The focus of our relations, between Macedonia and NATO, is on improving the situation here and that is all that we are thinking about.

Question 4: My first question is basically a sub-question to the one that was previously asked about the Kumanovo poisoning case and I would like to say that I was not too happy with the answer that Irena gave, i.e. that you are not involved in that matter. According to me, and I believe according to many people who are present here, if this poisoning issue continues than it might bring us back to a situation that we would certainly not want to have back, so basically as an international factor, you should have a statement on that or you should at least go and visit the pupils there because as we all know there are always two truths in Macedonia. Also, I am asking from you and you should be collegial and get us a translator in Albanian because it is not easy for me in three languages to think, to speak and say everything that I want. At last it is time to think about that, really! My second question is that it seems that NATO always extends their mission here or basically that they always find a problem in order to extend their mission here, so what is it that must happen for NATO to remain here and to continue its presence here, because as far as I know, the EU does not have much experience in this, and it would basically be a pilot mission if they would take it over.

Guzelova: OK, Sevdije, I am going to disappoint you. We are really not involved in this Kumanovo case and we are not going to get involved. We are not going to get involved into such cases, we have a very clear mandate in the country and that is to oversee the implementation of the Framework Agreement. And as Mark said, the more speculation you give to such events, the greater the opportunity for individuals, for certain individuals to manipulate them. And I think that a lot of people would agree that in these kinds of cases, there is a need to rise above petty nationalisms.

Laity: With regard to the second part of the question about NATO always staying, every time we have extended our mission was because the Macedonian Government has asked us. And that is because they felt there was a need for the international community and in this case NATO to provide confidence, expertise which the Macedonian Government themselves feel they need. For the new mission, Allied Harmony, the number of troops is much reduced and Task Force Fox was very much reduced in numbers from Task Force Harvest. So, we went from thousands to hundreds and now from hundreds to a low number of hundreds. And this reflects how the situation has been steadily improving and NATO is proud to have been a part in helping it improving. But the Macedonian Government has stated repeatedly, it does not want to become dependent on us, it wants our assistance, it does not want us to do its job for it. So, we are working towards that day. So, the operational level goes down and the advisory level goes up. And the day when the Macedonian Government does not want us to be here, we will leave. I am not sure I quite understood the point you made about NATO and the EU.

Journalist: Basically, my question is how would you comment the fact that this would be the first mission of the EU?

Guzelova: Well, again we are talking about ‘woulds’, ‘ifs’ there is nothing definitive yet. And first of all, we fully support NATO’s continuing presence in the country, there is no doubt about that. Now, if in the eventuality there is a hand over, you just have to drive around Macedonia and to look at the nationalities of the troops on the ground, they are from Europe.

Laity: And I would echo that statement. This is a NATO mission but almost of all the personnel involved are European. And if you look at the KFOR mission in Kosovo and the SFOR mission in Bosnia, not only are they largely European but they have been going for a number of years, which means that there are very large number of European troops with strong operational experience in the Balkans. So, I think European expertise in the Balkans is not in question.

Question 5: I have two questions, the first one is for Mark. About a certain clarification, you said earlier that it is fun to make speculations but that it is not helpful. So my question is who is speculating? And the second question is: you said that the operational part remains in the country although the situation has greatly improved. So, why is it that NATO is the one that has to provide additional security for the OSCE and EUMM monitors, can’t the Macedonian security forces take over that task? Or, are you perhaps afraid of a new crisis?
Laity: I think that a lot of people are speculating, from all sides including the media. Some may actually be trying to help but the fact is that it is better to stick to the facts. So, under such a sensitive situation, speculation of any kind is not helpful. With regard to the second question, we have always made clear that the primary responsibility for the protection of the OSCE and EUMM is with the Macedonian Government. Every time there is an operational plan, that phrase is used. Now, we will continue to provide any extra assistance within our means and capabilities but that does not change the primary responsibility, which the Macedonian Government fully accepts. I think that there is a progressive improvement both in the overall situation and the Macedonian Government’s determination to fulfil their tasks. But if we can help, we will. But I don’t think that the Macedonian Government is avoiding its obligations to provide that protection.
Journalist: So, the question was not concretely about whether the Macedonian Government is or is not avoiding that responsibility, but more focusing on whether the monitors still need additional protection.
Laity: Well, I think that is a very theoretical question. I think if you look at the facts on the ground, the OSCE and the EUMM are able to do their tasks. I think Wolfgang himself is probably the best to comment on whether the OSCE feels that it can get adequate protection under its current circumstances.
Greven: If you look at the facts, most of the jobs that we are doing in the country, we are doing them without the protection of TFF or whoever. On the other hand, we appreciate the expertise we also get to fulfil our job from the NATO TFF or whomever. That starts with the community advisory groups and ends at any other meeting you have in these villages or municipalities. There is a hell of a lot of experience concerning security we can learn from TFF or NATO. And I think in the same way, also the Macedonian police and armed forces and others can learn from this experience. But the overall security situation for OSCE is that most of our jobs we obviously can do without a special protection.

Ratcliff: OK, Looking at the crowd, we have reached our time limit, everybody has their deadlines to meet. If anybody has anything else, please come to the podium, we will be happy to discuss anything that we missed. Thank you, have a great day.

Greven: I have a last remark if I may, we are very glad to see our colleagues back safe and in good condition from Afghanistan.