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Updated: 19-Dec-2002 Transcripts

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Press Briefing

held on 14 December 2002
at the NATO Press Centre in Skopje

Statement by Mark Laity:

Good morning everybody. Thank you for coming on Saturday. I am sorry you cannot be going around the shopping centres or whatever. But, then, neither can we.
We have here today two senior commanders from NATO, General Cigna and General de Jonge. We are going to give you a briefing on Fox and the future and there will be short statements from both of them. After the statements we are very happy to take your questions. So, first of all, I am pleased to introduce General Cigna, who will give the first statement.

Statement by General Cigna:

Ladies and Gentlemen, Welcome to today’s press conference. I appreciate that many of you took time from your busy schedules, and more importantly, I think, from your personal time on a weekend to share some time with us today.
I would like to say a few words about the excellent job that Gen de Jonge did during his tenure as Commander TFF. He performed an incredibly difficult task in Macedonia. He managed to find balance between peace and conflict for himself and the people of Macedonia during his tenure.
Amber Fox was a very successful mission. It provided an environment for the improvement of the security situation in Macedonia thus contributing to the increase of stability within the country. A very difficult job indeed!!!
It has been a pleasure General de Jonge to have had the opportunity to work with you. I have the honor to thank you publicly for the very important job you did so well, you and your staff, to include every single soldier on the ground. Professionalism and pride in a job well done showed every day in each of your soldiers.
The forthcoming mission will be different from Amber Fox. I am sure that all of you know already lot of details on Allied Harmony. Therefore what I would like to stress here is that the operational and the advisory components of the new NATO mission will certainly help Macedonia to continue to improve the process of stabilisation.
Allied Harmony is the demonstration of NATO’s continued commitment to the region. Working together reach our goals.
I would be more than happy to discuss the new mission later. Today we honour General De Jonge and TFF.
And so now, I give the stage to General de Jonge.

Statement by General de Jonge:

General Cigna, thank you very much for your compliments. I feel privileged to have witnessed and actively taken part in an important phase in Macedonia’s recent history. To help increase confidence of the population and restore a stable atmosphere. This entailed numerous meetings and contacts with representatives of the government on national and local level, political parties and individual Macedonians. I have come to respect the dedication of many to their beliefs and I have taken a liking to the countryside of Macedonia and its warm and generous population.
Seven hundred and fifty soldiers of Task Force Fox have worked with me for six months in your country. Going back home, for the most of them within the week, from now they will, like me, be ambassadors of your country in advance of Macedonia’s future entry into EU and NATO.
Macedonia has taken an important step forward. NATO recognises this and adepts its commitment to Macedonia. Tomorrow, on 15 December, Task Force Fox ends and with the request of the government a new operation with a different mandate will start. It will be better suited to the new circumstances. I wish Macedonia and this new mission all the best. Thank you very much.

Laity: Thank you General. We are now open to questions, if you can just raise your hands and we will get the microphone to you. So, please…

Question 1 (A1 TV): Mark, this is a question for you. Can you tell us about the agreement reached yesterday, Berlin Plus. Will there be any impact on the new mission in Macedonia? Whether the European forces will be coming in February?
Laity: It is too early to give a definitive answer to that question. Clearly, one of the obstacles in the way of EU potentially taking over in Macedonia was the lack of permanent arrangements. But, as you obviously realise, yesterday we agreed with the EU permanent arrangements between NATO and the European Union with respect to security. This is the so-called Berlin Plus. And we put out a statement last night, and if you do not have it, it is on the NATO web site, but there will also be copies available in the Press Centre. This is a vital milestone in the history of NATO-EU relations. But at the moment, that is all it is – between NATO and EU. And the agreement was on Berlin Plus, not as yet about a potential takeover by the European Union. As you are aware, in the conclusions of the Presidency in Copenhagen, the European Union reiterated its willingness to take over this mission. And this will now be discussed. As the conclusion said, they reiterated their readiness to take over the military operation in FYROM as soon as possible in consultations with NATO. And obviously, the Government of Macedonia will also be closely involved, because this is a sovereign country which makes its own decisions. So, to summarise, last night we agreed EU-NATO permanent arrangements. This obviously has implications for a possible EU presence, but there was no decision on that yesterday. That is a decision for the future in consultation between NATO, EU and Macedonia.

Question 2(Macedonian Radio): A question for Mr. Laity. Does this mean that Macedonia still hasn’t sent an official request for the replacement of NATO forces with EU forces?
Laity: That is a question you should put to the Macedonian government. The last request there was, was a request for NATO to have a follow-on to Task Force Fox. It is a matter of record that the Government has indicated that it has no principled objection to the EU. We have to emphasise – any decision is ultimately Macedonia’s. Nothing will happen unless the Macedonian government agrees.
You do not often get two generals here. So, grab your chance while you can. Any further questions for anyone?
If I could just say then. There is some light refreshments, which we would be very pleased if you would stay behind and join with us. And you can talk to the two generals in an informal way.
And one more thing – could I just remind you, of course, the Closing Ceremony is at four o’clock this afternoon and you are all invited. And if you cannot make your own way there, then speak to Craig because we are arranging transport for some people.
Thank you very much.