Updated: 19-Dec-2002 Transcripts


Press Briefing

held on 18 December 2002
at the NATO Press Centre in Skopje

Statement of Craig Ratcliff:

Good morning. As you can see, today we have special guests. But, before we turn the floor over to the Ambassadors, we have some administrative notes. First, reference in article in a local newspaper “Vest”. It has been suggested that it is unsafe in the skiing areas, and according to the international standards, we have stated clearly that it meets the international standards for mine-free areas. So, we need to make it clear today that the information in the article is incorrect and the areas are safe, and are meeting international standards. One other point, today is 18 December, following lessons learnt last year, we will restart press conferences on 15 January. We appreciate the extended vacation. At this point, I will turn it over to the Ambassadors.
Sir, the floor is yours.

Statement of NATO Ambassador, Nicolaas Biegman:

Welcome all of you. I think our main message for this session is to wish you Marry Christmas. Frankly, I don’t have much else to say to you, which is a very good sign in itself. I think we have had a very good year. The wisdom of those who argued for a peaceful solution of last year’s crisis was confirmed again and again. The high point was reached, of course, in September with peaceful, free and fair elections. At this stage, there is a Government in place, which, I know, is very sincere in reconciling former differences. So, looking back, I see remarkable success in Macedonia, which can really serve as example for many other regions and countries in the world. Looking ahead, I see a multi-ethnic society, which really wants to succeed. So, all this is reason why I am feeling pretty good today. This is all I wanted to say, and, of course, I am open to all your questions.

Statement of Special EU Representative, Alexis Brouhns:

Thank you. I know that the year that has passed has, in many ways, been a difficult one for many people in Macedonia, especially for those directly affected by the crisis or by the economic difficulties the country is now facing. But I think also that this year has been a turning point. Macedonia is in a better shape now than it was one year ago. Tensions have decreased, implementation of the Framework Agreement has moved forward, and elections as well as census have been held in orderly and dignified manner. All the citizens, as well as all the political parties in the country deserve great credit for that impressive achievement. Next year, this work should continue and be intensified. Economic and financial reforms, full implementation of the Framework Agreement and progressive implementation of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement are the different phases of the same process – a process leading to economic recovery and integration within EU. Concerning the Framework Agreement, I hope we will get a new push from the party leaders’ meeting on December 26. If 2002 has been about closing the door to the conflict, 2003 should be about locking that door and, instead, opening the one leading to EU. We will continue to support the Government and the population in these efforts. I wish all people in Macedonia all success in 2003, and I wish all of you happy holidays and happy New Year. Srekna Nova godina. GezuarVitin e Ri.

Statement of US Ambassador, Lawrence Butler:

Thank you Alexis. Good morning, I wanted to join today’s press briefing, which is my second time up here, so I can personally extend my greetings for the holidays and that of the Embassy. Much of the Embassy’s staff is getting ready to go back to the United States to spend Christmas and New Year with their families, but my family and I will be here for the holidays. I am about to complete my first year in Macedonia, and I wanted to share just a few thoughts with you. First is to thank you as journalists for your role that you play in the process of helping strengthen Macedonia’s understanding of the outside world, particularly that of the United States. You have had an exceptionally good year. You have kept your fellow citizens informed and up-to-date about important issues that affect their lives. A free and independent press in vital to Macedonia’s future, as member of NATO and member of the European Union. We are unreservedly committed to supporting you, even if we don’t always agree with everything you write or put on the air. But, we have tremendous respect for your profession. Second, like Alexis did, I will take a moment to review the successes and challenges that confronted Macedonia in this year. A year ago, your headlines were: “Spring Offensive”. Instead, that did not happen. Instead, you had September and the best elections in this part of the world. Your citizens confirmed Macedonia’s status as a democracy. Your citizens rejected extremism and nationalism. They put Macedonia firmly on the path that holds tremendous promise. Our New Year’s wishes for Macedonia is that you achieve a true, vibrant democracy, a solid rule of law, economic prosperity, respect for human rights, and a transparent government that works for all the people in Macedonia. You deserve all of this, but it will not come easy. There will be occasional setbacks, but if the voters directly and through the media make it clear to their elected representatives that they expect them to work hard, transparently and without corruption, you will succeed. Our top two priorities for 2003 are to work with your country on the implementation of the Framework Agreement, and to put Macedonia back on the way to economic prosperity. And we put our money where our mouth is, by watching the competitiveness of the project with USAID earlier this month. And Alexis and I will be giving part of our Christmas holidays to join with the signatories of the Framework Agreement, to chart the course coordinates for 2003. The United States is unreservedly committed to supporting Macedonia as this country is moving forward. Srekni praznici.

Statement of Chief of OSCE Mission:

I guess I am last, I will try to be brief. I want to underline the successes, the fact that is was a good year, I think that is obvious. I think I would just agree with my colleagues that these successes were the successes of those who chose peace, interethnic tolerance and political compromise as the way ahead. They were victories over those who prefer outdated nationalism, extremism and isolationism. Of course, that latter group is for the past, for history. If you want for your children peace, prosperity, and a better future, and integration in the Euro-Atlantic structures, the way forward is the way that has been chosen this year – tolerance and political compromise. So, I wish you personally, I wish your families and friends, and I wish all the citizens of this beautiful country a happy holiday season, and a very prosperous year.

Ratcliff: At this point, we are open for questions, but please, Ambassador Butler leaves in five minutes, he has an appointment, if you would direct all questions for him first.

Question 1: Ambassador Butler, could you, please, explain how much truth there is in the announcements that – there are words about taking Ali Ahmeti off the black list of the United States?
Butler: No new question, not a new topic. We have always made it very clear that the President’s executive order is constantly being reviewed to make sure the persons and the organizations that are listed meet the criteria of threatening the stability in the Balkans. But, personally, I am not in a position to make a prediction as to when Mr. Ahmeti or anybody else might be taken off, but it is constantly under review.

Question 2: Mr. Butler, there were reports in the media that Iraq wants to establish diplomatic relations with Macedonia. Do you think that is a wise thing to do? Should Macedonia establish diplomatic relations with Iraq?
Butler: The decisions on the part of this country as to who and which country it wants to have diplomatic relations with are sovereign decisions. I am actually unaware from anyone I have talked to here that there is interest on the part of Macedonia in establishing relations with Iraq.

Question 3: I have a question for Ambassadors Butler and Brouhns. What are your expectations from the leaders’ meeting? What concretely do you expect from these meetings, and is there going to be one or more leaders’ meeting?
Brouhns: I think it is a good opportunity after the elections to have a meeting with all the party leaders, to recommit all the political parties vis-à-vis the full and further implementation of the Framework Agreement in order also to discuss the action plan and the time frame of the actions to be taken by the Government in 2003, and therefore to give new impetus to this process. This meeting could be followed by other meetings, not necessarily at the same level, to discuss the different draft laws to be introduced to Parliament.
Butler: A major portion of our work plan for 2003, USAID involves supporting this Government’s efforts to implement the Framework Agreement, which should be one of the main topics, and we are at the disposal of the parties any time they need us.

Question 4: Mr. Butler, some of the Macedonian officials recently have said that there is still risk for the armed groups to reorganize. What do you think, what does the US think – is there still risk for deterioration?
Butler: There is an American proverb that says: the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. We are very alert, we assess the prospect for return of violence are very, very low. The one or two extremists we know about have no support in this country, and they run the risk, wherever they are, of being taken into custody for threatening the safe and secure environment. The peoples of Macedonia have figured out there is a better way for it, and it does not include supporting people with guns. And we will continue to support that effort.

Ratcliff: Thank you Ambassador for coming today.

Question 5: I would like to ask any of the international representatives here. Do you have any information about what is written in the Kosovo newspapers – that there are extremists in Kosovo from the so-called ANA, who are preparing actions, and they allegedly have support of the Macedonian population?
Biegman: I am in contact from time to time with the people in KFOR, of course, with the NATO people who are in Kosovo, and it seems to be their assessment that whoever calls himself AKS or ANA are very much isolated individuals, without plan, without money and without much else. It is also our assessment that at this stage, within Macedonia, there is no support for this kind of political extremism at all.

Question 6: Jasmina Mironski, FP. Mr. Ambassador, I would like to ask you, you just mentioned that “at this stage” they don’t have any kind of support. Do you have any information that there might be in the future, when the problem, or the issue, of Kosovo will be solved?
Biegman: I don’t have information about the future. You would have to ask maybe a lady who can look into a coffee cup. All I can speak about is this point in time, and, at this point in time, we do not see any support for any extremism, that is all I can say. But I certainly do not want to imply that this kind of quietness is temporary, and we should prepare for boisterous future, I do not believe in that at all.

Question 7: Todor Keramitcioski, Macedonian Radio. Ambassador Jenness, I would like to ask you whether you also agree with these assessments about the security, and I would also like to ask you more concretely about your assessments of the rumours that there have been some groups in Tanusevci.
Jenness: Of course, there are people in any country, and in this one – that may be engaging in criminal activities, that are not constructive, do not support the legal order, but there are few here, and they do not enjoy any broad political support. We have no specific information about problems in Tanusevci security related. Of course, it is a sensitive area, we would like to see a resolution of some of the documentation issues there, and we welcome the efforts of the Minister of Interior recently to resolve them. I would like to add for the journalists: it is important, I would encourage all of you to go out in those areas that you are concerned, worried about – go there and see the situation is pretty stable.

Question 8: A question for Ambassador Biegman: I would like to ask for your comment at the ceremony of the termination of the “Amber Fox” mission about the incident that happened there, i.e. when the Albanian language was used in the translation as well, and when instead of Macedonia, the reference FYROM was also used.
Biegman: I think about these mistakes: the less said the better. I think it is a pity that the enormous success, which the “Fox” operation achieved during the last year, and which sometimes really made the difference between war and peace in this country, has been overshadowed by a silly mistake. There was, first of all, the use of the abbreviation FYROM, which NATO never uses, certainly not within the borders of this country, which you will never have heard the Secretary General use, or which you will never have heard me use. It slipped into this text, and was pronounced a couple of times, and that is all. As far as the Albanian language goes, it was certainly not the idea to make that into a political gesture or anything of that kind. I think “Fox” had a lot to do with especially the former crisis areas, of course, which are largely inhabited by Albanians. Maybe, as a matter of courtesy, they wanted to translate what they said for that reason. But, again, there is no political angle to it, there is no new policy on the part of NATO. And I agreed with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, whom I saw that same evening at 7.30, that the incident was closed. So, I would like to keep it closed.
Jenness: Can I actually add a word here? Ambassador, if you agree. Since the “Fox” was there primarily, within the mandate, to assist us, I think the story is, and I hope the story is not lost: men and women were here to help the country and the citizens here, I think they did their jobs extremely professionally, and I believe that those who came into contact with the “Foxes” would have nothing but good things to say about their efforts, and I hope that people will not lose sight of that.
Brouhns: Shortly, on behalf of the EU, I should also stress the beautiful job achieved by the NATO “Fox” operation in this country.

Question 9: I have a question to Ambassadors Biegman and Brouhns: for a longer period of time, we have been hearing the congratulation notes, the greetings for the successes of Macedonia on economic, political, especially in the minority domain. However, during the last enlargements of NATO and EU, we saw that countries which have not achieved so much success in the political, economic or, especially, ethnic domain, have been included in these two organizations. So, can we expect to be admitted anywhere, on some precise dates?
Brouhns: In Copenhagen, the situation of the countries was discussed by the Heads of governments and Heads of states, and the European Council recalled the criteria which were defined in ’93 for the candidate countries to get closer to the EU and to start negotiations with. Copenhagen also reaffirms the European perspective, i.e. the European vocation of the five countries from the western Balkans. The main tool to be used in this policy is the Stabilization and Association process. It is going to be, during the next Greek presidency, one of the main issues to be discussed at the Thessalonica summit. Beyond the classical, traditional EU summit, the Greek presidency will organize a special summit with the leaders of the five western Balkan countries. You ask me when the negotiations could start, for example between Macedonia and EU, when could Macedonia become a member of the EU. The reply is quite simple: the pace of the rapprochement of Macedonia with the EU is in the hands on the political authorities of this country. The quicker you are pushing for reforms, the quicker you will be ready to start with the accession negotiations. So, I think, really, I would like to repeat – it is a main concern for the EU after the present enlargement to deal with this part of Europe, which, of course, is a part of the European Union.
Biegman: As far as NATO goes, as we have been saying, our vision and Macedonia’s vision is full membership of Macedonia in what is called the Euro-Atlantic structure. The moment at which Macedonia will be invited to join NATO will very much depend on the political aspects, because membership in the Alliance has to be ratified by the 19 Parliaments, and, by that time, even more, because there will be new members. The criteria that these Parliaments look at are only up to a point the armed forces of a country, whether the armed forces are well structured, whether they are useful to NATO or less so, that is interesting and necessary, but that is only one aspect. What these politicians in the Parliaments look at are especially the values which are in the Preamble of the NATO Treaty of 1949, which are described there as democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law. And that implies a number of things: rule of law, behaviour of the police, legal system, whether there is trust in the legal system, whether there is a decent relationship between the ethnicities in the country, what is the degree of organized crime, or corruption, all these things are taken into account by these various Parliaments, various Governments, for a start. I know that the new Government is really working on all these accounts, and I remember the speech made by the Prime Minister in front of the Parliament. If your read through the speech, you will find all the points that will be of interest, and not only for Macedonia internally, but also for Macedonia in the eyes of the international world, and especially of the members of the Alliance, who will have to invite you at some stage. How long it will take for this program to be realized to such a degree that all the new members of the Alliance will be comfortable at inviting Macedonia – I do not know, I do not think it should be a very long time. I hope I will still be there when you are invited. It is not a matter of “if” you will be invited, you will be invited, but there is a little homework to be done, that is all.

Question 10: I have a question to Ambassador Biegman: do you know the culprit who made the mistake at the ceremony in Bunardzik.
Biegman: No, I do not know, and I do not want to know, it was a low level mistake, and that is it.

Question 11: At the leaders’ meeting, only representatives of the two communities are represented, the Macedonian and the Albanian ones. So, what is with the other communities – the Serbian, the Turkish and the other communities that live in Macedonia – I do not know whether their presence has been neglected on purpose or not, but I would like to ask how the interests of these communities are going to be advocated, and how they are going to participate in the state organs?
Brouhns: This is what happened in the past and the leaders of the signatories of the Framework Agreement, so I do not feel the need this format and this pattern of the meeting. Of course, we discuss issues that are related to protection of all minorities, and I think it is the job of the different parties represented there also to defend their views. It is also the job of the Government, which is going to be represented there, to defend the positions of the different minorities, and I can tell you that as witnesses the EU and the US will attend these meetings and we will also take care of the questions you just mentioned now.
Journalist: How are the interests of a community going to be advocated if the representatives of that community do not participate, do you think that they can be fulfilled?
Brouhns: My office had contacts with representatives of different minorities in the country. We have been listening to you, we know your position, and, secondly I think that also you have some selected members of Parliament, who are in a position also to advocate their interests there.

Question 12: I would like to ask Ambassador Jenness when do you expect the Macedonian pupils to go back to school in Semsevo, and what are the OSCE activities regarding this issue?
Jenness: This is an issue, of course, for the Government. We fully support the Government’s handling of this. We work quite hard with everyone in that area, with our partners to try to build confidence and find a solution in line with the Government’s decisions. I am sorry that this issue is as political as it is. The Government made a decision, it should be implemented, and children should be in school. And I think in certain ways we have all lost sight of that, of the fact that children should be at school, that Government decisions should be implemented, the issue of where the bust is should not be an issue on the front page of the papers in the country for as long as this issue has been. So, as I said, I hope the children are back at school, proper school and the Government’s decisions are implemented as soon as possible.

Journalist: This is not a question. I want in my name and in the name of my colleagues to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Biegman, Brouhns, Jenness: Thank you very much.

Ratcliff: Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for your attendance today. All of you, have a great day.