on 12 September 2001
at the NATO Press Centre in Skopje
of Mark Laity:
Good morning, this is a very somber day. The reaction of most people
throughout the world yesterday can be summed up in the word 'unbelievable'.
Words can describe most things but some things are beyond words. We all
share the shock and horror of what happened yesterday. Our sympathies
extend to everyone who has lost families, relatives, sons, daughters,
mothers, and fathers. I think that it would be appropriate at this moment
that we share one minute of silence with the ones who have lost so much.
So please join us in the minute of silence.
of Major Johnson:
Thank you and please be seated.
Firstly, this is a very difficult day for me personally; this is something
that impacts friends and colleagues that I've known most of my adult life.
But it is also a difficult day for the NATO Alliance and I believe for
all the peace-loving people around the world. I would like to reiterate
that this does not dissuade us from our commitment here, our commitment
towards the people of Macedonia who are undertaking a difficult journey
themselves down a very hard road to peace and prosperity - that we intend
to stay by you at this time. We remain diligent at meeting the objectives
At this time, just a couple of administrative notes to remind people that
there was a pool that went out this morning, so it departed already to
the weapons collection site. On Friday, there is a facility down to Krivolak
where all the weapons from this phase will be laid out for everybody to
see as well as those weapons that have been disabled from the last phase.
This will be an open facility and we will be providing more details tomorrow.
As you know, we opened another collection site this morning, it became
active at approximately 9 a.m. It is located in the Kumanovo region between
Matejce and Lipkovo, and once again it is being conducted by the Italian
battle group to include its Turkish contingent. Most of you are probably
not aware, however on short notice yesterday we conducted another collection
site in the vicinity of Gostivar-Debar. This was conducted on a very short
notice through our contacts with the so-called NLA, who said that they
had weapons they wanted to turn in and we are flexible to adjust to these
conditions, so we did establish a collection site in that region. It was
conducted by the UK battle group, specifically by the Charlie Company
of the 2nd Para Regiment. And we were encouraged with the results and
these numbers and weapons will be included at the end of the phase for
everybody to see. Also, I wanted you to be aware that we are conducting
some route-clearance activities in support of the weapons collection sites,
these are intended to ensure our access safely into these collection areas.
The French battle group is conducting some clearance in the vicinity of
Lesok- Zelce road and the UK battle group in the vicinity of Aracinovo-Kumanovo.
I must stress that these are hazardous activities that our troops are
undertaking and it would not only be inappropriate , it would be dangerous
to have media there, so please, do not go out and try to make contacts
with these clearance teams. You will not be allowed in these areas and
it would only detract them from their mission, so please stay clear of
Joining us this morning is Lt-Col. Houdet, the Chief of Operations of
the French Battle group. He will discuss their operation particularly
at Brodec as well as their ongoing operation as part of the TFH. At this
time I would like to turn it over to him.
of Lt-Col. Houdet:
Good morning ladies and Gentlemen. I am the Chief of Operation of the
Multinational Battle Group under French command. So, I am going to brief
you this morning on the operation we have conducted in the Brodec area,
an operation that we code named Tapanar, and I know that many of you want
to know what Tapanar means, and this is the name of the mascot of my regiment
in France, he is mule and we code named this operation after a mule name,
because there are many mules in this mountainous area. But despite the
fact I am giving a small joke about this now, I am going to try to show
you that this operation was conducted very seriously.
So, to conduct this operation we were oriented by two key points, the
first one is multinational and the second one is safety, I will explain
these to you all along my briefing. So, the overall situation, geographically,
we were at this area, i.e. 13 km northwest of Tetovo and the area was
mountainous, hilly and woody. The mission we received from TFH brigade
was as follows: to conduct weapons collection operation in the area of
Tetovo between 8-10 September. So, the maneuver we wanted to do was oriented-,
as I have said before- around the safety. Because in these operations,
we have to manipulate some dangerous ammunition, many weapons and we do
not want to have too many people wandering in a dangerous area. That is
why we have drawn three circles on the field- the first one is what we
call the Weapon Collection Point. This is the most sensitive point of
the operation; this is the place where ammunition and weapons are voluntarily
handed over to us. This barbarian symbol that you can see here is the
symbol of a company that has about 100 men to hold this area. We then
ensure the safety of a larger area- what we call the Weapon Collection
Site, which is a circle of about 6-8 km long and in this area we deploy
most part of the battalion in order to man check points and to check who
is coming in the area. And once again, I repeat that this is made for
safety reasons, because I know some of you might have been blocked by
my checkpoints- sorry for that but this is really for your safety. And
the last circle we have is a larger one in which we don't have troops
but we have liaison teams and these teams, through the British teams are
working together and they have liaison with different local chiefs of
the so-called NLA the army and the MVR. This disposition allows us to
inform people on how the situation is going on, when we are going to do
destructions and when are the dangerous times. Sorry for these
are our military symbols, but the only thing that you need to remember
on this view is that we have deployed on the field 300 men and about 20
armored vehicles and the second thing that you must also see is that this
is really a multinational battle group because we have a Spanish Company,
a French company, we had with the liaison teams some British units. And
you can also see that in the convoy that carried the weapons we had also
some Belgian mechanized teams and for this operation we also had some
of our friends: US helicopters. So, what we wanted is to secure the Brodec
weapons collection site for the 9 September at 08:00 hrs. We had three
phases. Firstly, we deployed the weapons collection site, secondly we
collected weapons and ammunition and thirdly we have withdrawn our forces
from the Brodec area. So, on the site itself this is how we deployed:
on the weapon collection point we had one French and German company to
man the weapon collection point. In the northern part of the area we had
the Spanish company of our battalion. In the southern part, we had a French
company, and a small reserve element of the French company. So, this is
how the operation was conducted. We first began reconnaissance of the
site, and then on 8 September, in the middle of the day we deployed our
motorized elements in the area. Immediately, after that we deployed the
long-range elements around Brodec by helicopter. During the night we settled
down our dispositions, and then, the day after we opened the weapon collection
site, we kept it open for two days and at the end of the second day, the
containers with all the weapons and ammunition were heliborne out of the
area. We then destroyed some unsafe pieces of ammunitions, at 1 a.m. we
delivered the weapons to the Greek battle group in Krivolak, on 10 September,
at 6 a.m. we withdrew all armed elements from Brodec and by the middle
of the day the operation was finished. So this is all from me and now
I am ready to answer your questions, Thank you very much.
1: (France Press) Can you tell us how the events in
the US yesterday have affected Operation essential Harvest- Can we assume
that there has been an increase in security , can you give us details
on that and how many Americans are among the NATO troops deployed here?
The mission continues. It continues as planned. So, in an essential way,
nothing has changed. We will take appropriate security responses to the
events from yesterday but we don't discuss them in public, so I will not
give you any details on any increased security measures. I think if you
want to know, we are a multinational force, if you want to get specific
issues about the Americans then it is best to speak to them individually.
I will point out that we have already adopted appropriate force protection
measures because we are in an operational environment. The essential phrase
is: The mission continues.
2: (BBC): There was a reference to a clearance operation
carried out by the French Battle Group in the Lesok area and also by the
British battle group around Aracinovo, can you say exactly what has been
cleared and what the danger was, and another question: have the Macedonian
paramilitaries or armed civilians -seen in the area around Jazince- removed
themselves from that area or is that still a problem for NATO?
Houdet: I can answer to the first part of your question
because I personally planned this operation, so the operation started
this morning and is currently going on, and in the Lesok area you have
a part of the road which is mined and you have two improvised explosive
devices in two cars and currently the operation is going on and it is
planned to be finished for tomorrow evening.
Laity: Just to emphasize as Barry said earlier. The
clearance is in support of Operation Essential Harvest. Our forces use
those routes and it is essential for the completion of our mission.
As to your second question: As it has become public knowledge, we have
in fact requested some clarification from the government on this issue.
We are still awaiting a formal response. But since prior to talking to
us, some individuals have chosen to talk to the media, perhaps I should
give some information out. Under the agreement between NATO and the Government
of Macedonia, there are some restrictions and temporary movements which
are covered by that agreement. This is an agreement between the Government
of Macedonia and NATO and I will read you one sentence from that agreement:
It obliges the Government of Macedonia and I quote " to include acceptance
of such temporary relocations of, and/ or limitations of, its security
forces as NATO may specify in order for it to carry out the collection
of weapons". There is also an agreement to redeploy heavy weapons
and extraordinarily deploy forces concurrent to collection of weapons.
These are restrictions agreed by the government of Macedonia in a spirit
of cooperation to ensure that our joint endeavor succeeds. This is part
of our partnership. But it is inevitable that in a complex, difficult
operation, some issues will arise, and then we communicate with each other.
So, it was in this context that Peter Faith wrote a letter to Vice-premier
Minister Filipovski, with reference to our concerns on the presence of
armed civilian groups- known as the Lions. It's very unfortunate that
somebody from inside the Macedonian government leaked this letter and
put an unnecessary focus on what is actually a routine part of our joint
endeavor. So, let me explain what our concerns were. There are groups
operating in the Ratae area who we need more clarification regarding.
There is a group calling itself 'the Lions' who say they are official.
It would appear that there are official groups. But the chain of command
is unclear and they do not appear answerable to local commanders. So,
we still have uncertainties as to whom they are answerable. This may or
may not be a problem, we are not sure. We need clarification, so we have
asked for clarification. But forces whose status is uncertain and are
operating in an area with such sensitivity can have an inhibiting factor
on weapons hand-over. And the Commander's assessment is that there is
such a risk, so any suggestion of forces that not under closest control
of the government and operating with maximum of clarity can have a bad
effect when we need maximum sensitivity. Let me make it clear, we are
seeking information because we have concerns. There is nothing strange
about that. Because this is the normal process of talking between the
Government and NATO over this agreement. We spoke to Vice-Premier Filipovski
yesterday and he will be arranging a reply to our letter, and then we
can look at this issue, but I think it very unfortunate that this routine
exchange between Government and NATO should be blown up into a big issue.
We certainly would prefer to get this information Government to NATO rather
than through the media. But I certainly also want to emphasize, as I have
emphasized yesterday, the superb cooperation that we have with the Ministry
of Defence and Army. So, when issues are raised we talk about them. But
when there is a lack of clarity as there is in the Ratae area, we need
clarification. There should be nothing strange with that, we just need
to talk and that is what we are doing.
3: What kind of numbers are you talking about?
We do not have numbers, that is why we are seeking clarification- That
is the point that I am making. To ensure we know to whom they are answerable
to and how the chain of command works. It should be routine issues and
we will sort them out, in a cooperative manner for our joint endeavor.
4: (Danish Newspaper) There has been a lot of criticism that
the NLA are holding back their most modern weapons. Do you expect that
the most modern weapons will come up in the third phase when the NLA will
feel more secure, i.e. after the parliament has agreed to ratify the peace
I will give you a soldier's answer, because weapons are my job and I know
them very well, so this is an expert advice I can give to you. A weapon
that works is a weapon that kills. And, when you have a man who receives
a bullet in the head, I think it is not so important to know if the weapon
that fired the bullet is modern or old. As I was in the field I have seen
the so-called NLA members on the checkpoints, they are totally equipped
with the same type of weapons as the weapons they handed in to us. And
I personally don't think that the so-called NLA is a so modern army to
have so modern weapons, I do not believe it. When we were in the Brodec
area, we have shown to the press that the weapons we have are functioning
weapons. Since the beginning of the operation we have roughly 90% of the
weapons- voluntarily handed-in that are working.
5: (Dnevnik) I have two questions for Mark. The first
one is regarding the alleged existence of Macedonian para-military troops
in the area of Ratae. Could you please tell us who has noticed them -yesterday
we have talked to a NATO soldier who is stationed in that area, and he
has explicitly stated that he has not noticed anything like that?
The second question: You have mentioned on several occasions that you
have an excellent cooperation with the Macedonian Ministry of Defence,
can you tell us what is your cooperation with the Interior Ministry like?
Laity: On question one: I would like to remind you that
we are seeking clarification about the groups that are operating in the
Ratae area. We do not have full clarity on the groups and their chains
of command, whose authority they operate under, whether they have any
answerability to local commanders, so it is this lack of clarification
that is the issue. You would know that there is a variety of titles used.
I think that the Prime Minister's Spokesman, Milosovski, talked about
some people being called Lions but they could change their name. So if
the Spokesman is not sure of what they are called , then it's hardly surprising
that there might be some clarification needed. So, I emphasize that we
are seeking clarification because we have uncertainties, and the Commander's
concern is that this will have an inhibiting effect on the weapons collection.
So, we write to the appropriate person and we seek clarification, that
is the appropriate thing to do and that is what we are doing.
With regard to the second question, the cooperation we have with the police
on the ground is in general terms extremely good, but I think that there
is this lack of clarification over some groups. But certainly, some individuals
such as General Galevski are regarded in the highest possible light.
6: (Dnevnik): I would just like to correct you on the quote
you gave - given by Government Spokesman Milosovski- he has said that
basically those are special Task Forces operating under the Interior Ministry-
who can be called Lions but they still do not have that name officially.
My understanding is that when they have spoken to people on
the ground, they call themselves Lions. The translation that I had with
his interview with A1 TV, he does say that the unit does not have a specific
name with 'the Lions' being one suggestion. I think that the fact of how
they are called is an issue that reiterates the point . Perhaps he should
ask them how they call themselves. It all just emphasizes that we need
a little bit more clarity. Which is what that very polite and formal letter
7: How many weapons did you collect during the Brodec
Houdet: We collected a number of weapons and that is
what our goal was. As Mark said at the beginning, we will give all figures
when all collection will be finished. All I can say to you is that the
number of weapons that was handed in is the one that was announced first.
Laity: Just to add to that we also will not release
figures to you until we have first given them to the Macedonian Ministry
of Defence. We always like to do things officially before we go to the
8: The second phase of weapons collection is coming
to an end, could you specify for us exactly when you plan to end the collection?
Can you also give us a time-line on when you expect to give us the final
figure, and when do you expect the Parliament to resume debating, can
you also tell us whether you are confident that you will meet your target?
I wish we could be as certain of things as you think we should be. In
the end, remember that these weapons are voluntarily handed over, we are
very confident that we are going to get the figures we need by the end
of the week. In the end, it is up to the people who voluntarily give up
the weapons and not up to the people who receive them.
And also a supplementary: Do you see a slippage in the date, I believe
that you have announced earlier that the weapons collection second phase
should end by 13 September, i.e. tomorrow, and now you are saying that
it is going to last until the end of the week - So Am I right? Is there
a slippage in the date?
Laity: No, as far as we are concerned, our timetable
is to try and get these by the end of this week.
The matter of the parliamentary timetable is for the parliament. My only
comment would be to say that the government and the parliament must and
do understand the need for speed. It was them who indicated that they
needed 45 days, so primarily it is their responsibility and our expectation
that they succeed, living up to their own task. It is up to us to fulfill
our side and then the government will live-up to its own timetable, which
it gave us. But obviously, we all need to move quickly.