Updated: 21 May 1999 News Articles

in the
12 May 1999


by the Secretary-General
on the Humanitarian Situation

Today I will visit the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania. Both countries are feeling the direct effects of the Kosovo crisis: the majority of the 800,000 refugees who have fled Kosovo are now there - either with families or in refugee centres. And still many thousands are crossing the border out of Kosovo every day. And each one of the 800,000 has his or her own story of personal tragedy, of a shattered life.

Families, who until recently were living normal lives, have suddenly found themselves plunged into the middle of a nightmare: they saw fathers and brothers shot dead; mothers and daughters raped by gangs of Serb militia. Their one hope of survival was a desperate flight out of Kosovo, with the few meagre possessions they could carry.

This is the story I will hear again and again when I meet the refugees. They have not been forced from their homes by NATO bombs: it is the brutal persecution they have experienced at the hands of the Serb forces that has made them flee. And I know that they will encourage us to persevere. They know that this is the only way they will get home again.

NATO troops went to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia following the agreement reached with President Milosevic last October. Under that agreement Milosevic undertook to stop his military offensive in Kosovo and to comply with UNSCR 1199 to negotiate a political solution.
The OSCE subsequently provided 2,000 unarmed monitors under the Kosovo Verification Mission. NATO troops were positioned in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia as an extraction force in case the OSCE mission was put in danger. Unfortunately, these arrangements did not succeed.

Milosevic continued with his policies of ethnic hatred. In January 1999, 45 unarmed ethnic Albanians were massacred by Serb forces in the village of Racak. Milosevic broke the ceasefire and refused to cooperate with the war crimes tribunal. As a result the Rambouillet peace talks were convened in February under French and British chairmanship. They met again in March. On 15 March there was an agreement. The NATO troops in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia would have helped ensure it was respected. The Kosovars signed it, but Milosevic refused. The talks failed because of him: and while his officials were talking in Paris, his forces in Kosovo were building up for a crescendo of ethnic cleansing, intensifying the campaign they had already been waging for months.

NATO then had an obligation to act, and we did. Our air campaign began on 24 March. Our strategy was, and remains, to target the infrastructure which enables Milosevic to control his military machine and to cripple his instruments of ethnic cleansing.

With the intensification of Milosevic's carefully preplanned campaign of ethnic cleansing, the Kosovar Albanians took flight - tens of thousands surged toward the border with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia - the border-crossing at Blace was overwhelmed.

Faced with an enormous humanitarian disaster unfolding before their eyes NATO forces were quick to react. They rapidly adapted to take on a humanitarian mission. 400 NATO troops built the first camps at Brazda within 48 hours - with an initial capacity of up to 15,000. On Easter Monday the first bus loads of refugees arrived from the border. NATO troops immediately did all they could to make them comfortable: they fed the refugees with their own rations and looked after them in field hospitals - over 12,000 were treated.

From the outset, NATO has worked in close cooperation with the UNHCR : I have been in regular contact with Mrs Ogata: we have a permanent liaison officer in Geneva. NATO has always stood ready to support the efforts of the UNHCR, the lead agency working to address the humanitarian crisis.

Thus, during the following days NATO troops worked side by side with the UNHCR, the international NGOs and the government of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. NATO cooks prepared 129,000 meals. They also helped distribute many other essential items, including 20,000 baby bottles and 35,000 bars of soap. There are now nearly 14,000 troops helping to look after the 100,000 refugees in the camps.

The humanitarian disaster also spread to Albania. Tens of thousands of refugees fled over the border crossings towards Kukes. Again NATO had a responsibility to act. We moved swiftly to reinforce our Partnership for Peace cell in Tirana and established an advanced headquarters in Albania. We now have 7,000 troops - including from 7 countries who are not NATO members - doing humanitarian work in Albania as part of Operation Allied Harbour. There are now around 400,000 refugees in Albania, about a quarter of them in refugee centres and camps.

There have been over 600 NATO humanitarian aid flights to the region. NATO troops have so far helped deliver over 4,000 tons of food, nearly 1,000 tons of medical supplies and nearly 2,000 tons of tents.

This is not what the troops went to the region to do. But I am proud they did it. It was our moral duty to look after Milosevic's victims. The values on which NATO is based would otherwise have been meaningless. Their actions saved people who would otherwise have died prematurely, and also gave new life a chance in the world: dozens of babies are being born in the camps every day. The troops will continue to do as much as is needed for as long as it takes.

I know the humanitarian infrastructure is now under enormous strain - today there are around 50,000 refugees in the Brazda camps. Resources are stretched. We are working hard to increase capacity: doubling the size of the camp at Cegrane, in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, to 40,000, and building new and expanded camps at Korce, Elbasan and elsewhere in Albania to create over 60,000 extra places so that many of the 100,000 refugees in Kukes can move to better conditions.

Evacuation away from the region helps. Growing numbers of countries are involved - over the past month they have welcomed more than 26,000 refugees. But permanent resettlement would do Milosevic's work for him. And the refugees themselves want to stay in the region. They want to go home.

I am grateful to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania for the responsible way they have reacted to this crisis. I hope that will continue. The international community salutes the generosity their peoples have shown. I know the strains - social and economic - are enormous. We will not forget this effort. We will not turn our back on the countries that have helped us. We are already planning our involvement in the process of reconstruction and repair.

NATO's South Eastern Europe initiative sets out its longer term commitment to the region. This is one element of an international determination to create lasting stability in the Balkans. We need to give the peoples of the region the hope of a brighter tomorrow. The EU is also active in that regard. It has already offered increased financial assistance. It is examining ways it can upgrade its relationship with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania. And it is organising a Conference on a Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe on 27 May. The IMF and G7 also stand ready to offer financial help to the region. This collective effort will involve the full range of international institutions - including the UN, the OSCE and others.

This is just the beginning of the international community's investment in the longer term stability of the region. And this stability will extend to include a democratic Yugoslavia. The Milosevic regime has only succeeded in isolating and impoverishing what used to be a great European country: its people deserve better. We want to see Yugoslavia back at the heart of the international community. NATO's mission in Kosovo has people at its centre. We acted to defend the basic rights - freedom, democracy, rule of law - that the people of Kosovo, and all peoples, deserve.

Our terms, set out on 12 April, remain clear: Milosevic must stop the killing, remove his forces, let an international force in, allow the return of the refugees and accept a lasting political settlement, based on Rambouillet. None of this is negotiable. The sooner Milosevic accepts them the sooner the process of reconstruction can begin.

As we approach the next millennium we can see that the crisis in Kosovo presents an enormous challenge : NATO is working with the international community to ensure that we consign to history the evil policies of a regime such as that of Milosevic. They have no place in today's world.

The refugees' dire situation is a temporary one. We are determined to reverse it as quickly as possible. Our troops are ready to enter Kosovo as soon as possible to ensure that the refugees not only be allowed home, but that they can live there in safety and get back to the normality they crave, and deserve.

The lasting political solution we are all working for will help preserve this normality by bringing enduring stability to the Balkans, and reintegrating the people of the region into the international community of nations from which they have been absent for so long.

Go to Homepage Go to Index