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Updated: 29 April 1999 Background Briefings

NATO HQ

29 Apr. 1999

Morning Briefing

by Mr Jamie Shea

Jamie Shea: Sorry for being a few moments late - as you know I have to go to a series of morning meetings, and sometimes they are short and sometimes they are long, and today they were long. As I stressed before, this is on the record but off camera.

Let me just give you a quick update of last night's activities. I spoke to SACEUR earlier this morning and he informed me that last night the NATO forces attacked a full range of military targets across Yugoslavia.

Allied aircraft conducted multiple strikes on Podgorica Airfield in Montenegro, which is being used as a staging ground for Yugoslav forces under Milosevic's control that have been driven from their main bases elsewhere in Yugoslavia by NATO attack. We attacked military aircraft, radar facilities, control towers, aircraft hangars, and petroleum storage sites.

We have said repeatedly that there will be no sanctuary for forces directly engaged in or supporting Belgrade's regime of terror in Kosovo.

Podgorica Airfield is just a short distance from our operations in Albania - aircraft based there pose a direct threat to our forces in Albania. They also can, of course pose a direct threat to Kosovar Albanians in Kosovo itself, given the very short flying times. Radar facilities in Podgorica are also an important part of FRY's air defence network, and can provide early warning to Serbian forces about NATO operations .

While NATO strongly supports the democratic government in Montenegro, we have no choice when it comes to protecting the security of our forces and disabling the capacity of military assets that support the campaign of aggression of Belgrade in Kosovo.

Yesterday evening, NATO forces also attacked fielded forces in Kosovo, including helicopters, rader, armor, troops and other military equipment. The military headquarters in Belgrade, army barracks at Ruma and Posarevac, petroleum storage sites at Smederevo and Pozega, several bridges, and several elements of the military radio system.

All NATO aircraft returned safely.

Just a few other points, very briefly. As you know, Strobe Talbott is here this morning. He is currently with the Secretary General. He will be addressing the NATO Council at 1100, of course on his consultations in Russia and his consultations in Berlin yesterday and my understanding is that he will be briefing you briefly at the end of his consultation with NATO Ambassadors. I will advise you as soon as possible about the timing and the usual briefing with me and General Marani will be at 3 p.m. this afternoon.


Questions

Mark Laity: Two things - can you clarify this rather strange story coming out of Bulgaria about the missile bombing - and secondly, just clarify a little bit - what you are saying is that ground forces etc. which have been driven out from other places being deliberately put in Podgarica. And so you have kind of spotted this and then launched multiple attacks to take them out and what kind of forces were these army forces, air forces or whatever?

Jamie Shea: Let me comment on that - first of all on the Bulgarian incident. I knew about that in the middle of the night - and now that there is daylight of course a full investigation is taking place with the Bulgarian Government, with the assistance of course of SHAPE and I will be able to give an on the record clarification on that at 3 o'clock. I do understand that no individual suffered loss of life from whatever happened there in Bulgaria yesterday, so, at the moment, we are in touch with the Bulgarian Ambassador, obviously, to tell them what information we may have on that incident and I will give an on the record accounting of that at 3 p.m. so for the moment we are still completing our investigation.

On the second question that you asked, what I have been informed by SACEUR is that aircraft have moved from primary airfields elsewhere in Yugoslavia - because as you know NATO has struck a large number of airfields - into Podgorica and of course as I just said the issue there is that that represents an extremely short flying time into Albania. As you know Albanian air space has been violated by Yugoslav air forces on a number of occasions and also a very short flying time for attacks on Kosovo. We do have several reports of Yugoslav aircraft - helicopters - having been used over the past few months in Kosovo itself against the UCK positions. As far as we are concerned that makes this airfield a legitimate target, notwithstanding of course our desire in sparing Montenegro as much as possible. At the same time NATO aircraft have launched missiles in Montenegro in the past when they have been illuminated by air defence systems and that is part of the self defence operation.

Craig Whitney, New York Time: Did you see that aircraft were destroyed after the attack and were there any attacks on the port facilities?

Jamie Shea: I do not have any information about attacks on port facilities. I saw some reports Craig this morning on that and again this is something that we will put up at 3 p.m. this afternoon. That is the first point. Secondly, I understand from speaking to SACEUR this morning on this incident that yes, some aircraft were destroyed on the runway. I think it was the fact that these aircraft had appeared on the runway which was the reason why there were multiple strikes, there were just short of 30 strikes that were carried out. All except one were judged to be successful. And when I say all except one, the other one did not cause any other civilian damage, but it was a successful strike. ------Question inaudible. Just short of that, yes.

Gyorgy Foris: Still on Montenegro - what is the reasoning of the time, I mean, suddenly after six weeks there is a heavy hit against Montenegro.

Jamie Shea: As I said, I mentioned it already in my response to Mark's question - that is because aircraft have been transferred there from elsewhere so the base was becoming a more important military operating base, and as you know, there are a large number of NATO soldiers now either in Albania or on route to Albania and their protection is up the most in our minds.

John Dahlberg, Los Angeles Times: Jamie, Good morning. A pleasure to see you twice a day now. Did SACEUR have any reaction to the vote yesterday in Congress that has been,read as a repudiation of NATO strategy?

Jamie Shea: Oh, I did not read it that way. And first of all, no , I didn't discuss this with SACEUR this morning. But you are right, perhaps I should have done because I am sure he would have given me an interesting insight. But I don't think we see it that way quite frankly. The vote was one to ask the President to seek congressional approval before deploying ground troops. And I do not see that in any way as repudiation of NATO strategy. As you know, Congress has asked repeatedly to be closely involved in the decision making process on any kind of US engagement overseas. There is nothing particularly new in this. Indeed when I was in Washington last week we went up to the Hill on the Friday afternoon, remember, those of you who were there, to meet with a large number of Congressmen . A number of NATO leaders went to that meeting. The Secretary General was there. SACEUR was there. And I remember very well that there were a number of expressions of support and there was a congressional delegation directly involved in the US delegation to the Summit. And I spoke to many of them and I can assure you that the overwhelming message I got was one of support. But the fact that Congress wants to be involved in the decision making and be consulted is a long standing position and that is the way I would read that one.

The second vote which was the tie.

John Dahlberg: Would it be possible Jamie to ask for a reaction from SACEUR to that because for our newspaper that was a lead story this morning - a pretty important element?

Jamie Shea: Yes, but again if you look at the record so far in terms of the budgetary authority which is now going through to fund this operation, and so on, I think Congress has been largely supportive on this in general. So I wouldn't see that in any way as an inhibition.

Jake: What stage has the decision making process reached on the terms of engagement for the oil blockade? Has that now gone through to the Political Committee?

Jamie Shea: No, you mean to the Council, it's still with the Military Committee. I think we will have a read-out from General Nauman at 1100 o'clock, because he briefs the Council every day on the current situation and I will comment on that at 3 p.m. and we will see exactly where it stands. Let me say on that, we very much welcome the expressions of solidarity that have come from a number of countries over the last two days that are not EU members, some of which are NATO members not in the European Union, like Norway, other countries like Hungary, other countries in Eastern Europe which are neither Eastern Europe nor NATO members, but which have agreed to also abide by this oil embargo and so I think that has got widespread support in the international community.

NPR correspondent (?) (female voice): Can you clarify, where there last week, in recent weeks, have there been any.... missiles, was there a missile that landed in Bulgarian territory since this campaign began... rest inaudible .... petroleum facilities in Bar?

Jamie Shea: On the Bar business, I think it was Craig who asked me a question, I am going to clarify this at 3 p.m. I have given you this morning the information I have so far. General Morani of course will give you a much fuller update at 3 p.m. On the second issue, yes there have been I think one or two HARM missiles which have strayed over the border into Bulgaria since the beginning of the operation mainly of course because pilots have to take self defence evasive action. Obviously we do not want this to happen and we try of course to take steps to avoid it. Thankfully those missiles have not caused any casualties. They have been very limited, again if you take the total number of HARM missiles that have been fired.

John: Jamie, has there been any discussion or reaction inside NATO to the suspicion that Alliance attacks on broadcasting facilities inside Serbia might be leading to retaliation against British newspeople. You will be well aware that the attack on Jill Dando. I gather have read that there have also been threats to the head of BBC news. Is this something that NATO is watching internally?

(laughter)

(Journalist: maybe you find it funny!)

Jamie: Mark of course is tempted to be up here and answering that. I can see it on his face. But first of all I have seen the speculation in the British popular newspapers about Serbian leads to Jill Dando's death but that is obviously very hypothetical at this stage. Very hypothetical indeed. Secondly, well before NATO began to attack Serbian radio and tv transmitter facilities, as you well know, Western journalists were being harrassed and I have been reporting repeatedly in my briefings at 3 o clock on the faith of the two Spaniards who were detained in Pristina and the German the other day who has disappeared. Subsequently we now know it has emerged that he is in captivity but who had disappeared on his way to Zagreb, well before there were attacks on transmitters. I think the campaign of harrassment of correspondents, we had the case of Neil King of the Wall Street Journal who was detained at the border but thankfully released quickly and he is now back here as you know. I think this is a pattern that has been going on for some time and therefore I do not see a direct link between what has happened since we struck the tv studios at the headquarters and the harrassment of Western journalists. I think the Western journalists who are trying to play an independent role do come under the pressure of the authorities. I think this is well known.

OK. I am going to stop there and I will come back, hopefully with the full compliment of information, at 3 so, thanks for that.

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