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Updated: 30 April 1999 Background Briefings

NATO HQ

30 Apr. 1999

Morning Briefing

by Mr Jamie Shea

Mr Shea: Ladies and Gentlemen, Good Morning, welcome. I would just as always like to give you the news of last night's operations, as I am sure you have already heard and seen. Last night NATO forces hammered the heart of the military machine of President Milosevic, it was the single most intense period of attacks over Belgrade, and indeed probably one of the most intensive nights overall since Operation Allied Force began 37 days ago.

NATO aircraft attacked the national military headquarters that directs and controls the campaign of brutality and ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, and of course also underguards Milosevic's grip on power in Yugoslavia. We struck 2 Ministry of Defence buildings and also conducted further strikes on the VJ and MUP special police headquarters in Belgrade.

Why did we strike these targets? One simple answer, because they are the brain that guides the operations in Kosovo and we are perfectly ready and willing to strike those targets again if necessary.

Yesterday NATO forces conducted over 600 sorties during a 24 hour period. This is the most sorties in any 24 hour period since the operation began and I think it shows you that we are implementing what we promised to do at the Washington summit just a few days ago, which is to intensify the air campaign.

The Alliance yesterday also went after the communications network that allows Belgrade and Milosevic to direct their forces in the field and obviously to continue their military operations in Kosovo. In the town of Avala we struck the TV FM transmission tower, that is one of the transmitters for the RTS TV network and is also, and I want to stress this, not only a TV transmission tower but is used as a main relay for the military communications network.

So as you see, in recent days we are bringing the air campaign home to where it hurts most, that is directly at the centre of the power structure, the heart and the brains as much as the brawn of the Yugoslav military forces and of the Milosevic regime. We have struck the bunker at one of his private residences, we have struck the headquarters of his ruling party, we have struck the petroleum refinement centres that keep the forces going, and we have repeatedly struck, as you know, the military headquarters in Belgrade and the studio headquarters of a television which we continue to believe is used entirely to incite hatred and propaganda. So we are going to continue along this vain in coming days and we are benefiting at the moment from much improved weather over the region.

At the same time I would like to tell you that this afternoon, at 3.30, the Secretary General will be receiving a group of Kosovar leaders here at NATO headquarters. I will have a piece of paper for you with their names and biographies in a few moments, and they will be coming along to speak to you at 5.00 this afternoon. So we will have the usual briefing at 3.00 pm done by myself and General Marani, and at 5.00 pm then a chance to meet three Kosovar leaders who will give you their latest information about the situation in Kosovo itself.

Mark Laity, BBC: On the MOD attacks, I am assuming this is the first time you have attacked the MOD?

Jamie Shea: That's right, this is the first time that we have struck the MOD. And may I anticipate that you are going to ask me why now?

Mark: Yes.

Jamie Shea: The reason for that is that although this is the Ministry of Defence, in the military power structure in Belgrade this is not so much a priority target as for example the party headquarters and the VJ and MUP, particularly the special police headquarters, the two special police headquarters of Serbia and Yugoslavia, which are much more, even than the Ministry of Defence, the heart of this operation. So for us therefore these targets were priority, but of course the Ministry of Defence is important otherwise NATO would not have expended its bombs on it, but less of a priority than those other two facilities.

Mark: You hit two MOD buildings?

Jamie Shea: That's right, that is the information I have, we hit two MOD buildings in downtown Belgrade.

Mark: So the main MOD and something else?

Jamie Shea: And some other facility, yes. General Marani of course will again, as always, have fuller details when he comes up at 3.00 pm.

Question: And was there any collateral damage? CNN are claiming there was.

Jamie Shea: Yes there was one missile, bomb, that went astray and landed I understand again at some houses. I understand, and the Yugoslavs are saying this as well, that there were no causalities from this particular incident. But again let me stress, we had 600 sorties yesterday and even if you count the number of strike sorties you are talking about several hundred and we had therefore in all of those one missile that for some reason which I cannot clarify at the moment went astray. Now if you work this out you are talking about a fraction of one percent.

Question: There are reports from our correspondent on the ground that there were two missiles which went astray, one on one street and one 300 metres away.

Jamie Shea: OK, Dominic, I have at this time only indication of one, so again we will provide as always the full up-date at 3.00 pm.

Julie: We understand that the Defence Department is despatching B52s to join the campaign. Does this represent a new phase?

Jamie Shea: No, it doesn't represent a new phase, it simply represents the intensification that I have been talking about over the past few days and the US is not alone in reinforcing. Canada as you know is sending extra CF18 aircraft, the UK announced yesterday 8 additional aircraft, 4 Tornadoes, 4 Harriers, and so you see that we are giving ourselves, as I have aid, the tools to finish the job and I wouldn't exclude that other countries will also be adding to allied force in coming days.

Christopher: The war seems to be moving very much towards Belgrade and away from Kosovo itself. Just a few days ago we were hearing of hundreds of thousands of people wandering around, starving, in terrible straits in Kosovo. What is happening with them, what is being done for them? I understand the principle that we cut off the head and everything else shrivels up eventually, but I am sure they are wondering how long that is going to take. Is anything being done directly to help those people now in terms of attacking the troops that are herding them around, have we dropped lower level flights, are we still trying to fight from 15,000 feet? What is going on in Kosovo itself?

Jamie Shea: Let me make it clear first of all that although I concentrated in my introduction on Belgrade because I think that was the focal point of the attacks yesterday evening, we did not neglect Kosovo, we never neglect Kosovo, there is never a night when a large percentage of the NATO aircraft operating are not operating directly in Kosovo itself and there were command and control targets for example in Prizren that were struck last night, there were several ammunition storage facilities also around Pristina, plus a VJ and MUP staging area on the outskirts of Pristina that was also struck.

And we calculate incidentally that we have now destroyed well over 50% of the ammunition storage sites in Yugoslavia. This will have an impact on the tempo of the special forces operations. The best way to deal with the humanitarian situation is to stop that which causes humanitarian suffering in the first place. We are interested in tackling the causes rather than simply addressing the symptoms, and so the best thing is to make it increasingly difficult for those forces to operate against the civilian population.

Of course as I have said, Christopher, at these briefings, we remain very concerned about the internally displaced persons. NATO as you know is looking at various options to try to bring some aid to them. We are also interested in helping international relief organisations like the Red Cross, or the Greek NGOs or others that may be able to operate. We are also prepared to pass on all of the information intelligence we have to the UNHCR and others as well to try to localise where these people are.

But let's face up to the facts, the only way that we can stop the suffering is to stop the fighting. Why is there suffering? Because there is a war going on. Why is there a war going on? It is because the Serbs are using their forces against civilians. Ergo stop the Serbs doing that and then the rest of the crisis can be addressed, otherwise we are simply chasing our tail, quite frankly, we have to stop the fighting.

Alexandre: What is the up-date on your estimates of the numbers of IDPs within Kosovo, that is to say people who are living within shelter and without shelter?

Jamie Shea: The UNHCR looks at this very systematically, and as I said, Alex, we pass information on to the UNHCR that we have in our possession. We know that the number is, according to the UNHCR, round the 700,000 mark of internally displaced persons, so the large majority of the population, well over two-thirds of the population, of Kosovo is now displaced. Virtually no Kosovar Albanians, virtually none, are living today where they were living two years ago.

Craig: There was a report this morning that the Foreign Ministry in Belgrade had been hit?

Jamie Shea: I have nothing on that, Craig.

Question: I wanted to ask about the visit and search work, how it is going on? And Russia yesterday joined two international conventions, one on the arrest of the ships and the other the bill of lading. What is wrong? Why is the country trying to protect itself with international law, this is understandable, but how does the visit and search regime actually comply with international law?

Jamie Shea: As you know, there is an arms embargo which also implies to arms related materials, Security Council Resolution 1160 at the moment, and we are looking of course very much at that. Secondly, there are under the customary laws of armed conflicts provisions to enable states involved in armed conflicts to take measures to prevent others that they are engaged against acquiring the means to continue their war efforts. So the legal basis is very important for us and this is going to be addressed by NATO Ambassadors once the military authorities have done their work on the detailed operational concept, which is still going on. And I imagine that concept will be presented to the Ambassadors very soon, I am going to the Council now, we will have an up-date on the situation and I will share that with you of course at 3.00 pm.

Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you, and see you as I say at 3.00 for the fuller briefing of the day.

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