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Updated: 12 May 1999 Morning Briefings

NATO HQ

12 May 1999

Morning Briefing

By Jamie Shea, NATO Spokesman

Mr Jamie Shea: Ladies and gentlemen, good morning. I am here for the usual overnight update.

As you know, the Secretary General is currently in Albania, moving on to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia this afternoon. He is visiting not only government leaders and NATO troops, but also refugee camps in both countries. And if the Gods are on our side, and I hope they will be, we should be able to have a video link with him at the 3.00 pm press conference.

As he is in the refugee camps today, I thought that I would take a moment to remind you of what drives the resolve of the Alliance in this campaign, it is obviously the people of Kosovo, first and foremost those refugees who want nothing more and deserve nothing more than to be able to return to their homes and live in peace with their fundamental human rights protected. And it is because of our concern for the refugees that we will not follow any false promises of President Milosevic of partial withdrawals. I have spoken to SACEUR this morning and there is no withdrawal. The only withdrawal that can count for NATO, as I made very clear yesterday, is a full withdrawal and with full verification by the international community that that is actually taking place. Because of the refugees also, we are continuing to encourage the diplomatic efforts of others around the world in keeping with the principles that were defined by the G8 last week and those diplomatic efforts must impress upon President Milosevic that he must agree to nothing less than our five demands. If this crisis is to be resolved, and those refugees are to be able to go back, President Milosevic has to accept each and every one of our five non-negotiable demands. He must stop the killing; he must withdraw all of his Army and special police forces from Kosovo; he must accept the presence of an international security force with NATO at its core to guarantee peace and stability inside Kosovo, he must allow the unconditional, unrestricted, unimpeded return of every single refugee; and he has to work towards a permanent political solution based on the Rambouillet peace plan.

And I would like to stress that these are not simply NATO's bottom line, they are also the refugees' bottom line. Because those refugees are obviously not going to even dare to return to Kosovo as long as the Serb forces remain, particularly after what has happened over the last few months. They will not return, every single one makes this clear, without an international military presence to protect them. So partial withdrawals or no partial withdrawals, until President Milosevic accedes to our five key demands, NATO will press on with its Operation Allied Force.

And last night that is exactly what happened. As you know, we had one of the busiest 24 hour periods in the campaign to date. You have seen from the list that we circulated just a few moments ago that NATO aircraft attacked the full range of Milosevic's military forces on the ground in Kosovo. On numerous occasions we struck tanks, armoured vehicles, artillery pieces, anti-aircraft artillery, mortars, command post, several assembly areas and troops, particularly in the Suva Reka, Junic and Stimple areas. In addition there were also strikes against numerous military trucks.

And I want to stress that even vehicles that the Serb forces try to disguise and hide to protect them were successfully struck yesterday. So it proves that we are able to get round that particular difficulty.

At the same time we struck again a number of strategic targets throughout Yugoslavia, including 5 airfields, 8 bridges and 4 war material sites. Indeed I would say that the list of targets for once is almost too long for me to read, that is why you have the details. But I do want to underline that we had another successful strike against the Yugoslav Air Force yesterday, destroying 5 MiG 21 fighters and this is further decapitating the Yugoslav Air Force, and I am pleased to announce that all NATO aircraft returned safely to their bases.

Indeed over the last 24 hours we conducted the highest number of strike sorties to date, that is 327 strike sorties, bringing the total number of sorties overall to just below 20,000 now. And this puts once again President Milosevic on notice that the pace of our attacks against his forces in Kosovo will continue, will intensify until he accepts the five conditions and withdraws his forces from Kosovo.

I would just like to finish by saying that in addition to the North Atlantic Council meeting, which begins now at 11.00 am, there will be this afternoon one of our regular meetings with the partner countries of the Alliance in the EAPC, or Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, that is at 3.00 this afternoon, with our 24 partner countries, during which of course we will discuss, as we did in Washington at the level of Heads of State and Government, the situation in Kosovo and exchange information, updates and impressions.

I have to go quite quickly this morning, you will excuse me for that, because of the Council meeting, but I will take a few questions.

Paul: Does the highest number of strike sorties also mean the highest number of bombs and missiles, and can you give us a short up-date on the Apachehelicopters?

Jamie Shea: Without having at the moment an exact figure for the number of ordnance that was dropped, you can see from the targets that we struck, not simply targets that we targeted but targets struck from the list today, that it was a very extensive night of operations indeed. And I again want to stress that much of the work last night was against the fielded forces in Kosovo itself. We really now are able, and SACEUR made this clear to me this morning when I spoke to him just after 9.00 am, to engage increasingly those fielded forces in Kosovo and put them under pressure. So I will see if I can give you a figure on ordnance in due course.

As for the Apaches, the Apaches are training, that is almost completed. And General Jertz has been quite open in telling you that we want those aircraft to be effective. Now they are not going to be effective if there isn't adequate training. The pilots have to be familiar with the terrain of course, they have to work out their tactics. Once those aircraft are engaged, those helicopters, we want them to be fully effective, and therefore it is worthwhile making sure that they train adequately for what is after all going to be a difficult mission, but that is going ahead very expeditiously in Albania at the moment.

Julie: Could you confirm that the Ambassadors have asked the NATO military planners to concentrate on Kosovo, both because it is more effective at this point and because they do not want to see any more errors of the kind that we saw last Saturday in Belgrade?

Jamie Shea: Julie, nobody, not just NATO Ambassadors, but nobody, including NATO spokesmen, want to see errors of the kind that occurred in Belgrade at the weekend. SACEUR came up last night, he briefed the Ambassadors in a long session, and let me just tell you what happened. First of all he gave the Ambassadors a very detailed account of the operations since the very beginning, stressing that we were conducting this air campaign in a very progressive, deliberate way; stressing also, as I have, that we are increasingly effective against the fielded forces in Kosovo itself; he also gave, as you would expect, the Ambassadors an account of how the mistake in targeting had occurred which led of course to the attack on the Chinese Embassy and assured them that the procedures had been revised in such a way to minimise the possibility that such an error could occur again.

At the same time, and I can stress this to you, the meeting concluded with a reaffirmation, not a declaration, there wasn't one, but I can tell you a reaffirmation that we will continue the operation as we are doing it at the moment. There will be no change in the operation, it is going to go ahead and I think last night is a demonstration that it is going ahead.

John: I was quite interested to read in the briefing this morning the line "Our campaign to pin down, cut off and take out Serbian forces is gathering pace". I would just say one would hope so, as the bombing is in its 50th day today.

Jamie Shea: We never said that this was going to be over after the 5th day. We always knew, given the large apparatus of repression that Milosevic has gathered in Kosovo, that it would take a time to degrade that to the level at which those forces would realise, and President Milosevic would realise, that they have no option to be withdrawn. But we are getting on with the job and increasingly successfully and that is what counts.

Margaret Evans, CBC: The NAC was called by the Canadians last night, the special session. They called it, so they say, because they felt that they were ill-informed about what had gone on in Beijing because they felt that they weren't being kept informed properly and they had to call for it. The fact that they did that, does that say to you that some governments, you said yesterday that there was complete unity, does it suggest that some governments are actually losing faith in the way that this campaign is being handled?

Jamie Shea: No it doesn't Margaret, I can assure you of that. And again, judge us by actions. You saw last night another very extensive range of air operations, you have seen in capitals that all governments continue to give their full support to this operation and that is going to continue to be the case. SACEUR comes frequently to the Council in order to brief on operations, he is the Commander and it is his duty to keep the Ambassadors informed and to make himself available for questions, and that is a routine thing, it happens every week. The only reason why the meeting was at 7.00 last night, as opposed to 11.00 yesterday morning, was because a number of Ambassadors who are double hatted were at the Western European Union meeting in Bremen and of course had to get back in time to listen to SACEUR, so we did the meeting at 7.00 pm. But SACEUR gave a very full, very convincing account of the operation and afterwards everybody was agreed that we have no alternative but to continue, and we will continue. So I don't see this as any kind ofspecial meeting quite frankly, it was a normal meeting but it just happened to be at 7.00 pm as opposed to 11.00 am because of the WEU Ministerial.

Christophe: I have two questions. The Russians are reported to demand that Chinese forces are part of the international forces in Kosovo? And to what extent will the government crisis in Moscow hamper peace efforts?

Jamie Shea: On the departure of Mr Primakov I have no comment, that of course is entirely an internal matter for Russia. But I obviously hope and expect that it would not have any significant effect on the international diplomacy which is on-going at the moment and which is particularly intensive this week incidentally, with Strobe Talbott in Moscow today seeing Mr Ivanov this morning, Mr Chernomyrdin later today; with Mr Vedrine having been in Moscow, with President Chirac about to arrive. I think this is very much a week in which Russia and the Allies will be engaging. And of course we have also the G8 meeting coming up on Friday to continue the work on implementing, or finding modalities of implementing, the principles agreed in Bonn by the G8 just a few days ago. So I am certain that that process is going to go on.

The second point about China, I also learned with interest about the possibility that Mr Chernomyrdin had raised in Beijing of possible Chinese participation in a future peace implementation force in Kosovo, an international security force. NATO has always said that we believe that a force in which NATO countries at the core come together with other countries, particularly countries which are members of the UN Security Council, members of the P5 on the UN Security Council, is something that we are very receptive to, so let's see how this idea develops. But if China wants to be part of the solution to Kosovo, that of course is something that we very much welcome both diplomatically and also with the possibility of a Chinese presence, but let's see how it develops.

Question: A brief calculation of how many MiGs are left, MiG 21 and 29, after destroying 5 on the ground according to your report, how many more are left?

Jamie Shea: I will get that figure for you at 3.00 pm, I will ask General Jertz to give you the exact figure. It is quite a high percentage I can assure you of the Yugoslav overall Air Force now and I know as far as MiG 29s are concerned that well over 65% have been destroyed, but the MiG figure is a legitimate question and I will answer that or I will ask General Jertz to answer that at 3.00. That is a figure that I am certain we have but unfortunately I don't have it in my head at the moment.

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