Updated: 7 April 1999 Press Conferences


7 Apr. 1999

Press Conference

by NATO Spokesman, Jamie Shea
and Air Commodore, David Wilby, SHAPE

(Presentation Photo)

Jamie Shea: First of all, I think you will have all seen our press release of a few moments ago informing you that NATO Foreign Ministers will be holding an exceptional meeting here at NATO headquarters on Monday and this meeting will be to once again underscore at high level NATO's resolve and determination to see its objectives fulfilled in the current Kosovo crisis. As the agenda develops, I will brief you on it in subsequent days.

Secondly, as you well know, we had the visit of Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, to NATO this morning. He briefed the Council on the outcome of his visit to the neighbouring states of Yugoslavia in recent days and I believe he has spoken to some of you so you have a read-out on that visit. The key message, of course, is that NATO has a very direct interest in the stability of those neighbouring states and those neighbouring states all agree that their stability and future prosperity also depend on NATO prevailing in the current Kosovo crisis and achieving a settlement that follows the conditions and requirements of the international community.

As you know, Secretary of Defence Cohen is also here today, he met with the Secretary General this morning and he will be briefing the Council at 3.30 this afternoon and I understand that a press event has been arranged which will enable him to speak to you some time later on this afternoon - I believe it 's 5-5.30 but we'll confirm that in the course of the afternoon, and the British Secretary of Defence, George Robertson, who today is on a visit to Germany, will be coming through this evening to meet with the Secretary General, with Secretary of Defence Cohen and other NATO ambassadors and leaders.

As you all know, yesterday evening the unilateral offer of a cease-fire by the Yugoslav and Serbian governments was judged by NATO to be insufficient and you saw the very firm statements that were made by President Clinton, President Chirac, Chancellor Schroeder, who of course is also President of the European Union, Prime Minister Blair, Prime Minister d'Alema and other Allied leaders demonstrating NATO's unity once again in ensuring that nothing less than the full satisfaction of our conditions will suffice to stop NATO's current air operations.

A cease-fire is of course necessary, but it is not sufficient, it cannot simply wipe the slate clean and take us back to the status quo ante, particularly as a cease-fire says nothing about the actions of those paramilitary units in Kosovo that we believe are directly responsible at the moment for the systematic looting of homes and burning of homes and forced expulsion of Kosovo Albanian civilians towards the borders. It leaves the key questions unresolved and as you know, in recent hours NATO leaders have put five key questions to President Milosevic which were not answered yesterday and to which we believe an answer is urgently necessary if NATO is to stop air operations:

Is President Milosevic prepared for a verifiable cessation of all combat activities and killings?

Is he prepared to withdraw military police and paramilitary forces from Kosovo?

Is he prepared to agree to the deployment of an international security force?

Is he prepared to permit the return of all refugees and unimpeded access for humanitarian aid?

And finally, is he prepared to put in place a political framework for Kosovo on the basis of the Rambouillet Accords?

And so we very much hope that the next time President Milosevic gets back in touch, he will answer those specific questions. However, we would of course like to see the gesture from Belgrade yesterday, albeit insufficient, as perhaps a sign of a chink in the armour, as it were, and therefore a gradual coming to terms of Belgrade with reality, but of course it's too early to make that judgement. For the time being NATO's air operations continue.

Now, obviously, as in previous days, one of the key areas of concern is with the humanitarian situation. Again I reiterate that NATO is not the cause of this humanitarian situation. No refugee that I have heard of arriving in Albania or in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has said that NATO aircraft were the reason for their departure. In fact Strobe Talbot this morning, when he briefed the Ambassadors, recounted many conversations that he had had with refugees on the border and they all told him that in fact they heard the noise of NATO aircraft up there in the sky as the only positive thing in their lives at the present time. One woman in particular described the noise of NATO jet engines as "the sound of angels" - I could never put it so eloquently.

But, of course, we are very much concerned with the situation in Albania, in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. 42,000 people left Kosovo again yesterday. The overall figure of displaced persons since the crisis began last March has now crept over the 900,000 mark, it stands at 912,000 and of course, we are also concerned by reports that we have heard today, albeit still unconfirmed, that the Serb forces may have tried to push people back into Kosovo, as it were, by preventing them now from departing. Now we don't have much evidence on this and we're still checking it out but if it were to be true, it would be very alarming indeed because it is one thing to push refugees over borders where the international community is now increasingly ready to deal with them in a humane way but it is quite another thing to push them back into a waste-land where there is no food, very little water, no medical supplies, where everything has been looted and I hope that the Serbian government is not playing poker with people's lives and trying to create a further internal humanitarian crisis at the moment when the international community is on its way to solving the external humanitarian crisis.

In the meantime, NATO forces in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia continue to provide assistance to the government there, to the international organisations. You heard the good news this morning that the camp in no-man's land, where conditions were very difficult indeed, has now been cleared and 35,000 refugees are now in the tent cities that have been constructed by General Jackson and the soldiers under his command in the NATO Enabling Force - that is good news. They have also delivered 1,703 tonnes of relief supplies to those refugees, and US Marines that arrived yesterday in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia are setting up another camp as I speak.

At the same time, French and Italian forces - and I must mention the French in this respect that I didn't mention yesterday, they are also now in Albania - have delivered 60 tonnes yesterday of emergency relief up to Kukes and that area so this humanitarian air bridge or lifeline is now getting thicker by the day.

At the same time, yesterday the North Atlantic Council approved two concepts of operations:

The first one is for a humanitarian airlift which will allow SHAPE, our Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Co-ordination Centre and also the UNHCR in Geneva to co-ordinate military and civilian flights to ensure the minimum of red tape and the maximum of effectiveness for those cargo flights to be able to get in to the airports of the region even while air operations of course continue around the clock.

The second concept of operations which will now be worked up into a fully-fledged Oplan (operational plan) is for a NATO headquarters based on the Allied Mobile Force (Land) to be dispatched very quickly to Albania followed by a NATO force. As you know - I've mentioned this in previous briefings - an AFSOUTH team, a team from Allied Forces Southern Europe, is currently in Albania on a reconnaissance mission to identify the best location for that headquarters. We will be beginning force generation soon and that force will be open to participation by Partner countries and today, the International Military Staff has briefed interested partners on that concept and we would welcome their participation just like we have achieved it successfully in SFOR.

At the same time, ladies and gentlemen, we continue of course to be deeply preoccupied by the stories of war crimes and violations of international humanitarian law in Kosovo. I spoke about that yesterday. Statistics that I've seen today suggest that 50 villages have been torched since April 3rd. What is clear is that Serb homes and businesses remained largely intact. I understand from refugees that a Cyrillic "S" is painted on the door of those homes to prevent them from suffering the same fate as their Kosovar Albanian neighbours. We have reports, which are now on their way to corroboration, of about 22 alleged atrocities. Three mass graves have been identified from a number of refugee reports at the Drenica area in Maleviso and in the Pagarusa Valley and NATO governments are trying to get more information on another 27 alleged incidents of atrocity from reports that we are receiving. We've also heard of the Serb forces using Albanian men as human shields in covering artillery attacks on UCK forces. Again, I would like to stress as I did yesterday, that every day brings in more evidence and NATO governments will be building a case in the next few days and weeks against those who are responsible, and responsibility means either directly carrying out those violations of human rights, ordering those violations of human rights or simply condoning and failing to stop those violations of human rights. Again, I urge those who might be tempted to indulge in these activities to carefully weigh the consequences before doing so.

First a couple of final things before I hand over to David:

First of all, NATO expresses its gratitude to Slovakia, which yesterday agreed to authorise the unrestricted use of its air space to NATO in the context of current operations. We are very grateful for that strong sign of support and solidarity from a very important Partner country of this Alliance.

I'd like also, in response to some queries that I have received in recent days from various news organisations to stress that cannot NATO give any advance warning of actions that it might be undertaking in Belgrade or around Belgrade. There is a substantial risk, of course, which is inevitable in these types of operations and news organisations should be aware of those risks but again, NATO will do its utmost to minimise any harm or risk to civilians, including the representatives of news organisations but we cannot guarantee the safety of any group.

And finally, to end on a slightly better note, the two Spanish journalists that I've been referring to consistently in my briefings were freed today from Pristina and are now on their way to Skopje.

Air Commodore Wilby: NATO forces increased their efforts to relieve the situation of the refugees in Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. We will continue to assist our partners to cope with the humanitarian crisis caused by the FRY. Shelters provided by NATO forces in FYROM now accommodate 28,000 refugees. 35 aid flights arrived in Skopje yesterday. Major deliveries included 180 tonnes of tents, one field hospital with a 100-bed capacity and 300,000 individual food rations.

The pace of our air campaign continues as we strike the fielded forces in and around Kosovo and we remain successful in our systematic efforts to degrade the FRY's strategic military infrastructure. We have had good results with precision strikes and we continue to work hard to minimise collateral damage. All of our aircraft have returned safely to their home bases.

In Kosovo yesterday, Serbian army and special police continued to conduct operations in the Decani sub-zone trying to clear the remaining UCK forces but I understand that they are fighting back.

We continue to use a comprehensive intelligence-gathering effort to identify and track all Serbian units operating throughout our area of operations. These units remain in the field, operating from dispersed and concealed locations.

Turning once again to our air operations, yesterday we had a robust day. Surface-to-air activity was similar to previous nights with perhaps a slight increase in AAA fire. Last night, an SA-6 battery in Montenegro illuminated an ingressing package of our aircraft; it was counter-attacked by an escorting defence-suppression aircraft using two HARM missiles. The subsequent detonation of these anti-radar missiles were the probable cause of the explosions that were reported by the media around midnight. I can confirm that we had no targets in Montenegro yesterday and that this engagement was conducted in self-defence. I have no indication of any damage that may have been caused by the missiles.

Another SA-6 battery fired at our aircraft near the town of Krusevac but I am pleased to say that it missed. I can reiterate that all our aircraft returned safely and although there was a launch of two MiGs, they cleared before we were able to engage.

We flew - and I'm going to give you the number of sorties today - 439 sorties and covered the full range of target categories, hitting some 28 fixed target areas and I'll remind you that these target areas often contain multiple-aiming points.

We also attacked Serbian military and MUP forces in the field. Of particular note, this was our first major breakthrough against armoured forces in the field. We were able to locate and attack several units; in one attack, we were able to drop weapons on a column of between seven and twelve vehicles with confirmatory visual evidence of success from the cockpit.

This slide is a somewhat notional depiction of what occurred:

You can see a road with vehicles on it and the aircraft attack using area weapons and the area weapons spread out alongside the convoy, causing a large ellipse of damage to those vehicles.

These attacks often employ area munitions as opposed to guided munitions which you have seen many pictures of during the past two weeks. Guided munition attacks give aircrew the opportunity to carry out their profiles from greater and safer distances from the target. These attacks also provide the benefit of target strike for battle-damage assessment.

The nature of attacks with unguided bombs are such that it makes it impossible to see the weapons' effects on our aircraft video. You will understand that our aircrews do not wish to remain in the threat zone once weapon release has been achieved.

I now have some imagery to share with you:

In the first - it may be difficult to see in this projection but under close professional scrutiny - it shows Serbian armoured vehicles in Kosovo which have been confirmed to be heavily damaged or destroyed in previous attacks.

Moving to my next slide - and it will be a little easier to see the damage in this one - shown here is the imagery of the Belgrade militia hangar facility. This image is before our attack and the next one is after our attack.

The next image is a pre-strike assessment of Pristina airfield and if you look very closely, you will see operational Serbian MiG aircraft on the parking aprons and taxiways.

The next image shows the same area of Pristina airfield after our attack, an attack which you will note added at least three more MiG aircraft to our total claims plus other damage to the airfield.

As I have stated throughout the week, this is a systematic air campaign and we have and we will continue to target those facilities which directly affect the activities of the Serbian military and MUP forces throughout the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Kosovo. We have degraded the integrated air defence system, attacked command-and-control centres, communication nodes, logistic supplies such as ammunition and petroleum, military repair facilities and carefully-selected bridges which will directly affect the re-supply of FRY forces.

In addition, we have interdicted the all-important forces in the field and I have explained the meticulous care with which we approach the targeting process to ensure that we use the minimal amount of force to effect the maximum effectiveness with the least collateral damage and loss of civilian life. I think the results of our attacks which I have shown you throughout the last two weeks have exemplified the surgical precision with which we have been able to conduct our operations.

Today, the weather remains good and we continue to put heavy emphasis on our operations against forces in the field and this morning we have had very encouraging results once again. We will continue to maintain this unremitting campaign using the same ruthless efficiency.

Questions & Answers

Mark Laity, BBC: Question to both of you. To David Wilby: With regard to using area weapons like cluster bombs, are you now having to take different measures about collateral damage because obviously they are not as precise, no matter how hard you try? Is there now a change of tactics? You spoke yesterday about the Serbs hiding their armoured vehicles; evidently they didn't hide them so well yesterday so have you changed your tactics and are they more successful and can you give us any details so far as you can?

To Jamie: We have seen the targets, hitting things like bridges, but some of these bridges are an awfully long way from the target area and the Serbs have talked about the bridges at Novi Sad, there are also some on the border. Are some of these targets actually aimed at pressurising the Serb regime rather than directly pressurising the military by actually going for economic infrastructure?

Air Commodore Wilby: First of all, the method of our attacks, and you know that I have always stressed the meticulous care with which we plan for these attacks and even though we may use cluster munitions, we take the utmost care to make sure that when we use them, the area that we are using them against is free from that sort of collateral damage that you are talking about.

In terms of how we are locating these forces, all I will say - and I will reiterate what I said to you yesterday - that now we have ramped-up our operations, we are keeping aircraft over the area for as long as possible.

Jamie Shea: Mark, on your question, as you know, Milosevic took into Kosovo troops from all over Yugoslavia, in fact our calculations are that about two-thirds of the forces that were in and around Kosovo - and when I say "around", immediately on the border before the current clean-sweep operation began - were from outside Kosovo and therefore, of course, if you are trying to disrupt the reinforcements to those forces, to cut them off, to dry them out as I have said so that they are forced to withdraw, then you have to attack any line of communication from where those reinforcements can come and in the north up at Novi Sad you have, as you know, lots of fuel depots which directly supply the forces - if they don't have fuel, they can't operate - and that's why those bridges and other lines of communication are considered as legitimate military targets.

No, we are not striking economic infrastructure unrelated to the military function. We are striking military targets first and foremost; they may have an economic function secondarily but from our perspective that is a secondary aspect, the military aspect is why that bridge or that railway line or whatever is on the target list in the first place.

Gyorgy Foris, Hungarian TV, Magyar Nemzet: There are reports that relations between Macedonia and Albania are quite bad and worsening each day. Does NATO have any influence to balance the situation and to solve this kind of problem which can harm your operation altogether? There are also reports that the Yugoslavs intended to hand over the three American soldiers to Cyprus. Do you have any information, any comment on that?

Air Commodore Wilby, you have said several times that you have growing evidence that the Yugoslav army are losing their efficiency and their strength. Could you elaborate a little bit, especially what you mean when you say that after two weeks; what kind of signals do you have which show that the Yugoslav army is really running out of power?

Jamie Shea: Well George, I haven't seen reports of any tension between the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania. I believe that to the extent that the international community is rapidly getting a grip on the refugee situation in both countries and that now these people are being handled in a more organised way with proper accommodation in camps and so on, then we will be able to stabilise both countries and I believe that is what is going to be happening soon.

As you know, as far as the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is concerned, we have a meeting here on Friday afternoon with Foreign Minister Dimitrov and will of course be using that meeting to express our desire to be as helpful to that country in its very serious predicament as we can and the Secretary General speaks to the leaders of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia virtually every day and I know that the EU meeting of Foreign Ministers this week will be looking at what it can do with its resources to assist as well particularly in the economic sphere.

As to your second question on the three US servicemen, I've seen the reports like you have that perhaps they may be released. They should have been released immediately, in fact they should never have been taken in the first place. Their detention is a clear violation of international law, of all of the Geneva Conventions, and therefore they should be released and we hope they will be released.

Air Commodore Wilby: As part of my answer to your question, in the week I have said on several occasions that we are up against a cunning opponent with a very comprehensive intelligence-gathering network. Well we too have very sophisticated ways of gaining our intelligence.

But also this week said that from a military perspective and if I was on the Serbian side now and I saw the sort of targets which I could appreciate very well as a military man being struck, being hit, being degraded, being disrupted with relative impunity, then I would be very disheartened.

Craig Whitney, New York Times: Jamie, could you give us the locations of the border crossing points from which refugees have crossed into Macedonia or Albania as opposed to the ones where there were people lined up yesterday on the Kosovo side of the border? If I remember rightly, Pace (phon) is one of those. Those people who came across, are they the ones who have disappeared?

Jamie Shea: Well, Craig, first of all we're still, as you can imagine, trying to get a complete picture on the situation and I understand the UNHCR, which of course is directly responsible for the refugees, will be holding a press conference later today and as the specialist, competent organisation, you will get naturally more information there than you could from me. But my understanding from speaking to people in Skopje this morning before I came up to the podium, is that this terrible no-man's land situation has effectively been cleared and it's been cleared because the refugees have been taken into the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and that is why the NATO tent-cities have suddenly filled up and we welcome that because those tent-cities are organised with NATO troops to provide all of the necessary facilities to make the refugees comfortable. You could see from TV pictures the appalling circumstances in which they were at in that no-man's land situation. As you know, some of the others at least are being evacuated bit-by-bit to those countries which have offered them temporary - and again I insist on the word "temporary" - accommodation until such time as we can get them back.

As for border crossings and the rest, I have seen reports today of some of the border crossings with Albania that may have been closed but I think the UNHCR is a better source of precise information on that topic.

Dominique Thierry, RFI: A question for Air Commodore Wilby: you mentioned the surgical precision of the attack and of the bombs. I have heard on two occasions at least of civilian victims, some on a farm not far from Nis and the one in Aleksinac. Do you have more indications of what happened in Aleksinac and can you still talk about surgical precision.

Air Commodore Wilby: First of all, thank you for your kindness in asking me the question in English. Secondly, as to the surgical precision, I think without a shadow of a doubt if you look at the statistical information that I've given you - and I know I haven't given you an awful lot of detailed statistics perhaps - but from the numbers of attacks I've shown you, from the weight that we have been pushing into our target, the accuracy and the effectiveness of our strikes have been incredibly successful. Unfortunately and with much regret, despite all that care at some stages someone will perhaps be unlucky but as I have emphasised time and time again, we do try and take as much of that information as possible to minimise the collateral damage.

Jamie Shea: Pour rpondre votre question dans la langue de Voltaire, comme je viens de l'indiquer Craig, d'aprs les informations que j'ai eues ce matin de Skopje, les rfugis qui taient camps dans cette zone frontalire, le soi-disant "no man's land" ont t accepts par l'ancienne Rpublique Yougoslave de Macdoine et 35,000 sont actuellement dans les camps construits par l'OTAN. Nous nous flicitons bien sr de cette volution qui doit tre certainement plus confortable pour les rfugis concerns. Quant aux rapports de rfugis qui maintenant sont refouls en quelque sorte loin des frontires par les forces Serbes et contraints de regagner l'intrieur du Kosovo, bien sr nous voulons vrifier ces rapports. Mais dans la mesure o ils seraient confirms a nous remplirait d'inquitude car comme je viens de l'indiquer, l'intrieur du Kosovo, il y a encore moins de vivres et pas du tout d'organisations humanitaires pour secourir ces personnes qui visiblement ne peuvent pas regagner les villages sinistrs o il y a absolument carence de nourriture, d'eau et de services mdicaux.

Quant la deuxime question que vous m'avez pose, pour l'instant nous n'avons pas de preuve. Parce que preuve a veut dire quelque chose qui tient dans une cour juridique. Bien sr nous n'avons pas cela pour l'instant. Mais ce que nous avons par contre, ce sont beaucoup d'indices de beaucoup des gens qui vont dans une mme direction et qui vont permettre, au Tribunal International de la Haye de savoir o il faut aller enquter une fois que nous aurons russi apporter la paix au Kosovo. Des rapports de charniers, ils vont pouvoir se rendre sur place et voir si il y a effectivement des charniers. Ils vont pouvoir corroborer les pices conviction. Et donc avec toutes ces indications le Tribunal comme je dis ne va pas manquer d'activits dans les mois et probablement les annes venir.

Dominique Thierry, RFI: Air Commodore Wilby, a follow-up please. Could you tell us exactly what happened in Aleksinac. You mentioned yesterday that a NATO inquiry was ongoing. Do you have the results? how many bombs went off target?

Air Commodore Wilby: No, if you remember, yesterday when I gave you an indication of what might have happened, what I said to you was that it was possible that one of our bombs had gone slightly short of its target and I only said that because we had identified in some of our post-strike imagery some damage some 600 metres short of the target. I also indicated to you that whilst we could do all the careful precision planning that sometimes statistics will go against you and occasionally you may be subjected to a technical defect and perhaps some of the guidance mechanism, maybe a wing, could fall off in the final stages of the trajectory which could affect that trajectory. Equally, I said to you that the trajectory could also be affected by fire from target defences.

Charles, NBC: Jamies, if I could go back to those three soldiers and the supposed offer from Milosevic, there have been stories that there was a condition attached to it, that he would like a 24-hour cessation of air attacks and I wondered if you could tell me what NATO's view is on that.

Secondly, could you tell us anything that you know about these disturbing stories from Macedonia of some 30,000 refugees in one camp who seemed to just somehow disappear last night and no-one really seems to know where they have gone?

Jamie Shea: Well Charles, I think in reply to your two questions I have told you what I know. I think that what people have been talking about is the situation in the no-man's-land at the frontier where the refugees were in very difficult conditions and they have now been integrated into constructed, organised tent camps in which the NATO forces are able to play a leading support role and to that extent it is good news, it is a positive evolution, believe me. There was no advantage whatever for any refugee to be in the no-man's-land situation one minute longer than absolutely necessary.

On the first question you asked me, I don't think there is anything in international humanitarian law or international law, particularly not in the Geneva Conventions, on conditionality when it comes to releasing soldiers who were taken from a foreign territory, who were involved in a peace-keeping operation and who were not in any way guilty of any crime so if President Milosevic does the civilised thing and releases them, we would welcome that, but as for paying a price, of course not, the mission goes on.

Esteves Martins, RTP (Portugues TV): We saw the pictures last night of refugees being pushed into aeroplanes against their will, crying when they arrived. This is not very good because we have had the pictures already on the other side.

For David Wilby: the unilateral cease-fire declared by Belgrade, was it respected during the night and if some of the brigades move north, will they still be a target for NATO?

Jamie Shea: Antonio, I think we should have a little bit of understanding. This is an unprecedented situation and I understand now from the news that I have that those who are being evacuated are now being evacuated of course on the basis of wanting to go, with families staying together and so on, so this is now being done in a good way. Naturally, those NATO countries which are taking these refugees in have made it clear that it's a temporary measure only of course. We are not - and I would like to repeat this again - we are not and we never are going to recognise a fait accompli of ethnic cleansing by Milosevic, we are not going to be accomplices in his dirty work. Those refugees will go back and they will go back quickly but this measure has helped, is helping, to take the enormous pressure off the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which is making a sterling effort to cope with what would be, as I said yesterday, a difficult situation for the most prosperous country in Europe and obviously anything that we can do to help the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia through this situation is going to be welcome.

Air Commodore Wilby: I'll steal one of Jamie's cliches from yesterday: It takes two to tango! At the moment, we do not recognise any sort of cease-fire.

Jim Clancy, CNN: Air Commodore Wilby, can you tell us if there is any indication that Serb forces are withdrawing or any of their components withdrawing from Kosovo province and specifically, this armoured column that was hit last night, where was it, what direction was it taking?

Air Commodore Wilby: The armoured column that was hit was not hit last night, it was hit yesterday and it is in the area that I have been showing you on the map, generally on the sort of areas between Pec and the south and they are staying in those sort of areas. What we are seeing is perhaps a hunkering-down of those forces and we haven't yet picked up what you would say is a pull-out or a gradual movement but we will obviously continue to monitor the situation.

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