|Updated: 19 April 1999||Press Conferences|
by Jamie Shea and Brigadier General Giuseppe Marani(Presentation )
Jamie Shea: Ladies and Gentlemen, good afternoon. Welcome to the briefing.
For the last five days at this podium I have been asked repeatedly by you to give you the full facts and details concerning the convoy incident near Djakovica last Wednesday. I have promised you that when the inquiry at Aviano was completed, you would be given the facts. You want the facts, today you are going to get them. Brigadier General Dan Leaf, who has been in charge of this inquiry, a very intensive, very detailed - I warn you - inquiry over the last five days is going to be here at 4.00 o'clock, in one hour, and he will present you an exhaustive account of all of the circumstances surrounding this incident, backed up with visual material, and will answer your questions. NATO keeps its promises. And when he has finished his presentation I will invite you to compare the facts with what you may have been told by other sources about this particular incident.
In the meantime, I will up-date you on the other issues. First of all on the operational side, we had some severe weather last night causing some of the aircraft sorties to be cancelled, but I am happy to report that all aircraft returned safely. General Marani, in the usual fashion, will up-date you on some of these operational details in just a few moments, but let me say that we struck yesterday at a series of strategic targets throughout Yugoslavia, that was the focus, particularly the petroleum facilities, including two sites at Novi Sad and Smederevo, we also damaged some ammunitions storage centres, some manufacturing complexes at Parasin, Pristina and Bugatovac, and we revisited Pristina Airfield.
The Serb side fired a number of FA6 surface-to-air missiles but with no radar guidance and those were not successful against NATO aircraft.
On the ground we continued to see a large degree of fighting across Kosovo, obviously in the area that I have been earmarking in recent days along the Albanian border, but also in the north around Podujevo and Metrovica, and more to the south around Malisevo as well, as the Serb forces attempt to dislodge the Kosovo Liberation Army and disrupt their lines of communication, particularly by trying to strike against their footholds near the border with Albania. In fact we have reports of large movements of Serb forces across Kosovo as these operations continue. Unfortunately many internally displaced persons, 80,000 up in the north, are caught up in these troop movements with obviously great risk to their well-being and to their lives.
As you know, over the last 24 hours we have continued to be alarmed by the number of refugees fleeing Kosovo, 40,000 in fact over the last 24 hours. In fact Yugoslavia is unique among European countries in that its only current export commodity is people rather than goods, 630,000 thus far have been obliged to leave and seek shelter in other countries. And indeed even when they get to the border, after walking for days, often in very poor physical condition, the borders are closed and that has happened with the Albanian border this morning. They are then stuck there, often facing military fire such as shelling. In the case of one tragic incident yesterday involving a family of 7 in a car hitting a mine with 5 dead, including children. This is a kind of Grand Old Duke of York strategy of marching people to the border and then marching them back again, not allowing them, even at their moment of suffering, to seek shelter.
At the same time we have increasing reports inside Kosovo that the Serb forces are creating a kind of anti-humanitarian corridor from the north down to Pristina, funnelling about 150,000 internally displaced persons so that at Pristina they can be put on trains and sent south towards the border with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. This suggests that this is not simply random ethnic cleansing, but it is being done on an almost scientific and systematic basis.
Of course NATO continues to be very concerned and continues to be in the forefront of international efforts to deal with the influx of refugees. AFOR - the NATO Force in Albania - is continuing now to be active. Today it is co-operating with the Albanian government to send 30 trucks up to Kukes from Tirana in order to move refugees away from the Kukes area where the sanitation is bad and there is military activity across the border, including cross-border shelling, and to take them down to refugee camps elsewhere.
This is the difference, if I may say so, between the situation in Albania and the situation in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, because the refugee camps in the latter are relatively near the border, whereas in the case of Albania there is a major transport problem in order to take the refugees from Marina and Kukes and take them to different camps inland.
So one of the critical tasks of the NATO forces is to try to help with that transport. We now have a number of helicopters running a shuttle service, as you know, we have managed to get that up to 40 flights a day and on the way up go military medical teams and engineering units to work on the roads and the infrastructure, and on the way back come refugees to be resettled.
Yesterday the NATO forces unloaded 30 relief flights and the Americans involved in the Joint Task Force Shining Hope at Ancona have offered to the UN High Commission for Refugees a number of roll-on, roll-off transport ships to take food directly across the Adriatic. So we continue to be very, very active in that area.
In the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia we still face refugees, particularly people crossing illegally into the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, avoiding the recognised checkpoints, and at the moment the NATO forces there, under General Sir Michael Jackson, are responding to the request of the UNHCR for extra support, particularly expanding the existing refugee camps to accommodate this greater influx.
So those are the essential points in the last 24 hours and I will now ask General Marani to give you his operational up-date, and then we will respond to your questions and we will probably have a slightly shorter briefing today in order to have our presentation set up for 4.00 pm.
General Marani: Good Afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen.
NATO military forces continue their day and night strikes against strategic targets and military infrastructures through the FRY, despite difficult weather conditions. NATO forces also continue with their humanitarian aid efforts. During the last 24 hours there were 14 aid flights to the FYROM and 32 to Albania.
In Kosovo Yugoslav Army and Special Police Force action continues in the areas shown on this map. Forces are still preparing defensive positions in the west as well as engaging UCK units. Cross-border artillery action against UCK supply routes has also been detected.
Yesterday saw an increase in reported Yugoslav helicopter and fixed wing activity. NATO forces were not in a position to engage these aircraft. A number of surface to air missiles were fired unsuccessfully against NATO aircraft which all returned to base safely.
As I stated, poor weather restricted attacks against fielded forces in Kosovo. However, strategic targeting continued, as shown on this map, amongst others, military targets in Paracin (ammunition depot), Baric (explosives plant), Novi Sad (radio relay and petrol refinery) and Subotica (reporting point) were hit.
Yesterday we discussed the difficulty of attacking military targets close to civilian facilities. This picture shows a fighter aircraft parked close to a civilian aircraft at Belgrade airfield in order to prevent NATO targeting. Actually it is not close but it is underneath the tail of the civilian aircraft, you can see it from the shadow.
With the benefit of better weather, until yesterday, we have been building an improved picture of the fate of displaced people in Kosovo. This map shows the main concentrations together with estimates of the numbers of people. The arrows indicate the direction of the Serb forces thrust against the Kosovar Albanians. This picture shows people massed on the roads in the Malisevo region.
You will be aware that Serb forces continue ethnic cleansing. This graphic shows more civilian buildings burning in the village of Racaj. Once again there has been no NATO action near this village. It is not that easy to see, but you can see the flames in white.
Finally, this composite picture shows the possible mass grave sites at Izbica and Pusto Selo. As we stated yesterday, the similarities between the two sites can be seen and the difference between what we have seen in Bosnia Herzegovina.
This completes my brief. Thank you.
Jamie Shea: Ladies and Gentlemen, just before we get to questions, I forgot to mention to you that, as I think you know, Prime Minister Blair of the United Kingdom will be here tomorrow morning seeing the Secretary General, visiting NATO Headquarters, and the press conference between Prime Minister Blair and Secretary General Solana will be here at 12.45.
Freddie: You mentioned fighting in Kosovo and had one or two words to say about interrupting the KLA's communications etc. Is this fighting between very minor engagements, between 2 or 3 people, or is this something bigger? And we had a briefing this morning by the Albanian Ambassador to NATO and it appeared that Serb forces were building up on the Albanian frontier, is this to do with the concentration of KLA inside Albania?
Jamie Shea: Freddie, thank you for those questions. Yes, I have reported in recent days principally about fighting along the Albanian border, particularly around Djakovica and up to the border itself, but the latest reports that I have been seeing is that fighting is taking place again in the north, as I said, around Podujevo and in other parts of the province, including eastern Kosovo which has not in the last few days been associated with that type of fighting.
Now as for the UCK, I have made the point in the past that President Milosevic has been the best recruiting sergeant since General Kitchener in the First World War, only of course he recruits people to fight against him, not to fight for him. And you, like me, have seen the television pictures of many people streaming in to countries in the region wanting to put themselves at enormous risk because they are so outraged at what their fellow Kosovar Albanian kin have been suffering, and I think that is the clear case, that this type of repression is ultimately counter-productive.
So the UCK seems not to hold terrain any longer. Its 7 principal headquarters have been dismantled by the offensive of the Yugoslav Army in recent weeks, they have obviously suffered casualties, but they also seem to have inflicted casualties on the Serb forces, they seem to have reverted to a more classical guerrilla hit-and-run type tactic but which does seem to have the capacity to harass the Serbs and as the Serbs are forced to hunker down under the threat of NATO action, obviously the possibilities for the UCK increase. And I stress again, we have no direct links or (pause in tape) but the UCK will only go away, that is clear, when we have a multi-ethnic democratic Kosovo in which people wouldn't need to have Kalshnikovs under their bed in order to be able to exercise their human rights and live in safety and freedom.
George: How would you comment on the fact that Belgrade has interrupted their diplomatic relations with Albania? Isn't it another sign that the Yugoslav Army is preparing to attack Albania, and should it happen, how much force is there to resist?
Jamie Shea: George, Yugoslavia seems to believe that its best future lies in isolating itself from the rest of the world, it has broken off diplomatic relations with a number of NATO countries, it has now broken off relations with one of its immediate neighbours - Albania. Yesterday I saw that the Yugoslav Ambassador at the United Nations, Mr Janovic, turned down once again the proposals of the UN Secretary General. There seems to be a kind of mania of self-isolation which I don't believe is in the interests of the Serb people but characterises the scene at the moment.
As for the question of a threat to Albania, NATO has made its position perfectly clear in that respect and I think Belgrade has heard that. We have seen cross-border shelling, we have seen a few border incidents, but I do not believe that the Yugoslav forces have either the will or the capability to seriously threaten Albania.
BILL: Tomorrow will mark the 28th day of this campaign, basically the end of the fourth week, beginning the fifth week. When Operation Allied Force first started, two of the main objectives expressed by yourself and NATO was to weaken Slobodan Milosevic and to keep Kosovo safe. In effect it can be argued that Milosevic, politically anyway, is stronger now within Belgrade and it is the Kosovars who are on the run, basically not safe. At what point does NATO admit that its strategy has to change?
Jamie Shea: OK Bill, I am grateful for that question. Bill, since when was a dictator defeated in 24 hours? I am sorry, but human rights, freedoms, values, are not simply things to proclaim, they are things to be defended. Defending them is sometimes difficult and long. It took 6 years to defeat fascism in Europe in the middle of the 20th century. I think we can take 2 months, or 3 months, to defeat President Milosevic quite frankly. There are no easy solutions and we never pretended that there would be an easy solution. Dictators are very resilient, they don't have public opinion saying well this is rather silly, shouldn't we stop this? They don't, they can manipulate that public opinion, as you well know. They tend to rule not through the ballot box but through the barrel of a gun and their security forces. So they are tough nuts to crack and there are plenty of examples that you can cite and I can cite as to that. But because our cause may take a little bit longer than 24 hours to accomplish doesn't make it any less necessary or any less just.
President Milosevic is a person who is rarely seen in public, except at very carefully stage managed occasions as when he was visited by President Lukoshenko of Belarus last week. He doesn't give any interviews, he doesn't make any public appearances, he sleeps every night in a bunker and a different one at that. Those are not what I would call the movements of a strong leader, quite frankly, and every day when he wakes up he is less strong in terms of the security forces and the tanks and the artillery that he controls which at the end of the day are the mainstays of his regime, in the final analysis.
So I would ask you, and I am sure you would, I know you will, to look a little bit beyond the appearances of the TV screen and ask yourself just how strong he really is.
Bill: Just as a follow-up, I am not suggesting that this should take place within 24 hours but we are coming up on one month and should it be a legitimate question to ask, should the current strategy be altered and changed?
Jamie Shea: The more just your cause is the longer you are justified in pursuing that cause, obviously. The strategy is going to work, it is working at the moment. No alternative strategy would go faster, by the way. I know that there is a lot of talk about ground troops but in my opinion they are not a panacea either in this particular situation given the lead time that it would take to put them together, to introduce them into the theatre, to deploy them and all the rest. And of course time is the one thing that we want to compress to the maximum because we are aware, NATO does not want this to be a long drawn out effort, but we are convinced that it is a cause that does justify taking some time if that is necessary, and we will continue. But at the end of the day this will have a snowball effect, once the system starts to crack it will start cracking quickly, it will be cumulative, not linear. We will reach that point as soon as we possibly can. But every day, as I mentioned, when Milosevic wakes up, no doubt his Head of Security comes along and says well President Milosevic the news is that overnight 30 more tanks have gone, 50 more artillery pieces have gone, more military lines of communication, more loss of morale, more desertions in the army, and I just hope that in fact somebody is giving Milosevic that message. One of the problems with dictators is that often they are not told reality by their aides and that is sometimes why it takes a while to seep in, but it will seep in.
We all learned about this "horseshoe strategy" to push people out of Kosovo. You told us a few days ago that suddenly it stopped. Now it is coming back again and people seem to be more and more pushed to the border where there are mines and they getCan you tell us what NATO intelligence thinks about what is going on exactly and wouldn't it be easier for Milosevic to keep those people inside, their troops could move with their civilian convoys and it would be maybe easier to prevent any air strikes?