Updated: 8 May 1999 Press Conferences


8 May 1999

Press Conference

given by NATO Secretary General, Javier Solana
NATO Spokesman, Jamie Shea and SHAPE Spokesman, Major General Walter Jertz

(Presentation Photo)

Secretary General: Good afternoon. Following its meeting this afternoon, the North Atlantic Council wishes to express its deep regret for the tragic mistake for the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. I would like to tell you that I have just spoken to the Chinese Ambassador here in Brussels and I have transmitted the regrets personally. The sincere sympathy and the condolences of all the countries, of all the members of the Alliance, go to the victims, to their families and the Chinese government.

But once again I would like to emphasise that NATO never has, and never will, intentionally target civilians. As you know, extraordinary care is taken to avoid damage to other than legitimate military and military-related targets. The bombing of the Chinese Embassy was a deeply regrettable mistake.

We continue to review the circumstances surrounding the incident and we will make available any further information as soon as possible. But I think it is appropriate at this very moment also to say that NATO will continue to pursue its goals, and its goal is none other than to stop ethnic cleansing and to ensure that Kosovars can return to their homes in peace and in security. The Alliance, as you know, is prepared to suspend air strikes once Belgrade has unequivocally accepted the five key conditions that have been set down by the international community for a peaceful settlement of the conflict. And I would like also to stress that NATO and the NATO countries will continue to support all attempts at a diplomatic solution which respect these conditions. The mistaken attack against the Chinese Embassy should not diminish, or should not derail, these efforts, building on the results of the recent G8 meeting. We will continue therefore on this double track of our pressure from all the different angles, including the military and the diplomatic.

Thank you very much.

Craig Whitney, New York Times: Mr Secretary General, will attacks continue against Belgrade as intensely as they were last night, or in the future at all?

Secretary General: The attacks continue in order to achieve the objectives that we have, and they have been very clearly stated, not only stated by us, stated by the European Union, stated as the objectives also by the meeting of the G8. We want not only to stop ethnic cleansing, we want to reverse ethnic cleansing and therefore to guarantee that displaced people, the people that have been expelled from their country, from their houses, can return to a safe and secure Kosovo.

Craig Whitney: But against Belgrade?

Secretary General: Again, as we said many, many times, there will not be sanctuaries in ex-Yugoslavia.

Mark Laity, BBC: A couple of questions. You said it shouldn't diminish or derail the efforts to negotiate a diplomatic solution along the lines of the G8 summit, but do you accept that it is temporarily, or maybe even in the longer term, going to cause problems because both Russia and China are now going to demand more?

Secretary General: First, I don't think so. You see the activity that is going to take place in the coming hours, you will see that the diplomatic channel is not only open but is moving and moving fast. As you know, Mr Chernomyrdin will be in Bonn later on today; Mr Carl Bildt will be also in Bonn later on today, the newly appointed representative from Mr Kofi Annan; I will be talking to Mr Kofi Annan in the coming hours also.

The diplomatic activity continues, trying to build on what were the positive results of the G8.

Mark Laity: You were also targeting last night various other targets in Belgrade, including for instance the Hotel Yugoslavia, where Arkan was. Was this an attempt to hit Arkan directly and will you change your targeting policy after what happened last night?

Secretary General: Well it is true we have targeted the Yugoslavia Hotel. As you know very well, these are the headquarters of Arkan and Arkan Tigers, therefore of a publicly indicted war criminal, and without any doubt one of the persons which have been linked most closely, together with Milosevic, with the tragedy of the ex-Yugoslavia, not only the tragedy of Kosovo. Arkan is responsible for many, many, many murders, many killings, in Bosnia, in Croatia, and therefore this is a target which makes profound sense in this very moment in which we want to stop the ethnic cleansing for which he is so closely responsible personally. Let me say once again that he is a publicly indicted war criminal, he is responsible for many, many, many killings.

Antonio Esteves Martins, RTP: Isn't it a risk after you got Russia back on to our side, to target the centre of Belgrade where there was the Chinese Embassy? Isn't this a big risk to run because you do need the Chinese to have the United Nations resolution approved?

Secretary General: Let me say first of all that of course the Chinese Embassy was not a target, that has been recognised and I would like to recognise it once again, and therefore this has not been directed to the Chinese Embassy voluntarily. We have recognised that it is a mistake and a mistake that we regret. But let me also say that we have targeted today, as I have said answering another question, a very, very important target related to one of the most terrible indicted war criminals that exists in Belgrade. But the diplomatic channel is still open and as you know, and as I have just said, Mr Chernomyrdin will be today in Bonn, Mr Carl Bildt will be in Bonn, the two will meet with the Chancellor of Germany, who is at the same time the President of the European Union, he will continue with Mr Kofi Annan and his representatives, so the diplomatic channel continues not only moving, but moving fast. And I hope that the energy and the momentum that was created around the G8 meeting will continue.

FR2: M. Secrtaire gnral, craignez-vous que cet incident grave compromette les efforts dj accomplis avec les Russes, les compromette ou les ralentisse, et que pouvez-vous faire?

Secretary General: Je ne crois pas - je viens de le dire en rpondant la question prcdente : les relations avec les russes continuent, la runion de M. Tchernomyrdine avec le Chancelier de l'Allemagne va avoir lieu. Comme vous le savez, le voyage de M. Ivanov Londres a t report mais pour des raisons diffrentes de la raison qui a t mentionne ce matin. L'activit diplomatique va continuer et va s'intensifier parce que nous voulons, comme je viens de le dire, saisir le momentum atteint la runion du G8.

Question: J'aimerais savoir ou j'aimerais vous demander - mon collgue et son epouse ont t tus hier soir. Je ne sais pas comment je peux expliquer cet vnement ses parents? a c'est la premire question..

Secretary General: Je fais tous mes efforts pour exprimer mes condolances pas seulement la famille mais aussi au gouvernement de la rpublique chinoise et vous personnellement pour votre amiti.

Question: Ma deuxime question, est-ce que vous considrez que l'attaque de l'ambassade d'un pays souverain est un acte de guerre?

Secretary General Je viens de dire c'tait une erreur, une erreur que nous ne voulions pas faire, parce que l'objectif de l'OTAN c'est de viser seulement des cibles de caractre militaire ou para-militaire.

CNN: Secretary General, how much more difficult does this make maintaining unity within NATO, particularly amongst those countries known not to have the same degree of stomach for this fight that some of the other members have?

Secretary General: The answer for me today is very simple to give to you. I have chaired today another one of the North Atlantic Council, therefore the place where the 19 Allies express their views and we get together over decisions. I can tell you that the determination and the solidarity among the 19 countries is the same today as it was yesterday.

Jamie Shea: We will go straight into the operational up-date and take your questions thereafter.

General Jertz: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. As I have been providing the briefing to you, I have presented myself first and most importantly as a military man. In that spirit I express my strongest personal regrets to those non-combatants who have experienced loss and suffering in recent hours. I have always reminded you that NATO only attacks military targets, and we have no other intentions. Yesterday was no different. Unfortunately even our best intentions are not always sufficient.

A lot has gone right in this campaign, but I have to be honest, what happened at the Chinese Embassy last night is nothing but a mistake and a terrible error. The planned target was the Federal Directorate for Supply and Procurement in Belgrade, but we struck the wrong building. This should not have happened and you can rest assured we will find out why it happened. Our aim is to make sure nothing like this happens again.

Equally you can be assured that NATO would not, and I repeat would not, deliberately target an Embassy or any other building that was not a legitimate military target. NATO regrets as much as anyone else the loss of life and injuries, the damage done to the Embassy and indeed the effect on the diplomatic process that is vital to bring this conflict to a close, in line with the five conditions laid out by the international community.

Overall we conducted the most intensive attacks to date upon Milosevic's military infrastructure in Belgrade. We attacked the Dobanovci command complex which above ground is a residence used by Milosevic, but underground conceals a major bunker complex in which part of his high command operates.

We struck the Hotel Yugoslavia, which far from being a hotel is now a barracks for Arkan's Tigers in Belgrade and a command centre which controls Kosovo ground operations. Also we hit two Defence Ministry buildings, an army general staff building, including a satellite communications antennae, the MUP headquarters and a number of electrical power transformers. These attacks further disrupted the command, control and communication systems.

Before going on to our other operations last night I also want to address the other recent incident at Nis, as I promised you yesterday I would elaborate on it. NATO has confirmed that the damage to the market and clinic was caused by a NATO weapon which missed its target. This strike was directed against the Nis airfield utilising cluster munitions. The attack was aimed at destroying Serbian aircraft which were parked on the airfield, air defence systems and support vehicles, targets to which cluster munitions are appropriately suited. Once again of course civilian casualties were never intended and NATO regrets the loss of life and injuries inflicted.

The other targets attacked in the past 24 hours are shown on the next slide. We attacked radio relay sites, including a site at Cacak. We struck the Sombor airfield, early warning radar sites and a surface to air missile radar. We also struck fielded forces in Kosovo, especially in northern Kosovo, but the weather was bad last night. Nonetheless we were successful against some of these units.

Serbian air defence activity was normal and all of our aircraft returned home safely.

I have one additional image to show you today. This photograph, taken on 6 May, shows just a few of the thousands and thousands of internally displaced persons in Kosovo. These poor people are living in the open without even the most basic human necessities.

But I must now return to my main message. Although it is right for NATO to apologise, the air campaign must continue until our objectives are met. This conflict is born of the policy of ethnic cleansing that we pledge to reverse. We go to enormous lengths to prevent mistakes and to avoid loss of civilian lives. During this campaign thousands of precision weapons have been used. Every mistake is unacceptable and I fully understand why this particular mistake received the immediate attention that it did. NATO has not tried, and will not try, to make excuses, but it is worth remembering the broader picture in which we are operating. NATO wants to bring peace to Kosovo and justice to the hundreds of thousands who have suffered as a result of the policy of ethnic cleansing.

Finally, I would now like to provide you with an up-date on NATO's humanitarian efforts over the past 24 hours. Yesterday there were 19 more aid flights which arrived in Albania and 21 flights in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The total aid delivered thus far is as shown on this slide.

Ladies and gentlemen, that concludes my briefing.

Stephen Gray, Sunday Times: You showed us a map, General, with the position of the embassy on but you didn't show where the intended target was. Could you possibly put the map back up and show us that and also all the other details? Can you tell us where exactly you did hit, how many munitions, what time, which aircraft were used and what went wrong? Was it, for example, a case of a building wrongly identified, you actually struck the wrong place because you had the wrong co-ordinates, or was it because you believe your pilot or the targeting system made some kind of error?

Major General Jertz: Let me reiterate very briefly what I said. We made a mistake, we hit the wrong building. There was an error in the process which caused us to attack the wrong building and we are reviewing this process which up until now has been proven to be a strong testament to one of the most professional and meticulous sciences of the air campaign. We have attacked well over 1,000 aiming points during the last 45 days and each has been an extremely well -researched and well-crafted product that has led to a successful weapon release. Unfortunately, last night we got it wrong, we hit a building which we thought was the headquarters of the Federal Directorate for Supply and Procurement and we hit it with precision weapons.

Same Questioner: That particular building that you hit, do you believe that location had been the Federal Headquarters and not the Chinese embassy or was it the case that you actually targeted the wrong building?

Major General Jertz: Once again, we did not attack - and we are never attacking - any embassy. We did attack what we believed was the headquarters of the Federal Directorate for Supply and Procurement.

Douglas: General Jertz, I don't know what sort of weapon was used or how it works or if you can even describe it to us, perhaps you may, but is it at all possible that NATO was given erroneously or deliberately mistaken, wrong intelligence from the ground about the location of the target, and will that be a line of the inquiry you are going to pursue?

Major General Jertz: So far, the whole process is under review and as I said, the information we had was that in this building was the headquarters of the Directorate, and we have no evidence that we were misled.

Dragan Blagojevic, Beta Agency: After the series of daily and nightly losses of civilian lives and the destruction of civilian targets, do you think, General - or is it your assessment or the assessment of your commanders - that in the chain of the command is somebody who is responsible for all that?

Major General Jertz: You know we are doing a campaign, we are trying to solve a conflict which was imposed on us and the military are in line with political guidance. That is all I have to say to this question.

Christopher: Our correspondent in Belgrade tells us that there is a building very close to the Chinese embassy called Energo Projects, we don't find any building close to there that is the Federal Directorate of Supply and Procurement or that calls itself by a name like that. Can you confirm that Energo Projects is the Federal Supply and Procurement Centre that was supposed to be targeted?

Major General Jertz: Once again, we had the information that this headquarters, the Federal Republic for Supply and Procurement, was in this building so there was no need to think about any other targets, not in this context, and that is why we hit this target not knowing that it was the embassy.

Christopher: This does raise the question of maps. The map that you showed up there appeared to be a map with a lot of large white spaces in Nove Belgrad which is an area where there has been a lot of construction recently. Our correspondent on the ground says the Chinese embassy was built within the last three years. It's perfectly possible that Energo Projects has been there for a longer period of time. Is it conceivable or even likely that for some reason we were using an out-of-date map that did not have the new Chinese embassy on it?

Major General Jertz: Let me reiterate on the target processing a little bit, even though normally we don't go too much into details on that. We go through a very thoroughly researched targeting process. We do validate targets if they are legitimate military targets with all the information we can get. These targets will then be placed on the master target list consistent with NATO plans and those targets, once they are legitimate we are going to attack. I have no evidence that we are using old maps, wrong maps.

Mark Laity, BBC: I appreciate that the review process is still under way but could you at least tell us something which you must know and which can no longer be a necessary secret, which is what kind of weapons were you using, was this an attack by laser- or television-guided weapons or by satellite-guided munitions such as cruise missiles? Could you at least tell us that?

On the matter of Nis, how far away did this bomb miss? It seems quite a long way for a bomb to go over, given your previous record.

Major General Jertz: I can tell you that it was a NATO aircraft and we did hit the target, which was supposed to be the headquarters of the facility I was talking about, with smart weapons.

On the Nis part, the whole process is still under review, as I said. We were using cluster bombs on the Nis target because, as I already mentioned, cluster bombs are used in aerial targets where we know that collateral damage could not occur, and it would be speculation if I would continue on the reason why some of the clusters obviously did go astray, maybe because of a technical malfunction or they could have been inadvertently released.

Question: General, can you tell us how many bombs hit the embassy, was it just one or more?

Major General Jertz: I am not in a position to go into more details about the number of bombs - it was more than one.

Craig Whitney, New York Times: General, just to be sure I understand what you were saying about the embassy and the headquarters of the building you were trying to hit, we were told this morning that the two were close together but you seem to be saying you don't know where the building you wanted to hit was, that that is why the embassy was hit. Is that correct?

Major General Jertz: As the incident happened this morning, of course we wanted to give you the information which was available to us at the time. As you know, it is always a very difficult situation to give you, because you need it, the amount of information which is necessary on the one hand and, on the other hand, we have to be very honest, we want to be credible and we need to talk to the pilots in the NATO aircraft, on this special occasion, about what happened so that we know what was really going. And that is why I think it is fair to you and also fair to us just to mention it this afternoon. We did target this target because we thought it was the headquarters.

Gyorgy Foris, Hungarian TV: The Belgrade incident and the Nis incident show how risky targeting downtown targets is. The question arises, is it worthwhile doing so, do you have as much benefit out of it that makes it worthwhile doing it, targeting downtown?

Major General Jertz: We had unfortunately to target some targets in downtown Belgrade in the past and we hit them because they did belong to the command structure of a regime which we think is a brutal regime talking, listening and seeing the pictures of what is happening in Kosovo. So yes, we do continue to find legitimate targets which are totally agreed by those countries who want to end this conflict.

Jamie Shea: If I may just at this stage also intervene, George, what General Jertz made very clear in the briefing today is that yes, we did make a bad mistake yesterday night. That is clear and we have been very open about that. That is the only way we can be. But that wasn't the only thing that happened last night. A lot of other things happened, a lot of things which are going to have a very long-term impact on the war machine of President Milosevic. Not just the fact that the Hotel Yugoslavia, the head of Arkan's Tigers was struck hopefully in a way which will undermine his ability to carry out his paramilitary activities but I think if you look at the list, you will see that the overwhelming number of targets were very high-value targets and were struck effectively and with the accuracy that we always try to achieve. Let's have a quick look at the list:

At the military command structure, at the Dobanovci presidential command centre, the Ministry of Defence Headquarters (South), National Military Headquarters (North), electric power generation and distribution was also hit in the capital with four transformer yards attacked. I have mentioned the Hotel Yugoslavia. There was also Batajnica airfield outside Belgrade, NATO aircraft also successfully struck lines of communication, including bridges at Mure, Raska, Milosevo, Bare, Uzice, Maglic and Caprica; communication sites located in Cacak, Kruevac, Rudisi, Novi Sad and several others in the Belgrade area were also successfully targeted; fuel storage, which is one of our priorities as you well know, was again struck last night with attacks on storage sites in Pozega, Pirane, Cacak and, as General Jertz said, we also struck priority facilities, ammunition storage, in two locations, Paracin and Cuprija, so I want to emphasise that last night there was a very extensive range of operations and we are going successfully and accurately after those military targets which alone at the end of the day can back up the diplomatic efforts by which we are hoping to achieve a result and keeping the pressure up on Milosevic so please don't dismiss that. Last night, a great deal of what was done was done accurately and professionally. Of course, everything is overshadowed, as we recognise, by this one very bad mistake but we continue to go after those military power structures which alone can make Milosevic stop the war in Kosovo and that has to remain our priority. I apologise to General Jertz for adding on to his answer there but I just thought we really have to put this thing in the right context.

Jake Lynch, Sky News: General, the SHAPE briefing this morning mentioned that the building, the Procurement Facility, was also a weapons warehouse. So far as you are concerned, was it a weapons warehouse in the sense that munitions were actually being stored there?

Secondly, you mentioned NATO's regret at the potential damage to the diplomatic process here. Does NATO, on its map of Belgrade, have clearly marked the embassies of all the various countries, particularly Security Council members, as ones to avoid and if so, where did NATO believe the Chinese Embassy was located?

Major General Jertz: Let me start with the second question first. Particularly as we were not going to attack the Chinese Embassy, we were not in the process of trying to find out where it is. But going to the intelligence part of the house. We have not only the map of Belgrade as an intelligence source, we have all different kinds of intelligence sources which give us the best and most precise information possible and once again we did not go after an embassy and that is why this question I think should be refused, but yes, of course, we do know where the embassies are.

Jake Lynch: And was it a weapons warehouse?

Major General Jertz: I am not aware of the weapons warehouse. I have no information on that.

Jamie Shea: OK, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much, we will have another briefing tomorrow at 10.30 and another briefing at 3 o'clock.

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