Updated: 21 May 1999 Press Conferences


21 May 1999

Press Conference

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

(Presentation Photo)

Jamie Shea: Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon, welcome to our briefing. I have got a few points for you to open up with today and then General Jertz, as always, will do his daily military operational up-date.

First of all, I would like to inform you that next Tuesday morning the Prime Minister of Spain, Prime Minister Aznar, will be visiting NATO headquarters to have consultations with the Secretary General and to meet with the North Atlantic Council and I anticipate that he will give a press conference, with the Secretary General, at the end of the morning. Further details will be made available shortly after this press briefing today.

Just to remind you that also on Tuesday we have the Prime Minister of Albania, but you can see him and talk to him without waiting until next Tuesday because he should be on our video conference link at 5.30 in just a few moments.

Also on Tuesday, which promises to be a busy day next week, Mr Kuken, the Slovak Foreign Minister who is currently one of the two United Nations Envoys to Yugoslavia will be at NATO Headquarters to meet with the Secretary General.

I would also like to inform you that this morning the North Atlantic Council received a detailed briefing on Operation Allied Force from SACEUR, the Supreme Allied Commander, General Clark, and that meeting in fact finished just about one hour ago.

On the humanitarian front, the refugees in Albania now total 434,000 and about 122,000 of those refugees, that is about 30% overall, are in 23 tent camps throughout the country. 300,000 however are with host families. I think that shows the enormous solidarity of the Albanian population with the Kosovar Albanian refugees, that the great majority are in fact living in homes as guests of Albanian families. But according to a UNICEF figure that I saw this morning, 75% of the refugees are women or children under the age of 15. This again raises this vexed question of what has happened to the missing men. As you know, Ambassador Scheffer calculated that about 225,000 Albanian men of military age are currently unaccounted for.

In Albania, the Allied forces, AFOR, continue to focus on the planning and construction of refugee centres, transportation of food and the relocation of refugees from the Kukes area. In addition to the security problem at Kukes, there is now a fairly severe water shortage. Because of the overload on the water system the water has to be turned off at some hours of the day and therefore it is even more urgent, particularly with the hot weather approaching and water consumption going up, to move those refugees to the camps on the coast and elsewhere, and that will start, it is already going on, but that will start according to a plan that AFOR has discussed with the UNHCR in just about a week, with the target of moving 34,000 refugees from Kukes by the end of this month.

Around 2,700 Kosovar Albanians arrived in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia yesterday. Indeed the latest reports are that over 1,000 arrived also this morning. Here we are not only concerned about the increase in the number of refugees arriving, but the fact that also many of them are in very poor physical condition. The UNHCR reports that many of them have been wondering around in the open, without shelter, with little food, for anything between 3 - 5 weeks and obviously that means that their health has deteriorated somewhat, and they also report, those refugees that have been interviewed, that in the big cities like Pristina people are very wary about going out on to the streets. Only old people venture out to try to find food, and that Serbian forces are once again clearing the city districts, particularly in Pristina, by telling people to leave. Again refugees are reporting that young men are being separated from their families and taken away.

In just a few moments, well in fact now, looking at the clock, we are starting a meeting of NATO Ambassadors with the 7 countries neighbouring Yugoslavia. This is a follow-up to the meeting at summit level that we held in Washington DC just a few weeks ago. Two topics on the agenda. First of all an exchange of information on the current situation, in particular NATO will again express its thanks to these countries for the support, often at economic cost to themselves - we have to face that - that they are giving us during this crisis. For instance, some are providing air space and indeed with Bulgaria and Romania, SHAPE is currently negotiating agreements on how their air space can be co-ordinated with NATO military air space management for the duration of this crisis, so things are moving along well there. We have concluded an agreement already with Bulgaria which will now obviously be endorsed by the government and there is a team going to Romania on a similar mission over the weekend. They are providing bases for our ground forces, in the case of Albania or the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and we appreciate also the economic solidarity that they are showing in terms of forfeiting trade, particularly the oil embargo vis a vis Yugoslavia. They are supporting us of course because they know that NATO prevailing in Kosovo is important for their long term stability, and we are supporting them, in return for the help they are giving us, by making it clear that we would not stand idly by were their security to be threatened in any way.

At the same time we will discuss with them today the ideas for a south eastern Europe initiative, or a south eastern Europe Stability Pact because we are now less than a week away from the conference in Bonn next week under the aegis of the European Union to launch the Stability Pact and we want to develop a very strong NATO contribution to that, and I will have more to say on this topic at 5.30 pm when I give you an up-date on this Ambassadorial meeting with the neighbouring countries.

It is very important that President Milosevic understands that there is unrelenting pressure on him from without. But what we are seeing also is that there is now mounting pressure on Milosevic from within. He is becoming caught up in the middle of a joint process which is gradually forcing him into a corner, and I am referring here of course to the mounting signs of democratic opposition and popular expressions of discontent in Yugoslavia. We know now, even if we don't have all of the details, that there have been serious incidents this week in the city of Krusevac and we know that many additional units of the Serb police had to be sent there to restore order. These demonstrations took place on at least three days this week. We know that in the town of Kacak there has been a citizens committee, citizens parliament, that has been formed which have sent a letter to Belgrade asking President Milosevic to put a stop immediately to the crisis and to take measures immediately to enable NATO to end its air campaign, and indeed the mayor of that city now apparently, according to press reports on Montenegrin Television, has been forced to go into hiding, or at least is facing possible arrest.

We have heard also reports coming out of Yugoslavia in the last 24 hours that in three other cities - Kraujevo, Nis and Novi Sad - the mayors have also been expressing their discontent with the way in which this crisis is still not being seriously dealt with by Belgrade. And indeed in Kraujevo there has been a movement to try to persuade the Yugoslav Army to withdraw its military equipment from the city and not to take refuge, as it were, from NATO attacks in the city itself.

And the way in which at the same time Montenegro is bravely resisting attempts to undermine its democratically elected government through a mixture of military and economic pressure, and the way in which the Republika Srpska in Bosnia Herzegovina has remained largely calm throughout this crisis and has not been affected by the kind of cross-border transfer of the nationalist virus, I think are encouraging signs that among Serbs there are still healthy shoots of civil society and democratic pluralism which form some hopeful basis for the future development of the country. At least it is a sign that maybe, maybe it is too early to say this but I will say it all the same, at least it is a sign that perhaps on the political in Belgrade the stock of President Milosevic is beginning to lose its value and that people at least are starting to sell their shares in President Milosevic. And it is this combination of the external pressure from NATO's military action, from diplomacy around NATO's five conditions, from the solidarity of the neighbouring states that have more to lose than anybody through allowing President Milosevic to destabilise the region, coupled with this new development of internal pressure that has created a veritable double whammy for Belgrade and which gives us some hope that we will achieve our objectives sooner rather than later.

Now I will ask General Jertz to give you his daily operational up-date.

General Jertz: Good Afternoon ladies and gentlemen.

Another short update on the military operations throughout the last 24 hours. Yesterday NATO forces conducted more than 300 sorties. Persistent low cloud cover however over Kosovo forced us to cancel many of our planned strikes however and our aircraft only conducted 40 strike sorties, plus another 17 strike sorties designated to suppress enemy air defence.

We attacked a variety of strategic targets throughout Yugoslavia, sites that Milosevic uses to command his forces on the ground in Kosovo, to keep them supplied, to defend them and to replace them. Over the last 24 hours we attacked a surface to air missile storage facility at Belgrade near Batajnica airfield. We will continue to strike Milosevic's integrated air defence system, airfields and aircraft, as long as they can still protect his forces or pose a threat to NATO aircraft or pose a threat to the civilians on the ground.

NATO aircraft struck fuel storage facilities at Sombor in Belgrade and he successfully hit the Belgrade petroleum facility, further reducing his fuel supplies to the army. We will continue to attack fuel-related targets to reduce Serbian petroleum supplies and make it harder for Milosevic to resupply his air and his ground forces.

We will continue to strike his munitions supplies, including surface to air missile stores and ammunition depots for ground forces before they can reach Kosovo or before they can be used against NATO forces.

These strategic targets and others like them, including the command centres Milosevic uses to instruct his troops in Kosovo, and the television and radio facilities that he uses to suppress the truth, are integral to his ability to conduct his brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing. Even as we press every possible opportunity to concentrate our air power against Serbian forces on the ground, we will also have to go after targets that enable them to conduct their missions.

In Kosovo Serb forces continue to be active in central and western areas. Once again, like yesterday, there was cross-border artillery firing into Albania.

This ends my briefing.

Questions & Answers

Mark Laity (BBC): There are reports that a prison in Istok in central Kosovo has been struck by NATO aircraft, have you got any comment on that? Also, there has been criticism from both non-NATO nations like Sweden and Switzerland but also apparently from within NATO by the German Foreign Minister that targeting presumably in places like Belgrade needs to be reviewed to avoid collateral damage presumably to the Swiss embassy's windows.

Jamie Shea: General, have you got anything on the prison?

MAJOR General Jertz: On Istok, all I can say is what I said yesterday, we have no new evidence that it was struck again.

Mark Laity: It is today I think they are talking about.

MAJOR General Jertz: No evidence on that, we did not target it, we did not attack so I don't know where the information came from.

MARK LAITY: Can I get that clear? You didn't target Istok today?

General Jertz: No.

Jamie Shea: I don't believe we had any targets in Kosovo yesterday because of the weather conditions, Mark.

Mark Laity: No, but the report is that the attack went in this morning.

MAJOR General Jertz: I am referring to the 24 hours information which I gave, they do end of course in the morning so I haven't got any report but I will find out but I have no information that Istok was hit again today.

Jamie Shea: Nothing on that at the moment Mark. On the embassies, the Secretary General, on behalf of the Alliance, has been in touch with the ambassadors here in Brussels and the governments of all of the countries where there was some damage to windows, damage resulting from the blast effect. We have obviously expressed our apologies for any inconvenience that may have been caused. I am encouraged by the fact that many of the governments have also expressed solidarity with NATO's action which, as we all know, is designed to allow a very large group of human beings to live in the kind of conditions that we all live in here and I think that is very encouraging and I think these governments understand fully well that this damage, if it does occur at all, is wholly unintentional and that we are making every effort to strike military targets with the accuracy that you would expect from this Alliance which is certainly making this air campaign by a long shot the most accurate use of air power and the most discriminatory use of air power in the history of human conflict.

Question : On the situation in Montenegro, do you have any information or military intelligence regarding troop movements, movements of VJ forces leading up to a possible coup there?

Jamie Shea: I don't want to comment on a possible coup although I've read with a sense of anxiety that I believe we all share, the comments of President Dukanovic overnight. Clearly, there is an indirect attempt to undermine the democracy and constitutional basis of Montenegro through a combination of economic and military pressures which as I said so far the democratically-elected government of Montenegro is resisting courageously. One of the ways of doing that is the closing of the borders, particularly the border post at Hertzig Nervi up on the border with Croatia where we know in the last 24 hours one Italian convoy and two French convoys have been stopped and many of their supplies have been confiscated, these are humanitarian supplies.

MAJOR General Jertz: Coming back to your question, Mark.

Jamie Shea: We always interrupt this conference for breaking news!

MAJOR General Jertz: I promised to be honest. I just got information that Istok was on the target list for today but I was not covering Istok when I was covering the last 24-hour operation so I do have to wait until I get more information that it was attacked this morning. A security complex was attacked this morning but I have no further information on that but once again my coverage of what I am doing ends early in the morning but not that early. You are on the ground and we are not and we have to wait until the aircraft come back and that is the reason why it takes a little longer.

Jamie Shea: That completes this news flash, we now return to our regular programming!

As I was saying, we had the confiscation of humanitarian relief supplies, food and medical equipment for the most part and it is interesting to know what is happening to those humanitarian supplies that have been taken away by the Yugoslav authorities.

Secondly, apart from the closure of border crossings and the interference with humanitarian relief convoys, we have the embargo on ports, particularly Bar, where significant quantities of flour have not been disembarked because of restrictions placed by the Yugoslav authorities. We also know of restrictions on trucks carrying supplies for Montenegro's aluminium plant which have been turned back as well, so the second aspect therefore is the interference with economic activity.

The third aspect is the build-up of Yugoslav military forces inside Montenegro. Yesterday, I believe I reported on the incident at Sesinje where 1,000 additional troops of the VJ were deployed in this town, which is of great importance for Montenegro's cultural history and identity. Subsequently, 600 MUP loyal to President Dukanovic were deployed and I understand that as a result those Yugoslav forces inside Sesinje have been disarmed and reduced in number. We also know that there has been a build-up of forces at the Kumbor military barracks inside Montenegro and that is on top of the 25,000 forces of the Yugoslav Second Army that are normally located inside Montenegro.

Finally, the border incidents I understand have also led to a number of passport and visa restrictions for Westerners, including Western journalists who have been using Montenegro for transit in and out of Yugoslavia so clearly we are preoccupied with these signs and we continue to watch them very closely indeed.

Jake Lynch (Sky News): Three hours ago, I was listening as the British Armed Forces Minister, Doug Henderson, was challenged over the issue of a bombing pause and he said that NATO would continue to apply pressure to Mr. Milosevic and his forces until such time as they have accepted the five conditions, he made it clear that the evidence that they would accept those conditions had to include an end to the violence and the beginning of an actual troop pull-out from Kosovo. On the other hand, yesterday we heard from Mr. d'Alema that a bombing pause could ensue once a Security Council resolution had been drafted and overnight the Secretary General said that is not incompatible with NATO's position. The British position and the Italian position are strictly incompatible. Which is NATO's position, one or the other?

Jamie Shea: Jake, you are not going to, I am afraid, draw me on this one but a good try because this Alliance is rock solid and I haven't heard anything from anybody to suggest the contrary beyond the fact that the allied campaign will carry on until Milosevic accepts the five conditions, diplomacy cannot succeed until he meets the five conditions. The whole purpose of diplomacy is to get Milosevic to the table of the five conditions and to get him to sup at the table of the five conditions but we are going to continue this air operation, as I made clear this morning, until Milosevic meets the five conditions particularly now that we know that we are succeeding. We know that we are succeeding, Milosevic is up against the ropes, he is in the corner and that is where he is going to be kept by NATO until such time as he throws in the towel.

Steven Dierckx (VRT Radio): Can I just take you back briefly to something that Mark touched upon, namely the plea by Fischer for an urgent review of NATO's targeting strategy in city centres such as Belgrade after several ambassadors' residences have been damaged. What is your reaction?

Jamie Shea: Steven, there is no change in NATO's strategy, you know that, it continues. We continue to take every precaution to avoid any damage to civilian lives, that is most important, and civilian property of course as well. If you compare what we are doing with previous air campaigns, I think our record is a good one particularly given the number of missions that are flown.

Of course we listen - and I want to make that clear - to what allied governments tell us, the allied governments of NATO, and obviously we listen to all of their views but no ally so far has requested a change in the strategy, all allies have made it clear that they want to continue that strategy and that is what we are going to do but they want obviously, Stephen - and I think this is the sense of your question - the military commanders to continue to be extremely vigilant in making sure that all of the precautions of accuracy are taken and of course we are going to continue to do that.

General Jertz: May I just add some hard figures on what Jamie just said about the accuracy. I worked out for you today that we have used since the conflict started about 10,000 guided bombs out of which 12 went astray which means .012 per cent and I think that is a clear indication of how precise and accurate the strikes are even though of course we do feel sorry if fatalities still occur.

Jamie Shea: Without wishing to prolong this, we cannot sanctuarise major portions of the Yugoslav military machine, this would send the worst possible message to President Milosevic, it would give him a sense that there may be some way that he could wiggle out of meeting those five conditions. The fact that the Yugoslav leadership know that all of their military facilities are potential targets is an enormous means of psychological pressure on them, it is important that they know that it is not just the poor soldiers who have been conscripted into the Army in Kosovo who are going to pay the price for the obduracy of the government in Belgrade, that would be a terrible message that it is only those in the front line and not those who sent them there in the first place so that is a clear principle, that the strategic targets have to be at risk as much as the tactical targets in the field. That is the first point.

Secondly, the fact that they know that those are potential targets is very important in making them disperse their assets. Do they ever dare to meet in one place any longer for instance and that obviously has a very major impact on their command-and-control, on their planning, on their co-ordination, communication abilities as well so that is important.

But having said that, as General Jertz has said we will continue to try to accomplish this essential mission with accuracy but we have to do things that achieve a balance between on the one hand keeping strictly within our targeting policy but keeping the regime under the type of pressure necessary so that it realises sooner rather than later that there is no way that it cannot meet the five conditions of NATO. If we offer them some hope that they are going to wiggle out of this, then I am afraid this operation would go on for a long time and I don't believe that is what anybody wants.

Greg: Can you tell us anything, General Jertz, about the AC-130 plane which the Pentagon revealed yesterday is now seeing action if not over Kosovo, on the border with Kosovo? What is the role of that plane and is it a bit of a substitute for the Apaches which still are not airborne?

MAJOR General Jertz: AC-130 gun-ships were first used on April 14th as part of operation Allied Force and since then the AC-130 has been involved in the conflict but because of operation considerations, as you can imagine, I cannot go into many more details on that. We will continue to fly these aircraft to the appropriate extent. It is a large aircraft, it doesn't move very fast but in the right type of environment they can use the right weapons for the right targets and they have been very effective.

Greg: Can you give any details of what they have hit, tanks, troops?

MAJOR General Jertz: Their main targets are tanks, artillery pieces. They do have on board a 105 mm howitzer and a 40 mm cannon and those are two weapons which can be used very effectively against armoured personnel carriers but I won't go into more details on that for technical and operational reasons.

Douglas Hamilton, REUTERS: General Jertz, excuse me if I missed something but on Istok could you tell us what is the military significance of the prison at Istok and Jamie, the German Foreign Minister, Joska Fischer, at a photo opportunity today said that there needed to be an urgent review of targets, he had been seeing the Swiss ambassador.

Jamie Shea: Doug, with respect, I got that question just a moment ago.

Douglas Hamilton: I am wondering whether Germany has raised this in the NAC or is this just something he said at a photo opportunity and how serious is Germany about asking for this review and could you tell us - because we have been told there is no micro-management of targets by the ambassadors - just briefly how the process works?

MAJOR General Jertz: Doug, on the first question I cannot speculate because I don't have all the targets which are on the target list for this day. I will investigate it and tell you later on what was the attack. From the script which has been given to me, I know it was a security complex so it is a militarily significant target, other than that I would be speculating and I promised you at the beginning when I started here that I would not like to do that when I do not have the information.

Jamie Shea: Doug, three points to answer your question. The first point is we always listen to whatever governments say to us obviously, we are an alliance that is based on that principle. Secondly, naturally the military commanders will continue to take every precaution to hit the targets accurately. Thirdly, no government has asked NATO to change its current strategy, including its targeting policy. Thank you very much, see you at 5.30!

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