Updated: 31 May 1999 Press Conferences

31 May 1999

Press Conference

by Mr Jamie Shea, NATO Spokesman
and Colonel Konrad Freytag, SHAPE

(Presentation Photo)

Jamie Shea : Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. It is General Jertz's birthday, and therefore Colonel Konrad Freytag of SHAPE is allowing General Jertz to have a nice birthday and is replacing him up here on the podium.

Last Thursday the world spoke through the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and it condemned the crimes against humanity that have been committed by President Slobodan Milosevic and his government in Belgrade. We have seen in the last year murders, massacres, forced deportations, all because of who somebody is, or what that person believes, ethnic identity and not because of any actions that individuals may have committed.

These crimes are an assault on the values that NATO was created to defend and which it has successfully defended now for 50 years. By the way, they are the values of any civilised democratic community of nations, and every leader of this Alliance shares that conviction. Over the past few days you have heard from Chancellor Schroeder, from President Chirac, from Prime Minister Blair, from Foreign Minister Dini and many others, all making it clear that NATO is fighting a just conflict. And later today President Clinton will give a major address on the same topic from the Arlington National Cemetery on the occasion of Memorial Day in the United States. The President will make it clear that our commitment to these values, to freedom, to the rule of law, to fundamental human rights of the individual, is what we are defending in Kosovo. That is the reason, and the only reason, why we are there today. He will also make it clear that the Milosevic regime and its campaign of ethnic cleansing imperils those values in the Balkans, but not only in the Balkans, throughout the whole of Europe, if those abuses are allowed to stand, and that we have no choice but to stand up for what we believe in.

In other words, there is always a cost to defeat an evil, it never comes free unfortunately, but the cost of failure to defeat a great evil is far higher in the long term. So this Alliance will not be shaken, we will not stop and we will not let up until Milosevic and his killing forces withdraw from Kosovo. We will not let up, we will not stop, we will not flinch until the refugees are allowed to return to their homes and NATO is allowed to help play its just role in guaranteeing their security.

Ladies and gentlemen, democracies are always reluctant to use force, that is the way it should be, they prefer to settle disputes and crises peacefully, but when they are given no choice but to use force to uphold their values, they do not back down either. They continue, patiently, doggedly, until their objectives have been achieved.

Now dictators usually miscalculate the resolve of democracies to stay the course, at least at first, but sooner or later they realise that democracies will continue until they prevail. NATO is not a quitter and I hope that President Milosevic, after 67 days, is finally beginning to realise that because it will hasten the solution to the crisis.

Thank you. I will now ask Colonel Freytag to give you the overnight operational update.

Colonel Freytag : Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

Yesterday, NATO maintained its pressure on the Yugoslav leadership. Another day of good weather enabled us to fly almost 800 sorties. Our air attacks included 323 strike and 92 air defence suppression sorties out of precisely a total of 772. We struck highway bridges at Vladicine, Bare and Donjetrinjanga, further impeding the lines of communication for the Serbian security forces into Kosovo.

Earlier, as General Jertz explained the importance of Serb artillery and the damage we are doing to those batteries in Kosovo, he mentioned that Belgrade was sending replacements into Kosovo and I can report to you that yesterday NATO struck some of those replacements on the road to Kosovo, a total of 7 artillery pieces.

Other targets engaged included a radar site, 2 mortars, 10 other revetted positions, 12 tanks, 6 armoured personnel carriers and other military vehicles. We again hit airfields at Nis and at Ponikve. Airfields are priority repair tasks for the Yugoslav military and they are a priority target for NATO. We hit President Milosevic's communications, his radio and TV relay and broadcasting sites shown on this slide. We struck Serb military storage areas, including ammunition and petroleum sites, and a petroleum refuelling station. We also hit a military barracks, as shown on this slide.

We hit a command bunker located at Avala and air defence command posts at Novi Sad and Rakovica. Serb border posts were struck, which have been used to keep refugees from fleeing the terror inside Kosovo.

Electrical power was interrupted by a strike on a power transmission tower near Belgrade. There was no Serb aircraft activity and there was only intermittent use of air defence radars yesterday. The Serbs know that if they transmit, they risk being struck by NATO suppression aircraft. Two missiles were fired at NATO aircraft yesterday, one ballistic, one guided, and anti-aircraft artillery fire was light. All NATO aircraft returned safely.

On the ground, the UCK continues its operation in south western Kosovo in the vicinity of Mount Pastrik. I think we have told you over the past couple of days about the fighting ongoing in the strategic area of Mount Pastrik, and I say strategic because from Mount Pastrik there is a commanding view of the approaches to Kukes in Albania. Kukes, as you know, houses refugee camps and an airfield crucial for humanitarian relief. From Mount Pastrik one can see north along the Djakovica Valley, east to Prizren and across the valley to Suva Reka and Ovalovac. These areas are important because the lines of communication and supply have been highly contested by Serbs and UCK. Yesterday we learned that the UCK were being forced back towards the Albanian border. Today fierce fighting continues on the slope of Mount Pastrik. Numerous Serb infantry, armour and paramilitary elements are reported concentrating in this area. NATO aircraft are taking advantage of this opportunity to attack the now more prominent concentration of Serbian war machinery. We have recent unconfirmed reports that Serb tank and artillery are shelling the civilian population in the Djakovica valley and in the areas around Mount Pastrik. Further north, near the Kosovo border with Albania and Montenegro, UCK and Serb forces are fighting for control over borders and the lines of supply and communications.

That, ladies and gentlemen, concludes my portion of the briefing.

Jamie Shea : OK, we go to questions.

George Foris, Magyar Nemzet : Two questions to the Colonel. First, there are reports that two NATO bombs landed on Hungarian territory. They didn't explode, they just landed there. I wonder if you can comment on it and if you can say whether they were coming from the Hungarian air space or if it was mistargeted from Yugoslavian air space? And secondly, as far as the UCK offence is concerned, how much does it affect altogether the NATO operation? At the beginning there were some sceptical voices from NATO military persons, and do you have any evidence that it could be harmful, or is already harmful, in terms of the humanitarian situation there?

Colonel Freytag : I will answer the first quickly. I have no reports seen and I cannot confirm anything on this. I will go back to my headquarters and we will address that tomorrow.

Jamie Shea : George, on the UCK certainly, as I said, there have been the indirect beneficiaries of NATO actions. In fact last week they were able to occupy three villages where the Yugoslav forces had withdrawn under the onslaught of a NATO strike. So, tactically, yes, although I again stress that we have no direct relationship. But again we have a clear objective here of striking at the Yugoslav forces wherever they are in Kosovo, no hiding place. If the UCK are able to benefit from that, so be it. That's one more convincing reason for Milosevic to withdraw the forces.

Fred Colman (USA Today): Two questions on the bombing of the bridge at Varvarin: first of all, can you confirm that the attack took place at 1.00 p.m., or at least in the middle of the day; and second, if it did take place in the middle of the day, how does that square with your repeated assertions, NATO does everything to avoid civilian casualties, since clearly you are going to take more civilian casualties in the middle of the day, than you would in the middle of the night?

Colonel Freytag : You are aware of our press release of yesterday, and there is nothing to add. But I confirm to you again the time; it was 11.01 zulu time, which is 1 p.m.

Jamie Shea : Fred, I've got some civilian casualty figures for you this afternoon. 550,000 internally displaced persons in Kosovo; 883,500 refugees in neighbouring countries, 75% of which are women and children; 193,845 Kosovar refugees elsewhere in the world from Austria to Australia, spread across the globe. Currently, 1,582,345 displaced persons and refugees resulting from the Serb actions in Kosovo, 93% of the original population of Kosovo; 225,000 men missing, but at least 6,000 killed in summary executions, 10 mass graves. That is, I think, the vital casualty statistics as far as NATO is concerned, and that is the generation of Milosevic's bullets, not NATO's bombs.

Antonio Esteves Martins, RTP: I have got a question for Colonel Freytag concerning the attack on the convoy where some journalists were hit. I know the pilot is going on debriefing. Do you have an idea about what the target really was, what kind of aircraft, and what really happened? And another question after this, our local correspondent was hit, and she was invited on the night of Saturday to go, she was a little bit hesitating about whether to go or not, is it possible for NATO to know whether, in some areas of Kosovo or elsewhere, western journalists are trying to do their job? And, Jamie, Chernomyrdin is going back probably to Belgrade together with President Ahtisaari, would this make a difference if President Ahtisaari comes back with something more than just a declaration of Milosevic, and what do you really need to start thinking about the reality?

Colonel Freytag : If, I could begin. There was only one NATO attack which took place near the location at which the journalists are reported to have been injured. The media reports are a bit different. At 15.15 hrs local time yesterday, NATO aircraft carried out attacks on a tunnel on the Prizren-Prezovika road. We attack tunnels like this because you can use those tunnels for secure storage of VJ and MUP equipment as well as to hide people. All attacks were successful and the bombs hit the target areas at both ends of the tunnel. This was a legitimate military target. The air crews did not see any civilian vehicles in the area.

Jamie Shea : Antonio, let me just add that we appreciate, and admire sincerely, the courage of western journalists trying to get into Kosovo to report on the horrors that are going on there. That's an extremely important function, and it's not easy. But we do not know about the transport of journalists inside Kosovo. That information isn't passed to us and we cannot guarantee their security.

You asked me a question on the diplomatic front. Well, you heard what President Ahtisaari said last night in a series of interviews. I think he gave a very firm, clear message, that he too is encouraged that Belgrade is now showing signs of accepting the G8 conditions, but he too wants to know what the details are before giving a judgment. He shares the position of the allies in that regard. Knowing President Ahtisaari, when he does decide to go to Belgrade, and that's his decision, he will be taking a very, very firm message with him that there is no negotiation and that Milosevic must accept the five conditions. And I know from his experience in the UN that he is a very firm and convincing person to carry that particular message. Of course we know about the news that there can be perhaps a meeting tomorrow in Bonn - I don't believe it's officially confirmed yet - with Mr Chernomyrdin, Strobe Talbott once again, President Ahtisaari. Anything that can keep the diplomacy moving forward, which can use that diplomacy to pressurise Milosevic, make it clear to him that he has to accept the five conditions, is something that we welcome.

Dimitri Khavine, Russian Line : Although the figures you have released are very impressive and terrible, still can we hope to get some explanation tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, about the timing of this strike, because it's very important to understand the targeting policy? Why it was stricken just exactly in time when the civilian casualties are most probable. Could we hope to receive the explanation?

Colonel Freytag : Dimitri, I don't think that we will have more details tomorrow than that what we have already released to you in writing last night, and what I have repeated this afternoon. We are not on the ground; we cannot confirm Serb press reports.

Dimitri: No, but about the timing of the strike. From the common sense, it is exactly the time when the traffic is most intensive there. It's not like in midnight.

Colonel Freytag : Well, as we said in our press release, this was a legitimate military target because it belonged to the major lines of communications, that's why the bridge was hit on two ends and taken down.

Jamie Shea : Dimitri, I hope you'll ask Belgrade to give some timings about some of these other civilian casualties that I have referred to.

Julie, National Public Radio: We talked about the stepped up bombing campaign. It has clearly been accelerated, it has reached its most intense level, you say, today. At the same time, so have the number of incidents that have affected individuals and civilians here. But doesn't this leave NATO open to the criticism that it in fact is not doing all it can to spare civilians, and that you can't square both the acceleration of the campaign with the notion that you are doing all you can to save civilian lives - to minimise.

Colonel Freytag: I do not confirm the word incidents. This is in the Serb press reports and I am not confirming this, and NATO has not confirmed that this was an incident. We have confirmed that we targeted and we struck a militarily important target.

Jamie Shea : Julie, we have been engaged in this because the Government in Belgrade has been deliberately targeting large numbers of its own civilian population for months. We have made it clear that we would have preferred to solve this through other means except the use of force. But we are not going to be deterred, having started to do this, until our objectives are met. That's clear.

Griselda Pastor, Cadena Ser: Sur le voyage de Monsieur Ahtisaari toujours, n'y a-t-il pas une contradiction entre dire presque qu'il est vaincu militairement et aller Belgrade aprs les inculpations du tribunal de La Haye ?

Jamie Shea : J'ai toujours dit trs clairememt qu'il appartient aux envoys internationaux de dterminer avec qui Belgrade ils veulent parler. C'est leur decision et pas la ntre, nous respecterons bien leurs dcisions, ils choisiront leurs interlocuteurs qui leur paraissent a mme d'accepter et de mettre en oeuvre les cinq conditions de l'OTAN.

Jake Lynch, Sky News: Jamie, it is just on the reports, I believe on ITA/TASS of the package that Mr Chernomyrdin has been discussing in Belgrade, one element of it being that ground troops from the main proponent countries of Operation Allied Force be kept away from peace-keeping duties. Now, I am sure, Belgrade and indeed Mr Chernomyrdin might have their own motives for suggesting that, but let me just ask you, don't you think that does have some good sense for NATO in one respect. You said, from there before, that it's important that this force will be seen as fair and even-handed. You said earlier, that the KLA, for example, have become the indirect beneficiaries of the bombing campaign. Don't you feel that it's possible, at least in some areas, that it there are ground troops carrying out peace-keeping duties from those countries, they may become a focus of resentment, and therefore prolong the conflict between the actual people on the ground who must eventually live together and therefore at least in some areas, it might make good, prudent common sense for NATO to keep out of them?

Jamie Shea : Well, Jake. Our position has been clear, and I can summarise it as follows. No NATO, no go. Why? Because it is to us absolutely crystal clear that if there is not an effective security force in Kosovo, nobody is going to trust that force. No Serb, no Kosovar, nobody. If that force is not able to uphold a climate of security, everybody is going to suffer as a result, and we have lived through that experience in Bosnia and we are not going to repeat that mistake. We have seen in the past how dictators can play games with ineffective, badly armed, badly equipped international peace-keeping forces. The climate in Kosovo is going to be a difficult one, and a NATO core in our view is essential to ensure efficiency. That, by the way, is not just our position. Go and speak to half of the world, and most of the countries that have said that they would be willing to participate, and they will say exactly the same thing. No NATO, we don't go. Although, having put that core together we want, and will have the participation of a number of other countries and, hopefully, Russia.

Jake: All good reasons surely to have then a force with teeth as you have often said, but I don't hear any particular reason why it shouldn't be in some zones of Kosovo the Russian Army which provides that. The point is, wouldn't it be prudent to make such an agreement in the interests of basically settling things down on the ground in the long run.

Jamie Shea : Well, we are going to look at the precise modalities, the precise command arrangements, we have said that, but the principle of a firm NATO core is something that we are all attached to, and here we are on Day 67 and we are as firmly attached to it as before.

Greg, Fox News: Jamie, just following up on the basic theme that Jake has. Tomorrow, you have a SHAPE Force Generation meeting. How do you generate this force when that force still might be in a little bit of flux in terms of forward planning; that is, will it be 50,000 NATO or might it be 35-38,000 NATO and 12,000 Russian/Ukraine, and again if a final agreement with Belgrade puts some nationalities there, some others, how do you plan this Peace Implementation Force which you have got to get settled, while the final agreement with Belgrade on what kind of force goes in there is not settled?

Jamie Shea : Well, Greg, we are planning on the basis of a NATO force initially because we are the forces that will probably be ready immediately to move into Kosovo as soon as the Serb forces begin to withdraw, and to set up the advance guard of a Peace Implementation Force. Obviously, any partners that want to contribute will do so. And by the way, if that means the peace-keeping force becomes larger, fine. There is not any lack of work to be done by a military force in Kosovo. But we know that those partners want to come in to an organised force around a NATO core. Many of them will offer specialist capabilities, rather than large numbers of forces, and so initially we are going to put as much of it together at the Force Generation Conference as we can, but speaking to partners soon thereafter.

Margaret Evans, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation: Jamie, this morning when you were talking about the reports that a retirement home was hit in Surdulica, you said that an army barracks was attacked, and that to your knowledge a NATO missile did not go off its mark, that it hit its target. But on the target list, there was also an ammunition storage site that was attacked, can you tell us whether that missile possibly missed its mark? And secondly Mary Robinson has again criticised NATO for using cluster bombs. Can you respond to that criticism?

Jamie Shea : Well, first of all Margaret, on the Surdulica incident, we have given you what we've got at the moment. I have nothing more to add on that. As far as Mary Robinson is concerned, I have also seen at least the tenor of her report, and from what I have seen it is heavily slanted towards criticism of the side that clearly she believes is primarily responsible for what is happening in Yugoslavia and Kosovo today, so I at least have drawn a very, very clear conclusion, and I respect greatly Mary Robinson and the role she is playing. She knows fully well that we are doing out utmost to minimise any harm to civilians and we are simply using what we need to use to stop the violence in Kosovo as rapidly as possible. Colonel Freytag : In Surdulica, the facts are that last night NATO aircraft attacked the military barracks and an ammunition storage area in the vicinity of that city. Both these targets were legitimate military targets, and both were already attacked before. All munitions hit the planned aiming points. NATO cannot confirm any Serb claims of casualties or collateral damage in Surdulica.

Question: Do you have any assessment on how the embargo is being carried out by the countries around Yugoslavia and whether it has any effect?

Jamie Shea : Last week I expressed NATO's appreciation for the very strong decision taken by the Interior Ministry in Bucharest to police effectively illicit traffic of oil on the Danube. I hope of course that all of the countries along the Danube will follow the Romanian example which can help, again, to shorten this conflict and anything that shortens this conflict is in the interests of everybody.

Roy Guttman: Overnight the targets hit included 12 tanks, 7 artillery pieces, 6 APCs. It seems like a very high number and I was wondering is this one of the highest numbers that you have so far and is there some pattern, were they concentrated, how did it happen like that?

Jamie Shea : This first of all I think demonstrates that NATO pilots are becoming increasingly adept at tracking these down and going after them. Secondly, it shows that Milosevic is losing a lot of hardware and consistently, every day. Thirdly, I think it shows that the pressure must be mounting on him now to take that decision, painful though it may be for him, but inevitable, to start withdrawing those forces out of Kosovo or to say goodbye to them. Now as for their location, there are many locations I think across Kosovo. Konrad, do you have anything to add on that?

Colonel Freytag : The figures I released today are the spotlight of today, but tomorrow General Jertz will give you a full up-date on all the other numbers, figures and facts on destroyed artillery pieces, on tanks, on armoured personnel carriers and so on, if you could wait for that.

Roy Gutman: Were they concentrated in one location, or was there a concentration that enabled you to have such a huge hit overnight?

Colonel Freytag : No it was not, if you think of a concentration in one simple area only, no. We hit some in the north, as I briefed, the incoming to replace forces we hit in south west, we hit in the south and the centre of Kosovo.

Jamie Shea : Roy, not wanting to prolong this, I can help you probably a little bit. Reports that I have are saying that tanks were destroyed in Prizren, tanks and artillery near Kosovska Mitrovica, artillery was destroyed near Junik west of Pristina. So as Colonel Freytag says, wherever it is , we are going to find it.

Bill Drozdiak, Washington Post: Has Macedonia given its approval to take in many more thousand NATO soldiers in the aftermath of the Force Generation Conference? Secondly, have any other neighbouring countries such as Bulgaria or Romania offered their territory as a place to put up the soldiers? Third, is there anything more in the Chernomyrdin proposal that seems encouraging to NATO officials, particularly if there is a willingness or some kind of sign that they would be willing to take at least some NATO soldiers on to their territory.

Jamie Shea : Bill, thanks for those questions. First of all we have heard, as you know, from press reports from the government of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia that they do not rule out, which is good, as a first reaction the stationing of additional NATO forces but of course they would like to discuss certain modalities, practicalities. You have seen from press reports that there is the financial question as well. So clearly those discussions between NATO and Skopje will be ongoing and soon. Obviously we will see how far those discussions go and there is no decision at the present time to try to station the enabling forces for a Peace Implementation mission in any other country for the time being. Thirdly, I don't have any direct read-out of what happened when Viktor Chernomyrdin spoke to Milosevic last week, of course Mr Chernomyrdin as you know is having discussions now with western governments, you know about the meeting that is being planned for tomorrow when I think obviously many of those details will be discussed. We are obviously encouraged that Milosevic at least now understands that the G8 principles are the inescapable terms of reference for a resolution to this crisis, but we also know that he has not given any details as to what his understanding of those seven key principles are, or how he would intend to ensure their implementation. So clearly there is a great deal of detail that still needs to be covered, but we welcome the fact that Milosevic at least now is identifying the G8 principles as the basic bottom line, if you like, which he has to respect.

Pierre Julien, RTL: Ne pensez vous pas quand mme malgr tout que le fait de dire que les objectifs de l'OTAN sont lgitimes car militaires, mme s'il y a des dizaines de morts innocents, pourraient avoir des effets ngatifs sur l'opinion occidentale qui tait prpare une guerre de zro morts?

Jamie Shea : Non, je ne pense pas Pierre ce que l'opinion public s'attendait une guerre de zro mort. L'opinion public comprend bien que malgr les avances technologiques et malgr l'norme discrimination exerce par l'OTAN il y aura dans des conflits toujours des blesss et des morts. La technologie n'est pas encore parfaite et probablement ne le sera jamais, mais l'opinion public comprendra galement que quelquefois un prix doit tre pay pour contrecarrer un mal, et le mal est visible tous les soirs sur nos crans de tlvision - les rfugis, les gens mal traits, les enfants sans parents - et l'opinion public ne veut pas tolrer a, et donc je crois que nous avons l'opinion publique derrire nous. L'opinion publique est beaucoup plus robuste qu'on ne le pense ordinairement et je continuerai a lui faire entirement confiance.

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