Updated: 11 June 1999 Press Conference


11 June 1999

Press Conference

by Mr Jamie Shea, NATO Spokesman

Jamie Shea : I apologise that you have had to wait so long but I had to wait for the meeting of the North Atlantic Council to finish before I had an opportunity this evening to come and speak to you.

Before we begin, I want to stress that I am speaking on background. This is a backgrounder, it is not an on-the-record briefing and I would be grateful if we could at least for the time being go back to the old practice and if you would kindly attribute my comments to a NATO official please.

What I'd like to do is just brief you a little bit on the current situation and on the meeting of the Council and also by way of an introduction just to remind you that until at least Monday the briefings will continue here over the weekend - on the record that is - not this one but tomorrow and Sunday. I will be here at three o'clock to brief you on the beginning of the KFOR deployments and we hope to have on both days a video link directly with a KFOR spokesman in the theatre so if any of you are interested, please be here tomorrow afternoon.

First of all, let me give you the latest on the withdrawals. These are going well and particularly from the immediate zone which is Zone 3, in the first 24 hours of the withdrawal 4,000 personnel left with 100 wheeled vehicles and in addition 44 armoured personnel carriers and a number of air defence assets. In the view of SACEUR, who was here tonight briefing the North Atlantic Council, this demonstrates a clear intention to withdraw.

Today, we have seen the first elements of the VJ Pristina Corps beginning to move in 16 convoys and also VJ units moving up towards Kosovska-Mitrovica so this means that so far things are going smoothly and according to plan. However, there was yesterday some limited fighting particularly along the Jacovica-Pec route and some shelling into Albania. One Alliance aircraft was also locked-on by a SAM 6 radar and as you can imagine, SACEUR has been in touch with General Obdanovic, the Chief of the Yugoslav General Staff, to make it clear that we expect the cease-fire agreed to in the military-technical agreement, to be scrupulously observed by all Yugoslav elements.

We are clearly now making our final preparations for the imminent deployment of the KFOR forces and we have now got the leading units well established in the region. The idea is that there will be a threefold movement into Kosovo, the Germans from Albania, the UK up the centre and the French in from the right, accompanied of course by forces from other allied nations.

We have been putting more forces into the theatre over the last 24 hours. There are currently around 20,000 allied forces in the theatre preparing for the mission and of course more are arriving in the next days. The US has committed, as you know, 7,000 troops of which 4,000 are currently deployed in the theatre and will be immediately under the operational command of course of General Sir Michael Jackson.

I have good news in the sense that SACEUR has just finished tabulating his force contributions and he has contributions totalling 57,000. Indeed this large number not only reflects the contributions of our Partner countries but the fact that two non-partners of NATO, but Partners hopefully in the KFOR - for example Jordan and the United Arab Emirates - have both been in touch to offer about 1,000 troops each. So that shows that there is worldwide interest in participating in the KFOR mission which is very welcome.

SACEUR has briefed the Council tonight on the preparations for the KFOR deployment. He has stressed the need for a smooth and synchronised entry, for a rapid and firm control of the overall environment by the KFOR forces with a view to preventing killings, lootings, dealing with internally-displaced persons who would be in a bad physical condition and preventing what he called "vigilante justice" - "no ugly scenes" is the term he described of what we would wish to achieve when we go in.

Our aim will be to hold Kosovo together until the civilian agencies, the international relief organisations, can deploy. In other words to give early support to humanitarian efforts until the more specialist organisations will be able to take up their job. SACEUR has stressed the need for the disciplined force protection of all KFOR units.

He reported that thus far the co-operation from the Yugoslav military authorities has been good, particularly in identifying obstacles to be cleared off main roads and particularly along those lines of entry of KFOR in the next hours once the deployment is fully under way. He stressed that KFOR troops are in good shape, morale is high and he also stressed that he was fully confident in the competence of the force particularly as many of its elements have been training in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia since January.

He also stressed a number of challenges that we can expect to have to deal with early on. One, of course, is to make sure that there is no reverse ethnic cleansing. You know from what the Secretary General said yesterday of our concern that the Serbs resident in Kosovo should remain in their homes and their human rights are just as worthy of protection as those of any other group. Also to deal with possible cease-fire violations and as I said, to make certain that we can deal with the immediate humanitarian situation while the civilian agencies are quickly coming in behind us. We have also got plans and aircraft on stand-by to perform humanitarian air drops to internally-displaced persons should this be necessary.

In Albania, where we have currently 7,344 soldiers in the AFOR mission, the focus is at the moment on camp building and road improvement. We are still working on one final refugee camp at Schrerda, although that presumably will be the last one. At the same time we have been involved in a high-level meeting yesterday with the UNHCR in Albania to look at a plan for the repatriation of refugees and again, we want to do this in an organised, systematic way.

As far as operation Allied Force is concerned, you know of course, since you heard from the Secretary General yesterday, that strike missions are suspended, but a number of reconnaissance and air patrol missions are ongoing particularly in conjunction with verifying the withdrawal of the Serb forces. About 350/400 sorties are still being flown every day for that purpose although the strike response time for pilots has been increased considerably since the operation has been suspended. In other words they are no longer on the rapid alert mechanism that they were on before suspension.

Let me say just one final word before I stop about the reports that you have seen in the press today about the movement of some Russian forces out of Bosnia into Yugoslavia and towards Kosovo. I just want to stress that NATO welcomes the desire of Russia to make a contribution to KFOR. We have said all along that we want Russian participation and this is an indication that Russia wants to be part of that force. Russia wants to have a role to play and that is welcome to us. We have also noted statements from Moscow today that those Russian forces will remain for the time being on the border area, that they will not enter Kosovo first. In other words in advance of the KFOR forces. Nor will they enter Kosovo before essential co-ordination arrangements have been made. So we note those statements and let me say that we welcome very much Russia's desire to participate, but we also want essential co-ordination arrangements to be made between the Russian forces and KFOR so that the Russian forces can then deploy and take up their mission when it is arranged in Kosovo itself.

The Secretary General today has been in touch with the Russian ambassador on a number of occasions and NATO has invited the Russians to come and talk to us at the earliest possible opportunity so that we can discuss the practical modalities and the essential co-ordination arrangements as to how NATO and Russia can work together in KFOR. We hope that this will prove as successful and as fruitful an experience as the NATO/Russia co-operation has been for the last four years in Bosnia.

Questions & Answers

John, LA Times: Jamie, can you give us any indication when the entry into Kosovo will take place?

Jamie Shea : I believe that you can look for it very soon now, John. The actual timing is in the hands of the commander of KFOR, General Sir Michael Jackson, but I think by this time tomorrow night we will be all be able to look back, I hope, on a force which is rapidly deploying inside Kosovo.

John: Can I just follow that up? The Secretary General said last night that he hoped the deployment would be today. Is that still likely?

Jamie Shea : I believe that we are looking at the next hours ahead but I'm not going to give you the exact time, that is entirely in the hands of General Jackson when he wants to go. But as I say, I think by this time tomorrow night you will have seen a substantial number of Allied forces begin the deployment inside Kosovo.

Jonathan Markus, BBC World Service: Jamie, on the Russians, you say you have invited the Russians to come and talk about mechanisms and so on and clearly there are separate talks going on in Moscow and continuing. Have there been any suggestions of any imaginative ways in which the Russians could become associated in this? The positions seem to be very clear and rather firmly staked out already and the Russians have staged this rather theatrical coup to clearly focus NATO minds on this problem. Has that focus led to any imaginative solutions?

Jamie Shea : Jonathon, as you know, Stroke Talbott has been in Moscow for the last couple of days with a high-level US military team to work on this topic. SACEUR has also done a good deal of imaginative thinking and, as I always point out, we have got four years of practical experience working together in Bosnia on which we can draw and which in Bosnia takes account of the Russian desire - which has been reiterated of course vis--vis KFOR - not to be formally part of a NATO command structure so we are prepared to be imaginative. SACEUR tonight, with the ambassador, suggested a number of possibilities that we can look at and yes, in other words we have got some ideas on the table and we hope to be able to discuss these with the Russians at the earliest opportunity. But it would be rather ill-advised of me and somewhat premature to go into the specific ideas that we have.

Question: Jamie, I just want to follow up on the question of whether it is possible that the deployment could begin some time before midnight tonight and secondly, were there not a few anxious moments today that perhaps the Russians were racing towards the Elbe so to speak?

Jamie Shea : On your second question first because even although I am on background I still prefer to answer second questions first. No, the view in NATO has been, I can assure you, relaxed on this one. We want the Russians to participate, we want to solve the issue of the modalities - what I have called the essential co-ordination arrangements - as rapidly as possible so that Russia can be part of the operation alongside us at an early stage. As I said, we have had a very relaxed, very calm but constructive reaction to what we have seen today and the Secretary General has been in touch with the Russian ambassador with a message "Let's get together quickly!" - which we were planning to do anyway - but "Let's get together quickly and try to work out some of the specifics!"

As for the time, I know that you really are going to ask me questions on this in the hope that you will eventually wear me down and that I will give you the exact ETD or whatever they call it at airports. I am not going to do so, let me just say that by the time we meet tomorrow evening I believe that NATO will be well into Kosovo and well into its mission.

Question: Jamie what is the situation in Pristina of the Serbian forces?

Jamie Shea : The only indication I have got is that some forces from Pristina have started to move today towards the north. I don't at this stage have specifics, I would expect to have a lot more for you tomorrow at 3 o'clock. We have had right up until the last moment news about people firing guns in Pristina. There has been a noise of gunfire which has been reported and of looting that has been going on in the last couple of days by Serb forces prior to departure but that is all I have for the time being.

John: Jamie, can you give us any more details on who exactly the Russian troops are? I know there were reports from Moscow earlier that theTula paratroopers for example would be taking part in the Kosovo operation and can you tell us when exactly SACEUR and Mr. Solana found out about the Russians being on the move?

Jamie Shea : We were aware of this like you were at I would think the end of the morning.

John: Was it from news reports or from phone calls?

Jamie Shea : We had, of course, our own sources of information particularly as the Russian units were from, as you know, the Russian contingent in Republica Serbska in Bosnia. I don't have the exact numbers or the exact number of vehicles. There have been reports from Russia this evening of a number of Russian forces that may be preparing to leave for Belgrade with some Illyushin aircraft having been booked for the purpose but the information I have at the moment is that those aircraft have not left today so we will see what the situation is tomorrow.

John: What is the name of the Russian ambassador here?

Jamie Shea : Ambassador Sergei Kislyak.

Craig Whitney, New York Times: Jamie, I assume it was Secretary General Solana talking with Ambassador Kislyak who extended the invitation to come and talk with NATO. If he did or if someone else did, what was the Russian response: "Don't call us, we'll call you!" or "We'll think about it! Can you give us any indication of what the response was?

Jamie Shea : I think it is too early for me to characterise that, Craig, but as you know, we do have a NATO/Russia Founding Act, we do have a NATO/Russia Permanent Joint Council. All of these mechanisms are still in existence and therefore there are a variety of ways in which we can meet and talk together as well as the specific military-to-military level in theatre at the level of General Jackson. But I think I would just hold off on that until we see how things develop but as far as we are concerned, we want very much to sit down as I have been saying for a long time, and talk about the modalities.

Question: Mark: Est-ce que tu peux simplement nous clarifier, nous expliquer, qui est le numero deux de la KFOR? Est-ce que c'est un Allemand, Mr Olsen ou est-ce que c'est un franais, Mr. Toman.

Jamie Shea : I generally do not know. The discussions are ongoing but I am not aware that any announcement has been made about that yet.

Mark Laity (BBC): On these new ideas which are on the table are they actually new ones because as we understand it this Russian move to send troops, which is obviously a form of brinkmanship, followed the break up of the talks that Strobe Talbott had. So is there a move on the part of NATO with other ideas and might this include an area of authority for the Russians which does seem to be the thing which they are demanding especially from the comments of their more hawkish ministers in public?

Jamie Shea : Mark, as I have said before, we are going to show imagination and flexibility to find ways to get the Russians integrated into the force. Secondly, I again stress that we welcome the fact - and the manifest side of that today - that Russia clearly does want to be part of this. That is good, that gives us a basis on which we can work.

As you know, the UN Security Council resolution, the Ahtisaari/Chernomyrdin document accepted by Milosevic and by the Serb Parliament, as well as the military-technical agreement that was concluded between General Jackson and the Yugoslav authorities this week all specify the essential element of integrated command and control as being a key element of the force. So we obviously have to find a way, which we will try to do, which takes account of the specificity of Russia but at the same time preserves the essential unity of command and control arrangements on which the KFOR concept of this mission is based, but I am not going to go beyond that at the present time.

George Forasz, Hungarian TV: On the dialogue with the Russian ambassador, is it envisaged that the PJC could be the framework again perhaps leading the way, that the PJC could be a political authority...?

Jamie Shea : Let me, George, just say that the PJC, it has never gone away and it is a key forum for NATO/Russia consultations on all subjects.

Ladies and Gentlemen, before you go, I please would ask you once again to note that contrary to the trend of the last 80 days this is a backgrounder so please do not quote me. Thank you!

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