Updated: 12 June 1999 Morning Briefings


12 June 1999

Morning Briefing

by Mr Jamie Shea, NATO Spokesman

Jamie Shea : I have to tell you that we have gone back to the old practice of the on-the-record but off-camera briefing just like we did during operation Allied Force. You have heard already that I have got high hopes that SACEUR will be up here at 3 o'clock - at least that is the situation at the moment - to give the briefing and also that we will have a live video link to the KFOR operation in theatre. Let's keep our fingers crossed.

What do we have for the time being? As you know, today is K-Day and at dawn today, just after 5 o'clock, KFOR began its deployment into Kosovo. I have been speaking to the theatre and to SHAPE, they tell me that things so far are going very well, the 5th UK Airborne Brigade and the 4th UK Brigade Reconnaissance Units have started to move up the Kacanik Pass towards Pristina, the French units have crossed the border and they are moving towards planned deployment positions in south-east Kosovo and their operation has the support of US Apache helicopters. What I want to stress is that this is a simultaneous deployment, it is not a question of one nation being ahead of the other, it is being done simultaneously. Also, we have as part of our immediate deployment plan the start of the deployment of the German heavy armoured units into south-west Kosovo and US and Italian forces also crossing the border into Kosovo.

Yesterday, as we made the final preparations, 1,150 additional soldiers arrived in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, bringing the total on K-Day to 20,500. The major part of this increase was accounted for by the arrival of the US 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit and the Task Force "Hawk" forces from Albania so basically US.

As you know, as KFOR deploys it is still our firm intention that there should be a single, unified command-and-control structure under General Sir Mike Jackson and that the KFOR headquarters will be at Pristina and that there will five subordinate multinational brigade headquarters, the precise details are still being finalised.

Obviously, like you, we have seen the reports overnight of movements by the Russian forces. We are at the moment looking into those details but I would just like to stress that it has always been NATO's plan that Russia would take part in this operation - I made that clear yesterday - and the Allies welcome the intention of Russia to participate in the KFOR Peace Implementation Force. Of course, we have to work out the precise co-ordination arrangements, that is very important; NATO is in close contact with Russia on this, you know that Strobe Talbott has remained in Moscow and is due to have another meeting with his Russian counterparts today and we at NATO headquarters look forward to discussing in the next hours or days, as soon as possible, with Russia the exact role of her forces in this operation. We have worked together successfully in the past in Bosnia and we hope to do the same in Kosovo.

Let me just say a few words about the Serb withdrawals. We are pleased to note that the pace of the Serb withdrawal is gathering momentum. At 1800 GMT on 11 June - that is last night - about 10,000 Serb personnel were assessed to have left Kosovo into Serbia together with tanks, surface-to-air missile systems and other heavy equipment; at the same time, 11 MiG-21s left Pristina airfield for Batanica just outside Belgrade. We have noted today also heavy Serb traffic on the main lines of communication out of Kosovo essentially through Putajevo, Pristina and Kosovka Mitravica and the Serb ground forces so far are complying with the modalities of withdrawal in terms of the three zones which are specified in the military-technical agreement. Other Serb forces which are not in Zone 3, the zone of immediate withdrawal, that is to say Zones 2 and 1, are moving into staging and assembly areas in preparation for withdrawal and the Serb air defence forces are continuing to move out according to schedule; yesterday we saw reports of the 311th SAM-6 Regiment moving into Serbia.

We have not seen any violations of the military-technical agreement by the Serb air and air defence forces. However, there has been some house-burning by departing Serb forces, particularly in two places - Junik and Jakovica - but this does not seem to be happening on a widespread scale and therefore we have hopes that the Serbs intend to leave quietly and not indulge in a final fling of scorched earth or torching before doing so.

The refugee situation remains stable although yesterday 200 additional refugees did arrive in Albania and 32 in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia so that means that as we arrive at K-Day we have 245,000 refugees in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, 440,000 in Albania and still an estimated 503,000 internally-displaced persons inside Kosovo and 90,000 refugees in other states. Incidentally, yesterday we counted 119 Serbs that arrived in Montenegro and of course, as you know, one of our major preoccupations at the moment is that there should not be a Serb exodus from Kosovo and again we appeal to the Serbs to stay, they will be protected by KFOR, their human rights will be upheld.

In the meantime, AFOR remains in Albania - that is the NATO forces that are involved in the humanitarian effort there - and their work is basically involved in construction on refugee camps and road-building activities.

On the situation of the internally-displaced persons, tomorrow we are expecting the first UNHCR convoy of food to reach Kosovo, we are pleased to report that the eighth mission of the International Rescue Committee to drop food to the internally-displaced persons went smoothly this morning with 400 meals being delivered by air and at the same time the International Committee of the Red Cross yesterday was able to deliver a significant amount of food to internally-displaced persons near Putajevo.

I think that is probably all I have got for you for the time being and as I said, we will keep the situation under review and SACEUR should be here at 3 o'clock to give you more.

Questions & Answers

Jonathan: Is it your understanding that the Russians have indeed established themselves at Pristina airport itself and secondly, we obviously heard from you and from the Russians themselves statements that they would not go into Kosovo but they have clearly broken their word. What is the NATO perception of what is going on, who is in control of these troops?

Jamie Shea : Jonathan, it is my information that the Russians are still inside Kosovo and we did note what was said by Foreign Minister Ivanov earlier today about their withdrawal so we are still assessing the situation but I want to stress that this for us is not a dramatic affair. We want to work with the Russians, we want the Russians to be part of the force, we see clearly that the Russians also want to be part of the force, there is simply the need to work out, as I said yesterday and today, the essential co-ordination arrangements as to how that is going to be done and as I said Strobe Talbott is still in Moscow today holding talks on exactly that point and I think that is as much as I really want to say on that particular situation for the time being.

Craig: Are advance elements of the headquarters already in Pristina? It appeared that the Russians were on the runways of the airport there, would you expect any difficulties in assuming the positions that General Jackson's headquarters wanted to take as a result of the Russian presence?

Jamie Shea : I personally would not anticipate any difficulties. As I say, everybody is there to participate in a peacekeeping operation, the modalities of which have been very clearly established and accepted by the Yugoslav authorities in the military-technical agreement and the approach of NATO will be wholly co-operative in this connection.

John: Is there any sense in which NATO's military plan is being put in any peril, jeopardy, any rethinking as a result of what the Russians have done?

Jamie Shea : No, John, clearly not. We have deployed this morning at ten past five exactly on schedule, exactly along the routes that we had planned with all of the forces so we are going ahead according to plan and that is going to remain the case.

Jake: Jamie, are any meetings scheduled to take place between NATO and the Russians here and if so, would they be under the format of the Permanent Joint Council and also, on yesterday's report about when it initially emerged that the Russians were on their way, British paratroopers and Gurkhas were told to stand by to get in and prevent them from taking Pristina. That seems to imply that there must be some disadvantage by them being there which you had hoped to avert so can you confirm that was the case or not?

Jamie Shea : Jake, I can only answer your first question because I'm not aware of the details of that particular incident which you report. Again, I want to stress however, that there was no atmosphere of tension in the Alliance yesterday - I really want to stress this - as I said yesterday evening, we have reacted in a very calm way, the Russians are obviously demonstrating they want to be part of the force, we want them to be there, we simply have a joint interest in doing this in an organised way by working out the modalities of their participation and NATO is ready for business. Strobe Talbott is in Moscow and as I said yesterday, the Secretary General has been in touch repeatedly with the Russian ambassador here and getting to your specific question, we have well-tried, well-established mechanisms for handling these consultations; we have the NATO/Russia Founding Act, we have the Permanent Joint Council - which by the way is not a new institution any more, it has been in existence now for over two years - and we have made it clear to Russia that we would like to sit down and talk about these things as quickly as possible, the sooner we begin to talk the quicker we can establish those co-ordination arrangements.

Dimitri: Who called whom and do you think the recovering of NATO/Russian .. on a Brussels level? (difficult to understand)

Jamie Shea : The Secretary General made clear the other day that now that operation Allied Force has been suspended we want to turn the page and get our relationship with Russia back to where it should be. We have never made a secret of that and one way to do so is to come up with a solution for Russian participation in KFOR. There are other ways to do it as well but we obviously want to continue our regular consultations with Russia in the Permanent Joint Council - the door to NATO for Russia is open wide.

Dimitri: In Brussels it was a NATO initiative to turn the page?

Jamie Shea : We have made that clear to Russia and we hope that Russia will reciprocate because as I say, we have a common interest in working together in KFOR, clearly Russia has demonstrated that it wants to be part of it, we have said clearly we want to have Russia there but we have to do it in a methodical way because this is a very serious military operation that we are embarking on in Kosovo, it is not an exercise, it is a very demanding military operation. Russia has a big contribution to make but let's get the essential specifics bolted down first and foremost.

Question: Would you regard as possible a modification of the areas into which Kosovo is going to be divided for military purposes in order to meet the Russian requirement?

Jamie Shea : Those are specifics that I simply can't get into because how Russia participates, what the command modalities would be, what the precise Russian role would be, those are the things that we obviously have to discuss once we have our talks and I am sure those are the kind of things that Strobe Talbott is talking about in Moscow at this very moment.

Chris: Jamie, can you tell us exactly what you expect to see happen in Pristina in the city and at the airport today, what sort of contacts there will be between KFOR forces and with the Russians and is the 6 p.m. news conference still scheduled?

Jamie Shea : Chris, as far as I know on the 6 p.m. news conference, I haven't heard anything different so far and as I said, I think in reply to Craig's question earlier, our approach vis--vis the Russians is going to be a very open, friendly, co-operative one, we want to work together and that is not simply the approach that will be taken at the political level but that will also of course be the approach taken by General Jackson in theatre but I don't want to obviously try to predict or speculate so let us leave it at that. That is as much as I have for you thus far, if I have anything else I'll let you know. In the meantime, we'll meet at 3 o'clock when SACEUR should be here. Thank you!

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