Updated: 13 June 1999 Morning Briefings


13June 1999

Morning Briefing

by Mr Jamie Shea, NATO Spokesman

Jamie Shea : As always, we will do this on the off-camera but on-the-record basis. It is good to see you here on a Sunday morning. The thinning numbers suggest to me that you have all guessed that the story now has truly moved down to the theatre in FYROM and in Kosovo itself.

Let me just tell you that SACEUR is visiting the KFOR today particularly in Skopje and he is planning to give a press conference from Skopje at around 1400 so just to warn you about that. I can't vouch for the exact time but that is the plan anyway. I will only come back at 1500 and do an on-camera if I judge that there is something to say so I would be grateful if you could wait until I say whether I'll do that or not but let me at least for the time being give you an update on the deployment of KFOR so far.

As you know, today is K+1 as we call it in the NATO jargon, operation Joint Guardian is forging ahead. We have now deployed the best part of the 5th UK Airborne and the 4th UK Armoured Brigades at Pristina and more heavy forces are moving in. The deployment of the French forces in south-east Kosovo continues. As you know, German heavy armour units are now deploying into south-west Kosovo today and Italian forces have also started their deployment into western Kosovo. The US forces from the Marine Expeditionary Unit and others will follow shortly.

At the same time, the build-up in FYROM in preparation for deployment continues, yesterday 3,300 additional forces arrived and that brought the total of KFOR to 23,800. Many of those, as I said, remain in FYROM because this is a gradual deployment into Kosovo. The reason why the numbers went up yesterday was mainly the arrival of the US 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit and its Task Force Hawk, elements from Albania and further British and Canadian forces.

We have had one or two hiccups which is inevitable in any military operation and incidentally you might like to know that one of the things that we had to encounter as we moved along the road yesterday was 386 press vehicles which crossed the border in the first hour but not withstanding those, the deployments are on schedule and operations are continuing smoothly. One of the big problems of course yesterday was dealing with minefields.

I think that we can say that yesterday's successful first day is a good example of the allied nations working together effectively and with outstanding military efficiency. The operational plan that was drawn up by General Jackson and his staff is off to a good start.

The deployment into Kosovo is going to be hard, challenging and risky work so it is obviously the case that we will continue to take every precaution as we move into Kosovo until all lines of communications have been secured.

Jake Lynch, SKY NEWS: Do you know whether any of the KFOR have encountered any minefield unexpectedly or have they only encountered the ones that they have been guided to where the Yugoslav troops have pointed them out? Secondly, do you have any information and is there any continued fighting between Yugoslav units and KLA units, are they observing a cease-fire?

Jamie Shea : So far, Jake, to take your last question first, the cease-fire seems to be generally holding. There was some sporadic fire yesterday that we picked up mainly in central Kosovo and of course in Pristina overnight there have been people firing but it is not clear if this is actually shooting or just people releasing weapons into the air perhaps in celebration of the fact that the peacekeeping forces are finally arriving but certainly nothing significant in that respect.

As for the mines, we have had extensive talks with the Yugoslav military and indeed there are Yugoslav military liaison officers attached to KFOR as it deploys to help to identify the main mine obstacles but as you could see frOm the very prudent way in which the French and the British entered yesterday, we are taking nothing for granted and engineers go ahead of the main forces to try to identify mines and remove them and there were some explosions on the routes yesterday as those mines were dealt with.

Coming back to your other question about signs of trouble, we did see that Serb forces were reportedly burning structures as they withdrew from Suvereca and Malisevo yesterday so some of that is still going on although not on a vast scale.

Jonathan Marcus, BBC WORLD SERVICE: Can you tell us very specifically the relative deployment of the Russian and the NATO forces at Pristina airfield? Is there any sense in which the Russians are blocking the deployment of additional NATO forces at that location and could you try and give us some sort of sense of the game plan - clearly it is happening in a number of locations - and the way the various different discussions and points of contact with the Russians are actually going to come together to lead to a set of arrangements? Jamie Shea : Thanks for that. Certainly, as you know, the Russian forces are at Pristina airfield and have been since yesterday, there are about 200 paratroopers and approximately 50 vehicles which are there. At the same time, the British forces, as you know, are also now in Pristina and deployed around the town but I again stress that there is nothing confrontational about this. You know that yesterday there were talks with General Jackson and General Zavarzin and we are working out co-ordination arrangements so that we can immediately set up an effective form of co-operation while the political side of NATO and Russia sorts out the long-term role for Russia in the force and the precise co-ordination arrangements as far as the military command structure is concerned.

We have also got reports that certain Russian troops and equipment have been marshalled-up in the Republica Serbska in readiness to be deployed to Kosovo as logistic reinforcements but you have seen what has come out of Moscow this morning with Strobe Talbott saying that he has received assurances that those additional forces will not be deployed until such time as the arrangements with NATO have been worked out so we are attempting to sort this out quickly at three different levels: first of all in theatre, General Jackson and his staff are in direct liaison to work out some sort of immediate arrangement for how we co-operate; secondly, in Skopje, as you know, NATO commanders and Russian military experts have been meeting yesterday to talk about this as well; then, of course, at the third level in Moscow, the Deputy Secretary of State, Strobe Talbott, has been meeting with Mr. Ivanov and the Russian team and as you have seen, President Clinton today is going to speak directly to President Yeltsin so there are plenty of contacts ongoing so that we can resolve the issue of how Russia is going to relate to the force.

Jonathan Marcus : There seem to be two different things you are arguing about, one is the unity of command and so forth, very much the key thing from the NATO side. Obviously the Russians want to have their own zone. Does NATO completely rule out the possibility that the Russians could take up some geographical zone, that there could be some additional zone put into the existing map within the current arrangements that might be granted to the Russians? Is that something that is out of the question or something that is a possibility given the right mechanics for command?

Jamie Shea : Obviously, Jonathan, it is difficult for me to comment on this while these talks go on, particularly as I am not privy to the most intimate details of what is clearly an ongoing process. What is clear for us is that we must preserve the co-ordinated command system based on unity of command of course, that there has to be a strong NATO presence in all of the sectors and that the same policy be applied throughout. That is clear, we have never made any secret of that. We believe that based on those principles it should be possible to find arrangements to associate Russia. We have always said that we are prepared to be flexible and show some imagination on this.

There are a number of ideas which are being explored as to how Russia can be involved in a way which satisfies Russia's demand to be seen to be playing obviously a key role because Russia is a major power, we understand that it would obviously want to be seen and indeed play a key role but without undermining that essential unity of command which we believe is going to be the guarantee of the success of the force. I am certain that we are going within the next hours or the next day to get this all sorted out.

What I would like to stress is that this is a story but it is not the main story. The main story in the last 24 hours has been the fact that NATO has successfully and rapidly deployed thousands of troops inside Kosovo from three different directions and that already, as a result of that deployment, today the UNHCR and the World Food Programme are able to send 32 trucks to Kosovo with vital relief supplies so that we can start providing immediate assistance to the internally-displaced persons so already the NATO deployment is having an effect not simply in stopping the fighting but in facilitating immediate relief to the IDPs and to my mind that is the essential story of what is happening at the moment.

John Fraser: Thanks for telling us what the story is, Jamie, it is very kind of you!

Jamie Shea : I don't mean that arrogantly, John, I just mean by that that clearly there is a lot more going on in Kosovo and I just wanted to point that out.

John Fraser: My question was that the whole aim of this is to get the refugees back. When do you expect the first refugees to reverse their flight from Kosovo and to begin coming back into Kosovo?

Jamie Shea : As you know, now that the KFOR deployment is under way, the refugee flow has really become simply a little trickle, in fact I am not aware of any new refugees entering Albania or FYROM yesterday although the day before there were a few hundred that left so clearly we are not looking at going in the other direction.

The UNHCR, John, has done a survey of the refugees in the camps and it appears that about a half are ready to wait one month before returning which is positive because clearly we don't want a situation where returning refugees clog up the roads and delay the rapid deployment of KFOR. Secondly, as I pointed out, it is very important that we first establish secure lines of communication, we designate the safest areas for immediate refugee return but according to the UNHCR survey, 23 per cent want to go home more or less immediately and some small groups have started to move which is inevitable because obviously all refugees have the right to return but I think it is very important that we do this in a systematic, organised way and indeed, one of the things that AFOR - the NATO forces in Bosnia - are doing in conjunction with UNHCR is conducting mine-awareness programmes because the last thing we want, particularly through a premature, rapid return of refugees, is incidents where lines of communication are not secure and refugees are injured on minefields, particularly coming in from Albania where there are a large number of mines.

John Fraser: Just to follow that up if I may, is it possible therefore that there may be a trickle within hours and days even if the body of the refugees will return in a more orderly and planned manner?

Jamie Shea : John, inevitably, as I said, you are going to get some who will want to go home immediately and who will probably jump into their tractors and go but we are working very hard with UNHCR in both FYROM and Albania to convince people that it is best to hang on despite their frustrations. Obviously they want to go, nonetheless we have first of all to make sure that the lines are secure for the return, it will go much faster if it is organised. Secondly, there has to be the completion of the registration process so that we can help people to get back to their homes; and thirdly, there is an immediate problem of taking care of the IDPs, those 500,000 internally-displaced persons who are in a worse situation than the refugees because they are not being cared for and we need first of all to identify where those people are, tell them that it is now safe to come out of the woods and come down from the mountains and give them immediate food and one thing I can tell you is that the KFOR forces now entering Kosovo do have with them a certain amount of World Food Programme food and medical supplies so that when they come across IDPs they are in a situation to give them immediate assistance.

Dominique Thierry, RFI : Avez-vous donn les derniers chiffres du retrait serbe? Deuxime question sur l'UCK : on a vu des soldats britanniques dsarmer des soldats serbes qui venaient vers eux arms de Kalashnikov, en revanche on a pas vu de combattants de l'UCK tre dsarms par les forces de la KFOR. Donc dans quelle mesure a va se passer, qu'est-ce qu'on entend par dmilitarisation, quel moment l'UCK va-t-elle tre dsarme ?

Jamie Shea : Pour l'instant le retrait des forces serbes se poursuit, surtout sur la voie de communication o la sortie du Kosovo est dans la rgion de "Podujevo", pour une certaine raison les forces serbes bien que disposant de 4 portes de sortie ont une tendance privilgier la porte de sortie "Podujevo" o nous voyons donc le gros du trafic des convois serbes. Au Kosovo les forces serbes se rassemblent dans les diffrents endroits pour prparer leur retrait. Ce qui va vite heureusement parce que a fait partie de l'accord militaro-technique, c'est le retrait des dfenses anti-ariennes ; nous pensons que maintenant tous les systmes "SAM 6" par exemple sont partis. Nous n'avons pas d'indications, d'indices sur des violations quelconques par les forces serbes de l'accord militaro-technique. C'est la porte 3, pour vous donner les dtails, de "Podujevo" qui est la plus utilise et nous continuons, a va de soi, de surveiller a de trs prs.

Je n'ai pas encore les derniers chiffres, parce que nous sommes en train bien sr de collectionner tout a, mais d'aprs ce que nous savons c'est pour l'instant aux alentours de 10.000, peut tre un peu moins mais aux alentours de 10.000 forces serbes qui sont dj parties - l'UCK voil - comme vous le savez hier les premiers contacts entre les forces de l'OTAN et les forces de l'UCK se sont bien ont bien t ; vous avez vu l'atmosphre cordiale, ce que nous voulons bien sr maintenir. Qu'est-ce que a veut dire dmilitarisation? Bon, nous distinguons entre le dsarmement et la dmilitarisation. Le dsarmement, a veut dire collectionner toutes les armes, cela est trs difficile, au moins dans l'immdiat, dans un endroit comme le Kosovo o pratiquement tout le monde dispose d'un pistolet ou un Kalashnikov et ces armes peuvent tre enfouies dans la terre pendant de nombreuses annes... il est trs difficile de les reprer toutes les caches d'armes. a va de soi. Mais dmilitarisation a veut dire que le port de l'uniforme en public ne sera pas permis, le port des armes lourdes, les exercises d'entrainement militaire, les dfils militaires, les manifestations publiques d'units militaires, c'est a que nous entendons et jusqu' prsent les dclarations des chefs politiques de l'UCK indiquent une volont de collaborer avec les forces de la KFOR dont la dmilitarisation que nous allons poursuivre ds que le dploiement se sera termin. Je l'ai toujours dit, la KFOR est l pour fournir la scurit. Nous n'avons pas besoin de concurrents dans la "Security business" en quelque sorte. La KFOR est l avec les hommes, les soldats, les armes, les rgles d'engagement, les structures pour fournir de la scurit tout le monde.

Question : Who is in control now of the airport of Pristina really, the British troops or is it shared by on one side the Russian troops and on the other side the British troops? Secondly, is really beginning to the headquarters on the airport?

Jamie Shea : We will see. It is up to General Jackson arriving in Pristina to really determine once he looks at the infrastructure where he wants to put his headquarters. We had an initial plan to have it out at the airport but as I have said, that is something we can look at. General Jackson has to decide where he feels it can be best in terms of communications, infrastructure, access and the rest. The Russians are still there, the British troops are close by, contacts are underway to set up the co-operative liaison mechanism and we will be working at that as the day goes on.

Question : Is it true that KFOR can send planes and helicopters and use the full facilities of the airport for deployment?

Jamie Shea : Yes, you saw that General Jackson arrived by helicopter yesterday and I can assure that we will be having access to anywhere where we need to have access.

Chris : Does KFOR have plans to bring in people in by air there today? We have heard latest reports that there are tanks there that weren't seen entering when the Russians first entered, who do they belong to?

Jamie Shea : I am afraid you are ahead of me. I don't have all those details quite frankly for the time being but all I do know is that we are deploying in the area. So far things are going smoothly and as I just said in reply to the previous question, we will keep the very close liaison arrangements going.

General Servazin is, as you know, a general who knows NATO very well because he was the Russian military representative here for a while so we have good relations and good contact with him from the past, he knows how we work, we know him and therefore I think this will obviously facilitate a harmonious working relationship while the overall political framework for the Russian participation is determined.

Chris : Would you characterise this as a stand-off?

Jamie Shea : I absolutely wouldn't, not at all. They are there, we are there and we are talking to each other and of course we are trying to sort out as we deploy what our working arrangements are going to be. No, not at all, it is not tense, there is no stand-off. General Jackson has people on his staff that speak Russian and I even understand that General Jackson himself has a very good knowledge of Russian and we are just dealing with the situation and working out the most practical, co-operative arrangements for the immediate while we establish the durable framework for the Russian participation.

Question : Given that NATO is going to try and stop reverse ethnic cleansing, when the refugees return en masse what measures are you taking to prevent that and is it a realistic thing to co-ordinate?

Jamie Shea : As I mentioned from the UNHCR survey where half said that they would be prepared to wait for a month, I think there is an understanding by the refugees that they have an interest in returning home when it is safe to do so. It is understandable that anybody would want to get back home as quickly as possible but they know fully well that there are mines, they know fully well that there are still isolated incidents across Kosovo, that it will take KFOR a few days to totally pacify the situation and introduce an effective environment of security in every area; they know also that when they go back to their homes they are going to need a great deal of help, help with reconstruction, help with immediate winterisation, help with food, help in making sure that the water supplies, electricity, all of these things, are restored and therefore it is not just KFOR, the humanitarian organisations need a couple of weeks to go in and set up so that when the refugees get back home there is some kind of assistance package available for them, otherwise it would be much more difficult and as you know from the media reports yesterday and from what KFOR soldiers have said, there are a lot of homes burning, there is a lot of destruction, we reckon according to initial calculations that about 50 per cent of all of the homes have received some kind of damage so I am hopeful that we are not going to see a kind of mass return. Some people will go back but I think in the main the bulk of the refugees will be prepared to wait for the green light from UNHCR before they start moving.

Same Questioner : .ethnic Albanian Serb..(inaudible)

Jamie Shea : Indeed. We have never sought to undermine this and it is true that over the last 24 hours a number of Serbs and even Montenegrins have been leaving. The figure I have is about 2,651 but of course that is not an exodus and we have made it clear over recent days - the Secretary General has - that we want those Serbs to stay. As soon as KFOR arrives and provides the security, I think they will be reassured.

By the way, some of them have not left, some have gone to Pristina where there are a number of Serbs living and of course KFOR is in Pristina so we can provide protection immediately. We are watching this closely, inevitably some Serbs will choose to leave but out of the population of 150,000 we hope that the bulk will stay and that those others that do leave perhaps to go and stay with relatives inside Serbia while waiting to see how things happen, in a week or so I hope that they will get a telephone call from their cousins still in Kosovo to say: "Look! It is OK, everything is fine, it is all quiet, you can come back!" so that these will be not people leaving for good but simply wait-and-see temporary evacuations as it were.

Jake : Just one detail, Jamie. You don't have a figure, I suppose, for the number of KFOR troops now in Kosovo?

Jamie Shea : No, I don't Jake. By the end of today we hope to have anything between about 8,000 and 10,000 in but when I say that please don't treat that as a fixed figure. The most important thing is not numbers but safe deployments, effective deployments and that is what counts. We have got a substantial presence there already and as I said, it is already making a big difference.

Chris : About those Yugoslav tanks, what part of the staged pull-out are they to be part of? Are they the first one - that means they would be out by Tuesday - how much time do they have to leave?

Jamie Shea : I don't have the map in front of my eyes but I think Pristina is in Zone 2 and they have in all eleven days to move so for the time being they have still got some days before they have to withdraw.

Chris : Are you sure it is in Zone 2? I thought I saw the map showing it was Zone 1.

Jamie Shea : You see, around Pristina the three zones as it were converge. I don't have the map in front of me, Chris, but overall it is clear they will have to be out by the military-technical agreement date plus 11 so they still have some days in which to leave.

Chris : But the Pristina area Zone 2 would be before that, wouldn't it, it would be 9, wouldn't it?

Jamie Shea : Yes, they have to start moving but 11 days for the total evacuation and we are watching that closely.

Question : About the civilians already going back to Kosovo, is there any kind of border control put up by KFOR now?

Jamie Shea : No, KFOR has not started to monitor the borders yet. As you know, we have to concentrate on the initial deployment priority of taking over the key lines of communication, the key centres, obviously making certain that those Serb forces withdraw but as I have said, it is very important for the refugees to wait until secure lines of communication are open. There are a lot of mines out there, many refugees have been hurt in minefields going into Albania, going into FYROM in recent months, they themselves are probably very aware of the dangers from what refugees have suffered and let us wait until KFOR can say: "The lines of communication are open, these are the safest routes!" until the UNHCR and the other organisations are securely there to look after them as they come back. It will be worth waiting an extra couple of weeks to go home with all your limbs in place and in a safe way than to take the risk of going now with all of the dangers that are still there.

Ladies and Gentlemen, again thank you. I will let you know if I am going to do anything at three but look out for SACEUR from Skopje at 2 p.m.

Go to Homepage Go to Index