by Mr Jamie Shea, NATO Spokesman
Ladies and Gentlemen, Good Morning. Welcome back to NATO Headquarters on a sunny Monday morning.
This is the usual format, on-the-record but off camera. Let me also say that we are hoping that at 3.00 pm this afternoon General Jackson will give a press conference from the theatre, from either Skopje or Pristina, I am not quite sure which of the two, but there are plans at least to have him address the press and I will try to confirm that for you later on. And then at 4.00 pm at the moment we are currently planning here to have a video link with Albania to tell you a little bit about the refugee situation there. Again, I will confirm that as soon as the technical arrangements are in place. So no 3.00 pm briefing here, but we hope to do something at 4.00pm. And then as you know today, later on, the Norwegian Prime Minister, Mr Bondevik, is visiting NATO and the Secretary General and the Prime Minister will meet the press at 6.00 pm in the usual format at the main entrance, a brief point de press. So those are the activities today.
I also want to point out that now of course that the Kfor deployment is going ahead, it is not our intention to continue giving briefings here for long. We will fill in for the next day or so until such time as the Kfor press centre is established in Pristina and daily briefings begin there. I imagine they will be carried on TV so that you can follow, if you wish to, but I just want to warn you that we are not going to continue here for much longer. But of course the press service will be open and if you have queries, even when we stop formal briefings, or you have questions and naturally Harold and I everybody else, Nick, Francois, Christina and Bob, Alexi also I should mention because we have a new member of staff, will be on hand to answer your questions. So that is for the administrative arrangements, now let's get on with the briefing itself.
At the moment we have 14,300 Kfor soldiers in Kosovo, so the deployment continues to go ahead very smoothly. The Kfor forward headquarters will be established south of Pristina and is being, or should be, operational today. At the same time, all of the major forces are deploying now smoothly. Let me just give you the run down of where we are there. First of all, the British Fifth Airborne Brigade and the Fourth UK Armoured Brigade are both now in the Pristina area. French forces reached their initial deployment location of Linjarni yesterday and continued their deployment in south eastern Kosovo, thereby facilitating the withdrawal of the Yugoslav Army forces. The German 12 Panza Brigade reached Prizren yesterday and is now deploying in southern Kosovo. The lead Italian forces have reached Pec. The follow-up forces are in Dicane and Djakovica, and these forces will move into western Kosovo today. The US forces of Task Force Falcon yesterday relieved the UK Fifth Airborne Division in the area of the Kacanik Pass. The 26 US Marine Expeditionary Unit deployed into Kosovo at first light this morning and is currently moving towards Urosevac, it will then move into south eastern Kosovo to relieve the French forces who will then be going north. So as you can see, this is a carefully staged operation in which incoming forces relieve existing forces enabling them to continue to their ultimate destinations.
At 8.00 am this morning Kfor therefore had a breakdown as follows. We are about 100 in the tactical headquarters which is being established south of Pristina; UK forces at around 4,300; German forces at around 2,500; Italian forces at around 2,300; French forces 2,800; and US forces 2,100. And the overall figure available to General Jackson at the moment both in theatre and in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is around 24,000.
As you know, there were a number of incidents that took place yesterday, unfortunate incidents but incidents nonetheless. You have seen that two Serbs riding in a passenger car opened fire on German troops with automatic weapons as they drove towards the German soldiers, that was in Prizren. In self-defence the soldiers returned fire, killing the driver and wounding the passenger. One of the German soldiers was slightly injured but not badly, I am glad to say, in the exchange of gunfire. You saw that in Pristina British soldiers shot and killed a MUP policeman who was wielding a pistol. He was given 6 summations to hand the pistol over, in both English and Serbo-Croat, but he ignored the warning. And we have had, as you know, the first tragic incident in which two German journalists were attacked in Stimlje south of Pristina. One of the journalists was killed instantly and the other one unfortunately died later in a British military facility in Skopje, despite the best efforts of Kfor medical personnel to save his life. But the very robust way in which the Kfor forces have responded immediately to anybody threatening their lives, according to their rules of engagement, is I hope a signal which will be heeded very clearly by any other armed assailants on the ground who may adopt any kind of threatening behaviour. Kfor is there to cooperate with everybody and those who are asked to hand over weapons should do so peacefully and indeed should not adopt any threatening tactics whatever.
At the same time yesterday there were still some exchanges of fire, particularly some isolated incidents in which UCK elements fired on VJ and MUP units. Again NATO calls on all of the parties, both the Serb, VJ and MUP and the UCK to exercise the utmost restraint, cease from any kind of provocation, and in particular on the UCK not to do anything to impede the smooth and rapid withdrawal of the Serb forces.
We also had reports of continued looting and house burnings by withdrawing Serbs, but on the whole the Serb withdrawal is going ahead smoothly and according to the schedule that has been set down. We have not seen any significant violations of the Military Technical Agreement. In particular VJ forces have been leaving Prizren and moving along Route Lion as it is now called by Kfor, heading north.
Let me give you some details also of the withdrawing Serb forces. At the moment we believe that about 10,000 Serb forces have withdrawn, just over 10,000, that is about one-quarter of the Serb ground forces; all Serb military aircraft and all S86 surface to air missile systems; about 15% of the Serb tanks; one-third of Serb armoured personnel carriers; and about 10% of Serb artillery have departed thus far. The withdrawal of the Serb air defence forces also has continued according to schedule, the schedule set out in the Military Technical Agreement. So that seems to be going smoothly.
Turning to the humanitarian front, the situation continues to be stable and the UNHCR have now appointed liaison officers to the Kfor commands in order so that we can work jointly on the early planning to start returning refugees. There are no reports of large numbers of refugees attempting to leave the refugee centres in Albania and FYROM so far. This is good news for us because it suggests that the UNHCR's advice to these people to stay put for the time being, and its mine awareness information programmes, are having some effect. However, some Kosovar Albanian refugees are gathering in the Kukes area, obviously preparing to move into Kosovo. And in FYROM about 2,000 refugees have gathered in the Blace area, perhaps too they are intending to return early. But again our advice, as I said yesterday, to refugees is wait until you get the signal from Kfor and the humanitarian organisations that it is safe to go home, and particularly at a time when we really do need the lines of communication open and untrammelled to allow the Kfor deployment to continue to go ahead smoothly.
At the moment inside Kosovo there are not many reports of significant numbers of internally displaced persons returning to their homes yet. They are probably waiting for the full withdrawal of the Serb forces so that they avoid any incidents before they come out of their woods and come out of the mountains. But we had reports yesterday that in some villages women and children left their homes for the first time in four months, the first time in four months they actually dared to venture out. I am also pleased to be able to report that yesterday a 52 vehicle humanitarian convoy, led by the UNHCR, left FYROM and was able to arrive in Pristina and to store food for the internally displaced persons in their former warehouses, the places where they used to operate before March. And the Fourth Brigade of the UK Army in Pristina is providing assistance to the UNHCR in storing that food.
Today the Special Representatives of the UN Secretary General, Sergio Vieira de Mello, is arriving in Pristina, in fact he arrived yesterday evening, so he is there and he will be met by a delegation from the UNHCR convoy. So humanitarian activities are unfolding smoothly as well.
There was a Council meeting yesterday. What was it about and what indications do you have on reconstruction of NATO-Russian relations here in Brussels?
The Council meeting yesterday received a briefing from the Chairman of the Military Committee, Admiral Venturoni, on the progress in deploying the force thus far. It was a positive report, we are ahead of schedule. As I say, we have 14,300 in now, which is about one-third of the total force, and so that was the main element there. He also gave the latest information on these incidents that occurred yesterday and which now you know about. Secondly, we discussed of course the talks that are taking place in Moscow between the Deputy Secretary of State, Strobe Talbott and his Russian counterparts, on the possible command arrangements for associating the Russian force with Kfor. And I think there was a feeling that we are now making progress in that area. We are going to be seeking two things. First of all, an immediate agreement for the time being at the local level, military to military level, so that the Russian forces can obviously work together with us, so we will try to work out if you like some immediate arrangements. And in that respect General Jackson will be holding another meeting with the Russian Commander, General Zovartsin, today in Pristina to talk about that possibility. And on a second track continue at the political level our discussions to work out a longer term arrangement for how the Russians will participate in the force and the various co-ordination arrangements. So that is basically what is was all about and we are continuing to work that issue.
Nothing new, no relations here between Embassies?
Thank you for that question Dimitri, I can assure you that the Secretary General is in daily contact with the Russian Ambassador here, Ambassador Kisolak, to continue the dialogue.
Yes, by telephone.
First of all you told us that the military headquarters is being set up south of Pristina. Isn't this a humiliating blow for NATO, shouldn't it have been in Pristina? And secondly, you rattled through those figures on Serb artillery and tank withdrawals almost as fast as they are withdrawing, I was just wondering if you could repeat them a bit more slowly?
Absolutely, let me give you those figures again. Thus far we have all Serb military aircraft and the SA6 surface to air missile systems; one-third of Serb ground forces; about 15% of Serb tanks; one third of Serb armoured personnel carriers; and about 10% of the Serb artillery. Those are the figures that we have at the moment.
And no, I really can't accept the premise of your first question. It was always intended for us to have a headquarters in the Pristina area and that is exactly what we are doing. I think this talk of humiliation is, if you don't mind my saying so, totally erroneous. This is an operation which is going ahead of schedule, NATO forces are pouring in, they are assuming full control of Kosovo, they are already allowing humanitarian relief to get in. The refugees are gathering to begin to return. There has been absolutely no hitch whatever thus far. And as I say, on the question of the Russians, I have always made it clear that we will sort out modalities to get them in, they were going to come in anyway, they may have arrived a bit sooner than we expected but they were always invited and we want them there and it is just a question of establishing the appropriate command arrangements and we will do that. But this is not the main story. The main story is that every hour 100 - 200 more NATO forces go in and get on with the job. And if I could just add. John, if you go and ask the Kosovar Albanians if the Russians are the main story, I think they will tell you no, the main story is that we can come out of our houses after four months. You saw the images in Pristina yesterday of people emerging, going back to cafes where they hadn't dared go to show their face for many months now, normal life returning, people breathing the air of freedom for a long, long time. And believe me that I believe is what we have achieved so far.
Yesterday, SACEUR was quite clear saying that the problem in Pristina was a political problem, it is a political deadlock demonstrating the political dialogue, the difficulties, so it should be solved at the political level as well. Now General Jackson is told to solve the problem on the spot in a short turnaround. Does it mean that he received a kind of political guidance according to which he can act, or what has happened to make this switch again? And secondly, there was a plan that by Tuesday night the Kfor should cover the whole third zone, is that still feasible?
Yes, absolutely. The deployment, as I said, is slightly ahead at the moment so I think we will be making our presence felt very quickly in the first zone and then increasingly throughout the whole of Kosovo. And secondly, as I said in my remarks, we are looking at a two-stage operation, to try to get some immediate arrangements for the co-ordination with the Russian forces, and then at the same time at the political level work out a durable solution for the permanent presence of the Russian forces in the force with the appropriate co-ordination and command arrangements. And General Jackson obviously has all of the political guidance he needs to sort the situation out according to his needs and requirements on the spot, that is why he is having this meeting today.
What is NATO doing to prevent the exodus of Serbs from Kosovo? Are you repeating the mistake made by Ifor in March 1996 when it was passive while the Serbs left Sarajevo, and now we have for three years the main problem of the international community in Bosnia is how to get those Serbs back in Sarajevo. Are you repeating that mistake because in a month or two then the problem will be how to bring Serbs back to Kosovo?
No, I don't think we are repeating any mistakes that have been made in the past. Some Serbs will want to leave, we cannot prevent, we can't interfere with the freedom to travel of those Serbs that really would want to go. But what we are saying very clearly is that there is no need to leave. Kfor will provide the protection. And so far, although yes it is true some thousands of Serbs have left, this is not an exodus and we hope it will not become an exodus. It also may be the case that some Serbs are leaving on a temporary basis just to see what is going to happen, and as soon as they see that Kfor is providing an environment of security, is protecting those Serbs that have remained, then of course they will turn their cars round and come back. So any evacuations that do take place we hope will be temporary evacuations. And as I say, Kfor will be even-handed. We are not there to protect one group against another, we are there to protect the human rights of all the people of Kosovo, Serbs included.
If I remember right, the airport is west of Pristina. Is the Kfor headquarters now in the vicinity of the airport?
No, the headquarters that I have spoken about, please do not misunderstand, this is purely a temporary tactical headquarters, it is not the permanent one which will become the major one. We are still identifying the appropriate site there and that is for General Jackson to do. But of course now that we have troops in Pristina we have to have a tactical headquarters for the next couple of days for the co-ordination of arrangements and all of that is going ahead smoothly.
In which force are you planning to deploy the forces from the partner countries?
Those things are still being sorted out, but we have got lots of partner countries, we have 11 as you know and also as I mentioned the other day certain non-partner countries have demonstrated an interest, but those arrangements are still being worked out between SHAPE and the countries concerned. I can't give you the details yet.