Updated: 16 June 1999 Morning Briefings


16 June 1999

Morning Briefing

by Mr Jamie Shea, NATO Spokesman

Jamie Shea : Ladies and gentlemen, good morning. I apologise for being a little bit late today, but as you know, Wednesday morning is the morning of the North Atlantic Council and there was a particularly full and interesting discussion today which I wanted to follow.

As ever, this will be an off-camera but on-the-record briefing, I will give you the update on the deployment so far of KFOR and related issues concerning Kosovo. Let me just point out that what I will do is I will keep these briefings going until the end of the week. I think by the end of the week the theatre will be well established. You saw that there was a press conference there at 3.00 pm yesterday. There will be another press conference, en direct, from Pristina today at 3.00 pm where there should be somebody also briefing on the mine problem and mine awareness, a senior KFOR officer, as well as Robin Clifford. So with the theatre now establishing an effective information programme, after Friday I will stop operations and up here we will just do press briefings, back to the old once-a-week basis on Friday, you remember the Friday backgrounder, Friday lunchtime, we will go back to that and we will have Morning Briefings whenever, obviously, circumstances dictate. I would anticipate for instance that the Secretary General will do something once we have completed the Serb withdrawal from Kosovo and can announce the formal ending of the air campaign at that moment, just to give you a heads up. But anyway for the next couple of days, until Friday, we will continue with this.

So where are we today? KFOR deployment is proceeding well still and on schedule. All of the brigades are now established in their initial locations in Zone 1 and are poised now to move into Zone 2. The KFOR forward headquarters is now completely operational in an old factory in south western Pristina. The 5th UK Airborne Brigade remains in place at Liplan, the 4th UK Armoured Brigade is well established in and around Pristina and elements of the brigade are moving north to Podujevo and to the exit gate 3 at the Kosovo border, so they are now pushing up into the northern part of Kosovo on to the border with the rest of Yugoslavia. And this brigade is also setting up a civilian and military liaison committee which will help to restore basic services in Pristina.

The US forces of Task Force Falcon have arrived at Gnjilane where they are relieving, as you know, the French framework brigade. This brigade is beginning to move into Zone 2 as well heading towards Vutrin over the course of the next 24 hours. The German 12th Panzer Brigade is now operating in and around Prizren and is beginning to expand north. It has also established a border control point. The Greek company, as part of the Greek battalion, arrived in Stimlje yesterday and the remainder of the battalion should be deployed there today. The Italian Garibaldi Brigade has established its headquarters at Pec and units are there and also in Decane and Djakovica and they have begun patrols. They have also moved up to the Albanian border and established a control at several border posts, including the famous Morina border crossing.

A breakdown at the moment of the forces in the KFOR HQ about 100, UK forces 6,267, German forces 1,747, Italian forces 1,811, the Netherlands 159, France 1,402, US forces I don't have an exact figure but it's around 2,000, Canadians 277. By the way, the total available to General Jackson at the moment, both in Kosovo and in FYROM, totals 24,600.

The Serb withdrawal continues, as you know. Yesterday was the deadline for the departure from the first zone. I am glad to say that the compliance is good, there is overall general compliance with the requirements to have withdrawn from that zone. There are a couple of elements still remaining but they present no obstacle in the judgment of General Jackson and they are working hard to leave, so we expect those remaining elements to be out very soon. The Serbs have been hindered in places, as I said yesterday, by logistic and maintenance difficulties, traffic congestion and a shortage of vehicles, particularly the heavy transporters for the tanks and the larger APCs and artillery pieces. But from Zone 1 they have successfully removed the bulk of their forces. We judge that they are complying and are making a serious effort to comply with the Military Technical Agreement. So that's why the units remaining in Pec, Djakovica and Prizren have been allowed a further 24 hours to withdraw, but again as I say we are very relaxed about that because the process is going forward expeditiously, which is the key point.

By today we estimate that the Serbs have withdrawn all of their aircraft and all major surface to air missile systems, that is to say the SA6 and the SA9 systems. We have counted about 20,000 Serb ground forces, that is about half the overall total that have withdrawn. The majority of these 12,000 have moved out of Zone 1. We have counted 37 tanks, about 20% of the total; 115 APCs, armoured personnel carriers that is, 40% of the total; 65 artillery pieces, about 20% of the total there.

As for the humanitarian activity, about 5,000 refugees returned home yesterday, 2,700 from FYROM and 2,500 from Albania. Now NATO cannot and will not try to prevent the free movement of these refugees if they wish to go home. But at the same time there were 16 different mine incidents involving returning refugees yesterday in which many were injured and 2 down on the border with FYROM were killed and therefore this again underlines the very risky business of going back before KFOR have announced the all clear, or the green light for the safe return of refugees. And it is the advice of both NATO and the humanitarian organisations that refugees, for their own safety, should stay put for now and not seek to go back until the situation is more stable and secure. Demining where there are thousands, hundreds of thousands perhaps even, of mines scattered across Kosovo and many of them in unlocated and unidentified areas, demining is not something that can be done overnight and it is a great risk to refugees. NATO and the humanitarian organisations will try to establish this environment of security as rapidly as possible, but as I said yesterday, we hope that refugees will put their common sense ahead of their frustration and impatience and stay put. The UNHCR is conducting mine awareness programmes in the refugee camps and the KLA yesterday put an article in a local newspaper urging refugees not to return home because of the danger from mines. Equally, as you know, hospital facilities in Kosovo are at the present time extremely limited and therefore there isn't really the medical system yet to deal with a lot of people sustaining injuries from mines. So we hope that message will be heeded.

At the same time I am pleased to report that we are now gradually making contact with the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people who have been hiding out in the hills. Hundreds of starving internally displaced people came down from hills near Serbka on 15 June, yesterday, when they spotted western journalists. They were unaware that NATO had entered the province until they were informed by the journalists. And on 14 June a four truck convoy sent by the World Food Programme managed to reach 20,000 internally displaced persons hiding in the hills west of Pristina near Glogovac and they were greeted by internally displaced persons coming out of the woods. Now the internally displaced persons informed the World Food Programme that they had been surviving for weeks on boiled grass and boiled corn cobs. But in the main many of these people are not quite in the awful physical condition that we feared, I am pleased to say that, they have been able to survive on bread and other supplies. They are undernourished and the children of course have suffered particularly from malnourishment, but some of our worst expectations about starving IDPs are fortunately not being borne out, so that is good news. But there may still be up there in the hills and mountains many internally displaced people who still don't know that the conflict is over and we have to find ways of getting to them. In the meantime the humanitarian air drop flights of the International Rescue Committee are continuing.

Finally, I again reiterate our concern that the Kosovo Serbs remain and not put again their apprehensions of fear or panic beyond their interest in preserving their homes, preserving their property, in Kosovo where of course they belong and are entitled to remain. We estimate that about 38,000 Serb Kosovars may have left, some 14,000 going to Montenegro, in the last couple of days. And as you saw yesterday, General Jackson and the KFOR Commanders are making every effort to conduct a programme of education among the Serbs to make it clear to them that their human rights are going to be protected as equally as those of any other ethnic group and that we hope they will remain, or at least that those that do leave, once they see that security is being guaranteed by KFOR, will judge that the circumstances are right to go back.

Gyorgy Foris, Hungarian Tv: First for clarification, these 12,000 from Zone 1, if I understand well, they left Zone 1 and not Kosovo, so altogether how many Serbs left Kosovo?

Jamie Shea : We estimate 20,000 so far Gyorgy.

Gyorgy: Secondly, the leaders of the KLA yesterday declared that they were ready to disarm just if their government would ask for it, and even they mentioned one Albanian leader who should be the Prime Minister. I wonder if it is in line with your policy? And thirdly, is it the right interpretation that though there is contact between General Jackson and General Zavarzin, no agreement is reached between the Americans and the Russians?

Jamie Shea : Gyorgy, let me take those questions in reverse order. As far as the Russians are concerned, General Jackson and General Zavarzin are maintaining a liaison arrangement, which is an ongoing one, and as you know General Jackson has given his agreement to the resupply of the Russian troops, which is happening now, and in fact British vehicles of the 4th Armoured Brigade have been escorting those Russian resupply vehicles from Bosnia down from Podujevo this morning. And, yesterday, in a gesture of goodwill and cooperation, British forces delivered 14,000 litres of fresh drinking water to the Russian forces, because as you know, you have seen this on TV, they are having a great summer, at least from the meteorological point of view, in Kosovo at the moment and the temperatures have been going up to 36 - 37 degrees. So I am sure the Russians were happy to get that drinking water. We of course are awaiting, as all of us are, the outcome of the talks that get under way today in Helsinki between Secretary Cohen and the Russian Defence Minister Sergeyev, and we will see what obviously comes of that, but we are working very hard at securing a political agreement for the participation of the Russian forces and we are hopeful that we are going to achieve that objective over the next couple of days. So that is the first point.

On the point about the UCK, we as you know have received many assurances in the last few days from the political leadership of the UCK that they will cooperate with demilitarisation. Clearly we can only start that programme once we have completed the build-up of the KFOR. We have about one-third in at the moment, but obviously a lot more still have to arrive to create the overall environment of security. In the meantime, NATO Commanders have strong instructions to disarm any UCK elements which are threatening peace or threatening the environment of security and in Prizren and in Pristina in the last couple of days German and British forces have done precisely that. Again we are counting on the cooperation and the restraint of the UCK not to impede in any way the departing Serbs because we have a joint interest in making sure that their withdrawal goes on time, and to refrain from any kind of reprisal or revenge attacks which can only further frighten the Serbs into leaving Kosovo. So again those contacts are ongoing but we are still, and I want to stress this very much, pledged here, committed to a programme of demilitarisation of the UCK.

Christophe:Will you confirm that Defence Ministers are meeting on Friday and that Foreign Ministers are also coming to Brussels?

Jamie Shea : Confirm, no, but say that there are strong plans to have a Ministerial meeting here on Friday afternoon, yes. I can't give you details because these are still being discussed by the Ambassadors as I am speaking to you, but we believe that it is most likely that Defence Ministers will meet and there is a possibility that they will be joined by Foreign Ministers. It depends on the availability of course of Foreign Ministers and these talks are ongoing. But yes I would at least at this stage pencil in your diary Friday afternoon for a major event here at NATO headquarters and I will have the full details for you tomorrow. The topic of course for such a meeting will be the review of the situation in Kosovo and I imagine a particular vote of thanks on behalf of the Ministers for the NATO pilots, NATO Commanders, that successfully carried out Allied Force, and for General Jackson and the NATO soldiers who are now bringing the peace to Kosovo. But again tomorrow I shall have a full programme for you and the press service will issue a media advisory as soon as we have the details tied up. But I want to stress that this is simply under discussion at the present time, I can't confirm it for a while yet because we are still checking the availability of Ministers. So I would ask you to treat it on that preliminary basis please.

Matthew:As more details come out of what happened last week with the deployment of the Russian troops at the airport, and there was a statement from the Yugoslav Ambassador in Moscow that Moscow and Belgrade could arrange their own sort of peacekeeping deal for Kosovo, why is NATO still so eager to bring Russia on board into KFOR? And secondly, you keep saying out of Pristina that the airport was not going to be used in the first few days, but presumably it would have been used to send in aid flights and resupply cargo planes, whatever. How much of a delay is this causing and is it having any impact on the humanitarian relief work under way in the province?

Jamie Shea : Matthew, it is not having any impact on the humanitarian relief effort. The UNHCR is now in the business of setting up six regional offices in Kosovo and they have already started to reopen their old warehouses in Pristina, they have had two major convoys, one of 50 trucks, one of 32 trucks, going there in the last couple of days. And as I have just said, they are already getting the food out to the internally displaced persons, so the lack of immediate access to the airport isn't having a major impact either on the deployment of KFOR where we have made it clear we don't need the airport, nor on the humanitarian efforts. We as you know are taking a couple of days to get this important issue of co-ordination with the Russians sorted out, it will be sorted out, it is not a dramatic happening, and once we have that sorted out then obviously the airport will be available for use. So as I say, this is not a big issue, it is just a question of sorting out the practical co-ordination arrangements with Russia.

Pierre:Have you had reports on those signs of sudden reinforcement of the Russian troops on the airport, like the evidence of T72s and more troops?

Jamie Shea : No, I have no indications of any T72s with the Russian forces. I have seen media reports and I have checked them out with the military. I think maybe some people just may be confusing armoured personnel carriers with tanks. It is sometimes from a distance easy to do if you don't get up very close and the Serb forces that were in the vicinity of the airport have now departed, to my information, so that is what I have. But we have no information that the Russian forces there have tanks.

Peter: One week after the end of the Allied operation, Allied Force, there were several meetings of Ambassadors. How much time did they spend on lessons learned, have they ever discussed this?

Jamie Shea : After every major engagement of NATO in a peacekeeping operation or in coercive diplomacy, which I think is what you would call this, there is a review. And SACEUR has suggested that the Ambassadors and he jointly review the lessons. They haven't done it yet for the simple reason of course that the focus has to be for the time being on the deployment of KFOR, but once KFOR is totally up and running then yes I think they will get to this and I think it will be obviously an interesting exercise. We are an Alliance which wants always to learn from our experiences.

Question: Do you know how many refugees have come back in total already? And you have given the Serbs a delay of 24 hours, does it mean they have now 12 days to retreat?

Jamie Shea : No, not at all. Thanks for that. I said 5,000 refugees we estimate have returned thus far. Many however do seem to be heeding the advice of the humanitarian organisations and of NATO to stay put. So that is not a large number when you consider that there are 850,000 in Albania and FYROM and a further 80,000 in other areas of the region, plus anything up to 150,000 elsewhere in the world. So fortunately this is purely the tip of the iceberg. But clearly a lot of people are keen to go home and we can understand that we can't prevent everybody from exercising their right to return.

On your second question, no this is a 24 hour extension purely for Zone 1, it doesn't affect in any way the withdrawal of the total Serb force by Sunday midnight, which is the 11 day deadline that is established in the Military Technical Agreement.

Question: Have you any news about mass graves and the war crimes investigations?

Jamie Shea : Yes, one of the more harrowing aspects of the first few days of the deployment of KFOR is that we have come across probably a larger number of mass graves earlier than we expected. As you know, from this podium for weeks I spoke about all the indications we had from refugee reports, from aerial photography, of mass graves. At the time I couldn't provide evidence, but the evidence is now there. It is completely irrefutable that there are already about a dozen of these that have been discovered and I would not obviously be surprised, nor would you, if the number escalates as the KFOR soldiers fan out across Kosovo. What I can tell you is that these mass graves for example which have now been discovered by British forces, by US forces, by German forces and yesterday Italian and Dutch forces also discovered atrocity sites, not just mass graves by the way, atrocity sites, 20 dead inside a house, charred bodies. You have seen this on TV, you don't need me to tell you about it.

What KFOR is doing is providing site security so that the evidence cannot be carried away, nor tampered with, and of course it is very important that the ICT investigators, about 300 of which are due to arrive shortly, get on the site quickly to gather the evidence before refugees return or before people have a chance to tamper with that evidence. ICT as you know has put together a number of teams which should be arriving in the next few days as soon as the security can be guaranteed by KFOR. They will be of course forensic people who will dig up sites, they will be ballistic experts who will obviously try to examine the cause of death, whether from mass execution or whether, as the Serbs have claimed, through deaths in normal battle circumstances, and all of that of course will be instrumental in firming up war crimes indictments. However, a number of these sites do present particular difficulties, they can be booby trapped, some of them are surrounded by minefields, so clearly the ICT does require the KFOR forces to first of all guarantee the security on the site, taking out the booby traps, taking out the mines, making the access safe, and that probably will take a couple of days.


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