Updated: 18 June 1999 Press Conferences


18 June 1999

Transcript of Press Conference
by Lt Col Robin Clifford, KFOR

Lt Col Clifford: ahead of the timetable set out in the Military Technical Agreement. The Yugoslav forces have almost cleared Zone 2 with less than 2 battalions, which is under 700 personnel, still remaining. And by midnight tonight, which is the end of EIF plus 9, they will have gone, as was agreed in the Military Technical Agreement.

At the same time, Kfor is already in Zone 3 and this morning, as most of you will be aware, units of the 4th UK Armoured Brigade entered Podujevo, French forces are in Kosovska Mitrovica and the German forces are consolidating in Prizren and the Italian headquarters is now firmly established in Pec.

Kfor is advancing as the Yugoslavs are withdrawing and we are ahead of schedule for this Sundays deadline and by midnight on 20 June, that is Sunday, the Yugoslav forces will be gone. Kfor will be on the ground throughout all of Kosovo, here to protect all ordinary Kosovar citizens, Serbs and Albanians alike. That of course is our central mission. Our job is to establish and maintain a secure environment for all the ordinary peoples of Kosovo and that is what we are doing. Kfor troops are providing a robust and even-handed protection for everybody, regardless of their ethnic, religious or cultural background. We are making Kosovo a safer place for every ordinary citizen.

As at today we know that just over 14,000 Kosovar Albanian refugees have returned from both Macedonia and Albania and we of course welcome them back. After all, we must not lose sight of the fact that the very purpose of our presence is to replace the Yugoslav forces and establish a secure environment to allow these refugees to return to their homes. But once again I would urge caution and patience. There is still danger in the form of mines and unexploded munitions. The UNHCR has a plan to manage the safe return of refugees and I would encourage the responsible members of the Kosovar Albanian community to support this.

I also understand that there are members of the Serb community who are concerned about their safety and are leaving Kosovo. We do not want to create a second refugee crisis from the solution of the first one and I want to make it absolutely clear that every member of Kfor from General Jackson downwards is determined to make sure that Kosovo is safe for every ordinary Kosovar citizen.

Now yesterday General Jackson met the Yugoslav religious leaders to underscore Kfors determination to make Kosovo a safe place for everyone and he joined with Patriarch Pavle, Bishop Artemeus and Bishop Artimeus to reassure the Serb communities on that score. In Urosevac German commanders are meeting with the local Serb community leaders at the moment to reassure them that it is safe to remain. Elsewhere Kfor Commanders are establishing contacts with leaders of all the communities to urge restraint in what is still a very volatile situation. What is needed now are cool heads and calmness as we come to the end of a full withdrawal of Yugoslav forces from Kosovo.

You all have seen Kfor vehicles and soldiers on the ground and helicopters in the air throughout the province. Kfor forces are stepping up their street patrols. We want all Kosovars to see Kfor troops on the streets and on the ground providing a visible reminder and a physical guarantee of our extensive security presence. The demilitarisation of Kosovo is moving ahead at the same time. As the Serb forces withdraw from Kosovo, the KLA is handing over their weapons. And our intention is to provide security for all ordinary citizens of Kosovo and that is exactly what we will do.

Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you very much. I am now prepared and happy to take any of your questions.

Question: The United States Marines are being rather stern in taking weapons away from the KLA. We witnessed today several cases of shake-downs with the KLA members with their hands up against the wall and the local Albanian population was quite upset about it, some of them. Is this the right way to go about it?

Lt Col Clifford: I would say it is exactly the right way to go about it if that is the decision and the opinion of the local military commander on the ground. As I have said many times, there is no blanket order throughout Kosovo for dealing with law and order. There are different situations in different parts of the province and General Jackson has made it quite clear that he supports the operational decision of his subordinate commanders to ensure that there are no threatening or law and order issues in their sector.

Question: Yesterday first Germans and then British escorted an entire village of Serbs all the way from just outside Prizren to Pristina on their way to Serbia. The atmospherics of that escort was a departure, quite willing I am certain, but under NATO escort. How does that square with this claimed policy of protecting people in situ if you are going to escort them out with armed vehicles?

Lt Col Clifford: We are going to protect everybody wherever we can. I have made it perfectly clear on a number of occasions that we are not in the business of stopping anybody coming into Kosovo and nor are we in the business of stopping anybody leaving Kosovo if that is what they should so wish to do. We have done everything we can to reassure those people who are here, especially those in the Serb community, that it is safe for them to return or to remain, and hopefully those that have left will return once they see that the environment is secure to do so. However, should they wish to depart then we will guarantee their safety for as long as we can.

Question: I understand that yesterday after a sniping incident there was a person arrested by the First Paratroop Regiment. What happens to this individual? Who holds him now and whose justice will he eventually face?

Lt Col Clifford: I cant comment on that particular incident, I would have to refer you there to the Public Information Officers of the UK Brigade in whose area we currently are.

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