Updated: 22 June 1999 Press Conferences


22 June 1999

KFOR News Conference

by Lt. Colonel Robin Clifford

Lt. Col. Clifford: soldiers were killed in an explosion. Firstly, I would like to offer the condolences of all of us, including General Jackson, to their families and colleagues but I believe tragic though it is, this incident does highlight quite how dangerous Kosovo still is and I would repeat the call to refugees and others - and all of you - to exercise caution, patience and restraint when moving around the countryside because it is not safe yet.

This has been emphasised by another unfortunate incident yesterday evening at Jakovica when a young child died as a result of another mine strike and only this morning, just after 10 o'clock, we had a report that in Stimli another civilian had died and two others were seriously injured during a further mine strike there.

There have been, I know, questions on the respective roles of KFOR and the UN and international organisations for the clearance of mines in the area and I would just like to take this opportunity to briefly clarify the situation:

KFOR - the military forces - are responsible for mission-essential mine clearance, that is to open routes as has been happening throughout the province over the days since we arrived, clear helicopter landing sites and other sites where there is an operational requirement for us to complete our primary mission. This entails the clearance of particular areas that are required by us, those other areas that are not required immediately are marked, cordoned off and left for a future date. Full de-mining requires a total clearance of any particular area and it is this that is the responsibility of the specialist civilian organisations.

As you will all undoubtedly know, KFOR does have a secondary mission which is to provide humanitarian assistance within its capabilities until the international civilian presence is fully established and we also have a responsibility to support the international organisations here in Kosovo. This we will do and we will do it on a case-by-case basis as requests come in and we will do it within our capabilities but it is not our primary function to de-mine the whole of Kosovo. We have done this on a number of occasions at the request of certain of the international organisations and as I have said, we will continue to do so as and when requested as we can.

Just a quick run-down of some of the other significant incidents that have occurred throughout the province over the last 24 hours or so:

In the Italian sector, the monastery in Pec has requested protection from KFOR believing that some of the local inhabitants were acting in a hostile manner; the Italian brigade in whose area of responsibility Pec lies is currently investigating the incident and there will be a full report produced later and if there is anything of significance to that we will put it out on a media-advisory, otherwise for any details I would ask you to contact the Italian PROs direct.

In the UK 5th Airborne Brigade area an EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) team was tasked the airfield to make safe some explosives and ammunition in the corner of the airfield and there have also been reports of a Serb request for KFOR escorts to escort 130 Serbs in three buses, a van and ten cars from Grace to the border and this has been a task given to the 4th UK Armoured Brigade.

You will no doubt have heard some reports of Serb tanks in the ground security zone in the south-east of the area, they are no longer there. Exactly what they were doing there we were unable to identify but a complaint went into the Yugoslav authorities because of course that was in non-compliance with the terms of the military-technical agreement and those tanks have now been removed.

As we enter the second day after the Entry into Force, we have now established in the area a KFOR security presence, all the Yugoslav Armed Forces have withdrawn and the UCK has undertaken to renounce the use of force, KFOR has consolidated its presence throughout the province and we are continuing to build up relations with communities and community leaders at all levels. KFOR is now the security presence here in Kosovo and it is now time for us to look forward to the safe return of the refugees of all ethnic groups and to build a better future for all the inhabitants of Kosovo.

Thank you very much indeed, I will now ask Kevin to make a short statement on his behalf.

Kevin: I would just like to first of all echo the comments that have been made by Colonel Clifford on the mine issue. The incident that happened yesterday and the continuing incidents demonstrate really the very great threat that is posed by mines and unexploded ordnance wherever they are found and I would also echo his comments about the nature of the de-mining task. De-mining, as you all know, is a very laborious, long-term job, it has to be undertaken very carefully. The UN has mine-action specialists on the ground and the first job of course is to assess the extent of the threat, to locate the places where there are concentrations of mines and also identify those areas that are of the highest priority for de-mining so that people can go about their normal business and this is the job of the Mine Action Service. Mine-awareness is also an essential part of that and those people are in the field, they are already at work and some additional de-miners and mine-action personnel arrived today.

The plan is to have some de-mining trainers come in very quickly to begin training local Kosovars in de-mining. This is of course an essential thing, long-term de-mining is obviously something that has to be done by people who will be here for a very long period. I don't need to remind you that the United Nations is still involved in de-mining in Cambodia as well as in Afghanistan and the first de-mining operations in Afghanistan began in 1988 or 1989 so this is something that really is a long-term prospect.

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