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Updated: 12 August 1999 KFOR Press Updates

Pristina,
Kosovo

11 Aug. 1999

KFOR Press Briefing

Delivered by KFOR Spokesperson, Major Jan Joosten

  • In our effort to maintain law and order throughout Kosovo yesterday a total of 78 people were arrested yesterday for different offences. In MNB North 10 Albanian arsonists were arrested and 2 pistols and 4 grenades were confiscated. In Obelic, MNB Centre a fire started in an occupied Serb house. A Serb woman reported seeing 3 Albanian men looting and starting the fire. They were subsequently detained by the Military Police. In MNB South 4 men and 1 woman were arrested in Prizren for an attempted kidnapping and threatening a woman.
  • In Mitrovica at approximately 21:00, four explosions were heard. A patrol found two 66-mm rocket launchers. The investigation will continue today.
  • Immediately after the explosions several fights between Serbs and Albanians took place. French soldiers prevented ethnic clashes in a very professional way by closing the main bridge to all traffic and prevented 200 Albanians crossing the bridge to the other side where 200 Serbs were waiting. Shortly after 23:00 the situation returned to normal.
  • At 15:00 in Grabovac (MNB West), nine mortar rounds were fired into the center of the city. Two civilians were slightly injured and one house was hit. One person received medical care one the scene and the other person was taken to a military medical facility. Immediately two Augusta's helicopters were dispatched and troops were deployed to conduct a cordon and search operation.
  • KFOR is aware that there are still too many weapons in the province. Thousands of weapons already have been confiscated during search activities. KFOR will continue the search activities throughout the province in order to make it a safer environment.
  • Last night during a house search in Dacovica in MNB West, KFOR soldiers confiscated a quantity of weapons, explosives and ammunition, including 4 AK 47, 5 Riffles, 1 shotgun, 1 machine gun and 11 hand grenades.
  • Yesterday in MNB East KFOR soldiers searched a building in Gniljane, 60 people were in the building, some of them wearing UCK uniforms. During the search 15 to 20 small caliber weapons, batons, clubs, knives as well as mattresses, uniforms and a surplus of military gear was found. 60 individuals were arrested. Later that day 50 persons were released and 10 persons were detained at Camp Bondsteel.
  • Also in MNB East, last night at 21:00, a woman and her 4 -year- old child were taken to a checkpoint near Donje Korminjane. Both had been shot. The mother died at the checkpoint and the child was evacuated to the Russian medical aid station. The child is in a stable condition. A search has started to locate the child's family.
  • In Kamenica KFOR soldiers arrested a person violating the curfew. The person wore a black shirt with a red PU Armband, carrying a pistol and ammunition. He was detained and transferred to camp Bondsteel.
  • This morning at 10:30, at the Pristina airport, an Explosive Ordnance Team successfully disabled a two thousand-pound bomb by a controlled explosion.

Statement

from Ron Redmond - UNHCR Spokesman

Good Morning. We've had several questions over the last week or so about the situation of the remaining Serbs in Kosovo and particularly there's been a lot of focus on those who are remaining here in Pristina itself. UNHCR views with increasing alarm the situation of the remaining Serb minority in the city, we now estimate that there are only some 1000 to 2000 Serbs left in the urban area of Pristina. That compares with estimates of more than 40,000 before the conflict. Those estimates came from Serb media.

A 1991 census placed the population of Serbs in urban Pristina at around 27,000. Many of those who now remain are the most vulnerable of the pre-conflict population, they're elderly, they're disabled and a lot of them are isolated in their homes and apartments with little or no family support network. It is highly unlikely that these people were involved in the persecution of Albanians. But that doesn't seem to matter to the thugs who are now terrorising them. Conditions for those who remain have noticeably worsened over the last few weeks with increasingly violent attacks on the rise as you've heard some of these things mentioned by Jan.

There were at least nine murders and seven serious assaults in the city last week according to KFOR. Bomb and grenade attacks on Serb homes, churches and businesses are a regular occurrence. Old women are now being shot through the doors of their apartments including two women in their seventies within the past week. In general there's a disturbing pattern that's arising in the method of intimidation used against Serbs still in the city. First a warning letter is received ordering them to leave their homes. Then the threat is delivered in person followed a few days later by physical assault and in some cases even murder. In addition, increasing numbers of Serbs are being forced to sign letters transferring the rights to their property, to Albanians, before they flee.

These practices are being applied in some cases to entire blocks of apartments, triggering the simultaneous departure of several families at once. UNHCR has obtained examples of such documents. Among cases being handled by our Pristina staff is a woman North of Beogradska who reported that a group of Albanians entered her house a few nights ago, murdered her elderly father, and abducted her brother. She's now virtually a hostage in her own home. Her ten-year-old daughter is clearly scarred by dreadful events that she witnessed.

In the Upljana district a seventy-six year old infirm woman living alone has been reduced to a state of abject terror because of daily visits from Albanians ordering her to leave her home. Thugs have already removed her name from the door of her apartment. The freedom of movement of Serbs in the city is virtually non-existent, basically, the same situation faced by Albanians here just a few months ago. Not only are the Serbs restricted from making use of public facilities like hospitals or attending shops and markets, they also receive obstacles in receiving humanitarian assistance.

As a result, UNHCR Pristina together with NGOs and KFOR have been involved in the time-consuming and very labour-intensive process of directly distributing assistance to Serbs in their homes and apartments. Several distribution points for Serbs have been set up often in the basement of Serb buildings. The field office Pristina has also provided fuel so that local health professionals can make home visits but it's a certainty that there are still a lot of people out there, that we don't know about, isolated elderly people particularly that we are unaware of and who maybe in dire need of assistance. This situation is also affecting Roma.

On 8th August, for example at night, 2 hand grenades were thrown at a house in the centre of the city, to which an extended Roma refugee family of 25 had just returned from Turkey and Macedonia. A 10-year-old girl was severely injured as a result and is currently in intensive care in the hospital. The safety and well being of this remaining population is of an extreme concern to UNHCR and the rest of the humanitarian community here. We're working with OSCE, with CIVPOL, with KFOR and many others to try to resolve the situation but it's extremely difficult because this community is so isolated.

We strongly condemn this violence and again we urge Albanian leaders to use their influence to counter the hatred and hostility that's now being directed at innocent, vulnerable people. We're sure the vast majority of the Albanian population, which has already suffered so much, wants nothing to do with those who terrorise and shoot old women, evict innocent people from their homes, bomb churches and employ some of the same disgusting tactics that were used against the Albanians themselves just a few week ago.

Question from Stars & Stripes

Can you tell us something about the 2000 lb bomb that was found at Pristina Airport? Was that last night you said and how was it discovered and who actually took care of that bomb, were they US troops who made it safe?

Answer from Maj Jan Joosten

As you are aware the US troops are not present at Pristina Airport. It was done this morning at 1030 hrs in a controlled explosion and it was found when an EOD team was checking out the airfield. The controlled explosion was taken care of by Russian troops, while the British forces provided aerial security and took care of the evacuation of a number of people located near the airport for security reasons.

Further question from Stars & Stripes

Was that left over from the actual air campaign?

Answer from Maj Jan Joosten

That was a leftover from the air campaign yes.

Question from SAT 1, German TV

I would like to ask you something about the situation in Mitrovica. Are there any negotiations between Albanians and Serbs at the moment and how is the situation generally? Is there any plan on how to change the situation?

Answer from UNMIK Spokesperson

UNMIK is working very closely with KFOR to take a fresh look on how to approach the question of the increased tension in Mitrovica. The principal deputy of (inaudible) together with the head of the civil administration went there over the weekend for consultation with all the people on the ground and as I said we are discussing with KFOR to see what steps can be taken and what further steps can be taken to lower the tension. It is clear however, to us, that extremists and outsiders are playing a dangerous role in Mitrovica.

Answer from Maj Jan Joosten

In the mean time, the French troops are promoting freedom of movement and preventing clashes between the two entities over there. I think, and I've seen the pictures, that they do a tremendous job over there.

Question from Le Figaro

Do we have today more indications about who is dealing with (inaudible) the Serbian minority, do you know if some (inaudible) are involved in it or is it only from individuals. Also, do you think that we have some kind of groups which are not taking their orders in Pristina?

Answer from UNHCR Spokesperson

It appears that there is some systematic organised effort underway but it's in various localities. Exactly who is responsible for doing this we don't know, we don't have evidence of that but it does appear to be systematic, I mean it's forms that people are signing handing over their appartments and possessions this type of form. It appears to be systematic and organised but exactly who is responsible we don't know.

Question from Radio 21

Mr Redmond, I would like to know, with all this information about Pristina and the position of the Serb Minorities. Are they based on testimonies of Serbs or are they based on information that is coming from Police or Military reports and the second question: do you have any information about the situation in Mitrovica hospital where the Albanian doctors are frightened by Serbs. Is the situation better there now?

Answer from UNHCR Spokesperson

The information is based on interviews with people themselves in their homes. UNHCR feels that (inaudible) steps, lawyers of UNHCR have gone out and visited these people but its also based on information from KFOR and other organisations. Mitrovica hospital I don't know any updated information on that but I can check that this afternoon.

Question from Associated Press

The situation in Mitrovica. What we're hearing up there is that the French are preventing the Albanians from going across the bridge (inaudible) because there is organised (inaudible) backed by heavy weaponry. The question is that that would be clearly be a violation of law and order and agreements etc regarding the movement and possession of weapons. Why can't there be some effort to stabilise that situation by going in and disarming the Serbs on the other side of the bridge who are preventing the (inaudible)

Answer from Maj Jan Joosten

Well you know, it's our effort to provide freedom of movement to everybody here in Kosovo. You also know our policy with regards to weapons. Weapons are not allowed especially not if it endangers the security in that area, so whenever we see some people carrying weapons the policy is confiscate and make sure they are put into a weapon storage site. On the other hand, if you look at the situation in Mitrovica, and as long as there is no kind of agreement between the Serbs and the Albanians, there is an important task for the French to prevent further escalation there, and that is what they are doing, not trying to divide the city but just preventing clashes and make it able for the UN and other organisations to find a solution in to the situation in Mitrovica.

Answer from UNMIK

Let me add an UNMIK perspective to that. As I said, there are discussions between UNMIK and KFOR with a view to coming up with some fresh initiatives. I'm not in a position to announce them, but they would be more of an un-military nature, they would be more community level initiatives to try and diffuse the situation.

Question from AFP

I have a question regarding what Ron Redmond said. We just heard a fairly strongly worded indictment of KFORs inability to maintain some sort of security for the Serbian population here. What is KFOR's response to that and to UNMIK: we heard a lot of words about the principles about maintaining an ethnic society but isn't it about time that, given what we have heard, that the reality here is that the UN Resolution of maintaining a multi-ethnic society here had failed.

Answer from Maj Jan Joosten

First of all, I disagree with what you are saying that we are not able to prevent Serbs from leaving. What we are doing, and everybody can see that in Pristina, is heavy patrolling and also specific guarding of certain areas is taking place. In individual cases, we even have soldiers in the houses of Serbs to enable us to catch perpetrators. So everything is being done to keep the Serbs here in Kosovo and of course, also in Pristina. But the final decision to leave - and we have said it before - the final decision to leave which we regret, is taken by the people themselves. We also hope that when people leave, and we have seen some Serbs coming back on a regular basis, that when they find that the situation is improving, they will return to Kosovo.

Answer from UNMIK

Let me just say that it's not a reality that UNMIK is going to accept or willing to accept. As you know we are (inaudible) identifying the hotspots. The (inaudible) will be manned 24 hours a day and the containers will be in place hopefully before the end of the week. Unfortunately, (inaudible) circumstances meant that the containers were blocked at some airports for reasons that were completely out of our control. But we have identified the hotspots, we know where we are going to set these containers and man them 24 hrs a day in the hope of alleviating some of that violence against ethnic minorities.

Answer from UNHCR

If I could just add to that. As I mentioned, this is a extremely labour-intensive operation. We don't know where all of these people are and Jan is correct, working very closely with KFOR, we've tried to identify these people as closely as possible and try to provide whatever assistance we can including, a very good KFOR presence there and I know that some of you reporters have been in homes and apartments with KFOR when these thugs have come knocking on the door, so you know that KFOR is watching this very closely. We are also establishing a hotline where people can call and report these incidents so that we have an emergency response mechanism so UNHCR, for it's part, is satisfied that everything possible is being done by KFOR - CIVPOL is beginning to work with us as well - OSCE and others all under the UNMIK umbrella, are doing everything we can to try and prevent this but it's a nearly impossible situation when you don't even know where all of these people are.

Question from unknown

I am sorry but maybe I am missing something but last year the International Community made a great effort and imposed economic sanctions etc. There was systematic cleansing of Albanians from some areas, there were murders, mass murders. Now they are same thing is going on, relatively in a similar way the Serbs are much smaller minority so people tend to gloss it over. NATO says that they are not failing, but the numbers say that they are failing. I want to know if there are any considerations by the head of this UNMIK Mission to change the policy, to lead the economic sanctions and say look you are getting 2 to 3 billion dollars from the International Community to rebuild Kosovo, there are a lot of Africans starving to death. Why do the Kosovars who are going to stand by and watch this happen, and I've seen it in farm houses yesterday, for example when a 78 year old women gunned down 2 bullets to the chest and the whole village was Albanian and they knew the gate was broken in and they didn't tell the NATO Troops anything? Okay silence, simply silence. So what is going to change in the International Policy to stop this, frankly, my question is a little bit too late I think?

Answer from UNMIK Spokeswomen

Well I mean, we are as outraged as you are, we are working with what we have and what we can do. The Head of UNMIK, Dr Kuchner, has repeatedly condemned this cycle of violence and has appealed repeatedly again to halt the violence and to end this cycle of madness, practically that was going on. We, as I have been explaining at this briefing, we are trying to take measures, make sure there is a lessening of this violence and we together with KFOR establishing a presence, starting to establish a presence in order to precisely stop that kind of violence.

Answer from Maj Jan Joosten

Everybody can see what we do, our soldiers are making long hours everyday, day in day out, 7 days a week in trying to prevent those things from happening, but also everybody has to understand that Law and Order cannot be provided only by KFOR itself it is also the responsibility of the people here in Kosovo. In the meantime, we keep on working day and night in order to prevent those criminal activities because that is what it is, those criminal activities from happening. We cannot be on every corner, we cannot be in every house but everyone is free to call us, and as I said, we have an excellent relationship with the UNHCR, and if they see something happening we are at a location in no time. Our soldiers are doing a tremendous job and they know what they are doing and they are very, very motivated in getting those perpetrators, those criminals who are evicting people from their houses.

Question from unknown

Just to follow up on my colleagues question, because I don't think it was answered because his question was about the political side of this and there are several supposed interim governments in Kosovo, composed of people who claim to represent the vast majority of the community. The question was really are there any political or economic pressure can be brought to bear on those people to deliver their promises, to make the people, who allegedly follow them, do as you want them to do?

Answer from UNMIK Spokeswoman

Well there is an ongoing political dialogue ongoing by UNMIK together with the political parties and those questions are raised at that level. We are very keen to have the Kosovo Transitional Council resume its work because that is a good forum where those issues can be aired and discussed and that discussion and those consultations are still going on to a view to having a review council session by early next week.

Question from the Times

Maj Joosten you said that everything is being done to keep the Serbs here, but it seems to me that KFOR does not understand the emergency nature of this situation. KFORs image in the world is a looking a extremely down at the moment and this could be down to the disadvantage of KFOR in the long run. You are clearly failing in your effort to keep the Serbs here do you not understand that drastic measures are now needed. So what drastic measures are KFOR willing to take? You obviously need more troops here on the streets, why are they not here?

Answer from Maj Jan Joosten

Well let us go back a couple of weeks when NATO entered this country we saw a reduction in criminal activities that were taking place all over Kosovo. A tremendous reduction. We have seen that criminal activities were going down and down to lets say, to a kind of stable amount of criminal activities happening right now. The concerns about the Serbs is well known by Gen Jackson and he has ordered the brigades to take a number of measures to protect the Serbs and that is what we are doing, arresting everyday numerous people, even when they only threatening people, they are arrested. Do not tell me that we are doing nothing, we are working extremely hard to keep the Serbs here in Kosovo. The majority of our efforts, because we also have other tasks to do, is to protect the minorities and react even handedly. That is what we are doing and besides that we are looking forward to International Police to arrive so we can assist the International Police, as there will be even more people to maintain law and order here in Kosovo.

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