Updated: 26 August 1999 KFOR Press Updates


25 Aug. 1999

KFOR Press Statement

by Major Roland Lavoie, KFOR Spokesperson


Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen. KFOR is very pleased with the arrival of the UNMIK police as just announced by the UNMIK Spokesperson.

Possibly the quietest day since KFOR's arrival in Kosovo, the last 24 hours gave us very encouraging signs that the people of Kosovo are progressing on the path of building a violence-free society.

Multinational Brigade (Centre) reported a relatively calm situation although sporadic small arm firing and few house fires are currently under investigation.

Today a KFOR Explosive Ordnance Disposal team will dispose of three boxes of live mortar rounds found yesterday in a former VJ camp in Pristina.

Yesterday morning in Multinational Brigade (North), two French Legionaires were injured while clearing an anti-personnel mine in Novo Poljanke, 15 km south of Mitrovica. One of them suffered serous injuries to his foot and the other was slightly wounded. They will be evacuated to France by plane tomorrow. Since the arrival of KFOR in Kosovo, 13 military casualties were reported as a result of mines and unexploded ordnance clearing incidents. Those incidents will not deter KFOR from supporting UNMIK by conducting mission-essential mine clearance and unexploded ordnance clearance in order to provide more security to all people in Kosovo.

Yesterday, the UCK handed over to the French contingent 107 small arms, which are now stored at the Plana Secured Weapons Storage Site, 5 km south of Mitrovica. This is another good sign of the UCK efforts to pursue their demilitarization, which will be completed by September 19th.

Yesterday morning, KFOR French troops provided humanitarian relief to the population of the Troy-Vitakut district, in Mitrovica. This multi-ethnic population (Bosnians, Serbs and Albanians) received essentials like blankets, shoes, clothes, milk, water, bread and rice.

In Orahovac, in Multinational Brigade (South), KFOR pursued peaceful talks with local authorities representing the Albanian and Serb communities in order to prepare the deployment of the Russian contingent in the area. Discussions will resume today and the attitude of the local population remains encouraging.

In Multinational Brigade (East), this week marks the debut of a three-hour radio program run by the Americans on a local radio station in Ferizaj (pronounced Fair-uh-zye). The program is broadcast in Serbian, Albanian and English and contains safety announcements for local citizens and soldiers as well as other items of interest to all. The program features Western top-40-style music.

Yesterday evening, as a result of a road traffic accident, which occurred in the village of Zlocucane (7 km north of Klina) in Multinational Brigade (West), the power was out for about three hours. The 10th Engineer Regiment intervened and after three hours of hard work they installed a new electric pole and restored the power in the village.
Yesterday the 18th Bersaglieri Regiment visited the village of Parane, near Pec. They distributed food, medicines and provided medical support to the local population.

Today, ICTY and CID will conduct investigation on a confirmed mass grave in Ugljare 5km southeast of Gniljane. On the 24 Aug, the Mutinational Brigade East, discovered 11 bodies of which 4 are determined to be Serb , and they were taken to the morgue at the Gniljane Hospital.

Question from German Television: A Question about Orahovac. We learned from local Serbs that a lot of them would like to leave Orahovac. Was there, already any offer to them for safe passage out of the town?

Answer from Ron Redmond - UNHCR Spokesman: I can address part of that, we estimate that out of the, roughly, 3,000 people are Serbs in Orahovac. Two third of them would like to leave, one third have said that they would stay if the security situation allows and so far they are happy to stay. One of the problems there is that we do not know who all these people are, or what they may have done and to do that sort of a mass evacuation is simply not tenable. Right now they have KFOR presence with security and we are providing them with food and other assistance. So for the time being, unless there are really extenuating circumstances, possibly family reunification, they are going to be staying.

Question from Kosovapress: One question for UNMIK about Bernard Kuchners itinerary. Albanians are quite happy that he has finally visited Grenica and hopes that he will visit other parts of Kosovo. Can we expect more of these visits and can they be announced ahead of time so that journalists can accompany him to these rather emotional moments for the families involved, and I am sure for Mr Kuchner himself? For KFOR, can you explain why, you said on Monday, that only 1200 mines have been disposed of, I assume that more has been cleared. Can you tell us how many have been cleared as there are much more than 1200 mines in this country:

Answer from Daniela Rozgonova - UNMIK Spokesperson: As you have probably noticed already, Dr Kuchner announced that he intends to spend 2 days of the week in the regions. Of course his workload and very busy programme permitting. That would also include visits to families, not only institutions, certainly. As to whether we will be able to announce them ahead of time and organise some press accompaniment, that remains to be seen, this first visit happened at very short notice, so we will see how that evolve, but that is, indeed, his intention.

Answer from Maj Lavoie - KFOR Spokesman: Considering the question on the mines, you are right there are a lot more mines than the numbers that I have issued, that have been cleared. Let me give you an overview of how it works. KFOR is involved in, what we call, mission essential mine clearing. What does it mean? First if we have to do a job somewhere, like repair a bridge or to deploy our troops to conduct a specific mission, if there are mines, we will just remove them. So this is an example. Also it includes threats that could cause immediate risk or danger to the population. If we find a mine or unexploded ordnance near a school, or wherever, and it has to be removed now, we will do it. Finally mission essentials are those missions when we support UNMIK, basically for a project that cannot wait. These days we have been involved a lot in clearing of schools for example. So that is what explains why KFOR numbers up to now have been relatively small because this is only part of the entire picture. UNMACC, which is the UN Mine Action Coordination Centre, is the lead agency for the overall mine clearing and their figures are bigger than ours. Finally a little note, we have to take into account that although we cleared over 200 schools in the last few days, many of them were declared mine free. So basically although we have conducted a lot of actions, up to now, the number of mines removed has been relatively small, and there is still a lot left to be removed.

Question from The Guardian: One question for UNMIK: Do we expect a final decision on cantonisation after the Transitional Council Meeting today? A question for UNHCR: When you get application from Serbs to leave Kosovo do you screen those applications through people like ICTY?

Answer from Daniela Rozgonova - UNMIK Spokesperson: That is very difficult to predict, I would rather expect, probably not. We will have to await the result of the meeting today.

Answer from Ron Redmond - UNHCR Spokesman: Yes we do screen people through ICTY, we makes sure, as best we can, that these people are not involved in any activities which may require their detention otherwise.

Question from ARD: Do you have any deadline for the negotiations in Orahovac? Lets say that in 2 weeks we will accomplish this or say we will wait until winter when the people start of freeze and go home, then the Russians can move in, or whatever.

Answer from Maj Lavoie - KFOR Spokesman: Our immediate agenda is to deploy the Russian Contingent within 2 weeks. Having said that, in the meantime, we have in Orahovac all the resources that are needed and the Dutch will not leave Orahovac before the Russian Contingent will take over. So there is no risk at all of a lack of security in Orahovac. Our goal for the moment is not to force that issue, we understand that the population there have genuine concerns that they want to address with us and that is the reason why we take a peaceful, non conflictual approach with them and that we are addressing these concerns and explaining, basically why they can trust KFOR and why we need to have the Russian Contingent deployed in Orahovac.

Follow-up: You didn't answer my question. I asked whether you have a deadline, what this means is that if in 14 days the blockades are not removed from the roads that we will push them out. Or will you then postpone the decision to move the Russians into Orahovac?

Answer from Maj Lavoie - KFOR Spokesman: I will not speculate on the possible future actions conducted by KFOR. What I wanted to say is that we do not want to push these issues, the people have real concerns and only when these will be addressed will the Russians deploy. So we will not force the issue.

Question from UPI: This is a question for Ron Redmond. I was in Prizren yesterday interviewing the people and they all say that they have completed the applications and have family members in Serbia. I wonder what happens then in terms of evacuating them, if they all meet the criteria, will UNHCR take them all to Serbia? I was just wondering what was the status of them.

Answer from Ron Redmond - UNHCR Spokesman: I do not know about that specific population so it will be difficult to answer that but the policy is, as we have said several times, in urgent life threatening situations if they are under direct threat and we are unable to provide the necessary security, then we would have to take them somewhere, if it means that or losing their lives. Or, if they have family reunification we will facilitate that as well.

Question from The New York Times: A question for both the UNHCR and KFOR. If Cantinisation is going to be ruled out are you considering moving the Serb population of Pristina into one enclave or area where they can better protected and what your opinions are about that possibility?

Answer from Ron Redmond - UNHCR Spokesman: We have no contingency plan for that, that I am aware of. As we have already stated, if they are in urgent life threatening situations then we can move them to safety. Whether that is inside Kosovo or outside we do that and have been doing that but like Mr Kuchner we do not, in general, favour the idea of cantinisation and we would like to see the remaining minority population stay where they're at and certainly KFOR, UNMIK and others are doing everything they possibly can to see that people stay in their homes. That said it is also worth noting that, in some areas like Eastern Kosovo, there is some evidence of Serbs already congregating in their own majority areas anyway, they have been leaving some of the mixed villages down there where they are a majority converging on majority villages. UNHCR estimates that there are more than 40 villages in that region that have mixed or totally Serb populations, it is going to be interesting to see that, I think, in the coming weeks to see if there is going to be greater convergence on those majority villages. But in general we do not favour cantinisation.

Answer from Maj Lavoie - KFOR Spokesman: Mr Redmond's answer reflects, 100 percent, KFOR's position.

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