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Updated: 13 September 1999 KFOR Press Updates

Pristina,
Kosovo

13 Sept. 1999

KFOR Press Statement

by Major Ole Irgens, KFOR Spokesman

Good morning. Before giving you the round-up of events in the Multinational Brigade areas of responsibility over the last 24 hours, I would like to announce that this week KFOR will begin air exercises over Kosovo. The training will be conducted twice a week and will be conducted away from populated areas. It will consist of simulated ground attacks in order to train and exercise the pilots and forward air controllers as part of KFOR's responsibility for the security of Kosovo. Aircraft may be seen in the sky, but will have no impact on the daily lives of the people of Kosovo.

I also would like to announce a media opportunity with general Wesley Clark, the Supreme Allied commander for Europe, at 1800 at the Pristina airfield.

Yesterday, it was three months since D-day, the day that KFOR troops entered Kosovo. Its mandate was to restore law and order and to create a safe and secure environment for all people in Kosovo, according to the resolution 1244 from the UN Security Council. Since the 12th of June, we have seen almost all the refugees returning to Kosovo, with only a few thousand still being abroad. We have seen a very significant drop in crime rate. The UCK has almost finished its demilitarization, and will cease to exist as an organization as of midnight, the 19th of September. But still there is an enormous amount of work to be done, and the level of violence towards ethnic minorities is still unacceptable. But even so, the over all situation has vastly improved, and I think most people realize that Kosovo is way better off with KFOR and UNMIK than without.

Several episodes over the last few days have shown, however, worrying indications of what seem to be organised Serbian attempts to deliberately destabilise the security situation in Kosovo. The disturbances in Mitrovica seem to have been carefully orchestrated, and you will be aware of reports of Serb activity in the northern and eastern areas of Kosovo. These incidents and reports are taken very seriously and will be followed up resolutely by all KFOR forces. If threatened, KFOR troops will respond robustly and in accordance with the Rules of Engagement using military force if necessary.

I would also like to correct speculation in some sections of the Serbian press that FRY forces will return to Kosovo next week once the UCK has demilitarised. This is not true. Any eventual return of selected FRY forces will be conducted under the close supervision of KFOR. This will happen when COMKFOR judges the time to be right, in consultation with the Special Representative of the Secretary General. The time is not yet right. Any unauthorised attempts to return FRY forces to Kosovo will be prevented by KFOR, by force if necessary, in accordance with the clear instructions of UNSCR 1244.

So, for the overview of the events:

The last 24 hours, KFOR soldiers have conducted several weapons searches in Kosovo. Grenades, guns, explosives and ammunition has been found.

We also have a summary from Multinational Brigade East which states that US KFOR soldiers so far have seized a total number of 782 weapons. This includes 292 AK 47 rifles, 70 AK 74 rifles, 316 pistols, 60 machine guns, 11 shotguns, 6 grenade launchers, 4 mortar tubes, and 13 Rocket Propelled Grenades.

A KFOR patrol in the village of Cernica, in the area of Multinational Brigade East, came under small arms fire when they were investigating explosions in the city at 20:45 yesterday. The soldiers returned fire, and vehicle checkpoints were set on the main roads. Two helicopters were also tasked. There were no casualties reported, and the aggressors were not found.

Two men are detained after throwing two grenades in the Serb sector of Gnjilane yesterday afternoon, one of them injuring one Serb man. A yellow car allegedly involved in the incident was later found and put under observation. When two men returned to the car, they were arrested.

US Explosive Ordnance Disposal Teams have now cleared 196 schools in the area of Multinational Brigade East. The number of schools opened in the area is 203.

A boy stepped on a mine at the Stoberce border crossing point in the area of Multinational Brigade West, yesterday evening. He has serious injuries to one leg and was air evacuated to the Pristina Hospital. KFOR repeats its warning to the population NOT to go into marked minefields, and NOT to step on soft surfaces if the mine situation in the area is not known.

Yesterday and today KFOR soldiers from Multinational Brigade West has assisted in transporting and distributing 5 tons of humanitarian aid, food and children's toys in Pristina and Pec. This is done in liaison with the President of the Italian Red Cross, Maria Pia Fanfani and the Mother Theresa NGO.

A KFOR patrol in Mitrovica, Multinational Brigade North, found a Serb man with gunshot in his upper chest area at 02:40 this morning. The man was treated at the French medical facility and sent to the civilian hospital, where he is reported to be in a stable condition.

Three Serbs were arrested near the barricades in Mitrovica yesterday. An AK 47, five grenades, three radio sets and an assortment of knives were confiscated.

Question from Swedish Broadcasting Corporation: I would like to address a question to the UNHCR Spokesman. According to Dr Bernard Kouchner, in Kosovo today lives 97,000 Serbs and some 73,000 other ethnic minorities. A few days ago (inaudible) the spokesman of UNHCR in Geneva stated, estimated, that no more Serbs in Kosovo and no other minorities' lives here. The question is, does this mean that you are in a deep contradiction with the civil administration in Kosovo; and does this mean that your organization is doing a propaganda job in Kosovo?

Answer from Peter Kessler - UNHCR Spokesperson: Thank you very much. The UNHCR of course, estimates that that there are large numbers of Non-Albanians in the country, we aren't in the business of running around and counting people. Our estimates go into the range of some 90,000 Serbs in the province. The figure that came out of Geneva was based upon an estimate that came out of Belgrade of the number of Serbs who had been registered there. It was not a UNHCR figure, it was based upon on an estimate that's come out of the Red Cross in Belgrade. It said some 173,000 persons had been registered in Serbia. If you do some simple arithmetic that would indicate the number of Serbs still in the province as being is far lower than we, who are here on the ground, believe it is. Since then of course, if you were here on Friday, you heard the KFOR estimate that I think some 97,000 Serbs are still in the province. These estimates of course do come from community leaders in a simple drive across the province. I'ts clear that the number of Non-Albanians here remains quite high and we think that those of us here on the ground are far more sure of estimated numbers than someone speaking out of Geneva.

Question from Time magazine: Question for KFOR: These reports of allegations of insubordination that General Jackson faces. Could you brief us on this, and is he facing some kind of official inquiry and what impact do these allegations have on mission here. For UNHCR: Could you… we're hearing that there are increasing number of Serbs returning to Kosovo, do you have such figures. Thank you.

Answer from Major Ole Irgens - KFOR Spokesman: According to the so-called insubordination, you mentioned. That's not really a matter I would like to comment upon, I think you would have to ask the General himself or the people involved in this about that. This is really not a KFOR issue as of now.

Further question from Time magazine: Does it have an impact?

Answer from Major Ole Irgens - KFOR Spokesman: No, not as far as we are concerned. There is no impact on our mission here whatsoever.

Further question from Time magazine: (inaudible)

Answer from Major Ole Irgens - KFOR Spokesman: I don't know, you'll have to ask SACEUR, I mean he is available at Pristina airport at 1800 hrs this afternoon, so please go ahead ask him.


Answer from Peter Kessler, UNHCR - Spokesperson: To the Serb returns to the province. UNHCR of course, understands that KFOR reported a week ago that there have been some returns to some areas, I think near by Kosovo Polje there have been some returns of railroad workers. There had been some other groups of people who have been coming back, some Roma families for example, some Serb families in some areas. At this time we're not encouraging returns to the province, because of the security situation in the field, but there are areas where some returns are taking place.

Question from Reuters: Last time there were some words that 3 killed Serbs were wearing some uniform near Gnjilane. Also there were seen some 20 black uniformed Serbs near the border and there are some words that around Mitrovica - actually from Mitrovica area - women and children Serbian, are fleeing from there and coming back some men. Does it mean that we have to expect something big, a big destabilisation situation. The question is for KFOR

Answer from Major Ole Irgens - KFOR Spokesman: Yes, as you are aware of, we have unconfirmed reports, but quite a lot of unconfirmed reports of groups of fighters in uniform-style clothing. We have no specific evidence of known paramilitary activity though, but we do take all such reports extremely seriously and we will certainly not tolerate criminal acts from any parts of the society. We are watching this situation very closely, indeed.

Question from a freelance reporter: I was going to ask KFOR for more evidence that the activity of Serb paramilitaries may be organised and what you're seeing in northern and eastern Kosovo is organised?

Answer from Major Ole Irgens - KFOR Spokesman: Yes, I think I just stated what we have so far. We have unconfirmed records. We have a lot of anecdotal information, as of paramilitary groups, we do not know about that, but as I said, several episodes in the last couple of weeks have pointed in this direction.

Question from a Freelancer: Can you release some of those anecdotes, I mean is it that paramilitaries moving into, through Northern Kosovo, through Mitrovica into Kosovo or..

Answer from Major Ole Irgens - KFOR Spokesman: No, what we have is what is generally known. We have this incident with the Russians a couple of weeks ago: three Serbs being shot and one of them was wearing a kind of military-like clothing. That is one indication. We also have observation of groups, of uniformed people in dark uniforms with weapons. These are two indications. We also have indications that the incidents in Mitrovica might be orchestrated in a certain direction. These are incidents, also based on intelligence reports, of course.

Question from the Guardian: Question for KFOR: With K+90, do you get any indication from Belgrade that FRY Forces are going to try to come back into Kosovo, that this is going to be a potential problem on the 20th September, thank you.

Answer from Major Ole Irgens - KFOR Spokesman: Well, as you know, the Resolution from the Security Council states that a limited amount of personnel is allowed to come back into Kosovo, but there is no exact timing for when they will be allowed to come back. And yes, we have been given the impression from certain media that the K+90 day might be the day, and that's why we clearly state, that K+90 is not the day we will allow those forces to return. They will be allowed to return according to the resolution, when the time is right, and the time is not now. When it will be, I cannot say right now.

Question from Time magazine: But, they don't have to return, I mean, we've seen crates of VJ uniforms being opened up in Mitrovica. What happens if they don't return, but if soldiers or people who are there in Mitrovica all of a sudden start wearing these uniforms, I mean what will you do?

Answer from Major Ole Irgens - KFOR Spokesman: Well, as you know, after K+90 it is illegal for anybody to wear military-like uniforms in Kosovo. KFOR is the legal military force and of course the UNMIK police is taking over the police business gradually. So we will handle all uniformed personnel as we do with all persons carrying weapons and uniforms illegally and with the necessary force.

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