Col. Lee Hockman, SFOR: Thanks everybody for showing up again on short notice. General Meigs will make a short opening statement, and then he will take questions today. When you're called on, please identify yourself and the organization you're from. And with that, General Meigs.
Gen. Montgomery Meigs, SFOR: Thank you. Early this morning, SFOR closed the railway in the vicinity of Rijeka, within Bosnia - Herzegovina, about 80 kilometers east of Sarajevo. This action was taken as a prudent, precautionary measure to deny military forces of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, entry into and transit through Bosnia and Herzegovina. SFOR could not allow this railway line, which runs from Serbia through Bosnia - Herzegovina to Montenegro, to be used for military purposes. Such use would violate the General Framework Agreement for Peace and endanger the peace in Bosnia - Herzegovina.
General Montgomery Meigs during the press conference held at the
Coalition Press Information Centre, Sarajevo, 3rd, April, 1999 (36Kb)
By taking this action, SFOR is demonstrating clearly its intention and ability to enforce its mandate in Bosnia - Herzegovina, and prevent the hostilities in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia from affecting the peace and stability here. At the end of this period of tension, SFOR will arrange for the repair of the cut in the railroad. During this operation, SFOR forces were taken under fire by individuals with AK-47 rifles. They returned fire. There were no SFOR soldiers injured during this exchange of fire.
Could I have your questions please.
Carol Williams, Los Angeles Times, Q: Aren't you concerned that involving SFOR in an operation supportive of the NATO engagement with Yugoslavia could undermine your authority in the Bosnian Serb areas, and also with the Russian battalion that's part of SFOR?
Gen. Montgomery Meigs, SFOR: This operation was strictly in pursuit of my powers under Annex 1A of the Dayton Peace Agreement to ensure that foreign forces are not allowed access to the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was strictly on that basis that we cut this railroad line, as a precautionary measure.
Carol Williams, Los Angeles Times, Q: Have you had any indications that foreign forces are going to use that railroad?
Gen. Montgomery Meigs, SFOR: We did have indications.
Carol Williams, Los Angeles Times, Q: Have they tried to use it already?
Gen. Montgomery Meigs, SFOR: I would prefer not to go into this any further.
Aida Cerkez, AP, Q: When you said they came under fire, came under fire from whom?
Gen. Montgomery Meigs, SFOR: Two individuals in civilian clothes with AK - 47 rifles. Now, that's the information I currently have.
Vedran Persic, OBN, Q: When you say they were trying to close the railway, how do you mean close, like physically? Like a blockade?
Gen. Montgomery Meigs, SFOR: Physically cut it with explosives.
Vedran Persic, OBN, Q: To destroy the railway?
Gen. Montgomery Meigs, SFOR: To cut the actual track with explosives.
Vedran Persic, OBN, Q: Did they succeed?
Gen. Montgomery Meigs, SFOR: Yes.
Antonio Prlenda, Oslobodenje, Q: I understand this is close to the Yugoslav border, so those two individuals that shot fire - they were on the Bosnian territory, or on the Yugoslav territory?
Gen. Montgomery Meigs, SFOR: This was all in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Antonio Prlenda, Oslobodenje, Q: And another question - if I'm properly informed, some media reported last night that Federation insisted that MPRI stop helping in the equipment training program because some Bosniak component of the Federation army giving some weapons to the Sandzak area in Yugoslavia. Do you have any indication about that?
Gen. Montgomery Meigs, SFOR: I have no indication of any Bosnian army involvement of the nature of which you're speaking. Nor am I aware of any Bosnian unit that is not in compliance with the Dayton treaty at this time.
Ranko Mavrak, HINA, Q: General, the armed forces in this situation when the crisis in Yugoslavia has started - are you in a position to fully control borders between Yugoslavia and Bosnia - Herzegovina, and can you tell us if there are any additional deployment by Yugoslav forces near the border in the past week or ten days?
Gen. Montgomery Meigs, SFOR: Well, we make every attempt to survey the border. As you all know, it's a very complicatedborder on very rugged terrain. I'm not aware of specific deployments that threaten Bosnia and Herzegovina at this time.
Bernard Milosevic, SRNA, Q: General Meigs, was it possible that that two individuals were some kind of security of that railroad or something like that, who came under fire, or, and was that operation done with the agreement, with the police of the Republika Srpska?
Gen. Montgomery Meigs, SFOR: I can't characterize the nature of the individuals. However they did fire first at SFOR, endangering the lives of SFOR soldiers, and as a result, fire was returned.
Carol Williams, Los Angeles Times, Q: You said that there were no casualties sustained by SFOR. Do you know if either of the two men who opened fire on the SFOR units were injured in the return fire?
Gen. Montgomery Meigs, SFOR: I did not have a report of that. I understand there is a report of that on one of the television networks, local television networks, but I have had no confirmation of that, though I would seek to work with local officials to try to determine if that is correct.
Jamila Milovic, Radio MIR, Q: Do you know anything about the whereabouts of the two civilians? Are they in SFOR's custody?
Gen. Montgomery Meigs, SFOR: No, there was never any attempt to take them into custody. When we cleared the site, they were not eminent. They had left.
Jamila Milovic, Radio MIR, Q: And was any military, local military official informed about your plan to have this controlled explosion to cut the railway station?
Gen. Montgomery Meigs, SFOR: When we executed the mission, we notified a wide range of appropriate authorities, including police, military and transportation officials.
Aida Cerkez, AP, Q: You notified the authorities after the explosion occurred, not before.
Gen. Montgomery Meigs, SFOR: That's correct.
Carol Williams, Los Angeles Times, Q: I just wanted to know if you could tell us what time this operation occurred, the cutting of the rail line?
Gen. Montgomery Meigs, SFOR: Approximately 0800 hours this morning.
Vedran Persic, OBN, Q: If I can just go back on the MPRI training group program - what kind of information you have about why that program is suspended, and can you share it with us?
Gen. Montgomery Meigs, SFOR: As you know, SFOR is not a proponent for MPRI. I suggest that you really check with them or with the Federation Ministry of Defense. I really don't have the inside information on that circumstance.
Antonio Prlenda, Oslobodenje, Q: Is that railroad now repairable fast, or is that any guard that stay on that area, that road, that railroad that is destroyed?
Gen. Montgomery Meigs, SFOR: I'm afraid I didn't understand your question. The railroad has been cut, so it is now no longer possible to move a train down that track.
Antonio Prlenda, Oslobodenje, Q: Will it take some time to repair it?
Gen. Montgomery Meigs, SFOR: I believe so, yes. I want to reiterate that when the period of tension is over and the military is not a problem with foreign forces, SFOR will attempt to repair the railroad.
Bernard Milosevic, SRNA, Q: What was the reaction of the authorities, if I may ask?
Gen. Montgomery Meigs, SFOR: They thanked us for notifying them, and you can probably characterize their reaction as well as I can. You had a question down herethey were compliant, however.
Jamila Milovic, Radio MIR: Is there any SFOR presence right now in the area trying to secure this particular
Gen. Montgomery Meigs, SFOR: No. No there is not. Other thanwe will maintain surveillance at this site, and it's our intent to ensure that the railroad cannot be used until this period of tension and hostilities is over.
Vedran Persic, OBN, Q: Previously, you said that SFOR is controlling the borders of Bosnia - Herzegovina. Why is there a need to cut the railway?
Gen. Montgomery Meigs, SFOR: I think I told you that the railroad comes out of the former Republic of Yugoslavia, into Bosnia and Herzegovina and back into Montenegro. And that we had indications that there might bewe had indications that it would be used by a military element to transverse the territory of Bosnia - Herzegovina. That is a violation of the Dayton Peace Agreement, and it's my responsibility to keep that from happening.
Vedran Persic, OBN, Q: That's clear, but if the railway coming inside of Bosnia - Herzegovina, they are probably crossing some kind of checkpoint which is like a border between Bosnia and Yugoslavia, and you said SFOR is controlling the borders, so
Gen. Montgomery Meigs, SFOR: No, I didn't say that, I said we were surveilling the border. There's a difference. We don't, we don't operate the equivalent of customs checkpoints on the border. SFOR doesn't and hasn't done that.
Vedran Persic, OBN, Q: And did SFOR cut the railway only in the one place, or you will maybe cut in two places, like
Gen. Montgomery Meigs, SFOR: We did cut the railway in one place, I just would be very reluctant to address any future intent, other than to say that we're going to ensure that the railroad is not used for any military purpose.
Carol Williams, Los Angeles Times, Q: Do you consider it part of SFOR's mandate to take what steps you can to prevent the spread of conflict into Montenegro?
Gen. Montgomery Meigs, SFOR: That's not within my mandate and mission under Annex 1A. My mission is to preserve peace and security, and a stable environment in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Aida Cerkez, AP, Q: Have you personally made this decision to close this, or have you received an order from somewhere about
Gen. Montgomery Meigs, SFOR: I make the decisions in SFOR.
Aida Cerkez, AP, Q: O.K.
Nancy Torner, UPI, Q: What is the track usually used for?
Gen. Montgomery Meigs, SFOR: It's used for a variety of uses, to include transportation of military equipment and people.
Carol Williams, Los Angeles Times, Q: Is it the only, or the primary, link between Belgrade and Montenegro?
Gen. Montgomery Meigs, SFOR: I believe it is a primary link, yes.
Verica Kalajdic, RTV BiH, Q: Sir, can you tell us do you have information what is the atmosphere in the RS?
Gen. Montgomery Meigs, SFOR: As you all know very well, there is a tremendous emotional tie between the people in the Republika Srpska and the people in the former Republic of Yugoslavia. This is a very anxious time for them. The situation there is tense, quite frankly. However, I have to congratulate the military officials, officials in the police, senior political leaders, who have been extremely responsible in ensuring that the situation remains stable and that the organizations which are controlled under Annex 1A remain compliant. I congratulate them on their dedication and competence, and I can assure all of you that currently the situation remains in hand.
Thank you very much.