|YUGOSLAVIA'S UN AMBASSADOR|
April 1, 1999
Vladislav Jovanovic, Yugoslavia's UN ambassador, discusses the circumstances that led to the capture of three US soldiers. Phil Ponce talks with Mr. Jovanovic after Jim Lehrer's interview with Defense Secretary Cohen and General Henry Shelton.
JIM LEHRER: Now the view from the other side of this and to Phil Ponce.
PHIL PONCE: For that view, we're joined now by Yugoslavia's Ambassador to the United Nations, Vadislav Jovanovic. Mr. Ambassador, thank you for joining us. Sir, what is the latest information you have of the condition of the three American soldiers?
The condition of the three soldiers.
JOVANOVIC: I don't have much information, as a matter of fact, but I know
that the three soldiers were captured on Yugoslav territory and that they
are taken according to the standards and the tradition of Yugoslav army,
which are very bright and we don't treat the soldiers of our enemies in
any bad way. So that outcry, the dramatization of the issue by the American
press and some American politicians is not in proportion with reality.
PHIL PONCE: So Mr. Ambassador, you're saying that even though you may not have very much information, you can assure people that the three soldiers are in good condition now?
VLADISLAV JOVANOVIC: Well, they are in good condition in the sense that they are not badly treated. This is not our intention or our tradition. But the bruises, traces on their faces you can see can be the result of many things. And I don't know anything about the circumstances under which they have been captured. But they could -- they have probably put resistance and maybe some fight preceded to their apprehension or maybe some car accident preceded it. I don't know anything. So it is much better to be more prudent and avoid jumping to any conclusions before knowing more about the circumstances - more about the details of their capture.
PHIL PONCE: So, we just heard the secretary of defense say that he believed that they had been beaten. Your reaction to that would then be -
VLADISLAV JOVANOVIC: Believing is not any evidence. I really can't believe authorities about -- I don't believe I can follow his drive of thoughts that that thing could happen. It is simply out of our tradition to treat our enemies badly. But my assumption is that one fight preceded their captures and usually that fight that maybe even our soldiers were harmed or have some bruises.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Ambassador, where are they being held?
VLADISLAV JOVANOVIC: I don't know. This is military secret.
PHIL PONCE: Do you have any information on the circumstances under which they were captured?
VLADISLAV JOVANOVIC: Not yet.
PHIL PONCE: So, for example, do you know where they were? Were they in Yugoslavia, or were they in Macedonia?
VLADISLAV JOVANOVIC: No. They were captured in Yugoslavia, in Yugoslav territory, but where I don't know. I expect to get some more clarification in that respect. But this is a military matter more than political, and in that case, the access to the information is quite difficult, not easy one.
PHIL PONCE: And Mr. Ambassador, even though you don't have much information, do you have any idea who captured the three soldiers? Was it -- were they members of the Serb army, the paramilitary, were they civilians?
VLADISLAV JOVANOVIC: My understanding is that they were captured by soldiers.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Ambassador, what grounds are they being held? What do you consider their status to be, prisoners of war?
|Prisoners of war?|
JOVANOVIC: They were captured in our territory. It depends on the mission
they had, they got from their superiors when they were sent to Yugoslavia,
whether the mission was to get in touch with the disrupted KLA organizations
in order to serve as a liaison officer and to coordinate with the terrorists
with the bombing of NATO. Or they had specific tasks to do any subvergence
or do anything. I don't know. This is just open to everybody's speculation.
But unless we know more about that, we cannot answer to your question
in any reliable way.
PHIL PONCE: So for people in this country who believe that they were serving as part of a peacekeeping force, you're suggesting that, what, perhaps they were operating in a different capacity than that?
VLADISLAV JOVANOVIC: You know, the peacekeeping mission terminated with the end of the UN mission mandate approximately a month ago. Since that time, the American and other soldiers who have served under UN flag had become something else. They cannot pretend to be peacekeepers anymore. They are all members of the so-called extraction force, which was unilateral decision by NATO countries to position them in Macedonia or a part of NATO troops which - who have been piled up, or concentrated in Northern Macedonia as a part of the policy of threatening Yugoslavia with the use of force in the case it refused to accept the ultimatum dealing with the so-called peace agreement in Paris.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Ambassador, will these three soldiers be given the protection of the Geneva Conventions?
VLADISLAV JOVANOVIC: There is no question that we are a country respecting all our international commitments, Geneva Convention of course. But we still don't know in what capacity the American soldiers were sent to Yugoslavia, what was their mission; if they were sent with some task which was not in line with the task of soldiers, it is another thing. But I don't know anything to say in advance. I don't have any clarification if that military court is going to seize that matter and put it into procedure, it certainly means that the matter is quite serious.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Ambassador, so will there be in fact some kind of a military proceeding against the three Americans?
VLADISLAV JOVANOVIC: I don't know. I know what you know, that the military court is in charge to do with that matter. What will be the decision of the court, I don't know. It will depend on many of facts and circumstances.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Ambassador, how do you respond to legal experts who -- and we also heard the secretary of defense say that, under the Geneva Conventions, a trial or a military proceeding against prisoners of war, that that is illegal, that's not an appropriate procedure?
VLADISLAV JOVANOVIC: As a matter of fact, I am not very much familiar with Geneva Conventions. I have studied them once upon a time, but I have to refresh my own knowledge. But first of all, we have to know what is necessary to be fulfilled in order to get the status of the war prisoners. They are war prisoners, and people, individuals engaging in committing some crimes. I don't say anything that American soldiers could be associated with that. But without knowing more about the case, one cannot go further and establish any judgment on the basis of the Geneva Convention.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Ambassador, I thank you for joining us.
VLADISLAV JOVANOVIC: You're welcome, sir.