|NATO MILITARY BRIEFING|
NATO officials and escaped Kosovar Albanians discuss the refugee situation and assess the 61st day of airstrikes against Yugoslavia.
Peter Daniel: I am sorry for the delay, it was due to a technical problem which I think we have now resolved. I would like to first of all introduce you to Mr Isha Zymberi, who is from the Kosovo Information Centre in London, and also signal the presence in the room of the Albanian Ambassador to NATO, Artur Kuko, who is in the front row. We will be going to Albania in a minute or two, but first I would like to give the floor to Mr Zymberi who has a short statement.
Mr. Zymberi: Thank you very much. I have just had a brief meeting with the Secretary General, Mr Solana, and the following is approximately the message that I had to convey.
On this 61st day of the NATO campaign against the rump Yugoslav Federation, I wish to state that the Albanians in general, and the Kosovar Albanians in particular, are 100% behind NATO. Although Kosovo has seen destructions as never before, although the people of Kosovo have been subjected to genocide and suffering of enormous proportions, they continue to ask for an intensification of the NATO campaign.
The Albanians of Kosovo have no doubts that NATO will achieve a full victory over Milosevic and his morally bankrupt regime. The Albanians strongly believe that NATO victory will include the total fulfilment of the five NATO demands, they maintain that these demands cannot be complemented, or modified or changed in any way. Deviation from any of these demands will make the NATO victory incomplete. We want a NATO victory that will bring a just, stable and permanent peace to Kosovo and the region as a whole. We hope that the moment which will mark the end to genocide in Kosovo and the reverse of ethnic cleansing is not far away. I must say that there is some urgency in this aspect.
As we enter the third month of the NATO airstrikes against the rump Yugoslav Federation, many will say it has taken too long. That is true. But I am inclined to attribute the length of time to the stupidity and madness of Milosevic and his regime.
Out of over 25,000 sorties undertaken by NATO so far, as you know there have been a number of regrettable mistakes involving a number of casualties. Since it was the Albanians who suffered the highest number of casualties resulting from such unintended action, maybe we should have the main say about this too. No-one should pretend to be more sorry about these victims than the Kosovar Albanians themselves. Serbian concern about these victims is experienced by the Albanians as an offence on top of all the other appalling horrors that have been coming from Belgrade. When the air strikes began NATO was aware that the whole campaign was not risk-free. The Kosovar Albanians felt also that NATO bombing was a risk worth taking. Therefore the Albanians are of the opinion that NATO should not be distracted by these mistakes. The Albanians can make a difference between the deliberate and accidental, even in the most difficult circumstances, and this is part of their tradition. This is a war and nothing can be 100% perfect.
The people of Kosovo are heartened by the fact that NATO is preparing 40,000 plus troops for deployment in Kosovo. The Albanians of Kosovo applaud the brave NATO military personnel, they are aware that those angels of our skies risk their lives day and night in order to bring peace to a long-suffering people. These pilots will remain our heroes of peace forever.
Finally, I hope that Milosevic will soon be delivered that personal bomb, the indictment in The Hague Tribunal. Thank you very much for your attention.
Peter Daniel: Thank you. The way we intend to proceed, now we are going to go to Kukes in Albania where Fatmir Gashi, who was an English student and formerly as well an interpreter for the OSCE in Kosovo, and who just made it across the border in the last two days with the group of men, I know you are familiar with the story, will be joining us and there will be a short conversation between Mr Zymberi and Mr Gashi and then we invite your questions to either of the gentlemen.
Mr. Zymberi: Fatmir Gashi, could you please tell us briefly your story since you were forced to leave your house, your home, on 14 April this year.
Fatmir Gashi: I would like to say first Thank God there is someone who is concerned about the destiny of Albanian people.
It happened just like this. On 14 April we were forced to leave our houses by both Serbian police and paramilitary forces. They said to us, go straight to your motherland, Albania, and to your President Bill Clinton and your grandmother Madeleine Albright, and all those bad things. We had to walk about 110 kilometres. During the trip there were occasions of beating people.
After we arrived in the village of Granik, which is 2 km far away from Klina, we were stopped by 3 policemen and they said find some place in this village and stay there for a few days until we receive new commands. There were very bad conditions, we had no food, no flour, something else to feed our children. During those days there were two cases of raping. One case was very close to my place, I slept there. Three policemen came and took three women, two of them were married and one was single, it happened in the midnight, they held them until the morning and brought them back and we could see that they were abused and they were bruised yellow. They survived a very bad night.
After 5 days of staying in that village, precisely on 23 April, we were told to leave that place and go back to our home town in Mitrovica. So we left that village and on our way back we were stopped in Srbica, it was 22 km far away from Mitrovica. We were detained, 190 men, I was among them also. One of the policemen came near me and said: Hello, OSCE spy. Where are your OSCE friends? Where is NATO? Where is Bill Clinton? And they used very, very bad words for all OSCE member countries and NATO.
After that they sent us to prison in the school building in Srbica. After two days, precisely on 27 April they took 50 men and they sent them in a village called Ternata, it is 3 km far away from Srbica. They first started to shoot from the tanks and from the cannons in that village, in the direction of that village, and after they stopped they pushed our men to hold each other handed and they said to them, go forward, don't you try to escape or look behind because you will get killed. They said to them: Get inside in each and every house and search if there is someone. After they searched all the houses they started to burn all, so the village of Ternata doesn't exist any more. Those men who were used as a human shield told personally to me that they saw over 300 KLA soldiers. As soon as the KLA saw them they said don't you try to shoot on them because the Serbs are using them as a human shield, so they are our men. It lasted over 4 hours. After that they have been brought back in the school. Sometimes we had no food for over 50 hours. There were a lot of children who were from 15 - 73 years, a lot of mentally retarded and handicapped people. They didn't choose them, then we suffered a big torture there.
Mr. Zymberi: Maybe we can stop there. If there are any specific questions, you might answer the questions. Thank you very much indeed.
Mark Laity, BBC: A question first of all to the Kosovo Information Centre representative. What you said today is obviously what NATO wanted to hear. Is there really 100% support when they know that if this fighting continues that there will be more people who will die, more mistakes will be made? The question to Fatmir: you have had your own personal circumstances. Are you aware of what has happened to other people, have you any awareness that there are many, many tens of thousands of men who are missing, do you have any sense of what has happened to them, any information that has come out about those who are still inside?
Mr. Zymberi: I think I said here today what I think. Many people, at least all those that I have been in touch with, and according to the information we have, are saying. It is true that when the Albanians signed the Rambouillet agreement, in a way they placed their fate in the hands of the international community and NATO. It is also true that Milosevic as a result, especially after NATO started the airstrikes, has accelerated his programme. But many people were going to die anyway because that was part of the programme of Milosevic and many people were going to die without being made a mistake, but targeted deliberately.
Mr Gashi: Can you repeat your question please, I couldn't get it clear?
Mark Laity: We have heard your personal story, but there are many, many tens of thousands who are still missing. Are you aware of the fate of other people who you may have met on the way.
Mr Gashi: I left over 2,000 men back in the prison in Snekronica. Among them I left my two younger brothers, two uncles and two cousins of mine. I was told from some men that there are concentration camps all over Kosovo. During our trip we couldn't see men or Albanians because all the villages were empty, all the villages were burnt, totally destroyed.
Mark Laity: Are you aware of any forced labour camps, do you know anything about people being taken and used for forced labour to dig fortifications for the troops and so on?
Mr Gashi: There were some cases during our stay in Srbica. They also took about 20 men to open places for machine guns in the surrounding of Srbica.
Mark Laity: Are you surprised that they let you go? Do you know why?
Mr Gashi: I am really surprised, I don't know, but I think that they have something on their mind because they had all of us on their hands and suddenly leaving us to go free. During our trip from the prison of Snekronica until the border of Albania I was really scared, I thought they are going to use us as a human shield, because we had no information back in jail what is happening on the international scene, or in Kosovo or somewhere else. So personally I was terrified, totally scared what is going to happen to us.
Augustino: Mr Gashi, you said that Serbian police asked you where are your OSCE friends. Tell me, how did you feel in the time that you are in the prison, where are those, your friends, and do you think that they really cared enough about you and your estimated 2,000 colleagues who worked for them? And did you have any indication from I suppose that there were your Serbian colleagues working for OSCE, do you know any example that any Serbian colleague was interested to know what is happening to you?
Mr Gashi: No, they were not interested to know about me. While I was in interrogation, one Serbian investigator asked me why did you work for OSCE, did they give you any special job to send any radio locators near the army bases, have you said where Serb forces are hidden, have you talked lately to NATO forces in Brussels? I have told them I worked with several Serbs back in Srbica who were also interpreters. They said we don't care about them, we are interested in you, you are going to be cut in pieces, your life depends on us.
Peter Daniel: Mr Gashi, thank you very much for being with us this afternoon. Thank you.
Mr Gashi: Thank you very much and I hope NATO will proceed. I want you to say that people of Kosovo are supporting NATO bombings so you have to intensify, believe it or not. I was there until the day before yesterday.
Peter Daniel: Thank you.
Peter Daniel: The way we are going to proceed is with General Jertz who will do his daily operational briefing, and then I have a few short announcements and we will take questions in the usual way.
General Jertz: Good Afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Yesterday poor weather, both at some NATO aircraft bases and over some target areas, resulted in the cancellation of several strikes. However, targets were struck both in Kosovo and Serbia. In and around Kosovo we attacked Serb ground forces, including a radar site and a command centre. In addition, at least one tank, seven armoured vehicles, twelve mortar positions and nine artillery positions were hit.
This image shows the result of a recent attack against armour at Stimlje last week. Special police headquarters at Urosevac and Prizren were struck, disrupting the control of the ethnic cleansing operations in the area.
Strategic targets were also struck in Serbia. Ponikva airfield was attacked, restricting the capability of the few remaining Yugoslav aircraft to support Serbian ground operations against Kosovars. The radio relay site at Pristina and the TV relay station at Kacanik were struck, further degrading Serb military command, control and communications systems, and by that the Serb ability to transmit propaganda.
The accuracy of such attack is demonstrated by this series of images on a similar target. The first photograph shows the Savac broadcast facility before it was struck. Now the attack video. And finally the post-strike image shows the aerial on the ground, after the attack.
Electrical power transformers at Nis, Drimno and Novi Sad were attacked, disrupting Serb command and control, air defence systems and propaganda transmissions. The petrol storage site at Sombor was hit also. This continued our campaign to limit these essential supplies to the Serb ground forces involved in ethnic cleansing operations throughout Serbia and Kosovo.
Three surface to air missiles were launched against NATO aircraft, unsuccessfully. I am happy to say all NATO aircraft returned home safely.
Coming back to ground operations in Kosovo once more, heavy fighting continues near the Albanian border between Serb forces and elements of the UCK. There is evidence that the UCK is attempting to open further supply routes into that region.
There has been a report on Albanian Television that displaced persons in Kosovo, especially in the towns of Stimlje and Urosevac, are being encouraged to register with security inspectors of the Serbian state security. The issue of these so-called green cards is supposedly to enable better distribution of humanitarian aid. If that is the case, it is to be applauded, but all past evidence suggests that there may well be a more sinister purpose, particularly in this case as the operation is reported as being led by Dragan Cergovic, the former Police Chief of Stimlje. Cergovic has a reputation for crimes against Albanians and his name has already been passed on to the International Tribunal in The Hague.
Humanitarian flights continue with two into Albania and eleven into the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Nine convoys in Serbia and Kosovo have been notified for coordination purposes.
That completes my briefing of today. Thank you.
Pierre Julien, RTL: Le réfugié albanais, tout à l'heure, nous a parlé de camps de concentration. Comment se fait-il qu'avec les radars, avec les satellites, avec les reconnaissances avion ou les drones, l'OTAN n'ait pas encore la preuve de ces camps de concentration au Kosovo
Peter Daniel: Il faut aussi penser que ces camps de concentration, s'il y en a et je ne le confirme pas, existent dans des facilités qui ont un autre usage, d'habitude et il se trouve qu'il y a beaucoup de monde sur place qui pourrait ... tout a fait normal, mais je ne veux pas commenter davantage là-dessus, mais comme je vous ai dit, nous ne pouvons pas le confirmer et on pourrait avoir des camps facilement dans beaucoup de facilités autour du Kosovo : dans des écoles, des anciennes facilités militaires, des manufactures. Il y a plein d'endroits où on pourrait établir une telle facilité.
Dragan Blagojevic, BETA: Si l'OTAN a l'intention de déployer 50.000 hommes sur les frontières du Kosovo de Yougoslavie, avec l'intention que ce soit une force qui entrerait dans le Kosovo soit dans le cadre d'une opération de paix, ou dans un environnement semi-permissif comme on indique, est-ce que vous croyez que dans ce cas, la voie d'avoir d'autres forces, d'autres pays - or l'OTAN est complètement barré - sans parler d'une éventuelle influence sur la structure de commandement.
Peter Daniel: Premièrement, vous avez dit qu'il y aura 50.OOO hommes. C'est une décision qui reste à prendre, une discussion qui aura lieu dans les jours à venir et l' autre affirmation que vous avez faite, c'est aussi parmi les considérations qui seront prises en compte lors de la discussion qui aura lieu dans la semaine et les jours à venir.
Question: Après avoir écouté ce matin M. Scharping exprimer le désir qu'une solution diplomatique arrive à la réunion du prochain G8 au mois de juin, et il a ajouté à ces désirs la possibilité d'un renforcement des forces aériennes. Est-ce que cette réunion est la dernière chance pour la Russie d'y arriver avec un accord de Belgrade pour le déploiement pacifique des troupes ?
Peter Daniel: Il n'y a pas de date ultime. Cela pourrait se faire aujourd'hui, si M. Milosevic voulait accepter les conditions de la communauté internationale. Il y a sûrement un processus qui est en cours et, je crois qu'il est bien engagé mais il n'y a pas de date fixe pour un aboutissement des discussions. Comme vous savez, à la fin de n'importe quelle discussion, il faut avoir l'accord de la Yougoslavie.
Jake Lynch, Skynews: I noticed that Mr Scharping took some pains to impress upon us that, as he put it, there is no debate about timetables, and on a separate occasion he said it was not a race against time and he exhorts us to be patient. And yet we open today's Times newspaper and read about a deadline set for airstrikes, that in eight more weeks NATO has set herself a timetable when an appraisal will take place as to whether Yugoslav forces still remain capable of offering organised resistance. So which is right? And as a follow-up to that, does it remain NATO's prime aim to return the refugees to their homes, or is it now beginning to slide into return the refugees to their homes before the winter sets in?
Peter Daniel: No, there is no deadline and I believe that in calling for patience, various people who have spoken out have said very clearly that we have to be patient and see this thing through and that we have the same objectives here, that they have been very clearly laid out, and among those objectives is bringing the refugees back home, and that there are certain other elements of the five points and they all work together in order to accomplish that objective. And I have not heard anyone arguing with the five objectives that the NATO Alliance has set for itself, that has the agreement of all 19 countries, and beyond the 19 countries have been expressed in a similar fashion by the Secretary General of the UN and others in the international community. So no, we are not setting any firm timetables. I mean the timetable, really the person who controls the timetable best of all is Mr Milosevic, if he were to pick up the phone, the thing could end tomorrow, it could end in an hour.
Jennifer Griffin, Fox News: There are reports from Washington that President Clinton has authorised the CIA to basically start a cyber war against President Milosevic and freeze bank accounts. Was NATO informed about this decision, and if not, how will that affect NATO unity?
Peter Daniel: I read those reports. They are, as you rightly point out, ascribed to one of the members of this Alliance. I am not going to comment on them and I would refer you to the care of the US authorities at their briefing later today.
Question: There have been Serb press reports today of extensive damage to civilian water and electricity supplies in Belgrade and elsewhere. Can you confirm that there has been such damage to city water supplies. If so, is this part of a new effort to increase pressure on Milosevic by attacking civilian targets, and if not, what is the military rationale for attacking civilian water and electricity supplies?
Peter Daniel: First of all, we have not targeted the water system. The difficulties with water supply relate mostly to the difficulties that exist with the supply of electricity. We have not targeted, and I think we have been very clear about that, the power plants per se, we have targeted the transformers and the edges so to speak of the electricity generating system and it is mainly to cause difficulties to the military complex in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and they have a choice, Mr Milosevic has two choices: first choice is he can end this by accepting the five conditions of the international community; the second choice he has, because Yugoslavia is a country where not too many people do make the decisions, he can choose to whom he supplies the power that exists. And of course he deploys the people that repair the system, and it has been repaired, it does go up and then go down, and it creates considerable difficulty for the military, it disrupts their communications and their command and control systems and other systems used for the repression in Kosovo and for the anti-aircraft systems and what not. So the aim of striking these facilities, as I say, with the case of electricity is to cause problems for the military in the FRY and the water is a secondary effect that we are not targeting, I repeat, we are not targeting the water system.
Fox News: We heard from our Kosovar guests today that they would like to see NATO step up the bombing. Is there agreement in the Alliance to step it up, especially when we have heard over the last week from a couple of members of the Alliance suggesting there should be a bombing pause. And General Jertz, can you tell us more about these ID cards that you mentioned at the end of your remarks. Who is handing them out to whom, and when did this start?
General Jertz: On the ID cards, we have heard the reports, within a few days only, that these ID cards, the green cards as they call it, have been handed out, as I indicated already, to distribute humanitarian aid. So for us, even though it is kind of a speculation, we think that there is a sinister thought behind this idea, to have IDPs coming out from the woods, going into areas where they might be used as human shields. So we have no clear indication since how many days the green cards have been handed out, but it was already since a few days.
Peter Daniel: As to the bombing, we have told you, and some of the military commanders have told you even in recent days, that we have stepped up our concentration on military targets in Kosovo over the last few weeks, and if you have been at these daily briefings, as I think you have over the last few weeks, you have seen the red and green and other symbols that they use in the map, increase in intensity over the territory that is Kosovo, and of course the bombing, as General Jertz has often said, and as we have told you and as I think you are now familiar with, is subject to a large degree to the vagaries of weather and other conditions that exist, and just today was a little less intense than just the last two days, 48 hours previously, a lot of that had to do with weather. But the concentration on targets in Kosovo, the troops on the ground to take them out and cripple them so that they can be less effective in oppressing the population in Kosovo, is very much a part of the accelerated bombing, it has accelerated since the beginning and we have never hidden that.
General Jertz: Could I add just a few more words on that, Peter? You know that since a few days there are aircraft stationed in Hungary, there will be more reinforcements coming in, I will not address the countries but they are NATO Allies, and it will be a lot more coming in. General Clark asked for it and he got the approval. Of course discussions are still on-going with the countries, which I can't mention at the moment, except the one which I just mentioned - Hungary - and there are a lot of other aircraft coming in, so the force will be built up, which means of course that we are going to use those forces to intensify the campaign.
Peter Daniel: General, I think if I am not mistaken, there is almost double the number of aircraft in theatre now than there was at the very beginning.
General Jertz: Correct, and it will be more.
Question: The German Defence Minister, Rudolf Scharping, said today: "Serbian people can come to Europe but without Milosevic", but in the short term, it seems like NATO countries must deal with Milosevic for any political outcome of this. So can you make a difference between those two points please?
Peter Daniel: I am not going to sit and try to split dust specks in mid-air. Basically, at the end of the day, an agreement, no matter what the agreement is, takes two and there will be one party, which is the party that you are familiar with, the North Atlantic Alliance, and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. There will be an agreement to end this conflict and to get the hundreds of thousands of displaced and deported people back to their homes. So I am not going to go into semantical discussion as to who is going to sign on what side of the bottom line, but at the end of the day, there will be what we call an agreement, and agreement means there will be two parties to that agreement and there needs to be two parties to make it work.
Michael: General Jertz, you have talked for several days about the fighting along the Albanian Kosovo border. Can you give us any more information please on the position of the Serb units there, how many losses have they sustained, and yesterday you mentioned that some replacements had been sent in the Pec area, is that happening in other areas? And do you have any more specific information about how many people were being sent?
General Jertz: I don't have any more information on that. As I said, it is not reinforcements, it is replacements, we have to be very clear on that. Obviously the Serb military machine is trying to replace those who have been killed in the war operations, so the fighting is on-going. We are looking very deeply and very thoroughly into this area, but so far I cannot give you any more details on it because we still need to have some more confirmation. What we can see by our intelligence is that the fighting is very, very heavy and that the UCK is almost about to get at least a second support route into this area for them, of course making it easier to bring supplies into the country.
Antonio Martins, RTP: On these negotiations now, something is probably not working properly. We know that President Milosevic already sent Mr Karic, they met twice in Bonn the Foreign Minister of Germany, saying that he would be willing to accept. At the same time, one week ago Lamberto Dini got President Milutinovic on the phone saying more or less the same message. Still nothing seems to work, where is the problem now? And General, one month ago in an interview with General Clark, he said that this conflict was a question of resolve, we know our resolve, he said, we don't know Milosevic's resolve. After two months, do we know already what is Milosevic's resolve and are you sure that bombing will be enough and for how long can we go on bombing Yugoslavia?
Peter Daniel: There is a lot of discussion going on, there is a lot of comment and there will be more comment because that is the nature of this organisation. There is open discussion among nineteen democracies, but at the end of the day there will be a consensus and there will be a consensus that will be based on the five conditions that the international community has set out, and the reason for that is that no other combination of measures can bring about what must happen, which is the return of the hundreds of thousands of people to their home and the pacification of this area, province, that we call Kosovo. And I am not going to add another editorial voice to what will be many editorial voices as this discussion begins, as it now has begun, and pursues its path in the way that I think I have described to you, towards a consensus.
General Jertz: The air campaign is working very well. I gave you all the numbers which I presented last Wednesday. I know that everybody would like to stop this conflict as soon as possible, even us the military, even us wearing uniform, especially when you listen and hear what has been said and when you watch TV and see people, how they are treated, especially the Kosovars. But on the side of the air campaign, most of our weapons are precision-guided weapons which means the destruction of the target itself is very limited, we do it because we do want to avoid collateral damage and then of course it is one of the reasons why in the air campaign it just takes longer in time. If we would be as brutal as Milosevic, not even thinking about collateral damage or other things, this war might have been over by now, but it is not. We do stick to the pace we are going, the air campaign works very well. I already said that we will introduce more weapons, more and more aircraft and on the timeframe of course I won't speculate, I don't know how long it will take and we hope that it won't take too much longer, especially intensifying the air campaign.
Norwegian News Agency: Apart from continuously intensifying the air campaign, could you elaborate on what General Clark said yesterday that the Alliance has broadened and deepened its target lists?
General Jertz: Well, you know if my boss says something which is already very clear, I would not be willing to comment any more on that, especially not on the targeting, you know it is an operational and tactical sensitive issue, so I am not going into more details on that, I am sorry.
Question: You said you did not intend to target the water supply system, so how come it doesn't work, because it works with electric power?
Peter Daniel: Pumping stations do.
All right, just a couple of announcements. Tomorrow, in the morning, the Foreign Minister of Slovakia, who is one of two Special Envoys of the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, will be here to meet with the Secretary General at 8.45 tomorrow morning. In the morning again, a little later on, the Prime Minister of Spain, Mr Aznar, will be here, will meet the Council at noon and there will be a joint press conference with the Secretary General at about 12.30. A little later in the afternoon, we will do the regular 3.00, Jamie will be back tomorrow, we will do the regular 3.00 update briefing with General Jertz. And later on, the Albanian Prime Minister, Mr Majko, will meet the Council at 5.00 pm and there will be a joint press conference with the Secretary General at about 5.45. And with that, thank you very much, Jamie will be back tomorrow.