|DAILY NATO BRIEFING|
June 14, 1999
In Brussels, NATO spokesman Jamie Shea outlines the overall strategy and situation. The following is the full text of his comments:
Jamie Shea : Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. I told you today that we would have a briefing and a video link directly with Albania. You can see that the technology is in our favour today and you see the face already of Lt. Col. Andrew, Andy Williams as we call him, of British Royal Signals, who is the AFOR Spokesman there in Kukes today. He is joining us from Kukes, up in the north, where as you know one of the largest concentrations of refugees has been located throughout the crisis.
As you know, during all of the briefings that we gave you since the beginning of Operation Allied Force on 24 March, one of our main focal points was the plight of the refugees and internally displaced persons. And indeed where Andy is at the moment, in Albania, there have been virtually half a million refugees sheltering for some months now. But let's not forget either the 243,700 that are still in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the 69,400 in Montenegro and the 21,700 in Bosnia. And of course refugees from Kosovo are today spread all over the world, but most importantly in the 19 NATO member states where they have been on a temporary basis awaiting the possibility of returning very soon now to Kosovo. We began this operation in order to defend the rights of these people and this operation will only be considered a final ultimate success when these people are back in their homes and we hope that this will be happening quite soon now.
So although you heard a few moments ago from General Jackson on the military operational aspects of the on-going and very smooth deployment of the Kfor forces into Kosovo, we thought that today we could you give, if you like, the other side of the medal, the other side of the story, which is what is happening now in terms of the refugees and how they are preparing for their return to Kosovo.
So I am very pleased that Lt. Col. Williams, who I understand is sweltering in the heat, it is 38 degrees he told me up there in Kukes, is there, I had better not leave him sweltering for much longer, and as an act of mercy I will go directly to him so he can now brief you on the situation as seen from the AFOR perspective.
Andy, thanks again for being with us and please tell us what is happening with you.
Lt Col Williams: Jamie, thank you very much. I think it has just gone up about 2 degrees, I think it is about 40 now.
I am standing in the main square of Kukes where a few weeks ago thousands of refugees were gathering and recovering after a very long and traumatic journey from Kosovo. The scene, as you can see here today, is completely different, it is peaceful, it is calm and there is a certain tranquillity to it.
In the distance behind me you can see two camps. We drove by these camps today and certainly we saw the Kosovars going along their daily business and what they are doing is they are preparing themselves and they are getting along with their daily routine. They are washing, they are cleaning and they are staying very, very calm to the situation here today.
There have been some concerns in the past few days that there may be a migration towards Kukes and towards Kosovo. We haven't seen this and I went around the camps today just to see if these concerns had any background to them. I can certainly say that this is not the case. The Kosovars are actually being very sensible and very wise and to the situation that is in Kosovo there are untold dangers there and we don't know if there are unexploded mines, we shall see. While some might choose to go home, I would say that the majority have a good understanding of those untold dangers in Kosovo.
But the real message that we are getting is that they are waiting, they are waiting for NATO to tell them to go home and I hear this daily. The dangers are real, the landmines, the unexploded ordnance, the booby traps, the houses that may collapse. But if anyone goes back and gets hurt, we don't know what instant medical care they may have in Kosovo, but we do know that here in Albania the camps are well equipped, they are well accommodated and we do know here that in Albania they have immediate medical care. So it really is for these reasons that we ask them to wait and be patient and we can see this in them. It would be awful if we were to see that they were to make an impatient return to Kosovo and either under way or upon arrival that we would see any of them to get hurt.
Jamie Shea : Andy, thank you very much for that introduction. Let me ask you a question if I may and then afterwards we will have obviously questions from the audience here. But tell me what type of information programmes is Afor or the UNHCR carrying out in order to prepare the refugees to go home?
Lt. Col. Williams: One of the signatures of Albania is that the Albanian people have been very generous in accepting the Kosovars into their home and we believe that two-thirds of the half million refugees are actually living with what we call host families. So we do know that they have got access to TVs and radios and it is through this medium that we try and pass our information to them, in the ways of radio bulletins, TV bulletins, newsletters and indeed we are shortly to bring out a newsletter that will go directly to the community centres and the refugees, informing them of the progress of the plans for their return home.
Jamie Shea : Andy, just one more question from me because I think it is important for the people here to know, what type of activities is AFOR engaging in now? Are you still building camps, are you repairing roads, are you providing transport or providing water, because I see it is very hot there, and sanitation facilities, can you give us a brief idea what the main activities are for you on a day to day basis?
Lt. Col. Williams: Certainly. One of the main priorities that we have here in AFOR is to rebuild the road from Durres to Kukes because we see and believe that this will be the main supply route that we can move humanitarian aid across. We continue to improve the current camps that we have and indeed in Hamelite 3 we have just completed a project to dig a well there and that should come on line very, very shortly. So what we are doing, we are providing our transport logistic assets to what is known as the Emergency Management Group which is the real heart of the relief effort here in Albania, we offer them our medical services and we are on call to go to any places that they do require a little bit of relief effort. We are delivering food and we will continue to deliver food and water to the places and to those who need it.
John Fraser: Two questions if I may. There are obviously some refugees who will ignore the advice and who will want to get back fast. Are you going to do anything to stop them or will they be able to move freely? And secondly, how soon do you hope this operation can be wound down and the camps can be closed because everyone will have been able to make an orderly return back into Kosovo?
Lt. Col. Williams: Certainly on your first question, we will not, and certainly not try to obstruct the return of the Kosovars to their homeland and I think that would be morally irresponsible of us. But we have seen so far that the majority, and we are talking hundreds of thousands here, are taking the most mature route of waiting, and waiting, and they are indeed saying that we will wait until NATO gives us the signal before we do return home.
On your second question, we have been planning with the Emergency Planning Group, the Albanian government and especially UNHCR in a repatriation programme. We have got together and we have been working on a plan for a number of weeks now. It should come on line very, very shortly. However, we do not want to encourage a sudden return prior to this repatriation plan coming on line. The repatriation plan will be effective and it will allow us to return the Kosovars to their own homeland in an orderly fashion.
Jamie Shea : Andy, let me say thanks very much. We can stop there and we can allow you to get out of the sweltering heat, so thanks very much.
OK, at least we got most of what Andy had to tell us about the refugee returns. Let me just give you a little bit more on that topic. As you know, the entry of Kfor into Kosovo has allowed now serious humanitarian relief to take place. Yesterday a 52 vehicle convoy of UNHCR was able to go in, carrying food, medicine and other relief items, as well as personnel from various humanitarian agencies who can now establish an operations centre at Pristina and begin to store food in the warehouses there for the first time in many months. As the security conditions improve with the deployment of KFOR in coming days, we anticipate regional offices and warehouses of the humanitarian organisations to be opened in 6 regional cities and indeed we are expecting in the next day a new convoy of 40 vehicles and 7 trucks carrying 7 metric tons of humanitarian daily rations, and 15 metric tons of wheat. Médecins Sans Frontières is also now going to join the effort in sending medical supplies to the region. So clearly the introduction of KFOR and only 48 hours old has enabled immediately a large amount of food to get in, even though the international rescue committee continues to send the food through air drops. I believe the ninth such air drop took place this morning.
The priority clearly is to give food and medicine to the internally displaced persons, of which we number over half a million in Kosovo still, and other civilians in urgent need. Indeed as I said talking about humanitarian air drops, there is hope that the international agencies will be able to increase these from 1 to 2 sorties per day.
As the violence gradually decreases and as the Serb forces withdraw, so the internally displaced persons feel safe and are beginning gradually to emerge from their hiding places in the woods or on the mountains, and indeed people, as you have seen, who have been hiding in their homes for the best part of the last four months, are gradually also emerging. And we had stories yesterday of families, literally for the first time in months, seeing the light of day coming out of their homes. Up until then they were too scared to show themselves on the streets for fear that they would be rounded up and either deported or even killed. So this is obviously something that is encouraging.
And of course as they come down from the mountains and from the hills and as they encounter KFOR soldiers they will also have their stories to tell of suffering, of inhumanities, of even atrocities, and we will record this information and pass it on where necessary to the International War Crimes Tribunal.
As Lt.Col. Williams said, it is extremely important that the refugees remain put where they are, stay put, until it is safe for them to go back. We know that in Kukes where Lt.Col. Williams was speaking from, there are certain refugees that have been attempting to cross the border, in fact going along fields rather than roads. There is a big danger of mines there and again we urge them to put their wisdom before their impatience and not to try to do that until the roads can be cleared for them.
So having said that, ladies and gentlemen, I think that completes what we have as far as an update is concerned. I would just like to make you aware that tomorrow morning here at NATO headquarters we will have the regular 11.30 update on the KFOR deployment. But as you heard from General Jackson just a few moments ago, he said it all much better than I could, being a Commander on the spot, and therefore I don't really have anything to add to the information that he gave you at his 3.00 pm press conference.