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Being Crystal Clear About Operation Essential Harvest

Being Crystal Clear About Operation Essential Harvest

Source: NATO Press Conference, Holiday Inn, 13 August, 2001.

Barry Johnson: Joining us this morning is Yves Brodeur, Spokesman for NATO from Brussels. He has a statement that he wants to make, and then we will be open for your questions.

Yves Brodeur: This is a very important day for Macedonians. We welcome the signature of the political agreement, and we congratulate the political leaders of the country for this significant achievement. This is something to be proud of.

We are now at crossroads, it is a critical moment where everything is possible. The political agreement is not the end of the road. It is rather the beginning of a process, which must lead to an enduring and peaceful solution to the crisis.

Now, courage, determination, faith in the future and strong political leadership are required to implement the agreement and pave the way to peace.

The fate of this country is in the hands of its people and its leaders. Only they can decide what kind of future they want for their children. This agreement that they are signing today is theirs to implement. They ought to make the only sensible choice: peace in a united country.

There is simply no alternative to the implementation of the agreement. A military solution is a dangerous illusion. It will bring immense suffering and misery, there has already been too much violence and death.

NATO stands ready to support the country, its people and its leaders in this endeavour, provided that the conditions exist for the Alliance to do the job it has been asked to do by Macedonian government. As far as these conditions they have been stated and restated, and most recently they have been stated in the text of a letter from Robertson to Trajkovski. The copy of that letter is for you to take at the back of the room.

The next few days will be critical and NATO looks forward to contributing to the establishment of an enduring and peaceful solution to the crisis.

Questions: Q: Sky Net TV. I have two questions for Brodeur. If the conditions are not fulfilled, is there any possibility that NATO does not enter Macedonia to assist in the disarmament. SKY NET TV has information that by unmanned aircraft of KFOR troops it has been ascertained that KPC members have entered Macedonia from Kosovo side. We have been hearing denials by KFOR all the time, is it due to KFOR incapability or intended not telling of truth by KFOR.

Brodeur: The first question, the conditions, I just to make it crystal clear. Let me just first read what Lord Robertson wrote to the President on this. I quote, "Let me be clear that the deployment of NATO forces in the context of Operation Essential Harvest continues to depend on the fulfillment of the preconditions". I think it is quite clear that if these conditions do not exist, then the mission could not take place. For the second issue, and before I let Major Johnson address some of the technical aspects of this, if I understand you basically mean that NATO is lying. I just want to highlight the fact that these allegations that you are talking of have not been substantiated by the sources which actually pointed at them. In other words there is no evidence to confirm what you just said. NATO has been taking steps to increase the security on the Kosovo side on the border to prevent such incidents happen and turn off the flow of people and weapons between the two countries. I would yet turn it to Major Johnson who amy want to elaborate on this.

Johnson: First I would like to say that if I understand this new accusation, which I have not heard before is that a helicopter has discharged members of KPC and allowed them to cross the border to enter the fights with the so-called NLA.

Q: KFOR unmanned aircraft has really registered that KPC members have entered |Macedonia but NATO has not officially announced that this has happened. So is it because NATO is incapable or is hiding that intentionally. Is it due to the corruptness of NATO?

Johnson: In an anticipation of this I prepared a kind of a statement in order to explain this. So I would like to read that statement. Over the past few days, there have been many reports of large groups of ethnic Albanians crossing the border from Kosovo into the Republic of Macedonia, as well as weapons being fired from within Kosovo at Macedonian forces. We take these reports very seriously and want to establish the facts as quickly as possible. At best, these reports imply that NATO forces are not competent in interdicting people moving across the border. At worst, they imply NATO is in some way aiding the so-called NLA in their violent acts against the sovereign government of Macedonia. We have consistently and thoroughly condemned these acts, and will continue to do so in the future.

The truth is that KFOR is doing everything within its power, using all its available resources to decisively interdict as much equipment and people attempting to cross the border as is humanly possible. We have never claimed to be 100% effective - the number of soldiers that would be needed to completely seal the border is well beyond any force NATO nations can place there. We do, however, attempt to work closely with the Macedonian Army's border forces to minimise the weapons and people successfully making it through the gauntlet of watchtowers, patrols, electronic surveillance devices and other means we have of detecting their movement. Once detected, they are quickly interdicted.

We cannot accept the proposition that hundreds of people could successfully make it through our border security without being detected. We find these reports preposterous and insulting to the soldiers from many different nations who are working diligently on behalf of Macedonia by securing the border.

However, I was told by officials in the Ministry of Defence that a bigger group of armed ethnic Albanians, described as being 30-50 people, was interdicted by them on the Macedonian side of the border yesterday morning. If this group did indeed make it through KFOR's considerable security, we are extremely pleased that they were interdicted by Macedonian forces before being able to join in the fight.

Also interdicted yesterday were 17 suspected members of the so-called NLA by the Polish-Ukrainian Battalion, which is responsible for that sector of the border. They were carrying a large amount of equipment, including sleeping bags, boots, bullet-proof vests and communications equipment. They were transported to the Camp Bondsteel detention facility.

These are but two examples of how effective interdiction is hindering the ability of the so-called NLA to fight. We'll not be satisfied until every single attempt to cross the border is stopped by the joint effort of KFOR and Macedonian forces.

The reports of firing on Macedonian forces coming from within Kosovo is very disconcerting. Although many mortar and artillery rounds were noted during the period in question, our detection devices and surveillance did not record any originating from within Kosovo. All were shown to have been fired from within Macedonia. Yet, when an officer of the Macedonian Army tells me that he witnessed the firing himself, I will not stand here and refute his words. NATO and KFOR is therefore reviewing this report very carefully, based on requests from the Ministry of Defence, to determine why there is such a difference in what we believe to be true.

NATO is committed to ensuring the border with Kosovo is secure and free from any hostile activity. We do not take these reports lightly, and will continue to focus on getting the job done thoroughly and professionally. We are always willing to work very closely with the Ministry of Defence and all other government branches to ensure our efforts are well coordinated and fully understood. When discrepancies such as these occur, we'll work with them to find the root of the problem and then fix it.

I realise that was a long statement. Thank you for bearing with me, because that was a really important issue.

Q: Konstantin Tiorides, Makfax News Agency. Mr Brodeur, the matter of trust has been undermined a lot, we have different guarantees from NATO representative Mr Peter Feith received by the so-called NLA that they are going to obey the ceasefire as the second condition is a long lasting ceasefire in the country as a precondition to establish normal way for deployment of NATO here. Do you have firm guarantees will obey the ceasefire.

Brodeur: As you know Mr Feith is a facilitator. He has been working very hard in trying to open up channels and communications. His work has been undertaken with full support and request of the political leadership of this country. He is still in contact with his interlocutors, and essentially there are no reasons for us to believe that NLA will not abide by its word and refuse to abandon the struggle. The political process will go hand in hand with the arms collection and these things will reinforce each other. Therefore we can expect these two things to go in parallel.

Q: What can you tell about some talks of amnesty of UCK?

Brodeur: That is an issue that is still under discussion, and there has not been a final result. But again I think that the issue of a political agreement and disarmament will need to be reinforced by the amnesty. It will be very difficult to achieve disarmament if you do not have support in this.

Q: Kole Casule, Reuters News Agency. Could you explain the preconditions again? After a political deal is signed the essential harvest might start, or that the political deal is implemented because there is a big difference. I know Macedonian government is pushing for it to be done after it is signed while NLA is waiting for it to be implemented.

Brodeur: Let me go to the preconditions again. Fist there has to be a conclusion of the political agreement by the political parties. I hope that it will take place today. Then an enduring ceasefire respected by all parties. An agreement on the conditions upon which Taskforce Harvest will conduct its mission, and an agreed plan that specifies the modalities and the time tables for weapons collection. That time must include the explicit concept of the extremist groups to surrender their weapons as well as an agreement for amnesty accepted by all parties. In other words all these measures again reinforce each other and I think that the implementation of the peace agreement has to go in parallel with the surrendering of the arms. If there is no progress on the one, then there is going to be no progress on the other, and visa versa. It is not only an issue of trust. It is also one about being convinced that this is basically what you want to achieve in putting the effort to it. That is a responsibility of the political leaders of this country.

Q: Does that mean that there is no consent by NLA for disarmament?

Brodeur: No. NLA has clearly said and there has been a statement by senior members of NLA that if the political agreement I going to be implemented then NLA would be willing to surrender its weapons. At this point there is no reason to believe that they will not respect their commitment.

Q: Macedonian Radio. I would like to ask you about the disarmament concept. Macedonian government has announcements that it demands that KFOR authorizations will not be just voluntary disarmament but also in some cases use of force?

Brodeur: No, absolutely not.

Q: Are you deliberating such a possibility?

Brodeur: No, this yet needs to be clarified. What we are asked to do by Macedonian government and which has been endorsed by the |President and by government members is for NATO to undertake to collect this weapons. This is part of President Trajkovski's plan that was proposed by president Trajkovski. NATO responded positively to that request. But it was always made clear that this would be done on a voluntary basis and that has not been challenged by Macedonian government. We are not considering on doing in any other way than on voluntary basis.

Johnson: I would like just to add a point here. If I understand what you are saying is that KFOR has some ability to conduct missions within Macedonia. NATO and KFOR have no mandate to actively pursue any types of these activities within Macedonia. We are here strictly at the invitation of the government in order to facilitate this peace process. The national elements that are here supporting their elements that are within Kosovo are only here to conduct logistics missions that directly affect what is going on in Kosovo. The only thing they have authority is defend themselves if attacked. Any other mission that they may be asked to has to be specifically requested by Macedonian government and then on the basis of the request considered by each of the nations to see whether that is possible. The bottom line is that KFOR has no mandate, authority or anything else to conduct any type of disarmament actively or passively within Macedonia.

Q: Anita Petrovska, Kanal 5 TV. You say that NLA will obey the ceasefire and disarming. What about the new one so called ANA, which took responsibility for the death of the 10 soldiers near Grupcin. They say that they will not disarm.

Brodeur: We are dealing with a group so-called ANA. This question should be addressed by these people but we are dealing with these people as a group, as a whole.

Johnson: I think that there is much unknown about this group, how extensive it is, its make-up, whether they really exist, are these people on paper or what it is really all about. This is potentially a very serious problem and we will again condemn any group that would go out and do anything beyond what is tried to be done in accordance with the peace process. Until we can fully assess what they are and who they are it is difficult to decide what measures we will take against them.

Q: Question for both of you. Last night the ceasefire did not get to a very great start. Do we actually have a meaningful ceasefire today. What can you tell us the firing over night. And also how do you exactly go about the analysing of the situation on the ground so that NATO is able to make the decision. How secure the ceasefire has to be, how long will it take you to say OK, the time is right? I know it is a difficult question.

Johnson: Since the ceasefire took effect on 5 July, we have seen many violations, incidents, all too many deaths. And yet we have been able to keep the peace process on track, until today when the political leaders are to sign the political agreement. Preceding the reinstatement of the ceasefire a couple of weeks ago, the situation looked very dire and there was much fighting. The fact is it is difficult to immediately reinstate this when violence is going on and passions are running high. But I think there has been reduction of violence and so far today it seems that the ceasefire is back in place, and we wish everybody involved to use some sense, to look at the peace that is ahead, and avoid any fighting that may sacrifice the peace process all together. NATO will continue to facilitate this process to the furthest extent possible. It is really up to the people of Macedonia and the ethnic Albanian NLA to begin that process, and I think they are all looking forward to a peaceful solution.

Brodeur: I want to add that we are not going to put our people at risk. NAC at some point will have to make a decision, and we will look at different elements. One will be an assessment of the military situation on the ground. I think in this case we are talking about a qualitative assessment. It will up to the NAC to decide if this is an environment permissive enough for NATO to enter. An enduring ceasefire is a condition that needs to be fulfilled before the operation takes place.

Q: BBC, Greek Service. I would like ask you two questions. First you said that the implementation of the agreement should go parallel with the disarmament of NLA fighters. Does this mean that the more the government is moving on with the implementation of the agreement, the more it facilitates the disarmament process. Does it work also visa versa, which means that if the government is not satisfied with the disarmament it could stop the implementation of the agreement .

The 2nd question is what is the purpose of NLA activities? According to NATO, is the reason human rights or conquering of territory? If it is human rights, why they are called NLA, why they proclaim that certain territories are liberated territories. So which is the official position of NATO

Brodeur: What you are asking me is how this process is going to work. The future of what is going to happen here is very much in the hands of the people of this country. It is hard for us to see how the situation of organizing a peaceful ceasefire could work without going hand in hand with the disarmament. These two things are linked. It is for the people who are involved to make it work. On the issue of NLA goals, it is not for me to answer that, you should ask them what they really what. What I can say that is NATO stands for territorial integrity. We will not do or support anything to break up the country.

Q: Dnevnik, Zana Bozinovska. Q. for major Johnson. You mentioned that a group of Albanian terrorists has been arrested on Kosovo side of the border and that the yare situated at Bondstill in Kosovo. Can you tell us what happens with the detained person there. Are they held responsible for their actions, are they punished or do they remain in Bondstill .

Johnson: I cannot fully elaborate on the whole process that they go through once the yare detained. My understanding, and I will check this to verify it is that they are dispositioned once they are in the detention facility And this is determined by UNMIK. The process is investigated and then they are dealt accordingly.

Q: Dnevnik, Zana Bozinovska. Has anyone who has been in Bondstill been punished so far?

Brodeur: I am not sure what you are getting at. UNMIK are essentially the people that you should address this question to.

 

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