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Summary of Press Briefing by UNMIK Spokesperson 01 Mar 2000

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UNMIK Spokeswoman Ms Susan Manuel
IAC

Yesterday the Interim Administrative Council appointed three Kosovo co-heads and divided the department of Youth and Sport into two departments. Now the Joint Interim Administrative Structure includes 20 administrative departments.

Named to co-head the Department of Democratic Governance & Civil Society Support was the human rights activist Ms Vjosa Dobruna, a political independent.

Mrs. Edi Shukriu, head of the LDK Women,s League, was named co-head for Culture. Mr. Driton Lajci, the acting president of the Students Union of Pristina University, will co-head the Department of Youth.

The LBD has been asked to propose a candidate for the Department of Sport, which from UNMIK will be co-headed by Mr. Jean-Selim Kaanan, a reconstruction officer for the Special Representative of the Secretary-General.

Also yesterday, the IAC discussed the joint strategy on Mitrovica, which Dr. Kouchner will take with him to New York later this week.

Security Council briefing

On Monday Dr. Kouchner and General Reinhardt will be addressing the Security Council in New York, briefing Members on the situation in Kosovo. Of course the situation in Mitrovica and their efforts at restoring security and confidence among the communities there will be high on the agenda.

KTC

Today the Kosovo Transitional Council is discussing the security situation, the creation of a KTC Secretariat and the situation with Post & Telecommunications.

UNMIK Police update

Yesterday in western Serbia at about 12:15 p.m. a white UN vehicle traveling near Presheve was attacked by armed men, who shot a staff member of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (he was based in Belgrade) in the legs. The victim, Marcel Grogan of Ireland, was taken to Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo, the US base, where he underwent surgery and he is in satisfactory condition. Since this incident happened in Serbia and is not in UNMIK's jurisdiction, KFOR will elaborate on the event.

Also yesterday, in Prizren, UNMIK Police officers were in the process of arresting an Albanian who had assaulted a woman following a traffic accident. The man resisted arrest and assaulted the officers. A mob gathered and tried to drag the police out of their vehicle. The case is under investigation.

Mitrovica

We now have 553 UNMIK Police officers in the Mitrovica region. Yesterday we had the swearing in of judges for the Mitrovica region judiciary. We had named 43 judges; 30 came to accept their appointments. Unfortunately, 13 judges and 11 lay judges, mostly Serbs, did not show up, thus refusing their appointments. Let me review the numbers: 43 judges were named, 30 judges were appointed; 8 prosecutors were named and all came to accept their appointments; they were all Albanians. We had named 26 lay judges; 15 of them came and were appointed. We are disappointed by this stand by the minorities because it can only compromise the system of justice meted out in Kosovo.

Business registration

Beginning on the 7th of March, all businesses in Kosovo must register with every municipality in which they are operating. The registration will go on over the next two to three months, and full instructions will be available in the municipality buildings around Kosovo.

What is a business? Anyone conducting a legal activity for profit. We estimate that there are between 40,000 and 50,000 businesses in Kosovo to be registered.

Anyone employing more than 10 workers needs to conduct the registration in Pristina; however, they can collect the applications, receive assistance and pay fees at the municipalities and all those materials will be sent to Pristina if they cannot get there in person.

Fees for registration are 100 deutsche mark for businesses with less than 10 employees and 300 deutsche mark for all others.

The purpose of business registration is to provide information crucial for making future economic policy for Kosovo. It will eventually be important for Kosovo,s tax base. A business registration certificate is needed if you want to open a bank account or do business with foreign companies.

The exact timetable will be announced, but in general I can give you some broad outlines. Wholesale and retail trades will register in March. In April, agricultural enterprises, mines and quarries and manufacturers. In May, hotels and restaurants, personal services, transport companies and telecommunications.

We will have a more detailed press release out on this by the end of the week.

Tax seminar

Next week, on Thursday, the 9th of March, the EU is sponsoring a workshop on tax policies for journalists. It's from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. in Room C301 of the UNMIK Government Building.

Pristina University administrator

Tomorrow there will be a press briefing to introduce the new international administrator for the Pristina University system. That will take place in the UNMIK Government Building at 4 p.m. He is Professor Michael Daxner, a former university chancellor from Germany. He will be giving the press briefing following his introduction to the University Council, which will take place at noon tomorrow. Please come to the UNMIK Government Building just before 4 p.m. and we will let you know what room the briefing is in.

Sports centre

UNMIK Fire Chief Mr. Robert Triozzi will give us an update now on the conclusion of the the fire in the Boro and Ramiz Centre. As we mentioned on Monday, a group of German engineers who were already in Kosovo took a preliminary look at the sports centre. They estimate that rebuilding will cost between 150 and 200 million deutsche mark. As I mentioned earlier, Dr. Kouchner will launch an international appeal to raise the funds.

KFOR Spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Henning Philipp

Yesterday at 2.50 p.m. in Srbica, some 20 kilometres southwest of Mitrovica, a KFOR Russian soldier was shot in the chest in cold blood in front of a municipal building. The peacekeeper was rushed to the French medical facility in Mitrovica. He is reported to be in stable condition. General Dr. Klaus Reinhardt resoundingly condemned the attack as both cowardly and destructive to the peace and reconciliation process.

The KFOR French Gendarmerie have taken over the investigation of this case. They are looking for several men who may be associated with the incident. Whatever perception individuals or groups of extremists may have concerning the different KFOR uniforms, all KFOR soldiers are united together for the goal of rebuilding Kosovo and of maintaining peace and stability. Those who spread hatred or resort to attempted murder of the very soldiers who are in Kosovo to assist their society to find a better future must reflect on the deception they are causing their own people.

Let me now talk about the incident that Susan already mentioned: the attack on the UN officer in Serbia. Reportedly the attackers in this incident were a group of men wearing green uniforms with red patches on their sleeves. This incident is worrying for a number of reasons. It confirms that there are people in the boundary region with Kosovo who are prepared to use force to achieve their aims. This is not of benefit to Kosovo. Stability is the key to progress in this province. Much-needed investment and economic opportunity will be scared away if further conflict seems possible. KFOR will not allow the territory of Kosovo to be used to support any activity aimed at using force and inciting tensions in the regions of Presheve, Bujanovc, and Medvedja. KFOR will do everything in its power to prevent the export of violence and will ensure a secure environment for Kosovo.

My final item: Yesterday KFOR troops detained two Albanian men in Decani for questioning in connection with last Sunday's mortar attack in the vicinity of the Visoki monastery. Fortunately there was no property damage, but all parties, regardless of their affiliation, must condemn attacks on precious sites that are part of world as well as local heritage. During the search of the men's house, a pistol, a hand grenade and a quantity of ammunition were confiscated.

UNMIK Spokeswoman Ms Susan Manuel

Fire Chief Robert Triozzi is here. He's originally from the Harrison, New York, Fire Department, and as promised he will give us an update on the situation with the sports centre.

UNMIK Fire Chief Robert Triozzi

First of all I'd like to say that at 10.39 p.m. last night, exactly 100 hours after the we started the operation, I was able to declare the fire out. It was one of the toughest basement fires I had ever seen. We had many things working against us. To begin with, the architecture of the structure, the illegal use of the parking garage as a warehouse, the materials that were stored there, the obstructions created in housing the materials from various owners of various shops that their own little garages or magazines. It was filled with everything, from normal foodstuffs to flammable liquids to gas to wood. We found one little magazine that had nothing but firewood in it up to the ceiling. We were operating below grade, underground. There were no windows so the smoke and heat couldn't get out. It was like fighting a ship fire. Before the operation ended we had well over 100 firemen from 7 different countries and six different cities in Kosovo. I don't think that there would have been another major city in Europe that would have had more resources at the scene of a fire of the same magnitude.

The fire started in the basement, in one of these little warehouses that we could not get to directly because of steel doors and other obstructions. We tried a single attack from one end and then we had another line come on the other side of it. The core came in at 6.39 p.m. on Friday evening. By 7 p.m., within 20 minutes, we had already gone to a three-alarm fire. We had called in all of the fire apparatus and men in Pristina, British DFS, Fire Service, from Pristina and from Podujevo, and also the firefighters from Swedbat' Swedish firefighters. This was by 7 p.m. Within 20 minutes we had quite a bit of manpower and equipment on the scene. This is because we knew from the beginning that this was going to be a tough fire. We didn't know it would be as tough as it actually was, but we knew it was not going to be easy, and no basement fire ever is.

We eventually went to what we refer to as a 7-alarm fire. In addition to the DFS, British firefighters, and the Swedes, we had the Finbat come in, the RAF, which also was the first time they were able to leave the airport (of course the airport was not unprotected), they were able to release an engine with a crew to assist us here. And as I said a total of six different cities in Kosovo assisted as well. In addition I had to think about the city of Pristina. That wasn't the only game in town this weekend; we had a number of other fires simultaneously, including structure fires, while this was going on. So I had to take into consideration placing fire apparatus from other parts of Kosovo as well.

From a logistic standpoint, it was also a nightmare. At one point, towards the beginning, we ran out of water. This was overcome quickly. Sometimes it takes a little time when you have something of this magnitude. By the time things go through the proper chain of command, it may take a few more minutes than expected. But once we got the ball rolling, we had a continuous flow of water for the 100 hours that we were operating there. At another time we had a problem with air, the air in the bottles we wear on our backs, the breathing apparatus. We were consuming air bottles so quickly that we could not refill them fast enough. We had firefighters going through 6, 7, 8 bottles of air , single firefighters, which is basically unheard of in this business. You usually use one or two and take a break, but we were trying to hit this thing so hard and on three fronts. The problem was, as I said, we were in a basement. The heat was moving horizontally.

As we looked at the structure from where we were operating, that was exposure 1. We worked clockwise, 2, 3 and 4, so we could give our bearings to the officers working different sides of the fire. At about 11 p.m. on Friday night on the exposure 2 side, we had the floor collapse. We had temperatures of over 800 degrees there, so the floor gave way. Now that put the heat up into the sports centre itself. At the same time, on the exposure 4 side, we still had head moving forward and under the shops. There are 92 shops in that gallery. If anyone wants to take a walk later on I can show you where the heat buckling started to come up through the floor under the shops and through the wall. Had that happened, we would have lost quite a number of shops. But once the fire came up through the floor into the sports arena, about midnight I knew we were not going to save the sports arena. I declared it out of control at that point, we could not contain it. We kept pouring water on it from 4 sides: 3 sides from underneath the fire at the basement level and the fourth side through the hole of the collapse. I couldn't send men into the building at this point because now I had a collapse problem as well. It was quite a problem not to put men's lives in jeopardy unnecessarily. Through the night we kept up this operation.

By morning I saw the fire was still impinging on the stores. At that time I asked to break all the windows around the base of the sports arena. That brought the heat up faster into the sports arena and brought it away from the stores. Heat will rise vertically at first but when it finds obstruction it will go horizontally as was the case with the basement. But by breaking through up on top, I was able to bring the heat up away from the stores and up to the sports arena, which was already condemned.

Going back to the far side: when it hit the top, went up the side, part of that structure on the number 2 exposure collapsed, bringing flaming debris onto the market. Had the market caught, it would have been a conflagration; everyone knows what that market is made out of. It would have swept through there like a wildfire. Luckily I had the British and Finnish firefighters positioned there and they did a great job in saving the market. We lost one stall, I think, was all that burned, with a canvas top.

At this time we concentrated our efforts on saving the market. But once it got up on top, it crossed from one side of that structure to the other, from back to front, in less than ten minutes, sue to the open space and all the wood utilized in the construction. There was not a single fire stopped anywhere, there was nothing to impede the progress of this fire in any part of that structure, top or bottom. This is what we were up against.

The apartment next to the sports arena was not in imminent danger of being involved directly in the fire. I was more concerned with the building being filled with smoke generated from the fire. In any fire it's the smoke that'll kill you. Some of the things that had been burning in this particular structure with what was underneath gives off gases from everything from carbon monoxide to formaldehyde to cyanide.

We did not have one injury, by the way. There was not one injury during the whole 100 hours of operation.

Questions

Q: Are there plans by any branch of the UN to condemn the attack yesterday by the UCPMB?

SM: I think that everyone's still looking into what happened yesterday. I haven't heard of a statement being prepared at this point.

Q: It seems very clear, as claimed and admitted by the people who carried out the attack, that it was these people who did it. It seems there's enough evidence at the moment for you to actually make a statement on it.

SM: I know Dr. Kouchner is now with the Kosovo Transitional Council. I believe they're dicussing it. We'll have to see what comes out of it.

Q: Are we to understand that there' s a link between the Kosovo Transitional Council and the UCPMB?

SM: How could you possibly draw that conclusion? He has a Kosovo Transitional Council meeting every two weeks. This is a regular meeting at which he will be discussing the security situation and this is a recent security incident.

Q: The people who carried out this attack claim that they had regular meetings with US KFOR officers from MNB East. How does this sit with your concern about their presence operating on the other side of the boundary?

PH: I'm not aware of any such meetings and I hardly can imagine that that really has happened. All we have right now, and what I can confirm, is what we what was reported by the victim and his colleagues, that the group that conducted the attack wearing green uniforms with red badges on the sleeves and black berets. The area where it happened is not in our jurisdiction as you very well know, but of course we are concerned because we have gained through our intelligence sources some evidence just recently that also on this side of the boundary there are some people who are somehow connected to the activities in the Presheve valley. We are trying hard to prevent this potential export of violence by controlling the border very, very strictly.

Q: Given the fact that there are reports that there is a village that is apparently full of these UCPMB fighters, 400 yards from the internal boundary on the Serbian side, is KFOR in touch through the JIC with the Serbs? Are you discussing the security situation there with Serb authorities? Can you confirm that these men in green uniforms with red emblems are in fact ethnic Albanians?

PH: I cannot confirm whether they are ethnic Albanians. I don't know. Everything that happens in the ground safety zone is subject to discussion between the JIC and the Yugoslav authorities, that's routine.

Q: Please explain which contingents are coming into Kosovo and which are leaving. Susan, you said that the security situation will be high on the agenda at the Security Council briefing. Who will approve the Agenda for Co-existence or the package of measures for Mitrovica. Is it necessary for the Security Council to approve that package. Can you give us figures of the changes in demographics in the north and in the south of Mitrovica?

PH: As you know General Reinhardt talked to the NATO Council last Friday. He reported on the situation in Kosovo and also asked the NATO Council for additional troops. He made clear that there was no urgent need for additional troops but in the long run he made clear that we need some troops to cope with the situation more easily. He asked for two additional battalions. Behind that is what we experienced in Mitrovica; we had to reinforce the forces in Mitrovica by sending in troops from all the other Multinational Brigades. That caused some gaps in those brigades and we need those troops normally in those areas where they are stationed. We cannot for a longer period take them out there; it can only be a temporary measure. And so it would be very helpful to have some additional troops to fill those gaps. They are not directly for Mitrovica, they are for KFOR. The request is now under review and the NATO Council said they were determined to keep the right troop strength here for KFOR and they also said that some nations had already offered some additional troops. The nations are dealing with that and the NATO Council will finally decide whether we will get additional contributions here.

SM: I have the population figures for Mitrovica in the office. UNHCR would also be a good source for that. The package of measures that Dr. Kouchner will brief the Security Council on are part of this evolving strategy for Mitrovica that is being prepared by UNMIK and KFOR with the participation of all the players who will have to implement it, in other words police, troops, Albanian leaders, Serb leaders. It's not something that can be imposed. It has to be agreed to by those who will implement it. So the Security Council approval I don't think is relevant to these measures being written and implemented.

Q: According to the New York Times the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has sent a letter to Wesley Clark saying that American troops will not be deployed in Mitrovica until the Europeans start pulling their weight. Is it true that the Americans are not deploying in Mitrovica and what does he mean by saying that the Europeans are not pulling their weight?

PH: You got that from the media, so I'm not willing to comment on that right now. What I know is that the Americans are still willing to move their troops according to our operational plan, out of MNB East when it is necessary. So this is a case-by-case thing. Right now, when we talk about movement of troops out of other areas into Mitrovica or wherever we have to bear in mind that just in MNB East, where the Americans are stationed, we have a situation where we need all our troops. We need to have very, very strict border control for the reasons I just talked to you about.

Q: What is being produced at the Zvecan mines?

SM: As far as I understand, nothing is being produced currently.

Q: Did the Serb community leaders offer any explanation as to why the Serb judges did not turn up for the swearing in? Secondly, why is it that eight out of eight prosecutors were of Albanian origin?

SM: I don't know the reasons for the final selection. There had been appointments all over Kosovo. The appointments in Mitrovica were delayed because there were protests by the Serbs about the lack of Serb appointments. This was back to January. I understand that the judges who refused their appointments have written a letter to Dr. Kouchner, explaining their reasons. I have not seen the contents of the letter, but they have been in communication with Dr. Kouchner.

Q: Will KFOR take special security measures during the scheduled demonstrations next week on the second anniversary of the killing of Hashkali family?

PH: We will take the measures we usually take in such vents. Of course we are planning to have tight control of that gathering of people who commemorate that day when the Hashkali family was killed.

Q: There are reports that last week in Washington Artemije promised Madeleine Albright that he would join the Interim Administrative Council. Is that true?

SM: Yes, we understand that that was announced in Washington, but we're not sure whether it was announced by the Americans or by Artemije himself. Yes, we have gotten that message.

Q: Do you know when this will happen?

SM: I'm not sure whether he has returned or whether there was any follow-up to that. But it is certainly very good news for UNMIK that he made that statement.

Q: Going back to the situation on the eastern boundary, American forces down there have said that they would cross out of Kosovo across the boundary in the event of what they call an atrocity being committed. At the moment there is a village with about 30 to 40 armed Albanian guerilla fighters in full view of an American military boundary position. If the Serbs from Bujanovc, for instance, were to attack this village and the civilian population of this village, would this be considered by KFOR an atrocity and would there be any armed intervention on the ground?

PH: You are beginning to speculate. I will not joining in speculating, but let me make very clear that this is not our jurisdiction.

Q: Perhaps you could just clarify what an atrocity would actually be?

PH: I am not willing to be drawn into such a discussion. Let me make very clear that we have our mandate, 1244 from the United Nations, which clearly defines the territory that is covered by KFOR and UNMIK. We'll stick to that.

Q: Are you saying that what this American officer is saying is wrong, that there would not be any movement across the boundary whatsoever in case of anything happening?

PH: I don't know to which American officer you spoke. I am not aware of such things.

Q: Is KFOR actually aware that there is a sizeable group of armed men sitting on its doorstep in the village of Dubrosn?

PH: We are aware of some people and groups who are aiming at destabilizing the situation in the Presheve valley. They are probably sitting on both sides. But I am not able to provide any figures about the size.

Q: You are talking about some groups who are pretending to protect their own people. We have the same situation in Kosovo: we have Serbs pretending to protect their own people. What's the difference? Secondly, for UNMIK, a very high UNMIK official told Zeri that Zvecan was always working and producing, that it never stopped. What's the situation?

PH: Let me take that that strange comparison first. I really cannot follow you on this. We had an incident where someone was shot at, we had other incidents where people were shot dead, and I don't know exactly to what you are comparing that right now...

Q: ... to northern Mitrovica, even northern Kosovo.

PH: Very clearly: whenever we find someone who shoots at someone, we arrest him, be he Serb or Albanian or whatever. I don't see the difference.

SM: You asked earlier about the Zvecan plant. My information is that it is not producing anything at this time. That's the information I received from the EU, which is doing the studies on the Trepca mine complex.

Q: Then why is KFOR sending chemicals to the Zvecan factory?

SM: No, I cannot.

PH: I am not aware of that, but I can check.

Q: What was the UN staff doing in the area near Presheve yesterday? Is there a ban on UN staff returning to the area, given the safety risk?

SM: I would have to find out from the UN in Belgrade. These UN staff people were based in Belgrade. There are several UN humanitarian organizations that work in Serbia. According to my information they were on a humanitarian mission.

Q: What will KFOR do to improve safety in Presheve? What about the 5-kilometre space by the border that KFOR must keep clear?

PH: I repeat: we are not responsible for what's going on in Serbia proper. We are only responsible for what's going on in Kosovo. The Presheve area is not under our jurisdiction. The 5-kilometre zone: we are monitoring it closely. We are monitoring it to find out whether there are any activities of the VJs. This could be the only reason for us to intervene in the ground safety zone, which is also Serbian territory. Serbia is allowed to have their local police working in that ground safety zone.

Q: Why is the shopping centre is still closed? Why were people evacuated from the shopping centre?

RT: The people from the shopping centre were not evacuated. The shopping centre should be open. There is no problem with the stores opening; there is no danger. We have saved all 92 of those stores. The people who were evacuated were those who were attempting to gain access through the rear of the structure to take merchandise out of the warehouses down below. Most of what's there is food. That food has been contaminated by the chemicals discharged during the fire. If that food is sold on the market, we will be poisoning people. That food has to be sequestered and destroyed. Until health officials take a look at it and give a green light as to what can be sold or not, I don't want anybody taking foodstuffs out of the fire area to be sold on the market.