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Summary of Press Briefing by UNMIK Spokesperson 10 Mar 2000

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UNMIK Spokeswoman Ms Susan Manuel
First of all on behalf of the SRSG, I would like to extend our deep regret over the death of Benet Feim Rexhepi, a young UNHCR staff member who was found murdered in the Ulpiana area of Pristina on Wednesday. Again, may I express our deepest condolences to his family and strong support to UNMIK police in their efforts at bringing the perpetrators to justice.

There will be a major press briefing on Monday here following our normal briefing on Civil Registration and the preparations for elections. OSCE Spokesman Mr. Roland Bless will give you details on that.

IAC

Today the Interim Administrative Council (IAC) is meeting to discuss the situation in Mitrovica including the most recent incidents and also the implementation of the strategic plan for Mitrovica. They are also discussing the situation in the Presovo area of southern Serbia. They are expected to name more co-Heads: probably, for Sport, which has been allocated to the LBD party, and Transport and Infrastructure which may be co-headed by a representative of the Turkish minority. We’ll have a press release on the outcome of that meeting later.

The IAC may also nominate candidates from the IAC to serve on the Central Election Commission. There will also be a discussion on the number and boundaries of municipalities.

UNMIK Police

UNMIK Police are reporting three explosions in the Pec/Peja region yesterday. One, late at night, destroyed a shop in Djakova, which was owned by a Serb man but was being run by an Albanian who reported that he had previously received threats and that the shop had been attacked by a grenade two months ago. No one was injured in last night’s explosion.

Also late last night, an explosion and shooting were heard near the Orthodox Church in Banja. No injuries were reported. Two other major explosions completely destroyed a wood factory owned by an Albanian in Muzhevin.

Mitrovica

In Mitrovica, UNMIK Police are investigating an attempted murder. At 2000 hours last night, an Albanian male stabbed another Albanian in the chest in the southern part of the town. UNMIK Police also report that a Muslim male was assaulted by two unidentified Serbs carrying hand-held radios in Mitrovica north. Both victims are recovering in the hospital.

In Mitrovica, more Kosovo Albanian families have returned to their flats in the three blocks just on the north side of the Ibar river. There are now 58 people from 37 families. Although their movements are extremely restricted, they are getting food, water, electricity and phones and living with a great deal of security around.

As of yesterday, 10 Serb families had registered in northern Mitrovica indicating their desire to return to their flats on the south side of the river. No organized movements have been planned by us as of today.

The regional Administrator for Mitrovica, Mario Morcone, leaves today. We have not yet named a replacement. His deputy, Wahid Wahidulla of Afghanistan will be filling in.

KFOR Spokesman Lieutenant Commander Philip Anido

United States Assistant Secretary of State James P. Rubin and Ambassador Christopher Hill are scheduled to visit Kosovo from 11 to 14 March. They will meet with international and local Albanian and Serb leaders from the political, civil society and military spheres. Please direct public inquiries to the U.S. Office in Pristina.

This afternoon, KFOR Commander General Reinhardt will announce stricter measures for security control of Kosovo’s boundary areas. Media are invited to the KFOR U.S. Camp Monteith in the Gnjilane area for the announcements. Additional information will be provided by Lieutenant Colonel Hunsicker and his team in the lobby following the briefing.

The new restrictions will protect the safety and security of the citizens of Kosovo, while at the same time they will prevent criminal and illegal activity from being conducted across the provincial boundaries.

The Commander says he will not tolerate extremists stirring up unrest in the Ground Safety Zone. He calls on leaders and those in authority on both sides of the boundary to respect and protect the civil rights of all citizens and to denounce the tensions that have plagued the region in recent weeks.

Yesterday afternoon in Grabovac, some 300-400 Serbs threw stones at Danish troops and French Gendarmerie who were conducting search operations for weapons. Two additional KFOR French infantry companies were brought in as reinforcements for crowd control. Three Serb leaders, including Oliver Ivanovic, were called in to help defuse the situation. One Serb was wounded and evacuated to the hospital in the northern part of Mitrovica.

KFOR will report on the results of the search when the operation is finished. Community leaders and citizens are asked to cooperate with the peacekeepers during such searches.

Last night at about 11:30, a KFOR British fire fighting unit from Multinational Brigade Centre and local Albanian fire fighters from Pristina combined to extinguish a fire in an occupied Serb-owned home in Kosovo Polje. There were no injuries and only one room was damaged, thanks to the rapid and professional reaction of the firemen.

UNHCR Spokeswoman Ms Paula Ghedini

This week (form Monday to Friday) we have registered about 800 internally displaced people that have arrived from southern Serbia. Most of these Albanians are given accommodation in the Gnjilane/Urosevac area. And for the first time it seems that significant numbers are coming from urban areas. Many of those who were arriving earlier had families or friends in the neighbouring villages, so they were able to easily find options and host families, whereas the ones who arrive from the urban areas may need more assistance from the international community and from the local host family network.

The bus shuttles are running now not only in Gnjilane, but also in the Pristina area. We restarted the bus shuttles in the Pristina area on Tuesday, with about 200 passengers on the first day (50 per cent Serbs and 50 per cent Albanians). Those from the Serbian isolated community, who were interviewed, indicated that that was the first time that they had been able to move freely since the buses were suspended on 4 February.

Our assistance and protection activities in Mitrovica are ongoing. We have provided fresh food distribution to the three buildings in the north on Tuesday. We are progressing with the data base of information that is being compiled. We are conducting interviews and monitoring reports on those who have returned to the north as well as those who are still displaced, both Serbs and Albanians on both sides of the river.

OSCE Spokesman Mr. Roland Bless

Tomorrow, Kosovo will have an NGO Council, a representative body for all registered public associations. The council will promote co-operation and support for more than 50 organizations which have applied to resister so far. It will also nominate three people to be considered as a non-voting observer on the IAC and two people for the Central Election Commission.

The media are welcome to attend the meeting which will take place tomorrow at 11:30 at the KFOR Press Centre.

On the Journalists’ Code of Conduct, the OSCE is sponsoring a two-day conference on the rights and obligations of journalists. It has brought together the Association of the Media of Kosovo (AMK) and experts from the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) to discuss international journalistic standards, the new regulation on hate speech and a Code of Conduct. The AMK will be holding a separate meeting with the IFJ on Sunday. This is to provide a final review of the Code of Conduct which the Association passed on its own initiative. The media is invited to attend this meeting which will take place at the Grand Hotel from 9:30 to 17:30.

The Kosovo Civil Registration body which has a United Nations and OSCE components has been approved by the Permanent Council in Vienna. It means that the process of civil registration can commence and local elections this autumn can be prepared. Civil registration in Kosovo is carried out by OSCE and the UN in a joint registration task force. There will be a news conference on Monday, 13 March . UNMIK and OSCE will be holding a news conference to announce details about civil registration, first point, and Central Election Commission, second point, as well as issues relating to the registration of political parties. This will take place here after our normal briefing, around 11:50.

On Sunday, 12 March, the U.S. Office in Pristina and the OSCE mission in Kosovo are hosting a roundtable in view of the upcoming elections. Assistant Secretary of State James Ruben and Ambassador Chris Hill, as well as the OSCE Head of Mission, Ambassador Daan Everts, will meet with local IAC members, local political and community leaders on the rules for a clean election campaign. After the roundtable, there will be a short meeting with interested press at OSCE HQ, at 18:15.

EU Spokeswoman Ms Irene Mingasson

This week was marked by the visit, from Tuesday to Wednesday, by the European Commissioner for External Relations, Christopher Patten. Let me just give you some highlights of his 8 March address to the members of IAC and the KTC.

Mr. Patten recalled the EU determination to help in the reconstruction effort in Kosovo. Key areas are housing, energy, water, transport, and support for the restart of business activity in Kosovo. The intention of the EU is to increasingly work together with the people of Kosovo through the joint administrative structures that are being established, and to spend, in concrete reconstruction initiatives, all the money that had been pledged. But considerable amount of that has already been spent.

Mr. Patten stressed the need for all people of Kosovo to work towards a united province in which minorities are protected. He appealed to the IAC and KTC members to recognize the seriousness of the security issue in Kosovo, underlining that the escalation of violence and attacks against the peacekeepers will lead to the erosion of international support. He expressed his support for the joint efforts of the international community and the people of Kosovo towards establishing an effective governance and an open and transparent market economy.

Kosovo remains at the heart of the EU concerns, which will be further demonstrated by the visit next week of Mr. Javier Solana. We will brief you on his visit next week.

With regard to electricity situation, only one unit of Kosovo B is currently running, generating 240 megawatts. No unit is currently running in Kosovo A. In the north, additional 17 megawatts are being generated. So, the total production is currently 257 megawatts. Imports amount to 110 megawatts: 40 from Serbia, 10 from Macedonia, and 60 from Albania. The total supply is thus 367 megawatts. The regime of distribution is three hours on, three hours off for the moment.

Now the good news. The expected 21 tonnes of chemicals, in particular hydrochloric acid needed for cleaning jobs at Kosovo A have been delivered early this morning. Repairs at unit 3 of Kosovo A have been completed, and the unit will be able to produce from 120 to 130 megawatts.

There will be a follow-up briefing for journalists on the Sharr cement tender, to provide the press with the name of the investor who received the highest evaluation from the Tender Committee and who will enter into negotiations with UNMIK for the lease. The briefing is tentatively scheduled for Thursday, 16 March, but we will confirm that next week.

Questions and answers

Q: Can you tell us what are the latest developments with regard to tens of thousands of Albanians whom the German authorities plan to repatriate? What is your position on a possible use of force to achieve this?

PG: We hope that any return from any of the European host countries will be orderly and phased. But here, in Kosovo, in view of significant destruction, we will probably need additional assistance in terms of providing shelter and humanitarian aid. In addition, we have asked all the European countries involved to monitor the situation, especially because the current environment is not the one that may be suitable for a large-scale influx in the next three months, and also to ensure that any and all returns are completely voluntary. I believe that the number of people the German authorities were talking about is 50,000. There was also a visit this week from the Swiss Government. Our office in Geneva and the UNHCR mission here are discussing the modalities for such a return. The UNHCR will not participate in any return that is not completely and totally voluntary.

Q: Do you have details on the killing of Benet Feim Rexhepi? Has anyone been arrested? Have you had any signs from the people who were displaced from southern Serbia of a desire to go back home?

SM: A security guard called the UNMIK Police and KFOR, when he had found the young man with injuries to his face, and they arrived at the scene very fast, administered the first aid. Unfortunately, the young man died at the scene. I believe that people had been seen running from the scene, but there have been no arrests made so far. I don’t have any record of bullets, there were face injuries.

PG: As for the people who came from southern Serbia and are staying with friends and families in Kosovo, I would advise you to please come and talk to UNHCR officers either in Pristina or in Gnjilane for more information. This is a very sensitive matter.

Q: Mr. Larsson yesterday condemned the declarations of his deputy, but he didn’t hear what his deputy was saying. You say that UNMIK Police is in charge of investigations, but we also hear that these investigations are conducted by UNMIK Police and KFOR. Why is it so? Which are the most challenging sectors for KFOR in Kosovo? Who is the new administrator for Mitrovica?

SM: I believe in my briefing I gave the name of the new acting administrator. UNMIK has not yet named a replacement for Mr. Morcone. As for the investigations in Mitrovica, it’s a very complicated relationship. The police have primacy over investigations, but KFOR has the overall primacy for security and law and order. The police are doing the investigations and they are backed up by KFOR.

PA: The situations can be different, depending on the gravity, the size of what happens. One of the key elements in that particular incident is that KFOR had to prevent people to be exposed to explosive ordnance found in that area, to secure it. Criminal investigations are up to the UNMIK Police. But KFOR definitely has a role. The cooperation is excellent. Whatever needs to be improved will be improved. Finding the culprits in what happened in Mitrovica is in everyone’s best interests. The security situation in Mitrovica is of great concern to everybody, but what happens in the Multinational Brigade East, in the Gnjilane area, is another area of concern for KFOR. I would say that, in general, the situation in Multinational Brigades South and West is quieter in terms of criminal activity and unrest. We are conducting weapons searches throughout the territory. But the most difficult place now clearly is Mitrovica. And the boundary area is the number two concern.

Q: Why was Mr. Adams, the Deputy Police Commissioner in Mitrovica, who is an outstanding man, removed from his office? Was it because he spoke to the press and then refused under pressure from the French General to retract his statement and insisted it was accurate and true? Was it because what he said was inaccurate? He is the second UNMIK police officer in Mitrovica removed from his post within the past month for speaking to the press. He identified what every policeman in that area including French gendarmes who work for UNMIK insist is very poor cooperation between UNMIK and KFOR contrary to your statement. How can UNMIK and KFOR hope to establish an open, free and democratic society when they are keel-hauling their employees for speaking to the press? I realize that you are the last remaining colonial administration in the world. Isn’t this really outrageous behavior?

PA: Can you keep your questions as questions and not make personal remarks. Let’s keep it objective, not subjective.

SM: The police officer who as I understand is a highly respected police officer was moved to other duties in Pristina because he brought a functional matter which should have been brought up between the two organizations, to the press. This will sound like public relations jargon, but it’s true that the cooperation between the UMMIK Police and KFOR in Mitrovica is very close. It is close because it’s ordered to be close, and it’s close because it has also developed that way, particularly since - you remember - the earlier crises in Mitrovica in early February, which brought a lot more UNMIK police here. There are officers from 33 countries there. They’ve been put there in the middle of a crisis and told to work out a relationship with KFOR for which there is no instruction manual. I met with the regional commander and I’m sorry it’s not false, but the relationship is close and has been getting closer. One does not bring one’s problems in such a sensitive situation. He’s not being keel-hauled because he talked to the press. What is happening in Mitrovica....

Q. You just said he was removed because he took a functional problem to the press.

SM: I did not say he was keel-hauled.

The situation in Mitrovica is of crucial importance to Kosovo and to everyone here. The relationship between KFOR and UNMIK Police is crucial to the success of Kosovo. If there is a problem between UNMIK Police and KFOR on the ground, they are working it out.

Q: These people from the Royal Green....were chosen precisely because they had clear experience as policemen working hand in glove with the military in Northern Ireland. That’s why they were brought here, because of those special skills. Everyone, even people unhappy with his comments, his colleagues and his superiors, agree that this is an outstanding man. Why is he being removed from his job? He insists, under pressure from a number of people including his superiors and the French general in whose office he was yesterday morning that he will not retract the comments because they were correct. Why is it not correct to air these issues publicly so that the UN, UNMIK and KFOR have some public accountability and so the issues which are exposed and ventilated can move forward. That’s the way the rest of the West operates, is it not?

SM: Everything I have just said I would have to repeat. It is not true that things aren’t moving forward. I was there yesterday...We have to save Mitrovica, and it is not that there are huge problems between UNMIK Police and KFOR, which are dragging down Mitrovica. They are improving the situation in a very delicate situation with each other as well as with the populations.

Q: For KFOR--Is what John Adams said true?

PA: I don’t know what John Adams said.

Q. He said that French KFOR prevented UNMIK Police from conducting the investigation after the incident.

PA: When calm was brought to the situation, KFOR secured the area, cordoned it off. KFOR soldiers have that role: they have to keep peace, law and order. KFOR has its own military police who get involved in investigations. They cooperate very closely and appropriately with UNMIK Police. Definitely, the KFOR Explosive Ordnance Team did go into that area to make sure that it was safe. Then they opened it up to the investigation. And I would very definitely stand by the point that if Mr. Adams has a criticism, he is fully within his professional right to raise it. But we don’t have to raise our linen in public. He is obviously a strong and highly professional with great experience in Northern Ireland. That is well known. But there is no doubt in my mind that all KFOR officers and leaders, and UNMIK Police are doing their best to work for the same common goal. If there are ways to improve that anywhere at any time, that will be found. But we don’t go to the public to tell them exactly what those stages of improvement are. I know that at this very moment UNMIK Police are at that site conducting their investigation, but at the time it was KFOR’s responsibility to ensure that the area was safe from unexploded ordnance before people went in.

Q. Yes but what he said was that UNMIK Police was not allowed to do their investigations then, and that the forensics… after bulldozers cleaned the debris, which means that all traces and evidence was destroyed by bulldozers.

PA: Most of the evidence was in a single building, what happened in the street was to allow for movement and traffic and for better access. I would say that basically the forensic evidence was not compromised. But I can’t get into a debate about that.

Q. How do you know that?

Q: Did the French KFOR stop the UNMIK Police from doing their investigation or not. For 14 hours?

PA: No they did not. I don’t know the details about the time and hours, but I do know that it is in everyone’s best interests to find the culprits of this violence and bring them to justice. It’s in UNMIKs interest. It’s in KFOR’s interest. And it’s in the interest of the citizens of Kosovo. Now I’m not going to get into an argument. If you have evidence that you’ve seen first hand, please write about it. If you’re just expounding on things you’ve heard third hand and in conversations, I won’t get into a debate on that.

Q. Do you have evidence?

PA: I have not been there. No.

Q. Then how can possibly say the evidence wasn’t compromised?

PA: Let me stand with what I said and I won’t say any more about it.

Q. In the UNMIK Press reports this week, it was announced by UNMIK that not only Albanians but also Serbs threw grenades during the incidents in Northern Mitrovica on Tuesday. When I asked the regional commander in Mitrovica yesterday, Mr. Larsson, he said he had absolutely no information and knew nothing about any Serbs throwing hand grenades. He didn’t know who had been throwing them, didn’t know if they were Serbs or not, suggested the information came from KFOR. I wondered whether UNMIK or KFOR could clarify a fundamental detail of the events on Tuesday - whether Serbs were involved in throwing explosive devices at all.

PA: Let me just say there’s an investigation going on. It will be robust, vigorous, 100 percent. I’m not going to comment beyond that. We’ll let the investigation find out what the situation is and then there will be no secrets. We will announce the findings of the investigation then. But it’s totally inappropriate for me not having been there to compromise the investigation and speak for those professional people who are now on the ground working together.

Q. But this was in the press update two days ago - it said Serbs threw hand grenades. It’s not written for your own personal amusement: It’s either true or not true. You either know it or you don’t know it: Is it true?

PA: I’m not talking about someone else’s press statement. I know what we wrote. A number of things happened in Mitrovica that day, which the investigation will find out.

Please try and get us to have a little bit here and there. We’ll just leave it and when it’s ready we’ll announce it.

Q. But can you believe what KFOR and UNMIK write in your press releases because this was distributed to the press and it included a certain amount of information. You don’t seem to be able to clarify if it’s true or not.

SM: Christian, this was the problem we got involved in the last press briefing, which was about situation reports issued as press releases. Because the information that comes in on a situation report changes from hour to hour. I have not seen any definitive read-out on who did what on that day. You said you spoke with the police commander up there. I did as well and with the Regional Administrator. In general, their impression was that the grenades were coming from the south. There was also an RPG which hit the apartment blocks where we had just returned Albanians, which they said definitely came from the north. But who threw those? No one saw them throwing them.

Q. You say you don’t know....It’s written on a piece of paper. And it’s up there.

SM. Yes you’re right.

Q. It was information and we published it. The four grenades were thrown by Albanians and now it seems it wasn’t the case. That was the official statement by the PIO in the Brigade. It’s better to know in advance that that wasn’t true.

Q. KFOR and UNMIK: Can you give us an update on how many arrests were made over the past month. In particularly Serbs who killed Albanians on the night of February 3, of the Albanians who were arrested…40 odd. Have they all been released. Have any been charged, for the night of the 13th. And the most recent attack: I understood from some soldiers on the ground that they knew exactly who fired that RPG, including his name and address. Has he been arrested? And have there been any arrests made from the last violence?

PA: I’d have to go back to records on the exact readout on all the arrests ...we can go back into the press releases....

SM: As far as UNMIK police, as of yesterday, they had not made arrests but their investigation was....

PA: There were four men arrested. But you have to ask UNMIK Police the status of their charges. It’s generally known where the RPG was fired from. I understand it is known who did it. Whether that arrest was made I can’t confirm it.

Q. With due respect, I want to make an official complaint in public that this is exactly the sort of information we’re supposed to get from these press conferences. Otherwise we wouldn’t come. You should have at your fingertips how many arrests have been made in Mitrovica, the most important place in Kosovo. You have plenty of time to get it up to date. You’ve got plenty of time to make it up to date.

PA: I can take that.

Q. I want to ask KFOR and UNMIK. You both say there is an investigation going on. It’s four days now. You can’t prejudice the investigation by giving some information. But in fact what’s happening is we are given information since the first day and then there’s another information and different information from KFOR and UNMIK Police which contradict each other...And now we hear the investigation wasn’t done at least for 14 hours. And then we hear that the second most important guy in the UNMIK police office has been removed, exactly concerning the investigation. And then we hear that there are things that should not be raised in public. We hear that Mitrovica is so important that people need to know about the most important thing in Kosovo. What’s the line here?

To raise things in public or not? To give information or not. To talk about the investigation or not.

PA: Linda, from KFOR’s perspective, when we have details, when we have an accurate picture of any incident we provide it. I do my level best in the press statements each day to give you incidents and events and to give stories that combine issues and provide information on what the actual story is.

PA: If people are in detention, they deserve trial. They deserve proper justice, before we can give names or punishment. What you’re picking up here is that we are doing things on a daily basis, but the solution isn’t there yet. When the solution is there, we’ll pass it on. We’re not here to obstruct you from information or to conceal any information. It takes time for the story to be completed, when there are several players. There’s KFOR security, UNMIK police, criminal investigations, the justice system which as you know is not properly in place which is the other part of the story.

Q. What is information and what is...like KFOR is doing an excellent job, the cooperation is excellent....

PA: You have to use the information we are able to provide at the time. Your responsibility it to write factual, objective stories. And if the information isn’t coming to you fast enough you’re entitled to write about it. It’s important that you do because the public deserves to know.

Q. Since June 20 how many civilians are reported murdered in Kosovo and how many have been arrested, judged, convicted... Maybe you don’t have accurate numbers but what can you give me.

SM: As far as the numbers of murders, I can get you the exact number of murders later, but it is somewhere in the range of 540 since June. There are some 200 people in custody. Again I can get the exact numbers for you later in my office. Judged…again I would have to get to the records.

Q. Convicted?

SM: Yes. We have a new round of judiciary appointed in January, with 300 judges and prosecutors. I believe four trials have been completed. Various sentences or agreements were reached after those four trials. There is at least one man serving his sentence, I believe for attempted murder, out of those four trials.

Q. Out of 540 reported murders?

SM: Yes, and previous to the judicial appointments we made in December and January, we were working with an emergency judiciary of a handful of judges and prosecutors around Kosovo. There was a dispute between the local judiciary and UNMIK over applicable law. For that reason the judges and prosecutors refused to carry out trials. There was one set of judges in Prizren who did conduct trials and I believe they conducted between 35 and 40 trials before we changed the applicable law, so that the applicable law now in effect reverts back to he laws which were in effect in Kosovo in 1989.

Q. I heard the prisons in Pristina and Lipjan are crowded with people arrested for different matters. How many are arrested or in custody in prisons in Kosovo who have not had any follow up with prosecutions.

SM. I think everyone but one man is basically in prison awaiting trial. It is somewhere in the range of 200.