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Summary of Press Briefing by UNMIK Spokesperson 25 Feb 2000

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UNMIK Spokeswoman Ms Nadia Younes
Yesterday evening, SRSG Bernard Kouchner, together with General Reinhardt, met with Serb community leaders in UNMIK headquarters in Pristina. The leaders were headed by Mr. Oliver Ivanovic. The meeting was described as tough but positive. It lasted for over an hour, and both Dr. Kouchner and Mr. Ivanovic are qualifying it as the beginning of negotiations towards restoring normality in Mitrovica. This is one of a series of meetings with the Serb and Albanian community leaders, which will be working out the strategy on improving the situation in Mitrovica. Dr. Kouchner said the two plan to meet again next week. He called the meeting "the first millimeter on the way to co-existence, and a very important starting point." For his part, Mr. Ivanovic affirmed that he, UNMIK and KFOR were working to reduce tensions in Mitrovica and that the return of some families to the northern part of the town could be foreseen in the next week. He voiced his support for the building of a pedestrian bridge linking the predominantly Albanian apartment block with the south bank of the Ibar River, but said that "bridges cannot solve the problem. We can build many bridges, but it's more important to create some kind of safe atmosphere."

Mr. Ivanovic said that despite the orders of the Serb National Council, he plans on meeting with local Kosovo Albanian leader Bajram Rexhepi, saying that, because they were both moderate men, they would favor maintaining discussions.

On the question of returns in Mitrovica, please see a UNHCR press release outside the briefing room.

Regarding the UNMIK Police, 450 UNMIK police are now in the Mitrovica region. By the end of this week, 500 will be in place, and by middle of next week, UNMIK Police will have reached its total target of some 550. More than half of these will be stationed in Mitrovica town itself. The UNMIK Police reported today, that the situation in Mitrovica was calm. The UNMIK Police also reported today on the escape of four prisoners "three Serbs and one Albanian" from the detention centre in Mitrovica. The prisoners had been held for murders committed last year. I believe the police here is trying to get the pictures of the four escapees, in order to publicize them.

The Interim Administrative Council is currently meeting and reviewing the proposed strategy on restoring security, confidence and co-existence in Mitrovica. They are also discussing pending regulations on political party registration and the setting up of an election commission.

Today in Pristina, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and Interior Minister Otto Schily have a series of meetings with the UNMIK pillar heads, Kosovo political parties, KFOR and SRSG Bernard Kouchner. That meeting is scheduled for 2:15 p.m. There will be a press conference at 4:30 p.m.

Also today in Pristina, UNHCR will chair a roundtable consultation on the current humanitarian and protection concerns of the Kosovar Ashkilija, Egyptian and Roma communities in Kosovo. This is to be the beginning of a series of dialogues between UNHCR and the leaders of those communities, as well as other ethnic groups, to assist in the process of re-integration. The idea is to draw in the leaders of these communities to participate more fully in the decision-making process affecting them in terms of humanitarian needs and plans. UNHCR pillar Head, Special Envoy Dennis MacNamara will chair the meeting at UNHCR, and Koha Ditore publisher Veton Surroi will moderate. A media opportunity will be available at 4 p.m. in the Conference room at the lower level of the UNHCR facilities.

Vehicle Registration will begin in Prizren on Wednesday, 1 March, at the former Auto-Moto Club site, situated 1.5 km from the centre of town, on the road to Kukes. Until now, registration has gone on only in Pristina. This is the first step toward expanding it throughout Kosovo. Now that UNMIK has made an agreement with at least one insurance company, car owners can complete the registration process. We would like to remind drivers in the Pristina region, who registered before last week, that they must return with an insurance policy in order to collect their final vehicle registration document. The INSIG insurance company, the only one so far licensed by UNMIK, will have a representative at the Prizren registration site. Proof of payment of customs fees is also required. Those who lack such documentation need to go to the Customs House at the Prizren Vehicle Registration Center. With these two certificates and personal identity documents, drivers can pay the registration fee and proceed to the vehicle safety inspection before being issued new Kosovo license plates and the registration document. This will come out as press release.

KFOR Spokesman Lieutenant Commander Philip Anido

I have two points today: first is the security situation in Mitrovica; and KFOR medical units that we have spread out across Kosovo. The large-scale search for illegal weapons and criminal elements in Mitrovica, named Operation Ibar, which began last Sunday, ended yesterday. The operation has demonstrated KFOR's resolve to search for and confiscate illegal weapons. Yesterday we put out a press statement which had a total of the weapons accumulated. If you want, I can provide it for you outside. The search for weapons will continue in Mitrovica and other communities during the weeks and months ahead. Our patrols remain vigilant and ready to react firmly against the practice of accumulating weapons, and against any illegal or extremist activity.

During our security operations, KFOR is working in very close cooperation with UNMIK Police who are the experts in investigation, arrest and laying of criminal charges. During the past 24 hours, fresh KFOR troops from the Canadian battalion and from Italian and Spanish battalions have joined the Multinational Brigade KFOR French units in Mitrovica. The British, American and German peacekeepers have returned to duty in their own brigade areas.The KFOR Commander, General Reinhardt, confirms that KFOR will maintain a strong presence on the streets of Mitrovica, as well as in the surrounding areas. Foot patrols, supported by vehicle patrols, and static guards will concentrate their protective measures in minority quarters. Vehicle checkpoints throughout the city will result in the confiscation of weapons and the arrest of individuals found in possession of arms.

The are two incidents to report in the Mitrovica area, both on the north side of the river. The first was a search yesterday in a Serbian house in Miolice, near the boundary with Serbia.

KFOR Belgian soldiers found eight AK-47 rifles, seven other rifles, two pistols, and a significant amount of ammunition. The second operation, which is ongoing now, is the search for weapons and the individuals who shot at the French KFOR patrol on Tuesday. KFOR has a total of 45 medical units spread throughout Kosovo. All these facilities provide a variety of medical assistance to the local population ranging from surgery to flu remedies. We have 13 field hospitals with surgical medical teams and the capacity for nearly 600 beds. In addition, there are 32 battalion-level field hospitals which provide consultations and basic treatment. As of 31 January, these specialized military teams from each KFOR nation, have reported nearly 60,000 consultations for the citizens of Kosovo. Of that number, approximately 3,000 have been admitted for overnight care, and 1,000 have undergone surgery. The types of care we provide include vaccination of children, care of pregnant and nursing mothers and mobile medical and dental care to remote areas where people are unable to travel to established facilities. In a number of cases, KFOR Canadian and Belgian helicopters and a number of other national squadrons have flown in doctors and dentists to provide emergency care. In addition to the daily care, KFOR medical specialists are also providing valuable training for local physicians, nurses and physical therapists. As well, of course, courses are given in the use of specialized medical equipment.

EU Spokeswoman Ms Irene Mingasson

Collection of the third part of the excise duties started at the administrative border with Montenegro earlier this week, on Tuesday. The aspects of security are being dealt with with the help of KFOR and UNMIK Police. Technical difficulties are encountered due to road conditions leading to heavy traffic at the boundary line. These are worsened by the fact that trucks are not carrying with them the needed cash to pay the taxes, and also by the unwillingness of certain truck drivers, including blockages on the road. Solutions to these are being worked on with KFOR to smoothen the traffic. It is technically feasible, in particular, if a clearance gate would be established at a few kilometres distance from the boundary line on Monday.

And a clarification point on the tender for the long-term lease of the Sharr cement factory. I recall that the deadline for the submission of proposals by interested companies expires on 3 March. There has been no change in the timing. In particular, no decision has been taken to extend the deadline. So, we should be in a position to announce the winner of the tender on the 15 March.

OSCE Spokesman Mr. Roland Bless

I have two points. One is related to media development, the other to judicial support. The OSCE Mission in Kosovo is alarmed by what appears to be a journalistic trend of publishing personal details about members of certain communities, mostly Serb, with allegations of illegal activities during the war. In some cases, the papers published lists of persons, with their current places of employment including, in some cases, with international organizations. The articles present no evidence or sources of information, nor do they mention that the judicial proceedings exist in any of these cases.

The OSCE considers this behaviour to be highly dangerous and irresponsible, and contrary to internationally-accepted standards of journalistic professionalism and ethics. It only serves to deepen divisions in a society already torn by ethnic violence. Given the situation in Kosovo, reporting of this nature can only be interpreted as an attempt to endanger the lives of the named individuals, regardless of whether they are members of the majority Albanians or any minority community. OSCE and fair-minded people want the overwhelming majority of Kosovars to support the principle that guilt should be proven in a court of law in a fair trial, which means international standards. If newspapers have evidence to support the allegations of criminal involvement, they are called upon to present them to the police and judicial authorities for investigation. Trial and conviction by the press, instead of the courts, is reminiscent of practices of the totalitarian regimes and is not acceptable in European democracies. You will find a release on this outside later today.

On judicial support, the OSCE has provided an office facility for the international judges and prosecutors in Mitrovica. The funding is a part of the proceeds of a U.S. Government grant of $1.15 million to the judiciary in Kosovo. As you know, the authority and the responsibility to perform the function of international judges were set in UNMIK Regulation 2000/6 of 15 February.

KFOR Spokesman Lieutenant Commander Philip Anido

The German Vice-Chancellor and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Joschka Fischer, and the Minister of the Interior, Mr. Otto Schily, should have arrived a couple of minutes ago at KFOR HQ. They do have a briefing at noon with General Reinhardt, and then they will meet with Messrs. Rugova, Thaci and Dr. Kouchner. And then at 16:30 here, they will have a press conference. I hope as many of you can attend it as possible.

The KFOR British Royal Scotts Dragoon Guards are planning to carry out an area familiarization training. Next week, you will see their Challenger tanks on the roads. So, accept their apologies for any disruption, but it is a way to test their equipment, troops and get to know their area of operation.

Questions and answers

Q: How can KFOR consider the Operation Ibar, during which criminals and other elements were supposed to be arrested, when we saw people one or two days ago still there, in the northern part of Mitrovica, staying around the Dolce Vita café, intimidating people? Can you also give us some details on that place called Dolce Vita? I would also like UNMIK to confirm if the liaison office of the FRY has moved to Mitrovica? A question to OSCE: You said that publishing the lists of the war criminals was something like the practice of the totalitarian regimes, but that is what we saw in international press as well, like in the Watergate case - Does it mean that the United States is a totalitarian regime?

NY: I think we have questions for an hour.

PA: General Clark told you a few days ago that the operation was a success. It was a start, a show of force by KFOR and UNMIK Police to people who wanted to accumulate weapons and cause trouble. We will take the facts as they are of the confiscated weapons. There are two people who remain in custody for weapons violations. There may be more people arrested, but we have to wait until the investigation is over. We cannot go there and arrest people for just making for shouting or making noises. This is a planned professional operation which requires some time. If you want more details on people who are arrested and the charges brought against them, you may turn to UNMIK Police. As for the Dolce Vita café, this is one of the places that KFOR and police are going to closely watch.

NY: On the Committee for Cooperation with UNMIK, their office is here in Pristina. They have opened a branch in Mitrovica.

RB: Let me repeat the statement. I didn't say that publishing lists is an accusation of totalitarianism as you say. OK, I said that media cannot pre-empt court proceedings. The main point is that there is no evidence in these articles as regards sources of allegations. And that's the main difference to the United States, if you are referring to this or any other democracy. I am not going to comment on Watergate here. The publication of such lists of names puts people in danger, including their lives. And I think that is the current situation in Kosovo. And I think that is something that the press never should be allowed to do, not in a post-war situation nor in any other circumstances.

Q: General Reinhardt had the courage last week to walk into the crowds in Mitrovica, but apparently during this his pistol disappeared or was stolen. If a soldier loses his weapon, he is normally subjected to sanctions. Do you have any comment on that?

PA: I confirm that that happened. Dr. Reinhardt was instrumental to calming the crowd and keeping the situation under control. I think General Reinhardt would be proud to call himself a soldier first, and a general second. And I know that he would definitely take any sanctions or punishment that would come this way.

Q: What is going on today in Mitrovica? Is there a demonstration going on?

RB: We know that there is a demonstration which has been planned on the northern side of Mitrovica by Mr. Ivanovic. We understand that it's going to take place where they had such demonstrations before, which is 400 metres behind the bridge. We understand that it's going to be peaceful. Mr. Ivanovic's point is that the Serb community belongs to Mitrovica, to the rest of Kosovo.

PA: I should add that KFOR and UNMIK Police will be there to provide security and make sure that the things do remain peaceful.

Q: Can you say a person who is under criminal investigation can be a member of the KPC? Are there any rules regulating that?

NY: There are and there have been criteria for every choice that we've made. There will be 5,000 members, of which 2,000 reservists. The rest are also being considered by IOM. There are rules, I don't have them in front of me, I can certainly tell you where they are after the briefing, but there are criteria for joining, certainly.

Q: When will these escorts of Serbs by KFOR resume? Are you holding on this as some kind of political pressure to get Mr. Ivanovic sign a power sharing deal? How much has this Operation Ibar taken away from KFOR in terms of taking care of what's happening in eastern Kosovo? Why is the processing factory in Zvecan operating and why are French exploiting what is coming out of it?

NY: One of the parts of the strategy on Mitrovica is to allow for the return of both communities to where they were. This is part of what was discussed yesterday with Mr. Ivanovic by Dr. Kouchner. Mr. Ivanovic was receptive to the movement of some of the Albanians to the towers in northern Mitrovica. I think that the IAC was also clear on this, that they would be in favour of everybody returning to where they came from, to their homes. These issues are being discussed with the leaders of both communities. As for the resumption of the bus services, I'll have to check it with the UNHCR. However, there is no political pressure put on the Serb side. The key question, I think, is the security of these buses and ensuring that the kind of incidents that we had seen should not happen again.

PA: We cannot start until the security situation is absolutely firm, and that has been the main point to clear. But we don't stop helping people to get from one place to another, we are not holding them, that's absolutely impossible. Operation Ibar did take resources away from the other brigades, that's very clear. But it did not reduce our capability to watch and perform our duties throughout Kosovo.