30 Apr. 1999
Press Conference with three Albanian leaders Dr Vjosa Dobruna, Mr Blerim Schala and Mr Skelzen Maliqi
Mr Shea: Ladies and Gentlemen, I do apologise for the delay starting this afternoon, but I am very pleased to have here at NATO headquarters as our special guests, three eminent representatives of the Kosovar community. They have been here this afternoon meeting with the Secretary General and also meeting with some of the NATO Ambassadors. I am going to ask them to introduce themselves and one, Mr Schala, is going to speak on behalf of everybody and thereafter obviously they will be happy to answer your questions.
Blerim Schala: My name is Blerim Schala, I am journalist and Editor in Chief of political weekly Zeri (phon) from Pristina, and also I was one of the representatives of the Kosovo Albanian delegation in the Rambouillet and Paris peace process in Kosovo.
Dr Vjosa Dobruna: I am Vjosa Dobruna, professional paediatrician and was denied the right to work as a paediatrician in Kosovo, and I am a Director of the centre for the protection of women and children in Kosovo until I was deported on 1 April 1999.
Mr Shkelzen Maliqi: I am Shkelzen Maliqi, political analyst and a civil society activist and working for the Foundation in Kosovo.
Mr Shea: Mr Schala, would you like to speak on behalf of the delegation?
Mr Schala: Thank you very much. I will say just a few words. I know that the most powerful democracies in the world, the most democratic powers in the world, have been gathered in order to protect the most weakest and the most threatened nation in Europe today. I think that both sides share the same values - the western values of democracy, tolerance and readiness to accept the co-existence between nations and other parts of the inhabitants of one region.
I was, as I told you before, a member of the Albanian Kosovar delegation at the Rambouillet/Paris peace process. As you know, we signed this agreement on 19 March in Paris because we were convinced this is a good compromise, it was a very painful compromise for our side, but we thought this was the best possible option in nowadays circumstances because in this way we thought that we can prevent further suffering of citizens of Kosovo. We thought that this was a good compromise among others because upon this agreement the NATO presence in Kosovo was prepared in order to guarantee safety and security for all citizens of Kosovo, the European Commission presence there was in order to restart reconstruction of Kosovo, and finally the OSCE was supposed to be there in order to supervise elections in Kosovo.
Unfortunately as you know the Serbian side refused this agreement so the both sides my opinion is, of NATO and the Albanian side, were forced in very difficult and very dangerous process, but this was the only option.
I think that the final outcome of this process will be that the Kosovars will be free, will be able to decide about their own future and will be ready to build a democratic society upon the presence of the western community, through NATO, through the European Commission and through OSCE.
This is a war between the past and the future. The future is going to be I think very soon imposed in Kosovo to a western presence there and definitely I am sure that the region will face dramatic reforms very soon because we are also in favour of this regional approach and the thing that Kosovo will be the generator of very serious democratic reforms in the whole region. Kosovo must be example, as it is today, for the readiness of the NATO Alliance and the western community to protect its own values, also Kosovo must be tomorrow an example of the readiness of the west to build a new democratic society.
Julie: I wonder if you could give us your sense of how well NATO has done in helping the internally displaced Kosovars who we are told number in the hundreds of thousands of people?
Dr Dobruna: The information that we have from the field is that there are some 500 - 700,000 internally displaced persons in Kosovo, but some 265,000 of these displaced persons were already living in the bushes, in the mountains, in Kosovo prior to the first NATO airstrike, so their number is just bigger because the ethnic cleansing started to develop even in the urban areas. So we don't have very much information on what is going on there but we know the situation how it was before the NATO airstrikes because UNHCR on several occasions was prevented to have access to this territory to deliver the food. During February those internally displaced persons were besieged by Serbian forces, so since then they don't have food, they don't have any medical care and they are being targeted on a daily basis, and they were targeted by Serbian forces during, I mean practically since the Christmas of 1998.
Dr Dobruna: I really am not a political military analyst to know, but the people that are in Kosovo, they are in badly need for food, for medical care and for security. What NATO, what decision it is going to make, there is nothing that I can say about that. I wish that they will do very fast because if NATO is doing the strikes to prevent further deterioration of the situation in Kosovo, so the further deterioration is counted and the loss of lives of Kosovars that are inside, and there are a big, big number of them.
Rick: Welcome to Brussels. You talk about a western presence needed in Kosovo, of course that is what everybody is working towards I guess. What kind of presence would be acceptable to you, what troops from what countries would you like to see as a part of this presence? And do you think that ethnic Albanians would return to Kosovo if there were still Serb troops in Kosovo? What would be an acceptable number of Serb troops still in Kosovo.
Mr Schala: I think that we both know very well the answer to this question. There is no single Albanian deportee or refugee who will return in Kosovo with Serbian force presence and without a NATO presence in Kosovo. So regarding the composition of an international military presence in Kosovo, this is I think a question which must be elaborated by very important international factors, but I know that this force must be headed by the NATO forces, because having in mind the experience in Bosnia we need a very strict, very clear chain of command and we know one key which will be used in order to protect the citizens of Kosovo. So as I told you, I think that NATO must be the lead force of an international military presence in Kosovo.
Rick: What if it were a UN-led force, would that be acceptable?
Mr Schala: The problem of the mandate of the forces who will be deployed in Kosovo was clearly mentioned even in the Rambouillet Accords because it was supposed that after both sides would sign an agreement, the Security Council of the United Nations will approve a resolution in supporting the military presence of the NATO and other troops in Kosovo.
Question: Dr Dobruna, to what degree have you been able to re-establish your centre's operations in the refugee areas outside of Kosovo to assist the great number of victims of trauma and rape? Are you able to help these people in their camps in Macedonia and Albania?
Dr Dobruna: We all of us, at least me and the rest that are deported forcefully, we are going through a very bad time and we are still trying to cope with what has happened to us, even though we saw that it is coming, but still we are having trouble to settle and to cope with this situation. But nevertheless we manage to get organised and to try to address the needs of people because those needs are my needs, are everybody's needs now so we think we know best. We started to develop groups of women in cooperation with the local NGOs and local association and to work, we already opened the place, opened the centre, and we are gathering information because we are being in the field all the time, not only in the field, in the camp, because it is more difficult to have access to camps but it is easier for example in Macedonia where 80,000 Kosovars are sheltered within Macedonian families, it is easier to have access to them and to make assessment of their needs. We are going to assess those needs in different ways, it depends how much solidarity is going to be shown to us and how much support we are going to have from the international community of course.
Questions & Answers
Craig (New York Times): A question for Schala perhaps. What contact do you have still, if any, with members of the Kosovo Liberation Army who signed the Rambouillet accord with you and did you ask today for NATO to try to help the KLA which is now trying to fight again in Kosovo?
Mr. Schala: First of all, I think that the KLA is now on the same side as the NATO forces regarding the operation in Kosovo and because we know very well what is their position inside, it is a very difficult one and they are coping with this very big problem with internally-displaced persons. I think that there is no army in the world who can fight properly and at the same time have problems with half a million refugees.
Regarding the first part of your question, as you know, in Rambouillet the Albanian delegation also signed an agreement according to which we were ready to build a new government of Kosovo based on co-operation and consensus between the most important political and military forces in Kosovo, LDK, Sevoga (phon) KLA and finally ????, LBD (phon), the party of Mr. Shkelzen. I think that the KLA is still ready for co-operation and I am sure that all important Albanian factors must be united now because we are dealing tragic events and we must be united in order to face the challenges of this very difficult period for our nation.
Craig: Did you ask NATO to help the KLA in any way when you saw people here?
Mr. Schala: I think first of all NATO and the Western Alliance must try to help the internally-displaced persons inside Kosovo because, as I told you, the KLA is coping with this problem and this is a crucial one because if we do not do something in the meantime we will face the starvation of thousands of Albanians and we will also have a humanitarian catastrophe inside Kosovo.
Question: What is the position between the KLA and Dr. Rugova on the one hand and also are you satisfied with the bombing strategy that was followed by NATO without ground intervention? Is it a strategy which is convenient for you?
Mr.Schala: Regarding relations between the KLA and Dr. Rugova, as I told you before, we had this agreement in Rambouillet and we know very well what is now the position of Mr. Rugova. He is under house arrest and I am continuously repeating that he can't express freedom of speech inside jail - he is more or less in jail now - and he is not capable of expressing freely his political will. If the Serbian regime is saying he has already changed his mind, why are they not allowing him to go freely outside and express his will and say: "All right, I was mistaken and now my position is totally different than the previous position!"?
I know that Mr. Rugova's political will was expressed a few times in Rambouillet and Paris, first of all to support the joint government and secondly to support the Rambouillet accord. Everything that is happening to him in the meantime is of no value.
On the strategy of NATO, we know very well what were the conclusions of the Washington summit of NATO, I know that NATO once again repeated their full commitment to achieve the main goals of the strikes which are as you know the withdrawal of all Serbian forces, repatriation of all Albanian refugees, deployment of an international force headed by NATO and finally opening of a serious discussion on the political future of Kosovo so these purposes must be fulfilled and having in mind the capability of NATO, I know that they will be fulfilled with all possible means.
Alex: Do you pledge to restore democracy to Kosovo when you are eventually back in because we have heard reports from some KLA officers that there is no need for elections once the Albanians get back in?
Mr. Schala: I think that it is very clear that KLA signed the Rambouuillet agreement as you know, according to which we must hold an election after nine months in Kosovo and I know very well that an international presence in Kosovo, as I told you before, will be sufficient in order to bring proper democracy to Kosovo. There will be elections supervised by OSCE and I know that they will be the most democratic elections in the region.
Christopher: Clearly, you are in a political bind here, you don't want to say that NATO strategy is not working very well but do you hear from other Kosovars, from your friends, from your family, from other people - some inside, some outside - any sense of bitterness that NATO has not risked a single life - or at least not spent a single life - of any member of the Allied forces while 700,000 people are starving and in desperate need of rescue inside Kosovo? Is this becoming an issue of bitterness and resentment among some parts of the Kosovar population?
Mr.Schala: I am sure that NATO soldiers are risking their lives when they are flying over Kosovo and dropping their bombs not only over Kosovo but I know that Albanians are supporting fully all operations of the NATO troops. We knew more or less that we would face a very dangerous period of our lives, we knew that we would be the victims of retaliation of the Serbian regime but finally, we have been living under martial law since 1981, the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo started in 1990 not in March of 1999, the mass killing and the atrocities in Kosovo were intensified from March of last year so when everybody is asking me about the NATO strategy and NATO strikes, I am only sure that if NATO had started to operate as now in the autumn of 1991 when Bukovar (phon) and Dubovnik were under siege, we would not now see the scenes of atrocities and ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.
Question: Mr. Maliqi, before this situation, Albanian political parties refused to collaborate on internal democracy in Serbia and Yugoslavia. If the war ends and Serbia, Kosovo and all Yugoslavia become a democratic country and society, how do you see the possibility for communal life and finally, is independence the only goal for Albanians now?
Mr. Maliqi: There is no chance that Kosovars will agree to go into an election with Serbia at the same time especially if this regime is going to be in power even after some resolution of the Kosovo issue is made but I don't see any reason or any possibility of having those elections together even though in the Rambouillet accord there were some signs of this possibility but even in the Rambouillet paper those elections were separate.
Jamie Shea: Thank you very much indeed for coming and thank you for making yourselves available to the press.
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