New York - 30 june 1999
TRANSCRIPT OF BRIEFING GIVEN BY THE FOREIGN SECRETARY, ROBIN COOK, UN 'FRIENDS OF KOSOVO' CONFERENCE, NEW YORK
'WE HAVE ENDED THE CONFLICT, NOW WE MUST BUILD THE PEACE'
First of all, at the meeting I was invited by Kofi Annan to report on the progress of the military deployment and I did so. I spoke this morning to General Mike Jackson who confirmed there are now 24,000 troops in KFOR; he hoped we will be able to build that up to 40,000 by the middle of July, at present we are still at half-strength because the total figure for KFOR was intended to be 50,000 and I think we should all recognise the immense pressure that that puts on our troops there. The sooner we can double the figures and provide the full strength of KFOR the better we will be able to carry out the mandate.
That said, in military terms the progress in Kosovo has been good, the Yugoslav Army withdrew actually ahead of schedule and KFOR is deployed throughout the whole of Kosovo in each of five sectors. The agreement with the Kosovo Liberation Army appears to be working in a way that is probably satisfactory; by midnight on Monday, they were required to register in designated camps, 5,000 have done so, that is the majority of those who are believed to be members of the Kosovo Liberation Army at the time of the cease-fire. We believe that the majority of the rest have actually been assimilated into civilian society, they have gone back to work on their farms, they have gone back to their towns and that actually is welcome, it is a good part of the progress. Particularly encouraging is that a very large volume of weapons have been handed in. The agreement with the Kosovo Liberation Army gives them 90 days in which to surrender automatic weapons and on that timetable it is probably fair to say we are well ahead of schedule with the large number of weapons being handed in but obviously there will be continuing work, we have therefore made good progress on the military track.
What we were focusing on this morning was the implementation on the civil track in Kosovo and I think it is fair to relate that those who took part in the discussion were conscious that we have not kept up with the speed of deployment in the military track and that is creating difficulties. For instance, there is no civilian police on the ground in Kosovo and a priority part of our discussion this morning was making sure that we did provide an international civilian police force rapidly to work alongside KFOR in making sure that law and order is promoted throughout Kosovo. An undertaking was given today that we should deploy 3,000 police in an international civilian police force and it is hoped that that will be fully deployed in the course of July.
On the very large number of specialists who would be required to provide managerial technical skills for the administration in Kosovo, I undertook that we would look carefully at how we could help the United Nations meet those specialist needs, in particular I offered to explore with our towns and our cities in Britain whether some of them could consider twinning with towns inside Kosovo. Britain has a very successful and well-rooted system of local government, we have people with very great experience and skills in managing services at the local level and I know that the people of Britain are very moved by the plight of the Kosovar Albanians, they have already expressed their compassion generously through the fund-raising that has been organised. I am sure that there might well be local communities who might find it a positive and valuable way to express their wish to be part of the reconstruction of Kosovo, to be supportive of a particular town or community within Kosovo and I will be discussing with my colleagues at the Department of the Environment when I return, also with the Scottish and Welsh Offices, I think we could put out an appeal to our local authorities to identify a few who might be willing to undertake this task of twinning and to provide their own kind of municipal civil experience to help the people in Kosovo to rebuild their communities.
A second point which we discussed is how we handle some of the macroeconomic elements in Kosovo, for instance the issue of currency. At the present time, the Kosovar Albanians understandably are reluctant to handle the Yugoslav dinar and in any case there is a very major policy and economic question for the international community - whether we are to translate all the hard currencies that are coming into Kosovo into the dinar - and what we don't want to do is to see all that hard currency disappear into Milosevic's bank in Belgrade. A number of contributions expressed the importance of finding a way forward on the currency question perhaps by providing for a parallel currency throughout Kosovo, most probably the deutschmark which is already well established as a basis of currency within Kosovo, to run alongside the dinar and provide a basis on which the international community, which is putting its funds into Kosovo, can find a way of circumventing it becoming associated with President Milosevic.
One of the points that was put to me in Pristina last week by Sergio de Mello is that any money spent now is worth ten times the same amount being spent three months from now because it enables projects to get started on the ground, it provides confidence within the local community, it shows what can be done, it can tackle urgent tasks. I announced today at the meeting that Britain will be contributing a million dollars to the UN Trust Fund for urgent special projects within Kosovo.
So on the whole a valuable meeting which has injected a new momentum, an urgency into creating a civil administration in Kosovo. We have won the war and we have ended the conflict but that in itself is not peace, peace requires us to make sure that the people of Kosovo can live in a self-generating economy with full freedom. We have ended the conflict, now we must build the peace.
Part of that process of building the peace must be making sure that we do justice to those who were victims of the war crimes and atrocities that were carried out in Kosovo during the period of the Serb offensive. It is very important that we should get across the message to the Kosovar Albanian community that they should not take the law into their own hands or carry out any acts of revenge but we are more likely to succeed in that if they believe that the international community is serious in pursuing those who ordered the atrocities that were visited upon their people.
As you will know, there is a British police team working alongside the War Crimes Tribunal in Kosovo, you will remember that last week I visited them at their work in Velika Krusa where they were carrying out the investigation of a massacre at one of the sites listed in the indictment of President Milosevic. I can confirm that they have now completed that work and they have moved on to another site at Bela Crvka, one of the sites listed in the indictment of President Milosevic which is why we are giving it priority.
The indictment states that on or about 25th March, Serbian forces attacked the village, many of the residents of Bela Crvka fled into a stream bed outside the village and sought shelter under a railway bridge. A Serbian police patrol opened fire on them, killing twelve including ten women and children. The police then ordered the remaining villagers out of the stream bed at which time the men were separated from the women and small children. The police ordered the men to strip and then systematically robbed them of all valuables. The village doctor attempted to intervene with the police commander and was killed. All other men were then ordered back into the stream bed where the police opened fire killing approximately 65 Kosovar Albanians.
We had a phone call this morning to New York from Chief Superintendent Bunn who is the head of our police team inside Kosovo. He said that the scene is one of the most harrowing he has ever witnessed in his long experience in the police force. When the villagers buried the bodies they put them in plastic bags first, they are now being exhumed and identified and then being taken to a temporary morgue. One of the villagers who was helping with the exhumation did actually say that the body they had just dug out was his father.
Chief Superintendent Bunn said that the smell is indescribable but in one day of work - the first day yesterday - they exhumed over 20 bodies. He said that there is absolutely no doubt about the nature of the massacre, the victims had been shot at close range and they clearly included women and children. The site has not yet been visited by the press in Kosovo but all those working on this appalling atrocity are anxious to share the evidence - the horror that they are exhuming - with the outside world in order that they may understand exactly why it was so important that we did liberate Kosovo from the forces that carried out such outrages.
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