21 October 1999, 18.15 Hours
Holiday Inn Sarajevo,

Transcript : NATO Press Conference
of Lord Robertson, NATO Secretary General

Jamie Shea, NATO : Ladies and gentlemen, good evening. Thank you very much for waiting patiently. The Secretary General is here, and in a few moments I will give him the floor : let me say that as you know, the Secretary General is visiting Bosnia and Herzegovina today together with the 19 ambassadors of the North Atlantic Council, the chairman of the military committee, to my left, Admiral Venturoni, and the deputy SACEUR, General Rupert Smith. And we are the guests of General Adams, the new commander of SFOR. Thank you for your hospitality. This is the first visit to Sarajevo by Lord Robertson as the NATO secretary general, but he of course has been here many times before. And he will give you a very brief briefing on the main results of the visit today, and thereafter we'll have about ten minutes for your questions. So, Secretary General, please.

Secretary General George Robertson, NATO : I am very happy and pleased to be back here again in Sarajevo. I've been here on a number of previous occasions, but I'm here today with all of the ambassadors of the North Atlantic Council. Today, we've met already the SFOR Commander General Adams, who is here, and tonight I'll be meeting the High Representative Mr. Wolfgang Petritsch. As you may already know, the dense fog this morning forced us to go to Tuzla instead of coming to Sarajevo in the first place, so we've seen another part of Bosnia and Herzegovina today. But of course, we also met the three members of the Joint Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, who work closely together for the peace and stability of Bosnia and Herzegovina. We've also met representatives of the opposition.

As secretary-general of NATO, I want to stress this fact: Bosnia and Herzegovina is a success story for NATO. The Alliance remains committed to the full implementation of the Dayton Peace Accords, and we intend to see that the job is done. Today, in meeting the three presidents, and thanking them for their cooperation with SFOR, we also thanked them for the statement that they made that it was NATO that had stopped the fighting and the violence, and that it was NATO that brought peace to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

So the situation in Bosnia has improved: but there do remain important challenges ahead of us. The establishment of a multiethnic state will not be possible without much more corruption among the…without much more cooperation between the parties. I want to read that again. The establishment of a multiethnic state will not be possible without more cooperation amongst the parties. The international community can and will help, but the time has come for all of the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina to take their country back into their own hands, and they must do so…they can only do so together.

The problem of corruption must be tackled, and there must be more progress with the crucial reform of the judiciary and the police. There have been some refugee returns, particularly to minority areas, but most of the returns have been to the territory of the Federation. There has to be more progress, and there must be more returns to the Republika Srpska as well. I welcome the commitment of the three members of the Bosnia and Herzegovina presidency to cut military spending this year by 15 percent.

These are savings that can and should be made, and hopefully there will be more made in the future. Bosnia and Herzegovina need better roads, better health, better bridges - not more bullets. There must also be full cooperation with the international criminal tribunal and bringing more criminals to justice. There will be no lasting peace without justice.

So the NATO council, whose ambassadors are all here today with me, will take the decision soon on the restructuring of SFOR. Although its personnel strength may be reduced, SFOR will be more flexible, just as robust and fully capable of maintaining a secure environment. And NATO will continue to support civil implementation, including the efforts of the High Representative, and the other international organizations in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

That is my opening statement: if you have any questions, I'd be happy to answer them.

Jamie Shea, NATO : Secretary General, thanks very much. It's the first question over there…

Q : What you think about the idea that the SFOR people can escort the refugees back to their homes, since that problem is the key issue in Bosnia and they can make this area destabilized again?

Secretary General George Robertson, NATO : The fundamental obligation for refugee returns lies with the civil authorities and with the government in this country. The signatures on the Dayton Agreement are there, and people are committed to doing that. But of course SFOR has in the past, and of course will in the future, help with refugee returns because it is part of the Dayton Agreement, it is part of the long-term future of Bosnia - Herzegovina. That help that has been given in the past will be available, but I repeat, the obligation taken on under Dayton was by all of the parties, and we still expect the parties to adhere to it and to implement it.

Q : Secretary General, you mentioned improved cooperation of Bosnian authorities with Hague Tribunal as one of priorities in the future. But what SFOR can do about the arrests, especially about high-level indictees like former Bosnian leader, Bosnian Serb leader Karadzic and his military chief Mladic. We are now almost in the fifth year of the post-war period: for how long are we going to wait for them to be taken to the Hague?

Secretary General George Robertson, NATO: SFOR has got a responsibility in this area, but there is a responsibility on the authorities in this country, and on the entities to adhere to the agreement and to the rules of the international criminal tribunal. And that is why, when I come here, I remind people of that obligation, and it is their obligation to do so. SFOR has been very strong in this area, even in the recent past, and SFOR will continue to make sure that, in accordance with the mandate they have, as and when they come across those who have been indicted for war crimes, then they will be arrested and taken to the Hague. Nobody, however high or however low, who has been involved in war crimes and who has been indicted can sleep safely in their beds. Eventually, they will face justice at the Hague, whoever they are.

Q : Secretary General, I would like to hear your comment about idea that local entity armies form a joint multi-ethnic unit that could be ready for international peacekeeping organizations. I wonder if NATO could support the idea, and with some practical things also?

Secretary General George Robertson, NATO : There is a Standing Committee on Military Matters in Bosnia - Herzegovina which has been slowly, one might say much too slowly, getting to grips with merging the Entity Armed Forces. But recently some progress has been made and a secretariat has been established. And we all hope, certainly, that much more will take place in this area. This small country, with all the economic problems that were highlighted to us by the Presidency today, spends far too much on the military, and there are plenty of other things that you can see simply by walking outside this hotel, that this money could be spent much more profitably on. The Standing Committee on Military Matters, I hope, is going to take that issue forward, that the government will continue to reduce its military budget, and that we might eventually see Bosnia - Herzegovina able to contribute on the world stage, in a much better way than it has in the past. The scope is there for doing that: the people of Bosnia - Herzegovina themselves need to keep the pressure on to reduce the dependence on the military and the amount of money that is taken up by it.

Q : Forgive me, but what we've been hearing…what you say about war criminals and the responsibility of local authorities is what I've been hearing in the several years I've been here. Yes, there have been some arrests…we have not gone after anyone big. What will it take for more robust action from SFOR, or is it really not going to be their responsibility any time in the future to take even more robust action?

Secretary General George Robertson, NATO : Well, we've been taking robust action. It doesn't get widely reported, and I've found that myself, but we have taken robust action in pursuit of those who have been indicted. Twelve have been arrested by SFOR troops of various nationalities since 1997, and a very substantial number now when you include those who have voluntarily given themselves up, a very large proportion of those who have been indicted are now at the Hague and are being dealt with fairly and properly by the authorities at the Hague. Gradually, eventually, those who have been indicted will face justice…there will be no lasting peace until they have faced that tribunal, and answered the evidence that is put forward in the indictments. It may take time - it has taken time, but progress has been made, progress will continue to be made.

Q : NATO has been, last week, acting for the first time in West Mostar in something that looked like an anti-corruption and anti-fraud campaign. That has really happened for the first time. Now, I wonder, is this going to continue, and who ultimately makes the decision which areas and which specific people or organizations are going to be the subject of NATO's investigation, like the one we saw in West Mostar? Who makes the decision, who chooses the targets?

Secretary General George Robertson, NATO : The operation that took place very successfully in West Mostar last week was against anti-Dayton elements, and I believe that is was a huge success, and an illustration about how the multi-national forces inside Bosnia and Herzegovina can get at that. Commander of SFOR is in charge of the identifying of the targets. We do so, or SFOR does so, without fear or favor, and there is absolutely no intention to deal with one group against another group. It is…there will be a fair approach taken to all those who seek to undermine the Dayton Agreement. General Adams?

General Ronald Adams, SFOR : I think I'd just reaffirm what the Secretary General said: these are complicated operations, operations that require a great deal of planning, information and intelligence, and when we have that information we will act. It's clearly within our mandate when we see any Dayton activities: that's what we're here for, and we'll proceed accordingly.

Q : Mr. General secretary. Nice words. We have seen…our public has seen that you yourself had a firm position in the last NATO action in Kosovo, and before it also. So, because of…you know also that there were also some blockades during the last years in respect of the detention of war criminals. Will there be a new era of Robertson now in respect of arresting war criminals?

Secretary General George Robertson, NATO : There has been no blockage. In every one of the multi-national divisions, indictees have been arrested by SFOR troops. An increasing number of them have been apprehended, because we believe that it is part and parcel of the peacebuilding process. It is also a fact that a number of those who have been indicted have chosen to go to the Hague to answer the charges rather than wait around for the arrests to take place, and I hope that the message goes out that those who are under indictment, those who know that they have done things in this country that would be categorized as war crimes, should not ever feel easy, because the indictments will never go away - they will eventually have to answer them at the Hague. So that is not the Robertson doctrine: that is NATO's message, but it should be the message of every decent person in this country as well. If they want peace, turn these people in.

Q : Again about war crimes: if you say that you're going to insist that local authorities cooperate closely with the Hague Tribunal, which is to extradite war criminals, indicted war criminals - if they fail to do so, do you foresee Croatian scenario whereby side that does not cooperate with these sanctions - economic, political, any other kind of sanctions - to force them to cooperate?

Secretary General George Robertson, NATO : The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia is established under the auspices of the Security Council of the United Nations, not NATO. SFOR troops have got a responsibility under the Dayton Agreement in this regard, and there is an obligation on the authorities inside this country to take action as well. Decisions about the international criminal tribunal - its constitution, its personnel policy and how it operates - are a matter for another secretary general: the secretary general of the United Nations.

Q : If we can jump just for one second, then, to Kosovo: how is Kosovo…is Kosovo more than you bargained for ? Do you have enough troops there? Do you foresee more there in the future?

Secretary General George Robertson, NATO : No it's not, and yes we have. It's a simple answer. We made a decision, and NATO…that action needed to be taken to stop the violence going on, the ethnic cleansing that was going on in Kosovo. We chose a method of disrupting the violence and degrading the military machine that was causing the violence, and we were successful. The Serb troops and paramilitaries are out, the refugees are back home, there is a NATO-led international force, security force, inside Kosovo just now. It is not going to be easy given the legacy of violence to get that country back to being a multi-ethnic region, part of the country, but we are committed to making sure that that takes place. We've got over 40,000 NATO and other troops inside there doing a first-class job, and General Reinhardt, who is now the commander of KFOR, believes that we can do the job and we're there as long as it takes to complete that job. And the North Atlantic Council ambassadors will be going to Pristina tomorrow in order to see that job that is being done by our troops on behalf of the international community and on behalf of international law and order.

Jamie Shea, NATO : Secretary General, thanks very much: ladies and gentlemen, thanks again for coming, especially at this late hour. We will obviously be back here before too long, and hopefully we will see you again on that occasion. So good evening.