THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY ERIC SCHWARTZ, NSC SENIOR DIRECTOR FOR MULTILATERAL AND HUMANITARIAN AFFAIRS; JULIA TAFT, ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR POPULATION, REFUGEES AND MIGRATION; HATTIE BABBITT, THE DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR OF U.S. AGENCY FOR INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT; AND LT. GENERAL JOHN MCDUFFIE, CHAIRMAN'S DIRECTOR OF LOGISTICS AT THE JOINT CHIEFS ON HUMANITARIAN RELIEF EFFORTS
The Briefing Room
12:37 P.M. EST
MR. SCHWARTZ: I'm Eric Schwartz, on the NSC staff. I think each of us will speak for about a minute or two, and then we'll take your questions.
I think it's worth emphasizing again that the efforts of the official U.S. agencies that are represented here represent the commitment of the American people to alleviate the suffering of victims of repression anywhere in the world. It's also very much worth mentioning that these official efforts are largely successful, due to a unique partnership between the official agencies here represented and the private voluntary organizations that met with the President an hour or two ago.
These organizations, who often at tremendous risk and are largely staffed by American citizens, are really on the front lines of America's humanitarian commitment. As these agency reps will indicate, the U.S. government has led the international effort on humanitarian assistance for Kosovar refugees. We contributed about $100 million last year, supplemented by the President's announcement of a $50 million commitment this week. And as I said, agencies here will describe them.
Finally, I think it's critical to reaffirm a point that the President touched on. While the pictures of the suffering in Kosovo have dominated the media over the past nine days, the suffering, and in particular the terrible and large-scale population displacements due to the horrors perpetrated by the Serb forces, have been underway for over a year.
At the end of last year, there were more than 400,000 displaced Kosovars. Some 260,000 Kosovars were displaced within their own country; flight that resulted from the killings of civilians, the burnings of homes, and other means of forced and brutal displacement. Another 160,000 at the end of last year, or so, were displaced outside of Kosovo, throughout the region, and by year's end, for example, there were 80,000 displaced in Western Europe.
The agencies represented here today have been on the scene for the long term, and better than most can attest to the long-term strategy begun well before the events of the past nine days to force the Albanians out of Kosovo.
With that, I'd like to ask Julia Taft of our State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration to say a few words. She'll be followed by Hattie Babbitt from AID, and then Lieutenant General McDuffie from the Joint Staff.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY TAFT: Thank you, Eric. What's driving this crisis is a concerted ethnic cleansing campaign. You've seen -- well, you've probably written the stories -- about the trains that have been coming now, four trains in the last two days from Pristina to the border at Macedonia. There are more trains on the way. The people who get on those trains are forced on those trains, they are routed out of their houses by guns and marched into the stadium or right down directly to the railway station, and they are put on the train, packed like sardines.
This is like a pogrom. And these people have been taken to the border. Fortunately, Macedonia has been having them get off the train and coming across the border where the one thing that we give is freedom and protection. Water, food is being distributed, although it's starting to be very difficult to find onward movement for shelter for these people.
I go out today with the Deputy Secretary of Defense, and we'll be looking firsthand at the conditions out there. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, AID personnel, military personnel and all of these relief agencies are on the ground. It's just a question of making sure that the structure is in place to be able to receive these people.
Let me just say one thing and then I'll turn it over to Hattie. The question has come up whether all this was a surprise. I've been involved in this program for over a year now, and we have worked very, very hard with the relief agencies and the U.N. agencies to make sure that the humanitarian requirements inside of Kosovo and Montenegro were taken care of.
We had prepared and in place enough food, logistics and personnel to distribute food and support for six months for 400,000 people. Now, we have this new crisis. We are no longer able to give that assistance inside of Kosovo, but much of it has been prepositioned, and all of the relief agencies that were in Kosovo have now gone out to Macedonia.
So we've asked the military and a variety of other U.N. agencies to shift where the warehouses were, shift the commodities so that they are in place to receive these people as they come into Albania and into Macedonia. It is a story of great bravery by the agencies, good planning, but we have on the horizon probably another 200,000 people that might come out fairly soon; so we're really working, all together, to make sure that the international community is ready to receive those people who have been expelled by the Serbs. Thank you.
MS. BABBITT: Thank you. My name is Hattie Babbitt. I'm the Deputy Administrator of USAID, and thought I would talk to you a little bit about the logistics on the ground. The logistics, from the USAID standpoint, are handled by the DART team, the Disaster Assistance Relief Team, that goes out to coordinate assistance by the United States with the rest of the international community, with UNHCR, with the NGOs with whom we met earlier in the day.
They are tough people who have done this around the world and who know how to do it. The woman who is leading the DART team in Macedonia is a smoke jumper from Boise; the DART team leader in Albania is Bill Garver Lincoln, an old pro at this sort of thing. We work very closely with the PRM folks from the Department of State and with Mike McDuffie and his folks in the military and with the rest of the international community.
I stress this because the logistics of dealing with tens of thousands of refugees are incredible. Yes, we've prepositioned an enormous amount of food and, yes, we have been working in the region for a long time, but the logistics are an enormous challenge on the ground and we need this teamwork which we have.
You talked to the NGOs earlier today; they are very supportive of what we as a government have been doing, what we as part NATO have been doing and work with us very closely. We have since 1991 spent $150 million on these kinds of issues in Kosovo. I restate this because of this sense that this is all a new phenomenon. It's not a new phenomenon. There's a new urgency to it, there's a new scale to it, but it's not a new phenomenon.
We are in the process of reprogramming money which had been programmed for Kosovo in Macedonia as we speak. We are steadfast. The NGOs with whom we work are steadfast, and we are operating in the face of a deliberate, systematic campaign to depopulate a country of its ethnic -- of an ethnic portion of its population. That's an extraordinary challenge, and we are determined with our international colleagues to meet it, and we will. Thank you very much.
GENERAL MCDUFFIE: I'd just like to bring you up to date on DOD's role in this. We are in a supporting role. Specifically, General Clark now has tasked through NATO to F South and Admiral Ellis and the are, as we speak, conducting assessments in Macedonia and also in Albania with forces that are on the ground there and, again, in a supporting role.
We rely on the U.N. relief agencies that are on the ground, quit often reporting through the United Nations High Commission to Refugees through our U.S. mission in Geneva which, in fact, reports back to the Department of State and it comes across to us.
To provide the needed assistance as required, what we don't want to do is just provide something that's not needed in a knee-jerk reaction. The process is ongoing. As these NATO assessments are being made, we actually have now U.S. assessments going on. We have a humanitarian assessment team that will go -- a U.S. humanitarian assistance team that will go into Macedonia tomorrow and then follow on into Albania as part of this NATO assessment.
While that's going on, we're actually doing things. We're in the process of airlifting humanitarian daily rations, we're in the process of moving tentage out of the central region in Europe into Macedonia and we continue to provide assistance as required, but again, in a coordinated manner by the U.N. relief agencies and the Department of State in a supporting role.
Q General McDuffie, are the refugees in Macedonia now being protected by U.S. forces on the ground? Is the Army protecting these people?
GENERAL MCDUFFIE: I really can't answer that. I mean, the fact that in Macedonia we have 12,000-man allied force there, so there's certainly a lot of lateral security there, so compared to where they've come from it would be a very safe environment. But as far as a direct mission to support refugees, I really don't know at this time.
Q Ms. Taft, you said you were offering them freedom and protection when they came across. Who is providing the protection?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY TAFT: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is there with relief agencies and they provide the protective cover. It's really the government of Macedonia that is ensuring that the people, when they get across, are physically protected. The UNHCR has the legal protection mandate.
One of the things that I think is really important to know is that the lucky people are the ones who got out of Kosovo, and we are very concerned about the people who are still in Kosovo. We've gone to the UNHCR and to the World Food Program to see if they are still able to negotiate corridors with the Serbs, corridors back into Kosovo to feed some of the people who have remained.
The last food delivery those people got was on March 23rd, so we have to now rely on safe access granted by the Serbs to go and feed the Serb population.
Q Is there any kind of deal? Are you saying they're starving them out? And certainly the people who are being pushed out on these boxcars don't think they're lucky.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY TAFT: I think they're lucky to be alive and I think they think they're lucky. They've come across glad to be out, grieving because they're very sad they had to leave. Many of them had members of their family taken away from them; we're going to have a real challenge trying to do tracing.
Q But they are going to keep a certain element there? A certain percentage of the --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY TAFT: No, I think what's going to happen is they're going to try to push out all of the ethnic Albanians, which as you know was 90 percent of the population. Even some of the Kosovar Serbs have left Kosovo. Thirty thousand have gone into Serbia proper as well.
Everybody is affected there. Everybody.
Q Along those lines, is there any evidence that it's happened in Bosnia that young men are being singled out, detained and taken off someplace?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY TAFT: We've heard reports of that, but of course, we have no witnesses on the ground to tell that that is the story that the refugees are telling when they come across.
Q And the refugee flows coming out -- is there a disproportionately small number of men in that flow?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY TAFT: There were originally, but in the last two or three days, it's interesting -- we have found many more younger men than we did originally.
Q Can you talk about Serb access, giving you access to bring in things? What was the situation before? Has it changed? And there has been some discussion of air dropping humanitarian supplies inside Kosovo, where does that stand?
GENERAL MCDUFFIE: As I'm sure you know, with a hostile environment ongoing, and an air campaign ongoing, as part of Allied Force, while we understand that there is a great difficulty with refugees, an air drop operation has many, many, many drawbacks.
One, the threat is really significant, with the air defense. But I'll tell you, most importantly is the effectiveness of that operation. If you think about air drop in that type of environment, one, you might be, in fact, resupplying the VJ and the MUP. And concentrating possible Kosovars into harm's way. So we don't see that as an alternative right now, based on threat, nor its effectiveness. It's not ruled out.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Let me say something on the issue of the displacement, and whether it's a new problem. In fact, in October, we confronted the same situation, reaffirming the point that I made earlier. There were tens of thousands of displaced Kosovars inside Kosovo, and displaced but out in the open -- not in anyone else's homes.
And, although there were, and there continue to be, stocks in Kosovo, the challenge -- it becomes very, very difficult, when people are out in the open, to get food to them. So the problem that we will be experiencing, and are experiencing now, is one, again, that was imposed upon the Kosovars by the Serbs last year as well.
Q Do you have access now? Inside Kosovo?
MR. SCHWARTZ: We do not.
Q Mr. Schwartz, given where we are now, and given the current rate of depopulation, how much longer does it take to depopulate Kosovo?
MR. SCHWARTZ: I would really hesitate to speculate on that. It is a horrendous practice, and the more -- the greater the disregard for the most minimal standards of civilized behavior, the more numbers you can move. And, unfortunately, Milosevic has not demonstrated a great deal of regard for the norms of civilized behavior.
But I would hesitate to speculate. The people are moving. We've seen evidence of large-scale movements toward Macedonia. We're concerned about it, but I wouldn't try to make a prediction.
Q What's left? You have about a million, about a million Kosovars left?
MR. SCHWARTZ: Julia, do you have numbers?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY TAFT: So far, as of today, we believe 689,830 people have become either internally displaced or refugees. Of that 689,000, 344,830 are refugees -- in other words, they have left Kosovo and Montenegro, and have gone outside the region.
Internally displaced, which was what Eric was talking about, internally displaced in Montenegro, in Kosovo, and in Serbia, the total right now is 345,000. So already, a million people have been displaced or sent as refugees. If you're looking at how many are left -- which is, I think, what your question is --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY TAFT: -- Kosovars, we think that there are probably about 900,000 left.
Q More than half have been displaced -- is that --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY TAFT: No, no, I didn't say that.
Q Well, there are about 2 million Kosovars --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY TAFT: Well, we think about 180,000. When we get these numbers, it gets confusing. The U.N. is saying about a third of the population has been -- has gone or left, or been displaced externally. A third of the population of the 1.8.
Q And this doesn't include the number killed? Because you don't know what that number is.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY TAFT: We don't know what that number is. But you know what? The President was really interesting today when he was talking to the NGOs about this.
We thought -- we had a figure, we were carrying a figure of about 2,000 people who had been killed in this conflict. For the past year -- since March of '98 -- what's been really interesting, in watching this troublesome terror unfold, is that this has been a strategy to displace, terrorize, and disrupt people's lives. It hasn't been one of massive killing -- unlike Bosnia. And one of the impetuses for going in now was when the huge amounts of tanks and military were going in for a major incursion. There were obviously going to be large numbers of lives.
So I think that we are seeing, now, we are seeing notices of executions, et cetera. But this is really against people that they want to get out, rather than just kill in place.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Let me just clarify two points, if I may. First, in terms of the numbers, because the numbers get all over the place, so it's important that when we talk about displaced people we're talking about people who have to leave their home. And they can leave their home and stay in Kosovo, or they can leave their home and go across the borders.
Our best estimates are, before March 24, there were over 400,000 displaced, including people outside and inside. It looks at this point that the number is between 600,000 and 700,000. So I restate the point I made earlier that the majority of displacement seems to have taken place before March 24.
And in terms of the issue of atrocities, our best information is that there are many, many reports of atrocities; that in the context of forcing people from their homes, the Serb forces or Serb-associated forces have engaged in atrocities. Atrocities can include things like burning of homes while people are still in them. It can include shooting people who resist. It can include a range of wanton acts. And we have rather credible information that those kinds of activities have been going on.
Q Have you heard anything about the flow of Serb refugees from the Krajina region of Croatia going into repopulate parts of Kosovo?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY TAFT: No. I've heard of the Sandrak Bosnians going from Serbia back into Sarajevo.
Q It was in the British briefing this morning. They were talking about flows of Serbs from Krajina coming into Kosovo.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY TAFT: No. As a matter of fact, when the Krajina Serbs were first displaced in the Bosnian War, they were displaced into Serbia proper. And the authorities in Serbia had them go into Kosovo. It was really kind of against their will. And the United States Head Start been resettling those refugees, those Krajina Serb refugees, for the past several years.
As a matter of fact, a few months ago, I said let's accelerate the processing, let's get these people up to Belgrade so we can get them processed out to come to the United States. Obviously, that has had to stop.
But I haven't heard about anybody going back into Kosovo from anywhere.
Let me just say, I didn't mean to diminish the killings and the atrocities. There are terrible stories. We don't know how many people have been killed. But what we have to do is to do systematic interviews of these refugees on an ongoing basis so we can document these crimes against humanity. And we're working with Louise Arbor at ICTY to make sure that as soon as the people get settled and sheltered and fed, that they can then have these interviews.
UNICEF is on the scene -- not doing the interviews, but trying to deal with the trauma. There are a lot of traumatized people that have come across into Albania and Montenegro, and so that healing has to happen before all of the debriefings.
Q -- saying this is very different from what happened in Bosnia in terms of the scale of the killing?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY TAFT: The killing. This time we got in before all the massive killings, but then, the last -- in the last few weeks, two weeks, you have seen how absolutely brutal the retaliation has been from the Serbs.
Q If the Serbs are burning the Kosovars' villages, if they're taking their identification papers, their deeds, could you tell us how in the world these people can be repatriated?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY TAFT: Well, let me just say one thing about that. There has been a lot of attention on the issue of the ID cards being taken away and destroyed, as though that was going to be their passport to get back in. I can assure you, having worked in refugee programs for many years, that most refugees do not have documents when they leave, and that none of these people are going to go back until they can go back into a place that is secure and safe for them to return, which means that the authorities that are taking away their identities and terrorizing them will not be the authorities that they will have to deal with.
Q What about the burned homes? Is there someplace to go back to?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY TAFT: Well, we had a lot of burned homes over the past year. As a matter of fact, AID's programs of shelter material -- our office's contributions -- have gone in to trying to help them in reconstructing their houses. I think Hattie is the best person to talk about longer-term reconstruction.
But remember, this is a place where people have lived for generations. Everyone knows their neighbors. It is a place the size of Connecticut, and the challenges for reconstruction are great. The challenges for reconciliation are immense.
MS. BABBITT: I might just say a little bit about that because at the point -- the President spoke about a time when Kosovo would be secure and the Kosovar Albanians could return to their homes -- to their home. As you point out, there may not be literally homes. But this is the kind of thing where we at USAID and other members in the international community -- remember, this is a NATO action, this is Europe. There are large contributions from other parts of the international community now operating in Macedonia and Albania, as well as the U.S. contribution, and surely there will be.
We have shelter -- small infrastructure projects, all that kind of capacity. We've been doing it in Bosnia; we do it all around the world; and we would certainly be -- hope to be asked to do it when the security situation is right in Kosovo.
Q What is being done on the diplomatic front? Is there any movement on the part of the European leaders to try to get to this man?
MR. SCHWARTZ: Let me first say that the amount of alliance solidarity on this has really been remarkable. And the best evidence of it is to look at the situation in theater and the progressive development of what NATO is doing.
On the humanitarian side, we are working very closely with the allies. NATO, for example, has taken on the task of a humanitarian planning to assist the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. NATO is also -- we're also looking at ways with other European governments to cooperate on security issues in front-line states. And we've had very good conversations, discussions, with NATO governments on those issues.
On the relief effort, the British, the Italians, several other NATO and non-NATO members are also contributing. So I really think the one area where we have been just tremendously gratified is the degree of allied cooperation, not only on the political strategic objectives, but also in the humanitarian area.
Q How about political end? Is anybody going to see Milosevic?
MR. SCHWARTZ: Now, you're going sort of beyond the humanitarian brief here. So save it for Joe.
Q Has there been any effort to get anything to help those people --
MR. SCHWARTZ: Let me ask Julia to address that.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY TAFT: In Montenegro, there are four relief agencies that we have funded for the past year that are still operational on the ground. The UNHCR is on the ground; International Committee for the Red Cross is on the ground.
When we started looking at access questions a couple of weeks ago, most of the international community had to be withdrawn because of security concerns. But they left their local staffs there. Now, in those agencies, ex-patriot staff are going back.
There is in the Port of Bar, which was a big transit port for us for the World Food Program and for the Food for Peace Program -- had several thousands of metric tons. There are 8,000 metric tons left in the port -- 3,000 will be taken out and sent to Albania, and the remainder will stay in the port for distribution of the internally displaced persons in Montenegro.
Now, our big concern, of course, is Montenegro and whether there will be further displacements of both Kosovar Albanians going into Montenegro or Albanian Montenegrans wanting to leave. We're working on contingencies on that, and this is one of the issues that the NGOs raised with the President as well. And we will be working closely with them on options.
END 1:06 P.M. EST