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U.S. Department of State Daily Briefing #50, 99-04-16

U.S. State Department: Daily Press Briefings Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: The Department of State Foreign Affairs Network (DOSFAN) at <http://www.state.gov>


850

U.S. Department of State

Daily Press Briefing

I N D E X

Friday, April 16, 1999

Briefer: James P. Rubin

FRY (KOSOVO)
1	Secretary Albright has been in close consultation with many foreign 
	 ministers, plus NATO and UN secretaries general recently.
1	Trickle of refugees from Kosovo has now become a flow. Perhaps 
	 50,000 refugees are backed up at border.
1	Serb military, paramilitary forces continue to commit atrocities. 
	 Over 400 village/towns damaged or destroyed: 45 in last 10 days.
1-2	US has new evidence of mass killings, graves in west-central Kosovo, 
	 west of Pristina.
3	Albania has 3,000 new refugees in past 24 hours; Montenegro, 7,000; 
	 Macedonia, 6,000.
3	US, NATO allies increasing humanitarian effort.
3	US will not allow Milosevic to destabilize Macedonia.
4,11	Greek government continues to work to get aid into Kosovo.
4	Kosovo borders now open; refugees coming through.
4	US wants International Committee of Red Cross to get access to 
	 internally displaced persons in Kosovo, as well as Greek aid 
	 organizations.
5-6	Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) object of brutal Serb offensive.
6	KLA not eradicated, gaining internal political support.
6	Serbs have used presence of KLA in Albania as pretext to launch 
	 attacks there.
6-7	KLA, Kosovar Albanian leaders signed Rambouillet peace agreement.
7	US believes Dr. Rugova, family should be free to leave FRY, free 
	 from intimidation.
7	US offer to host refugees remains on table.
8,10-11	NATO takes extraordinary measures to prevent civilian casualties; 
	 Serb policy is to create civilian casualties.
8	Secretary Albright planning to tape message in Serbo-Croatian today.
8	US currently broadcasting Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, 24 hours 
	 a day,
9-10	Secretary's message is to explain to Serbians that policies of their 
	 leadership have caused isolation, forceful reaction of international 
	 community.
10	US has not determined that Milosevic has widened conflict, though he 
	 has tried.
12	Proposed union of FRY, Belarus, Russia evidently not imminent.

RUSSIA 5 Secretary Albright spoke with Foreign Minister Ivanov Thursday; they discussed Kosovo, peacekeeping force, designation of ex-Prime Minister Chernomyrdin as special envoy.

ALGERIA 12 US disappointed by reports of election fraud, low voter turnout, withdrawal of 6 of 7 candidates. 12 US encouraging government toward democratic reform, rule of law, economic reform.

ISRAEL 13 US now has received briefing on Foreign Minister Sharon's visit to Russia. 13 Events in Arnoun to be dealt with by Israeli-Lebanon Monitoring Group on Monday.


U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING

DPB #50

FRIDAY, APRIL 16, 1999, 12:40 P.M.

(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)

MR. RUBIN: Welcome to the State Department briefing on this Friday. We have a couple of statements after the briefing on the developments in Niger and the elections in Algeria.

I have nothing to open with, other than to simply say that Secretary Albright has been in close consultation with a number of her colleagues in recent days, including the German Foreign Minister, the Turkish Foreign Minister, the Polish Foreign Minister, the Russian Foreign Minister, the Hungarian Foreign Minister, Foreign Minister Cook of United Kingdom, Foreign Minister Dini, Foreign Minister Vedrine, the Czech Prime Minister, as well as NATO Secretary General Solana and UN Secretary General Annan. She remains heartened by the fact that all the key leaders of the West, as well as Secretary General Annan, are united that it's up to President Milosevic to stop the carnage; that it is President Milosevic's responsibility that we are involved here; that the ball is in his court to accept the conditions the international community has put forward.

With that brief opening comment, let me turn to your questions.

QUESTION: The flow of refugees apparently is resuming with full force toward the Macedonian border. Do you have any thoughts on that subject?

MR. RUBIN: Yes. Let me say, the trickle of refugees that had been going into Albania and Macedonia has now become a flow. This is something that greatly troubles us. There may be up to 50,000 people that are backed up at the border. We understand they have been moved in that direction again by train and by bus, being forcibly deported or fleeing the terror and the violence that President Milosevic's forces have conducted.

In that regard, let me say that we have developed some new information about what's going on inside Kosovo that explains why those might be fleeing. We have no doubt that military and paramilitary forces under the control of Belgrade are continuing to commit atrocities in Kosovo. Our information from a variety of sources -- our own independent sources, as well as refugee accounts -- indicates that Milosevic's forces are responsible for damaging or destroying over 400 villages and towns inside Kosovo; 45 of them in the last week to ten days.

In addition, we are developing evidence that is rather compelling - that is both independently, and as a result of refugee interviews and refugee accounts -- that in west central Kosovo, west of Pristina, there is a set of evidence of mass killings and graves associated with those mass killings. We are working with the prosecutor on this new information and we are, hopefully, if possible, going to be able to release it in more detail.

But this new information about mass killings in Kosovo is another example of the fact that President Milosevic's policies are aimed toward killing civilians. That is what's going on inside Kosovo. And whether the people who are being pushed out are a result of forced expulsions or running from the fear of these kinds of policies, it's hard to determine at this moment. But you are correct - there has been a significant increase in the refugee flow.

QUESTION: You mentioned mass killings and mass graves. Could you be more precise about the location of those? I think you said --

MR. RUBIN: No, I'm saying that we're developing information. I can only say, at this time, that it's in west central Kosovo, west of Pristina. We're working with the Tribunal very closely and others to try to make more specific information available. In these cases, it's always extremely important to make sure that by us providing information and detail publicly and specificity, that we don't either tip off the Serbs to being in a position to damage the evidence, or we don't otherwise interfere with the ability of the War Crimes Tribunal to pursue its case. But we have developed new evidence independently, corroborated by refugee interviews, about mass killings in west central Kosovo, west of Pristina.

QUESTION: Is there any photographic evidence?

MR. RUBIN: Beyond saying what I just said, I'm not in a position to go further.

QUESTION: Can you say how many graves you all are seeing?

MR. RUBIN: A significant mass. I can't - we're not talking about a few dozen; we're talking about more than that.

QUESTION: More than a few dozen?

MR. RUBIN: Correct.

QUESTION: And these are new? These are not the ones where - a few days ago, there were some pictures --

MR. RUBIN: This is new information.

QUESTION: Brand new.

MR. RUBIN: A new site.

QUESTION: Can you quantify this flood of refugees? Some reports say that the Serbs now appear to be intent on ridding Kosovo of all ethnic Albanians.

MR. RUBIN: In Albania, some 3,000 refugees have arrived in the past 24 hours, bringing the total up to 321,000. In Montenegro, some 7,000 internally displaced persons arrived in the last 24 hours, bringing the total there to some 74,000. In Macedonia, some 6,000 refugees arrived in the last 24 hours, bringing the total there to 122,000. So that is a rough idea of the flow. There is also some reporting that there is a back-up at the Macedonian border. We are continuing to work with Macedonian authorities. The borders are open. We are working very hard in Macedonia and in Albania to -- NATO has been working on its efforts to provide food, medicine and shelter, working in coordination with the UNHCR, the High Commissioner on Refugees.

I am not going to make a judgment as to what the overall evil design of President Milosevic is. Clearly, he's pushed out, deported, forced expulsion in boxcars, trains and buses, hundreds of thousands of people. Clearly, there are other hundreds of thousands of people within Kosovo who have fled their homes as a result either of forced expulsions or fear. What his ultimate evil design is here, it is not possible to make a firm judgment, but clearly his policies are directed against the civilians of Kosovo.

QUESTION: Are you and the other NATO countries ramping up the humanitarian efforts?

MR. RUBIN: Yes, we are working very closely with a number of allies. We're also working with countries to make it possible, with the UNHCR, to address the health and sanitation situation in camps and collective centers. Initial supplies of vaccines are moving in. NATO is working closely with the non-governmental organizations to ensure proper transition of camp management. UNHCR reports it delivered cooking stoves to a particular center in Montenegro. So basically, the international community continues to be galvanized to deal with these hundreds of thousands of people.

We remain willing to support the voluntary evacuation of refugees from Macedonia to other parts of the region. We have made that offer available to ensure that other countries would bear their share so that if there was a backlog or undue pressure was placed on the stability of the Macedonian Government, they would be in a position to deal with this. Ambassador Hill has been working very closely with the government in Macedonia to try to ensure that there are no incidents like we had in recent weeks, where people were involuntarily separated from their families or involuntarily moved to other locations.

But again, to the extent that President Milosevic intends to try to destabilize Macedonia, we are simply not going to let that happen. We are going to use either voluntary moves of these refugees out of Macedonia, stepped up efforts to ensure that the requirements of keeping them in Macedonia don't overburden the government. He may try to widen this conflict, but he will fail.

QUESTION: With regard to the internally displaced people inside Kosovo, is it not perhaps a better thing that they be allowed to leave and go to refugee camps, where they can be ministered to, rather than to the opposite -- which may be very difficult -- of getting aid to them, who are staying in the mountains, et cetera, internally in Kosovo?

MR. RUBIN: Well, that isn't our decision to make. Let's remember, these people are President Milosevic's hostages. He's breaking every rule of the international community by refusing to allow access to them so that the International Red Cross or other organizations can bring in the food or medicine they need. It is his policies that have caused them to be at risk.

We're not going to take a position whether people should come or go or where they should go to seek the best relief. We are obviously working very, very hard with our NATO allies to look at ways in which we can assist those inside Kosovo. We understand that the Greek Government continues to work with non-governmental organizations to try to get assistance inside. To the extent that people feel the need to go outside, we believe they should have the right to leave Kosovo and to get the food, medicine, shelter and care that they need in the neighboring countries.

QUESTION: But are the Greeks having any success, as far as --

MR. RUBIN: My understanding, just from a news report, is that a Greek doctors NGO has entered into Kosovo with several tons of medicines and supplies. We want the Greek Government to succeed in its efforts. Secretary Albright, in her conversations with Russian officials, has made clear to Russia that we would like them to press the government in Belgrade to allow the necessary relief access for organizations to provide assistance to those people.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) about the exits, the borders? You say that they're open, the Serbs are letting people go that want to go out; is that correct in all instances or in some, or do you know?

MR. RUBIN: The borders are open. We continue, as I said, to see significant numbers of refugees coming into Macedonia, Albania and Bosnia, as well as flows of persons into Montenegro. We have a report of two trains and three buses originating in Urosevac, which carried some 3,000 refugees to a point near the Kosovo-Macedonian border. From there, they were forced to walk the remainder of the way to Macedonia.

QUESTION: Days ago, Assistant Secretary Taft told a congressional committee - I forget which one - that you are looking for a reliable, neutral country to serve as an interlocutor to help you get access to the IDPs - the people inside Kosovo. That was two days ago. Is there any update as to if you found such an interlocutor?

MR. RUBIN: Clearly, in the first instance, it's the Red Cross that normally plays this role. We want to see that President Milosevic follows all the rules of civilized behavior, and allows the Red Cross to get access to these people.

A country that I am prepared to name is Greece, whose NGOs are seeking to get access to people inside Kosovo. I think what Assistant Secretary Taft was pointing out, is wherever, whatever country can use its relationship with people inside Serbia to get access to the people at risk, we want to help them. Greece is obviously an example. The ICRC is the normal way this is done. But again, President Milosevic continues to use the people of Kosovo in pursuit of his evil designs, as hostages, pawns or victims.

QUESTION: In Wednesday's briefing, you mentioned six or seven Middle East nations that are providing aid for the refugees. Can you provide more details on that, and does that include Saudi Arabia?

MR. RUBIN: I believe that that does, but let me get you more detail on that. Clearly, they were in the category of what we traditionally call the moderate Arab states that I was referring to.

QUESTION: Do you have any more information about the Secretary's phone call with the Russian Foreign Minister? Did they continue their discussions that started in Oslo?

MR. RUBIN: Yes. They spoke yesterday; they spoke for a considerable amount of time. She continued to discuss with him the importance of the work they did on the conditions for President Milosevic to meet that would enable this conflict to be resolved peacefully. They continued to discuss their points of agreement, which I know, because you were on the trip, you're quite familiar with, so I will not repeat. And obviously, they continue to discuss points of disagreement; in particular, the way in which an international presence would provide security and the nature of that presence.

It remains our position that such a force must have NATO at its core for the reasons I specified earlier this week. The Russian position has not evolved significantly, but we continue to talk about it with them. They also discussed the fact that Mr. Chernomyrdin had been appointed as a special envoy - I'm unfamiliar with the precise title given by Moscow - and that we would be prepared to work with him in furtherance of our joint efforts to try to bring Russia into the mainstream of international views as to how to resolve this crisis.

QUESTION: Did you say, Jamie, that their position on the international force had moved?

MR. RUBIN: No, I didn't say that. I said that we continue to discuss our disagreement over what the nature of an international presence would be necessary to provide security for Kosovo, and that they were going to continue to discuss this issue because it's obviously very important.

QUESTION: Jamie, is the KLA moving out with the refugees and now using neighboring countries from which to stage military operations? And if that's the case, is the KLA responsible in some degree for prolonging or widening the war?

MR. RUBIN: First answer to your question is, the KLA has been the subject of a brutal offensive campaign by the Serbian forces. We have condemned certain tactics of the KLA in the past, but at the same time we've expressed understanding for the people of Kosovo's decision to respond to ten years of repression, violations of human rights and refusal to seek a peaceful solution.

Let us remember that the KLA, on behalf of a mixed delegation of political leaders from Kosovo, signed a peace agreement. President Milosevic refused to sign a peace agreement and began conducting this bloody offensive to try to wipe the KLA out and, in the process, destroy hundreds of villages, burn houses. His forces have been responsible for mass atrocities, including crimes against humanity and war crimes. That is the basic situation we're dealing with.

With respect to your specific question, it is our impression that President Milosevic not only failed in his effort to eradicate the KLA, but that they have gained in political support amongst the people of Kosovo. We warned the Serbs that every time they conduct a brutal offensive against the people of Kosovo, they become the best recruiting agents for the KLA. Because the people who have suffered at the hands of these brutal Serb forces become more and more supportive of fighting back as opposed to previous approaches, which was to try to negotiate or to simply disengage from the Serbs in Kosovo.

It is our understanding that the KLA has tended to avoid direct confrontation; has tended to melt away into the hills rather than be slaughtered by the Serb forces that vastly outnumber them in heavy equipment, armor, artillery and other military capabilities; and that they have slipped out of the noose the Serbs were trying to put around them.

As far as the KLA staging attacks from Albania is concerned, frankly, the general impression we have is the reverse; is that the Serbs have used the presence of the KLA in Albania to launch a series of attacks against Albania, including the attacks we talked about in recent days.

We believe that President Milosevic's offensive is responsible for efforts to send hundreds of thousands of refugees into Macedonia and Albania, that the KLA is obviously on the run in a defensive position against this overwhelming military capability, and that if there is a side that is responsible for widening the war it is President Milosevic who's responsible for widening the war or seeking to widen the war, and we are determined not to let him.

QUESTION: Back to the KLA, do you feel comfortable describing the KLA, which the State Department - Mr. Gelbard - described in the past as terrorists, saying that the KLA represents the 1.8 million Albanian people in Kosovo?

MR. RUBIN: Well, it's not up to us to judge who the leaders of the Kosovar Albanians are. We have condemned terrorist incidents last year. But what we also have to bear in mind is that the KLA leadership played a role at the peace talks. They were joined by President Rugova and several other civilian members of the leadership, so to speak, in Kosovo. The Kosovar Albanian leadership, a broad cross-section of Kosovar Albanians - President Rugova, Mr. Qosja, Veton Surroi, a whole series of political and civilian leaders in Kosovo - chose the KLA as representative, as the chairman of the delegation. The KLA had representatives at Rambouillet and they, together with Mr. Rugova and Mr. Qosja and Mr. Surroi and several others, chose peace. They signed a peace agreement, and they developed a cooperative strategy for the broad cross-section of Kosovar Albanians -- who had never worked together at this level before - for an approach to a provisional government.

It's not up to us to decide who the leaders of Kosovo are. But clearly, the last time they were all together, before Milosevic launched his bloody offensive, they were at Rambouillet and Paris and the KLA representative was designated as the chairman. Those are the facts.

QUESTION: I know details are slim, but do you have any kind of reaction or thought about Dr. Rugova's meetings today in Belgrade and his ability to work out some sort of resolution to this conflict?

MR. RUBIN: We have been saying for some time that we believe that Dr. Rugova and his family should be allowed to travel outside Serbia and Montenegro to meet with the international community under conditions free of intimidation. In the absence of those conditions, we do not conclude - and we would hope that any reasonable viewer would not conclude - that Dr. Rugova is speaking and acting freely and openly.

So we call for his freedom of movement, freedom of movement for his family. There are many ways in which this could happen. There are many countries that have asked to host his departure. I understand from a variety of sources that he would like to be able to do that. So until that happens, we are not going to judge anything based on Serbian propaganda.

QUESTION: Do you think that this resurgence of refugee flows and the new evidence of mass killings adds any impetus to the gradual shift towards consideration of some kind of ground war to liberate Kosovo?

MR. RUBIN: I have nothing new for you on ground wars.

QUESTION: Jamie, you mentioned in passing before the US support for relocation of refugees to other parts of the region. You don't mean to say you're withdrawing the US offer?

MR. RUBIN: No, not at all. I'm just saying that our offer was made as an attempt to share the burden so that countries throughout Europe were prepared to do their part, whether that's Sweden or Norway or Germany or throughout the European Union. Our offer remains on the table. It would be up to the UNHCR to work out the arrangements for where people go. We're just - we continue to have Guantanamo available, and that offer remains on the table. It has always been our preference - and I think we've stated this from the beginning - that they stay as close as possible to their homes because they will - it is our policy to work to get them back to their homes.

QUESTION: In the Secretary's phone calls with the various people you mentioned, especially the Russian, yesterday, were there expressions of concern over the missile - the refugees that were struck by some sort of military action yesterday, possibly by NATO? Is there any splitting of what you call the "wedge-proof" alliance over this issue?

MR. RUBIN: Short answer is no. Longer answer is, I think everyone in these phone calls expressed their regret about the possibility that NATO, in accident, caused this damage.

But let me say this - we have expressed regret; we have said we're sorry for the effect that this might have had on civilians and civilian casualties. We have yet to see one expression of regret or apology on the part of the government in Belgrade for any of the mass murder we've talked about, any of the hundreds of thousands of people who have been shipped out, any of the rapes of the women who have reported to the West and the international community. We haven't seen one expression of regret. Their basic response is to deny anything bad has ever happened in Kosovo; take the media to see one incident which may have occurred - and I don't have any data to add to what the Pentagon or NATO has said about this.

We've said we're sorry; but we've gone to extraordinary lengths. I sat through a briefing for the NATO foreign ministers by General Clark in which he went through, in great detail, the extraordinary lengths that NATO military forces are going through to avoid civilian casualties, while the policies of President Milosevic are designed to achieve civilian casualties.

QUESTION: Does the Secretary have any plans to travel to that part of the world?

MR. RUBIN: I don't have any plans to offer you.

QUESTION: The Bulgarians say that she is going to be in Sophia I think May 3 or 4. Is that accurate?

MR. RUBIN: There is a trip to Central and Eastern Europe that I think had been on the books for some period in May, but I don't have a schedule for you. Any more on Kosovo?

QUESTION: Jamie, is the Secretary still planning to tape an address to the Serbian people this afternoon? And then a question for you which is, why is the US doing this? But also, how confident is the US that the people in Serbia will actually hear these messages coming from the Administration?

MR. RUBIN: Secretary Albright is planning to tape an address in Serbian to the people of Serbia later today.

Milosevic has closed down all sources of independent and objective news and information in Yugoslavia, Serbia-Montenegro, and replaced it with shameless propaganda and vicious misinformation. To counter this, we are working to provide additional sources of accurate news and information to the Serbian people, allowing them to make better informed decisions that will help shape their own future. Radio-Free Europe and the Voice of America are already available throughout Serbia on the AM and short-wave bands, and we are working to make this programming available on the more popular FM band.

We are currently broadcasting Radio Free Europe, Radio-Liberty into Serbia 24 hours a day from radio towers in Bosnia. We are also working to construct or gain access to additional FM transmitters in areas surrounding Serbia. Direct satellite broadcast and Internet materials are also important mechanisms for reaching select populations. The Commando Solo aircraft is also broadcasting three hours per day into Serbia on four FM bands, as well as AM and television. These are the operational methods by which the Secretary's address will be brought to people of Serbia.

Clearly, as I indicated, our radio broadcasts on AM and short-wave are available throughout Serbia. All indications are that our FM broadcasts are being received in Northern Serbia, including Belgrade. Again, for what it's worth -- but I think it's probably a reasonable validator of this fact - the Tanjug News Agency reported on April 13 that these transmissions "which can be heard in the northeastern part of Serbia" - and then they went on to criticize the transmissions. But clearly they have indicated that. We've had a lot of anecdotal information and that people are hearing this.

Is it getting a full hearing across Serbia? Is everybody hearing this, seeing this, or reading this? It would be hard to say that and we don't think so. But we're trying to use all available means. As you know, NATO aircraft have been dropping leaflets. We're trying to break through the propaganda wall that President Milosevic has constructed around his people.

QUESTION: Is the Secretary -- at the hearing yesterday she said she was planning to do this on a daily basis. Is that right?

MR. RUBIN: Yes. I don't know if it will happen every single day, but the idea is to do it as often as possible; to have a group of senior officials and others who can speak to the people of Serbia. She does intend to do this regularly.

The message, to respond to the question from the front row, is first and foremost to get the truth through; to explain to the people of Serbia why they are so isolated in the world, because everyone else in the world except for them understands the barbarity their forces are perpetrating in Kosovo; and secondly, to explain to them the fairness of the arrangements the international community has been prepared to make for Kosovo. That means the situation where, in the Rambouillet phase, they were being offered that Kosovo remains under Serbian sovereignty; that the KLA, which they have been concerned about, would be disarmed; and that the Serb people in Kosovo would have every single right that they're entitled to built into a constitutional system of self-government.

QUESTION: You said that the Secretary's message should explain why they're so isolated in the world. I suppose you're consistent with what you all in all the building say every day: they're so isolated in the world because of Milosevic. I expect she'll be explaining - is that what you mean?

MR. RUBIN: Again, that the policies of their leadership have caused the following effects in Kosovo and the following reaction from the world. This is not intended to go beyond trying to break through their propaganda to something I gather your question might be implying.

QUESTION: That's right, exactly. So it's not a call - you're not in ways, subtle or not so subtle, trying to convince them that they might be better off with a different leader?

MR. RUBIN: Well, we've said in a variety of ways, in response to your question, in response to questions on television and in other ways, that we wouldn't lose any sleep over the fact that President Milosevic's brutal policies would be changed because he wouldn't be the leader there. President Clinton yesterday made clear that democratization of Serbia is the key to getting Serbia into the mainstream of Europe, and that under the current approach, their current leadership, that simply is not going to happen.

QUESTION: Isn't the President saying that, here in Washington, or in San Francisco or wherever, the Secretary - quite a bit different from beaming this message now to the Serbian people? I mean, they don't see the President; usually they don't see it for reasons you've stated. So will this be the first time that a US official of the Secretary's level has explained this directly to the people?

MR. RUBIN: She's done this before; she did it soon after the air campaign began. The goal is not different from the objective of the air campaign. The goal is to bring to the people of Serbia an understanding of what the objectives of NATO are, the fairness with which we have approached dealing with the Kosovo problem through the peace talks and through diplomacy, and the brutality that Serb forces have been perpetrating in Kosovo. That is the purpose of it.

QUESTION: For the last few weeks, from this podium and other places, you and others have been warning about grave consequences if Milosevic spread the conflict beyond the borders of Kosovo. In his spreading the conflict to Albania in recent days or the last week or so, are we to assume that whatever military action is ongoing is part of the grave consequences, or are you speaking of something else?

MR. RUBIN: Let me say that we have not determined that President Milosevic has widened the war. He is trying to widen the war; he is trying to destabilize Macedonia and Albania with these refugees. There have been a number of border incidents that we discussed earlier in the briefing, and we have made clear to the Serbs if that becomes a genuine threat to Albania, of the gravest consequences. But at this point, these are incidents.

QUESTION: Back to the subject that you broached, on the possible allied bombing accidents --

MR. RUBIN: Broached by one of your colleagues, and responded to by me.

QUESTION: Oh, was it, was it indeed? Well, in The Washington Post today, it says the NATO Alliance and Pentagon acknowledged that allied war planes had mistakenly attacked refugee convoys in Serbia. And then at the Pentagon this morning, I believe they said that they're still studying the matter and they haven't got it all sorted out yet. What can this Department say about this particular matter of convoys being mistakenly attacked?

MR. RUBIN: I think I answered that in response to an earlier question about our views of accidents after we've gone to extraordinary lengths to avoid civilian casualties, as opposed to the Serbs who make civilian casualties the design of their policies.

I don't have anything to add about the details of what did and didn't happen in a military operation. I frankly know that you and others have been at the Pentagon and asked these questions of Pentagon officials about what did and didn't happen, and NATO officials what did and didn't happen. This is the State Department; we don't investigate military incidents here. And I stand by whatever comments my colleagues at the Pentagon have been trying to provide you with the best possible information about it.

But our view, in response to your question, is that we have expressed regret over the possibility of civilian casualties. We've basically said we're sorry, that this is not our objective. While President Milosevic and his cronies in Belgrade are pursuing a policy that has affected hundreds of thousands of people, including rape, murder, mayhem and terror. It would be nice to see once, from one of these Serbian officials, who we see on our television screens or in our newspapers, or in the free press that we have in the West -- once to see an expression of true apology for what Serbian forces have done to the civilians in Kosovo.

QUESTION: The United States is saying, and this Department is saying, as the Pentagon, we're sorry for any mistaken attacks that have killed civilians; is that correct?

MR. RUBIN: Essentially yes.

QUESTION: This may be a bit of a stretch, but during the Cold War, China had very warm relations with Albania. Is China playing any role in Albania today during this conflict, in terms of trade or assistance? Is it constructive, or is it just completely out of the picture?

MR. RUBIN: It was a different Albania, and I'm not aware that they have particularly played a constructive role with respect to Albania. They have tended to take the view that the United States and NATO should not be acting against the Serb military because of what's gone on inside Serbia- Montenegro, and that's basically their position. I'm not aware of any other aspect to it.

QUESTION: Is the US working with Greece on the effort of the Greek organization, Doctors of the World, to get medical supplies to Kosovo refugees - both Albanians and Serbs? The President made some point of that yesterday.

MR. RUBIN: Yes, I said a little earlier today that we are working closely with Greece. We hope that they are successful in getting non-governmental organizations access to the people in dire straits and at risk inside Kosovo.

QUESTION: Just a quick one -- do you have anything to say about the Russian Duma's non-binding vote, whatever, to form some type of union with former Yugoslavia?

MR. RUBIN: We have been following reports in this area. Let me say that President Yeltsin said on April 9 the proposal will require painstaking legal analysis and scrutiny, which will continue for some time.

QUESTION: But you're not --

MR. RUBIN: I think that statement makes clear that this is not something imminent.

QUESTION: What's your response regarding the results of the Algerian elections and the percentage of vote, which is 73.8 percent, I believe, which some people say that is way too high than the real percentage; also, second, the withdrawal of the other six candidates because of some fraud, according to what they said?

MR. RUBIN: The elections in Algeria might have represented a clear step forward on the path to democracy and political reform. We are clearly disappointed by the events of recent days, which led to allegations of fraud and the withdrawal of six of the seven candidates.

We reiterate our view that the way for Algeria to end its long-running crisis is through the promotion of democracy, the rule of law and economic reform. The Algerian leadership now assumes a heavy responsibility to pursue credible reform.

We view with concern reports of low voter turnout and the fact that six of the seven candidates withdrew from the elections, claiming fraud. We do not have enough information at this time to make an authoritative assessment, and we expect it will be very difficult to do so. We had hoped to have international election observers present to augment local efforts but unfortunately, that was not possible.

QUESTION: What can the United States do in order to help end the crisis in Algeria and the killings?

MR. RUBIN: We have been taking a number of steps in encouraging the Algerian leadership to pursue credible reform in the area of democracy, the rule of law and economic reform. That has been our attempt. Our able Ambassador Hume in Algeria has been working on that. In the absence of that, there's very little anybody can do.

QUESTION: Jamie, do you take a position on whether these six candidates had good reason to withdraw, or do you regret the fact that they decided to withdraw?

MR. RUBIN: We're disappointed by their withdrawal.

QUESTION: You're disappointed by their decision to withdrawal, or just the general sort of --

MR. RUBIN: We are disappointed by the allegations of fraud and the withdrawal of six of the seven candidates.

QUESTION: Do you think their withdrawal was justified?

MR. RUBIN: At this point, this is where we stand, just a few hours after the vote has been completed, and I'm not in a position to make further assessments.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. RUBIN: One more.

QUESTION: The Foreign Minister of Israel has been visiting Russia, which has created, apparently, some domestic concerns that Israel's relationship with the US would be somehow undermined by these visits to Russia. I was wondering if the US had a point of view on Sharon's visits.

MR. RUBIN: Well, we did get a briefing from his visit, and we feel we're now informed as to what he has been doing. That wasn't always the case, but we're satisfied that we're consulting closer with Israel at this time.

QUESTION: Another one on Israel. The Israeli incursion into South Lebanon and the occupation of a village - Arnoun.

MR. RUBIN: We note with concern the events in Arnoun, which, in addition to the movement of Israeli and SLA troops into the village, have included placement by Hezbollah of roadside bombs in the vicinity of Arnoun. We believe it is in the interest of all parties to avoid escalation or provocative acts, and we urge all sides to respect the April understandings and to exercise maximum restraint.

Complaints with regard to the latest events in Arnoun have now been filed with the Israeli-Lebanon Monitoring Group. They will meet on Monday, and this is precisely the kind of issue that this group was set up to deal with.

QUESTION: Question on Sharon -- back to Sharon; I have to follow up. Your comments were somewhat rather provocative there.

MR. RUBIN: They weren't intended to be.

QUESTION: Can you say anything more about these concerns that you weren't always informed, or maybe I missed something?

MR. RUBIN: There's a process of consultation and there was a moment in time when we felt that we needed to understand better what Foreign Minister Sharon was pursuing in Russia. And we now feel that we are satisfied because he discussed this subject at some length with the Secretary last Friday.

QUESTION: What is he doing now?

MR. RUBIN: I think you'll have to ask him that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing concluded at 1:30 P.M.)


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