US Department of State Daily Briefing #135: Monday, 9/28/92

Boucher Source: State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher Description: Washington, DC Date: Sep, 28 19929/28/92 Category: Briefings Region: Subsaharan Africa, E/C Europe, Eurasia, MidEast/North Africa Country: Yugoslavia (former), Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia-Montenegro, Somalia, Russia, Iran, Israel Subject: Regional/Civil Unrest, Military Affairs, Development/Relief Aid, United Nations, Security Assistance and Sales, Mideast Peace Process 12:21 P.M. (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED) MR. BOUCHER: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome. Good afternoon. I've got updates on Somalia and the former Yugoslavia for you today. I thought maybe I'd do Somalia first and then do Yugoslavia since I think I can address some of the things you may have questions about with that.

On Somalia:

The weather conditions were good over the weekend. There were a total of 54 missions that delivered approximately 591 metric tons of relief supplies in Somalia and Kenya. The breakdown is as follows: There were 33 missions to Baidoa, delivering 396 metric tons; 17 missions to Oddur, 166 metric tons; and three missions to Wajir, Kenya, delivering 29 metric tons of aid. The flights of C-141s from Pakistan to Somalia continued over the weekend as scheduled. A total of 485 Pakistani food guards have now been airlifted from Pakistan to Somalia. No incidents have been reported in connection with these flights. There's one final flight due to arrive in Somalia tomorrow, September 29, to complete the guard contingent. A ship carrying follow-on fuel, additional equipment, food and water is several days out of port from Pakistan and is scheduled to arrive in Somalia later this week. The troops in Somalia are under the leadership of the Field Commander of the U.N. operation in Somalia. The United Nations may be able to give you more information about their deployment.

[Former Yugoslavia: Bosnia-Hercegovinia Update]

That's Somalia. Let me go on to Bosnia-Hercegovinia, and the former Yugoslavia. As far as the fighting goes, Sarajevo Radio is reporting that Serbian artillery shelled many parts of Sarajevo overnight. Shelling continues this morning. There's also fighting in the suburb of Stup. Electricity has not yet been restored to Sarajevo, but there was a convoy that delivered chlorine to the city over the weekend and that should help in getting back to a clean water supply. Elsewhere in Bosnia-Hercegovina, there is fighting in Jajce, Bihac, Bosanski Brod, and in the Tuzla area. As far as developments on the ground, in terms of some of the many missions and other talks that we were having, the updates are that Ambassador Bogh and his monitors, including two Americans, returned to Belgrade. The two Americans spent September 24-26 in Kosovo and Sandzak where they met both non-governmental officials -- non-government representatives and government officials. These observers are now out there and they will cycle in and out of the areas over time in order to perform their mission. This is the monitoring mission in the border areas and in places like Kosovo, Sandzak, and Vojvodina. As far as Macedonia goes, Ambassador Frowick returned to Skopje on September 25. He's got with him three monitors, one is an American as well, and they expect more European representatives to arrive shortly. The Macedonian mission will focus its attention on border-crossing points near Kumanovo on the Serbian border and near Tetovo on the Kosovo border. There have been some articles and some questions about a series of killings that apparently occurred in the May-June time period near Brcko, and I'd like to tell you where we stand on that. I can go into more detail and the kind of information we have, if you want that. But just to say that we've recently received -- very recently received -- some credible eyewitness reports that large numbers of people, primarily Bosnian Muslims, were executed at Serbian-run detention camps near Brcko in northeastern Bosnia in the May-June time period of this year. These are the first eyewitness reports we've received of these killings in the Brcko area. You'll note that in some of our previous reporting, for example, the report that we submitted to the United Nations last Tuesday, we had some information at the time of killings. This recent information gives a better picture of the scope of it. And, as I say, it's based on eyewitness reports of survivors. We immediately passed the information available to us to the U.N. Human Rights Special Rapporteur Mazowiecki so that he can investigate it further. We've recommended to Chairman Mazowiecki that he visit the location of these reported killings with a team of experts as soon as possible in an effort to determine more fully what took place. We've also given the information we have obtained to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, to the ICRC, and to the London Conference Co-Chairman. And with those updates, I'd be glad to take your questions. Q Do you have a number on those killings? MR. BOUCHER: What we have received in recent days are two accounts from former prisoners in a brick factory. They claim to have witnessed the spontaneous murders of up to 50 prisoners at a time. One of the prisoners has said that on several occasions he helped transport bodies of dead prisoners to a local animal rendering plant where they were cremated. The two prisoners independently have estimated that some 3,000 men, women and children were executed in Brcko in the May-June period. They've also noted that during this period Brcko and the camps were being run first by Serbian militias controlled by Arkan and later by Seselj -- it's the other name of the Commander. Q Richard, just so that I understand, there were a couple of incidents attributed to, in one incidence one person, and then another person who was a prisoner, in that report that was distributed on Tuesday. But this is the reports of two additional people who were prisoners, and this information was not in that report received on Tuesday? MR. BOUCHER: This specific information was not in that report on Tuesday except to the extent that these people are reporting as well on what happened in the Brcko area. So in terms of this information from these sources, I don't believe it was in the Tuesday submission, although the incidents that are described on Tuesday, I think, are also described by these sources. Q Okay. And just on the figure, they're also estimating about 3,000 people. I think at least one of the incidents is mentioned in the report of Tuesday could you bring you up to 3,000. So we're not talking 3,000 and 3,000; we're talking about 3,000 total -- MR. BOUCHER: I think that's -- Q -- that is further corroborated by additional witnesses. MR. BOUCHER: That's right. That's right. The previous information that we had was either second-hand or some of the information we had raised questions about its credibility. This we believe to be much more credible information about the same instances of killing which took place in the May-June period. Q Does the revelation or confirmation of this information prompt the United States Government to take any additional steps other than turning this information over to the United Nations? MR. BOUCHER: Well, it prompts the United States to do what is called for under the U.N. resolutions and what is right, and that's to investigate it more fully, to put it in the hands of people who can investigate it more fully. And, as you're aware, we've started discussing with others -- other allies and other governments in the Security Council the need for a U.N. resolution to establish a war crimes commission. Q Where does that stand at this point? Have any other nations submitted documentation for a war crimes commission and information, or have they -- MR. BOUCHER: I'm not sure if others have reported any information. As far as the resolution itself, as I said, we're in discussion -- we've been discussing a possible resolution with our allies. The resolution, as we described it last week, would establish a war crimes commission to look into the charges, to establish the facts, and prepare for possible prosecution of individuals who are found guilty, and we hope to be able to table such a resolution in the Security Council soon. Q Does the information that -- the corroborative information which you've reported on today give the U.S. and its allies concrete information about individuals who may be responsible? And, if so, who are they? MR. BOUCHER: As I mentioned the name of the commanders -- the Serbian commanders who were in charge of this area, and certainly they bear a certain responsibility. Q Is there any indication that those commanders received instructions from Belgrade, for example, or perhaps elsewhere? MR. BOUCHER: Not that I know of at this point.
[Brcko: Detention Camp Killings]
Q Richard, you used the words "apparently spontaneous killings." Does that suggest, or are you meaning to suggest that it wasn't a systematic command for extermination of these prisoners? MR. BOUCHER: There was a pattern, Jim, which, in a second, I'll go over with you, of the activity of "ethnic cleansing" and how it was carried out in this area, including killings. On the other hand, I don't think it's useful to sort of -- arguing about what is a death camp and what the exact nature of these killings were. This is the way the people have reported it, that there was certainly much violence used as part of this process, including what they described as spontaneous murders of up to 50 people at a time. The overall situation -- let me go through the whole thing. First, I have to note that there do continue to be large gaps in our knowledge of what transpired in Brcko. But there's a growing body of evidence that suggest that flagrant violations of human rights and atrocities were committed by Serb forces, both in the early stages of the town's takeover and during its later occupation. Most brutal activity appears to have taken place during May and June. The Serb "ethnic cleansing" operation in Brcko appears to have begun in early April with the takeover of the police station by Serb police officers and local Serbs and the dismissal of Muslim policemen. A variety of sources claim that in the days that followed other Muslims were dismissed from their jobs in growing numbers. Muslims were also subject to indiscriminate arrests, detention and interrogation by roving bands of Serb militiamen. The number of detainees appears to have grown rapidly, and by early May a number of facilities in and around Brcko were designated as holding areas. Accounts of the locations of these sites varies but several, including the police station, a former sand and gravel depository, a former textile factory, a sports center, the Hotel Galija and a brick factory fronting the Sava River and a pig farm southeast of the city have appeared regularly in a variety of reports. From what we've been able to determine to date, conditions at all the facilities were bad, but the brick factory and the pig farm seemed to have been the most notorious of the sites. Most reports have noted that food, water, sanitary facilities at the facilities were grossly inadequate. We have several credible reports of detainees being beaten or tortured during interrogations. We've also received a number of reports alleging that several thousand Muslims were murdered and that their remains were either thrown into the Sava River, buried in mass graves near the pig farm, or cremated in the local animal rendering plant. The bodies reportedly were transported at night to avoid detection. And then, as I said, until recently nearly all the reports alleging large-scale murders have either come to us second-hand or have contained elements that raise questions about their credibility. However, in recent days we've received two accounts from former prisoners in the brick factory complex who claim to have witnessed these murders and who gave these estimates of as many as 3,000. Q Can I ask you -- the first accounts of this, with those details on the brick factory and pork farm were reported in my paper, Newsday, and a few weeks later one of these -- or several days later -- one of these people came to the United States to testify before Senator Levin, I think, and gave these details. I wonder why -- and that was some weeks ago, Richard, I wonder why it has taken so long for the United States to ascertain that the things -- the details this man told you -- told the State Department as well other people in the United States -- was credible? MR. BOUCHER: I don't remember the testimony, Saul, so I can't quite comment on that. Q I think the fellow came to the State Department to give the people at the State Department the benefit of the things he had told (Roy) Gutman and the things he told Levin and several reporters who attended the hearing with Levin. I just wonder why the State Department has not taken a more active role in finding out before this? MR. BOUCHER: Again, I don't -- well, I think we have taken an active role. I don't remember the testimony, but there have been reports, as you say, that are a matter of public record that mentioned things like this animal rendering plant, described as a slaughterhouse in some reports. There have been reports floating around of things that happened in the Brcko area. As far as I know, this is the first time that we have directly spoken to people who say that they were eyewitnesses to these things. And, in fact, you see from what I gave you that some of these people -- that these people that we spoke to say that they were actually involved in transporting and cremating bodies. We have been -- both in the former Yugosalvia and elsewhere in the region, we've had an active program of interviewing refugees from Bosnia-Hercegovina, finding people who were held in detention camps and talking to them and hearing their stories, and that is where this information comes from. Q One more, if I may follow up. Most of these people, or this particular person who testified here -- I think his name was Alijah -- he and several other escapees from Brcko went to [agreb where the United States has representation. Did no one in [agreb talk to him, can you tell me, and -- MR. BOUCHER: I don't know about this particular person, Saul. The information I'm giving you today comes from what apparently are two other people -- people who are refugees inside the former Yugoslavia or in areas around it where we have interviewed these other people. So this is additional information to what was previously out on the public record. Q And you can't explain why it has taken -- let's see from about July or about June until now? MR. BOUCHER: I have not compared the stories that you're telling me -- I have not compared the stories that you're telling me about to the information that we have now, so I don't know. Q Do you have people in [agreb that are actively searching for refugees so that they can talk to them, or talking with the Red Cross people? MR. BOUCHER: We have people in the various areas of the former Yugoslavia and various neighboring countries who are talking to refugees, yes. Q And so it wasn't until now, early September -- or the middle of September -- that you were able to ascertain what at least one person told -- MR. BOUCHER: Again, Saul, not having compared the stories of this one person who you say testified -- I don't remember that -- not being able to compare his information with the information that we have now, I can't do a strict comparison of one piece of information or one witness against another. In general, I think I have described our view, that we felt that the information available prior to this was either second hand or -- had various reports that had elements that led you to question the credibility of it. We now have two people that we've talked to who I've said independently have given the same estimate for the total number of killings and who have independently described a series of events at detention centers. That certainly gives us stronger information -- Q (inaudible) given information to? MR. BOUCHER: U.S. Government officials who have been interviewing refugees. Q Richard, just to clarify: These 3,000 killings took place in May and June? MR. BOUCHER: That's what they're saying, yes. Q And do we have any reason to believe that that activity has now stopped? MR. BOUCHER: I'm not aware of any information that would indicate it continues, Sid. I'd have to look back in the Mazowiecki reports and the Thomson mission reports to see what they said about the Brcko area. Q Richard, is this the worst incident that you have corroborated? MR. BOUCHER: In terms of the total numbers, yes. You have our report from Tuesday that described a series of incidents and many horrible things that have happened. Q Did he talk in terms of men, women and children? MR. BOUCHER: Yes. Two prisoners independently have estimated that some 3,000 Muslim men, women and children were executed in Brcko during the May-June period. Q But no rough breakdown? MR. BOUCHER: No. Q Can you tell us any more about the nature of the resolution on war crimes commission? Does the U.S. -- does that resolution call upon the Serbs to stop? Does it call upon allies in Europe to take action to prevent this kind of activity from continuing? Or does it deal strictly with the creation of a body called the war crimes commission? MR. BOUCHER: I haven't seen the whole text, so I don't know to what extent it repeats what's been in previous texts. But certainly the previous resolutions have called upon people involved in this activity to immediately end any abuses of human rights that are occurring. Q Does the U.S. think that having had some access now through the ICRC and other organizations to some of these camps -- does the U.S. think that there ought to be some additional monitors or additional personnel placed in Bosnia to observe this kind of -- to prevent this kind of activity? MR. BOUCHER: Well, that's what we've been doing for two months now. We've gotten additional monitors in. We've gotten several missions in. We've gotten ICRC access. I mean, basically what we think -- they've gone to a lot of camps. I think the ICRC reported last -- I guess what I saw was a week or ten days ago, but at that time they were still reporting that they didn't feel they had complete information from all the parties. But they had gotten to a number of camps. They had interviewed a number of prisoners. I think our -- their goal and one that we support has been to get the camps closed, because the various parties that had visited these camps I think had all concluded that most of the people, if not all the people, in there were held unjustly, and that they were innocent civilians that were being held in detention centers, and, therefore, we have supported those calls to have the camps closed. The ICRC, in fact, has set up the logistics and a refugee transit center for people that they're trying to get out of one of the camps that they haven't been able to close at this point because of the security situation in the area. But that's what they're working on. Q What would be the mechanism for bringing these war criminals to trial? I mean, are you -- are they going to be extradited in some way? I mean, how is this going to work? MR. BOUCHER: Those are questions that have to be decided once the commission is set up, and that's exactly the kind of thing that they might pursue once they establish reliability -- responsibility. Q As a corollary to that -- and it may be contained in the language -- but when and if the former Yugoslavia applies for U.N. membership, will that be conditioned on their producing all alleged war criminals for trial? MR. BOUCHER: I don't know, Sid. Those are things that have to be looked at when they happen. Q Richard, given the strong and now public opposition of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to military involvement in Yugoslavia and questions about the "no-fly" zone, is it fair to say that that proposal is dead in the water? MR. BOUCHER: I read the interview with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and certainly I didn't see anything too much different that he said that we haven't said before. Certainly the constraints and difficulty on military action are clear and have to be considered. As far as the "no-fly" zone goes, I checked this morning, and there's really nothing different than what the Acting Secretary said on Friday to you in his news conference. Q You're still pursuing it? MR. BOUCHER: It's an idea that's still under consideration and certain decisions still have to be made. Q So the Administration would say that Powell's comments are an accurate reflection of its opinion? MR. BOUCHER: Sid, I haven't read the whole interview. I read an article about it, and I didn't see anything too surprising to me, frankly. Q Is our policy still the same on offering air and sea-based air support for humanitarian aid shipments, if necessary, in the former Yugoslavia? MR. BOUCHER: Our policy is still the same in terms of offering airlift, logistics, communications, intelligence and other kinds of support for the expansion of U.N. forces. Yes. Q Airlift -- but we're not talking any more about the possibility of air and sea-based air for protection of convoys or humanitarian shipments? MR. BOUCHER: The President said that we were willing to offer the use of our air and naval assets in order to support this. This is more precise, but that offer certainly remains. There's no change. Q Another subject? Can you tell us what the status is of the Russian submarine -- submarines -- bound for Iran? MR. BOUCHER: No, I can't. I don't have any new information on that. That was something the Russians were talking about on Friday. Q Does the U.S. believe that that sale is still alive? MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any new information on it, Ralph. I know there were press reports on Friday. The Acting Secretary was asked and said that [Russian Foreign Minister: Kozyrev hadn't told him that it was canned, which was I think what the press reports on Friday were. So I just don't have any new information. I'd suggest you'd have to get it from the Russians. Q Does the U.S. have any information about the whereabouts of the submarines? MR. BOUCHER: Not that I know of, but I would have to check. Q Would you take that question, please? MR. BOUCHER: I'll see if we have any information that we might be able to share with you. I have to put it in that way. Q What we're asking is whether you can tell us whether the subs are on their way to Iran. I don't care whether you tell us what kind of information you have. I'm asking for a conclusion about -- MR. BOUCHER: You're asking me if I can give you any conclusions that I can share with you on the location of the submarines. Yes. Q Can we assume then that Kozyrev hasn't talked to you since Friday when these reports came out? MR. BOUCHER: He hasn't talked to me, Norm. (Laughter) Q Well, "you all," then. How's that? MR. BOUCHER: You all. I'm not aware that we've had any new information from the Russians. I'll double-check just to make sure. Q He hasn't called up and said he was out of the loop or anything? (Laughter) MR. BOUCHER: I'll have to check. Q Richard, what -- was the United States not seeking some sort of clarification, given what other officials in Moscow said? MR. BOUCHER: Carol, I'm not aware of any new information that we've had since Friday -- Q That wasn't the question. MR. BOUCHER: -- but I will have to check and see if we've gotten any new information or if we're trying to get it. Q Another subject? MR. BOUCHER: Yes. I guess we have one in the back. Q On Iran: Do you have anything on the report that Boeing has a deal to sell -- I think it's roughly $900 million worth of 737s to Iran Air? MR. BOUCHER: I have not heard anything about that. No. Q Can you check into that? MR. BOUCHER: Is it something that Boeing said? I mean where is this report -- Q Yes. Boeing's confirmed that they have a preliminary agreement with Iran Air. MR. BOUCHER: I'll see if we have anything on it. Q Whatever happened to the consideration of a meeting with Secretary Baker and the Middle East negotiators? Did that meeting ever take place? MR. BOUCHER: I'll have to double-check. I wasn't in town last week. I didn't hear about it, but I'll check. Q On the Dotan affair, the Dotan team from Israel has been here and discussed with the Pentagon and Justice Department. Are you satisfied with -- is the State Department satisfied to the point where the defense assistance agreement with Israel will be signed before October 1? MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. Q For the next -- could you take that question, please? MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. I'll have to look into that. Q That's the '93 agreement. MR. BOUCHER: Does it have to be signed before October 1? Q It's usually negotiated before the 1st, yes, every year. MR. BOUCHER: I'll see. Q Just one more on Yugoslavia. Is there anything new on the Vance-Owen visit to Belgrade that you have? MR. BOUCHER: They are -- I don't have any reports of what they've done in Belgrade. They're in Belgrade today for meetings with both federal and Serbian leaders. Among other issues, they'll discuss the situation in Banja Luka which is where they just were. They plan to return to Geneva this evening. I understand that Bosnian President Izetbegovic is scheduled to meet with them in Geneva on Tuesday; and then in Geneva as well, the Confidence-Building Measures Working Group is scheduled to resume its discussions on Tuesday. Q What's the current U.S. position on Bosnian forces obtaining weapons to fight Serbian attacks -- to counter Serbian attacks? MR. BOUCHER: It's the same as it's always been. It's what we've stated many times before, and what the Acting Secretary stated to you again I think last week; and we think there are already enough weapons there, and we support the arms embargo that exists and we'll continue to support it. Q Let me ask you this, Richard: Vance and Owen said after their meetings with representatives of Bosnia and others and the International Red Cross that they were not assured -- that they were not reassured; that they have some grave questions about Serbian behavior, which is one reason they went to Belgrade. Now we get confirmation of a rather horrible incident of ethnic cleansing which, while you say is "spontaneous," doesn't seem to be that spontaneous when people are sent to -- MR. BOUCHER: I didn't say it was "spontaneous," Saul. Let's not distort what I said. Q When people are sent to rendering plants -- MR. BOUCHER: Bodies taken after people are killed, yes. Q When human beings -- when bodies are sent to rendering plants, I wonder whether there's been any reconsideration or reassessment of the American policy which is to depend upon the London agreement which has been violated or the Geneva process which apparently is moving slowly at best -- is there any reconsideration anywhere in this Department of any change of policy or any new direction in order to bring some force or something more to bear on Serbia? MR. BOUCHER: Saul, I can't deal with your question without dealing with all the distortions that are inherent in it.

[Clarification: Ethnic Cleansing]

First of all, I said earlier that the pattern of ethnic cleansing in Brcko was something that was being established, and that I didn't want to get into quibbles over spontaneous murder versus systematic killing, because the pattern of ethnic cleansing -- which I read you to two pages on -- was well established, and the horrors that have accompanied it are also well established, as have been our concerns about this process, both in the past, in May, when we started talking about it and we started to bring these sanctions down on the heads of the Serbians, as well as more recently when we've had more definitive information and have been able to report it to the people involved. The process that we established, starting at the beginning of August, of opening up these detention centers and getting people in to see what's going on and hopefully to stop abuses is one that has continued and that has continued resolutely in a variety of methods -- both the International Committee of the Red Cross, the CSCE mission that's been out there, as well as follow-up CSCE missions that there will be, and the U.N. Human Rights Commission rapporteur, Mr. Mazowiecki, who's been out there and has done extensive reporting on this and exposed a lot of the horrible things that have happened. Second of all, the policy remains to continue to pursue the problems there, the political problems there, by bringing pressure on the parties to cooperate with a political solution of the process and to do the things that were agreed to in London that can bring about a resolution of the problem and an end to the atrocities. And those -- that process is one that's backed up by sanctions. It's backed up by tightening the sanctions in ways that have occurred recently. You've had new regulations on transit and new procedures to tighten up the possibility of diversion from there. You have, I think it's October 5, is the target date to get the monitors into Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria. There will be teams that go out to try to stop the leakage that there's been in sanctions there. And, finally, to bring about, through the Geneva process, a focus on the parties to pressure the parties to get agreement. So it's a process that we have started, that we have pursued, and that we intend to continue to pursue; that hopefully we'll be able to resolve some of these problems and stop these kinds of atrocities. Q Speaking of the process, where does this stand with heavy weapons accumulation? MR. BOUCHER: Heavy weapons -- there's been no real change in the situation. There have been some declared and grouped. Others that haven't been. Shelling continues from both monitored and undeclared sites. The Bosnian Serbs have not declared or concentrated all their heavy weapons despite their commitment to do so. Q Thank you. MR. BOUCHER: Thank you. (The briefing concluded at 12:53 p.m.)