Interview with BGen Maisonneuve

CBC NW - 3 June 1999

Norma lee: After more than two months of NATO air strikes, it appears the conflict over Kosovo could be coming to an end and soon. This morning, the Serbian parliament approved an all or nothing peace plan put forth by the G-8 powers. The Yugoslav leadership has not released the full results of the vote, but the delegates say members of the country's second largest party refused to support the plan. Canadian Brigadier General Michel Maisonneuve is with us from Ottawa. Good morning to you.

BGen. Maisonneuve: Good morning, Norma lee.

Norma lee: So, there have been some big developments on this story this morning, and I'd get to get your thoughts on, from a military point of view, what exactly this peace plan means. The Serbs, we're hearing, have been given 48 hours to withdraw their airforces from Kosovo and seven days to get everyone out. How realistic is that?

BGen. Maisonneuve: Well, we'll just have to see how these commitments translate on the ground. My experience in Kosovo while I was there was you could make all the agreements you wanted, but you really had to see the actions on the ground. And hopefully this will come through.

Norma lee: Tell me how difficult it will be to verify that Serb troops are out, because we've heard that they've been hiding in the woods and in the mountains and so on. What's that mission going to be like?

BGen. Maisonneuve: Well, it will be very difficult, and of course, it will require itself a certain amount of security. While we were there, that was our task in Kosovo, was to verify the agreement of the 16th of October of '98, and it proved to be quite difficult, mainly because the parties refused to stop firing at each other, so cease-fire violations constantly. But as well, yes, it was difficult to actually get a grip on where exactly all the forces were and how they were disposed.

Norma lee: Now, NATO, I assume, would be observing this from the air for the next seven days. After that, what do you do?

BGen. Maisonneuve: Well, you actually have to go and verify it on the ground, I believe. That, again, was the purpose of our mission on the ground in Kosovo, and we had a certain level of forces that were defined, and we had to go and verify and actually count vehicles and weapons and personnel as well.

Norma lee: Now, part of this agreement is apparently that there will be a substantial peacekeeping force under the control of NATO going into Kosovo. Tell me about what these people will be doing, what their jobs will be like.

BGen. Maisonneuve: Well, that -- obviously, that will come out in the tasks and missions that are given to the troops on the ground, the tactical tasks and missions. In essence, what I'm certainly going to focus on is -- or what I would focus on is what the refugees will find when they get back and how we will bring them back to the fold, because the 440,000 that are in Albania now and the probably 200,000 that are in Macedonia will need to go back to their country, and the force will undoubtedly provide security for the refugees.

Norma lee: Now, of course, that was the whole point of this air campaign: To get the refugees back. But what is there to come back to?

BGen. Maisonneuve: Well, that is the -- that is the problem, and of course, when I was there in Albania as well, we posed that question to the refugees. What do you want to do? Do you want to go back? Do you want to go to a third country or something like that? And all of them, bar none, certainly as of when I left two weeks ago, wanted to go back even if they had to build a tent on their property and live there while they were reconstructing their homes. These people are very hardy folks.

Norma lee: Is it your sense that NATO soldiers will in some way have to get involved in helping to reconstruct?

BGen. Maisonneuve: Well, I don't know if that thereby within their mandate. Reconstruction is a long-term mission. It's a mission that takes a lot of resources, monetary and otherwise. So, I don't know if they'll get into that.

Norma lee: We don't know the details yet of the formation of the peacekeeping troops which will go into Kosovo, but it's expected there will be a Russian contingent as well. Tell me about coordinating and how important it is to have the Russian component in Kosovo.

BGen. Maisonneuve: Well, I believe the Russians bring credibility to any force. Again, I go back to my experience in Kosovo while I was in Prizren in my regional centre, I had about 20 Russians amongst the more than 200 international personnel, and it was actually very good to have them with us, because they -- they have another view of things. They have another -- obviously, their historical association with the Serbs was very helpful at times. And it's just a matter of ensuring that it's all coordinated and that there is unity of command. That is -- that is a very important point, I think.

Norma lee: Good to talk to you this morning. Thanks very much.

BGen. Maisonneuve: Thank you, Norma lee.