Saving Privates Stone, Ramirez and Gonzales
On a Military Transport
Trying to Save American Soldiers
When one reads or hears of the achievements of various politicians in solving apparently unsolvable problems, one bows to their brilliance and skill in awe and admiration, convinced that only politicians of their calibre could possibly have carried out such feats. This indeed was my own reverential perception. Until reality decided to intervene.
I am going to tell you the secret background to a story that was front page news internationally for a few days and explain to you how it very simply came about, how politicians of all persuasions falsely tried to claim paternity to the story and how the bureaucrats of the most powerful countries in the world were caught with their pants down. Interested? Then if you are sitting comfortably let us begin.
I was a fairly frequent visitor to the USA for business purposes and I always returned home to Cyprus loaded with very pleasant memories about the friendliness of the natives. From the passport control officer at the airport, through the cleaning ladies at the various hotels I stayed at, to the businessmen I had to deal with, I was overwhelmed with kindness and gestures of friendship. Naturally, as a result, I felt a very friendly affinity towards the group of people collectively know as “Americans”.
In 1999 NATO was at war with Yugoslavia and the Serbians managed to capture three American soldiers. They were Privates James Stone, Andrew Ramirez and Steven Gonzales.
On returning from one of my trips to the USA, again filled with the nicest memories of the help and cooperation I received while there, I decided to try to get the three American boys released.
I typed out one list of the reasons that it would be in the immediate national interest of the Yugoslavians to release the boys and one other list analyzing why it would benefit Cyprus if the boys were released to us. I typed a third list combining the first two and took it to the President of the Cyprus Parliament Mr. Spyros Kyprianou, whom I knew quite well.
Now look at the dates and see how frighteningly fast and how easy it is to manipulate the powers that rule us:
Day 1 - Monday 5th April 1999
I met with President Kyprianou and showed him list Number 3. He read it carefully and said that it sounded good. Did I know the Yugoslavian Ambassador? I told him no, but I knew the Russian Ambassador through various receptions I had attended. Russia was an ally of Yugoslavia. An appointment was made through his secretary with the Russian Ambassador for next day Tuesday 6th April, at 10:00.
Day 2 - Tuesday 6th April
· I met with Ambassador Muratov and another Russian at the Embassy and gave each of them the idea as I had written it down on list Number 1. They each read it quietly and when they finished they looked at each other and the Ambassador turned to me and said that he thought it was a good idea and would I be willing to show it to the Yugoslavian Ambassador? I confirmed that I was willing, so he got up, called the Yugoslavian on the phone and in a very friendly voice told him that he had a friend with him who had an idea that he should consider seriously. An appointment was made for me to see the Yugoslavian Ambassador at 12:00 that same day.
· I kept the appointment and gave a copy of the same written text I had given to Muratov, list Number 1. After reading it carefully he told me that he thought it was a good idea, but that the only thing he could guarantee me was that the document would be on President Slobodan Milosevic’s desk by 16:00 that afternoon.
· I left and called President Kyprianou and told him that if nothing happened within a week, we should forget about it. I used an open line because we had nothing to hide.
· That evening, the British Minister of Defence went on television to say that NATO expected a good will gesture from Milosevic, but that “it would not be enough”, confirming that President Kyprianou’s telephones were tapped. It also confirmed that NATO did not want the American soldiers released, as the soldiers’ capture provided a public relations tool at home which they could use to the full.
· At fifteen minutes to midnight I received a call from President Kyprianou. He said “Don’t say anything on the telephone, but we have the go ahead and be at my house tomorrow at 07:00 am”.
In other words the whole thing was set up within 14 hours!
Day 3 – Wednesday 7th April
· Met with the Russian and Yugoslavian Ambassadors at the Russian Embassy, who confirmed Milosevic’s agreement to release the Americans to Cyprus. Only one condition: That President Kyprianou would give a press conference to say that he was going as a friend of both countries to negotiate the release, not that an agreement had already been made.
· Flew to Athens with President Kyprianou, his assistant, a doctor and two security men on a commercial flight, in order to take a Greek military airplane to Belgrade.
· In Athens we were told that flight to Belgrade had been approved for next day only.
· Larry King of CNN requested an interview with President Kyprianou for 00:400 am in order to present the story live on his programme in the US, but was refused.
Day 4 – Thursday 8th April
· A Greek Air force Hercules C3 with a medical team on board was waiting for us and we took off amidst chaotic activity.
· The Yugoslav Foreign Minister was waiting to welcome us in Belgrade and we were taken to the Hyatt Hotel, where President Kyprianou was given the suite previously used by Richard Holbrooke, the US representative.
· The Yugoslav Foreign Minister gave a dinner in honour of President Kyprianou, which I attended.
Day 5 – Friday 9th April
·Over the previous evening and during our stay in Belgrade, NATO intensified the bombing all around Belgrade, obviously hoping to annoy Milosevic enough to refuse the release of the three prisoners, confirming that they did not want their soldiers released.
Day 6 – Saturday 10th April
The meeting between President Kyprianou and Milosevic took place. Milosevic refused to let the Americans go reneging on an agreement already made, because, according to him, of the NATO bombardment of Belgrade during our visit.
We returned to Cyprus without the three Americans, but over this one week’s period Cyprus was front page news all over the world and in particular in every American voter’s home, in a very favourable light.
While all this was happening, many politicians came out of the woodwork to claim credit for “carefully planning the project over a long period of time”, even though I had only thought about it and implemented it within 48 hours!
The boys were eventually released to Rev. Jesse Jackson, because the reasons I gave in List Number 1 were still valid and it was in the national interest of the Yugoslavs to release the three boys. I am not going to tell you what was on that list… :-)
The attached photographs are of the three boys and of me in the military transport plane involved, next to the “negotiator”, President Kyprianou.