Assalt on the Serbs: The cockney who tells the world of war p p

The Voice Of Nato
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THE VOICE of the allies at war is a man whose cockney accent once so offended a Nato general's wife that she sent a formal complaint to alliance headquarters in Brussels.

Jamie Shea and his barrow-boy vowels won that class war. Now his words resound around the world as the 45-year old Nato chief press officer delivers a daily news conference about the alliance's military offensive against the Serbs.

Shea, a family man, is a highly respected spokesman - and his authority goes far beyond the simple dissemination of facts and figures.

He speaks for Javier Solana, the Nato secretary-general from Spain, as he did for Solana's predecessor, Willy Claes, of Belgium. He did the same for Manfred Werner, of Germany before that, and Lord Carrington, the former UK foreign secretary, before him.

Mr Solana is said to trust Mr Shea fully in the most politically sensitive of jobs, where one wrong word or throw-away remark could be disastrous.

The afternoon briefings Shea holds to explain strategy and progress in Nato's first campaign against a sovereign state have sent his image world-wide on live television.

What viewers get is a down-to-earth delivery in those cockney tones, with a confidence to speak about the rights of the campaign against Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic.

International journalists praise his frankness and treat him with respect bordering on reverence. Mr Shea thanks them for their questions, and apologises when they have to wait a long time for their turn.

"Those are very good questions, as I have come to expect from you," he told one reporter during yesterday's briefing.

Even when he was given a verbal battering by a Serbian journalist this week as his briefings played to packed houses, Shea showed the same politeness and interest in answering as fully as possible.

His responses are peppered with sound-bites. Yesterday he warned of "dark things" happening in Kosovo. Yesterday he insisted Nato was not a "trigger- happy organisation". He condemned Milosevic as a man intent on destabilisation after a year of broken promises.

He also outlined evidence of systematic ethnic cleansing against Kosovar Albanians, declaring with passion: "Nothing, I repeat, nothing excuses this kind of behaviour."

Mr Shea knows Nato has an uphill struggle, even with a largely-sympathetic audience, to justify an intensive military campaign. Yesterday he said: "I don't expect public opinion to be enthusiastic about the fact we are dropping bombs on Yugoslavia - naturally not."

Mr Shea started in Nato as a minute-taker 18 years ago, moving to the information office before leading the visitors' programme - arranging VIP trips of the Brussels headquarters. Then he worked as a political speech writer, joining Lord Carrington's team when he was secretary- general.

After stints with successive Nato chiefs he has emerged as an effective and reliable mouthpiece for the organisation, not just with the media but on the diplomatic lecture circuit as a professor of history.

One grinning Nato official told of the complaint after Mr Shea addressed a group of Nato general's wives: "The UK military delegation received a formal complaint demanding why a man with such an accent was in such a position. Everyone just laughed."