DAILY PRESS BRIEFING OF OFFICE OF SPOKESMAN FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
8 January 1999
Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, opened today's noon briefing by stating that a United Nations search and rescue team had arrived today at the crash site of the first United Nations aircraft near Vila Nova in Angola. The team, assisted by the Angolan army, travelled to Vila Nova and the site by road. There was no further information on the aircraft or the missing personnel at present. (The plane, carrying 10 passengers and four crew, crashed on 26 December 1998). Meanwhile, Benon Sevan, the United Nations Security Coordinator, had also established communications with the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) by telephone yesterday. However, there were no details of his telephone conversation.
The Secretary-General's report on the United Nations Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) was out on the racks today, Mr. Eckhard said. In the report, the Secretary-General deplored the recent intensification of hostilities and the rebel attacks on the capital, Freetown. Reminding the rebels that military successes would not win them legitimacy or recognition, the Secretary-General called on them to open discussions with the Government on any legitimate demands or grievances they or their supporters might have.
While acknowledging that the future of the UNOMSIL now appeared much less clear than it had only a few weeks ago, the Secretary-General stated that he believed there was much that the Mission could do. He recommended that UNOMSIL's mandate be extended for two months until 13 March 1999. In the light of the current developments, the Secretary-General said he intended to reduce the number of military observers and to retain in Conakry, Guinea, a small number who would return to Sierra Leone when conditions permitted.
Mr. Eckhard said the Secretary-General's report on the United Nations Mission of Observers in Prevlaka (UNMOP) had been transmitted to the Security Council. Advance copies were available in his Office. In the report, the Secretary-General noted that the parties concerned had not yet made substantive progress on a settlement over the Prevlaka peninsula in the last three rounds of negotiations. In the event that they were unable to resolve their dispute or make substantial progress during the next six months, the Secretary-General suggested that the Security Council might wish to consider alternative mechanisms, such as international mediation or arbitration.
The Secretary-General also recommended a further six-month extension of the mandate of the UNMOP, until 15 July. The Mission's current mandate was due to expire on 15 January. The Mission, which consisted of 28 United Nations military observers, monitored the demilitarization of the Prevlaka peninsula, which was at the southern tip of Croatia, and its neighbouring areas.
The Sanctions Committee on Libya yesterday afternoon had approved a request from the Saudi Ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, for a waiver to the air embargo to enable a joint Saudi and South African delegation, led by the Prince and Jakes Growel of South Africa, to fly to Libya in support of the Secretary-General's efforts in the Lockerbie case. The delegation would fly from London to Tripoli and then to Surte on 12 January. It was expected to leave Libya on the following day.
On Kosovo, Mr. Eckhard said the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had stated today in Geneva that it was extremely alarmed by continued violent inter-ethnic incidents marked by "tit-for tat" retaliations. "Utmost restraint is required from both Serbs and Albanians to preserve the fragile truce while political efforts to resolve the conflict continue", the UNHCR had said. Mr. Eckhard said that for more details, correspondents should see the UNHCR reports available at his office.
Also in Geneva, the Human Rights Spokesman had announced today that four new human rights monitors had left the city last Wednesday on their way to Belgrade for expected deployment in Kosovo, Mr. Eckhard said. The new monitors brought to seven the number of international staff in the Human Rights Mission in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Eventually 12 monitors were expected to be deployed in the country, the majority of them would be stationed in Kosovo.
Mr. Eckhard observed that some correspondents, given the snowstorm underway, had complained of cold and had been ineffective in reaching the United Nations building maintenance unit. He advised them to look in the yellow pages of the United Nations phone book where there would see, under "M" for Maintenance, extension 3-7376. "If you call that number, they promise to respond promptly", he said.
With regard to events in the week ahead, he said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the situation on human rights in Cambodia, Thomas Hammarberg, would begin his 12th mission to that country on Sunday, 10 January. He was expected to stay there through 22 January.
On Monday, 11 January, the Secretary-General was expected to be back at Headquarters after a restful stay at home, the Spokesman said. On that day, there would be a troop contributors' meeting on Angola which would continue every two days as long as there was interest in the serious developments there. Another troop contributors' meeting -- on UNOMSIL -- was also scheduled for Monday morning. The Security Council was supposed to have consultations on that subject the same day.
In Geneva, starting Monday, the Committee on the Rights of the Child would review the promotion and protection of children's rights in Austria, Belize, Guinea, Barbados, Sweden and Yemen during its three-week spring session.
On Tuesday, 12 January, with UNOMSIL's mandate set to expire the following day, a formal meeting of the Security Council was expected. In the afternoon of the same day, a troop contributors' meeting on UNMOP was scheduled. On Wednesday, in the morning, Security Council consultations on UNMOP and the Central African Republic were planned.
On Thursday, 14 January, the Security Council planned to hold a formal meeting on UNMOP in the morning. The mandate of that Mission would expire the following day. A "Six-plus-Two" meeting on Afghanistan at the Permanent Representative level was scheduled to be held at Headquarters that day. Also on Thursday, the Assistant-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Ibrahima Fall, planned to attend a ministerial-level meeting in Lusaka on the Democratic Republic of the Congo. That meeting would continue on Friday. A summit meeting, with the aim of signing an agreement on a ceasefire, was expected to be held on the heels of the ministerial-level session.
Also on Thursday, the Secretary-General would sign the Anne Frank Declaration, which committed the signatories to furthering mutual understanding and respect. The Anne Frank Educational Trust, the London-based organization sponsoring the event, would give a press conference at 12:45 p.m. in Room S-226.
On Friday, 15 January, the Secretary-General's report to the Security Council on MONUA was due. As he had previously mentioned, Mr. Eckhard said that because of the serious situation there, the Secretary-General hoped to submit the report earlier in the week. Mr. Eckhard could not say exactly when.
He said Egypt had made a payment of over $675,000 to the United Nations regular budget, becoming the eighth Member State to pay in full its contribution for 1999. The remaining Member States had until the end of the month to pay up. "So, get your check books out", Mr. Eckhard said.
The Spokesman then announced the presence at the briefing of a group from the State of New Hampshire. The group represented an organization -- F.U.N.D. -- created last year to collect contributions for the United Nations from United States citizens who were "ashamed of their country's debt" to the United Nations. This morning, Helen Drysdale, a high school student from Hanover, had delivered a check of $1,886.55 to Gillian Sorensen, the Assistant Secretary-General for External Affairs, who had received it on behalf of the Secretary-General.
Asked to respond to an Op-Ed Page article in the Washington Post by Jim Hoagland, particularly his point accusing the Secretary-General's staff of "being out to knife American policy in Iraq and debilitate Saddam Hussein", Mr. Eckhard said he did not want to address that particular article. He referred the correspondent to a letter from his Office to the editor of the paper today that addressed similar sentiments in the Post's editorial of yesterday.
Responding to a follow-up question, the Spokesman said his Office was not aware of any outgoing telephone calls from Headquarters. As far as he was concerned, the episode had started when journalists had called his Office saying they had information which was the subject of the article. "We then began asking around, starting with the Secretary-General calling Richard Butler [the Executive Chairman of the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM)] to find out what he knew about it. Then the Washington Post had written that the United Nations was concerned".
Asked whether he had said anything about the President of Sierra Leone, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, Mr. Eckhard said he had not.
Responding to a further question on the UNSCOM matter, Mr. Eckhard said: "We have said from the beginning that we have no evidence, no access to confidential information, based on intelligence sources, on the 38th floor. We don't have that. We got wind of this information that the United States was piggy-backing on UNSCOM for intelligence purposes from journalists. A number of newspapers subsequently had written articles based on Washington sources. One newspaper wrote a story on the Secretary-General's involvement saying that he was concerned. If the quote in the Washington Post is correct, then a member of the Secretary-General's staff was out of line -- said something he should not have said and said something which the Secretary- General said is not reflective of his thinking. We don't know who that person is".
A correspondent observed that, of late, Security Council statements or draft resolutions had been reaching correspondents late, after the Council's meetings had ended. The correspondent said she understood that part of the problem was that personnel from the Spokesman's office had to "cool their heels" until officials from the Security Council office appeared to respond to their needs. Mr. Eckhard said he would be glad to relay the concerns of the correspondent.
At the urging of Mr. Eckhard, Ms. Drysdale briefly told correspondents how F.U.N.D.'s efforts to raise awareness about the United States debt had started. She said citizens from New Hampshire and Vermont had helped the organization. Many thought it was time the United States paid its back dues. The effort had begun with $2 donations from concerned individuals, and eventually they had come up with $1800. Newspaper articles had been written to draw attention to the cause.
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