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Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

15 January 1999

Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, began today's noon briefing by informing correspondents that the Security Council had this morning adopted resolution 1222 (1999) extending the mandate of the United Nations Mission of Observers in Prevlaka (UNMOP) -- in Croatia -- until 15 July.

The resolution, Mr. Eckhard said, requested the Secretary-General to consider possible reductions in the number of military observers to as few as 22, down from the current level of 28, in the light of the improved cooperation and reduction of tensions in Prevlaka as described in the Secretary-General's report. The resolution also requested the Secretary- General to submit a report by 15 April on the progress of bilateral negotiations between the parties -- Croatia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The parties were also asked to report at least bi-monthly to the Secretary-General on the status of the negotiations.

At the time of the briefing, the Security Council was holding informal consultations on Iraq, Mr. Eckhard said.

Concluding a week-long mission to the Sudan and Kenya, the spokesman said, the Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Humanitarian Affairs for the Sudan, Tom Vraalsen, had announced today in Nairobi that the Government of the Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement had agreed to an additional three-month extension of the current humanitarian ceasefire in the Bahr Al Ghazal region of southern Sudan.

Mr. Eckhard quoted the Special Envoy as stating that the extension of the ceasefire, which otherwise would have expired, was critically important to the humanitarian relief effort being carried out by United Nations and the international non-governmental organizations working within Operation Life- Line Sudan. The decisions taken on the matter by the Government of the Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement would make it possible for Operation Life-Line Sudan to continue to bring humanitarian assistance to the hundreds of thousands of civilians in the region.

On Sierra Leone, Mr. Eckhard said the World Food Programme (WFP) had appealed to the warring parties in Freetown to observe an immediate ceasefire to allow emergency food aid to hundreds of thousands of hungry people. "People at risk cannot be expected to survive much longer under such terrible stress", he quoted the WFP's Regional Manager for West Africa as saying. Copies of a press release on his statement were available in the Spokesman's office.

Mr. Eckhard said United Nations humanitarian workers travelled today from Conakry, Guinea, to Kambia, Sierra Leone, by road with medicine and other relief items. The agencies would be undertaking an assessment of the current humanitarian situation there. No confirmed figures were available, but it was believed that the numbers of internally displaced people in Kambia originating from Freetown and other areas had increased, he said. Humanitarian organizations were also planning to fly in relief items in the middle of next week to two other locations.

The Spokesman said the draft text of the Secretary-General's report on Angola had belatedly reached the thirty-eighth floor. The Secretary-General was working on his recommendations on the future of the United Nations involvement in Angola. As correspondents were aware, the report was due today. Benon Sevan, the Secretary-General's Special Emissary to Angola and the United Nations Security Coordinator, had been informed yesterday afternoon by his contact that the site of the second United Nations plane crash in Angola was about 30 kilometres west of Bailundo, and that the United Nations should send a search team to Bailundo so that the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) could escort the team to the crash site. Mr. Sevan had also been informed that there were no survivors. On the basis of that information, efforts were being made to deploy the search team to the site.

Ibrahima Fall, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, was in Lusaka, Zambia, today attending the ministerial meeting on the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Spokesman said. The participants were looking into the best way to include the rebels in the negotiations. However, with the postponement of the summit portion of the Lusaka meeting, Mr. Fall was expected to be back in New York at the beginning of next week, he added.

Mr. Eckhard said a mission led by the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan was being planned for Monday, 25 January, to visit Kandahar. Its purpose was to seek information on the status of the Taliban's investigations into the murders of three United Nations staff members last summer, and to signal the United Nations continuing interest in obtaining satisfactory reports on the murders, as well as the Organization's commitment to returning international staff to Afghanistan when conditions permitted. United Nations programmes in Afghanistan were being run by national staff of agencies and implementing partners.

Mr. Eckhard announced that Australia had yesterday ratified the Ottawa Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction, which now had 59 parties. He said Ecuador today had become the seventy-second country to sign the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Also, Hungary had become the seventy-fourth country to sign the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Sri Lanka had paid its 1999 United Nations regular budget dues of $124,691, the seventeenth Member State to do so in full, the Spokesman continued. The remaining Member States had until the end of the month to do the same.

Mr. Eckhard then congratulated Mehri Madarshahi on her election yesterday as President of the thirty-ninth Staff Council of the United Nations.

With regard to forthcoming events, he said that the week ahead would be a short one because of the Moslem Holiday on Monday, Eid Al-Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan. The holiday would be observed at all United Nations duty stations. He then read out some highlights, stating that the list of events for next week was available in his office.

On Monday, January 18, in Paris, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) would begin a two-day international expert meeting on the fight against the spread of paedophilia networks on the Internet. A background press release on the subject was available.

On Tuesday, the Secretary-General would make a keynote address on "The Role of the Secretary-General" to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, the Spokesman said. His Office hoped to make copies of that speech available some time on Tuesday on an embargoed basis.

The Security Council would hold consultations on Burundi on Tuesday and possibly also on Haiti, he continued.

The Conference on Disarmament would hold the first part of its 1999 session in Geneva from 19 January to 26 March, the Spokesman went on to say. The Secretary-General would be making a statement during that session. Also on Tuesday, UNICEF would hold a press conference at 2:30 p.m. in Room 226 to highlight the acute danger faced by nearly 50 million children and women in 20 different countries. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, meanwhile, would begin a three-week session in New York starting on Tuesday and running through 5 February.

Late on Wednesday, 20 January, the Secretary-General was scheduled to leave on a European trip that would take him to Ireland, Belgium and Switzerland. Also on Wednesday, the Security Council was expected to hear briefings on Angola and Afghanistan -- the latter by the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi.

The Secretary-General's Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters would meet in Geneva from Wednesday through Friday. A background press release was on the racks today.

On Thursday, the Spokesman continued, an open meeting of the Security Council would feature a statement by the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Sergio Vieira de Mello, on "Respect for International Humanitarian Law and Principles in Situations of Armed Conflict". On Friday, 22 January, the Secretary-General's reports on the United Nations Missions in Lebanon, Georgia and Western Sahara were due, the Spokesman added.

A correspondent, observing that the French proposal on arms inspection in Iraq focused on the future rather than the present or past, asked whether there was an indication that the proposal would include the re-opening of United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) files. Mr. Eckhard said the question would have to be directed at UNSCOM, as it concerned its files. He said the political question on the steps the Security Council might take in the future regarding the arms inspection and the impact it might have on the UNSCOM files would have to be addressed to the Council.

Did he have any information or reaction on "the killing of monitors" of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Kosovo. Mr. Eckhard said his Office had heard from its sources in the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that there had been shelling today in a town called Decani, as well as three villages south of Pristina. He had no other details and did not know whether the shellings could be linked to the press reports on the two OSCE observers who apparently had been wounded. A team from Decani was due back shortly, he said, adding that his Office might get more information then. "We have to deplore the wounding of these unarmed observers who are there purely for peaceful purposes", Mr. Eckhard said.

"With the opening of the Conference on Disarmament next week, do you know whether there have been any discussions at the Secretariat-level with the Secretary-General and others on which other institutions within the United Nations system might be brought into the discussions on policy on Iraq's disarmament?" a correspondent asked. Mr. Eckhard said discussions on the future of Iraq's disarmament had begun in the Security Council only this week, and, as he had already mentioned, "the Secretary-General's posture is to let the Council members sort it out, discuss their differences and where they might have some agreements, and see where they go from here". The Secretary- General had not been an active participant in those discussions, he added.

Had the Secretary-General been approached by the Security Council to be an active participant? a correspondent asked. Mr. Eckhard replied: "I don't want to comment on what might have been said in closed consultations where this might have been discussed".

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