DAILY PRESS BRIEFING OF OFFICE OF SPOKESMAN FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
26 January 1999
Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, began today's noon briefing by informing correspondents that he had just been handed a preliminary report from the United Nations Security Coordinator, Benon Sevan, on the visits that had been made by search and rescue teams to the sites of the two recent United Nations air crashes in Angola. He would make that available to correspondents in writing after the briefing.
Moving on to the Secretary-General's schedule, Mr. Eckhard said that the Secretary-General was today finishing up the first leg of the Swiss portion of his trip. Addressing the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva this morning, the Secretary-General had praised the role of the Conference in creating the right political conditions for multilateral agreements to emerge. He had noted, for example, that last year the Conference had begun considering a ban on fissile materials used in nuclear weapons. He had expressed support for a "non-discriminatory, multilateral and effectively verifiable treaty" governing fissile materials.
Mr. Eckhard said the Secretary-General had also supported assurances to non-nuclear-weapon States against the use or threat of nuclear weapons, and had called for a legally binding instrument to harmonize the security guarantees of nuclear-weapon States. On nuclear testing in South Asia, the Secretary-General had welcomed India's and Pakistan's declared intent to adhere to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, and had said he hoped both Governments would act on their declarations this year. Noting that the nuclear non-proliferation regime was all too fragile, the Secretary-General had stressed the need for more determined efforts to reduce existing nuclear arsenals "with a view to their ultimate elimination".
At midday today, the Spokesman said, the Secretary-General had given a press conference, at which he answered questions on Kosovo, Iraq, the Middle East and a number of other topics. The transcript of that press conference was being sent to the Spokesman's Office as it was being done. Mr. Eckhard said he hoped to have a complete transcript available for correspondents shortly. The full text of the Secretary-General's speech to the Conference on Disarmament was now available from the Spokesman's Office.
Mr. Eckhard said that Vladimir Petrovsky, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, had hosted a lunch in the Secretary-General's honour today, which had also been attended by members of the Diplomatic Committee -- a group of ambassadors that facilitated relations between the United Nations and the host country. This afternoon, the Secretary-General had visited the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and had met with the High Commissioner, Sadako Ogata. He had also addressed the High Commissioner's staff. The text of this address might be available later.
The Secretary-General had also had a number of meetings throughout the day with senior United Nations officials, Mr. Eckhard continued. He referred correspondents to a report on the Secretary-General's full agenda, drawing their attention to a meeting with his Special Envoy in Africa, Mohamed Sahnoun, with whom he had discussed the situation in the border conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Ambassador Sahnoun would be arriving at United Nations Headquarters this afternoon for briefings and consultations before proceeding to Ethiopia and Eritrea, probably early next week. Correspondents should stay in touch on that subject.
The Secretary-General was to leave Geneva tonight, on his way to Brussels, Mr. Eckhard added. He would begin an official visit to Belgium tomorrow morning.
The Security Council was holding consultations today on the Secretary- General's reports on two peacekeeping missions: one in Lebanon -- the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) -- and one in Abkhazia, Georgia -- the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG), Mr. Eckhard said. The mandates of both Missions would expire on 31 January. The Council was expected to continue closed discussions on Iraq tomorrow. Correspondents should also know that the Security Council Committee Established Pursuant to Resolution 748 (1992) concerning the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya (the "Libyan Sanctions Committee") would hold a closed meeting at Headquarters today at 3:30 p.m. in Conference Room 7.
Available in the Spokesman's Office was the latest weekly update on the implementation of the programme of humanitarian assistance to Iraq, known as the "oil-for-food" programme, the Spokesman said. With the approval of two additional oil contracts, the overseers had now approved a total of 74 contracts for the export of 269 million barrels of oil. The Security Council Committee established under resolution 661 (1990) to monitor sanctions on Iraq had last week approved 38 contracts for $25 million worth of oil spare parts and equipment. Of those, 34 contracts were released from hold. Mr Eckhard invited journalists seeking more information to look at the update.
Due to the lengthy Security Council consultations on Iraq yesterday afternoon, the two troop-contributor meetings that had been announced yesterday, on UNIFIL and UNOMIG, had been postponed until this morning, Mr. Eckhard advised.
Mr. Eckhard went on to say that the Spokesman's Office had copies of the Secretary-General's statement on the earthquake in Colombia, in which the Secretary-General declared the United Nations readiness to assist, in whatever way possible, the efforts to provide relief. He had made that statement in Geneva. So far, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which also facilitates the coordination of natural disaster response, had not been advised of a request for international assistance. United Nations Disaster Assessment Coordination teams were on standby in the region ready for immediate deployment to the earthquake-stricken area.
Concerning Afghanistan, Mr. Eckhard explained that, as he had previously mentioned, the United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, Erik de Mul, had travelled as planned to Kandahar yesterday for meetings with the Taliban leadership. Outstanding security issues, relating in particular to the return of United Nations international staff to Afghanistan, had been discussed. Those issues would be further discussed in the context of a technical mission to Kabul and Jalalabad, comprising staff from the Office of the United Nations Security Coordinator in New York, the United Nations Coordinator's Office in Afghanistan, and the United Nations Special Mission to Afghanistan (UNSMA), which was planned for the first week of February.
On Sierra Leone, he informed correspondents that the UNHCR had today reported that on Monday an aid flight planned jointly by United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to the town of Kenema had again been cancelled for security reasons. An estimated 50,000 displaced people were now crowded in that town, and the Economic Community of West African States' Monitoring Observer Group (ECOMOG) was considering moving them 20 kilometres west of Kenema, because of the proximity of rebel forces. A UNHCR local staff member in Kenema, who had made contact with the UNHCR in Guinea, had reported that fighting continued as close as 16 kilometres to the town.
The UNHCR had also said that its national staff in Freetown had yesterday described the battle between ECOMOG and the rebels for the capital, Mr. Eckhard added. One staff member had been held in her house by rebels for 14 days, managing to escape only three days ago. The UNHCR representative, who had visited Freetown, had also been told that a staff member of the non-governmental organization "Concern", who had worked on the repatriation of Liberian refugees, had been killed as he tried to escape from his house, which rebels had set on fire.
It had been announced in Geneva today that the dates for the mission of Roberto Garretón, Special Rapporteur for the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo, had now been fixed for 16 to 23 February. Mr. Eckhard advised that the details of his mission were still being finalized.
Pino Arlacchi, Executive Director of the United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention, had given a press conference in Vienna today, in preparation for his first official visit to Japan, where he would be from 1 to 6 February. Mr. Eckhard said a press release on his trip was available in his Office.
The UNHCR reported that battles last week between the army and militias loyal to former Prime Minister Kolelas around Brazzaville, the capital of the Congo, had forced 40,000 people to seek refuge in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Spokesman advised correspondents seeking more on that subject to look at the UNHCR briefing notes.
On Somalia, the Spokesman had an information note prepared by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) on the food crisis in that country. In the note, UNICEF reported rising rates of malnutrition. It said that an estimated 1 million people were currently at risk in southern and central Somalia, of which 300,000 were at very high risk, including 60,000 children under the age of five.
Following a request from the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA), Mr. Eckhard invited correspondents to meet with Dieter Kastrup, the Permanent Representative of Germany to the United Nations, for a question-and- answer session in the Club tomorrow, Wednesday, 27 January, at 1:30 p.m. He added a reminder that Germany was currently the holder of the presidency of the European Union. German food and beverages were promised.
In response to a question on the nature of typical United Nations disaster relief assistance, Mr. Eckhard explained that the first thing done was usually a needs assessment, and then, typically, tenting, water or food would be brought in, depending on what the assessment came up with. The major effort was to coordinate, to ensure United Nations agencies and NGOs did not trip over each other trying to help and, as a consequence, become less helpful than they could be. Needs assessment, coordination of the donors, and then moving in with the essential supplies were the typical activities.
The Spokesman informed a correspondent, who had asked about the Secretary-General's response to a Slovenian proposal to suspend, rather than lift, sanctions against Iraq if it conformed to certain conditions, that the Secretary-General would not comment on deliberations going on in the Security Council at present.
Drawing attention to what she termed low levels of transparency in the Security Council, a correspondent asked for a copy of the report from the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) on the disposal of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, that had been presented to the Council yesterday. Mr. Eckhard explained that the report she referred to had been distributed yesterday to Council members by the Security Council President, Celso L.N. Amorim (Brazil). If any member of the Council, or for that matter any Member of the United Nations, requested that the document be circulated as an official document, then it would be made available in all six languages. Otherwise, correspondents would have to rely on leaks, and the only ones who could leak were members of the Council themselves. The report had not gone through the Secretariat, and there were no instructions to the Secretariat to distribute it.
Asked if any follow-up action was planned regarding either of the two United Nations air crashes that had recently occurred in Angola, Mr. Eckhard said that the official investigation, conducted by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in the case of all air crashes, would involve the country where the crash took place and the country where the plane was registered. That was a rather lengthy process that might take months. He, therefore, appreciated Mr. Sevan making the document he had just received on the crashes available. However, not having had the opportunity to read it prior to the press briefing, he would not comment on its contents.
Asked for information about a response the Secretary-General had given at his press conference in Geneva to a question about an independent investigation into responsibility for the Rwandan genocide, Mr. Eckhard explained that he understood the Secretary-General had said he had no problem with such an investigation, although the Security Council would have to be brought on-board. The Secretary-General had been very supportive of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) enquiry, which Mr. Eckhard understood was now gathering some momentum. It was to be conducted by six members, and one of those was, he believed, a UNICEF official. The Secretary-General wanted to give that enquiry his full support.
Mr. Eckhard promised to relay, if possible, a request to Mr. Sahnoun that he brief the media. However, Mr. Sahnoun might not wish to hold a briefing before his mission, but might prefer to do it afterwards. Responding to a follow-up question on how long the mission was expected to last, Mr. Eckhard explained that he understood there was no time frame given to it.
The Spokesman said, when asked, that he had no comment on a letter to the editor of The Washington Post.
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