DAILY PRESS BRIEFING OF OFFICE OF SPOKESMAN FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
3 February 1999
Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, began today's noon briefing by introducing Martin Griffiths, Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, who was to brief correspondents on his recent visits to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola. [Mr. Griffiths' press briefing will be issued separately.]
Mr. Eckhard then said that the United Nations Security Coordinator, Benon Sevan, had directed that all United States and United Kingdom nationals working for the United Nations in Iraq should leave the country. The order followed an aide memoire from the Government of Iraq to the United Nations on 4 January stating that it was unable to ensure the security of United States and United Kingdom nationals serving with the Organization in Iraq. The Office of Legal Affairs had replied the next day reminding the Government of its responsibilities to ensure the safety and security of all United Nations personnel in Iraq.
Mr. Eckhard said there had been no written response to the United Nations aide memoire, but in meetings in Baghdad and New York there had been numerous verbal requests for United States and United Kingdom nationals to leave. It was clear that the Government of Iraq was not going to reverse its decision, though it had advised the United Nations that three United States nationals could remain in Baghdad. However, Mr. Sevan had not accepted that security considerations could be applied selectively, and had recommended to the Secretary-General that all United States and United Kingdom nationals should leave the country as a matter of principle. The Secretary-General had accepted that recommendation.
Mr. Eckhard said the Foreign Ministers of Indonesia and Portugal had accepted the invitation of the Secretary-General to meet with him in New York on Monday, 8 February. Their discussions would, among other things, focus on a review of the United Nations plan for a wide-ranging autonomy for East Timor, and also on the reported Indonesian proposal of independence for the Territory in case the autonomy proposal was rejected by a majority of East Timorese. There would also be discussions of the situation on the ground in East Timor. The Foreign Ministers were scheduled to have preliminary meetings on Sunday, 7 February, with the Personal Representative of the Secretary- General, Jamsheed Marker.
The Spokesman said that on entering the Secretariat building this morning, the Secretary-General had made some comments to the press on East Timor. The text of his remarks were available for interested correspondents. The Spokesman said Ambassador Marker had reaffirmed his intention to speak to the press on Friday, 5 October, at the conclusion of the current round of talks on East Timor at the senior-official level.
On the Security Council's activities, the Spokesman said it had held consultations this morning on Haiti. Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hedi Annabi had briefed the Council on the situation in the country. His briefing had centred on the efforts by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Julian Harston, and the Executive Director of the International Civilian Mission in Haiti, Colin Granderson, to facilitate the resolution of the current political impasse.
After Haiti, Council members "took a look" at Kosovo and were given an update on the situation there by Under Secretary-General for Political Affairs Kieran Prendergast the Spokesman said. The Council was to discuss the Secretary-General's report on Kosovo (document S/1999/99), which came out last Monday.
The Secretary-General had welcomed the timely decision of the Contact Group to convene peace talks on Kosovo at Rambouillet, France. He was convinced, according to the Spokesman, that a peaceful settlement could only be reached through direct dialogue between the parties. The Secretary-General urged the Yugoslav authorities and the Kosovo Albanian leadership to shoulder their responsibilities and to use the opportunity offered by the international community to settle the Kosovo crisis by committing themselves to the Rambouillet peace talks without preconditions or delays.
The most recent humanitarian update on Kosovo -- available in the Spokesman's Office -- reported that despite the recent initiatives by the international community to bring the Serbian authorities and ethnic Albanian leaders to the negotiating table, the security situation in various parts of Kosovo continued to deteriorate, leading to rising levels of displacement.
The Spokesman said the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, had today issued a statement in Geneva appealing to the authorities of the United States and of the state of Oklahoma to stop the execution of Sean Sellers, who had been sentenced to death in 1986 for a crime committed when he had been 16 years old and suffering from various mental disorders. While acknowledging the seriousness of Mr. Seller's crimes, and feeling the deepest sympathy for the victims and their family, Mrs. Robinson stated that Mr. Seller's execution would run counter to established international principles and to the international community's expressed desire for the abolition of the death penalty. "The killing of one or more individuals cannot be used to justify killing another", she concluded. The complete text of her statement was available in the Spokesman's Office.
There were three press releases from the World Food Programme available today, the Spokesman announced. The first, on Iraq, concerned a $21-million appeal to help more than one million people there suffering from the effects of food shortages and poor water supply, including 200,000 acutely malnourished children. The programme complemented the United Nations "oil- for-food" program, the Spokesman said.
The second release, from Nairobi, was on Somalia, he said. The World Food Programme warned that hunger would become more severe and widespread in the southern part of the country unless large quantities of seeds and tools were quickly supplied to destitute households, in addition to food aid. Also from Nairobi, the WFP reported the launching of an emergency operation to help 18,000 people displaced by fighting on the island of Anjouan in the Comoros islands.
The Spokesman reminded correspondents that at 10 a.m. on Friday, 5 February, the General Assembly was scheduled to resume its tenth emergency special session on illegal Israeli actions in occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied Palestinian Territory. The meeting was being held at the request of Jordan, on behalf of the Arab Group. The request had been made in a letter to be issued shortly as document A/ES-10/31. Copies were available in the Spokesman's Office for interested correspondents. The Non-Aligned Movement had supported Jordan's request in another letter also to be issued shortly as document A/ES-10/32. Copies of that text were also available. The Spokesman for the President of the General Assembly, Jadranka Mihalic, would be at tomorrow's noon briefing to provide more information on the session.
There would be closed consultations among members of the Security Council and troop contributors to the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara at 3:30 p.m. today in Conference Room 1. It would be followed by another closed consultation on the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic at 4:00 p.m. in the same room.
Mr. Eckhard said the Secretary-General would this afternoon address the Economic and Social Council on the work of the Administrative Committee on Coordination, which brought together all component parts of the United Nations system under his chairmanship. Advance copies of the Secretary-General's speech were available for correspondents.
The Spokesman said that the Secretary-General was this evening being honoured by Associated Black Charities. He would receive the 1999 Black History Makers Award at a dinner organized by the association at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. The Associated Black Charities helped the neediest African- American communities in New York City through a system of 42 voluntary agencies. The Secretary-General's remarks at the ceremony were available at the Spokesman's Office.
The Chairperson of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, would give a press conference at 11:15 a.m. tomorrow, 4 February, in room S-226, on the conclusions of the work of the Committee.
A correspondent asked how many nationals of the United States and the United Kingdom were left in Iraq at present and which agencies they worked with? Mr. Eckhard said there were two United States nationals left. Those who had left Iraq on leave had been advised not to return since the aide memoire had been sent from the Government of Iraq to the United Nations. The process of gradually withdrawing those nationals continued pending assurances from the Government of Iraq that it was prepared to guarantee the security of all United Nations personnel in the country. There were no remaining nationals from the United Kingdom left in Iraq.
Why were there no United Nations officials coming to brief the press on the situation in Haiti? Mr. Eckhard was asked. He responded that last week there had been consultations between the Secretariat and the Friends of Haiti Group on the situation in that country. The feeling then had been that it would be inappropriate for the press to be briefed. It was a very sensitive situation, he said. As the Council was being briefed on Haiti, the Spokesman's Office could again request a briefing for the press. "We have to respect their wishes if they [Secretariat officials] say no", he said.
Had it been the Security Council that had prevented the press from being briefed on the issue of Haiti? the correspondent further asked. Mr. Eckhard said: "No. The Council had not issued any ultimatum to the Secretariat not to brief the press. It was the decision of the Secretariat members to not give a briefing". His office would, however, make the request again, he said.
A correspondent asked whether Iraq had ever responded to the United Nations request that it guarantee the safety of its employees there. Mr. Eckhard said that in response to Iraq's aide memoire, the United Nations Legal Counsel, Hans Corell, had replied in the same legal format, reminding the Government of its obligations to ensure the safety and security of United Nations personnel. There had not been a formal response to that from the Iraqi Government. Mr. Eckhard told a correspondent that he would have to check the number of United Nations personnel still in Iraq.
Would the United Nations be ready to accept East Timor as a new Member State, if Indonesia were to grant the territory independence? a correspondent asked. Mr. Eckhard said it was not up to the Secretariat to decide who members of the Organization should or should not be. That was for Member States to decide, he said, adding that the question was premature. He said the press would be briefed on Friday on the outcome of the latest round of talks on the territory being held at the senior official level. He reiterated that the Foreign Ministers of Indonesia and Portugal would be here on Sunday and that the Secretary-General would meet with them on Monday. There might be a statement on Monday following those talks, Mr. Eckhard said. There was a need to first hear officially from the Indonesian Government what East Timor's status would be.
Did the Secretary-General have any comment on the letter sent by Cuba and the Russian Federation proposing a change in the working methods of the Security Council and the General Assembly? a correspondent asked. Mr. Eckhard said he had not seen that letter, but would bring it to the Secretary- General's attention and get a comment.
Asked whether United Nations humanitarian workers in Iraq would be withdrawn, he said that only nationals of the United States and the United Kingdom were being pulled out.
United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) on the disposal of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction Chairman Richard Butler was supposed to meet with the Secretary-General this afternoon, a correspondent said, and asked whether that meeting would concern the withdrawal of personnel. Mr. Eckhard said he did not know what that discussion would entail, but would give a readout on that later this afternoon.
Were there also concerns about other humanitarian workers in Iraq? a correspondent asked. Mr. Eckhard said that the "explicit threat" had been to the nationals of the United States and the United Kingdom and that it was the "Security Coordinator's call to withdraw them". The personnel included those Iraq had said were not threatened. "I don't want to compare Benon Sevan's judgement with Richard Butler's judgement", Mr. Eckhard said.
Asked what the "explicit threat" was, Mr. Eckhard drew the correspondent's attention to Iraq's original aide memoire which said, in part, that it could not guarantee the safety and security of nationals of the United States and the United Kingdom.
A correspondent observed that Iraq had informed the Secretary-General that Mr. Butler himself was not welcome in the country. What was the situation now? the correspondent asked. Mr. Eckhard replied: "I think you're familiar with whatever Iraq had officially communicated to the Council. I don't want to comment on it".
A correspondent enquired about the status of discussions between the Secretary-General and the Government of Angola which the Security Council had urged. The Spokesman said the Secretary-General had sent a letter to the Angolan Government which he (the Spokesman) believed the Secretary-General's Special Representative, Issa Diallo, had delivered today. (The Spokesman said he would have to confirm that). He said the correspondent would recall that in its presidential statement of 21 January, the Council had called on the Secretary-General to consult urgently with the Government of Angola concerning a continued United Nations presence in the country. It was in that context that the letter had been sent to the Government of Angola.
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