DAILY PRESS BRIEFING OF OFFICE OF SPOKESMAN FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
16 February 1999
The following is a near verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by the Spokesman for the Secretary-General, Fred Eckhard:
Good afternoon. The Secretary-General met on Friday with Rihad Massoud, the Deputy Chief of Mission of the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Washington, D.C.. Ambassador Massoud reported on recent efforts by Saudi Arabia and South Africa to assist the Secretary-General to bring to closure the matter of turning over the two Libyan suspects for trial in the Netherlands, in connection with the 1998 bombing of a Pan American airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland. Ambassador Massoud reported that all outstanding issues had been resolved.
The Secretary-General said on Saturday, through me, that he was greatly encouraged by the important progress made. Yesterday, he was consulting with all parties concerned with this matter. And, in coming into the building this morning, he said to the journalists at the front door that he hopes within a week to have a clear indication of what is happening.
**Kurds inside UN Geneva Office:
At about 4 a.m. today Geneva time, a group of some 25 Kurds entered the United Nations Office at Geneva using a fake delivery vehicle. After going through the gate, the group rushed to Door 4, which is one of the main entrances of the building -- which they broke open. They moved quickly through the building to Room 17, which is one of the conference rooms in the new building.
The Geneva police have been alerted; the security and safety services have isolated the new building and evacuated it. Meanwhile, activities in the old building are normal. The United Nations, through its head of security in Geneva, has been talking to this group of Kurds trying to persuade them to leave the building. There is a demonstration outside the Palais by a group of some 100 more Kurds.
**International Court of Justice:
We just got a press release, in fact we have it in English and in French, from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) -- you can pick up copies in my office -- saying that Eritrea has initiated proceedings in the ICJ in a dispute with Ethiopia concerning the alleged violation of the premises and of the staff of Eritrea's diplomatic mission in Addis Ababa.
Eritrea contends that during the week of 8 February, the Government of Ethiopia repeatedly violated the diplomatic immunities of Eritrea's accredited representative to Ethiopia and to the Organization of African Unity (OAU).
You'll see that on the Secretary-General's appointments for today is someone well-known to many of you -- Jean-Bernard Merimee, the former Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations. The Secretary- General has asked Ambassador Merimee to be a Special Adviser on European Matters at the level of Under-Secretary-General, to be paid only when actually employed. The six-month contract became effective yesterday.
A similar arrangement has been worked out with Yuliy Vorontsov, the former Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation, who was most recently Russia's Ambassador to Washington, D.C.. Ambassador Vorontsov retired from the Russian foreign service at the end of January and he, too, was offered a six-month contract, as of the first of February, again to be paid only when actually employed. And, he would serve as a Special Envoy to deal with issues relating to the Commonwealth of Independent States, or CIS.
**International Criminal Court:
The Secretary-General this morning opened the first session of the Preparatory Commission for the International Criminal Court. The Statute of the Court has so far been signed by 75 States and ratified by one -- Senegal. It requires 60 ratifications before the Court can start work.
The Secretary-General told the Commission that "the world is eager to see the International Criminal Court established as soon as possible. It expects this Commission to work hard and fast." He went on, "I believe the establishment of such a Court will be a fitting way to inaugurate the new millennium", and he added, "It puts the world on notice that crimes against humanity, which have disfigured and disgraced this century, will not go unpunished in the next."
In an exchange of letters with the President of the Security Council last Friday, the Secretary-General indicated his intention to appoint Major- General Jozsef Bali of Hungary as the next Chief Military Observer of the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP). He is expected to assume his post on 1 March. General Bali is replacing Major- General Sergio Espinosa Davies of Chile, who was recalled by his Government and left the Mission on 15 December.
**Payments to the UN:
One payment today, Cyprus, almost $350,000 to be paid in full for 1999, and that makes 40 States to be paid in full for this year.
That's all I have for you.
Question: Two questions: the Secretary-General -- does he have any comment on the arrest of Abdullah Ocalan in Kenya? And, second, do you have any read-out of the meeting between the Secretary-General and Mr. Kasoulides?
Spokesman: We don't know enough yet about the details of what happened in Kenya, so we would have no comment on that. And, the meeting with the Foreign Minister of Cyprus -- that was at the Foreign Minister's request, and we are trying to get a read out on that meeting now.
Question: Have there been any other reports of Kurdish protesters occupying any other United Nations offices elsewhere, besides Geneva?
Spokesman: There was a wire service report -- I'm not sure we are able to verify it through our own channels -- of two hostages taken in Armenia, the United Nations Office in Armenia. But, I don't have confirmation of that from our side.
Question: So, the Kurds are still in the United Nations building in Geneva right now?
Question: Am I recalling correctly -- wasn't that building overrun before by a larger group about two years ago?
Spokesman: It was 1997. I don't know the month. And, after some discussions, they were eventually talked into leaving the premises.
Question: Do we know what type of delivery truck and how it was approved to go through, was it a United Nations vehicle?
Spokesman: I don't have that detail, I'm sorry.
Question: Was that the Kurds also in 1997?
Spokesman: I believe so, yes.
Question: When is the meeting between Mr. Annan and Jean-Bernard Merimee? What time?
Spokesman: I think it's this afternoon; it should be on the appointments.
Question: And, what was his area of specialty?
Spokesman: European affairs, European Union essentially.
Question: Are the Kurds inside the United Nations offices in Geneva demanding anything specific -- do they want the United Nations to free Ocalan? What do they want?
Spokesman: As I said, we're having discussions with them. I believe they may have made some demands, but I'm not authorized to talk about it at this time, but one of them is not for the United Nations to free Mr. Ocalan. Don't think that's our business.
Question: On Libya -- this letter that the Secretary-General's supposed to send to Libya -- what is the purpose of the letter?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General did not confirm this morning, when he came into the building, and he was asked a similar question about a letter -- he did not confirm that there was a letter in the works, and therefore, I'll have to give you a respectful silence on the same question.
Question: I imagine the silence will continue, but why is the issue so delicate now compared to other weeks? Is there a sense that there is a possibility the two suspects are going to be turned over, among senior United Nations officials?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary-General feels that we're moving closer to a final resolution, and he doesn't want to do anything that'll upset the apple cart.
Question: Families are concerned that the guarantees that will come in a letter or something will "give away the store", would promise Libya that they will not face any intimidation or investigation based upon what happens at any trial. Can you not confirm this?
Spokesman: Well, the conditions are laid out in the Security Council resolution, and so there is no change in the fundamental offer that was made to Libya by the Americans and the British, as confirmed by the Security Council.
Question: "Only when actually employed" -- can you explain a little bit about what that means?
Spokesman: If you work an hour, you get paid for an hour's work. But, it's only when the Secretary-General would give them an assignment and they would carry out that assignment for two weeks or three weeks, they would be paid three weeks' worth of salary at the Under-Secretary-General level.
Question: So, there will be budget implications in the work of these two people?
Question: Will they have an office in the United Nations?
Spokesman: I don't believe either of them intends to have an office in the building, no.
Question: Back to Libya. You said the Secretary-General is talking to all the parties concerned. What is his involvement at this point?
Spokesman: As I've already explained to you, the Saudis and the South Africans got involved at his request. And, what he had been doing up until then was trying to clarify certain questions that the Libyans had in connection with the offer by the United States and the United Kingdom. And so yesterday he was merely touching base with each of the parties now that he had word from the Saudis and the South Africans that the outstanding issues had been resolved. Tying together all the strings.
Question: How many Kurds are actually in the compound in the Geneva Office?
Spokesman: We are told it's something like 25, 20 to 25.
Question: What is United Nations Legal Counsel Hans Corell doing regarding Libya yesterday or today?
Spokesman: He had been involved in discussing with Libyans the precise details for the transfer of the two suspects. And, as the chief legal adviser of the Secretary-General, he has been really very deeply involved in all aspects of the United Nations involvement in this Lockerbie case.
Question: Is there a sense of rushing to meet the 26 February deadline, announced by the United States or the United Kingdom, towards seeking tougher sanctions in the Council?
Spokesman: I think everyone's aware that the Council is scheduled for its next review on 26 February. I can't comment on whether any individual party is responding to that as a deadline, no.
Question: On Ocalan, has the Secretary-General taken any phone calls today from any Government or anyone involved in a marginal or direct way in this issue?
Spokesman: Not to my knowledge.
Question: (following the handing of a note to the Spokesman by a member of his staff) This just in -- would you like to revise any of your answers?
Spokesman: Just that we have no confirmation of the press report of two hostages having been taken in Armenia. (Following a brief exchange with staff member): Okay, so there was some kind of action at the United Nations Office in Armenia with protesters going into the Office, but they have left peaceably; no hostages.
Thank you very much.
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