DAILY PRESS BRIEFING OF OFFICE OF SPOKESMAN FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
11 March 1999
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General:
Good afternoon, everyone. I'd like to welcome Felix Downes-Thomas to the briefing. He's the Representative of the Secretary-General in Liberia. He's just out of the Security Council where he briefed them and he'll give you some idea of the latest developments in Liberia and take your questions.
I'll start with East Timor. The round of talks continued this morning as scheduled, after yesterday afternoon's meetings when the Secretary-General met with Foreign Minister Ali Alatas of Indonesia and Foreign Minister Jaime Gama of Portugal for one-and-a-half hours. The discussions were described as cordial and constructive and centred on methods to advance the process and mechanisms of consulting East Timorese opinion.
Ambassador Jamsheed Marker, the Personal Representative of the Secretary- General for East Timor, started a meeting at 10 o'clock this morning with the two Foreign Ministers. Following that, the Ministers will have a working lunch with the Secretary-General. They'll then go into an afternoon session. Ambassador Marker and the two Foreign Ministers will brief you this afternoon in this room at 4 p.m.
The Council is holding consultations this morning on Iraq and Liberia. Council members were briefed by Ambassador Celso Amorim of Brazil on the work of the three panels on Iraq. After that, the Council was briefed by Felix Downes-Thomas, who is here to speak with you after my briefing.
Once consultations are concluded this morning, the Council is to hold a formal meeting when a resolution on the extension of the mandate of the United Nations Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) is expected to be adopted.
**Afghan Talks in Ashkabad
We have for you in my Office a statement issued by the United Nations on behalf of the Afghan parties involved in the peace talks which began today in Ashkabad, Turkmenistan. The talks are based on the mutual willingness of both sides and are held without pre-conditions or pre-arranged agenda.
The start of the talks between the senior delegations clearly demonstrates the shared willingness of both sides to search for a political settlement through
face-to-face negotiations, this statement says, so take a look at it if you're interested.
**Ogata on Kosovo
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, today expressed her grave concern about the rising level of violence against the civilian population in Kosovo and the resulting forced displacement. "The humanitarian situation on the ground", she said, "is deteriorating rapidly despite ongoing diplomatic efforts. Civilians are again forced to spend bitter nights in the open."
She went on: "I feel that the scale of violence and displacement would only increase unless there is a breakthrough in reaching a political settlement."
The High Commissioner is in New York today to attend consultations with non-governmental organizations to discuss new guidelines on the protection of refugees, and we have a separate press release on her meetings in New York.
This morning an optional protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women was adopted by the Working Group of the Commission on the Status of Women. The protocol, which is the result of three years of negotiations, contains two procedures: a communications procedure allowing women, individually or in groups, to submit complaints; and an inquiry procedure allowing the Committee of its own right to initiate an inquiry into alleged grave or systematic violations.
Angela King, the Special Advisor of the Secretary-General on Gender Issues, said: "This is particularly timely as this year marks the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women."
The Working Group will present the protocol tomorrow to the Commission on the Status of Women for action. This will be in the form of a recommendation to the Economic and Social Council and to the General Assembly to adopt the optional protocol and to open it for signature, ratification and accession.
**Bomb Explosions in Northern Iraq
Two bomb explosions took place within 24 hours this week in northern Iraq. On 9 March at Erbil, an improvised explosive device, hidden inside a garbage drum alongside the perimeter wall of the residence of a Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) national staff member, wounded three local security guards on patrol duty at the United Nations premises. The FAO main office is situated approximately 50 metres from this site.
The second explosion took place at Dohuk in front of the Turkman Front Relations Office, which is a local political party, at a distance of approximately 100 metres from the offices of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the World Health Organization (WHO). An unidentified civilian, carrying the bomb on his body, allegedly died on the spot, and four other people sustained minor injuries. There were no casualties among United Nations staff reported.
**Swiss Parliamentary Vote
The Secretary-General is sending letters of congratulations to the President and Foreign Minister of Switzerland on the action taken yesterday by the Swiss Parliament, approving, by a vote of 108 to 13, a measure favouring membership in the United Nations.
In the letters, the Secretary-General says that he hopes Swiss citizens will vote for United Nations membership when the matter comes up in a national referendum some time before 2003. You'll recall that Swiss voters turned down United Nations membership in a similar referendum in 1986.
**Anti-Crime Projects Launched
Pino Arlacchi, the Executive Director of the Centre for International Crime Prevention, announced today the launch of three new global programmes to combat corruption, trafficking in human beings and organized criminal groups in the continuing fight against the growth of transnational crime.
The first project will include a global study of corruption, including the types and effectiveness of anti-corruption measures, as well as a technical cooperation component. As a crucial outcome of the study, the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Centre Institute will set up an international database that will be available to all Member States. It will include updated information on the study's results, best anti-corruption practices and international instruments against corruption.
The technical cooperation component will assist Member States to build or strengthen their ability to prevent, detect and fight corruption.
You can get details in a press release.
**Emir of Bahrain
The Secretary-General sent a letter to the Emir of the State of Bahrain expressing his condolences at the death of the former Emir, saying that throughout his reign Emir Issa was a staunch friend of the United Nations and a force for stability in that troubled region of the world.
You can get copies of the letter in my Office.
**Aid for Disaster Victims
At 3:30 this afternoon, Ambassadors representing the Group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries will present two cheques in the amount of $15,000 each for the victims of Hurricane Mitch and the Colombian earthquake to Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Under-Secretary- General Vieira de Mello.
The OCHA will ensure that the contribution is allocated to the most urgent needs of the people in the affected regions. To date, approximately $28.4 million in contributions have been reported to the OCHA, and the press are invited to attend this meeting, which will take place in the conference room on the 36th floor.
We have a press release from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on endangered antelopes reintroduced to Tunisia.
On treaties, we had three signings this morning. Bulgaria became the twenty-third Member State to sign the Second Optional Protocol to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights Aiming at the Abolition of the Death Penalty.
And Croatia and the Russian Federation became the seventh-eighth and seventy-ninth Members, respectively, to sign the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change.
A press conference tomorrow at 11 a.m. [by] Arkady Ghoukasian, President of Nagorno-Karabakh. That's sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Armenia to the United Nations.
And we expect to have at the noon briefing here Sergio Vieira de Mello, the Emergency Relief Coordinator.
Finally, the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA) has asked me to announce that there will be a briefing today at 4 p.m. in the UNCA Club on an independent investigation of the United Nations role in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. The featured briefer will be Senator Alain Destexhe of Belgium.
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