DAILY PRESS BRIEFING OF OFFICE OF SPOKESMAN FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
12 March 1999
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General:
**Death of Yehudi Menuhin
The Secretary-General, who learned with great sadness this morning of the death of Lord Menuhin, issued a statement, you can get the full text in my Office. It says in part, "Yehudi Menuhin was not only a great musician whose heart brought joy to millions of people all over the world, he was also a brilliant teacher and a citizen of the world in the fullest sense, one whose vision and culture gave him a deep empathy with fellow human beings of every creed and colour and who constantly sought to place his fame and wisdom at the service of humanity".
**Return to Afghanistan
On behalf of the Secretary-General, I'd like to inform you that the United Nations has decided to initiate the gradual return of United Nations international personnel to Afghanistan. All United Nations international personnel were evacuated after the murder of three colleagues in July and August last year.
The decision to return has been taken following evidence of progress in the investigations of these murders and of concerted efforts by the Taliban to comply with a security agreement it signed with the United Nations last October.
Other determining factors include the recent assessment of security conditions in Kabul, Herat, Kandahar and Jalalabad, and the revision of the common United Nations strategy for Afghanistan for the coming months. The United Nations will continue to monitor closely the situation in Afghanistan as a basis for its continued presence in the country.
And on that note, I'd like to welcome Sergio Vieira de Mello, the Under- Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and the Emergency Relief Coordinator. After my briefing, he will give you more details and take any questions you might have.
**Afghan Peace Talks
Also on Afghanistan, the second day of intra-Afghan talks continued from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. today. They were described as friendly, frank and focused.
The details of the discussions are confidential, but the two sides remain determined to work towards concrete results. No time has been set for the overall duration of these talks. They will resume tomorrow at 9 a.m., after a further round tonight, starting at 2100 hours.
The Secretary-General will meet with the Foreign Minister of Cambodia this afternoon at 3 p.m.. They will discuss the report of the Experts Group on how to bring Khmer Rouge leaders to justice. There will be a photo-op upstairs before that meeting, and shortly after it we will release to you a two-page summary of the conclusions of the Experts' report.
We understand that the Cambodian Foreign Minister might speak to you at the "stakeout" outside the Security Council after the meeting. Then, because of a delay in the translation of the full document, the Secretary-General now expects to transmit the complete report to the General Assembly and the Security Council in the middle of next week. Wednesday is our best guess.
**East Timor Talks
Yesterday afternoon, following the conclusion of the latest round of talks on East Timor, Ambassador Jamsheed Marker, the Personal Representative of the Secretary-General for East Timor, met with Timorese resistance leaders in order to keep them abreast of developments and to hear their views. He met with Joao Carascalao, Constancio Pinto and Jose Luis Guterrez.
For the record, the Secretary-General announced yesterday that the parties had agreed on a method of direct ballot to ask the people of East Timor whether they accept or reject the autonomy proposal. Specific details on how to carry out the popular consultation are being worked out. The Secretary-General also said that the Indonesian delegation undertook to convey Indonesia's revisions to the autonomy plan as soon as they are completed.
The talks on East Timor will resume in New York on 13 and 14 April at the senior-official level and the Foreign Ministers of Indonesia and Portugal are then scheduled to meet with the Secretary-General on 22 April.
There's no Security Council today. The next scheduled meeting is on Tuesday.
**Angola: Future United Nations Presence
The Secretary-General's Special Representative in Angola, Issa Diallo, will come to New York on Tuesday 16 March. He is expected to brief the Secretary-General on the details of the follow-up discussions he has had with the Angolan Government [and] on the future presence of the United Nations in Angola.
Mr. Diallo is reported to be bringing a letter from the Angolan President, [Jose Eduardo] Dos Santos, but we have no details of what it contains.
**Sanctions Committees Meet on Iraq and Sierra Leone
Two sanctions committee meetings today: 661, which is the one that oversees sanctions on Iraq, is meeting this morning in Conference Room 7. The Chairman of that Committee, Ambassador van Walsum of the Netherlands, will brief the press on all related issues and the financing of Iraqi pilgrims to the Haj outside that conference room following the closed session. We don't have a specific time.
Then the 1132 Committee, which oversees the arms embargo on non- governmental forces and the travel restrictions on the members of the Revolutionary United Front and the former junta in Sierra Leone, will meet this afternoon at 3:30 p.m., also in Conference Room 7. The Committee will hear a briefing by Francis Okelo, the Secretary-General's Special Envoy, on the latest situation in that country.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported in Geneva today on the exodus of Congolese escaping fighting in their country, a Sierra Leonean rebel attack inside Guinea and the rapidly deteriorating situation in Kosovo.
Referring to a cross-border attack by Sierra Leonean rebels on a town inside Guinea on Monday, UNHCR said that incident, combined with the desperate humanitarian situation in Kambia in northern Sierra Leone, have raised concern among UNHCR staff that much larger numbers of refugees might flee to Guinea. UNHCR has registered almost 4,000 refugees since Monday, as well as Guineans who fled their homes and have moved into camps.
In Kosovo, heavy fighting and military activity was reported by UNHCR in a number of areas. All indications suggest large numbers of internally displaced may be in the open in Kacanik municipality in southern Kosovo. Difficult terrain and inaccessible locations have thwarted continuing UNHCR efforts to locate and assist those displaced. Several villages are not only empty, but nearly all houses have been burnt to the ground.
You can see the UNHCR briefing note for more details.
**Republic of Congo
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is reporting between 120,000 and 300,000 internally displaced people in the very insecure Pool area south of Brazzaville in the Republic of the Congo. The area borders the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
A United Nations humanitarian mission was dispatched to that area today.
**Slavery in Sudan
In a statement released today in Geneva and in New York, Carol Bellamy, the Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), said that privately-funded, well-intentioned efforts of charitable groups to buy the release of slaves in Sudan are not an adequate response to a grotesque practice which has had a resurgence during the protracted civil war there. She welcomed recent overtures to UNICEF by the Advisory Council for Human Rights of the Republic of the Sudan to assist in addressing the slavery problem, but noted that a number of former initiatives in this regard have been unsuccessful.
She proposed specific steps in any joint effort by the United Nations and other agencies to help bring an end to the slave trade in Sudan, including freedom of movement for international verifiers; full support for retrieval, tracing and reunification programmes; and provision of free access to document all phases of a full-scale effort to bring the slave trade to an end, to free its victims and to restore them to their rightful communities and families.
The full statement is available in my office.
**WFP and North Korea
We also have for you a humanitarian update on North Korea for the month of March issued by the World Food Programme (WFP).
On signatures, this morning Brazil signed the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings and the Tampere Convention on the provision of telecommunications resources for disaster mitigation and relief operations.
There was one press conference today. It was this morning, given by Mr. Arkady Ghoukasian of Nagorno-Karabagh at a press conference sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Armenia.
The [United Nations] Correspondents Association has asked me to announce that Rosario Manalo, the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Philippines and candidate for Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), would like to meet the press corps in the UNCA Club on Monday at 1 p.m.
**The Week Ahead
We have the full week-ahead document for you in my office, but I'll highlight just a few things. The Commission on the Status of Women, acting as the preparatory committee for the special session of the General Assembly entitled "Women 2000: Gender Equity, Development and Peace for the 21st Century", will meet at United Nations Headquarters next week from 15 to 19 March.
Then on Tuesday, the Security Council has scheduled consultations on Angola and a letter from Papua New Guinea concerning Bougainville.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, will be in New York on a five-day visit starting [on] Tuesday.
The Secretary-General's report to the Security Council on Guinea-Bissau is due on Wednesday. Also, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Klaus Topfer is to address the Central African Regional Conference on the Conservation of Tropical Forests. That's at a summit meeting in Yaounde, Cameroon, and he'll deliver a message on behalf of the Secretary-General.
Joseph Connor, the Under-Secretary-General for Management, will brief you here in Room 226 on the financial situation of the United Nations. That's during the noon briefing.
Then on Friday, the Secretary-General's progress report on the United Nations Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina (UNMIBH) is due.
Mary Robinson will come here to the noon briefing.
And the Secretary-General has organized a retreat for his Senior Management Group on Friday, 19 March, through Sunday, another shot weekend.
**Question and Answer Session
Question: I just wanted to check; it said on the list of appointments for the Deputy Secretary-General for today there's a noon appointment with Mr. [Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs Jayantha] Dhanapala and several Ambassadors from Austria, Canada, Mozambique, Norway, [and] South Africa. I was wondering what the subject was, from the list it looked like it might be a landmines thing, and I was just wondering whether that was the case.
Answer: I do know that she will attend the landmines meeting in Maputo [Mozambique], representing the Secretary-General. I suspect that's what it's about, but let me get back to you with a confirmation. [That was later confirmed.]
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