DAILY PRESS BRIEFING OF OFFICE OF SPOKESMAN FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
31 March 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 exodus from Kosovo continued through the night and today. More than 130,000 people have now fled to surrounding countries and territories since 24 March. A table of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) figures is available in my Office.
According to UNHCR field reports, in the day's most dramatic development a 12-car train carrying up to 3,000 people crossed into the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia today. The new arrivals talked of being forced from their homes with death threats and watching the buildings being torched as they left.
Several thousand people, many of whom had spent several nights in the mountains in freezing temperatures, also reached the safety of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia today. Several women gave birth en route. Some people arrived barefoot.
Albania continued to be the major exit point for Kosovars and thousands of people continued to stream into that nation. The latest arrivals in the Albanian town of Kukes said they had encountered landmine explosions en route and that there had been casualties. Several men arrived with shrapnel and gunshot wounds, but there was no further information on the background to these incidents.
An estimated 5,000 people arrived in Montenegro Tuesday, bringing the total influx into that region to 25,000 in the last week.
The High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, will visit Albania and the region next week (Tuesday through Friday).
The World Food Program Executive Director, Catherine Bertini, told reporters in London today that she was concerned over the lack of food in Kosovo, where the food distribution system has collapsed, and that in the absence of international assistance the people there are faced with extreme hardship and hunger.
As you know, the Secretary-General, yesterday afternoon, said he was "profoundly outraged" by reports of ethnic cleansing conducted by Serbian forces in Kosovo, particularly in the absence of all independent observers.
**International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia
The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia this morning made public letters she wrote last week to top Yugoslav officials, including President Milosevic, reminding them of their obligations under international law and warning them of their accountability.
Prosecutor Louise Arbour also announced that in recent days, the United States, the United Kingdom and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) have indicated that they will share information with her office on perpetrators of crimes within the Tribunal's jurisdiction. "I welcome these statements and I take these assurances seriously," she said.
The Prosecutor also made public an indictment against "Arkan", or Zseljko Raznjatovic. She says she can only hope that the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia will see fit to comply with the dictates of the Security Council and will proceed immediately with Arkan's arrest and his transfer to The Hague. We have a press release in our office with more details.
Also from the Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, we have a statement from its President, Judge Gabrielle Kirk McDonald, who is "stunned and horrified" by the recent reports out of Kosovo. She echoes the Prosecutor's call to President Milosevic to prevent further crimes, and reminds him that just eight months ago the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda convicted that country's former Prime Minister of genocide. In so doing, the court affirmed that governments have a responsibility to ensure that their citizens live in peace and security. The resulting trust and authority that governments enjoy applies equally, if not more, to heads of State. The statement is also available in our Office.
**United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR)
The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, and the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on the situation in the former Yugoslavia, Jiri Dienstbier, expressed the gravest concern today at reports of summary executions and disappearances suffered by members of the ethnic Albanian population in Kosovo. They are also deeply concerned at the plight of tens of thousands of refugees and displaced persons uprooted by the ongoing Kosovo crisis.
The High Commissioner and the Special Rapporteur said they are appalled by reports of the killings of Kosovo Albanian human rights defenders, intellectuals and political leaders. We have the full statement available in our Office.
The Security Council held consultations this morning on Guinea-Bissau. They discussed the draft of a resolution which, among other aspects, supports the establishment of a United Nations Post-Conflict Peace-Building Support Office in Guinea-Bissau.
Today is the last day of March and it marks the end of the Chinese presidency of the Council. The president of the Council during the month of April will be the Permanent Representative of France. Tomorrow, the first day of the month, the President of the Council is expected to hold bilateral consultations with Council members to decide on the Council's work programme for the month.
**International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda
The Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda issued a press release today on the arrest of an individual suspected of involvement in the genocide in Rwanda and in the murder of 10 Belgian peacekeepers there in 1994.
The Prosecutor welcomes Bernard Ntuyahaga's arrest by the Tanzanian authorities. He had been released by the Tribunal after the Prosecutor requested that the charges against him be withdrawn, because she considered that it was more appropriate for him to be tried in Belgium than at the International Tribunal.
The Prosecutor also says that the Tribunal's Registrar had requested States to extend safe conduct to the suspect. She says she is not aware of any provisions under international law that would require this, and says that she will move to have the safe conduct provision rescinded.
We have that press release available in our Office, along with a press release from the Tribunal's Registry explaining why they acted as they did. Essentially, they say that they were carrying out the decision of the judges.
The Secretary-General is leaving next Tuesday for Geneva and Spain. He will chair the spring session of the Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC), which brings together the heads of all the funds, programmes and agencies of the United Nations system. He'll also address the fifty-fifth session of the Commission on Human Rights.
While in Geneva, he will have a number of bilateral meetings, including one with his Special Envoy for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi. He will also address the twenty-sixth session of the Chairmen and Coordinators of the Group of 77.
The Secretary-General and Mrs. Anann will be the guests of honour of the Geneva United Nations Correspondents Association fiftieth anniversary celebration.
He will be in Geneva until 11 April, when he leaves for an official visit to Spain. He will meet the President, Jose Maria Aznar, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Abel Matutes, and other senior government officials.
The Secretary-General and Mrs. Annan will also be the guests of an official luncheon offered by King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia.
He'll pay tribute to the Spanish soldiers who died while serving in United Nations peacekeeping operations and he'll deliver a speech at the Spanish Diplomatic School. He'll also receive an award given to him by the International Press Club. He'll be back in New York on 15 April.
And finally, on press conferences, the United States Mission to the United Nations is sponsoring a press conference to be held this afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in this room, by the Women's Coalition for the International Conference on Population and Development. They will brief you on the Cairo +5 review process.
Question: How many people does UNHCR have in Albania, Montenegro and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia?
Spokesman: I'd have to check with them. I heard Mrs. Ogata say, at the Senior Management Group meeting this morning, that she had moved in some ten additional international staff into Albania. Of course, she'll be visiting that area herself very soon, but the precise numbers, we'll have to get for you.
Question: I haven't read the International Criminal Tribunal release yet... whatever you are saying now, is it a warning to Milosevic or is it a diplomatic way of calling him a war criminal?
Spokesman: It is a reminder to him that as a Head of State, he has responsibilities under international law. I think the hope is that there could be some deterrent value. Of course, these are letters that she sent last week that she's just made public today.
Question: In Jadranka's absence, any word of any momentum for an emergency General Assembly session on the situation in Yugoslavia?
Spokesman: Not that I've heard, but let me double check with General Assembly Affairs and get back to you after the briefing. [He later confirmed there was no request for an Assembly meeting on Kosovo.]
Question: I know the answer is no, but anything new with Libya? Is United Nations Legal Counsel Hans Corell still in the building?
Spokesman: He, too, was at the Senior Management Group meeting this morning. He is still here. Nothing new and, of course, we won't be saying anything about arrangements for the possible transfer of the two suspects to The Hague.
Question: Sort of an in-house matter, but just a question. Yesterday in the basement, dozens of women had a demonstration. I don't know if you're aware of it. They held up signs and our crew, which we talked about with Security, was interrupted or bothered. What are the house rules/procedures if a group, a non-governmental organization, holds a demonstration in a hallway in the basement? Is that demonstration illegal? Is it supposed to be broken up? What happens?
Spokesman: I think people are expected to comport themselves in a proper way inside the building. I'd have to check with Security, if there are any specific rules against organized demonstrations in the building. On the one hand, we would want to preserve freedom of speech. On the other, we're responsible for the safety of the people who work and visit here. So, let me get a line from Security for you.
On the case of your crew, we'll be talking to Security this afternoon about that. Our position will be -- ours being the Spokesman's Office -- that your crew would have the right to film any event, including any disruption, seeing it's, from your point of view, a news event. We'll have to clarify with Security that they will respect that. I think they have some contrary rules, but we'll talk that out this afternoon.
Question: In the odd case that he's asked, has the Secretary-General made himself available to become a part of whatever negotiations on the situation in Yugoslavia while he's in Europe, in Geneva and Spain? Would he take a trip to Belgium for instance?
Spokesman: His position, as I mentioned to you yesterday, is to follow the situation closely. People ask, why don't you step in, why don't you go to Yugoslavia. He's not going to get involved unless he can be helpful in some way. And so he will be looking, and if he sees an opportunity, presumably he would make himself available to governments. But, at the moment, he doesn't see one.
Question: Is what's going on in Kosovo, in your opinion, ethnic cleansing or genocide, because the Secretary-General yesterday spoke about ethnic cleansing, and the White House today said it was genocide.
Question: We mentioned yesterday that the last of the international organizations, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and, I think Medecins Sans Frontiers, had left Kosovo. The first requirement, I believe, under the Genocide Convention, is to establish that genocide has taken place. Then governments that are party to the Convention have certain options open to them once it's been established. You've noticed we have not yet used the term genocide, because we don't feel we have firm enough evidence. We don't know enough about what's going on.
I believe that the High Commissioner for Human Rights will be interviewing extensively the refugees who are pouring out of Kosovo right now. We'll have to see whether she gets, from those interviews, a basis to make a determination. Under the Convention, you know, it's governments who are parties, who then agree to take certain actions once they've established that genocide is taking place.
Question: Officially, who determines what is genocide?
Spokesman: The individual governments, who are parties to the Convention, can make a determination.
Thank you very much.
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