DAILY PRESS BRIEFING OF OFFICE OF SPOKESMAN FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
19 April 1999
The following is a near verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by the Spokesman for the Secretary-General, Fred Eckhard:
The Secretary-General is expected to brief Security Council members on his recent contacts with a wide-range of actors involved in seeking a political solution to the [Kosovo] crisis and to emphasize the need for the Council to work together in this regard. Council members will also hear a briefing by Martin Griffiths, the Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, on the humanitarian aspects of the crisis. He's expected to report that as the number of refugees continues to rise sharply, and the international community pulls together to address their most basic needs, humanitarian organizations are increasingly concerned with the fate of some 700,000 people estimated to be displaced within the province of Kosovo with no access to basic assistance. Concern is also mounting with increasing reports from refugees of crimes against humanity. Humanitarian organizations operating in the Balkans also remain concerned with the fate of two relief workers and support the request made by the Secretary-General to Yugoslav authorities for their immediate release.
Following a major refugee exodus from Kosovo on Friday and Saturday, new arrivals again slowed to a trickle over the last twenty-four hours. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says they do not know what happened to the tens of thousands of people who were on their way out of the province. UNHCR said the most critical situation was in Kukes, in northern Albania, where the town was overflowing with more than 100,000 refugees. The border was closed Sunday after the announcement that the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was breaking off diplomatic relations with Albania, and then reopened on Monday morning. However, no new refugees were reported to have arrived as of midday Monday.
Monday morning, UNHCR staff reported that poor weather was hampering helicopter flights ferrying relief goods from Tirana to Kukes. Moving refugees from this sensitive border area to other parts of the country remains a top priority. There were limited movements of refugees into the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), mirroring the situation in Albania. New arrivals reported that a packed train was turned back from the border and two busloads of refugees were diverted away from the border as well. Attempts in FYROM to expand the existing camps have been frustrated by protests by local farmers. Negotiation for new sites is under way at the highest level. The Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees, Gerald Walzer, is in FYROM to urge the Government to keep its borders open to refugees fleeing Kosovo, and to allow the expansion of existing camps or the creation of new camps.
Into Montenegro, there were only 500 new arrivals during the weekend. Meanwhile, distribution of UNHCR commodities brought in from Belgrade is starting today, including baby parcels, clothing, shoes, jerry cans, blankets and cooking sets, as well as tents and mattresses. In view of the number of new arrivals, UNHCR is stepping up the evacuation programme and has activated a number of offers from European countries. Several hundred Kosovars will fly to Poland today, and France, Belgium, Austria and Turkey have scheduled evacuation flights tomorrow. The World Health Organization (WHO) Director General, Gro Harlem Brundtland, in a statement issued today, pledged her organization's commitment in the response to the crisis, and outlined actions underway or planned.
Available as Security Council documents today are the Chairman's summary of the Special European Union Summit on 14 April, which the Secretary-General had attended; the Yugoslav response to the Secretary-General's letter to President Slobodan Milosevic; and the German peace plan for Kosovo, "which does exist, contrary to some reports".
Also, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, it was announced today in Geneva, will travel to the Kosovo area in early May.
Security Council members were briefed this morning by Ambassador Lakhdar Brahimi, the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General to Afghanistan. He briefed in detail about his meetings with government and Taliban officials in Afghanistan, as well as meetings held in Pakistan, Iran, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. He gave a summary of the political, humanitarian and human rights situations in the country, and briefed on the security of United Nations staff, which he claims is "so far so good". Council members will be working on a statement to the press, which will touch on the recent setback of Taliban's refusal to continue talks in Ashgabad. "Between the conclusions drawn by both the Secretary-General in his recent report and Ambassador Brahimi's briefing today, I expect the statement to deal with other aspects of the situation in the country".
"We also have a note from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs on Afghanistan, saying that, on the humanitarian side, organizations operating in Afghanistan are saying they are seriously concerned with the increasing risk of a major crisis following the resumption of fighting around Bamyan, the capital of the Hazarajat region". Around 20,000 people were displaced due to fighting last month, in and around the town of Bamyan, but the absence of international personnel in the region is hindering United Nations organizations from determining the nature of the displacement.
On East Timor, following reports that a large number of pro-integration militia members entered Dili on Saturday morning and resorted to widespread violence which caused casualties and damage to property. The Secretary- General issued a statement on that day strongly deploring these acts and regretting the apparent inability of the Indonesian authorities to control the violence by the militias and to protect the civilian population. He called for an immediate end to this escalation of tension by all sides. Copies of the statement are available in the office.
The Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for East Timor, Jamsheed Marker, is in contact with the Indonesian authorities in order to ascertain the facts and learn of the measures taken by the Indonesian Government. The Secretary-General himself spoke with Foreign Minister Ali Alatas over the weekend. Meanwhile, preparations continue for the next round of talks on East Timor, to be held here at Headquarters from 21 to 23 April. On Wednesday, the senior officials will meet, chaired by Ambassador Marker. Then Ministerial level talks will be held on Thursday and Friday. The Secretary-General will be meeting with Foreign Minister Alatas of Indonesia and Foreign Minister Jaime Gama of Portugal.
The International Contact Group meeting on Sierra Leone here at Headquarters is discussing the United Nations facilitated peace process, as well as security-related matters. The one-day meeting is being chaired by Tony Lloyd, the United Kingdom Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. Mr. Lloyd will speak to the press at the second floor stand-up microphone this afternoon at 4:30. Over the weekend, as part of the peace effort, the rebel leader Foday Sankoh travelled from Sierra Leone to Togo on a United Nations plane after the Sanctions Committee indicated a willingness to waive the travel ban put in place by resolution 1132. "And that was for the purpose, of course, of facilitating his participation in the meeting".
**New UNDP Administrator
"Now, in response to press reports, I can confirm that the Secretary- General has selected Mark Malloch Brown, a United Kingdom national who is currently Vice President for External Affairs at the World Bank, as the new Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)". The Secretary-General is currently consulting with the UNDP Governing Board and will make a formal announcement at midweek, at which point he will submit the appointment to the General Assembly for confirmation.
The Secretary-General has upgraded the head of his office in Burundi, Cheikh Tidiane Sy, to Representative, in light of the critical stage that the peace process in that country has reached. An exchange of letters between the Secretary-General and the President of the Security Council is on the racks.
Olara Otunnu, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, is attending the African Conference on the Use of Children as Soldiers. That's taking place in Maputo, Mozambique. Mr. Otunnu will also be assessing the post-conflict situation for children in Mozambique and returns to New York on Monday.
**International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda
The former Prefect of Cyangugu, Rwanda, pleaded not guilty today to counts of genocide and crimes against humanity, brought against him by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania. The accused is alleged to have been responsible for killing and causing serious bodily harm to members of the Tutsi population in Cyangugu prefecture in 1994. He is also accused of having prepared lists of people to eliminate and distributed them to Interahamwe militiamen with orders to kill people on the lists. A press release is available for those interested.
**WHO Press Release
"We have three press releases from the World Health Organization (WHO) today". The WHO says the world's most dreaded disease, leprosy, a disease that has filled humanity with dread since time immemorial, is nearing elimination worldwide as a public health problem.
The agency also reported today that a new European study shows that pipes and cigars, long promoted by the tobacco industry as status symbols or "glamorous cousins to the humble cigarette", are just as lethal. "They cause cancer and they kill just like cigarettes do".
Finally, WHO says five of the 10 leading causes of disability worldwide are mental health problems. To address this important issue, a meeting on mental health in Europe, organized by the European Commission and WHO, will be held from 22 to 24 April in Brussels, Belgium.
**Food Supply and Y2K
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warns that the so-called Millennium Bug threatens global farm production. "The Millennium Bug could prove one of the most dangerous pests threatening farmers, along with locusts and brown plant-hoppers they have battled throughout the centuries", the FAO says in a press release. According to FAO, the computer-dependency of agriculture and food supply systems has received very little attention. "In one way or another, Year 2000 computer problems threaten almost all of the supplies and services essential for agricultural production", says FAO. Everything from seed supplies to distribution networks and market information systems is vulnerable to the Y2K problem.
**Background Note on Sanctions
"I wanted to point out that we now have an updated background note on the Use of Sanctions Under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter." It's posted on the Internet, on the Spokesman's Office website, www.un.org/News/ossg. "OSSG" is us, the Office of the Spokesman for the Secretary-General. The note contains a list of sanctions imposed by the Security Council, past and present. There have been twelve cases in all; eight are still in place.
Press conferences for tomorrow. At 11:15 a.m., the first meeting of States Parties to the Convention Banning Landmines. That will be with Ambassadors Carlos Dos Santos of Mozambique, Robert Fowler of Canada and our own Jayantha Dhanapala, the Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs. At tomorrow's noon briefing, Mrs. Elizabeth Rehn, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
"And one little practical announcement for those who like to stand on Sutton Place, the Secretary-General has decided he will not speak to the press outside his residence. So the sidewalk is free, you can stand there if you want, he'll smile at photographers, but he won't say anything to any of you". All are free to stake out here at the entrance to the Secretariat, where he is much more likely to speak with the press.
**Question and Answer Session
Question: Will the Secretary-General speak to the press after his briefing of the Security Council?
Spokesman: I think he'll stop at the microphone if you shout at him.
Question: Was there a read-out of the meeting between Mr. Simitis of Greece and the Secretary-General?
Spokesman: No, that broke up just too close to the beginning of the briefing. I'm sure Kosovo was high on their agenda. We'll try to get a read- out later.
Question: The Deputy Director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) this morning said there were 120,000 child soldiers in Africa. Did the Secretary-General intend to address that question through his Special Representative at the Maputo Conference?
Spokesman: We only just found out about Olara Otunnu's attendance in Maputo. It might be good to get him to talk to the press when he returns and he can address that issue in detail. "I don't know whether he delivered an address on his behalf, but of course he's the representative of the Secretary- General, so in essence everything he says represents the Secretary-General's concerns as well". Let's get him when he comes back.
Question: Will Mary Robinson go into Kosovo in May?
Spokesman: No one from the outside has been allowed into Kosovo except Médecins sans Frontières of Greece. Greek non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are the only ones allowed in. It doesn't seem possible, which is why she is "visiting the region".
Question: The Secretary-General had a meeting with Mr. Arias, the former President of Costa Rica. What was that about?
Spokesman: I don't know. They were trying to reschedule that because of the briefing of the Security Council. I'll try to get a read-out.
Question: The Secretary-General's letter in response to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia talks about the "beginning stage" of the search for a resolution. What's the next stage?
Spokesman: I think he's trying to indicate that this is going to be a long and difficult process, so he said we're just at the beginning of the search for a political solution. The nature of the Yugoslav reaction to the Secretary-General's proposal on 9 April indicates that a solution isn't around the corner. We'll have to keep plugging away at it, it'll take time. That's what it means.
Question: Will the Secretary-General go to Washington for the 50th anniversary celebration of NATO? Had he been invited?
Spokesman: I don't know, I'll check. (It was later announced that the Secretary-General had not been invited to Washington for the NATO 50th anniversary celebration.)
Question: Was there a possibility the East Timor talks would be postponed?
Spokesman: So far, no. As of this morning, indications are that the senior officials' and the Foreign Ministers' meetings will take place as scheduled.
**Note: It was later announced that the Secretary-General would pay an official visit to Germany from 26 to 28 April. Also, after consultation with the Russian Federation, the Secretary-General had decided to extend that trip by one day for a visit to Moscow on 29 April.
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