DAILY PRESS BRIEFING OF OFFICE OF SPOKESMAN FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
20 April 1999
The following is a near verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by the Spokesman for the Secretary-General, Fred Eckhard:
As staff from her agency and partner groups struggle to bring relief from the suffering to the unrelenting stream of ethnic Albanian refugees from Kosovo, Sadako Ogata, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, today appealed for more help from governments and urged States to keep their borders open. Mrs. Ogata vowed that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) would help the refugees cope with the burden of the more than 650,000 refugees from the Serbian province.
"We will do our utmost", she said. "But we need additional support, and we need it now." Mrs. Ogata also warned that, while providing support to humanitarian agencies, political leaders must develop their efforts to reach a political solution. "Otherwise", she said, "the Kosovo crisis will affect the Balkans for years to come."
Mrs. Ogata also urged the world to focus on the immediate cause of the crisis. "The bottom line is that ethnic cleansing must stop", she said. "And it must stop immediately. If it does not end, this crisis will continue for a long time and more people will suffer, no matter how efficient we are in bringing relief to refugees."
Meanwhile, Mrs. Ogata's staff at the border reported with concern the slowdown of refugee flows from Kosovo. No significant new arrivals were reported by midday into Albania. Some 3,000 refugees crossed the border into an area in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), difficult to reach by even four-wheel vehicles because of the poor roads. The new arrivals said 7,000 more were on the way. At one of three major crossing from Kosovo to FYROM, the UNHCR reported 3,000 people were stuck in a no-man's land. Meanwhile, a train arrived at the Blace crossing. Only those with passports, numbering about 150, were allowed off. UNHCR staff at Blace reported that the train went back into Kosovo with some 250 to 350 people in it.
The UNHCR also reported with concern the escalating tensions along the Montenegro/Kosovo border. More than 70,000 people have fled from Kosovo into Montenegro. The United Nations spokesman in Montenegro announced today that the United Nations policing mission in Bosnia, the International Police Task Force (IPTF), had stepped up monitoring of border crossings with Montenegro and the main roads to Sarajevo, after receiving disturbing allegations that refugees were being harassed and robbed, possibly even by Republika Srpska officers, while making their way into Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Elizabeth Rehn, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Bosnia and Herzegovina, is briefing the Security Council today. She is expected to provide an overall report of the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as the work of the United Nations mission there, UNMIBH. She may also raise the issue of the impact of NATO airstrikes and the inflow of tens of thousands of refugees to Bosnia. We had planned to have her here at the meeting, but she is still with the Council. It's unlikely she'll make it. We'll arrange for her to speak at the stand-up microphone.
The UNHCR reported more people were also crossing into Bosnia, where more than 30,000 had arrived. In her news release, Mrs. Ogata welcomed FYROM's decision on Monday to allow the construction of a new refugee camp and a new transit centre. Mrs. Ogata also asked FYROM to approve the construction of more camps and the expansion of the existing ones to accommodate newly arriving refugees. The UNHCR also expressed deep sorrow over the deaths of three aid workers from the United States-based non-governmental organization (NGO), Refugees International, in Albania over the weekend.
The World Food Programme (WFP) said it has delivered more than 2,000 metric tonnes of food to Albania since 28 March. The WFP will provide the Montenegran Government with approximately 3,000 metric tonnes to help them with their own food supply problems for the general population. The WFP is also appealing for an additional 6 million humanitarian daily rations to feed the next surge of refugees from Kosovo.
Out on the racks today as document S/1999/433 is a proposal on Kosovo suggested by the President of Ukraine.
Louise Arbour, the Chief Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) is in London today, meeting with the United Kingdom Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, and with Defence Minister George Robinson. The United Kingdom announced today it would hand over evidence of alleged Serb atrocities in Kosovo. Germany, yesterday, also provided information to Mrs. Arbour.
The Security Council is having consultations today on the United Nations Mission of Observers in Prevlaka in southern Croatia. The report of the Secretary-General on that came out last week. In it, the Secretary-General says he is encouraged by bilateral discussions between Croatia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, but not so substantial progress has been achieved. We have 27 military observers in Prevlaka, from 24 countries.
The next round of talks on East Timor are due to start tomorrow here at United Nations Headquarters. They'll continue through Friday. Tomorrow's meetings are at the senior-official level. They'll be chaired by Ambassador Jamsheed Marker, the Personal Representative of the Secretary-General. As usual, Ambassador Marker will first hold bilateral talks. At 10:30 a.m. tomorrow, he'll meet with the Portuguese delegation led by Ambassador Fernando Neves. The bilateral meeting with the Indonesian delegation led by Ambassador Nugroho Wisnumurti will begin at 2:30 p.m. All of them will then meet together at 3:30 p.m. Tomorrow, we will confirm the agenda for the ministerial level talks which will take place on Thursday and Friday.
**Iraq Oil-for-Food Programme
The weekly update from the Iraq programme is available. Executive Director Benon Sevan estimates that Iraqi oil sales for the current phase could reach around $3.4 billion. This is a significant and welcome increase on the estimate of $2.9 billion made in February. However, Mr. Sevan cautions against relying too much on the current upswing in the price of oil, and notes that even with the $3.4 billion, there is still a humanitarian deficit of more than $2.5 billion for the Oil-for-Food Programme over the last two phases. That would cover six months each. So the situation has gone from terrible to bad.
On Ethiopia-Eritrea, Ambassador Mohamed Sahnoun, the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Africa, is at Headquarters holding consultations in preparation for his visit to Ethiopia and Eritrea. As part of his mission, Ambassador Sahnoun will also consult with the Chairman of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso, and the OAU Secretary-General, Salim Salim. Ambassador Sahnoun is expected to leave for the region soon. We'll give you the details of his travel plans as soon as available.
On Afghanistan, the United Nations weekly flight from Islamabad to Faizabad, north of Kabul in Afghanistan, was cancelled today because of fighting in the area. An assessment mission to consider the return of United Nations international staff to the region has been postponed. Currently, United Nations staff are in Kabul and Kandahar as part of a limited and phased return to Afghanistan.
**World Food Programme
The WFP confirmed today the first-ever bilateral arrangement between the United States and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). The amount is for 100,000 metric tonnes of food aid and an additional 100,000 tonnes of potato seeds from the United States to the DPRK through United States NGOs. The first 2,000 metric tonnes of food aid will be taken from WFP stocks. The WFP will be issuing an appeal for the DPRK later this week. We expect Catherine Bertini, the Executive Director of WFP, to be here on Friday as a guest at the briefing.
The United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development opened its two- week session here yesterday. It began a three-day dialogue on how to reduce the negative environmental and social impacts of the tourist industry. There's a big delegation from the business side, hotel chains, airlines and travel agents, and also from local government, the mayors of Heidelberg and Honolulu, for example. We have a media advisory on the racks, giving a schedule and a delegation list. The dialogue wraps up tomorrow at noon, and there will be two press conferences.
**Press Conferences Tomorrow
A press conference at 2 p.m. tomorrow concerns tourism and local government, and another at 2:30 p.m. is on NGOs and trade unions in the context of "sustainable tourism", as it's called. A third press conference for tomorrow will launch the International Commission on Sustainable Consumption. That's at 11:15 a.m.
Question: Did the Secretary-General have any reaction to yesterday's Financial Times article about the UNDP Administrator [James Gustave] Speth?
Spokesman: We saw that article. It said Mr. Speth was leaving midway through his first term, having accomplished not much. That was the thrust of it. In fact, Mr. Speth is leaving in the middle of his second term. There's a fundamental difference there. He gave the Secretary-General more than two years notice, that he would leave in the middle of his second term because he felt by time he would have accomplished much of what he set out to do and that he intended to go to Yale University and become Dean of the School of Forestry and Environmental Science. Of course, the Financial Times writer is free to assess Mr. Speth any way he sees. But he ought to get his facts straight as to the amount of time the Administrator has served.
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Thanks for waiting. We'll start with a report on Kosovo, which will include information gathered in part from the field current as of just a few minutes ago. No major flows of refugees from Kosovo were reported as of midday today, as UNHCR negotiated access to the remote mountain village of Male Malina on the border between Kosovo and The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), where an estimated 6,000 refugees have been stranded. The refugees are not formally considered as admitted to the country by the FYROM authorities. UNHCR staff, who were turned back from Male Malina Tuesday, said it had been snowing for eight hours and they fear the situation in the village will become desperate if immediate access is not granted.
The security situation, meanwhile, worsened for displaced people staying in Montenegro in areas near the Kosovo border. UNHCR said some clarification has now been obtained of the incident which took place on 19 April in a village on the Montenegran side near the Kosovo border. According to available information, army reservists who were reported drunk, went on a rampage and killed six persons, including both local residents and displaced Kosovars. Alarm spread throughout the Rozaje area, and many Kosovars as well as local residents have been leaving the area. There have been reports that local Muslims left Rozaje on four buses headed for Sarajevo. UNHCR staff also saw 30 buses leaving Rozaje and 10 buses heading for the Albanian border crossing.
In an apparent spill-over of the Kosovo crisis, the United Nations Mission of Observers in Prevlaka (UNMOP) yesterday confirmed the new deployment of Yugoslav soldiers in the demilitarized zone (DMZ). Today the mission reports that some 20 Yugoslav military police are still manning a strategic crossing in the DMZ. The area is reported to be calm but tense. The United Nations has protested this deployment.
As you know, the Croatian Ambassador to the United Nations lodged an official protest with the Security Council yesterday, demanding the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) immediately withdraw its troops from the demilitarized area on Croatia's border with the FRY. That letter has been issued as an official document today. The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Bernard Miyet, met with the Yugoslav mission to the United Nations yesterday and sought clarification of the deployment. Miyet was prepared to brief the Council today on a preliminary basis if asked about the deployment.
In Albania today, taking advantage of the lull in refugee traffic, UNHCR and the Albanian Government are moving up to 10,000 persons daily out of the Kukes area by road. On Wednesday, weather permitting, a helicopter airlift of vulnerable refugees from Kukes to Tirana was due to start. While the numbers moved by helicopter will not be large, this will permit the transfer of elderly and ill people who would not be able to make the road journey. United Nations agencies were prepared to issue a new addendum to a donor appeal for the Kosovo refugee emergency. The new appeal, expected to be issued later today or tomorrow, increased the planning figure from 650,000 to 950,000 refugees.
**International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia
This morning in The Hague, Louise Arbour, the Chief Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), welcomed the commitment expressed by the United Kingdom and the German Governments to work closely with the Tribunal and provide it with relevant military intelligence on Kosovo that could lead to possible indictments. A summary of her press conference is available in my office.
**Austrian Assistance to Kosovo
You'll see on the Secretary-General's appointments for today that he'll be meeting with Ms. Ferrero-Waldner, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of Austria. She'll be briefing him on the Neighbour in Need fund- raising campaign for Kosovo and the Secretary-General will praise the efforts of Austrian citizens and companies who have so far donated some $25 million for Kosovo refugee relief.
This statement is attributable to the Spokesman. The Secretary-General welcomes the announcement of the signing of an agreement in East Timor designed to end the violence and establish peace and stability in the Territory. He is confident that the implementation of such an agreement, both in spirit and on the ground, will be of paramount importance to the negotiations under his auspices and the overall peace process in which he is engaged.
Meanwhile, a new round of talks on East Timor started this morning here at Headquarters. Ambassador Jamsheed Marker, the Personal Representative, started a bilateral meeting with the Portuguese delegation led by Ambassador Fernando Neves shortly after 10:30 a.m. They were expected to adjourn at noon. The bilateral meeting with the Indonesian delegation, led by Ambassador Nugroho Wisnumurti, will be at 2:30 p.m. this afternoon. Following that, both sides will meet with Ambassador Marker.
As this morning, there will be photo ops this afternoon at the beginning of the bilateral and trilateral sessions. The ministerial level talks start tomorrow and will go 'till Friday. The Secretary-General will meet at 10:15 a.m. with Foreign Minister Ali Alatas of Indonesia and then at 10:45 a.m. with the Foreign Minister of Portugal, Jaime Gama. At 11:15 a.m., he will meet with both sides. After a working luncheon with Ambassador Marker, the two delegations, led by both ministers, will continue meeting in the afternoon. We're working on photo ops for the beginning of the morning sessions and we're also hoping for a press briefing at the end of the talks on Friday.
The Security Council held consultations this morning on the fifth report of the Secretary-General on the Central African Republic.
On Ethiopia/Eritrea, Ambassador Mohamed Sahnoun, the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Africa, is leaving New York today for Paris, where he will meet with the Chairman of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso. From Paris he will proceed to Asmara to meet with the Eritrean authorities and then he will go on to Addis Ababa to meet with the Ethiopian side and for further contacts with the OAU.
**New Appeal for Ethiopia/Eritrea
The World Food Programme (WFP) announced today that it will begin providing emergency food aid to Eritreans affected by the war with Ethiopia. In response to a request made by the Eritrean Government, WFP will launch a $15.4 million operation in April to feed approximately 268,000 displaced Eritreans in three southern provinces. According to WFP, the border conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia that began in May of 1998 escalated in February of this year and forced thousands of Eritreans living along the border to flee further north into the country. The majority of these people are now living out in the open or under makeshift tents in three dry mountainous regions.
"They are now living minute-by-minute", a WFP logistics officer was quoted as saying in a press release. "Because of the danger of air attack during the day, many of them fold up their tents and take shelter in the bush or under trees to avoid being spotted by bombers. They need some stability in their lives -- knowing they will have daily food to eat will help." You can get the full text of the press release in my office.
The WFP is also providing food to 900,000 Ethiopians for development activities and is providing food to 2.1 million Ethiopians who have been affected by war or drought.
Thomas Hammarberg, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Human Rights in Cambodia, will introduce his report to the Commission on Human Rights tomorrow in Geneva. Referring to the issue of Khmer Rouge trials in his report, he says that he considers that "only an international tribunal can guarantee international standards of justice, fairness and the due process of law". He adds that "the problems relating to the judicial system are so manifest that they cannot be quickly remedied through international financial and personnel assistance". We expect to have copies of this report in my office later this afternoon.
Discussions with the two parties in the Western Sahara issue were chaired by Bernard Miyet, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping, and are wrapping up today here at Headquarters. They've been going on for a week, reviewing the texts of the protocols and the operational directives for the identification and the appeal process. The two parties are expected to communicate shortly to us their formal position as a result of these discussions.
This morning Mr. Miyet informed members of the Security Council that in light of these discussions, it is preferable to postpone the submission of the Secretary-General's report on Western Sahara for a few days. It was originally scheduled to be submitted on 23 April. It's now more likely to come out before the end of the month.
**Commission on Sustainable Development
In the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD), the high-level segment begins at 2 p.m. and runs through Friday. Over 70 Ministers of Environment, Oceans and Development are scheduled to attend. This is the highest numbers of Ministers ever to attend a session of the CSD. This afternoon's topic is tourism. Oceans will be discussed all day tomorrow. We have a list of participating Ministers in my office if you're interested. The Secretary-General will host a reception for the Ministers tonight. We have the embargoed text of his toast available in my office.
**United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in a report issued in Johannesburg, forecasts continued improvement for the food outlook for much of sub-Saharan Africa but warned that war and civil strife threaten agricultural production in Angola, Somalia, the Great Lakes region of Central Africa, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sierra Leone and Guinea-Bissau. Please see the FAO press release for details.
**Commission on Human Rights
Today in Geneva, the Commission on Human Rights is hearing presentations from National Human Rights Commissions from 18 countries. You'll recall that since the beginning of her mandate, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, has systematically encouraged Member States to establish such independent national human rights commissions. Also, from Geneva, the report of the Secretary-General on the abduction of children from northern Uganda was issued today. We are trying to get copies for you here in New York. The Secretary-General had been asked to report on that issue last year by the Commission on Human Rights.
At 2 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. today, we've mentioned this a couple of times, "Tourism, industry and local government" at 2, and the outcome of the dialogue on sustainable tourism, NGO's and trade unions at 2:30. Then tomorrow at 11:15 a.m. in this room, Earth Day 2000. Speakers will be Dennis Hayes, the Chairman of Earth Day 2000; Bill Richardson, the United States Energy Secretary and of course you all remember, the former Permanent Representative of the United States here; Klaus Toepfer, the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP); and Ray Anderson, the CEO of Interface Corporation.
**Daughters to Work Day
Okay, if you have daughters or can borrow some, please bring them to work tomorrow. Take Our Daughters to Work Day will be observed here from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the General Assembly Hall. Staff, members of delegations and you, the accredited media, are invited to bring girls aged 9 to 15, and I know some of you cheat and bring younger ones but I suppose that's all right, to work with them to participate in the Day's activities. Nane Annan will address the girls. Other speakers include actress/model Isabella Rossellini; Marlo Thomas, the co-founder of the Ms. Foundation for Women and author of Free To Be You and Me, and model/actress Vendela, who is a spokesperson for the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) with a special focus on girls' education. The observance is being organized by the Office of the Special Adviser for Gender and the Advancement of Women, as well as the Department of Public Information (DPI), UNICEF, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).
Lastly, a notice from Sonia Lecca of the Media Accreditation Unit. She's informed me that interested journalists can obtain copies of press accreditation forms at the documents counter on the third floor for two upcoming United Nations events. First, the meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Anti-Personnel Landmines to be held in Maputo, Mozambique, from 3 to 7 May. Those forms are available in English, French and Portuguese; and second, for the special session of the General Assembly for the review of implementation of the Programme of Action adopted by the International Conference on Population and Development (Cairo, 1994). That will be held here in New York from 30 June to 2 July. But for correspondents who already have valid United Nations credentials here in New York, you will not have to get additional accreditation for the special session.
Question: Can we get a read-out of the noon meeting between the Secretary-General and Ambassador Burleigh?
Spokesman: We'll try to get a read-out after the meeting. As far as I know, the Ambassador asked for the meeting.
Question: Do you have an itinerary yet for the meeting in Moscow?
Spokesman: No. You can assume he'll be meeting with the top government leadership but we don't yet have the specifics of the programme.
Question: Will Ambassador Sahnoun be meeting with leaders other than the Ethiopian and Eritrean?
Spokesman: You mean outside of Ethiopia and Eritrea? Apart from the OAU officials, I'm not aware that he has any plans at this time to have any more meetings than the ones I just announced.
Question: Do you have any information on recent killings in East Timor?
Spokesman: No, I don't have any information on that, I'm sorry.
Question: It seems the war of words between the Government and the Secretary-General has been intensified. I'm thinking about the letter from Ambassador Janovic. It is obvious the attack is personal. What can be done to alleviate the situation?
Spokesman: I hope it hasn't been escalated on the Secretary-General's side. The Secretary-General's role in this conflict thus far has been, as we've said over and over again, to try to accelerate the search for a political solution. There's been some speculation in the media about a possible role for him further down the line. He's trying to preserve his impartiality in the event that Member States would call on him. So I don't think you've seen anything that he has done or said that would worsen his relations with the parties. Except, of course, to take a rather strong position of principle and appeal to the Yugoslav Government to stop intimidating the Albanian population of Kosovo, stop driving them out of their homes and agree to withdraw their armed forces and to allow an international military presence to provide the secure environment in which these refugees and displaced persons can return home. That's his objective. I think it's the international community's objective. And we just have to see how it plays out from here. Thank you very much.
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