DAILY PRESS BRIEFING OF OFFICE OF SPOKESMAN FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
23 April 1999
The following is a near verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by the Spokesman for the Secretary-General, Fred Eckhard:
Okay. We expect to have here at the briefing, this extraordinary 11:30 briefing, Catherine Bertini, the Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), who has recently visited the Kosovo area and will tell you about that, and also has a North Korean appeal to launch here this morning.
On Kosovo, the Secretary-General awaits the details of what was agreed upon at the meeting yesterday in Belgrade between Russian envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. As you know, the Secretary-General will be leaving New York on Sunday for the first leg of his Europe visit. He is travelling to Moscow Wednesday evening. On Thursday he will be there to discuss fully this question of Kosovo with the Russian authorities at the highest level.
The High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, told reporters earlier today in Geneva that there would have to be a fairly strong international military presence in Kosovo in order to obtain the kind of secure environment needed for the safe return of refugees. Yesterday, we mentioned to you that UNHCR had finally accessed a group of refugees who had been stuck in the mountain village of Malina Mala, on the border between The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and Kosovo. On arrival, the UNHCR team found that most of the refugees had dispersed into nearby hamlets. Four truckloads of food and blankets were delivered to the refugees remaining in Malina Mala. The new arrivals say they came via the village of Stupla where they say 25,000 displaced people are staying surrounded by Serbian troops.
Today, a UNHCR assessment team sent to the area of Malina Mala reported that they had found 100 people in a mosque in appalling condition. They had walked 10 hours in the rain. These people are apparently from the first wave of people in Malina. Some of the children seemed unconscious, unable to talk or eat. A mobile medical team was summoned and clothing and formula were urgently requested. We also mentioned to you the launch of an addendum to the United Nations appeal which raised the projected beneficiary number to 950,000 which was issued in Geneva yesterday. We now have copies of that document for you upstairs.
On a related matter, as the head of the United Nations lead agency coordinating the humanitarian relief effort, Mrs. Ogata expressed her gratitude for the tremendous outpouring of public support and thanked all who have offered their help, in whatever form, to the Kosovar refugees and displaced people. UNHCR said $8.3 million has been contributed by the Italian public. Roughly the same amount has been contributed by the largest governmental donor to UNHCR's program, the United States, at $8.5 million.
The World Economic Forum has appealed to its corporate membership to support the refugee relief operation. This has resulted in direct donations -- in cash and in kind -- to a variety of aid organizations. Benetton is launching today a worldwide awareness and fund-raising print campaign aimed at raising funds and generating continued support in favour of Kosovar refugees.
Several hundred refugees were expected today to cross from Kosovo into northern Albania, where UNHCR field staff reported bleak weather conditions. Cold, wet, dark and muddy were some of the words they used to describe the situation. The ground and roads in and around the camps have turned to mud as efforts have continued to move refugees south, away from the border areas. The new arrivals reported serious food shortages in at least one village inside Kosovo.
Another train arrived in Blace on the FYROM border today with some 1,000 refugees who were allowed to cross and were taken to a nearby camp. Arrivals of Kosovars via Montenegro have continued. The border town of Shkodra in the north-west of the country now hosts more than 20,000 Kosovars. Camps in the area have reached their maximum capacity. The Austrian army is constructing a tent camp to alleviate the crowding.
Tensions at the Debeli Brijeg border crossing with Croatia have eased following a reported agreement between the Montenegrin police and Yugoslav army authorities. Montenegrin police will continue to man the border post and the Yugoslav army has set up a checkpoint one kilometre down the road.
Available as Security Council documents today are three letters from the Yugoslav Mission to the United Nations, including one on its report on the environmental consequences of the NATO bombing raids.
Today the Security Council is holding consultations on Sierra Leone. Council members are being briefed by Assistant Secretary-General for peacekeeping Hedi Annabi. Sierra Leone was to be taken up yesterday, but as the discussions on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Guinea Bissau were long, that agenda item was postponed until today.
The East Timor talks are continuing this morning. The Secretary-General started a meeting at 10 a.m. with Foreign Ministers Alatas and Gama, heading the Indonesian and Portuguese delegations, respectively. Upon leaving the building last night, the two Ministers, in separate press encounters, said that although a few points still needed further discussion, progress had been achieved in the talks.
-- Catherine, welcome. We'll get to you in a minute.
**New Administrator for UNDP
The General Assembly this morning confirmed the Secretary-General's appointment of Mark Malloch Brown, the current Vice President for External Relations of the World Bank, as the next Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme. The Secretary-General and his Deputy, Louise Frechette, will be here at noon to introduce you to Mark Malloch Brown, who will also be present.
**East Timor Press Conference
Following that session with Mark Malloch Brown in this room, the Secretary-General will then join the Foreign Ministers of Indonesia and Portugal for a press conference at approximately 12:15 to brief you on the conclusions of three days of talks on East Timor. The Secretary-General will have to leave that press conference at 12:25 to greet President Martti Ahtisaari of Finland, with whom he has a meeting at 12:30.
In addressing the United Nations Disarmament Commission this morning, Jayantha Dhanapala, the Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament, paid tribute to Ambassador Miljan Komatina, the former Secretary-General of the Commission, who passed away in New York Wednesday evening. Mr. Dhanapala said that Ambassador Komatina brought great intellectual resources and inexhaustible enthusiasm to the cause of multilateral disarmament at the United Nations. The Secretary-General joins Mr. Dhanapala in extending sympathy to the Komatina family.
**Insecurity in Western Africa
UNHCR drew attention today to signs of the ongoing insecurity in West Africa by reporting on incidents in Liberia and Guinea. It said new tensions in Liberia have raised concern about the ongoing UNHCR operation to repatriate refugees to that country. Early on Wednesday, fighting broke out in the northern Liberian town of Voinjama. A joint-UNHCR-WFP-donor food assessment mission was visiting the area at the time, with representatives from donor governments.
Who the combatants were was not clear. The mission took refuge at the UNHCR compound in Voinjama, where they were "visited" several times by unknown persons who took most of their valuables and personal effects. On Thursday afternoon, the United Nations was able to send in a WFP helicopter to evacuate the 16-person group who arrived safely in Monrovia. The toll from yesterday's events has been substantial in terms of material losses -- many United Nations and NGO vehicles were commandeered and the UNHCR office was looted after staff left.
In Guinea, UNHCR reported there was a cross-border attack on Tuesday, apparently by rebels from Sierra Leone. The attack increased tension between the local population and refugees from Sierra Leone. As a result, Guinean villagers burned down the refugee settlement at Moola, sending thousands of refugees fleeing.
**Voting Day in Human Rights Commission
Today is voting day in the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. The Commission has before it some 60 draft resolutions, including those on country situations, all to be acted on before the end of the day. In answer to your questions on China, China introduced a no-action motion on the draft resolution tabled by the United States and that motion was approved, so there was no action on the United States draft. The Commission will take action on the remaining items next Tuesday and Wednesday. We have in my office the vote count for the no-motion action on China, the resolution adopted on Cuba, as was requested by several journalists, and the list of draft resolutions to be voted. The text of those resolutions can be found on the human rights website.
**Lack of Funding for United Nations Afghan Programmes
We have available for you a summary of a press briefing that took place in Islamabad earlier today in which two United Nations agencies -- WFP and UNHCR -- expressed their concerns over the lack of donor support for Afghan refugees in Pakistan.
**UNEP on Cleaner Production
We also have a press release from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) concerning a ministerial-level luncheon today, in which a dozen or more environment ministers, as well as two corporate CEOs, are to sign the UNEP International Declaration on Cleaner Production. The Declaration commits signatories, of which there have been 19 from national governments, to develop policies and technologies making efficient use of natural resources and in particular, energy. They will also commit themselves to monitor the achievements.
**Panel on Food Security
You are all invited to a panel discussion on food security, basic infrastructure and natural resources, as imperative dimensions of poverty- eradication strategies. That's today from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. in the Economic and Social Council Chamber. The panel is sponsored by the World Bank. Panellists will include Catherine Bertini, and there's a note to correspondents available at the documents counter.
The United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA) has asked me to tell you that this afternoon at 3 p.m., Jose Ramos-Horta, the co-winner of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize and Vice-President of the National Council of the Timorese Resistance, will talk to members in their room there on the third floor -- their club -- on the current situation in East Timor and the ongoing United Nations negotiations.
**The Week Ahead
Finally, we have for you the week ahead feature. I won't read it all. Let me just give you some of the highlights. The Secretary-General begins a three-day visit to Germany on Monday, and his schedule has been made available to you.
The Commission on Sustainable Development will enter its second and final week on Monday. Then, on Tuesday, the Council has scheduled consultations on Kosovo. UNDP and Cisco Systems will launch a global anti- poverty campaign at a news conference at 11 a.m. here in the Economic and Social Council Chamber on Tuesday.
Then, on Wednesday, the Council takes up Somalia. The Secretary-General's report to the Security Council on the United Nations Mission in Georgia is due. On Thursday, the Secretary-General will have a full day programme in Moscow. Then the second meeting of the Bretton Woods institutions' leaders and the Economic and Social Council will be held here at United Nations headquarters from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
And finally, on Friday, the Secretary-General returns to New York, then turns right around the same day and flies out to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to give a commencement address at the University of Michigan on Saturday. And on Friday, as well, the current mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara expires.
Any questions before we go to Catherine Bertini?
Question: What does the Secretary-General expect out of the conversation between President Milosevic and Russia's Special Envoy?
Spokesman: He said something going out of the building last night and again coming into the building this morning. I think I excerpted it. Last night he said he thought it was encouraging, but of course he hasn't seen the text. He is eagerly awaiting the text and he hopes, when he's in Moscow next week, to be able to pursue discussions on this subject with the most senior Russian authorities.
Question: Has the United Nations confirmed that the Yugoslav Prime Minister has already said that the international force must be a nonmilitary force?
Spokesman: All we have are press reports. Press reports indicated that after eight hours of discussions, the Russian Special Envoy, Viktor Chernomyrdin, and President Milosevic of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, signed some kind of an agreement. And so we have been in touch with the Russian Mission here in New York and, as of this morning, they did not have that text to share with us. So I think everyone is waiting to study the text of the agreement.
Question: Will that be made available to us?
Spokesman: We'll have to see. I mean, if they ask that it be circulated as a document, certainly you'll see it.
-- Catherine, welcome.
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