DAILY PRESS BRIEFING OF OFFICE OF SPOKESMAN FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
4 May 1999
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by the Spokesman for the Secretary-General, Fred Eckhard:
As you know, the Secretary-General has scheduled a number of meetings on Kosovo today. At 11 a.m., he met with Knut Vollebaek, the Foreign Minister of Norway, who is the current chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Their discussions focused exclusively on Kosovo, the diplomatic contacts currently under way, and they pledged to work closely together on plans for possible future international action in the region.
The Secretary-General is scheduled to meet now with Viktor Chernomyrdin, Russian President Boris Yeltsin's Special Envoy. I think he is a bit delayed, but expected shortly, and we understand from the Russian Mission that he may speak to you on the way out of his meeting with the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General then has a 3 p.m. appointment with the Reverend Jesse Jackson -- who was in Belgrade over the weekend and who was instrumental in the release of the three American soldiers -- and then at 4 p.m. with Sadako Ogata, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Following these meetings, at 4:30 p.m., he will brief the Security Council on his recent mission in Germany and the Russian Federation, and discussions on ways to end the Kosovo crisis. He said he will be available to speak to you at the stakeout microphone following his briefing.
Now for the daily wrap-up of United Nations-related developments regarding Kosovo. On the ground today, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) staff reported that the refugee situation in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia remained critical. The overcrowding of existing camps worsened as several thousands continued to pour into the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
By midday today, a train arrived with 3,000 refugees from Kosovo, and they were taken to Blace in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The UNHCR reported that among the passengers were men who had been badly beaten.
Over the next few days, the UNHCR said, refugees will have to be transferred by buses to Albania, where the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is helping with the construction of new tented camps. The UNHCR appealed for the transfer to be voluntary and that their being bussed to Albania will not influence their eligibility for humanitarian evacuation.
Hundreds had crossed into Albania by midday. The refugees speak of sporadic atrocities and large-scale harassment. The UNHCR reports cases of what it described as almost gratuitous violence against fleeing civilians. A group of hysterical children crossed the border after their parents had been detained at the frontier post because their papers were allegedly not in order. Refugees from Djakova said some families had been deliberately split up.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), meanwhile, said poor farmers hosting Kosovar refugees in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania urgently need agricultural aid to continue farming activities and to maintain food production.
The FAO launched an appeal to donor governments for $5.5 million for emergency aid to Albania and $3.5 million to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
According to recent FAO assessment missions, around 12,000 rural families in Albania and more than 8,000 families in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia are providing food and shelter to refugees driven out of Kosovo.
The Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) issued its 1999 Economic Survey today in Geneva and said the Kosovo crisis has added to the already unfavourable environment for many transition economies in the region.
The Commission says that the war-related economic damage already incurred is quite substantial. Neighbouring countries -- Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Romania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia -- have lost important markets, as well as traditional suppliers in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
The Commission goes on to say that transport links to and from the south- eastern part of Europe have been severely damaged: navigation along the Danube has been paralysed by the destruction of bridges in Novi Sad, and all traffic through the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (ground, rail and air) has been brought to a halt. The negative consequences are especially severe for the trade flows between Western Europe (the main trading partner) and the countries locked in the Balkan region, in particular, Bulgaria, Romania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
To prevent an already serious situation from getting worse, there is an urgent need for Western Europe and other members of the NATO alliance to provide south-east European transition economies with emergency support, especially for sustaining their balance of payments, the Commission recommended.
The Commission also spells out an urgent need to consider how to approach the issues of post-conflict reconstruction. Yves Berthelot, the Commission's Executive Secretary, likened the type of assistance required to an international "Marshall Plan".
**East Timor Talks
The talks on East Timor resumed this morning at the senior officials level. Ambassador Jamsheed Marker, Personal Representative of the Secretary-General for East Timor, started a meeting at 11 a.m. with the Portuguese delegation, led by Ambassador Fernando Neves. At 3 p.m., he will meet with the Indonesian delegation, led by Ambassador Makarim Wibisono, and at 3:45 p.m. he will hold a trilateral meeting with both delegations.
The ministerial-level meetings will be tomorrow. The Secretary-General will hold bilateral meetings with the Foreign Minister of Indonesia, Ali Alatas, and the Foreign Minister of Portugal, Jaime Gama. We do not have the exact time for these meetings, nor for the signing ceremony of the agreements. However, it looks like the meetings will be in the morning, and the signing will happen mid-afternoon tomorrow. As soon as we have the final programme for tomorrow, we will let you know.
The Security Council started consultations at 11 a.m. to adopt their programme of work for the month of May. Following consultations, they are expected to hold formal meetings on the applications of the Republic of Kiribati and the Republic of Nauru for admission to membership in the United Nations.
**Secretary-General Meets Think-Tank Heads
This morning, the Secretary-General met with some 30 directors of independent research institutes from 22 countries around the world. They've gathered here to discuss ways in which the international research community and the United Nations can work together more fruitfully.
In his opening remarks, the Secretary-General stressed the importance of research centres as places where policy practitioners, representatives of civil society and transnational corporations can hold informal discussions. Addressing those present, he said, "Some of you may perhaps be able to help me get together with these important constituencies." He also expressed hope that they would contribute ideas to the preparations for next year's Millennium Assembly, which will provide an important chance to rethink the role of the United Nations in responding to the challenges of the future.
Representatives of over 50 countries are expected to speak today at the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction, taking place in Maputo, Mozambique. Countries which have not yet signed or ratified the landmine ban are allowed to take part in the Conference, and a number of them did speak today, including China, Israel, Morocco, Sri Lanka and Turkey. The Secretary-General of the Conference, Mozambique's United Nations Ambassador Carlos Dos Santos, gave a press conference today covering the main points of the discussions. We expect briefing notes from that event, and we will put them out as soon as we get them.
**ESCWA Meeting in Beirut
The Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) opened a three-day meeting in Beirut this morning aimed at assessing the region's past and future economic development.
Over the past 25 years, the region's development has been tied closely to oil revenues, but oil prices are expected to decline. The meeting will give experts the opportunity to examine how countries of the region can diversify their economies and sustain economic growth.
We have a background press release in my Office with more information.
**UNICEF Immunization Campaign
We also have an information note from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) saying that they have surpassed their target of immunizing 60,000 malnourished and internally displaced children against measles in southern Somalia. Despite constant insecurity, over 80,000 children have been reached. Access was made possible by food distribution convoys and UNICEF's emergency water source rehabilitation projects. After immunization, children were given Vitamin A capsules which greatly enhance immunity against disease and improve their chances of survival.
Finally, a press conference tomorrow. Sadako Ogata, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, will meet you here in this room at 2:30 p.m., following a briefing to the Security Council.
Question: How many countries and how many personnel will be involved in United Nations civilian police operations after the signing of an East Timor package?
Spokesman: I think you're a little ahead of the curve. Let's see if the agreements get signed tomorrow. I assume that will happen, we all hope it will. The Foreign Ministers, I believe, will come to this room to brief you on the details of the agreement and I think that's the time to start asking about these specific details of implementation.
Question: Why is the Secretary-General meeting with Mr. Chernomyrdin today and what is he going to explain to the Secretary-General?
Spokesman: It's a follow-up to his meetings in Moscow, and I believe that the Russian Special Envoy will be briefing the Secretary-General on his recent meetings in Washington, D.C., as well as meetings he had in Europe, including Belgrade, after the two of them last met in Moscow. So it's basically staying in touch, keeping each other abreast of developments.
Question: Will the Secretary-General be commenting on his Special Envoys at the stakeout later today?
Spokesman: Those consultations are continuing today, that is, his consultations with various governments in connection with the naming of these two Special Envoys. I said yesterday that it was likely that he would make an announcement today, but he told me this morning the consultations were continuing, and there is a good chance of a further delay until possibly later in the week. So we'll just have to wait for this process to come to an end. I don't expect an announcement today; I don't rule it out, but I don't expect it.
Question: How many Albanians are left in Kosovo?
Spokesman: I don't think anyone knows. That calculation, or the numbers that you see, are based on assumption of the former population minus those who have come out. But it's always more complicated than it seems, and so I think those numbers are at best estimates. So I don't think, frankly, we have a firm idea how many are still in Kosovo.
Question: Can you figure out or can you find out?
Spokesman: I don't think until outside experts can physically go inside Kosovo and count that we'll know with any certainty.
Question: Why are the consultations regarding the Special Envoys to the Balkans taking longer than anticipated?
Spokesman: It's just that these things sometimes take longer than you want, but they are a necessary part of the process, and we do expect it will come to an end in a matter of a few days, if not before.
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