DAILY PRESS BRIEFING OF OFFICE OF SPOKESMAN FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
5 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 all know, the Secretary-General announced last night his intention to send a needs assessment mission to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia beginning in Kosovo. As of about 11:30 this morning, there had been no response from the Yugoslav authorities to the proposal, which was conveyed in a letter to the Yugoslav Ambassador here yesterday afternoon.
This morning, the High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, briefed the Security Council on the plight of refugees in the Balkans, where she says, "ethnic cleansing and mass forced expulsions are yielding their tragic results faster than we can respond -- faster than anybody's response".
Mrs. Ogata outlined the challenges that staff from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian agencies face in their response to one of Europe's largest refugee flows this century. However, she told Council members that the fundamental problem of this crisis has not been an inadequate response. She said: "Its root cause is the systematic and intolerable violence being waged against an entire population, and the failure to prevent it".
Looking to the future and the eventual return of refugees, Mrs. Ogata said: "I can assure you that it is very unlikely that any refugee will return to Kosovo unless Serbian forces withdraw, and international armed forces are deployed in the province to keep the peace. I have to insist on this point", she said, adding that she is confident that the majority will choose to return, probably very quickly, "if people feel that adequate security is provided to all civilians".
She went on: "A return plan will be carried out only if adequate security measures guarantee a solid, lasting peace that requires more than just physical safety; and if the international community will implement a comprehensive, regional rehabilitation plan in the southern Balkans." We have the text of her statement to the Council available to you upstairs.
The estimated number of refugees and displaced persons in the region has reached nearly 695,000, according to UNHCR. This morning, one train carrying 1,600 refugees arrived in The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, where they were taken to the newly established camp at Cegrane, whose capacity the Skopje Government agreed to expand from 25,000 to 40,000.
UNHCR said close to its daily target of 2,000 refugees were expected to be evacuated today from The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, including 470 to the United States.
Mary Robinson, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, meanwhile, ended a two-day visit to The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, saying that the work of her staff in the region, along with that of other partners, aims to ensure that those responsible for the crimes being committed in Kosovo will be held accountable. "The savagery and utter disrespect for human rights and human dignity we are seeing", she said, "cannot go unpunished. We have a chance to break the cycle of impunity, and we must seize it".
Earlier in the day, Mrs. Robinson met with The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia President Kiro Gligorov. While she understood the concern of the Skopje authorities over the impact of the crisis on their country, she said that it was especially important at this time that The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia continue to be guided by a spirit of tolerance towards the different groups making up the country and pursue its path of guaranteeing the human rights of all the population.
Louise Arbour, the Chief Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, was in Paris today where she was scheduled to meet with senior French officials as part of her ongoing efforts to access information which governments hold that could assist the Tribunal's inquiries into Kosovo.
The Security Council is holding consultations today. The first item on the agenda was the briefing by Sadako Ogata as I mentioned. The second item on their agenda is Angola.
**East Timor Talks
The ministerial-level talks on East Timor started this morning with a meeting between the Secretary-General and the Foreign Minister of Portugal, Jaime Gama. The Secretary-General then met with the Foreign Minister of Indonesia, Ali Alatas. At 11 a.m., the two delegations, led by the Foreign Ministers, met with the United Nations team headed by the Secretary-General. As scheduled, the Secretary-General left after some 30 minutes and his Personal Representative for East Timor, Ambassador Jamsheed Marker, continued the meeting.
The signing of the agreements -- and there are three -- will be at 3:45 p.m. and that will take place in the Secretary-General's conference room. The event will be covered by United Nations Television and you will be able to watch it on in-house Channel 3. Following that ceremony, the Secretary-General and the Foreign Ministers will come here to Room S-226 for a press briefing.
**Secretary-General Presents Disability Award
Today at 5 p.m., in the Economic and Social Council Chamber, the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, will receive the Franklin Delano Roosevelt International Disability Award.
The Secretary-General will open the award ceremony. Other speakers include Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, the granddaughter of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, as well as actor Christopher Reeve, who is the Vice-Chairman of the National Organization on Disability.
We have a press release in our office with more details. In it, the Secretary-General heartily congratulates the Government of Ireland for its work towards easing the so-called "silent crisis" of the disabled by helping to rebuild a world in which each and every citizen can participate fully, actively and equally.
**United Nations City Agency Launch
The Commission on Human Settlements is expected to launch the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat) as the United Nations City Agency to make it an effective United Nations agency capable of responding to the challenges of urbanization in the millennium. The seventeenth session of the Commission on Human Settlements starts today in Nairobi, Kenya, and will continue until 14 May.
On treaties, Spain has become the fourth country to ratify the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings. So far, 43 countries have signed that treaty, which requires 22 ratifications to come into force.
**Payment of United Nations Dues
Andorra paid in full with a cheque for over $41,000 and that brings to 61 the number of Member States paid in full for 1999.
At 2:30 p.m. today, Sadako Ogata will be here to brief you following her briefing to the Council. At 4 p.m., we have the East Timor press conference that I already mentioned to you. And then tomorrow, at 2:30 p.m., the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) will hold a press conference on the World Conference on Science, which will be held in Budapest from 26 June to 1 July.
Question: How are we going to get details of the East Timor agreement or even a brief paper with the major points?
Spokesman: Technically, the documents become public once they are signed. Our hope is that we'll be able to get the texts for you immediately after the signing. Whether you'll have enough time to absorb their contents before the press conference begins I don't know. But we'll make every effort to get them to you as quickly as possible.
Question: You mentioned that there were three agreements? [inaudible]
Spokesman: There's first the main agreement between the Republic of Indonesia and the Republic of Portugal on the question of East Timor. The second is the Agreement Regarding Security Arrangements for the Popular Consultation. And the third is an agreement regarding the modalities for the popular consultation. So those are the three documents that we hope to have for you immediately after they're signed.
Question: You mentioned that the Security Council is meeting on Angola today. Are there any new developments? What's going on there?
Spokesman: I don't know what it is that they [Security Council] are considering so I don't want to preempt them. You'll probably get a chance to ask the President when he comes out after the Council as to what the nature of their discussions was.
Question: Was there any briefing by the Secretariat?
Spokesman: I honestly don't know what the subject was this morning and whether it included a Secretariat briefing. I'll have to find that out for you after the briefing.
Question: On the humanitarian assessment team, the Secretary-General mentioned yesterday that the Greeks were operating in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, presumably under some kind of arrangement with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Yugoslavs, but one of their convoys was hit by a bomb today. What is your reaction to that, and is it right to be putting United Nations people into harm's way?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General did ask for some kind of security guarantees for this mission and he did mention to you yesterday that there were Greek non-governmental organizations that had gone into Kosovo with the permission of the Yugoslav Government and that effort was expected to be expanded to include groups from Switzerland and the Russian Federation.
A guarantee, of course, is never ironclad and humanitarian workers routinely take risks, particularly when they're working in a conflict area, so I don't think I would say anything beyond that. I haven't seen reports of what you're talking about now.
Question: Do you have anything new on the outbreak of viral haemorrhagic fever in the Democratic Republic of the Congo?
Spokesman: No, we'll have to see if there's any update on what we put out a couple of days ago. I saw it made it into one newspaper just today, but I'll have to see if there are any updates.
Question: Does the Security Council now need to endorse the East Timor agreements?
Spokesman: It does go to the Council, which I assume will take some action -- take note or something -- of the agreements reached. Whether they would then need to approve any deployment of United Nations personnel in connection with this sounding of opinion, I would assume so as well, but I can't tell you precisely how they plan to deal with that at this time.
Question: Who actually is going to sign each part of this agreement?
Spokesman: The first agreement is to be signed by the two Foreign Ministers and the Secretary-General will sign as witness. The second agreement will be signed by the two Foreign Ministers and the Secretary-General; the third the same as the second.
Question: Including the annexes?
Spokesman: There are, to my understanding, no annexes now, but three separate documents.
Question: We were told there was one main document and two annexes.
Spokesman: We'll try to clarify this right after the briefing. My understanding is that there are three documents. I see no mention of an annex, but maybe there is, we'll have to see. [In fact, one of the three documents had a single annex containing the autonomy proposal.]
* *** *
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|