DAILY PRESS BRIEFING OF OFFICE OF SPOKESMAN FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
10 May 1999
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by the Spokesman for the Secretary-General, Fred Eckhard:
Good afternoon. We've asked Francesc Vendrell, the Director of the Asia and Pacific Division in the Department of Political Affairs, to join us at the briefing today to brief you on East Timor.
Some of you may have seen David Wimhurst in the Building in the morning. You'll remember he was a temporary member of my staff and he has been selected as the spokesman for our mission in East Timor. He's here for his medical and he'll be on his way out to East Timor probably in 24 hours.
On Kosovo, the Secretary-General, late Friday, issued a statement through his Spokesman saying he was shocked and distressed at the news that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) had accidentally bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. He subsequently spoke to China's United Nations Ambassador, Qin Huasun, to express his condolences for the loss of life and injuries incurred. China says that three people were killed and 20 were injured.
The Security Council met through the night from Friday to Saturday, and issued a statement to the press. China indicated it wanted a presidential statement as well, and called for consultations on that subject today, which have been scheduled for 5:15 this afternoon.
**Advance Team Arrives in Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
The advance team sent to prepare for the humanitarian needs assessment mission to Kosovo, proposed by the Secretary-General -- actually that was broader than Kosovo, it was to all of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia -- and consisting of representatives from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the United Nations Security Coordinator's Office and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, arrived in Belgrade a short while ago.
The team's programme for today includes consultation with the United Nations country team, senior officials in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other agencies dealing with humanitarian assistance.
As you know, the humanitarian needs assessment mission is scheduled to be fielded shortly to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, beginning with Kosovo, once the advance team has completed its consultations in Belgrade.
The Secretary-General requested the advance team to negotiate with the Yugoslav Government all the aspects of the needs assessment mission, including a detailed programme, security, logistics and communications arrangements.
The advance team is expected to report to the Secretary-General, who is chairing a two-day high-level meeting on Kosovo scheduled in Geneva this Thursday and Friday.
On the ground, the UNHCR reports that more than 15,000 refugees swept into northern Albania over the weekend, saying Serbian forces have mounted a new wave of ethnic cleansing in western Kosovo. Today as of 4 p.m. local time, some 350 more refugees crossed over into Albania.
On the border with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, arrivals were down to a trickle, despite assurances by the Skopje Government that the borders will be open to refugees.
The estimated number of refugees and displaced people has reached nearly 746,000, including more than 240,000 in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, more than 420,000 in Albania and 63,000 in Montenegro.
**International Court of Justice
Hearings began today at the International Court of Justice in the 10 cases brought by Yugoslavia against Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, United Kingdom and the United States.
Yugoslavia is accusing those countries of bombing its territory in violation of their obligation not to use force against another State, not to intervene in its internal affairs, and not to violate its sovereignty. Belgrade is asking the Court to order an end to the bombing and compensation for the damage done.
The Court issued a press release on Friday, which we distributed, outlining the proceedings today, but it is not expected to issue another press release until the judges are ready to announce a date for their decision. But, you can get all verbatim transcripts of the proceedings within just a few hours. The Court is expected to post this morning's transcripts any minute now. That Web site address is www.icj-cij.org. You'll find all the background information you need there, as well.
So far today, the Court heard from Yugoslavia and then proceeded to hear from the 10 countries in English alphabetical order, beginning with Belgium. They are expected to get through France today and begin tomorrow with Germany. The United States is scheduled to be the last country to speak tomorrow evening. There will be rebuttals to follow on Wednesday. We'll keep you posted.
**United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Mary Robinson, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, is in Zagreb, Croatia, today and she'll be there until Wednesday. She met with President Franjo Tudjman, and with Foreign Minister Granic, with whom she signed a cooperation agreement on human rights training and education programmes. She then visited her 11-strong office in Zagreb. She will head towards Belgrade on Wednesday morning.
In Montenegro, where she was over the weekend, she once again condemned the ethnic cleansing causing displacement of Kosovar Albanians, and said: "We are determined we are going to ensure accountability for this."
**International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda
The new spokesman for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda gave his first weekly press briefing Saturday in Arusha, United Republic of Tanzania. He announced that the Tribunal will deliver its judgement in the joint trial of Clement Kayishema and Obed Ruzindana on 21 May. This judgement will deal with crimes allegedly committed by the accused in the western Rwanda province of Kibuye, where more than half of the victims of the 1994 genocide were killed. We have a summary note of the briefing in my Office.
**Secretary-General's Report on Tajikistan
The Secretary-General's latest report on the situation in Tajikistan just came out this morning (document S/1999/514). It states that there has been some progress in the peace process, but this is being held back by a deep-seated lack of confidence between the parties.
The Secretary-General reports that the United Nations Mission of Observers in Tajikistan (UNMOT) has been assisting the parties in overcoming obstacles and has contributed to an atmosphere conducive to finding solutions. He, therefore, recommends that the Mission's mandate be extended for six more months, through mid-November.
But, the Secretary-General cautions that the United Nations Mission makes up only one pillar of the Security Council's strategy for Tajikistan. The other pillar requires the demobilization of soldiers and the holding of elections. He says this pillar is "extremely weak" due to a lack of voluntary funding, and appeals to Member States to provide the crucial support needed for a positive outcome.
By the way, Jan Kubis, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Tajikistan, is scheduled to brief the Security Council here on Thursday, and we've asked him to speak to you afterwards.
**World Health Organization
The World Health Organization's World Health Report 1999, the first issued since Gro Harlem Brundtland took office as Director-General of the organization, will be launched tomorrow at 9 a.m. New York time, in a video link-up simultaneously in Geneva and Washington, D.C. The Report examines the achievements and challenges in world health and highlights the new directions for health into the twenty-first century. We have information kits, including an executive summary of the Report, in my Office.
**Israel To Donate Gift to United Nations
Tomorrow, Israel will mark its fiftieth anniversary as a United Nations Member State by donating a lintel, which is a relic which depicts a menorah, from a fourth century Galilean synagogue. The gift is under wraps on the second floor between the Security Council and the Delegate's Lounge, and the Secretary-General will be on hand to speak when it is unveiled tomorrow at 11:30 a.m. You are all invited to attend. Tomorrow evening, the Secretary- General will attend a dinner hosted by the Government of Israel.
And finally, the World Chronicle Television Programme will feature Catherine Bertini, the Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP). You can see that today on in-house television channel 6 or 38 at 2:30 p.m.
That's all I have for you. What do you have for me?
Question: Any reaction from the Secretary-General on the reported partial withdrawal of Yugoslav troops from Kosovo?
Spokesman: We only have heard initial reports and we'll need more detail. If, in fact, it is confirmed that Yugoslavia has ordered a partial withdrawal of its troops from Kosovo, that could be viewed as a positive development.
Question: Do you have any information whether or not China is asking for the compensation of lost lives or broken buildings?
Spokesman: I personally have not heard of a request for compensation at this time.
Question: The meeting at 11:30 with General Joulwan, do you have any readout on that or do we know what that was about?
Spokesman: It was personal. The Secretary-General knows the General from his Bosnia days, and I think they just wanted a private chat.
Question: Fred, can you tell us, is the Secretary-General still planning to go abroad this week?
Spokesman: Yes, he'll be leaving on Wednesday, hosting this two-day meeting on Kosovo humanitarian assistance Thursday and Friday, and then he'll be going on to The Hague.
Follow-up: Where is that meeting?
Spokesman: Geneva. Francesc, come up please. Any other questions?
Question: The report on Tajikistan, is there any plan for Mr. [Lakhdar] Brahimi to visit the region again?
Spokesman: I'd have to ask. I don't know about his movements. We'll have to see. I'll get back to you this afternoon.
Question: There have been reports that the Secretary-General is planning to promote Dame [Ann] Hercus in Cyprus to the position of his Special Representative on Cyprus. Do you have anything on that?
Spokesman: Nothing today ... I have nothing to announce at this time. Mr. [Abdellatif] Kabbaj, our guests are from where?
Mr. Kabbaj: Denmark.
Spokesman: Denmark, journalism trainees. Welcome. Francesc, welcome to the briefing. Perhaps you'd like to tell us a little something about preparations in East Timor.
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