DAILY PRESS BRIEFING OF OFFICE OF SPOKESMAN FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
11 May 1999
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by the Spokesman for the Secretary-General, Fred Eckhard:
Thank you for not leaving.
Refugees from Kosovo continued to arrive in northern Albania today, but reports so far suggest that virtually no refugees have crossed into the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) since last Wednesday.
In a bizarre twist, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports trains continue to arrive at Blace, at the border between Kosovo and FYROM, carrying a few hundred people each time. These trains let off just a few people and then travel back into Kosovo full. One of the handful of people let off yesterday said that people who were sent back also had to pay for the return trip.
The UNHCR, meanwhile, stepped up efforts to move refugees away from the Kosovo border in both Albania and FYROM. UNHCR staff are planning to take refugee leaders from the camps in FYROM on "look and see" visits to Albania.
In Albania, the UNHCR is redoubling its efforts to persuade refugees staying in the Kukes area of northern Albania to move to other parts of the country. An information campaign will fan out to all camps, explaining once again to the refugees that this area is not considered safe, and that arrangements to receive them in other parts of the country are in place.
Also from Albania, unknown gunmen shot and seriously wounded a UNHCR senior staff member in Tirana, Albania, in an apparent attempt to seize his vehicle on Monday night. He was treated at the Tirana hospital, before being airlifted this morning to Geneva. The incident is under investigation.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported today that lack of funds could seriously set back efforts to help three quarters of a million refugees from Kosovo. A press release is available.
Finally, the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) today said they would work with Microsoft and its partners, Compaq, Hewlett-Packard, Security World Ltd. and ScreenCheck B.V., to deliver computer support for urgently needed refugee registration in Albania.
The new registration system will provide relief agencies with a critical tool for quickly registering refugees, for issuing new identification documents and facilitating the reunification of separated families. The UNHCR said the first phase of the registration will begin on 17 May, while the final phase, including issuance of identity cards, will commence in early June. See the press release for more details.
As we mentioned yesterday, the Secretary-General will be travelling to Geneva tomorrow to convene a two-day high-level meeting Thursday and Friday on the present and future challenges faced by the United Nations system in addressing the Balkans humanitarian crisis.
On Thursday at noon, the Secretary-General will meet with his two Special Envoys, Carl Bildt and Eduard Kukan. The high-level meeting will then begin at 3 in the afternoon. The Special Envoys will participate, along with the President of the World Bank and the heads of United Nations agencies, funds, programmes and departments dealing with political affairs, peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance, human rights and development.
The meeting will reconvene the following morning at 10 with the added participation of representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating in the Balkans, as well as the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Olara Otunnu. We have a background press release in our Office with more details.
On Friday evening, the Secretary-General will fly to The Hague, where he will deliver the closing address at "The Hague Appeal for Peace" -- an event being held by NGOs to mark the 100th anniversary of the first Hague Peace Conference. That was the first international meeting held, not to settle a war but to focus on building peace. It ended 18 May 1899 with the adoption of historic international conventions governing conduct in war.
The following Monday, the Secretary-General will address the Conference of Members of the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Later that afternoon, he will visit the International Court of Justice and hold meetings with senior Dutch officials. On the 18th of May, exactly 100 years since the first Hague Peace Conference, the Secretary-General will attend its centennial and deliver a closing address. Later that afternoon, he will meet with officials from the International Criminal Tribunals dealing respectively with Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.
The Secretary-General will then travel to Sweden, where he will pay an official visit and receive an honorary degree from Lund University. His official visit there will run from 25 through 28 May.
From Sweden, he will proceed to Nigeria through the 30th of May, where he will attend the inauguration of President-elect Obasanjo and hold meetings with African leaders.
Daily Press Briefing - 3 - 11 May 1999
The following statement attributable to the Spokesman is available in my Office. It concerns Guinea-Bissau. The Secretary-General has continued to follow with grave concern developments in Guinea-Bissau since fighting resumed there on the 6th of May. Against the background of reports that President Joao Bernardo Vieira has been removed from office as a result of that fighting, the Secretary-General firmly condemns any measure that seeks to transfer power by unconstitutional means tantamount to a coup d'état.
The Secretary-General also condemns the killing of innocent civilians during the recent fighting, as well as attacks on foreign nationals and diplomatic installations. The Secretary-General reaffirms his strong disappointment that the pledge made by the parties to the conflict in Guinea- Bissau never again to resort to arms to settle their differences was broken by the latest fighting.
This regrettable turn of events in Guinea-Bissau has further complicated an already difficult situation, as the country was only recently and gradually moving, with the support of the international community, towards a peaceful transition within the framework of the Abuja Agreement. In view of these developments, the Secretary-General is reviewing the options available to the United Nations, with regard to the peace process in Guinea-Bissau.
The Security Council is holding consultations this morning on the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Council members have been briefed by Moustapha Niasse, the Secretary-General's Special Envoy for the peace process in that country.
Mr. Niasse, who has been to eight countries as part of his mandate to hold consultations with all parties concerned in the conflict, is expected to leave this week to continue that mission. He is expected to be back at United Nations Headquarters in early June to report on his completed mission.
**World Health Organization Update on Marburg Disease
A team of epidemiologists from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has arrived in the outbreak zone of the Marburg disease in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The team will work with public health officials and Médecins sans frontières, who are already on site, to identify any further cases of suspected viral haemorrhagic fever and to ensure that measures are in place to control the disease. Specific studies to identify possible animal reservoirs will also be carried out.
**Mary Robinson Appoints Personal Envoy to East Timor
It was announced this morning in Geneva that Mary Robinson, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, has appointed Soli Sorabjee, Attorney General for India and former Special Rapporteur on Nigeria, as her Personal Envoy to East Timor. At the request of the High Commissioner, Mr. Sorabjee will undertake a high-level mission to Indonesia and East Timor, tentatively from 14 to 24 May. He will then report to the High Commissioner on the current human rights situation in East Timor and make recommendations on further action to ameliorate the situation. We have a press release from Geneva in my Office.
**Israel Donates Gift
The Secretary-General this morning marked 50 years of Israel's membership in the United Nations at the unveiling of a gift from its Government to the Organization.
He noted that the gift is a "lintel" relic sculpted in the fourth century from a synagogue in Galilee. "The lintel", he said, "has made quite a journey, from the far reaches of antiquity to the modern era; from a house of worship to this house of diplomacy; and from the land of prophets and penitents to this new site amid the art and peoples of many nations." We have copies of the speech in our Office.
This evening, the Secretary-General will attend a dinner hosted by the Government of Israel, where he will also speak, and you can pick up embargoed copies of that text in my Office as well.
**Narcotics Control Board Elects President
From Vienna, we have news that Antonio Lourenço Martins, a judge in the Supreme Court of Portugal, was elected yesterday as the new President of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) in Vienna.
The independent body has started its two-week session in Vienna. It's looking at steps governments have taken to implement international drug control treaties over the past six months. We have a press release on that if you're interested.
**World Health Report
As we mentioned to you yesterday, the WHO today unveiled new directions for health into the twenty-first century. The World Health Report 1999: Making a Difference, is published on the opening day of the World Health Assembly in Geneva.
The report charts the twentieth century revolution in health, which has led to a drop in birth rates and dramatic gains in life expectancy, transforming the structure of populations and contributing to economic growth. But not everyone has benefited. The Report points out that over a billion people will enter the twenty-first century without having participated in the so-called health revolution.
**United Nations Children's Fund
And finally from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), we have a press release in which Carol Bellamy, the Executive Director, outlines a UNICEF anti-war agenda, and please note that that is embargoed until tomorrow, the 12th, at 10 o'clock GMT, which is 6 a.m. here, New York time.
That's what I have for you. Any questions?
Question: The computer companies and hardware and software, are they being donated or does the United Nations have to pay for them?
Spokesman: Well, we have no money so I don't think we're paying for anything. I assume its a contribution.
Question: Seeing Mr. Milosevic the other day was a name from the recent past, Mr. [Yasushi] Akashi. I know they said it was in a private capacity. Did he go on his own? It says that he's coming here or maybe to Geneva to brief Secretary-General Annan. What is the relationship, and did the Secretary- General ask him to go? Does he expect a briefing? What is the link here?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General did not ask him to go. He did call the Secretary-General before he left to inform him that he was going in a private capacity. I'm not aware that there's any meeting scheduled for debriefing, but there may well be.
Question: Do you have any comment on his role in returning back to the scene, where some say he favoured the Serbian side too much and did not recognize what might have been happening in Bosnia?
Spokesman: No, I don't want to get into a lessons learned exercise, and since Mr. Akashi did this trip in his private capacity, I'll have no comment on it.
Question: Those representatives of the Secretary-General in the Balkans, will they be able to go to Yugoslavia or will they operate outside?
Spokesman: You're referring to the two Special Envoys? Their primary role at this time will be to work closely with the Russian Special Envoy, Viktor Chernomyrdin, and the Russians are currently in the lead on the diplomatic efforts. In addition to that, they will be working together with our own people here, internally in the Secretariat, doing contingency planning for the transitional phase once an agreement is reached. So two prongs of their ... .
Question: My question was more, are they recognized as Special Envoys by the Yugoslav Government?
Spokesman: I think I answered that question perhaps indirectly when you asked about who the Secretary-General had consulted and I said while he had not consulted Yugoslavia directly, he had, through the Russian Government, sounded them out on Yugoslavia's attitude towards the Envoys. Our expectation is that they are acceptable to Yugoslavia, as well. There was broad consensus on them.
Question: Can you give us any readout on the telephone conversation between Mr. Akashi and the Secretary-General?
Spokesman: I just answered that question.
Question: Can you give us any further information on that?
Spokesman: Oh, you mean the one before he left? No, just that he said that he was going in his private capacity. I have no further details on that phone discussion. I had the impression it was a rather brief discussion.
Question: Do you have a reaction to Mr. [Ariel] Sharon's statement regarding Jerusalem, just a while ago?
Spokesman: No, I don't. In fact, I didn't see it. I'll have to take a look at it.
Question: Do you have anything regarding the talks between Iraq and the United Nations on the rollover?
Spokesman: No, I don't have anything on that either. I'll have to check for you. I'm sorry.
Question: Just a quick thing on the Guinea-Bissau item that you read. It said the Secretary-General is going to review the options available to the United Nations. What kind of options are we talking about?
Spokesman: Well, we were geared up to support the peace process there by establishing an office in Guinea-Bissau. We never got that far. So, we have to kind of go back to the drawing board and ask what we will do now that the security situation in the country has dramatically changed for the worse.
Question: When are you going to increase the number of people belonging to the humanitarian mission, after those four or five people arrive in Belgrade? Will you wait for the Geneva conference?
Spokesman: Yes, the advance team of the needs assessment mission should report to the Secretary-General most likely on Wednesday. In any case, prior to the Thursday afternoon meeting of the heads of agencies. They will discuss what the advance team reports to them and then make a final decision, I assume by Friday, as to the mandate and composition of the needs assessment mission. Then it's expected that that mission would take off perhaps as early as Saturday.
Question: Where is the advance team today?
Spokesman: I don't know. I'd have to check. [He later announced it was in Belgrade.]
Question: Could you remind us of their itinerary for these days?
Spokesman: They went to Belgrade to discuss with the Yugoslav Government the precise conditions, including transportation, communications and security, of the needs assessment mission.
Question: Has the composition of the Geneva two-day meeting changed, or did I just miss something? Now, I think you mentioned that they've got the World Bank, peacekeeping, NGOs, development all coming. I thought it was initially just going to be the United Nations humanitarian agencies, the primary ones that are involved in the Balkans. Has that expanded?
Spokesman: It is, these are the agencies, including the World Bank, who have any involvement in humanitarian or reconstruction work in south-eastern Europe. So, the meeting is in two parts. First, a rather small meeting with the heads of all these agencies, as well as the senior Secretariat people involved. The next day they bring in the NGOs.
Question: Back to Iraq, when Mr. [Richard] Butler's term ends on June 30th, what is the Secretary-General going to do?
Spokesman: Still thinking about that.
Question: A few weeks ago, I think you said he's not interviewing people, but is he interviewing people now or talking to people?
Spokesman: I have no comment on that at this time. I'm sorry.
Question: Was one of the candidates in the Building yesterday?
Spokesman: No comment on that either.
Question: When you go to Geneva, I know you'll be there, can you see whatever you can do to get a photo opportunity of the meeting with the Special Envoys. I don't know if there's any United Nations television capacity there or anything, if that's at the beginning of the meeting.
Spokesman: We asked the Secretary-General if he would meet with the press briefly at the time he meets with the two Envoys on Thursday at midday. He's tentatively agreed to do that, and there'll be a United Nations camera there.
Question: Since the resolution on long-term development for Haiti was adopted by the Economic and Social Council, what is the next move now?
Spokesman: I don't know. I guess I'll have to look into that resolution and see what the implementation plan is. I honestly don't know.
Question: In today's The Wall Street Journal editorial -- I don't know if you've read it -- it said that Mr. [Yasser] Arafat has secured the support of the Secretary-General to make sure that Palestinian statehood should be based on General Assembly resolution 181. But they said that Kofi Annan has not yet confirmed that. Do you know exactly what the Secretary-General's position is?
Spokesman: I have nothing to say on resolution 181. Sorry.
Question: Has he ever expressed any position on that?
Spokesman: Has he expressed a position? No.
Question: On Yugoslavia, would the United Nations have a role to verify Yugoslav troop withdrawal? Any plans going on?
Spokesman: It's too early to speculate who will do what in the implementation phase. The assumption is that the United Nations will have a role, but that other organizations, like the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), will also have a role. It's still in the contingency planning stage and I can't comment.
Thank you very much.
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