DAILY PRESS BRIEFING OF OFFICE OF SPOKESMAN FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
12 May 1999
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Manoel de Almeida e Silva, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General:
Good afternoon, and thank you for coming.
The Secretary-General left New York this morning and is expected to arrive in Geneva late tonight. As you know, tomorrow and the day after, among other activities, he has the high-level meeting on the Balkans, to be held in Geneva.
Four topics are on the agenda of Security Council consultations today -- Western Sahara, Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau and Kosovo.
Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Bernard Miyet briefed the Council on Western Sahara. Mr. Miyet said that now that both parties had agreed to the package, the identification process could resume on 15 June, and the appeals process, the following month.
At the end of April, the Secretary-General recommended that the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) be extended through the end of October, but the Council gave the Mission two weeks, pending further developments. Those two weeks are up on Friday.
Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hedi Annabi was scheduled to brief Council members on the latest developments concerning the United Nations-facilitated peace process in Sierra Leone. He was also expected to draw attention to some of the findings of a recent human rights team mission to Masiaka, where evidence of serious human rights violations on the part of rebels were found.
The third subject on the Council agenda is Guinea-Bissau. A briefing by Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahima Fall is scheduled. He will brief Council members on the latest developments and the options being currently assessed and reviewed for the United Nations presence in that country.
The Security Council is also expected to hear a briefing by Under- Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Sergio Vieira de Mello, in response to a request on security arrangements for the proposed United Nations needs assessment mission to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The last item on the Security Council agenda on the Kosovo crisis today is a scheduled discussion on a draft resolution on the humanitarian situation.
As the flow of refugees slowed to a trickle, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported added complications in its efforts to move refugees away from the border areas near Kosovo in Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The first day of an information campaign to try to persuade some of the estimated 90,000 refugees still in Kukes, Albania, to immediately leave the region for more secure and better facilities in the south, met with mixed results.
The UNHCR said trying to persuade refugees to move is an extremely complex problem. They have their own reasons for not wanting to move: being nearer the border where family may still arrive from Kosovo; being near the border if and when they can go home; and the fear of the "unknown" of other parts of Albania.
Another factor was at work yesterday. Members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) have reportedly been active in the camps trying to dissuade people from leaving. After the UNHCR visited one collective centre yesterday and the bulk of the 700 people agreed to move, KLA representatives apparently followed and, by the time the UNHCR returned, the refugees had "changed their minds" and now didn't want to go. UNHCR staff are going back to the centre again today to try to persuade them to move.
For the seventh straight day, the border area between Kosovo and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia at Blace was empty. The UNHCR is putting together a plan which will be taken up with the Skopje Government to support its policing activities in the refugee camps. Although the situation has been relatively stable so far, the risk of a deterioration of security conditions remains. Overcrowding, the risk of exploitation of refugees by various groups and corruption are concerns that the UNHCR intends to address with the introduction of a camp security liaison team, which will work closely with the Macedonian police. Meanwhile, the influx into Montenegro continues.
A UNHCR senior staff member was reported to be in stable condition in hospital after he was shot and seriously wounded on Monday night by unknown gunmen in Tirana. Mary Robinson, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, arrived in Belgrade today as part of her tour of the Balkans. The High Commissioner has expressed her intention of meeting with President Milosevic while in Belgrade.
**International Court of Justice
The first round of hearings on the 10 cases brought by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia against Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, United Kingdom and the United States concluded yesterday afternoon. You can get verbatim transcripts of the proceedings on the Court's Web site (www.icj-cij.org).
This morning, Yugoslavia had a chance to reply to the statements by the 10 countries over the past two days, and at 3 this afternoon, those countries will have 15 minutes to give their own replies to Yugoslavia. That process should finish late today, and its proceedings will also be posted verbatim on the Court's Web site.
There have been reports in the media today regarding Phase V of the "oil- for-food" programme, in particular, the delivery of medicines in Iraq. We talked to Benon Sevan, the Executive Director of the Office of the Iraq Programme. He said, "It's just over two years since the first medical supplies arrived in Iraq under the oil-for-food programme. Our figures show that about $570 million worth of medicines and medical supplies have arrived in Iraq. Our major concern is that only 48 per cent of these supplies have been distributed to clinics, hospitals and pharmacies. The Government's warehouses are literally overflowing." A more detailed statement is available in the Spokesman's Office.
Amid an escalation of fighting in Afghanistan, the so-called "Six-plus- Two" group aimed at facilitating the peace process for that country is meeting this afternoon at United Nations Headquarters. The meeting will be between 4 and 6 p.m. today. Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Kieran Prendergast will chair the meeting. Today's meeting will be represented at the ambassadorial level of the six neighbouring countries surrounding Afghanistan, plus the United States and the Russian Federation.
Council members expressed firm support for the efforts of the "Six-plus- Two" Group to facilitate the peace process in Afghanistan. They called upon the Group to continue preparation for a proposed high-level meeting of the members of the Group in Tashkent, and to exert their influence over the parties in the most effective manner.
**Democratic Republic of Congo
We have here a note by Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Sergio Vieira de Mello, and he says, "I have learned with deep regret of the bombings in Goma and Uvira, Democratic Republic of the Congo, resulting in the death of more than 40 civilians and the injury of many others. I wish to call upon all parties to desist from violence against civilians, and to uphold the principles of international humanitarian law."
Portugal paid its dues today of over $4.3 million. So far, 62 Member States have paid in full this year.
Actress Liv Ullman, United Nations Messenger of Peace Anna Cataldi and Under-Secretary-General Kensaku Hogen will open the exhibit "Children of War, Children of Hope" at a special event to be held today at 3:30 p.m. in the Public Lobby of the General Assembly Building. Mrs. Nane Annan will also attend the event. The exhibition is sponsored by the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, and organized by the Leadership Council for Children and Armed Conflict. A press release is available in our Office upstairs.
Our guest at tomorrow's noon briefing will be the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Tajikistan, Jan Kubis.
The United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA) cordially invites its members to a briefing by Ambassador Sergei Lavrov, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation, tomorrow, Thursday, at 3:15 p.m. It will be in the UNCA Club.
This is all I had. Any questions?
Question: You mentioned that Sergio Vieira de Mello was briefing the Council and there was some request about security information. Can you be more specific on that? Who requested information and what kind?
Deputy Spokesman: They wanted to know, for this humanitarian needs assessment mission, what kind of security arrangements the advance team was discussing with the Yugoslav authorities. That is my understanding of it, but he is about to brief, so we'll know more once he's done it.
Question: In reference to the position of Yugoslavia before the International Court of Justice, is the Secretariat requesting any advisory opinion from its own legal department? Since the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia is a Member of the United Nations and sooner or later the United Nations is going to become involved in it, according to the letter that the Foreign Minister of Yugoslavia sent to the Secretary-General.
Deputy Spokesman: Serge, the Court is one of the bodies of the United Nations system. There's no legal advice to be requested. No, there's no such thing.
Follow-up Question: Because I remember in the case of the City of New York against the [here]...that the legal department here gave an advisory opinion.
Deputy Spokesman: Though I'm not familiar with the case, perhaps that was because it involved the United Nations. This case does not. This is among countries.
If there is nothing else, thank you. Have a nice lunch and a good afternoon.
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