DAILY PRESS BRIEFING OF OFFICE OF SPOKESMAN FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
1 June 1999
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by the Spokesman for the Secretary-General, Fred Eckhard.
The Secretary-General spoke to the Prime Ministers of both India and Pakistan over the long weekend and is encouraged that they have agreed to meet to discuss the Kashmir issue.
He hopes they will be able to reach a diplomatic solution to that problem and reminds them that the Line of Control in Kashmir must be respected by all.
The Russian Federation has requested urgent consultations of the Security Council on the subject of UNSCOM today. The meeting is just getting under way now.
Ambassador Jagne of Gambia takes over the Presidency of the Security Council from Gabon. The programme of work is scheduled to be discussed tomorrow.
The Secretary-General was up at the crack of dawn this morning to drive to Princeton University, where he is scheduled to become an Honorary Doctor of Laws. He will have lunch with University President Harold T. Shapiro, and return to his office this afternoon.
On his return, he will be briefed by Sergio Vieira de Mello, his humanitarian coordinator, who recently completed an assessment mission to Kosovo.
Mr. de Mello will brief the Security Council on that subject tentatively tomorrow afternoon and then he will brief you here in room 226 immediately afterwards. [It was later announced that he would brief the Council tomorrow at 11:30 and the press at 3:30.]
United Nations humanitarian agencies and their partners had gathered in Geneva yesterday to hear a briefing by Under-Secretary-General de Mello on the recently completed needs-assessment mission. The 15-member Inter-Agency
Standing Committee, which represents both the United Nations and non-United Nations members of the humanitarian community, agreed on the need for the agencies to return to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, especially Kosovo, as quickly as possible.
The agencies also issued a statement following the weekend conviction of two Australian aid workers of espionage in Belgrade. They urged the authorities of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) to urgently review the case and expressed the fervent hope that the staff members be released on a priority basis, in order to restore confidence among the international community that humanitarian activities may resume in the FRY. Those two aid workers, I believe, were with CARE.
On the ground, meanwhile, UNHCR reported a policy shift by the Serb authorities who have started allowing only people who have valid passports to cross into the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. No immediate explanation is available for the sudden change in policy. On Monday, 64 refugees were prevented from entering the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia because they did not have valid passports. No significant movement of refugees were reported crossing into that country by midday today.
Earlier today, about 50 refugees managed to cross into Albania until several explosions took place this afternoon on the border between Kosovo and Albania limiting aid workers' access to the area. Monday, several Serb rockets aimed at alleged Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) positions in the area hit Krume, 25 kilometres north of Kukes, where there are several thousand refugees. As fighting in the border area escalates, UNHCR said the need to move refugees away from Kukes is becoming more and more urgent by the day.
Even as UNHCR and its partners attempt to cope with the onset of summer in the asylum countries in the Balkans, plans are being made for the coming winter. UNHCR hosted a meeting in Geneva on Tuesday to discuss so-called "winterization issues". The meeting included representatives from United Nations agencies, from the European Commission Humanitarian Office, from the European Union, the World Bank, the International Management Group and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
Also in Geneva, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, gave a comprehensive report on the human rights and humanitarian situation relating to Kosovo yesterday to the bureau of the Human Rights Commission. She said that her staff on the ground had now gathered substantial evidence of gross violations of human rights which have been committed in Kosovo including summary executions, forcible displacements, rape, physical abuse and the destruction of property and identity documents.
She indicated facts that "strengthen indications that refugees are not fleeing NATO air strikes, as is often alleged by Yugoslav authorities".
In her conclusions, Mrs. Robinson calls on the responsible authorities of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to put an end to human rights violations and to withdraw immediately and unconditionally all the army and paramilitary units from Kosovo. She also calls on NATO to respect the principles of international law, including the principle of proportionality, in their military actions against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
She added: "Any durable solution to the crisis in Kosovo will have to be built on a solid foundation of respect for human rights". She continued: "Human rights should represent a key component of any future United Nations presence in Kosovo".
We have a copy of her report in my office if you are interested.
**UN Peacekeeper Killed in Lebanon
The following statement concerns an incident that took place in Lebanon over the weekend.
"The Secretary-General is deeply saddened by the death of Private William Kedian, a member of the Irish contingent of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, who was killed yesterday by a mortar round fired by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF)/de facto forces (DFF). The Secretary-General expresses his deep condolences to the bereaved family and to the Government of Ireland.
"The Secretary-General condemns this attack against United Nations personnel and calls on the Government of Israel to take all necessary measures to ensure that the Israel Defence Forces and their local Lebanese auxiliary respect the non-combatant status of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon."
I understand that the Permanent Representative of Israel has been called in this afternoon by the Acting Head of the Peacekeeping Department, Hédi Annabi, to protest this incident.
Private Kedian, by the way, is the seventy-seventh peacekeeper to die from hostile fire in Lebanon since 1978.
Ian Martin, the Special Representative for the East Timor Popular Consultation, arrived in Dili this morning. We have the text of the statement he made on arrival, if you're interested.
There are now 55 United Nations international staff on the ground, with more arriving on three weekly flights from Jakarta. The United Nations presence in Dili is described as having had a calming effect on the town, although outlying areas are described as still tense.
We have a report as well from David Wimhurst, the Spokesman, which you can pick up in my office.
**ILO Conference Opens in Geneva
The International Labour Conference opened today in Geneva.
Delegates are working on a new convention designed to eliminate the worst forms of child labour, including slavery and prostitution. They'll also start revising the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention on maternity benefits.
Among those scheduled to speak at this year's Conference are three heads of State: President Ruth Dreifuss of the Swiss Confederation; President Henri Konan Bédié of Côte d'Ivoire, and President Bill Clinton of the United States.
We have a press release in my office with more details.
**Rwanda Tribunal Plenary Session
The sixth plenary session of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda opened yesterday in Arusha, United Republic of Tanzania, with the swearing-in of three new Judges. The plenary session will continue until the end of this week during which the Judges will elect a new President, and will discuss proposed amendments to the Rules of Procedure.
We have a press release on that if you're interested.
**Conference on Africa's Water Resources
Finally, a press release is available on the racks today from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) concerning a conference on Africa's water resources, which concluded on Friday in Nairobi. The Conference was sponsored by the World Bank, the Kenyan Government and UNEP and resulted in the creation of an African Water Resources Management Forum for the exchange of information on the subject and to contribute to the definition of a long-term African vision for water for the year 2025.
Delegates from over 25 African and donor countries discussed issues such as national water resource policy reforms; and strategies to deal with water scarcity and equitable distribution, water pollution, watershed degradation, water weeds and hyacinth control as well as the environmental aspects of water management.
That's what I have for you.
Question: Is the Secretariat expected to play a role in enforcing the decision of the International Court of Justice on Yugoslavia?
Spokesman: Let's see what the decision is. The Secretariat doesn't have a policing responsibility on World Court decisions; Member States do, if it is a decision requiring enforcement, if you will.
Any other questions?
Question: Is Sergio Vieira de Mello still scheduled to brief the Council tomorrow?
Spokesman: We don't have a time yet, but yes he is and we'll squawk it as soon as we know exactly when. We're anticipating it will be in the afternoon.
Question: Could you enlarge on the ILO vision of some statute you mentioned. Is it in relation to child labour?
Spokesman: The new convention they are working on has to do with child labour, and the one they are revising has to do with maternity benefits. If you want any more information on that, check with Jessica Jiji of my office.
Okay, thank you very much.
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