DAILY PRESS BRIEFING OF OFFICE OF SPOKESMAN FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
17 June 1999
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by the Spokesman for the Secretary-General, Fred Eckhard.
Marie Okabe of my staff is here to back me up on Kosovo. We've learned from Pristina that forensic experts of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) had access to the site being reported as having been a torture site. This was, I believe, the Yugoslav Police Headquarters in Pristina, and it had been secured four days ago by KFOR (the Kosovo Force), who then gave access to the site to ICTY investigators. Last night they went in, they took out several cartons of files from the Police Headquarters for possible use in an investigation.
**UNHCR in Kosovo
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which is the lead agency for refugee return, just reported that spontaneous returns of refugees from Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) have reached more than 34,000 in three days. The majority of these came from Kukes, the camps in Kukes, Albania. So far today, about 8,500 have arrived from Albania. From Blace, which is the border crossing in FYROM, some 2,000 refugees joined the rush back home amid reports of further mine accidents. The UNHCR spokesman said in Pristina that although it was nice to see smiles on the faces of the returning refugees, it could not stress enough the danger of spontaneous mass returns.
As UNHCR opened its fourth office in Kosovo, today, in Pec, in order to pave the way for refugee return, it dispatched a helicopter assessment mission over a large area of south-west Kosovo, flying over such towns as Urosevac, Prizren, Dakovica and Pec. The level of destruction of housing was "shocking", according to a UNHCR housing expert who was part of the helicopter mission. According to that housing expert, the initial findings would indicate that based on the level of destruction, the task of winterizing the homes would be extremely difficult. The original plan was to use plastic sheeting to make winter-proof at least one room in each house. UNHCR said they might have to resort to erecting tents in the yards of the homes too damaged to live in immediately.
**Acting Special Representative of Secretary-General
Meanwhile, the acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Sergio Vieira de Mello, together with Lt. Gen. Jackson, the head of KFOR, met with the Patriarch of Belgrade, who was in Pristina to discuss the exodus of Serbs from the province. Indications of the Serb withdrawal include the departure of personnel from the main hospital in Prizren, as Serb doctors and support staff have fled. There is no water in Pristina, and UNHCR cited the reported cause as due to the departure of the Serb staff who had operated the water system.
Sergio Vieira de Mello was also expected to meet with the newly appointed head of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) Committee for Cooperation and Links with the United Nations, that's Nubojsa Vujovic, in Pristina, at the request of the Yugoslav Foreign Ministry. He also will have met with all three of the Kosovo Albanian political parties, the LDK, the LDP and the UCK, who have endorsed the United Nations Mission in Kosovo and committed their support for a multi-party democracy in the province.
**Secretary-General's Address to Academic Council
This morning, the Secretary-General addressed a Conference of the Academic Council on the United Nations that was here at Headquarters, which was held under the theme "Rebuilding torn societies". He said this subject could not have been more timely, considering the events taking place in Kosovo, where it would be important not only to reconstruct the country but also to restore a sense of humanity in a place where inhuman acts went on for far too long. "This is a task", he said, "that requires patience and understanding, but also new ways of fostering reconciliation and understanding where hatred and suspicion have been sown".
The Deputy Secretary-General is briefing the Security Council at the moment on the two days of Kosovo meetings she had in Geneva and other aspects of the Kosovo operation.
**Secretary-General's Special Envoy to Balkans
The Secretary-General's Special Envoy for the Balkans, Carl Bildt, was in Geneva today where he held consultations with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other organizations. Two main issues were addressed with the ICRC: the situation of prisoners transferred from Kosovo to other Serbian jails, and the question of health care provision in Kosovo. According to ICRC, Pristina University Hospital was Kosovo's key health facility. Run directly from the Health Ministry in Belgrade, it was previously staffed and administered almost exclusively by Serbs. Almost every member of staff will soon have left.
Mr. Bildt left Geneva this afternoon for Vienna to take part tomorrow in the conference entitled "The other Yugoslavia", organized by the Austrian Foreign Ministry. The round-table conference will be gathering Yugoslav politicians and intellectuals on the possibilities of a future democratic, inter-ethnic and inter-confessional future for Yugoslavia. The meeting will attempt to define possibilities for the political, economic and cultural reconstruction, as well as ways on how the European Union, and Austria in particular, could contribute to this.
After the briefing by the Deputy Secretary-General, Council members will hold consultations this afternoon at 3:30 p.m. on Bosnia and Herzegovina. They will take up the latest report on the operations of the Stabilization Force (SFOR) and the report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina (UNMIBH), where he recommends the extension of the mandate for another 12 months. A draft resolution is expected to be introduced this afternoon.
**Statement on Azeri and Armenian Conflict
The following statement is attributable to the Spokesman. "The Secretary-General has learned with concern of a large-scale confrontation on 14 June along the ceasefire line separating Azeri and Armenian ethnic forces, which resulted in a loss of human life. The Secretary-General calls upon all concerned to exercise restraint and to adhere strictly to the provisions of the ceasefire agreement of 1994, thus facilitating a political settlement of this protracted conflict."
**Human Rights Appeal on Pending Execution
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR), Mary Robinson, sent a letter today to United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on the pending execution of a Canadian national in Texas, who is due to be put to death later today. According to the letter, there were several irregularities in the trial of the individual in question, Joseph Stanley Fauder, who was convicted of murder during a robbery. Mrs. Robinson underscores that because the death penalty is irreparable, legal proceedings on capital offenses must conform to the highest standards of due process. Citing the irregularities surrounding Mr. Fauder's sentence, the High Commissioner appeals to Secretary Albright to use her influence to stop the execution and initiate a thorough review of the case.
We have copies of that letter in my office. Mrs. Robinson, you remember, made a similar appeal concerning the case of a man that was sentenced to execution in the state of Virginia for a crime he committed at the age of 17, and you may have seen the newspaper reports today that the Virginia Supreme Court did issue a stay of execution in that case. I'm not claiming any direct link between the High Commissioner's appeal and the action taken by the State Supreme Court.
**Statement on Special Representative for Tajikistan
We have another statement attributable here to the Spokesman: we're losing Jan Kubis. The Secretary-General is meeting with him right now. He is, of course, the Special Representative for Tajikistan, and as you're probably aware, he's about to be appointed Secretary-General of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). He, therefore, has submitted his resignation to the Secretary-General with effect from 21 June. The Secretary-General is deeply grateful to Mr. Kubis for his dedicated service to the United Nations and to the cause of peace in Tajikistan, where he has done much to keep the peace process moving ahead, despite difficult circumstances. The Secretary-General looks forward to working closely with him on these and other issues in his new function. Mr. Kubis has served as Special Representative for Tajikistan since 15 June 1998. Consultations are under way concerning his successor.
**Statement on Convention Banning Child Labour
Third statement attributable to the Spokesman: The Secretary-General was delighted to hear that the Convention banning the worst forms of child labour has been unanimously adopted by the 174 member States of the International Labour Organization (ILO). "This is a victory for children everywhere", he said, "and especially for the tens of millions who are working, often in hazardous conditions, at an age when they should be at school. I trust that all States will ratify the Convention swiftly", he added, "and act on it, so that children are truly protected from slavery, conscription, prostitution and other gross violations of their human rights". The Director-General of the ILO, Juan Somavia, announced today that his agency will immediately launch a worldwide campaign for ratification to translate the new treaty from words into deeds. "With this Convention", he said, "we now have the power to make the urgent eradication of the worst forms of child labour a new global cause". We have a press release from the ILO on that subject.
**East Timor Financing Report
Out on the racks today, you'll see the Secretary-General's latest report to the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) of the General Assembly on the Question of East Timor (document A/C.5/53/63). The report contains a revised budget for the United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET), which is slated to cost about $52.5 million for the period from 5 May through the end of August. Among other costs, this amount will cover the deployment of some 50 military liaison officers, 280 civilian police officers and over 3,600 local staff. In addition, over 400 United Nations Volunteers will help out at polling centres. I think you'll find that report interesting. It contains a great deal of statistical information about the Mission.
**Millennium Assembly Hearings
The second set of regional hearings being convened in advance of next year's Millennium Assembly will take place on 24 and 25 June in Addis Ababa featuring a cross-section of representatives of African governments, academia, the private sector, media and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The Secretary-General had decided to convene these hearings in preparation for a report he will submit to the Millennium Assembly on the future of the United Nations. The Africa regional hearing will address the five core priority areas of peace and security, economic and social affairs, development cooperation, humanitarian issues and human rights. We have a press release in our office from the Economic Commission for Africa with more details.
**Global Meeting of National Y2K Coordinators
What do we have here? The second global meeting of national Y2K coordinators will take place at United Nations Headquarters next Tuesday, 22 June, at an all day session. A press briefing will be held on Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. by Ambassador Ahmad Kamal (Pakistan) of the Informatics Working Group of the Economic and Social Council, and it will take place in this room. A press release with full details will be out tomorrow and a press kit will be available on Monday. In the meantime, you can contact Tim Wall of the Department of Public Information (DPI) on extension 5851 for more information.
None today. Tomorrow, 3:15 p.m., as we mentioned to you, on the independent inquiry into the actions which the United Nations took before and during the period of the crisis that occurred in Rwanda in 1994. That will be with the three members of the Secretary-General's panel, headed by Ingvar Carlson, former Prime Minister of Sweden. And they will all be here, 3:15 p.m., room 226.
**From United Nations Correspondents Association
Then, an announcement from the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA). Milan Panic, the former Prime Minister of Yugoslavia, will brief correspondents today at 2:45 p.m. in the UNCA Club. The topic of his briefing will be, "Will Mr. Milosevic resign?" And then on Friday, United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Peter Burleigh, will brief correspondents, again in the UNCA Club, sponsored by UNCA, at 3:30 p.m., on current issues in the Security Council. That's all I have for you.
Question: Do you know about any problems or delays in the voting in East Timor?
Spokesman: No, there was a question given to the spokesman in Dili about whether the vote would be delayed and he said it was only speculation. Under the agreement, the Secretary-General has to determine whether the conditions for the consultation are right for the process to go ahead, and his report is due in the coming days. So, if there is to be any change, we'd expect that to be announced by the Secretary-General in his report. But for the moment, I can't confirm that there will be.
Question: Can you go into the reasoning behind the intervention of the Human Rights Commissioner on these cases, particularly the Canadian case. There are so many cases around the world. Why this particular case?
Spokesman: I can't give you any more than I mentioned ... let me get the exact wording since lawyers are picky about words ... she said there were several irregularities in the trial.
Question: Is it up to the Human Rights Commissioner to say there were irregularities in the trial?
Spokesman: In this case, because the death penalty is involved, she says that legal proceedings on capital offenses must conform to the highest standards of due process.
Question: Another question. I understand the Secretary-General will be involved in a soccer game tomorrow with Pele. Does the Secretary-General play soccer, or is he a soccer fan?
Spokesman: He's a runner. But you can assess his abilities tomorrow. I think he's going to kick a soccer ball, you can see how well he does it. (It was later announced that the Secretary-General was a soccer player who had played at Macalester College).
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