DAILY PRESS BRIEFING OF OFFICE OF SPOKESMAN FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
23 June 1999
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by the Spokesman for the Secretary-General, Fred Eckhard.
The United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) moved into its headquarters in central Pristina today -- 11 days after the Secretary-General dispatched the advance team led by Sergio Vieira de Mello.
At the new headquarters, De Mello, the acting Special Representative, should be briefing as we speak the foreign ministers of the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy on the United Nations mission in Kosovo. Also attending the meeting was the top military official in Kosovo, General Michael Jackson.
Following that meeting, the group was expected to hold separate meetings with ethnic Albanian leaders and with Archbishop Artemije on the Serbian side.
On the military side, we reported to you the welcoming of the accord signed between the UCK (or KLA) and KFOR, which was expected to have a positive impact on the deployment of United Nations police. The first meeting of the so-called Joint Implementation Commission chaired by the Commander of KFOR and bringing together the two sides, as well as the United Nations, took place yesterday to work out the sites for assembly and weapons storage. A separate commission exists involving the implementation of the agreement with the Serbian military.
On the civilian administration, the UNMIK spokesman said work was underway to appoint United Nations-chaired joint civilian commissions which would bring together representatives from the Serb and Albanian sides aimed at addressing immediate reintegration issues. At least seven such commissions are expected to be formed in the coming days in the areas of education and family, health, public utilities and sanitation, justice, economy, including commerce, trade and agriculture, finance, and communications and media.
Meanwhile, the issue of funding to execute UNMIK's work is a top concern. Trust funds have been set up, but so far remain empty. Money is most urgently needed to pay for the civil servants -- many of whom have not been paid for more than two months. Another priority is for funding so-called "Quick Impact Projects" which are small-scale projects ranging from the repair of damaged water supplies, repairing mosques and churches and procuring computers for the judges to carry out their work.
As we mentioned to you yesterday, the Secretary-General's Special Envoy for the Balkans, Carl Bildt, is in New York for consultations. He is meeting with the Deputy Secretary-General now, so he couldn't come here today as we had originally announced, but he promised to join us at the noon briefing tomorrow.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported the continued flow of spontaneous returns to Kosovo. Close to 220,000 had returned to Kosovo in a little over a week with 9,000 returning by 3 p.m. today from the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia alone.
UNHCR, the lead agency tasked with refugee return, again voiced its mixed feelings about the situation. While they were happy to see the refugees return, staff are very anxious about the mines and security issues confronting them inside Kosovo.
Regarding the investigations for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, teams are arriving almost daily. An FBI team from the United States is deploying this afternoon. The British team from Scotland Yard is expected to finish its work by end of week in Velika Krusa and then will be assigned another site. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are sending a team expected to be deployed this coming weekend. Four or five Dutch forensic investigators will be deploying at the same time as the most recent team from the United States.
For the last four days, the World Food Programme (WFP) has been making four flights a day on two helicopters from Pristina to inaccessible areas, due to landmines, to assess and distribute emergency food to the most vulnerable populations. The WFP first distributed ready-to-eat meals. Starting today, the flights carried enough wheat flour for 9,000 loaves of bread. The aim of the flights, the WFP said, is to send a message to Kosovars saying hope is on the way. The flights are part of a massive food delivery effort being coordinated by WFP by road and air.
**Secretary-General in Moscow
The Secretary-General began his first full day in Moscow, on his official visit to the Russian Federation with a meeting with Alexander Bessmertnykh, who heads a 120-member International Council of Former Foreign Ministers. Bessmertnykh offered the Council's support to the Secretary-General.
He then met with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanoff for two hours, and continued discussions over lunch. Topics touched on were Kosovo, of course, but also Iraq, the Middle East, Afghanistan, India-Pakistan relations and conflicts within the Commonwealth of Independent States.
The Secretary-General and the Foreign Minister then had a press encounter. We expect the transcript shortly.
In the afternoon, he visited with Gennady Seleznev, the Speaker of the Duma. Their conversation touched on the situation in Kosovo, and on the plight of Kosovar Serb refugees. After that meeting, there was another press encounter, and we're expecting that transcript shortly as well.
At 4 p.m. (Moscow time), the Secretary-General met with Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin for an hour, and their talks focused almost exclusively on Kosovo. They also spoke about human rights, and Mary Robinson's recent visit to Moscow.
In those three official meetings, the Secretary-General thanked Russia for the critical role played in the search for a solution to the Kosovo crisis.
The Secretary-General then had a brief meeting on Kosovo with the Foreign Minister of Denmark, Neils Helveg-Petersen, who was also visiting Moscow.
In the evening he attended a dinner in his honour hosted by the United Nations Association of Russia.
**Security Council Consultations
The Security Council is meeting this morning on Ethiopia and Eritrea.
Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahima Fall briefed Council members on the military, political and diplomatic aspects of the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea.
Kevin Kennedy, Chief of the Emergency Liaison Branch of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, is briefing the Council on the humanitarian situation in those two countries.
Under other matters, Council members are expected to discuss a draft presidential statement on the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They will also take up Georgia at Russia's request.
Yesterday, the subject of Iraq came up under other matters. On Monday, the Council will discuss three documents submitted by France, Russian Federation and the United Kingdom, on Iraq.
Also yesterday, the Council's Committee on New Members held two consecutive meetings to consider the membership applications of Nauru and Kiribati. The next meeting of the Committee on New Members is scheduled for Friday morning.
The Secretary-General's report on East Timor came out this morning. In it, he says that registration for the consultation on autonomy will be delayed for three weeks, and will now begin on 13 July. His determination of whether conditions exist for a free and fair ballot will also be postponed for three weeks, while the balloting itself, he says, will be delayed for two weeks.
As reasons for the changes, the Secretary-General cited both security concerns and logistical problems. "It is therefore my intention," his report says, "that UNAMET (United Nations Mission in East Timor) not begin the operational phases until it is fully deployed, which would give the Indonesian authorities time to address the pending security concerns".
Also on East Timor, there's a new report on the racks from the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) on East Timor.
The ACABQ notes that, in view of the time constraints that affected the preparation of the budget for the United Nations Mission in East Timor, it would not recommend any reduction in the current estimate, which is $52.5 million. The Committee does, however, believe that efforts should be made to achieve savings during the implementation of the operation, and it requests the Secretary-General to report to this General Assembly's next session.
You may be aware that the Special Committee on Decolonization took up that issue yesterday, along with Western Sahara. Over a dozen petitioners from non-governmental and parliamentary organizations addressed the Committee on the subject of East Timor. You can pick up the Department of Public Information (DPI) press release which has the details. The Committee is continuing its consideration of East Timor today, and DPI is covering those meetings as well.
**Secretary-General's Report on Good Offices in Cyprus
The Secretary-General's report on his good-offices mission in Cyprus was issued this morning as document S/1999/707.
The report reviews diplomatic activities over the past six months, including the contacts made by the Secretary-General's Deputy Special Representative, Ann Hercus, with leaders of the two communities. Although the substance of these "shuttle talks" remains confidential, the Secretary-General reports that both sides are participating in a constructive manner. A major challenge at this stage is how to translate the commitment to political equality into clear, practical provisions agreed on by both sides.
The Secretary-General stresses the importance of focusing on the core issues of security, distribution of powers, property and territory. He expresses his readiness to invite both leaders to enter into a process of comprehensive negotiations without preconditions in a spirit of compromise and cooperation.
**United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) announces that it will jointly convene a meeting on the Balkans in Brussels on 23 June with the European Commission where all relevant actors will be asked to contribute toward the coordination of the international response to the environmental rehabilitation efforts, including the preparation for a full-scale assessment mission. We have a press release available on the racks.
UNEP also has a press release on the marking of the twentieth anniversary of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species. This treaty protects hundreds of vulnerable animals, such as the Siberian crane, and UNEP considers it a major success. But the agency's Executive Director, Klaus Toepfer, warns that "we must not lower our guard", because many species remain under constant threat.
**United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, leaves tomorrow for Sierra Leone where she hopes to lend support to the ongoing Lomé peace talks and encourage action for the protection and promotion of human rights in the country. She will be emphasizing the need to establish some form of truth and reconciliation mechanism to deal with the aftermath of the atrocities that have been committed in that country.
By visiting the sites of these atrocities and speaking with survivors, the High Commissioner will also draw attention to the civilians who have borne the brunt of the excesses of the armed conflict, and show solidarity with the country's human rights defenders.
You can pick up a press release in my office.
**World Food Programme
We also have a press release from the World Food Programme appealing for funds to avert starvation in Angola.
If you haven't gotten your fill yet of Y2K, we have a press release upstairs from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) on its efforts to deal with the millennium bug.
We received $976,000 today from Algeria, which became the seventy- seventh Member State to pay in full for 1999.
There will be a briefing tomorrow morning at 11:15 featuring members of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which is wrapping up its twenty-first session this week.
Question: What about the $800 million the United States has decided to pay the United Nations? Did they not really owe $1.5 billion? And, how can they decide to pay a smaller amount in the future since payment of their arrears are bound by international treaty and the amount would be determined by the United Nations?
Spokesman: What happened yesterday in the United States Senate was the first of several steps in a complex budget process that is scheduled to culminate on 30 September with appropriation bills that would permit the Government as of 1 October, the beginning of their fiscal year, to pay out money. So yesterday was the authorization bill which, as I understand it, sets funding goals and parameters.
The amount of money included in it, as you point out, is short of the $1.5 billion that is owed. And, I should point out, that money is not all for the United Nations proper, but for other United Nations agencies and international organizations that the United States owes assessed contributions to. So, it's not clear how much of that would actually be paid to the United Nations, unless it's specified in the legislation. I haven't seen the legislation.
The call for a reduction in the United States assessment rate has to be carried out now by the administration if that is the wish of the Congress. The administration will have to take it up with 184 other delegations in the General Assembly, starting with the Committee on Contributions. So, what kind of reception that would get from the 184 Members is left to be seen.
Question: The Indonesian Foreign Minister seemed taken aback by the announcement of the delay of the East Timor ballot, particularly by the Secretary-General's conclusion that the security situation there is not conducive to holding that ballot -- was there any consultation and what is the reaction to his statement?
Spokesman: There was full consultation before the Secretary-General made his decision to delay the balloting, and I was informed this morning that Jamsheed Marker, the Secretary-General's Special Representative, had a conversation today with Foreign Minister Ali Alatas, and the Foreign Minister confirmed to Mr. Marker that Indonesia agreed with the postponement. So, it is our understanding, as the Secretary-General's report says, that Indonesia and Portugal both concur in this decision to postpone the balloting by two weeks.
Question: Where is the funding coming from for Kosovo?
Spokesman: Governments -- voluntary contributions into the trust fund. We are talking to a number of governments hoping that some of them will be able to make a quick contribution to the trust fund so that we can start working on these projects I described and also to pay the civil service.
Question: What is the timing for the appointment for a Permanent Representative for Kosovo?
Spokesman: Really, there can't be any timing. Consultations are going on. The Secretary-General has said it would be a European. The Europeans have informally floated some names and some of those have been made public in the last few days, but I can't comment on them. And in Moscow yesterday, and I think at the press encounter today (we'll see when we get the transcript), the Secretary-General said that he hopes to make a choice soon.
Question: How long is Mary Robinson going to Sierra Leone for? And, is there a problem with the World Food Programme, because of the huge humanitarian effort in Kosovo, not being able to provide enough food for Sierra Leone?
Spokesman: We would have to ask the WFP that. I'm not aware that there is a link between the two. After the briefing I could give you that information on how long she would be there.
Question: What is the status of the little island a short way from here called the U Thant island?
Spokesman: It's not part of our real estate. It belongs to the city of New York. And, we'll have to check the map to see what it's called. I do not know if it was or is called U Thant.
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