DAILY PRESS BRIEFING OF OFFICE OF SPOKESMAN FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
4 August 1999
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The guest at the noon briefing that we hope will be here is the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Sierra Leone, Francis Okelo. He is briefing, or he has just finished briefing ... he is briefing the Security Council on the current situation in Sierra Leone and the work of the United Nations mission there. If he finishes in the next few minutes, he'll join us here, otherwise we'll ask him to speak to you at the stand-up mike outside the Council Chamber.
The latest fighting in Afghanistan has pushed tens of thousands of people out of the area north of Kabul and into the Panshir valley, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). United Nations agencies are in the process of finalizing a contingency plan to provide food, medicine and other non-food items to 100,000 affected people in the Panshir valley. They'll be delivering aid to the area as soon as they work out the questions of access.
Afghanistan still carries the sad distinction of being the country that has sent the largest number of refugees fleeing into the world, with some 2.1 million Afghans in Iran and 1.6 million in Pakistan. Those are UNHCR figures.
The Secretary General's Special Representative for Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner, today went to the site of a mass grave in Suvido, Mitrovica, where he was briefed by the doctor in charge of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia investigation, Dr. Lecomte, as well as her team of investigators, forensic experts and doctors. The site in question is the largest investigated by the Tribunal's team, with 72 graves uncovered in and around an existing graveyard. The team has conducted autopsies on some 40 to 50 bodies in the past 10 days.
Speaking to reporters after visiting the site, Mr. Kouchner praised the team's work, saying it was an indispensable record for history and for the memory of the victims. "Their investigation is crucial", he said, "in the fight for human rights and in order to prevent this from ever happening again." He described what he had seen as "unbearable and unbelievable", but added that he could not excuse those who were currently threatening the Serb population. "Even though the suffering we have witnessed today", he said, "is unequal, the cycle of revenge and violence must stop. The United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), together with the Kosovo Security Force (KFOR), must try harder to protect the Serbs."
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees told reporters in Pristina today that the situation of Serbs in certain villages in the Gnijlane area is becoming increasingly difficult. That area comprises both Serb and mixed villages. The UNHCR is concerned that the mixed villages are slowly being emptied of Serbs, who then congregate in the totally Serb villages.
In coordination with KFOR, the UNHCR and its non-governmental organization partners are trying to provide as much assistance as possible to the remaining Serb population in the area. There are at least 10,000 Serbs remaining around Gnijlane, in addition to the approximately 400 Roma people there. Over the long term, the UNHCR fears for the futures of all minorities. Since the end of the bombing, between 4,500 and 5,000 Albanians have fled to the Gnijlane area, adding more pressure to an already tense situation.
To update you on the police deployment, there are 404 United Nations international police in the area, coming from 21 different countries.
Today in Dili, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for East Timor, Ian Martin, expressed satisfaction with the number of people registered for the popular consultation so far, which has passed the 400,000 mark. But because the United Nations Mission to East Timor (UNAMET) wants to be sure that everybody has the best opportunity to register, the Secretary-General has authorized an extension of the registration period. Registration will continue for two more full days in East Timor, through Friday, and registration at the external voting locations in Indonesia, Portugal, Australia and elsewhere will be kept open until Sunday.
Those extensions of registration do not effect the date of the ballot, which will still be 30 August.
We have copies of the briefing notes from Dili in my Office.
I have the following statement on Tajikistan.
The Secretary-General welcomes the formal declaration by the United Tajik Opposition of the disbandment of its armed forces. This marks a significant step forward in the peace process and opens the door to the lifting of the ban on United Tajik Opposition political parties and mass media, in accordance with the peace agreement. (See also Press Release SG/SM/7087).
The World Food Programme (WFP) announced today that the first batches of urgently needed food to arrive in the war-torn city of Malange, Angola, since May are now being distributed to thousands of starving people. According to a WFP press release, available upstairs, three to four people are dying of hunger each day. The Humanitarian Coordinator in Angola, Francesco Strippoli, said that the WFP plans to bring close to 2,500 tons of food to Malange through the month of August.
The regular weekly update from the Iraq programme is now available. It shows that Iraq's oil exports are continuing well above 2 million barrels a day and that the revenue from the first two months of the current phase is already $2 billion.
And finally on press conferences: tomorrow, the Chairman of the joint United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)/Habitat Balkans Task Force, Pekka Haavisto, will be my guest at the briefing here, and he will speak on the results of the recently concluded mission to assess the environmental impact of the Balkans conflict on some of the region's worst damaged industrial sites.
Okay, Mr. Okelo is not going to be finished in time to join us here. You should look for him outside the Council Chamber when he is done. Any questions?
Question: On East Timor, is there any progress to report on the disarming of the militias, and is the Secretary-General satisfied that full disarmament and full conditions in terms of security will be maintained throughout the campaign and the vote on 30 August?
Answer: I have no specific guidance on that. I think that is a question that is best addressed to the spokesman in the field as far as the specific progress on disarmament. The Secretary-General expects, of course, all provisions of the agreement connected with this popular consultation to be honoured by all the parties. That is all I can say.
Question: Will the Secretary-General entertain further delays of the vote?
Answer: The date of the consultation stands firm: at the end of this month. Today's additional days for registration don't have any impact on the date of the referendum. At this point, we don't expect any further delays.
Question: As a follow-up to that, is the Secretary-General going to make any comments either to the Council or to us perhaps on the state of security at the end of the registration process? I mean, he did express concern in his last letter about all of those internally displaced people not having the opportunity to register.
Answer: He is going to have a report to the Council at the end of this week. It may not come out as a document until Monday. That will be his next report on the state of play in East Timor.
Question: On Kosovo, the Human Rights Watch had a report yesterday, critical of UNMIK and KFOR, saying that they are unable to protect the Serb and the Gypsy population there, and that they are more interested in their own security. My question is, a: to respond to that, and b: if 35,000 troops can't do it, how are 3,000 civilian police going to do it?
Answer: I think that we welcome the Human Rights Watch observations about the need for greater protection for minorities. It is a major concern of the Mission itself. We realize that at present it is awkward to have KFOR responsible for policing duties. Military are not trained in police duties, and it is an interim step until we get the police fully deployed. The hope is that the situation, that the tension in Kosovo generated by the fighting, will gradually diminish, and that the presence of the international community there can facilitate a return to normalcy, that you won't require huge numbers of military and police to maintain order, and that there can be a gradual return of civil society and civil existence. So, the observations of Human Rights Watch concerning the threats to the civilian population are valid. I don't think we want to attach blame, or say that it is the fault of KFOR or UNMIK. We are dealing as best as we can with a difficult situation. We feel that it is moving in the right direction.
Question: Those troops, are they supposed to leave when the civilian police are on the ground? Is there a date for the KFOR to leave? Are they supposed to leave when the civilian police are in, or are they returning to barracks and staying indefinitely?
Answer: No, what we said, and what the Security Council asked for, was for the KFOR troops to assume responsibility for the security of the environment, including police functions, until the international police could be fully employed, and the training programme for the indigenous police force, the new police force, could get under way. It's a judgement call as to when that date would be. That would merely free up the military to continue to do what they do as military, to, by their very presence, enhance the security of the situation. But police functions -- seeing that people obey the law, arresting those who don't obey the law and turning them over to some judicial system that can then carry out the prosecution -- that work would be done by the international police, and then increasingly by the new local police that they will be training.
Question: One more question. Under the terms of the agreement that ended the war, the Serbs were supposed to be allowed to bring back some troops to Kosovo. Have the current troubles there delayed that? What is the status on that?
Answer: I don't know, I would have to check with you. I know that there have been some exchanges between us and the [Federal Republic of Yugoslavia] authorities on that subject, but I had better double check.
Question: There is a report that India is offering about $25 million loan to Iraq, and that a congressman has asked to take the floor on that. Do you have anything on that, and is it a violation of the Security Council resolutions?
Answer: I have no information on that. This is the first time that I heard about it, so give me time to look into it.
Thank you very much.
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