DAILY PRESS BRIEFING OF OFFICE OF SPOKESMAN FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
10 August 1999
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
I am sorry for the delay, and thank you for waiting.
We will start off with a statement attributable to the Spokesman:
"The Secretary-General regrets the loss of life following the downing of a Pakistani aircraft by the Indian Air Force. He is increasingly concerned at repeated incidents between India and Pakistan and urges that the differences between them be resolved by peaceful means. He calls on both countries to exercise maximum restraint. The Secretary-General looks forward to an early resumption of the bilateral dialogue between the two countries in the spirit of the Lahore Declaration." (See Press Release SG/SM/7092 of today's date.)
All hostages are now free and safe in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Last night, four hostages were released. They were three Military Observers from the United Kingdom and one Sierra Leonean journalist. Twenty military officers from the Economic Community of West African States' Monitoring Observer Group (ECOMOG) were still detained. The leader of our team, a military observer from Kyrgyzstan, volunteered to stay behind to ensure the safe release of the remaining hostages, which also included the children that the United Nations team had gone to secure the release of to begin with.
They are now all released, including the children. The freed hostages have been debriefed and are receiving counselling. In addition to the hostages, 200 civilians, most of them these children I just referred to, are also being released. Several United Nations trucks are now shuttling to bring them from the location where they are back to Freetown.
Statement attributable to Spokesman: "The Secretary-General is greatly relieved at the news that all United Nations and ECOMOG personnel detained by a rebel group in Sierra Leone have now been released. He pays tribute to the courage and patience of the detainees and wishes them and their families well. The Secretary-General gratefully acknowledges the crucial role played by the Government of Sierra Leone and in particular President Kabbah, as well as President Taylor of Liberia, President Obasanjo of Nigeria, and other regional leaders, as well as the RUF/SL led by Mr. Sankoh, in seeking a peaceful resolution to this situation. He also would like to thank the Government of the United Kingdom for its swift dispatch of a team of experts to support the
Government of Sierra Leone and the United Nations Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL).
"The Secretary-General once again calls on all parties involved to respect the safety and security of United Nations and other international personnel operating in Sierra Leone and to take measures to ensure that the recent events are not repeated. He also urges all parties to proceed without delay with the release of all non-combatants, including children and prisoners of war. With the resolution of this deplorable episode, all Sierra Leoneans and the international community should now look ahead and devote all energies to the implementation of the Lome Peace Agreement." (See Press Release SG/SM/7093-AFR/164 of today's date.)
**Secretary-General's Bulletin on International Humanitarian Law
Yesterday, we put out embargoed copies of a new Bulletin issued by the Secretary-General on the applicability of international humanitarian law to United Nations peacekeeping forces.
The document was issued this morning, so it's no longer under embargo. And some of you might have just heard a background briefing by a senior official on the significance of this new text.
The timing is no coincidence. This Bulletin will take effect on August 12th, which is exactly 50 years to the day since the adoption of the four Geneva Conventions. The Secretary-General will be in Geneva on that date to take part in commemorative events being organized by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). He wanted to publish this Bulletin in time for the fiftieth anniversary, which, I think, is a fitting demonstration of his personal commitment to the issue.
In fact, some aspects of this Bulletin, pertaining to the very nature of peacekeeping operations and the authority of the Secretary-General, remain controversial. The Secretary-General says as much in a cover letter to ICRC President Cornelius Sommaruga transmitting the new Bulletin. That letter will be sent in the course of this afternoon. He says that he is convinced that this Bulletin "represents the fundamental principles and rules of international humanitarian law and that its promulgation and dissemination in times of peace will diminish the risk of violation in times of war".
You can pick up copies of the Bulletin in my office.
The Secretary-General's report on East Timor is now out on the racks as document S/1999/862. It is about the post-ballot period, known as Phase II.
In the report, the Secretary-General notes that irrespective of the result of the 30 August popular consultation, the United Nations will have to redouble its efforts "to build confidence and support stability in the Territory and reassure all groups, in particular those in the minority in the ballot, that they have a role to play in the future political life in East Timor".
The report proposes restructuring the United Nations Administrative Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) for the interim phase. The main proposed changes are:
Increase the civilian police component to 410 from the current strength of 280. The total number of civilian police would eventually be 460, once a small unit of 50 is in place to recruit and train an East Timorese police force, which is a requirement no matter what the result of the ballot is.
Next: increase the military component to 300 from the current level of 50 military liaison officers to liaise with the Indonesian armed forces, pro- integration militias and pro-independence factions. They will also be able to advise on security matters, including efforts aimed at the disarmament of both the pro-independence factions and the militias, and the redeployment of the Indonesian armed forces.
Most of the United Nations Volunteers serving as electoral officers will leave once the ballot is completed. However, a portion of them will remain in the Territory. The civil affairs component will monitor political developments and will promote respect for law and order and human rights. And some additional humanitarian staff will be needed to coordinate the provision of humanitarian assistance.
The proposed changes in UNAMET will ensure the presence of the United Nations in all 13 districts. The Secretary-General has requested authorization for an initial period of 3 months from the date of the popular consultation scheduled for 30 August.
We also have available in my office the transcript of the daily briefing in Dili which announced a new round of Senior Officials' Meetings to be held in Jakarta on Thursday and Friday of this week.
There is no Security Council meeting today. Yesterday the Council held its monthly luncheon with the Secretary-General. During that lunch, much of the discussion focused on the United Nations capacity in peacekeeping, particularly in light of the sudden increase in the number of peacekeeping operations.
Tomorrow the Council will be briefed on Ethiopia and Eritrea, and will also discuss East Timor. They are also expected to take action on the appointment of the Prosecutor for the Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia Tribunals.
Also on Ethiopia/Eritrea, we were asked yesterday about the Secretary- General's meeting with Anthony Lake, the former United States National Security Advisor. That meeting focused exclusively on Ethiopia/Eritrea, where there is apparently some hope for a final agreement on the Organization for African Unity (OAU) plan for peace between those two countries.
This statement is attributable to a Spokesman.
"On the occasion of the first anniversary of the murder of eight Iranian diplomats and a journalist in the Iranian Consulate General in Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan, the Secretary-General received a letter from Dr. Kamal Kharrazi, the Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran, saying that the Taliban Movement had yet to make substantial progress in the investigation which they have initiated to identify and punish the perpetrators of these outrageous killings.
"The Special Envoy of the Secretary-General and the United Nations Special Mission to Afghanistan (UNSMA) have repeatedly, during the past 12 months, on behalf of the Secretary-General, reminded the Taliban of the resolutions and declarations adopted by the General Assembly, the Security Council and the "6+2" informal group which, among other things, call on the Taliban to carry out a serious and speedy investigation into that very grave incident. The issue was again raised by the Special Envoy of the Secretary- General, Lakhdar Brahimi, when he visited Kabul last month.
"It should be recalled that during the same period thousands of Afghans, most of them civilians, were killed in Northern Afghanistan, including thousands of Taliban fighters in Mazar-e-Sharif in May 1977. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has commissioned an independent investigation of these mass killings of 1997 and 1998. The independent investigator is expected to submit his report to the High Commissioner in the near future." (See Press Release SG/SM/7094-AFG/101 of today's date.)
**Democratic Republic of Congo
Preparations to eradicate polio are now under way in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the parties have stopped fighting in most areas of the country so that some 10 million children can be vaccinated against the disease during this coming weekend. This development follows a call by the Secretary-General for "Days of Tranquillity" for immunization activities.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo has one of the most intense polio virus transmissions in the world, and it is the single highest priority for eradication efforts.
The Secretary-General had received assurances from President Laurent Kabila and rebel leaders controlling the eastern part of the country that they would lay down their weapons this week to permit the campaign to proceed. Even with continued localized fighting, relief agencies believe the campaign can reach over 95 per cent of the children under five years of age. The Secretary-General has also reiterated his call for all parties to comply with the truce so that the campaign can take place. He said, "These vaccination campaigns are a platform for the peace-building process. They open windows of opportunity for dialogue between the different sides".
We have a press release in my office with more details, and also we have Richard Leclair the Deputy-Director of the World Health Organization (WHO) office in the United Nations in the back of the room there, if you would like to ask him further questions after the briefing.
**International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia
Over the weekend, the Forensic Team of the Office of the Prosecutor of the Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia completed an exhumation of a mass grave in north-eastern Bosnia related to the Srebrenica investigation. Although the grave was disturbed, the remains of approximately 250 persons were found -- some with their hands tied behind their backs -- along with clothing and other personal effects. The grave site was also the scene of an execution of a large number of persons following the fall of Srebrenica. After four years, the process of reconstructing the sequence of events surrounding the fall of Srebrenica is finally coming to an end. What remains to be done is to assign criminal responsibility and ensuring those responsible are prosecuted. The remains will be taken to the ICTY morgue where they will be photographed, catalogued and analysed for evidenciary value. Efforts will also be made to determine the age, sex, stature and cause of death. The ICTY team will turn over these remains to local authorities for any additional identification efforts they wish to undertake.
More than three quarters of a million people have now returned to Kosovo, with returns from more than a dozen European countries continuing at around 1,000 per day, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
At the same time, the agency reported, non-Albanians continue to leave the province, mainly for other parts of Serbia and Montenegro.
UNHCR says that the situation of displaced people from Kosovo who have moved into other parts of Serbia as well as into Montenegro is becoming increasingly difficult. UNHCR's special envoy, Dennis McNamara, will go to Belgrade this week to discuss the problem.
The refugee agency estimates that around 130,000 people have moved from Kosovo into other parts of Serbia and Montenegro since the end of NATO airstrikes and the deployment of KFOR in Kosovo.
Most of the newly displaced are staying with host families, but many are living in very difficult conditions in tents and collective centres. In Southern Serbia, in the Bujanovac area, for example, of the 3,000 displaced Serbs and Roma from Kosovo, more than a third are living in tents.
You can read more in the UNHCR briefing notes that are available in my office.
The United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) has just put out its first newsletter, called -- guess what -- "UNMIK News". It contains information on the work of the Mission. As resources become available, the Mission plans to produce the newsletter in English, Albanian and Serbian.
Although it is not an official document, the newsletter provides data on the status of the Mission's deployment as well as work in the area of four pillars: civil administration, humanitarian assistance, democratization and institution-building, and economic reconstruction.
We have copies in my office if you are interested.
We also have the weekly update of the Office of the Iraq Programme for the period 31 July to 6 August.
Sorry that took so long.
Question: The Secretary-General has asked India and Pakistan for restraint in the downing of the plane. Prior to that, there was limited fighting in Kashmir, where the violators of the Line of Control were asked to withdraw and to respect the Line of Control. This time, there is an incident of a violation of the international border, and the United Nations is only urging restraint. Don't you think this is a very selective policy?
Answer: I said what I said. What I said was what the Secretary-General wanted said.
Question: When you say that the exhumation in Srebrenica is coming to an end, does that mean that the investigators have decided that they have found all the bodies that they could find?
Answer: That is what I imply from what was said today in Sarajevo by the spokesman there. If you would like a more precise interpretation, I would have to call Sarajevo and get it for you.
Question: On Sierra Leone, am I right in thinking that the United Nations observer from Kyrgyzstan is still being held, or has he also been released?
Answer: He was one of four remaining United Nations military observers last night still detained. The other three were Brits. An offer was made for all four to be released last night. He volunteered to stay on with the ECOMOG soldiers and the children, who were not released last night. The three British military observers left last night and the lieutenant colonel from Kyrgyzstan stayed there through the night into today until arrangements were made for everyone to be released. And he is released along with the rest of them, that is today's news.
Question: Last week you talked about 100 children being held hostage. Now you are talking about 200. Are they all children, or are there women? Are there men? Who are the other 100?
Answer: I am not sure of that, because we say, "200 civilians, most of them children", so it is clear that they are not all children, but I don't know what the ratio is. We will see if we can find out.
Question: The document on East Timor must be based on the assumption that everything goes well. Do you have a contingency plan if something wrong happens?
Answer: It is standard procedure in peacekeeping operations, as it is a standard military procedure everywhere, to have contingency plans. But no, we are not expecting things to go wrong in East Timor. On the contrary, we are very pleased with how this registration has gone and we are looking forward to a peaceful consultation on 30 August.
Question: Do you know anything about an article in the Australian "The Age" that the United States has a contingency plan to invade East Timor with 15,000 troops.
Answer: I haven't heard anything about that. You'll have to address that question to the United States, if that is what the Australian "Age" is alleging. I have no information on that.
Question: The parties to the Congolese conflict have agreed to a ceasefire of a week, or 10 days. Are there any political efforts being undertaken to extend this ceasefire?
Answer: This is specifically humanitarian, but I think that you heard in the Secretary-General's reaction to it, that these "days of tranquillity" can also be windows of opportunity for dialogue among the parties. The hope is that the agreement on the DRC can eventually be signed by all the parties and implemented. That remains our hope.
Question: I understood that the mission from Zambia that was going to the Congo to talk to the rebel group that was still holding out, and also to investigate the reports of the bombing that the Secretary-General was supposed to get late last week...
Answer: They are still trying to get that mission in. They were trying to get into Kisangani today. But the situation in Kisangani was a bit clouded as to who was in control there. It has not been easy for the Zambian-led team to get in. The Secretary-General talks rather regularly to President Chiluba. He is following the situation very closely. But we haven't had yet that report that he was expecting the end of last week.
Okay, thank you very much.
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