DAILY PRESS BRIEFING OF OFFICE OF SPOKESMAN FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
16 August 1999
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Manoel de Almeida e Silva, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Statement Attributable to Spokesman for Secretary-General on Outbreak of Fighting in Democratic Republic of Congo
The Secretary-General is very concerned about the clashes since the last weekend in Kisangani, Democratic Republic of the Congo, between Congolese rebel factions, with reported involvement of troops from Rwanda and Uganda. He is particularly concerned lest these clashes further complicate the ongoing regional and international efforts to bring about a peaceful resolution to the conflicts in the Great Lakes.
The fighting has led to the death of civilians and trapped hundreds of women and children in health centres where children were being vaccinated as part of the ongoing immunization campaign against polio organized by UNICEF and WHO. This development violates a truce for the period of 8 to 20 August endorsed by all parties following a request made by the Secretary-General. It is unacceptable that this fighting is taking place during the national immunization days, which were supposed to provide the opportunity for some 10 million children to be immunized against polio.
The Secretary-General urges an immediate end to the fighting between troops from Uganda and Rwanda and the rebel factions. He invites the rebel leaders to take urgent steps to sign the ceasefire agreement for the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He also hopes that immediate measures will be taken to allow for the return of the women and children trapped at the health centres to their homes and to ensure that humanitarian agencies have access to the wounded. He trusts that all parties will take immediate measures to halt this flagrant violation of universal humanitarian principles.
Secretary-General's Report on Tajikistan
The Secretary-General's latest report on the situation in Tajikistan is out today (S/1999/872).
There has been good progress, the report says, between the parties on a number of key issues. The United Tajik Opposition's (UTO) decision to disband its armed forces has opened the way for the legalization of its political parties, which will allow them to fully participate in the political process.
The Secretary-General says it is now time for the Government and the UTO to broaden the dialogue to other parties and groups so as to encompass the full spectrum of Tajik society. Tajikistan will have a ballot on constitutional amendments next month, presidential elections in November and
parliamentary elections in February. The Secretary-General observes that the involvement of the United Nations will depend on voluntary contributions, and he will be approaching governments with concrete proposals towards this end.
The Security Council is not holding any meetings today. Tomorrow, members of the Council are scheduled to hold consultations on the report of the Secretary-General on Western Sahara, Wednesday -- on Kosovo, and Thursday -- on Tajikistan (with the report I just announced to you) and on Somalia.
I have a small clarification to make. Contrary to what we announced in the week ahead last Friday, the Secretary-General will not be reporting to the Security Council on East Timor this week, since there was a report last week. The next report on East Timor is now expected for the following week.
The Secretary-General's Special Representative for Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner, yesterday announced a review of the existing legal framework and laws applicable for Kosovo. The aim is to purge all provisions, which are inconsistent with international standards.
Mr. Kouchner made his announcement at a meeting at the United Nations Headquarters in Pristina involving Kosovar judges and prosecutors. As a result of the meeting, a special advisory group was set up including 19 legal experts from around Kosovo who will work in consultation with the United Nations Mission to refine the laws relating to property, customs, the judiciary, social welfare and the criminal code.
Also over the weekend, Kouchner reiterated the strong importance he attaches to the "fundamental and painful issue" of missing and detained persons. He made this statement following a meeting with representatives from an umbrella human rights organization dealing with the issue of missing persons.
Kouchner also called for action to address the plight of some 5,000 Kosovar Albanians reportedly still being held in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
Although the issue of prisoners is not directly linked to the mandate of the United Nations Mission, Kouchner has requested that the Kosovo Transitional Council create a special working group to follow up on this issue. We have a press release on this topic from Pristina with more details, and it is available in our office.
Also this weekend, Saturday was a very good day in East Timor: it was the beginning of the campaign for the popular consultation. We have available in our office the transcript of the remarks made during the launching of the political campaign by Ian Martin, Special Representative of the Secretary- General for the East Timor Popular Consultation, and Ambassador Jamsheed Marker, the Personal Representative of the Secretary-General.
This morning in Dili, Ambassador Marker had a press conference where he noted the seriousness of the commitment of the Government of Indonesia for the conduct of a peaceful ballot and the equally serious commitment of the East Timorese political leadership to conducting the ballot in an atmosphere of peace.
Ambassador Marker also said that after visiting some of the regions, he found security conditions to be much better than on previous occasions, but he did note some disturbing elements like reports of threats and intimidation, which might take place in one form or another at the time of the ballot. "I don't say that they are necessarily true, but I do not intend that we would ignore them either", he said.
This morning in Dili, Ambassador Marker also announced a new round of talks of senior officials. It will take place in Lisbon on 26 August, just a few days prior to the East Timor ballot scheduled for 30 August.
The transcript of his press conference is available in our office.
There is more news of forced displacement within Afghanistan. In less than 36 hours, from Friday to Saturday, an estimated 10,000 people entered Kabul after being forced out of the Shamali valley near the front lines of the fighting. Another major influx of displaced people is expected over the next few days.
According to the new arrivals, Taliban fighters forced people out of their homes and told them to walk to Kabul. Confirmed reports say that the Taliban is intentionally setting houses on fire. Displaced families speak of whole villages and crops being burned to deter people from moving back to the valley. International agencies are providing food and water to the new arrivals. Many of them are dehydrated and completely destitute following their 40-kilometre journey.
We have a press release in our office with more details.
You remember that at the end of last week, we had more than 100 NGOs and United Nations local staff members who were stranded close to the fighting area in Upper Lofa county in north-western Liberia.
Today, we can report that practically all NGOs and local United Nations personnel have now been safely evacuated from the Upper Lofa area. A convoy of 10 vehicles crossed into Guinea Saturday and then to Côte d'Ivoire, and they are expected back in Monrovia today. Yesterday, another group was evacuated by helicopter to Monrovia.
World Health Organization Report on Drugs
The Bulletin of the World Health Organization (WHO) published a major article today on pharmaceutical donations by the United States, which analyses the relevance and freshness of drugs being donated to developing countries.
The study focused on donations to three countries -- Armenia, Haiti and the United Republic of Tanzania. It concluded that between 10 and 42 per cent of the drugs sent were not on the countries' lists of essential drugs, nor were they permissible therapeutic alternatives to needed drugs. About 30 per cent of the items had a shelf life of less than one year, and about 6 per cent had a shelf life of under 100 days.
We have copies of the study in our office.
World Intellectual Property Organization Conference
The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is convening a major international conference in Geneva next month -- from 14 to 16 September -- to discuss intellectual property issues relating to the booming electronic commerce industry, commonly known as "e-commerce".
The conference will bring together key players from this multi-billion dollar industry, as well as intellectual property experts. Chief executive officers of major companies, high-level policy makers and government representatives will all participate.
We have an information note in our office for those of you who want more information on accreditation to the Conference.
Question and Answer
Question: Do you have a copy of these draft plans for media in Kosovo?
Deputy Spokesman: I do not think we have them here, but if you are interested, I can ask the Mission if they have them available.
Thank you. Have a pleasant afternoon.
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