DAILY PRESS BRIEFING OF OFFICE OF SPOKESMAN FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
24 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.
Good afternoon. Today the Security Council is holding consultations on the report of the Secretary-General on Somalia with a briefing by Ibrahima Fall, Assistant-Secretary-General for Political Affairs; and on East Timor, with a briefing by Kieran Prendergast, Under Secretary-General for Political Affairs. The briefing on East Timor is about current developments and preparations for the ballot on 30 August and on Phase II, which follows the ballot date.
On Somalia, you recall that in his report the Secretary-General has told the Security Council that he believed the time had come for the United Nations to play an enhanced role in Somalia and relocate some of its programmes back there. The Secretary-General also suggested the establishment of a trust fund for Somalia to provide financial support for the emerging process. He said that the United Nations, working with interested Member States, especially within the Intergovernmental Authority on Development peace process, should do more to bring about national unity and the restoration of a national government in Somalia.
The period for challenging registration lists in East Timor ended yesterday. It went from 19 to 23 August. The United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) received 27 challenges during this period. The Electoral Commission now has until 28 August to make determinations on the challenges.
Still on preparations for the ballot on 30 August, I would like to inform you that there are 1,400 registered observers. Of these, 50 are Indonesian official observers and 50 are Portuguese official observers, as was agreed by the parties. There are also observers from Ireland, representing the European Union, Australia, Chile, New Zealand and the European Commission. Approximately 400 of the observers represent international organizations and the remainder represent East Timorese and Indonesian organizations.
Fifty additional United Nations Volunteers are already in Darwin at the UNAMET training centre. They are expected in Dili before the end of this week to strengthen the team of polling officers and staff who will be counting votes.
We'll have this afternoon at 2:30 a background briefing on the latest developments in East Timor, including security conditions, by a senior United Nations official.
Moving on to Kosovo, yesterday afternoon we put out a statement on the Secretary-General's decision to appoint Tom Koenigs of Germany as the Deputy Special Representative for Civil Administration of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). Mr. Koenigs will replace Dominique Vian of France, who will return to work with the French Government. Copies of that announcement were made available yesterday, and they are still available on the racks. (See Press Release SG/A/701 of 23 August.)
The Secretary-General's Special Representative for Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner, met today with the Foreign Ministers of France and Germany. We have the text of Dr. Kouchner's comments to the press following the meeting, where he said they had discussed security, elections and the Kosovo Transitional Council. That Council, by the way, is scheduled to meet tomorrow at 10 a.m. Based on a decision taken at its last meeting, the Kosovo Transitional Council will convene weekly, every Wednesday, from now on.
Yesterday, Dr. Kouchner paid a five-hour visit to the Drenica area. His first stop was a visit to the Jashari family in the village of Prekaz where he spoke to the only surviving brother of the family, Rifat Jashari. Twenty- three members of his immediate family had been brutally killed in March 1998 by the Serbian police. Addressing the surviving family members and others gathered in the house, Dr. Kouchner said the Prekaz massacre had moved the international community to take concrete action in Kosovo. He paid tribute to the heroism of the family and called on them, in spite of the tremendous violence they had suffered, to show tolerance and forgiveness.
Dr. Kouchner later met with the doctors in charge of a maternity clinic and went to a tented camp where he spoke to a family of refugees who had just returned from the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. They expressed concern about their immediate problems, particularly the lack of water and basic sanitation, as well as their fears of not having proper housing before the winter. Dr. Kouchner also met with the Muqualli family in the village of Poklek where, in April 1998, 58 family members, mainly women and children, were burned alive when a grenade was thrown into their rooms. We are expecting a transcript of Dr. Kouchner's comments at those meetings and we'll make it available to you as soon as we get it.
Meanwhile, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today evacuated 28 vulnerable elderly Serbs from Prizren to Serbia, where they will be reunited with their families. A UNHCR spokesman in Geneva said that virtually all of them had received verbal threats. He said, "They were terrified and asked to be taken out". The UNHCR has distributed 5,800 basic shelter kits designed to provide enough material to allow homeowners to temporarily weatherproof one room in their house before winter. The kits contain reinforced, heavy-duty plastic sheeting for roof repairs, as well as translucent plastic to cover broken windows. They also provide timber, plywood, nails, staples, tape and tools.
You can read more in the UNHCR briefing notes from Geneva.
**Carla del Ponte in The Hague
Carla del Ponte, the newly appointed Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda, is in The Hague today visiting the Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. It is her first visit there. She will officially start her new functions on 15 September.
**Democratic Republic of Congo
From Geneva, we got word that the Special Rapporteur on the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Roberto Gareton, will be visiting that country from 28 August to 6 September. During the visit he will stop first in Kinshasa, where he will meet with representatives of the Government, non- governmental organizations and international organizations. The Special Rapporteur also expects to visit several prisons and detention centres. He will then travel to the east of the country, including Goma and Bukavu, cities controlled by the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Democratie.
Meanwhile, the Kinshasa Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is organizing, with the support of other United Nations agencies, a week-long seminar on the administration of justice, with the participation of Congolese judicial and other Government officials and non-governmental organizations. This is organized as part of the country programme currently carried out by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to strengthen national capacity in the field of human rights.
**Congolese Refugees in Gabon
Still on Africa, responding to the recent arrival of thousands of refugees from Congo-Brazzaville to Gabon, the UNHCR today reported that it is sending additional staff to south-western Gabon, and will open a second office in the east.
Tens of thousands of Congolese are reportedly waiting out the fighting in their country in the dense forest on both sides of the border. The Congolese towns of Mbinda, Mayoko and Mossendjo are reported to be crowded with displaced people escaping battles which began around Brazzaville. Many families have been split up during their flight. Refugees who have entered Gabon told UNHCR that they witnessed atrocities perpetrated against civilians by the militias fighting the national army. The UNHCR is planning to send two freight containers of emergency relief supplies to Gabon by the end of the month from its West African stocks. You can get the details in the UNHCR briefing notes.
This is all I have for this very brief summer briefing. Any questions?
Question: Did you say that the Council is getting its weekly briefing on Kosovo tomorrow?
Answer: That is the Kosovo Transitional Council that will be meeting weekly in Pristina.
Question: There is a report in the Wall Street Journal today that 200 Congolese have been put to death, and this report is attributed to a United Nations human rights official. Do you know anything about it?
Answer: No, I don't know, but I can look into that for you. But in any case, the Special Rapporteur for Human Rights is arriving there in just a few days.
Question: In the past, the United Nations staff used to have some sort of solidarity when there was a catastrophe. Regarding Turkey, can you tell us if something is done by staff members of the United Nations?
Answer: Well, the United Nations as an institution has worked and is working in Turkey. As for staff members, you should refer to the Staff Council, which perhaps can answer your question. In any case, I can tell you that staff have been very much dedicated in dealing with the situation, with the emergency and with the response to the Turkish requests.
Thank you very much. Have a nice lunch.
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