DAILY PRESS BRIEFING OF OFFICE OF SPOKESMAN FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
30 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. We will start with East Timor, and I have a statement attributable to the Secretary-General:
I am pleased to report that the people of East Timor turned out in the hundreds of thousands on Monday, 30 August, to express their will as to their future. Despite the violence which had again threatened the process in the week preceding the poll, all 200 polling centres in the Territory were open on polling day, and the voters cast their ballots in a calm and dignified manner.
While the last reports are still coming in to the United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET), it is clear that the turnout has been extraordinary. Well over 90 per cent of all registered voters have cast their ballots.
On the whole, polling proceeded smoothly, a testament to the determination and patience of the voters, despite some intimidation by militias outside some polling stations. It is with great dismay and sorrow that I have learned today of the murder of Joel Lopez Gomes, an East Timorese staff member of UNAMET, and am awaiting a full response. My heartfelt condolences go out to the family of Mr. Lopez Gomes.
Despite this deplorable act of violence and other sporadic incidents, I wish to pay tribute to the efforts of the Indonesian authorities, and particularly of the police on polling day. The role of the security forces will be even more important in the coming days as ballot boxes are transported to the central counting station and the count begins. During this period, I call upon all East Timorese groups to exercise the utmost restraint and patience, to ensure that the will of the East Timorese people may be fully heard.
The popular consultation represents a milestone in the implementation of the Agreements signed on 5 May by Portugal and Indonesia. I would therefore like warmly to congratulate both Portugal and Indonesia for the spirit of cooperation and collegiality with which they have brought the process thus far, as was well as the staff of UNAMET for their courageous efforts. I very much look forward to working with both parties and the people of East Timor to implement the result of the ballot, which must be accepted with maturity as determining the future of East Timor.
This was the statement of the Secretary-General following the ballot day in East Timor. I would like to add some other information on this.
As you have heard in the Secretary-General’s statement, over 90 per cent of the registered voters have cast their ballots. Incidents at seven polling stations caused their temporary closure during the course of the day for periods that ranged from 30 minutes to three hours. The last polling station closed at 6:30 in the evening, was in Kassa, Ainaro district, where polling was extended to compensate for a three-hour suspension of polling.
The sealed ballot boxes will be transported to Dili by midday tomorrow. The process of counting, verification and certification is expected to take up to a week before a result is announced.
As you know, in addition to the polling centres in East Timor and Indonesia, there were six others. Five of them are already closed for the day, or are about to close, given the different time zones. The one in New York opened at 9 o’clock this morning and will close at 6 in the evening. United Nations staff and official observers witnessed the opening of the centre this morning.
For the record, for those of you who weren’t here over the weekend, we put out the appeal the Secretary-General made to the East Timorese on Sunday, where he said that the popular consultation of the people of East Timor is a unique opportunity to settle a long-running dispute by peaceful means. And he appealed to all sides to live up to their responsibilities before history by respecting the democratic process.
There is also available a message that the Secretary-General had sent to the East Timorese a few hours earlier on Saturday.
This morning, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner, toured high-risk areas being patrolled by United Nations police. He was accompanied by the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Richard Holbrooke, and the United Nations Police Commissioner, Sven Frederikson. They visited the ethnically mixed Ulpiana area, where there has been a high incidence of harassment and crime against minorities, especially Serbs. The United Nations Mission has installed a sub- station there where residents can report complaints and the police can respond. And this is a 24 hours a day operation.
Kouchner and Holbrooke met several times over the weekend, and they have another meeting scheduled for today. Their talks so far ranged from financial support for the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) to the police, political process, elections, transformation of the KLA, and details such as license plates for the province. Ambassador Holbrooke expressed his Government's full support for the important efforts that Kouchner and UNMIK are undertaking.
Last week we announced that the Kosovo Police School would begin the training of its first 200 recruits this week. That has been postponed until 7 September in order to ensure an optimal intake of candidates through extended screening.
Meanwhile, the United Nations Mission is planning to start customs services on the borders between Kosovo and Albania as well as the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. A new regulation on customs is expected later this week.
You can read more on this in the information notes we have available from the Pristina briefing today.
We also have notes from a press conference held by Kouchner and Holbrooke yesterday. I would also like to give you some information on staffing. As of last week, we had 250 international staff in Kosovo, in addition to 1,220 local staff. Two hundred forty six additional international Professional staff have been selected for service with UNMIK and they will be travelling there in the next few weeks.
The Security Council is holding consultations this morning, and the first item on their agenda was Kosovo for their regular weekly briefing by the Secretariat. The briefing has been done by Hedi Annabi, Assistant-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations.
Following that, there will be a briefing by Under-Secretary- General for Political Affairs Kieran Prendergast on East Timor.
Today on the racks you’ll see two exchanges of letters between the Secretary-General and the President of the Security Council updating the list of countries contributing military personnel to be deployed in Sierra Leone and to the capitals of the States signatories of the Lusaka ceasefire agreement on the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
**Democratic Republic of Congo
By the end of the week (5 September), the first batch of 17 military liaison officers and advisors who are part of the 90 authorized by the Security Council is expected to be deployed in capitals in and around the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Kinshasa, Kigali, Kampala and possibly Lusaka), soon to be followed by the other capitals of the Lusaka ceasefire agreement signatories.
In Sierra Leone we have been progressively deploying additional military observers up to the new authorized level of 210, which we should be able to reach by mid-October. Within the first 10 days of September we should have 100 Military Observers already on the ground.
**United Nations Environment Programme
The final note for my briefing today comes from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) that today released a new publication designed to assist developing countries in implementing safe and effective alternatives to the ozone- depleting pesticide methyl bromide.
The aim is to help countries implement training and policy development activities for replacing methyl bromide. The publication is designed for use by governments and international and national institutions involved in the phasing out of this damaging substance.
More on that is available in the press release available upstairs.
Do you have any questions?
Question and Answer Session
Question: The New York Times had a large Op-Ed this morning on Haiti. Is anybody from the Secretariat going to brief the Security Council?
Deputy Spokesman: There is a briefing scheduled on Haiti and it will be related to the Secretary-General’s report on the mission which came out a few days ago.
Question: Have you read the Op-Ed page?
Deputy Spokesman: No, I have not. I was busy with East Timor this morning.
Question: Who is going to have custody of the ballot boxes and will they arrive or leave by midday tomorrow?
Deputy Spokesman: On the scheduling: it will be transported to Dili by midday tomorrow. I would have to clarify if that means that is has already been delivered by midday, which I assume so, but I can check on that for you. All ballot boxes are under UNAMET custody. They will be transported by UNAMET civilian staff, escorted by UNAMET civilian police, who will be in coordination with the Indonesian police.
Question: Who and when is going to say the vote was fair or not?
Deputy Spokesman: The certification of the result, which includes the conditions in which it takes place, is by the Electoral Commissioners. I don’t have a date for that, but I assume it would come around the time of the announcement of the result of the vote.
Question: Will it take six days to a week to count the ballots?
Deputy Spokesman: The estimated time is up to a week. As soon as possible, up to a week.
Question: Could you tell us something more about the polling station in New York City, for example, where is it located?
Deputy Spokesman: Very nearby, on Forty-second Street. It is the IOM office, the International Organization for Migration, and is located at 122 East Forty-second Street.
Question: Do you have the total number of polling stations?
Deputy Spokesman: There were 850 polling stations, located in 200 polling centres in East Timor. And only 7 were interrupted temporarily due to security concerns. But as I said, they closed for periods ranging from half an hour to up to 3 hours, but then they reopened.
Question: Is there a reaction from United Nations officials to the announcement that Iraq will pump free oil to aid Turkish earth quake victims?
Deputy Spokesman: No, I don’t have any reaction on that. I can check on that for you, if you are interested.
Question: There is still fear of an outburst of violence in East Timor. Does UNAMET have a contingency plan for this? Are you aware of speculation that some countries could have these plans, like the United States or Australia?
Deputy Spokesman: These countries and these plans that you mention I have only seen in the media. I have not seen anything official on it. Of course any United Nations operation anywhere in the world has contingency plans. But in this particular case it is very important that we do not lose sight of one very important aspect: law and order and security is the responsibility of the Indonesian authorities. That is what they asked for, that is what is in the agreements, that is what has been signed by Indonesia and Portugal and by the United Nations in the 5 May Agreements.
Question: After the results are known, the president has to recommend on the next stage, which could take him 4 months. What is the role of the United Nations during this transition?
Deputy Spokesman: That is what we call Phase II, which starts tomorrow, the day after the ballot, 31 August, until the day when we start to implement the result of the ballot, whatever the result is. That will be the beginning of Phase III. Of course there are a number of activities which have to take place. The most important of them certainly has to do with reconciliation and peace in the territory. As you know there is a commission that has been established, a consultative commission. During the recent Meeting of the Senior Officials in Lisbon, the establishment of this consultative commission was reaffirmed. It will have 25 members; 10 of them nominated by the pro-independence side, 10 of them nominated by the pro-integration side; all 20 to be appointed by the Secretary-General. Five other members are to be nominated and appointed by the Secretary-General after having heard the parties. That commission will be announced before the results of the ballot – and this is a very important aspect, we should not lose sight of that – really to indicate to people that irrespective of the result of the ballot the East Timorese are the ones who have to work together to implement, whichever the result. That commission will be announced very, very shortly, and will start working right away. But Phase II will have other developments as well.
Question: When you said there were incidents at seven places, did you mean at seven polling stations?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, polling stations.
Question: And do Portugal and Indonesia and the United Nations have to meet soon again to try to chart the next phase?
Deputy Spokesman: In the Senior Officials Meeting which was held in Lisbon last week, they announced that the next meeting would be in New York. They did not set a date for that, but as soon as we know, we’ll let you know.
Question: The New York Times this morning had an Op-Ed about new media rules in Kosovo proposed by the OSCE. Is that organization part of UNMIK?
Deputy Spokesman: The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is responsible for the implementation of one of the four pillars of UNMIK. As you know there is one pillar: Civil Administration; there is one pillar: Humanitarian Affairs; there is one pillar: Reconstruction; and there is one: Democratization and Strengthening of Institutions. That fourth one is the one under OSCE responsibilities. And in that among the different activities and actions that they have to take, there is one of strengthening of media and media-independence in Kosovo.
Question: In that case, what is your view on the article?
Deputy Spokesman: As I said, I was really focussing on East Timor this morning. I had a very quick look at the editorial. But I have no doubt that whatever is being done (in Kosovo) is certainly with the idea of human rights, democratic practices, independence of the media. Certainly, there is in no one’s mind any intention or any activity should be construed as any attempt for any kind of censorship. The focus is democratization, human rights, independence of the media and proper practices.
Question: The Indonesian Ambassador said last week that if the United Nations was to send peacekeepers to East Timor, they would be fought to the last soldier. Do you have any reaction?
Deputy Spokesman: It is not for me to pass any judgment on a statement by a senior official of a Member State. The only thing I would tell you is that any peacekeeping force requires, as you know, the agreement of the parties. That is the practice, and I would just go with that.
Question: In Burundi there was a large-scale attack by the Hutu’s in which thousands have died. Was there any reaction from the Secretariat?
Deputy Spokesman: I think this morning we are trying to get some more information on it.
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