DAILY PRESS BRIEFING OF OFFICE OF SPOKESMAN FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
23 September 1999
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Shirley Brownell, spokeswoman for the President of the General Assembly, and Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Briefing by Spokeswoman for President of General Assembly
**General Assembly Continues Fourth Day of Debate
The Presidents of Albania, Rexhep Meidani; of Cyprus, Glafcos Clerides; and of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, addressed the General Assembly on the fourth day of its general debate, presided over by President Theo-Ben Gurirab. Also speaking in the debate are the Crown Prince of Monaco, the Foreign Ministers of Canada and Egypt, and the Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization and President of the Palestinian Authority, Mr. Yasser Arafat.
This afternoon, Presidents Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea will address the Assembly. Speaking in the general debate will be Prime Minister Pakalitha Bethuel Mosisili of Lesotho, and Prime Minister Salim El-Hoss of Lebanon, as well as the Foreign Ministers of Luxembourg, Kuwait, Uruguay, Sri Lanka, Mexico, Indonesia, Turkey, Romania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
**President’s Appointment Schedule
Copies of the Assembly President’s appointments for today are available in room 378 and on the Internet. Prior to presiding over this morning’s plenary, the President met with Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz of Pakistan. Mr. Aziz highlighted several themes he said deserved attention: the whole question of humanitarian intervention, the real meaning of multilateralism and the issues of sovereignty and self-determination. These were among the interesting topics coming up, and he believed the Non-Aligned Movement should take a collective stand. Responding, the President expressed his concern about the notion of humanitarian intervention, seeing it as a new interpretation of the United Nations Charter. He suggested the formation of think-tanks to consider this and other emerging issues.
The Assembly President then met with President Obasanjo of Nigeria. The Nigerian Head of State observed that the century and the millennium were ending with an African as President of the General Assembly, another as Secretary-General of the United Nations, still another as Chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement and a fourth as Secretary-General of the Commonwealth. This was a clear indication of the role that Africa was playing in the world politically. All that remained, he said, was for Africa to match that role economically. “We can and we should. We must begin as the architect of our own future”, he said. “The twenty-first century should be one of prosperity for Africa”, he continued. “We cannot achieve it unless we work together. If we do not, we may suffer the ‘eclipse of States’”.
For his part, the Assembly President recalled that the founders of the Organization of African Unity had promoted the concept of pan-Africanism. In that context, he said he would encourage the African Group here at the United Nations to hold and work together.
This afternoon, the Assembly President will meet with President Meidani of Albania; with the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, Ahmed Esmat Abdel Meguid; and with Mats Karlsson, Vice-President of the World Bank. At 7 p.m., he will attend a dinner in his honour, hosted by the Foreign Minister of Germany, Joschka Fischer. The dinner is an annual affair hosted by Germany, which brings together African Foreign Ministers and Heads of Delegation to exchange views and update each other on world issues and on the agenda of the Assembly.
**First Committee Organizes Work Programme
The First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) met this morning to organize its work. The related document is A/C.1/54/1. The Committee approved its programme of work but postponed the election of its three Vice-Chairmen and Rapporteur.
Briefing by Spokesman for Secretary-General
Our Security Office in Dili informed us today about the security situation in East Timor. The situation in Dili is tense following an incident in which two vehicles fired shots near an International Force in East Timor (INTERFET) patrol, who were in United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) vehicles. No one was hurt in the incident, and no United Nations staff were involved.
UNAMET Security Officer Christopher Lawton went on a two-hour patrol in a UNAMET helicopter to the towns of Ainaro, Same, Suai, Ermera, Liquica and Maliana. The helicopter did not land, but circled over each town. They were all more than half destroyed, with Suai being the most devastated, with approximately 80 per cent of the town destroyed. Lawton said that the towns were almost completely abandoned, with hardly a person seen. The 17 UNAMET vehicles that had been left in Sane had all disappeared and at several of the other towns, the vehicles appeared to have gone or were burned.
The Chief Military Liaison Officer of UNAMET, Brigadier General Rezaqul Haider (Bangladesh), who is in Dili, has just informed us that during his visit today to Baucau with General Cosgrove, who heads INTERFET, to meet INTERFET troops deployed there, they had talks with the local Indonesian military commander. Those talks touched on humanitarian issues, including the lack of trucks for aid delivery.
While in Baucau, General Rezaqul told us, they saw no militia.
Meanwhile in Darwin, northern Australia, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for East Timor, Ian Martin, held a press conference today upon arrival from Dili. He said that yesterday he was in Dare, where he met with some of the 37,000 internally displaced persons estimated to be in the Dare region. They discussed their return to Dili and said that the majority of them wanted their return to occur when INTERFET confirmed that security conditions allowed for major return movements.
Also yesterday, Martin went to the main guerrilla (FALINTIL) cantonment in Whymori to resume his face-to-face contacts with Commander Taur Matan Ruak. Together with United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator Ross Mountain and other United Nations agency representatives, they discussed the humanitarian priorities and needs of the people in and around Whymori.
The UNAMET compound in Dili is now secured by INTERFET. The clean-up of the premises is concluding and we will start to move United Nations staff into the compound where they will be working and living. The first small wave of compound residents is expected to move in tomorrow.
Here at Headquarters, the senior officials’ meeting started today at 11 a.m., when the Secretariat met with the Indonesian delegation. At 3:15 p.m., the bilateral meeting will be with Portugal. Tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. there will be a trilateral meeting with Indonesia, Portugal and the United Nations. All meetings are to be chaired by Ambassador Jamsheed Marker, the Personal Representative of the Secretary-General for East Timor.
For the record, early yesterday evening, the Spokesman’s Office issued a statement on the Secretary-General's reaction to the killing in East Timor of journalist Sander Thoenes. He said, "this tragic death is only the latest in the chronicle of horror and bloodshed to which the people of East Timor themselves have been subjected in recent months”. He called Sander Thoenes "an outstanding young journalist whose reports from Indonesia [the Secretary-General], and the whole international community, [had] for several years been reading with pleasure and profit”.
The Secretary-General said that that death "also underscores the dangers facing INTERFET in restoring peace and security, and the urgency of obtaining access for humanitarian relief to reach the population which -- whether inside East Timor or forcibly displaced to West Timor -- remains in dire need."
Against the backdrop of a still volatile security situation, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported that it had identified and gathered several hundred displaced persons at three sites in Dili that were being guarded by Australian forces. UNHCR also said that the Australian forces had secured the port area and stemmed the flow of people being forced to leave East Timor. UNHCR now has access to those departing to ascertain that they are doing so voluntarily. Three families volunteered to leave today.
Meanwhile, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said that one of its trucks carrying baby food from West Timor to East Timor was turned back on the outskirts of Dili earlier this week, but today it managed to reach Dili safely. UNICEF said it was the first delivery of humanitarian supplies to East Timor via this route. Its cargo was transferred to smaller vehicles for delivery to hungry young children in mountain camps in East Timor. Priority needs for children and families in East Timor have been identified as baby food, sarangs, kitchen sets and other supplies.
The World Health Organization has said that what East Timor needs are nurses, midwives and doctors. While the world had responded quickly and generously to the plight of the people of East Timor by sending medicines and other supplies, it was more urgent at this point to restart basic healthcare services, stated WHO Director- General, Gro Harlem Brundtland.
She said the effort so far had centred on the logistics of delivering medical supplies to East Timor, with the international community stockpiling large amounts of supplies in Dili and the Indonesian Government transferring its stocks to the control of the United Nations. Ms. Brundtland added that, while the conscientiousness and the rapidity with which those supplies had been shipped was laudable, they did not by themselves address the most basic issue.
"We could have boxes and boxes of supplies on hand”, she continued, “but if there's no trained medical staff, mothers will die in childbirth." Brundtland specified that health personnel were needed most urgently to deal with two classes of the problem: maternal and child health, and infectious disease control.
**Special Session on East Timor
In Geneva today, the Commission on Human Rights opened it Special Session on East Timor -- the fourth special session in its history.
In her statement, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, said that gross human rights violations had been committed in East Timor. She gave an extensive account of alleged and reported violations, including the breakdown of law and order, wanton killings, forcible expulsions, violence against women including sexual violence, enforced and involuntary disappearances, displaced persons, looting and burning, and attacks against the media. She then said an international commission of inquiry into the violations must be established so that those responsible would be brought to justice.
A draft resolution has just been tabled by Finland on behalf of the European Union, which, if adopted, would call on the Secretary-General to establish an international commission of inquiry.
The session is now concluding for today and will resume tomorrow. We have available in room 378 the text of Mrs. Robinson’s address, the draft resolution and an information note on today’s proceedings that have been prepared by the Information Service in Geneva.
**Statement on Afghanistan
Available in the Spokesman’s Office is a statement, attributable to the Spokesman, on Afghanistan. It states, in part, that at the invitation of the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan, a working lunch of the “6+2 informal group on Afghanistan” was held at United Nations Headquarters on Wednesday to exchange views on the current situation in Afghanistan. The group comprises six neighbours, and Russia and the United States.
Members of the group reaffirmed the principles contained in the Tashkent Declaration on Fundamental Principles for a Peaceful Settlement of the Conflict in Afghanistan that had been adopted on 19 July. They expressed grave concern at the escalation of fighting in Afghanistan which started immediately after the issue of the Tashkent Declaration. They stressed the need for an immediate ceasefire and the resumption of a political dialogue between the Afghan parties. Several members suggested that the group strengthen its joint efforts to facilitate such dialogue.
There was broad agreement on the need to put an end to outside interference in the Afghan conflict, especially the supply of weapons and other war material to the Afghan parties. Members of the group expressed deep concern at the increased cultivation, production and trafficking of narcotics in and from Afghanistan; the use of Afghan territory for terrorist activities; and grave human rights violations, including the dire situation of ethnic minorities, women and girls, and other human rights violations.
**Security Council Consultations
The Security Council held consultations this morning in preparation for tomorrow’s formal meeting on small arms. The Secretary-General will open that meeting, which will be attended at the ministerial level, at 9:30 a.m. sharp.
**Small Arms Workshop in Ghana
Today in Accra, Ghana, the United Nations began a two-day international workshop aimed at planning for an arms register in Africa. The register, along with an arms database, will contain information on the flow of light weapons around the continent, including destabilizing accumulations in some areas.
The Secretary-General has been calling for regional and sub-regional registers of small arms to complement the international conventional weapons register, which only covers major weapons systems.
The deterioration of the security situation in Somalia, where a UNICEF doctor was killed last week, has resulted in the suspension of all aid activities in the southern and central part of that country. United Nations flights have also been suspended to four cities of southern Somalia where, United Nations agencies and their partners, including the World Food Programme and UNICEF, have been delivering aid. United Nations agencies are expected to review the suspension decision early next week.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs warns of mass displacements and severe food shortages if the current situation persists in Somalia, where about a half million people are estimated to be in need of immediate humanitarian assistance.
**Agriculture Symposium in Geneva
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today opened a two- day symposium in Geneva on agriculture, trade and food security.
The meeting is part of FAO's effort to help developing countries prepare for trade negotiations that will take place at the next World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference, to be held later this year in the United States –- from 30 November to 3 December in Seattle, Washington.
**UNICEF Launches Report on Women’s Situation in Central and Eastern Europe and Former Soviet Union
Yesterday, in Geneva, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy launched a new report on women’s situation in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. It exposes communism’s failure to promote a real culture of equality, but also acknowledges that the system produced some positive legacies for women. Heavy investment in basic social services meant that levels of educational achievement among women were high, standards of healthcare were good, women could expect employment and comprehensive state childcare allowed them to earn money and raise families – gains that are now under threat.
The report, Women in Transition, can be requested through UNICEF.
Available in the Spokesman’s Office is an advisory from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on how to apply for media accreditation for the NetAid concerts in Geneva, London and New York.
**United Nations Redesigns News Website
The News and Media Division of the Department of Public Information (DPI) has launched a redesigned news page on the United Nations website. The page, NewsCentre, is a gateway to breaking news stories and other kinds of news-related information and links on the website. It features the “UN Newservice” which updates the latest developments throughout the day. That service takes the place of what was formerly the “Daily Highlights”, which will continue to be available in print form by the end of the day.
The “NewsCentre” page has all of the buttons and links that used to be on the old News page, with additional ones to ensure that latest information about the United Nations is there for you as quickly and as easily accessible as possible.
This afternoon at 12:30, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland, Tarja Kaarina Halonen; and later at 4 p.m., Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, along with representatives of the International Network on Small Arms will hold press conferences in room 226.
The press conference of the President of Albania which had been scheduled for 1 p.m. today has been cancelled.
Tomorrow, at 10:30 a.m., President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria will also hold a press conference in room 226. That will be followed at 11:15 a.m. with another one by President Leonel Fernandez Reyna of the Dominican Republic. At 4 p.m., Minister for Foreign Affairs of Pakistan, Sartaj Aziz, will also host a press conference and at 5:30 p.m., the Mission of Denmark is sponsoring a press conference on the situation in Myanmar. Guest speakers would be from the World Federation of United Nations Associations and the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma.
On Saturday, at noon, the Foreign Minister of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Paek Nam Sun, will hold a press conference in room 226.
Also, this afternoon at 2 p.m. in the lounge of the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA), there will be a briefing with Iraqi opposition leaders Riyadh al-Yawer and Sharif Ali Bin al-Hussein.
**Question and Answer Session
Question: Should the Secretary-General be called on to work on the commission of inquiry for East Timor, what process would he undertake for that and what role would the Security Council play in that decision?
Spokesman: I do not want to speculate. Let’s see what will come out of the commission and what exactly they would do.
Question: With regard to the meetings on East Timor, could you tell us what the focus is, as well as who is representing Indonesia and Portugal?
Spokesman: I do not have details, but probably the relationship between phase 2 and phase 3 is being discussed. Phase 3 was to have United Nations peacekeepers. Now that there are multinational peacekeepers in phase 2, they may want to take a fresh look into that scenario. You can check with my Office immediately and we may be able to provide more information.
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