DAILY PRESS BRIEFING OF OFFICE OF SPOKESMAN FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
29 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 Resumes General Debate
The General Assembly resumed its general debate this morning, with President Theo-Ben Gurirab presiding. Among the 19 speakers today will be the President of Guinea-Bissau and the Prime Ministers of Samoa and Malaysia.
**Special Session on Small Island Developing States Ends
Last night, at the conclusion of its twenty-second special session, the Assembly adopted a resolution entitled “Declaration and state of progress and initiatives for the future implementation of the Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States”. Over the two-day session, the Assembly heard over 130 speakers.
In other action, the Assembly decided to take note of a letter dated 24 September from the Permanent Representative of Canada addressed to the President of the General Assembly, annexed to which is a bracketed draft resolution on the Caribbean Sea, and to transmit them to the Assembly at its fifty-fourth session for further consideration by the Second Committee (Economic and Financial)(document A/S-22/6).
In closing the special session, the Assembly President said Member States had adopted two important documents unanimously. The consensus was clear and focused on implementation. But without funds, resources and the sustained goodwill of rich nations and multilateral financial institutions, the way forward was uncertain. He called for action in implementing the documents just adopted, adding that Rio’s “Agenda 21” and the Barbados Programme of Action set out priority areas and strategies for implementation, which were as urgent and relevant today as when they were adopted in 1992 and 1994, respectively. This was a call to the international community to complete the task. The business of the small island developing States was the business of the whole of humanity, he said, citing an African parable which says that “a shepherd’s work is not done until he has accounted for the last few missing cows”. The message from Member States, observer groups and non- governmental organizations, to the brothers and sisters of the small island developing States, is that “We are with you”, the President concluded. Copies of that statement will be available later today in room 378.
Second Committee Holds Organizational Meeting
This morning, the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) elected the rest of its bureau and approved its work programme, as orally revised. In so doing, it decided to consider the item on Implementation of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development on 27 instead of 11 October. The related documents are A/C.2/54/1 and L.1.
Several of the Main Committees will begin their substantive work next week. The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) will meet on Monday, 4 October, to take up decolonization and related issues. At two meetings, also on 4 October, the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) will consider reports related to the financing of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Angola, the United Nations Iraq-Kuwait Observer Mission (UNIKOM) and the United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET). The Under-Secretary-General for Management, Joseph Connor, will make a statement to the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) on 5 October, on the financial situation of the United Nations. The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) will meet on Wednesday, 6 October, to take up the item on social development. The programmes of work and schedules for each Main Committee can be found in the respective L.1 document. The addenda to some of those documents report on the status of preparation of documentation.
Schedule of President’s Appointments
Copies of the Assembly President’s appointments for today are available in room 378. He met this morning with Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. They discussed the need for greater unity within the Non-Aligned Movement and the “Group of 77” developing countries and China. The Prime Minister briefed the President in depth on East Timor, and the two shared ideas on Kosovo. On United Nations reform, they agreed that Member States should forge ahead in reforming those things that were possible in the near term. The President will host a luncheon for the Chairmen of the Main Committees. This afternoon, he will meet with Foreign Minister Win Aung of Myanmar, and President Malam Bacai Sanha of Guinea-Bissau. Last evening, the President attended a reception in his honour, hosted by the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN). Copies of that statement are also available in room 378.
Briefing by Spokesman for Secretary-General
Let me begin by introducing Dennis McNamara, who is the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs in Kosovo, in other words, he heads the humanitarian leg, one of four legs of that mission.
**Security Council Consultations
The Security Council this morning, as you probably know, began an open meeting on Africa with a number of ministers in attendance. Nearly 50 speakers are expected to take the floor. A list of those speakers is available in the Spokesman's Office.
The Secretary-General opened the meeting with general observations that he said he hoped would help the Council as it grappled with the crucial question of what more it could do to enhance peace and security in the African region.
He noted that there were places where the widely held view of Africa as a region in perpetual crisis was not just an image but an all-too painful reality. But, he pointed out, there were also places witnessing dramatic changes for the better.
He recalled that at this year's Organization of African Unity (OAU) summit in Algiers, Africa's leaders insisted -- in a welcome change from an earlier era -- on the principle that Governments which had come to power through unconstitutional means could no longer expect to be received as equals in an assembly of elected Heads of State. He said, "I am sure that the day will come when the General Assembly of the United Nations will follow Africa's lead, and apply similarly stringent standards to all its members."
We have copies of that statement in my office.
The meeting is scheduled to adjourn at 1:15 p.m. and resume at 3:15 p.m. The President said he expected that the meeting would resume tomorrow morning to finish the list of speakers.
Following up on the arrangements reached yesterday during the Ministerial meeting chaired by the Secretary-General, the Indonesian delegation, led by Foreign Minister Ali Alatas, met with United Nations Secretariat members this morning at 9:30 a.m. to discuss practical approaches to meet the current and urgent needs of East Timor. This afternoon at 3 p.m. a similar meeting will take place with the Portuguese delegation, led by Foreign Minister Jaime Gama.
The results of yesterday's Ministerial meeting were announced last night by the Secretary-General's Personal Representative to East Timor, Ambassador Jamsheed Marker, and the two Foreign Ministers. Ambassador Marker said that with the improvement in the security situation there is the need to get civil society going again and to have essential services re-started in East Timor. It was also agreed that the East Timorese in West Timor must have a choice between staying where they are, returning to East Timor, or being resettled elsewhere. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are to have free access to refugee camps in West Timor.
Continuing with West Timor, the UNHCR reports that one of its staff members Wednesday left Kupang for the eastern town of Atambua, which reportedly holds up to 100,000 East Timorese in squalid, makeshift camps controlled by anti-independence militia. In Kupang the authorities insist on a 24-hour advance notice to the police before visiting the camps.
The UNHCR on Wednesday went to the sports stadium that the High Commissioner visited a week ago. The UNHCR staff were accompanied by six policemen armed with automatic weapons. The stadium holds some 700 East Timorese, mainly women and children. Three hundred more are sheltering under tarpaulins around the stadium. There was enough food, water and sanitation facilities and no visible military or police presence in the area.
One man at the stadium alleged that at noon Tuesday, four men believed to be militias came in two cars and took away a Timorese farmer from Dili. The reason for the abduction and the fate of the man remain unknown. It was the first abduction reported from the sports stadium, although news reports of kidnappings, executions and separations blamed on militias are abundant in Jakarta.
The inter-agency mission will also try to gather information on the enclave of Ambeno on the northern coast of the island. The area is administratively part of East Timor but it is surrounded by West Timor territory. No agency has been able to travel to the area. But over-flights by helicopters of the international force in East Timor (INTERFET) have reported that the zone had suffered wide destruction and appeared to be largely deserted.
In East Timor, the UNHCR estimates that thousands of people are coming back to Dili every day. The returning population includes local staff members of the United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET), who are identifying themselves at the former United Nations compound -- I should say former and current since they moved back into the compound yesterday. Aid agencies also report that civilians are coming forward to volunteer for the continuing relief effort.
United Nations agencies have increased their estimate of the number of people affected by the crisis in Timor. Assistance is now being planned for 200,000 people in East Timor, 150,000 in West Timor and 50,000 elsewhere, mainly on other Indonesian islands.
The WFP "snowdrops" of high energy biscuits have been suspended as of today in order to give a required two-day rest period to the pilots carrying out this operation, then to look at Baucau as the forward air operations base to take over from Darwin.
**UNMIK Demands Release of United Nations Staff Members
The United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) is demanding the release of three UNMIK staff currently being held in a police station in the central Serbian town of Krajlevo. The three staff members -- an Australian, a Portuguese and a Kosovo Serb -- were detained on Monday while travelling in a white United Nations vehicle from Mitrovica to survey communications installation sites. This is the third detention of United Nations international staff by authorities of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in three weeks.
Please see a press release in my office for more details.
The Secretary-General's Special Representative Bernard Kouchner was in Kosovo Polje today visiting the hospitals in which victims of yesterday's grenade attack in Bresje are being treated.
The Kosovo Transitional Council was meeting today -- minus the Serb delegation -- to discuss a wide range of issues.
And, the UNHCR reported that 400 Romas -- mainly women and children who had stayed for more than one week in the no-man's land between Kosovo and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia -- were allowed today to enter the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The UNHCR provided eight buses to bring the Romas to a refugee camp near Skopje.
**Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia Prosecutor Outlines Kosovo Strategy
Today in The Hague, Carla Del Ponte, the Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, outlined her strategy on investigation and prosecution of crimes committed in Kosovo. She said the primary focus of her Office must be “the investigation and prosecution of the five leaders of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Republic of Serbia who have already been indicted". Her office investigative resources will also be applied to other high-level leaders who may be held responsible for crimes. She added that her Office might investigate and prosecute other individuals on a case-by-case basis in cases of particularly serious crimes or sexual violence committed in relation with the armed conflict in Kosovo.
The complete text of her statement is available in room 378.
**Secretary-General Recommends Continuation of UNIKOM
The Security Council is expected to revise next week whether to maintain or terminate the mandate of UNIKOM. In a report on the racks today, the Secretary-General details developments in the area of operations over the past six months and he is of the opinion that UNIKOM's activities contribute to the maintenance of calm and stability along the border between Iraq and Kuwait, and recommends that the mission be maintained.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
We mentioned yesterday, in connection with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, that the Joint Military Commission was expected to meet on 10 October, but we now have confirmation that that date has been moved to 11 October.
**Secretary-General to Address Meeting of Least Developed Countries
The ninth annual ministerial meeting of the least developed countries will convene this afternoon in the Trusteeship Council Chamber at 3.
The Secretary-General is scheduled to address the meeting at about 4. He'll touch on the issue of debt relief and look ahead to the Third Conference on least developed countries, which will take place in 2001.
We have advance copies of that speech available in my Office.
**International Day of Older Persons
Tomorrow is the International Day of Older Persons.
In his message marking the occasion, the Secretary-General says that as we enter a new millennium, all people -- old and young -- are called upon to join in the common task of shaping a rapidly changing world. He says, "It is up to all of us, whatever our age, to ensure that no contribution to this endeavour is wasted because of age discrimination."
Copies of that message are available on the racks.
Tomorrow, the Department of Public Information (DPI), the NGO Committee on Ageing and the United Nations Programme on Ageing are sponsoring an all-day event in Conference Room 4 on the theme "Towards a Society for All Ages". You are all invited to attend.
We told you recently about an upcoming conference on facilitating the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, which will take place in Vienna from 6 to 8 October.
We now have press kits with everything you ever wanted to know about the Treaty and the Conference. They include a pocket-sized edition of the CTBT, six fact sheets, and a wall chart on the international monitoring system that will be used to verify compliance.
You can pick up a press kit in my Office or at the documents counter.
We have one press conference remaining today, at least thus far. At 12:30 p.m. the Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka, Lakshman Kadirgamar will hold a press conference. And, our guest at the noon briefing tomorrow will be United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson.
Question: An Indonesian Government spokesman said today that his government rejects the commission of inquiry on East Timor. What is the legality of that -- is the permission of Indonesia necessary for the commission to begin working?
Spokesman: We have seen contradictory statements out of Jakarta about this inquiry, so I'm not prepared to say that we know exactly what the Indonesian Government's view is. The commission of inquiry will go ahead in any case. We expect that we would have access to many witnesses in East Timor and, of course, we would like to have the cooperation of the national human rights organization in Indonesia, as called for in the resolution; and access to the Indonesian military to try to establish where in the chain of command, if indeed there is a point in the Indonesian military chain of command, where you can fix blame for the atrocities that took place. So, we would hope for the cooperation of Indonesia, but if they fail to, it would not deter the investigation from going forward.
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