DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY OFFICE OF SPOKESMAN FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
12 November 1999
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Shirley Brownell, Spokeswoman for the President of the General Assembly.
Briefing by Spokesman for Secretary-General
**WFP Plane en route to Pristina Missing
A World Food Programme (WFP) shuttle flight between Rome and Pristina went missing this morning.
According to the manifest, there were 21 passengers -- people from the international aid community including United Nations and non-governmental organizations. WFP reports the plane -- an ATR 42 propeller plane -- also carried three crew members.
The flight, which left Rome at 9 a.m. local time, went missing around 11:15 a.m. as it neared Pristina.
Since 1 p.m. local time the KFOR has been conducting a search and rescue operation along with the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). I understand they are out with helicopters and searchlights; they are also patrolling on foot. The area where it is suspected that the plane might have gone down is heavily mined with a lot of unexploded ordinance, so the search and rescue mission is going slowly. We can't confirm anything more at this time.
[Later in the day, WFP confirmed that the plane had crashed into a minefield 17 kilometres north of Pristina. The KFOR could not immediately confirm the crash.]
**Secretary-General 'Disturbed' by Plight of Civilians in War-Torn Chechnya
The following statement on Chechnya is attributable to the Spokesman: "The Secretary-General had been following the situation in the Northern Caucasus with great concern. While committed to combating and ending terrorism, he considers it vital that the use of force to combat this scourge should be proportional, and should be focused directly on the terrorists themselves.
"He recalls that international humanitarian law, including especially Geneva Conventions, is binding and must be fully respected at all times. This means that the protection of innocent civilians from the effects of conflict should always receive the highest priority.
"The Secretary-General therefore is disturbed to see that the scope of the military offensive in Chechnya seems to have evolved far beyond a campaign with the limited objective of rooting out terrorists, and that it has caused great suffering and high casualties to civilians, including the elderly and women and children. He renews his appeal to the Russian leadership to take immediate steps to protect civilian populations from further suffering. He urges them to lose no time in seeking long-term solution to the conflict, which he believes can only be done through a political process.
"The Secretary-General wishes to thank the Government of the Russian Federation for receiving and cooperating with the humanitarian mission which he sent to the region at the end of last week. He has now received the report setting forth the mission's findings and recommendations. He has asked United Nations humanitarian agencies to keep the report's recommendations in view as they prepare to strengthen and expand their relief programmes. This will be essential in ensuring prompt international action to alleviate the suffering of the innocent civilian victims of the conflict".
**As Winter Grips Region, UNHCR Races to Provide Food, Shelter for Displaced Chechens in Ingushetia
Also on Chechnya, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today reported that its eighth convoy arrived in Ingushetia today carrying 20 tons of food on seven trucks.
As temperatures drop, an estimated 20,000 of the 200,000 displaced people in Ingushetia are living in makeshift accommodations such as unheated railway cars. The UNHCR is preparing another convoy with winterized tents and stoves which should arrive in Ingushetia next week.
Meanwhile, the agency reported that yesterday, nearly 3,000 more people left Chechnya for Ingushetia. The line of vehicles backed up on the Chechen side of the border is believed to be about two-and-a-half kilometres long.
You can read more in the UNHCR briefing notes, available in my office.
**No UN Staff Hurt After Rocket Attacks in Islamabad
Several explosions took place in different locations of Islamabad shortly after 11 a.m. local time today.
The first took place approximately 400 metres from the UN House, where 10 United Nations offices are located. A Mitsubishi Pajero launched rockets from a twin-barrel, home-made launcher. The car caught fire when the rockets were launched.
A second explosion took place at the “Clara Apartments”. A Toyota Landcruiser launched rockets from a twin-barrel home-made launcher. The car also caught fire when the rockets were launched.
And, in the parking lot between a State Life Building and the United States Information Centre a Honda Civic equipped with the same type of rocket launcher, fired two rockets. The car also caught fire.
No United Nations staff members were injured in the attacks. The targets were not clear and there was no immediate claim of responsibility.
On that incident, I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesman:
"The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about the reported car-rocket attacks and explosions on 12 November in Islamabad, Pakistan. He reiterates his condemnation of all acts of terrorism wherever they may occur. He appeals to the authorities in Pakistan to make every effort to bring the perpetrators of these cowardly terrorist acts to justice. In view of recent demonstrations in Afghanistan and the attacks on United Nations offices in Kandahar, Afghanistan, on 10 November, he urged all concerned, especially the Taliban authorities, to guarantee the safety and well-being of United Nations personnel.”
**Security Council to Hear 21 Speakers on Situation in Burundi
Today is a busy day for the Security Council. They began with an informal consultation on Somalia, where member States completed work on a draft presidential statement. They read out the presidential statement in a formal meeting on Somalia which followed today's consultations.
After the informal meeting, the Council went into a series of formal meetings. They first met on Tajikistan, where the members approved a resolution to extend the United Nations Mission of Observers in Tajikistan (UNMOT) by six months, until 15 May 2000.
After the Tajikistan meeting adjourned, the Council took up a presidential statement on Georgia, and then read, as we just noted, the statement on Somalia.
They then began a formal meeting on Burundi, in which Ibrahima Fall, the Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, is expected to discuss the most recent developments there. In addition, 21 member States are inscribed as speakers for a debate on Burundi.
There have been a number of developments in Burundi which have caused concern at the United Nations. Most notably, these include some worries that recent fighting could cause problems for the future of the ceasefire, and the effects of the death of the mediator, former Tanzanian President Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, on the peace process. The meeting is intended to show the Council's continuing concern about such developments, and is expected to be followed with a presidential statement.
**Secretary-General in Tokyo: Day Two
On the second day of his official visit to Japan, the Secretary-General met a second group of Parliamentarians before meeting with Japanese Finance Minister Kiichi Miyazawa.
After that he gave a press conference. He was asked about the Falun Gong movement in China, and he responded, saying that while this was a domestic issue, he would raise it with the Chinese authorities when he visits there next week.
We're expecting to have the full transcript of that press conference in the course of the afternoon.
The Secretary-General is now in Kyoto, Japan, the former Japanese capital. He will leave for Beijing on Sunday.
**Indonesian Military Joins UNHCR to Help Refugees Trapped in West Timor Camp
The Indonesian Army today informed the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that they would assist the agency in extracting displaced people who have been trapped in the camp at Noelbaki in West Timor since the early stages of the refugee crisis.
There was a fresh incident of militia harassment, though -- that was near Atambua -- when the UNHCR was blocked from entering a camp where 50 people had registered to return to East Timor.
Refugee returns meanwhile continued.
**UNIKOM Budget on the Racks Today
Today, on the racks, you'll find the Secretary-General's report on the financing of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK)(A/54/494).
According to the proposed budget, the annual cost of the Mission would be around $456.4 million. That figure includes about half a million dollars in voluntary contributions in kind. It covers the period since the Mission's inception in June, so the money already authorized by the General Assembly for UNMIK is also included.
You'll recall that the Assembly had sent out assessments totaling $125 million for the Mission. So far, Member States have paid less than three fifths of this amount, or $74.8 million.
**New WHO Strategies for Mental Health
The World Health Organization (WHO) today unveiled a series of global strategies designed to take the stigma out of mental illness.
As part of the new effort WHO will work to raise awareness about mental and neurological disorders. It will also help States improve psychiatric treatment for those who suffer from the diseases.
You can see a press release if you are interested in more detail.
**UNESCO Formally Confirms New Chief Today
We told you several weeks back that Koichiro Matsuura of Japan had been tapped to head the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) by its Executive Board.
That decision was confirmed today by the UNESCO General Conference, so it's now official that Mr. Matsuura will take office as the agency's ninth Director-General.
We have a press release from UNESCO.
**Guest at Monday's Noon Briefing
The guest at Monday's noon briefing will be Agnes Asekenyeoonyu, who is Chief of the Africa Section in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). She will tell you about her recent visit to Angola.
**Briefing on Srebrenica Report Monday
And then at 12:45 p.m. on Monday, in this room, a senior United Nations official will give you a background briefing on the Srebrenica report. We expect that report to be unofficially distributed to delegations on Monday.
The 'World Chronicle' TV programme -- a new one out today -- with Nay Htun, the Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). You can see that at 2:30 p.m. on in-house channels 3 and 21.
**Quiz of the Week
I'll take a little bit more of your time to give you the quiz for today. Today's quiz should warm you up for Tuesday's commemoration of the International Day for Tolerance. So if you're feeling tolerant, here we go.
Question One: In his latest report to the General Assembly, the Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance says that no religion is free from extremism. He also names the one group which provides the most striking example of religious extremism. Can you name the group?
[A correspondent answered correctly from the floor.]
Answer: Good. The Taliban who, in the name of religion, are persecuting not only non-Muslim minorities, but also Muslims, such as the Shiites.
Question Two: According to a study cited in the latest report of the Special Rapporteur on Racism, there were an estimated 600 racist Web sites on the Internet in 1997. Bearing in mind that Internet service providers remove these sites as soon as they discover them, how many would you say researchers found out there this year?
[Several correspondents answered from the floor.]
Answer: It's impossible, right. Over 1,400 racist sites found on the Internet, although the Special Rapporteur says that some people guess that the number is as high as 4,000.
Third and Final Question: In the face of this intolerance, the Secretary- General has said that telecommunications are an ally of the United Nations. But he also pointed out that many people in the world have never received or made a phone call. What percentage of the world's people have never used the phone?
[Several correspondents answered from the floor.]
Answer: Close. 50 per cent. Ok. Two out of three, that's pretty good.
**The Week Ahead
The week ahead, I won't give this to you in full; here are just a few highlights.
**Monday, 15 November
The Humpty Dumpty Institute is sponsoring the visit to United Nations Headquarters Monday by a bipartisan delegation from the United States Congress.
And we all hope that next week will be 'the week' for a definitive decision by the Congress on United Nations funding.
**Tuesday, 16 November
On Tuesday, in honour of the Day of Tolerance, New York's Museum of Television and Radio will screen "Brushstrokes", a television show on the irrationality of prejudice.
And then from 13 November until 5 December, the Museum is holding its Eighth International Children's Festival in collaboration with the United Nations.
**Wednesday, 17 November
In Beijing, the Secretary-General will participate in a roundtable of scholars and leaders of research institutes, which is to focus on the concept of humanitarian intervention and the dialogue of civilizations.
**Thursday, 18 November
The Secretary-General will address the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and that's at their Summit in Istanbul.
And that's what I have for you.
Any questions before we go to Shirley?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Can you confirm any of the nationalities of any of the passengers onboard the WFP flight? There was a report this morning that a Canadian official was among them.
Spokesman: As always, these flight manifests need double and triple checking. There was at least one person on the 21-passenger manifest that it is now being questioned whether that person was on the flight. So I'd better not say anything about the nationalities or other specifics of those 21 people until we can be very sure.
Question: Do you think that the explosions that you mentioned earlier might be caused by the Taliban, who are facing United Nations sanctions in a few days?
Spokesman: Officially, we don't suspect anything.
Spokesman: No. I'm not going to say anything about it. I don't think we know enough about what happened there. Pakistani authorities are investigating and we'll see if they come up with anything.
Question: Has there been any communication between the United Nations and the Taliban regarding the recent protests or the upcoming sanctions?
Spokesman: That's a good question. I'll have to check. I don't know.
Question: The Chechnya statement you just read refers to “Russian leadership”. That's an unusual way to refer to the Government. Should we assume that that statement means “the Russian Government”?
Spokesman: Yes you should.
Question: Is the report from the Chechnya humanitarian mission going to be made public? What is the timeframe for the Secretary-General to take action on it?
Spokesman: As the statement says, he has received it from them and I frankly don't know whether there's any intention to make it public. I'll have to check and get back to you. (The report will not be made public.)
Question: On Monday, is there a meeting in the Security Council involving Bosnia?
Spokesman: Not that I've heard. I can double check for you.
Question: On the fifteenth, when the sanctions against the Taliban go into effect, will there be anything done at the United Nations or is that just automatic?
Spokesman: I think the terms of the Security Council resolution say that it's automatic. Of course we are taking the expected security precautions concerning our personnel in the area.
Question: On the question of dues, has there been much communication between United Nations officials and Washington over the last couple of days about the payment of assessments or the Helms-Biden Bill?
Spokesman: No. It's such a sensitive time. It's clear from what we read that this policy debate is coming to a head. You've seen that the United Nations dues question is one of the last that is trying to be resolved between the Administration and the Congress. So mainly, we're just monitoring what's going on. We have not attempted to intervene at this delicate time.
Question: Assuming that Helms-Biden is eventually passed, it only calls for the payment of about $926 million, which is about 1/3 less that the United Nations says that it is owed. It also calls for the United Nations to accept that amount as payment in full. What is the United Nations position on that?
Spokesman: Our position now is that the United States owes the $1.6 billion that we say it owes. And we say that on the basis of the scale of assessments that all governments, including the United States, have agreed to. However, it would be a matter for the Member States. Ambassador Holbrooke will have his work cut out for him as he then will have to come back here and have to negotiate with 187 other representatives concerning the conditions that are attached to this bill.
Question: Would you say that the reported negotiations between the United Nations and the Taliban have failed? Is there any information on the outcome of these back alley negotiations?
Spokesman: I don't have anything in my head on that. I'll have to get back to you.
Question: On Burundi: The statement of the Security Council this morning calls on the regional States to act quickly to appoint a mediator. Are you aware of any difficulties concerning the appointment of a mediator.
Spokesman: No, I'm not. That doesn't mean that they don't exist, but I'm not aware of any.
Question: It is now understood that the WFP plane has crashed. Do you have any account of other United Nations aircraft crashes?
Spokesman: That would require a real bit of research. You're talking about United Nations chartered aircraft mostly, with field missions. There have been others as you know.
[From the floor, a correspondent said that about half-a-dozen United Nations aircraft had crashed.]
Spokesman: I can't give that officially. And I think that I would have to speak for the United Nations, if you don't mind. I'll have to check it and get back to you.
Spokesman: I've been given a note concerning the Security Council programme on Monday. They will hold an open meeting at which they will be briefed by the three-person Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Briefing by Spokeswoman for General Assembly President
At its next meeting, on Monday, the General Assembly will take up the item on cooperation between the United Nations and the International Organization of la Francophonie. It will have before it the report of the Secretary-General on the subject (A/54/397), as well as a draft resolution (A/54/L.25). The Assembly will also take action on a draft text on the report of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) (A/54/L.21/Rev.1).
The First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) completed its work yesterday, after approving, by consensus, a draft resolution on the question of Antarctica (A/C.1/54/L.58). The Assembly will take action on some 22 reports of the Committee on 1 December.
At two meetings today, the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) is discussing trade and development issues. A draft decision on the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources for Development (A/C.2/54/L.31) was introduced, as were five draft resolutions dealing with: the Second Industrial Development Decade for Africa (A/C.2/54/L.27); successor arrangements to the International Decade of Natural Disaster Reduction (A/C.2/54/L.28); international cooperation to reduce the impact of the El Niño phenomenon (A/C.2/54/L.29); the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (A/C.2/54/L.30); and permanent sovereignty of the Palestinian people in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, and of the Arab population in the occupied Syrian Golan over their natural resources (A/C.2/54/L.32).
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) is holding a dialogue with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Mrs. Sadako Ogata, as it takes up her report, and questions relating to refugees, returnees and displaced persons and humanitarian questions. In her statement this morning, Mrs. Ogata said this has been a year charged with fresh conflicts and grave refugee crises. Civilians in many parts of the world continue to be forced to flee, mostly by internal wars. As the world has seen in places as diverse as Kosovo, East Timor, Sierra Leone and the Great Lakes region of Africa, the root causes of conflict and displacement very often lie in the failure to give recognition to the aspirations and rights of ethnic minorities, or various social groups. Copies of her statement are available at the documents counter.
Debate on refugee questions continues this afternoon and next week. I have been told that there will be one omnibus draft resolution on this item, to be submitted by Denmark.
This morning, the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) is discussing the programme budget for the 1998-1999 biennium, the proposed 2000-2001 programme budget and administrative expenses of the United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund.
The Sixth Committee (Legal), this morning, is discussing two items: the United Nations Programme of Assistance in the Study, Teaching, Dissemination and Wide Appreciation of International Law (A/54/515); and the convention on jurisdictional immunities of States and their property. It was also expected to vote on a draft resolution on implementation of the provisions of the Charter related to assistance to third States affected by the application of sanctions (A/C.6/54/L.3/Rev.1). That text would have the Assembly renew its invitation to the Security Council to consider establishing further mechanisms or procedures for consultations with third States which are or may be confronted with special economic problems arising from the carrying out preventive or enforcement measures imposed by the Council under Chapter VII of the Charter, with regard to a solution to those problems.
This afternoon, the Committee takes up the item on the elimination of international terrorism. Among the documents is the report of the Working Group on the subject (A/C.6/54/L.2), which contains a draft international convention for the suppression of the financing of terrorism that is being recommended to the Assembly for its adoption. Regarding the appointments of Assembly President Theo-Ben Gurirab, he held separate meetings this morning with the Chairmen of the Western European and other States and the African States, in the ongoing discussions of the Millennium Assembly/Summit and Security Council reform. He also met with Mr. Hedi Annabi, Assistant Secretary-General for Operations in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. This evening, the President will attend an Ambassadors’ Ball, hosted by the Hospitality Committee of the United Nations. The President departs, tomorrow, for Recife, Brazil, to address the Third Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in Those Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, particularly in Africa.
Looking ahead to next week: on Tuesday, the Assembly takes up the item on the University for Peace. It holds a commemorative meeting on 17 November to mark the end of the United Nations Decade of International Law. On 18 November, the Assembly will discuss the situation in Central America and assistance in mine action. On Friday, it takes up the item on strengthening of the coordination of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance of the United Nations, including special economic assistance.
On Monday, the Second Committee will discuss the sub-item on financing for development, including net transfer of resources between developing and developed countries. The Third Committee continues its general discussion, begun today, on the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and refugee and related questions. The Committee concludes its work on Friday.
On Tuesday, 16 November, the Fourth Committee will be discussing questions relating to information. Also on Tuesday, 16 November, the Fifth Committee takes up the financing of the International Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda. The Sixth Committee concludes its work next week.
On 18 and 19 November, the Fourth Annual World Television Forum, organized by the Department of Public Information, will take place at Headquarters. The focus of the Forum will be the impact of television programming on peace and development. The Assembly President will address the opening meeting.
Alright, any questions for Shirley? If not, enjoy your weekend. Thank you.
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