DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY OFFICE OF SPOKESMAN FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
2 December 1999
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General. The General Assembly did not meet today, and as there were no committee meetings, Shirley Brownell, Spokeswoman for the President of the General Assembly did not brief the press.
Briefing by the Spokesman for the Secretary-General
Good afternoon. Shirley has nothing for you today, so she has absented herself.
**Security Council: De Soto to Brief on Upcoming Cyprus Talks
The Security Council began its informal consultations today by discussing the programme of work for the month of December. In a new effort to acquaint next year's incoming Council rotating members with its work, the Council is allowing the new members -- Bangladesh, Jamaica, Mali, Tunisia and Ukraine -- to sit in on discussions all this month, although of course they will not participate. Today is the first day of this month-long "get acquainted" effort.
Those consultations are expected to wrap up shortly, and the Council will then hear a briefing on the Cyprus talks, which are scheduled to begin here tomorrow. That briefing will be given by the Secretary-General's Special Adviser, Alvaro de Soto. After that briefing concludes, we expect Mr. de Soto will come into this room to brief you on the logistics of those talks. I understand he may just be starting his briefing to the Council now, so he may not be in time to join the tail end of this briefing, but we'll squawk for you when he is finished.
[Mr. de Soto did make it to the noon briefing in time to brief correspondents and take their questions on the logistics of the upcoming Cyprus talks. His comments to the press will be issued separately.]
The Secretary-General's latest report on Cyprus is out on the racks today; and in it, he recommends that the Security Council renew the mandate of the United Nations Peacekeeping force there (UNFICYP) for another six months, until 15 June 2000.
The Secretary-General says that the situation along the ceasefire lines "has remained stable," and notes the decision by the leaders of the parties to start proximity talks here at United Nations Headquarters tomorrow. But he adds that, under present circumstances, "the presence of UNFICYP on the island remains indispensable for the maintenance of the ceasefire between the two sides". After the Council's discussions on Cyprus end, it will take up the matter of Iraq's "oil-for-food" programme. Council members are considering a draft resolution for a one-week extension of Phase VI of the programme. The current two-week extension is scheduled to expire on 4 December.
Those consultations might continue into tomorrow, when the Council is also expected to be briefed by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Kieran Prendergast on the subject of Burundi.
**Notes from East Timor: Human Rights Inquiry Team Granted Visas to Work inside Indonesia
We have just learned that the International Commission on of Inquiry on East Timor has been granted visas by the Indonesian Government to allow them to work inside Indonesia. They will travel from Dili to Jakarta on Sunday to work out their programme.
Sergio Vieira de Mello, who heads the United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET), today met with Jaime Gama, the Foreign Minister of Portugal, after which there was a press encounter and we have been promised a transcript of that which we have not yet received.
Also today, agreement was reached with independence leader Xanana Gusmao and other members of his party on a final draft of a constitution for a planned 15-member National Consultative Council (NCC). The NCC will allow the United Nations to consult the East Timorese about the governing of East Timor during the transition period.
We also have from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) their Emergency Update, which has information on East Timor, specifically about the visit of United States Senator John Reid, who went to Atambua, west Timor, today.
**Rwanda Tribunal Update: Del Ponte Files Brief for Appellate Review of Barayagwiza Decision
On the Rwanda Tribunal: Yesterday evening, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda filed her brief requesting a review of the decision of the Appeals Chamber of the Tribunal to release Jean Bosco Barayagwiza. There is no date set for the Chamber to take its decision. As you'll recall, last month the Appeals Chamber ordered the release of Barayagwiza, ruling that his human rights were seriously violated as a result of the Prosecutor's failure to prosecute the case against him "diligently".
In other news from the Tribunal, last Friday the French police arrested a person accused by the Tribunal, whose indictment is sealed as of today. An investigator from the Prosecutor’s Office was in France to work with the French authorities on that matter. Mrs. Carla Del Ponte, the Prosecutor, said that this person was a high ranking Rwandan official, but gave no further details concerning his identity. This is the first time a person accused by the Tribunal has been arrested in France. Arrangements are under way for the transfer of the accused to Arusha, Tanzania, where the Tribunal is based.
**International Day of Disabled Persons
Tomorrow will be the International Day of Disabled Persons, and this year, the United Nations intends to draw attention to their lack of access to essential services worldwide. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), between 7 and 10 percent of the world's population has a disability.
In a statement to be delivered tomorrow, which we made available to you earlier, the Secretary-General says that for than half a billion people in the world, "accessibility can mean an education, a job and a community that would otherwise be denied them". He urges nations to build "truly accessible, caring and inclusive societies".
World Health Organization Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland says it is necessary for United Nations agencies to devise and implement a common agenda on disability. In a statement that is embargoed until the beginning of tomorrow, 3 December, she says, "A more comprehensive effort is needed, at both the national and international levels, linking prevention with rehabilitation and equalization of opportunities".
We have copies of both statements in my office.
**Secretary-General says it's Time for "Action", not "Complacency", in fight Against Slavery
Governments should not be complacent in the fight against slavery, the Secretary-General said today in his message to commemorate the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery.
"This is not a time for complacency in the fight against slavery, but a time for action," he said, urging nations to ensure that the international conventions against slavery are implemented. Many types of slavery -- from traditional chattel slavery to child labour, migrant labour and forced labour -- are still practised today, he says.
We have the full text of his message in my office.
**Kouchner's Visit to The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
We have a press release on a visit by the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Kosovo Bernard Kouchner to The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) during which he thanked the government there for clearing up the backlog of vehicles -- specifically aid-delivering trucks -- from their side of the border with Kosovo.
Kouchner left Skopje in the afternoon for the second leg of his visit, which is Albania, for talks with officials there.
**Convention on Hazardous Waste Transportation to begin in Switzerland
And finally, from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), we have a press release on the racks today concerning the opening on Monday, 6 December, in Basel, Switzerland, of the Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes. Among other items on its agenda, the Conference will attempt to finalize a Protocol to the treaty setting out rules on liability and compensation.
Before we go to Alvaro, do you have any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Any word yet on whether Carla del Ponte will be allowed a visa to go to Rwanda?
Spokesman: We don't yet have that information. I think we're still waiting, and she's still waiting, to see if she will be able to get to her offices in Kigali.
Question: A group of survivors said that they were going to sue the United Nations after the report on the massacre in Srebrenica was released. Do you have any more information on that -- such as what venue the suit would take place in, or whether there's a precedent for this type of thing?
Spokesman: We've seen those press reports, and of course, the Secretary- General understands the anguish of the families of people who were either killed in that massacre or whose fate is not yet known. But concerning the legal aspect, I have nothing to comment on today.
Question: Is there a precedent for a group of persons trying to sue the United Nations for its actions or failure to act?
Spokesman: It's not the first time, and of course United Nations officials in their official functions have immunity from such legal action, but I don't want to say anything more about the legal aspects of this. We've only seen press reports of this and therefore, I have nothing official to say on it right now.
Question: There doesn't seem to be much progress with the refugees leaving West Timor and coming back to East Timor. Are there any plans for the Secretary-General to talk to the Security Council or anyone besides the UNHCR to handle this situation?
Spokesman: Well, the UNHCR has been disappointed that since the agreement that was witnessed by [United States] Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, between INTERFET and the Indonesian military, that was supposed to facilitate the return of these people from West Timor to East Timor, there really has not been any quickening of the pace of returns. And the UNHCR reports that -- and I think I already said this to you -- that on a daily basis, they have encounters with militia. And I think I also said that the UNHCR has told us that this is the only place in the world where they require heavy military escort.
Question: Why aren't they getting more political support aside from Holbrooke? Why is this situation being left to the UNHCR to deal with rather than a more senior official in the Secretary-General's office talking to Indonesia or asking the Security Council to issue a statement on it?
Spokesman: The Mission itself, Sergio Vieira de Mello, is giving the UNHCR whatever political support it can to try to shake loose these people. Many of them I understand, and the UNHCR has told us, are families of militia or people who have signed up as members of the Indonesian military. So they say that there are issues like compensation, pensions and other things that need to be resolved. I don't have any further details from that, but it is first, we would say, an issue of intimidation by the presence of militia in the camps. We and the UNHCR have been trying to get Indonesia to separate the militia from the refugees. And second, there has been an information campaign where people in the camps are told that it's not safe to go home. And the UNHCR has started a programme where they take journalists from West Timor into East Timor and then they come back and report on the conditions in East Timor to try to deflect this propaganda.
But again, the numbers are showing that [the refugees] still aren't coming back, so I guess the short answer to your question is that we are providing political support from de Mello's office and if that doesn't work, [this issue] will most likely come to the Security Council.
Question: It's just been announced that the Secretary-General will be meeting [United States Ambassador and Special Presidential Representative] Alfred Moses today. Could you comment on the content of their discussion?
Spokesman: No, but if you come back to us after the meeting we'll try to give you a read-out. And Alvaro will have something to tell you on that in just a minute.
Question: There was a report from Kabul this morning quoting [United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in Afghanistan] Erick de Mul as saying that he had been to the front lines and he didn't have the impression that the Taliban were using child soldiers. He also replied to Taliban criticism of the Secretary-General's report on Afghanistan, by saying that the Secretary- General didn't write the report himself. The Secretary-General does still stand by that report doesn't he?
Spokesman: He does. And it’s certainly not true to say that the Secretary- General didn't write the report. Everyone knows these reports are drafted by the relevant departments and then work their way up to the 38th floor, the Secretary-General reviews every one and when his signature goes on it, it's his report.
Question: The United States Ambassador to Haiti has resigned. Is that going to have any effect on the new mission?
Spokesman: I have no information on that and no comment at this time.
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