DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY OFFICE OF SPOKESMAN FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
8 December 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
**Cyprus Proximity Talks Update
Today's Cyprus talks got under way at 9:30 a.m., when the Secretary- General's Special Adviser Alvaro de Soto met with His Excellency Glafcos Clerides, and then at 11:30 a.m. with His Excellency Rauf Denktash.
Mr. de Soto advises us that this same schedule will be followed for the remainder of the week.
**A Statement by the Spokesman
Now, I have the following statement on Cyprus attributable to the Spokesman:
"The undertaking made at the Secretary-General’s request by both sides at the outset of the current round of proximity talks on Cyprus, was to abstain from making public statements on any issues relevant to the talks. This undertaking notwithstanding, a public statement attributed to one of the two sides has appeared in yesterday’s Cypriot press. It is obvious that such statements cannot reflect accurately what is going on in the proximity talks, of which only the Secretary-General can provide an authoritative version. The purpose of this moratorium on statements is to preserve the confidentiality of the talks and to avoid public exchanges between the two sides on the relevant issues that could effect the constructive spirit in which they should take place. It is therefore hoped that the moratorium will be strictly adhered to". (See Press Release SG/SM/7251.)
**High Commissioner, other International Human Rights High Officials express “Profound Concern” over Situation of Civilians in Chechnya
Mary Robinson, the High Commissioner for Human Rights was joined today by the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe and the High Commissioner for National Minorities of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in expressing their profound concern over the situation of civilians in Grozny, Chechnya, who, according to the ultimatum of 6 December from the federal authorities of the Russian Federation, are being given no other choice than to leave the city within five days or risk injury or death as a result of indiscriminate bombardment.
Yesterday evening, Mrs. Robinson had also reiterated her deep concern regarding the situation in Chechnya and said she joined with members of the international community in calling on the Russian Government to exercise restraint. She had called Monday’s ultimatum “particularly disquieting”, saying it would endanger the lives of the elderly and the infirm.
“Russia has legitimate security concerns", she said, “but it is not appropriate to respond by violating people's human rights. International requirements for the protection of civilians in armed conflict are clear-cut and must be respected”.
We have those two statements -- the joint statement and the individual statement by Mary Robinson -- available in my office.
**Vieira de Mello, Ramos Horta Greeted by “Warm, Enthusiastic Crowds” on Tour Through East Timor
Today, Sergio Vieira de Mello, the Special Representative in East Timor, took José Ramon Horta, the East Timorese Nobel Prize laureate, on a tour of three locations in East Timor.
The first stop was Manatuto, to the east of Dili, where Mr. de Mello announced that the newly-created National Consultative Council would convene for the first time, in Dili, on Saturday. He also announced that a seminar on public health would take place in Saturday as well, as a first step towards creating a national health plan. In a meeting with Manatuto leaders, Mr. de Mello said that 35,000 tonnes of shelter material would start arriving in January.
Ramos Horta addressed a crowd there, saying "The United Nations is not going to be here for 500 years as the Portuguese were. The United Nations is not going to be here for 23 years as the Indonesians were. They are going to stay here two to three years -- a very, very short period of time. We cannot waste time. We cannot waste the good will of the international community."
The two then visited the island of Atauro, which is north of Dili, and which had been used by the Indonesians as a place to hold political prisoners. Mr. de Mello told a welcoming crowd there that never again would there be political prisoners in East Timor.
The last stop was Liquica, to the west of Dili, where the two men again were given a warm, enthusiastic welcome. There they were briefed by United Nations police on body identification. Some 130 bodies have been recovered at Liquica.
**UNRWA Turns Fifty; At Briefing, Secretary-General to Urge Stronger Donor Support
At 3 p.m. today, the Secretary-General and Peter Hansen, Commissioner- General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East -- better known as UNRWA -- will give a press briefing here to discuss UNRWA's accomplishments over the past 50 years. Delegations can watch the briefing in Viewing Room 4.
The briefing is part of today's commemoration of UNRWA's 50th anniversary, which also includes this morning's ceremony in the General Assembly.
We have available advance copies of the Secretary-General's remarks at the briefing, which are embargoed until 3 p.m. In his remarks, he says that no other United Nations programme "has been so closely linked, for so long, with the history of a people".
“Yet despite UNRWA's record", he warns, "the agency today finds itself in a state of financial strangulation", and he urges donors to provide the resources UNRWA needs.
We also have upstairs an UNRWA press release that offers some facts about the agency. Among other things, it says, UNRWA is "the longest-running humanitarian programme of the United Nations, and the only one devoted to assisting a single group of people". Also, the agency -- which employs more than 22,000 local staff, most of whom are Palestinian refugees -- is one of the largest employers in the region.
**Security Council Meets on Iraq
The Security Council is meeting today on Iraq. Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock of the United Kingdom, current President of the Council, briefed the Council on consultations among the permanent five members concerning Iraq.
**Ogata, Bildt Address Working Group on Former Yugoslavia
We have available for you statements delivered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata (UNHCR) and the Secretary- General’s Special Envoy for the Balkans, Carl Bildt, at the one-day meeting in Geneva of the Humanitarian Issues Working Group on the former Yugoslavia. Mrs. Ogata, in her statement, flagged two particular concerns in Kosovo -- the harassment, murder, expulsion and flight of non-Albanians, and the need to speed up the smooth transition from emergency humanitarian activities to long- term rehabilitation and reconstruction.
She stressed the need for a regional approach. She said “Let us today make known our commitment to work together so that the Kosovo crisis will be the last refugee exodus in European history.”
Mr. Bildt, also speaking about the Balkans region as a whole, questioned whether the process of ethnic separation and "mono-ethnicizing" had in fact hardened and in certain areas risks becoming permanent. He warned that unless refugees can return to a society that adheres to the rule of law, “today’s returnee might become tomorrow’s refugee".
We also have briefing notes from Pristina today. There was a small item that caught my eye: tomorrow evening, United Nations Interim Administration in Kosovo (UNMIK) will open the first movie theatre in Pristina. There will be a premiere opening –- initially by invitation and then open to the public starting Friday evening. The first showing will be "Microcosmos", which I'm told is a documentary about insects, so I don’t think there’ll be much violence in that movie, which is probably good.
**Rwanda Tribunal Update: “Barayagwiza Should Not Escape Justice”, del Ponte Says
Carla del Ponte, the Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, gave a press conference today in Kigali, Rwanda, before leaving for The Hague via Tanzania and Switzerland. She said that although she did not have the occasion to meet Rwandan authorities, she met with representatives of the Rwandan civil society as well as with diplomats posted in Rwanda.
She added that she noted in the Tribunal, both in Arusha and Kigali, a professional and personal commitment in the service of international justice. She announced her decision to divide her time equally between the two tribunals (Rwanda and Former Yugoslavia) and to spend much time in her office in Kigali.
On the Barayagwiza case, she expressed the hope that she will soon be able to present her arguments to the Appeals Chamber to obtain a revision of its decision to release him. She said that Barayagwiza should not escape justice, even under national authority.
We have the text, in French only, of her introductory remarks.
**Secretary-General’s Report on Western Sahara
The Secretary-General's report on Western Sahara was issued yesterday afternoon, and is available at the Documents Counter.
In it, he says that the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) could face a lengthy appeals process after nearly 80,000 applicants who had been excluded from the list of eligible voters contested their exclusion.
As a result, he says, "the prospect of holding the referendum within a reasonable period of time, instead of becoming closer, has become even more distant". The Secretary-General says that disputes over voter eligibility could delay the holding of the referendum until the year 2002, or even beyond.
He also recommends that the Security Council extend MINURSO's mandate until 29 February of next year, adding that the extension would give the Mission time to complete voter identification and begin the appeals process.
The Security Council is expected to take up the report in its consultations on Thursday of this week.
**Secretary-General’s Report on Sierra Leone
Concerning Sierra Leone: Human rights abuses, cease-fire violations and harassment of humanitarian personnel in Sierra Leone should stop. This is the message of the Secretary-General in his first report on the United Nations Mission in there, in which he warns that the continued violence against the people of Sierra Leone and international personnel is unacceptable and perpetrators should expect to be held accountable for their actions.
The Secretary-General recognizes, however, that some progress has been made in the implementation of the Lomé Agreement. Positive developments include the return of the former rebel leaders in Freetown, the establishment of the Government of National Unity, the provisional registration of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) as a political party and a recent increase of the number of ex-combatants registering for the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration.
**UN Military Observers Arrive in Sierra Leone
In Freetown, the advance team of the Fifth battalion of the Eighth Gurkha Regiment of the Indian army arrived yesterday. A contingent of 350 Kenyans is expected to arrive today.
**Human Rights Day Observed at UN Headquarters
Friday is Human Rights Day, which this year is dedicated to the theme of overcoming racism. A number of events are going to be held here at Headquarters in relation to Human Rights Day, and here's a quick run-down so you can plan your next two days:
First, tomorrow the United Nations Staff Union will hold a panel discussion on staff security and human rights issues, including the growing risk of abduction and hostage-taking of staff. The event will take place in Conference Room 8 at 1:30 p.m. and speakers will include Giandomenico Picco, Personal Representative of the Secretary-General. (See Press Release: Note to Correspondents -- Note No. 5594.)
On Friday, at 10:30 a.m., singer and actor Ruben Blades will give a press conference in this room on racism.
Immediately afterwards, at 11 a.m., there will be another briefing in this room, on the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Assistant Secretary- General Angela King, and Waly Bacre Ndiaye, New York Director of the Centre for Human Rights, will participate.
The Optional Protocol would enable women who have faced sexual discrimination to file complaints, and there will be a signing ceremony for that Protocol -- in which about 15 States are expected to participate -- at noon in the Trusteeship Council Chamber.
Finally, at 3 p.m., the Secretary-General is scheduled to open a panel discussion on the Optional Protocol in the ECOSOC Chamber, which is to last until 6 p.m.
**UNEP, National Geographic Premiere “Gorillas on the Edge”
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), in conjunction with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International and National Geographic Television, and with the support of the Permanent Mission of Rwanda to the United Nations, will host the world premiere of "Gorillas on the Edge", a new film from National Geographic Explorer, at a special screening this evening, 8 December in Conference Room 1, from 7 to 8 p.m. At that screening, actress Sigourney Weaver is to be presented with the Dian Fossey Conservation Award. You, the members of the media, are invited.
There’s a press release available on the racks with additional information.
**Central African Republic Signs ICC Statute
We have news from the International Criminal Court (ICC): the Central African Republic signed the Rome Statute that establishes the Court, becoming the 91st signatory.
So far, five countries have deposited their ratifications with the Secretary-General. The Rome Statute needs to be ratified by 60 countries.
**Spokesman’s Follow-up Response
Finally, we had a question at the briefing yesterday about Burundi: Yes, the Secretary-General did meet yesterday with Terence Sinunguruza, Minister of Justice of Burundi. The Minister informed the Secretary-General orally of the results of the Government’s investigation of the killing of two United Nations staff members on 12 October in Burundi. We are not, however, at liberty to give you more details.
Any questions before we move to Shirley?
**Questions and Answers
Question: On Chechnya, you mentioned Mary Robinson’s joint statement, but is there any recent comment by the Secretary-General, especially in light of the ultimatum?
Spokesman: No. I think [the Secretary-General’s] former statements stand. He continues to be concerned, particularly about the latest developments. I know that since yesterday he has been trying to get through to Russian Foreign Minister [Igor] Ivanov. At the end of yesterday, he had not gotten through and I haven’t yet heard from him today –- he’s been in Montreal since yesterday afternoon as you know -- although he did say he would call me if he had gotten through. So my guess is that he hasn’t yet.
[Shortly after the noon briefing the Spokesman made the following announcement:
The Secretary-General reached Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov by telephone at about 1 p.m. today. They had a long and frank discussion regarding the latest developments in Chechnya, including the protection of civilians, enhanced humanitarian assistance for them and protection of aid workers.
They agreed that these contacts should continue.
Over the past weeks, the Secretary-general has also discussed the Chechnya issue more than once with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.]
Question: Is there any news to announce about the appointment of a new United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) Commander?
Spokesman: Not at this time, no.
Question: Mr. Denktash has been telling the press that every day he comes in with little complaints he apparently puts forward at the talks. Do you have any comment on that?
Spokesman: News blackout. Nothing of substance. Only times and places of meetings, that’s all we can give you. I’m sorry.
Question: Can you confirm that Mr. Clerides has sent a letter to the President of the Security Council concerning the contents of the draft resolution which is now being considered by the Council?
Spokesman: I cannot confirm that. I’m not aware of that. If it was requested that the letter be circulated as a document, you’ll eventually see it. That’s all I can say now.
Question: What is your assessment of Carla del Ponte’s visit to Rwanda? Was it positive? What can we expect now?
Spokesman: I’d have to let her speak for herself. I think from the United Nations Headquarters point of view, we were relieved that Rwanda granted her a visa so that she could visit her office. And as you heard from her statement today, she plans to spend a lot of time there. I think those are two positive things from our point of view.
Briefing by Spokeswoman for General Assembly President
I shall begin with UNRWA, which is marking its fiftieth anniversary today. A meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee of the General Assembly for the Announcement of Voluntary Contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East is taking place in the Trusteeship Council Chamber. Addressing the meeting, Assembly President Theo- Ben Gurirab said the gap between the resources provided by the international community to UNRWA to continue offering services, and the needs of the Palestine refugee community, had steadily widened, and he called upon the world community to put the Agency onto a firmer financial footing. “We must find a way to translate the statements of support which we hear every year, in the General Assembly debate on UNRWA and, indeed, at this annual Pledging Conference, into a level of financial support which will enable the Agency to fulfil its mandate”, he said. Copies of the statement are available in room 378.
Also available in room 378 is the text of the President’s Human Rights Day Message. (See Press Release Ga/SM/138 -- HR/4447.)
This morning, the General Assembly is completing items not dealt with yesterday because of time. After hearing a further 11 speakers in the debate on cooperation between the United Nations and the Organization of African Unity (OAU), it adopted a resolution, A/54/L.38, on the subject.
In the resolution, the Assembly calls upon the United Nations to enhance its cooperation, coordination and exchange of information with the OAU in the areas of prevention and in the peaceful settlement of disputes and maintenance of international peace and security in Africa, as provided for under Chapter VIII of the Charter. The Assembly also invites the United Nations to intensify its assistance to the OAU in strengthening the institutional and operational capacity of its Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution in Africa.
The Assembly then took action on seven draft resolutions on strengthening the coordination of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance of the United Nations, including special economic assistance, and one text on the United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA).
The seven drafts under agenda item 20 deal specifically with: strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations (A/54/L.54); special assistance to Tajikistan (A/54/L.49), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (A/54/L.53), Djibouti (A/54/L.56) and Somalia (A/54/L.57); strengthening of international cooperation and coordination of efforts to study, mitigate and minimize the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster (A/54/L.22/Rev.1); and participation of volunteers, ‘White Helmets’, in activities of the United Nations in the field of humanitarian relief, rehabilitation and technical cooperation for development (A/54/L.34/Rev.1).
By adopting the text on MINUGUA (A/54/L.27), the Assembly decided to renew the Mission’s mandate from 1 January to 31 December 2000, at a cost of $27,694,300.
This afternoon, the Assembly will take up item 46, on causes of conflict and the promotion of durable peace and sustainable development in Africa. Secretary-General Kofi Annan will address the Assembly.
The Assembly is called upon to establish an open-ended working group at its fifty-fourth session, pursuant to resolution 53/92 of 7 December 1998. The report of the Secretary-General on the agenda item is entitled “Development of Africa: implementation of the recommendations in the report of the Secretary-General to the Security Council and the General Assembly, specifically the implementation and coordinated follow-up by the United Nations system of initiatives on Africa” (A/54/133). The report describes measures taken relating to the recommendations in the Secretary-General’s 1998 report on the subject (A/52/871); priority areas under the current initiatives on Africa and possible priorities in partnership; and coordination by the UN system of initiatives on Africa. In a letter (A/54/513), the President of the Economic and Social Council informs the Assembly that the Council devoted the coordination segment of its substantive session in 1999 to the development of Africa and adopted a set of agreed conclusions entitled “Development in Africa: implementation and coordinated follow-up by the United Nations system of initiatives on African development”.
Tomorrow, the Assembly will take up the second report of the Credentials Committee (A/54/475/Add.1), as well as items on global implications of the year 2000 date conversion problem of computers, and cooperation between the United Nations and the Economic Cooperation Organization. Five items listed in the programme of work will be deferred to the next session. They deal with the 1986 aerial and naval attack against Libya by the United States; armed Israeli aggression against Iraqi nuclear installations; consequences of the Iraqi occupation of and aggression against Kuwait; implementation of the resolutions of the United Nations; and launching of the global negotiations on international economic cooperation for development. In the afternoon, the Assembly will consider nine reports of the Sixth Committee (Legal).
Concerning the other appointments of the President, this morning he met with Sir James Murray, former British Ambassador to the United Nations and one of the original founding members of the Contact Group on Namibia, for a courtesy visit. He then met with the President of the Economic and Social Council, Ambassador Francesco Paolo Fulci of Italy, who, as you know, will be leaving New York.
Spokesman: Any questions for Shirley? Thank you very much.
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