Press Briefing


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

I hope you're settled in.  I have the Encyclopedia Brittanica for you today.  Let's start with Palestine.

**Palestinian Report

Palestinian areas have seen an increase of 50 per cent in the poverty rate since the beginning of the current conflict.

That is one of the findings of an updated report on the social and economic impact of the continuing violence and the closure policy on the Palestinian economy, released today by Terje-Roed Larsen, the Secretary-General’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.

In releasing the summary of his findings at a press conference in Gaza, he said the report estimates that the Palestinian economy has suffered gross domestic product (GDP) losses of over $900 million since the beginning of the crisis.

Border closures and internal mobility restrictions, put in place by the Israeli Government, have pushed the average unemployment rate in the Palestinian areas to 38 per cent as compared to 11 per cent before the start of the conflict.

Mr. Larsen said the economic situation is contributing to the continuing violence and instability.  “Security cannot be built on uncertainty”, he said; “peace cannot be built on anger”.  Adding that the closure policy had been “collossally counterproductive”, to use his words, detrimental to Israel’s legitimate security interests and very damaging to the Palestinian economy and society.

We have more details on the full report, which is available upstairs.

**Security Council

Following brief informal consultations this morning, the President of the Security Council, Ambassador Saïd Ben Mustapha of Tunisia, read statements to the press on Haiti and on Afghanistan, the two topics the Council discussed in consultations yesterday.

Following that, the Council went into a formal, open meeting on Kosovo. Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean Marie Guéhenno briefed the Council members.  Mr. Guéhenno told the Council that developing a framework for elections and provisional self-government in Kosovo is complex and should not be rushed, adding, "Hasty decisions may set the Mission on a course from which it is difficult to deviate."

He said that the UN Mission in Kosovo has also set as priorities the establishment of effective law enforcement, the start of a regular dialogue with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the resolution of legal property issues. 

He also noted the recent demonstrations in Mitrovica and an apparent rise in attacks on Kosovo Serbs.

Mr. Guéhenno said that discussions are continuing with the Yugoslav Government, as well as with Serbian and ethnic Albanian leaders, to take measures to stop displacement and encourage returns to the Presevo Valley in southern Serbia.

Copies of his remarks are available in my Office. 

Also, at 3:30 this afternoon, the Council will hold consultations on Libya, at the request of the Non-Aligned Movement.

**West Africa

As you know, the Security Council held a closed meeting yesterday afternoon with a visiting delegation from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and the Secretary-General addressed that session.

The Secretary-General announced that he would be sending a multi-disciplinary mission to the region from 7 to 26 March to identify the priority needs in the areas of peace and security, regional cooperation, humanitarian affairs and economic and social development and the linkages among them.

The mission will consult with governments and with the ECOWAS secretariat on ways and means of enhancing cooperation.  Recommendations on elements of a regional strategy are expected to emerge from the mission.

**Sierra Leone

A high-level meeting between the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) took place yesterday in the north central town of Makeni.  The UNAMSIL delegation was led by Force Commander Lieutenant General Daniel Opande, while that of the RUF was led by Issa Sesay.

Among the main issues raised by the UN side was the return of weapons and equipment seized from the UN Mission by the RUF during the May 2000 crisis.  The RUF, for its part, called for the formation of an interim government and the simultaneous disarmament of all parties to the conflict.  After the meeting, the RUF handed over 56 weapons, communications equipment, and nine vehicles seized from the UN Mission.

The two delegations also visited Makeni Hospital, where they confirmed that Cpl. Robert Wanyama of Kenya had died there of gunshot wounds on 9 May 2000.  They then travelled to Magburaka where they were shown the graves of two Kenyan soldiers who died when their armoured personnel carrier (APC) fell off the bridge during the May crisis.

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sierra Leone, Oluyemi Adeniji, is in New York and will brief the Security Council tomorrow morning.  We have asked him to come here afterwards to brief you.

**West Africa-Lubbers

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, who is on a tour of West Africa, today arrived in Sierra Leone after completing a two-day visit to Guinea, where he concentrated on finding a humanitarian solution for tens of thousands of refugees in the country’s south-west.

In Freetown this morning, Mr. Lubbers met with senior United Nations mission officials to discuss the issue of access to refugees and safe corridors for refugees in an area of Sierra Leone where shelling is still reported and roads are inaccessible.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

Out as a document today is the Secretary-General's report to the Security Council on the United Nations mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, including a new concept of operations which Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Jean Marie Guéhenno briefed you on yesterday. 

The Secretary-General, while deploring the outbreaks of communal violence in the east -- Bunia and South Kivu -- says he is heartened by the calm that has descended on the confrontation lines that divide the hostile forces in the country.

Equally hopeful are the signs, which still await clarification, that the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo may be willing to accept the role of Katumile Masire, the neutral facilitator appointed pursuant to the Lusaka Agreement, to help bring all Congolese together, to discuss the governance of their country.

Amid these grounds for cautious optimism, the Secretary-General says, the United Nations should be ready to advance at least with small steps, and refers to the revised concept of operations designed to equip the United Nations mission to assist the parties in carrying out disengagement of their forces.  He urges the Council to adopt the draft concept and calls for the support of Council members and troop contributors for the proposed 3,000-strong force.


The United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Kenzo Oshima, arrived in Kabul today for a three-day visit to Afghanistan.

Mr. Oshima is in the country at the request of the Secretary-General to assess the current humanitarian situation on the ground and to mobilize donor assistance forthe emergency needs of the Afghans, both inside Afghanistan and in Pakistan.

The United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan, Erik de Mul, has described the situation there in very stark terms.  “The Afghan population is now on the edge of an abyss from which there will be no recovery for the most unfortunate”, Mr. de Mul said.  "Two years of drought and many years of war have culminated in a major human tragedy."

Mr. Oshima arrived in Kabul from Pakistan, where he met with Pakistani Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar to discuss the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan and its impact on Pakistan.  The discussion also touched on the needs in Pakistan as a result of the drought affecting Baluchistan and Sind provinces.

And as I just mentioned earlier, the Security Council President, Ambassador Said Ben Mustapha of Tunisia, just read out a press statement on Afghanistan in which the Council expressed, among other things, their deep concern at the seriousness of the humanitarian situation in the country and urged international donors to support the United Nations appeal for Afghanistan.

Also on Afghanistan, the Secretary-General’s Personal Representative for that country is in Washington today for a series of meetings with United States officials.  On the list of subjects to be discussed will be the recent decision by the United States authorities to close the Taliban liaison office in New York.

**Climate Change

Late yesterday afternoon, Jan Pronk, the current President of the Climate Change talks, announced that the negotiations on the implementation of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol would resume for a two-week period this summer.

As you will recall, the last session -- which was held in The Hague -- was suspended after more than two weeks of talks when the participants were unable to come to agreement on a number of issues.  The exact date and venue of this new round will be decided shortly.  We have more information on this available in a press release.


Mark Malloch Brown, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), today began a four-day trip to India, by visiting the newly created state of Uttaranchal, where he is touring villages and discussing decentralization and governance, among other issues.

Mr. Malloch Brown's visit to India will also include a trip tomorrow to the state of Orissa, to see community-based projects dealing with natural disaster preparedness, which were put in place following last year's cyclone.  On Thursday, he will visit Tamil Nadu, and then on Friday, he will meet with Prime Minister Atul Behari Vajpayee and other senior officials.

The UNDP is also stepping up its response to the earthquake that hit the western state of Gujarat, with Omar Bakhet, Director of UNDP's Emergency Response Division, set to visit that area on Wednesday and Thursday to look at medium- and long-term needs.  The UNDP is seeking $11 million for housing and economic support for those affected by the earthquake, and is also supporting a network of 5,000 volunteers who are carrying out needs assessment and aid coordination.

Concerning the quake, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) announced today that, over the past two days, it has begun a campaign to deliver measles vaccine and Vitamin A to children in the quake zone.  Already, UNICEF said, in a press release, more than 14,000 children under the age of five have been reached.

**Refugees From Zanzibar

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported today that at least 100 refugees arrive daily in Shimoni, Kenya, from the east African islands of Pemba and Zanzibar.  Since 28 January, over 1,000 refugees have entered Kenya at Shimoni after demonstrations and violent clashes with police left scores of people dead and several others injured in the twin islands.

The UNHCR reported some of the refugees are sleeping under trees, while others are out in the open and said that the Government of Kenya needs urgently to identify an adequate site to accommodate the refugees.  There's more in a UNHCR bulletin.

**Iraq Update

According to the weekly update from the Office of the Iraq Programme, the Government of Iraq has now submitted its distribution plan for Phase IX, which began on 6 December.

A foreseen budget of more than $5.55 billion for the humanitarian programme is spread over 12 sectors, including an allocation of $600 million for oil industry spare parts, and $387 million to meet the needs of especially vulnerable groups. 

Over $1.27 billion is earmarked for the food sector, to cover a daily food ration of 2,472 kilocalories per person per day, while $300 million is set aside for the purchase of medicines and medical supplies.

The plan has now been forwarded to the Secretary-General.  Once approved, it will become the basis for the Government of Iraq to purchase humanitarian supplies and oil industry spare parts and equipment during Phase IX, which ends on 3 June.

The week of 3 to 9 February registered the lowest level of Iraqi oil exports under the United Nations “oil-for-food” programme.  A total of 1.6 million barrels were lifted through two loadings, raising an estimated €43 million (euros) in revenue.  Iraq has exported 55.3 million barrels of oil, earning over €1.26 billion (euros) at current prices in Phase IX.  You can get the full text of this weekly update in my Office.


We have one more payment in full for the United Nations regular budget dues for the year 2001:  Djibouti paid just over $10,000, and so far we have 46 Member States paid in full.


The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) today announced in Geneva that the use of the Patent Cooperation Treaty hit a record high last year, with the organization receiving more than 90,000 international patent applications -- an increase of 22.9 per cent from 1999.

The United States accounted for 42 per cent of all applications in 2000, followed by Germany (with 13.2 per cent), Japan (with 10.3 per cent), the United Kingdom (6.1 per cent) and France (4 per cent).  In the developing world, the Republic of Korea, China and South Africa recorded the largest number of patent applications, while India, China and the Republic of Korea recorded the biggest leap in patent applications among developing countries in from 1999.  We have that press release available in my Office.

**Other Press Releases

Other press releases today:  The UNICEF announces that tomorrow Carol Bellamy, the Executive Director, will begin a four-day visit to Viet Nam, where she will attend the International Vitamin A Consultative Group meeting and Viet Nam's National Conference on Children.

And the World Food Progamme (WFP) warned in a press release today that millions of Sudanese face acute hunger due to continuing civil war and worsening drought.  The agency appealed for $135 million to feed 2.9 million people in both government- and rebel-controlled areas until the end of this year.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

The Ambassador of Portugal, Antonio Monteiro, and the Secretary-General of Parliamentarians for Global Action, Shazia Rafi, will join Hans Corell, the United Nations Legal Counsel, in a press conference here tomorrow at 3 p.m., to talk about the Conference on the International Criminal Court Ratification in Lusophone Countries.

**Noon Guest Tomorrow

And then tomorrow, we'll have a guest at the noon briefing:  Sharon Capeling Alakija, the Executive Coordinator of the United Nations Volunteers , will be here to talk about the International Year of Volunteers, which is this year, 2001, and the role of volunteerism in social development.

Does anyone have any strength for a question?  Robert.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  What came out of the meeting yesterday afternoon between

Mr. Vendrell and the Taliban representative?  Were they more explicit?  He said that he hadn't been officially notified about the threat to close the office in Kabul.

Spokesman:  I did not get a read-out of that meeting, I'm afraid to say.  If I can catch him in Washington and ask him, I'll get back to you in the course of the afternoon.  Jim?

Question:  Two questions on the Sierra Leone meeting.  The equipment that the RUF gave back, is any of it in working condition?  And the second question is this RUF proposal on disarmament.  I assume this means that they want the army to disarm.

Spokesman:  On both questions I would refer you to Marie Okabe, who has the cable traffic.  The last time they returned vehicles to us, a number of them were not in running condition.  It would surprise me if all nine of these had gasoline in them and were ready to roll.  [It was later announced that the weapons handed over by the RUF were in decent condition, but that the vehicles were wrecks.]

And as for the disarmament provisions, if you would check with Marie. Yes, Louie?

Question:  There were reports that a senior United Nations peacekeeping officer has pled guilty to trying to smuggle ivory as he was travelling through Nairobi last Thursday.  Are there any disciplinary actions that the United Nations takes against its staff in cases like these?  How does it exactly happen?

Spokesman:  This was a military observer from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who was leaving Africa to return home and was stopped in Nairobi and found to have ivory and, I think, animal skins -- basically, things that you're not legally allowed to export.  His diplomatic immunity, of course, would only cover his official work.  And even under those circumstances, if it involves criminal activity, the United Nations would waive that immunity, so that the person could stand trial. 

In this case, he was out of the mission area, and he was immediately arrested and tried.  So that's the best disciplinary action that could happen.  Should there be something illegal done inside a mission area by a military person, we would turn that person over to the home government and expect that person then to be tried under national laws and national military law.  And we usually follow up when we've sent someone home on disciplinary charges.  We follow up with the government to see that they do carry out a court martial or whatever proceedure they have.

Question:  But from the United Nations side, there won't be direct disciplinary action against this person?

Spokesman:  No, I would assume that the administration of the Congo Mission would immediately send a notice to all its personnel saying don't do something stupid like this guy did -- obey the rules.  But there would be, first, no need for us to take action, because the local authorities have taken action.  And second, as I explained, we really don't have jurisdiction over the military who serve with us.  Their home governments keep that jurisdiction to themselves.  And so it would be a matter of the home government's trying the person.

Question:  Nationality and rank of the person?

Spokesman:  He was a national of Pakistan and I don't have his rank.  But as a military observer, he would have been an officer.  Yes, Bill.

Question:  Is there anything you could let us know about the schedule and also the agenda of the visit of the United States Secretary of State tommorrow?

Spokesman:  Frankly, all we know is that he is going to see the Secretary-General at 3 p.m.  [This was later corrected to 3:30 p.m.]

 You would have to ask the United States Mission what the rest of his programme would be.  I understand that he hopes to see a number of ambassadors, but we wouldn't have his programme.  It would be the United States Mission that would have it.

Question:  You know which ambassadors?

Spokesman:  You'll have to ask the United States Mission.

Question:  Can you tell us the circumstances and who asked for the meeting between the Secretary-General and Pino Arlacchi today, and what the two men are likely to discuss.

Spokesman:  That would be a routine meeting.  Pino Arlacchi is in town this week and I assume they would be reviewing his work in the drug area and in the crime-prevention area.

Question:  The inspectors, weren't they supposed to be flying over to meet him in Vienna?  Or was that last week?

Spokesman:  The Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS).  They are doing routine evaluation of the drug and crime control programme; the last such evaluation was three years ago.  They are also aware of some of the allegations put forward by, primarily, Austrian newspapers, but by some British press, as well.  And they will use the opportunity of this routine evaluation to look into these allegations.  And the Secretary-General thinks this is as it should be and we look forward to the OIOS report.

Question:  Why is he in this week when he was here last week?

Spokesman:  I don't know exactly.  A number of them are here for ACABQ, that is, the Budget Watchdog Committee of the General Assembly hearings.

Question:  Could he appear here?

Spokesman:  Yes.  We'll ask him if he'll come down to see you.  Bill?

Question:  Also, getting back to the visit of the Secretary of State.  Who instigated that?  Was there an invitation by the Secretary-General or the Secretary of State asked if he could come up for a meeting?  Do you know?

Spokesman:  The Secretary-General was in the process of seeking meetings with the new President and other Washington officials for a visit to Washington that he plans for later this month.  And I believe it was then that the Secretary of State said, I would like to come up before that visit to see you.

Question:  Do you know what the dates are on the Secretary-General's visit to Washington? 

Spokesman:  I'm not sure we have a date yet.  We're basically waiting for the White House to confirm a date.

Question:  Before the Iraq talks, probably?

Spokesman:  I would think, probably, because the Iraq talks are happening the 26th and the 27th.  You have more options this side of those dates than the other.

Thank you very much.

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