Press Briefing


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

Okay, good afternoon.

**Larsen Noon Guest, Following Meeting with Secretary-General

The Secretary-General met for about an hour this morning with Terje Roed- Larsen, his Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, for a general overview of the current situation in the region including the rising level of violence there.  We’ve asked Mr. Larsen to join us here at the briefing and we expect him in a few minutes.

And we do expect to issue a statement on the Middle East later this afternoon.

**Briefing by Iranian Ambassador

And then, immediately after the noon briefing, there will be another briefing in this room with Ambassador Bagher Asadi of Iran, the Chairman of the Group of 77, on preparations for the financing for development conference.


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Kosovo, Hans Haekkerup, has condemned, in the strongest terms, an attack carried out this morning against a convoy of buses carrying Kosovo Serbs.

At least seven Serbs were killed and dozens of others injured, 10 seriously.

Mr. Haekkerup said, in a statement issued in Pristina, that the attack, which occurred just after the buses entered Kosovo from Serbia, was clearly well planned.  The first bus in the convoy crossed a drain under the road packed with explosives, which was detonated by a command wire.

He said, “It is a terrible tragedy, not only for the victims and their families, but for all the people of Kosovo.  Those who believe that such a contemptible act might advance the political aspirations of small, extremist and marginalized sector of Kosovar society are seriously mistaken.”  He added, “The attack marks a serious blow against the people of Kosovo and the future of Kosovo.”

**Kosovo Appointment

The Secretary-General today appointed Gary Matthews of the United States as Principal Deputy Special Representative in Kosovo, replacing Jock Covey of the United States, who has gone on leave.

Mr. Matthews had, most recently, been serving as Deputy High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina and supervisor for Brcko.  Before that, he was Regional

Director in that country in the town of Mostar for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

He is a retired United States ambassador who served in the foreign service for 30 years.

And we have his CV in my Office.

**Security Council

The Council is holding consultations this morning to hear a briefing by Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury of Bangladesh, Chairman of the Council’s working group on the general issues of sanctions.

He updated Council members on the work done by the group thus far.

Under other matters, Council members are being briefed by Hedi Annabi, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, on recent developments in Lebanon and in Kosovo, which I have already mentioned to you.

**Depleted Uranium

In a statement issued in Geneva today, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) confirmed that low traces of plutonium had been found in depleted uranium (DU) ammunition that was collected from sites in Kosovo and analysed at two Swiss laboratories.

The amount of plutonium found in the DU shells is very low and does not have any significant impact on their overall radioactivity, UNEP says in this statement.

The Executive Director of UNEP, Klaus Toepfer, said:  “These newest findings about the composition of the depleted uranium only lead to a minor change in the overall radiological situation and should, therefore, not cause any immediate alarm.”

UNEP’s recommendations concerning the issue of DU will be presented in early March when the full report on the environmental effects of DU in Kosovo is issued.

There’s more information in a press release upstairs.

**East Timor

A preliminary hearing, into the first case of crimes against humanity committed in East Timor in the wake of the 1999 popular consultation, started today in the Dili District Court.

Eleven persons are accused of committing crimes, including murder, torture, deportation and forcible transfer of civilian population, in Los Palos between April and September 1999.  The accused, most of whom were members of the pro-autonomy militia group Team Alfa, were involved in at least 13 murders, including what became known as the Los Palos massacre -- the ambush and killing on

25 September 1999 of a group of clergy, church workers, a journalist and a youth.

The indictment also contains the first accusation against an Indonesian Army officer, Lieutenant Sayful Anwar, Deputy Commander of the Special Forces Command of KOPASSUS, stationed in Los Palos.  He is accused of the mutilation, torture and murder of a Timorese in April 1999 at the Team Alfa base.

You can have more details on this and other news from East Timor in the briefing note, and we also have a background paper on serious crimes and justice in East Timor.


The United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, Kenzo Oshima, at a press conference today in Islamabad, Pakistan, called Afghanistan, which he had visited over the past three days, "one of the worst places in the world to try to live, and it's going to get a lot worse very quickly”.  He said, “A real tragedy is unfolding in front of us."

Mr. Oshima visited Kabul, Faizabad and Herat, where he personally saw tens of thousands of people in camps, and called the situation for many Afghans, as a result of the continued conflict and drought, "extremely bad", with many people unable to manage any more suffering.

He said he had asked all authorities to divert resources from fighting, and that he would also ask for more short-term emergency support from donors to deal with Afghans newly displaced by the fighting.

Tomorrow, Mr. Oshima will visit refugee camps near Peshawar, where some of the new caseload of Afghan refugees are housed.

Also on Afghanistan, Mary Robinson, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, issued a statement today calling for an “international investigation into massacres and other serious human rights abuses committed by warring parties in Afghanistan”.  In her statement, the High Commissioner also points to the ongoing violence as making “a catastrophic humanitarian situation even worse”.

We have some more information on these and other Afghan-related items in press releases in my Office.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

The Political Committee of the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement, comprising ministers from the governments involved in the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, will meet here in New York.

The Security Council will hold meetings with the members of the Political Committee next Tuesday and Wednesday.  The Secretary-General is expected to attend and address the participants.

At the same time, Ketumile Masire, the former Botswana President who is the facilitator of the political dialogue, is also expected to be in New York next week and attend a private meeting of the Security Council.

Participants at the summit meeting in Lusaka yesterday reaffirmed their commitment to revive the stalled peace process in the Congo.  And as you know, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Kamel Morjane, and his force commander were at those talks.

**High Commissioner for Human Rights

Mary Robinson, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, is heading to Tehran, Iran, this weekend to attend the Asian regional preparatory conference for the upcoming World Conference against Racism, which is scheduled for 31 August in Durban, South Africa.

The High Commissioner will make the opening statement at the Tehran meeting which opens on Monday the 19th and runs through Wednesday the 21st.

For more information, you can pick up the press release in my Office.  And also available upstairs are a number of other press releases relating to human rights.

**West Africa

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported today that in a meeting on Thursday the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, received the crucial endorsement of Liberian President Charles Taylor for UNHCR’s efforts to provide safe access and passage for tens of thousands of West African refugees.

The UNHCR said Mr. Taylor has now joined his counterparts in Guinea and Sierra Leone in endorsing the absolute priority for safe access to, and safe passage for, refugees.

We have UNHCR’s briefing notes with more details and also something on efforts to deliver aid to the refugees in Guinea.  Both of those things are upstairs.

**Secretary-General’s Letter to Council

On the racks today is a letter from the Secretary-General to the President of the Security Council, dated 12 February, in which he notes last week's Security Council meeting on peace-building, as well as the Fourth High-Level UN-Regional Organizations Meeting, which dealt with that same topic.

The Secretary-General informed the Council that, at the meeting with regional organizations, it was decided that "the promotion of self-reliance should be the fundamental goal of all cooperative peace-building activities by the United Nations and regional organizations".  The letter includes a summary of the proposals presented at that meeting for cooperation on peace-building issues.

He also notes that participants in the meeting drew attention to a lack of political support, and insufficient resources, provided by Member States for long-term peace-building.

Also out on the racks today is a letter from Ambassador Kishore Mahbubani of Singapore, who was President of the Security Council last month, which includes a list of ideas and proposals for strengthening cooperation with troop-contributing countries.  You'll recall that the Council held an open debate on that subject on 16 January.

**Climate Change

In Geneva on Monday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will release the second of its three assessment reports on global warming.

This one addresses how global warming is expected to affect Africa, Europe and other regions of the world over the next 100 years. 

The report will provide a detailed analysis of the expected impacts on human health, biodiversity, water resources and agriculture.

As you know, our Office -- with the rest of the United Nations in New York  -- will be closed on Monday, but this document will be available on the web at www.ipcc.ch.


The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) will launch its annual report this coming Wednesday, 21 February.  The widespread overuse of psychotropic substances is the main topic of the report. 

Ambassador Herbert S. Okun, a member of the Control Board, will be our guest at the briefing on Tuesday to brief you on the subject. The INCB is an independent body set up in 1968 to monitor the implementation of international drug-control treaties.  It has 13 members.

The report, which is embargoed until the 21st, and an accompanying press kit are available in the documents counter on the third floor.  You can get that today.


A decision is expected this afternoon from the newly established United Nations Forum on Forests regarding the location of its secretariat.  The Forum is finishing up a week-long organizational session here in New York.

It was created last year, as a subsidiary body of the Economic and Social Council, to be a permanent negotiating forum on forest issues and to monitor action on agreed recommendations for sustainable forest management.

It continues the work of several ad hoc bodies that grew out of the 1992 Earth Summit.

**Mozambique Floods

Nearly one year after massive floods devastated large tracts of southern and central Mozambique, killing some 700 people and leaving thousands homeless, the World Food Programme (WFP) said today that sufficient food is available to help those affected by the current wave of floods.  We have a press release on that.


On Habitat:  the eighteenth session of the United Nations Commission on Human Settlements (Habitat) completed its work today in Nairobi on a positive note by supporting the call by Executive Director Anna Tibaijuka for a strengthening of Habitat.

The Commission voted an increase in the budget and endorsed the new work programme for the biennium 2002-2003.

We have press release on that.

**Press Releases

Other press releases out today:  the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said today that overcoming trauma could be one of the main challenges in helping India to recover from the earthquake in the western state of Gujarat. UNICEF staff have heard consistent reports of post-disaster stress in children and adults alike.  We have more details in a press release.

And also out today is a press release from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) welcoming contributions from Ireland and Norway for the agency's reproductive health work, including safe motherhood programs and HIV/AIDS prevention.

**F.T. Liu Statement

We have the week ahead for you, and I have the following statement concerning the death this morning of F.T. Liu:

The Secretary-General is deeply saddened by the news of the death of F.T. Liu, a very distinguished servant of the United Nations who was recruited by and worked closely with Ralph Bunche, and did much to ensure the continuation of Bunche’s legacy.

Mr. Liu was a man of great kindness, as well as acute political judgement, who played a key role in many of the United Nations’ most challenging missions from the 1950s to the 1980s -– including decolonization and the crises in the Congo, Cyprus and the Middle East.  The Secretary-General commented today that he had lost “a friend and a valued colleague”, who would be mourned by the whole United Nations family.

That’s all I have for you.  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  First of all, how many people were killed in Kosovo, seven or 11?

Spokesman:  The latest number we have is seven, but as several of those injured were said to be injured critically, that number could be adjusted upward. We’ll have to see.

Question:  The latest was a few hours ago?

Spokesman: Well, we were talking to them as of 11 o’clock this morning.

Question:  And secondly, when you quoted Mr. Hackwood that it was a clearly well planned act, do you have some intelligence information?

Spokesman:  No, but it was a remote-controlled bomb buried in a drainage ditch in the middle of the road.  It wasn’t someone just throwing a grenade.  It was a carefully planned attack.  Just by the very nature of it, you would judge that.  So I don’t think it was on the basis of intelligence reports, but just observations on the scene.

Question:  Do you intend to do something in order to prevent such activities in the near future?

Spokesman:  Any traumatic incident like this generates a reaction on the part of the mission to beef up security, alertness and all the rest.  So I would assume that every effort would be made to prevent something like this happening again.  But it’s essentially a terrorist-style attack, and there’s no guarantee that those can be stopped.

Question:  Could you, perhaps by the end of the day, get us a bit more information on who is going to the Congo, when, and what the preparations are for those 3,000.  Some of us have to coordinate with staff out there and it’s not easy to travel in Africa.  Also, who is coming from the Political Committee next week.

Spokesman:  Okay. [The Spokesman said after the briefing that, for planning purposes, a group of 40 military observers is scheduled to begin deployment on   26 February.  The current mandate of the mission authorizes deployment of up to 500 military observers.  Another group of observers is scheduled to be deployed in early March.

Concerning attendance at next week's meeting of the Political Committee to the Lusaka Agreement, the Spokesman noted that the six signatories to the agreement -- Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Namibia, Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe -- as well as three Congolese rebel groups, would be expected to attend.]

Question:  And secondly on the Tehran conference -– it seems to be running into trouble already.  Jewish groups, NGO’s, have been told not to come.  They didn’t get visas.  I don’t know about the Kurds, as my colleague from AFP asked last week.  I’m not sure if you have any information on that.

Spokesman:  I do have something on that.  The Office of the High Commissioner told us that they’re attempting to confirm these reports with the Iranian authorities, and that, in preparation for the regional conference, it was emphasized to the Iranian authorities that NGO’s meeting the requirements for this type of conference should be able to participate.  The High Commissioner’s office is concerned if properly accredited organizations are not permitted to attend. Yes.

Question:  Just a clarification -– you said that there is going to be a statement this afternoon on the Middle East.  For unfortunate people like us who have a deadline right now, is this different from what Mr. Larsen ...

Spokesman:  Try to get as much out of Mr. Larsen as you can before your deadline.

Question:  Yes, but that statement you referred to, what’s it about, on what part of the Middle East?

Spokesman:  On the rising violence in the Middle East, I think would be the general subject, is that correct?

Terje Roed Larsen:  It’s basically two statements.  One on the incidents at the border between Lebanon and Israeli-occupied Syria today, which was a violation of the Blue Line.  And one on the situation in the Palestinian areas and on Palestinian-Israeli relations.  So it’s two different statements.

Spokesman:  Why don’t we use that to go right into your remarks, Terje. Welcome to the briefing.

Question:  Where are the statements being issued, here or in the region?

Spokesman:  Here.  It’s attributable, I assume, to the Spokesman.

Mr. Larsen:  Yes, it is.

[Mr. Larsen’s briefing then followed.]

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