DAILY PRESS BRIEFING OF OFFICE OF SPOKESMAN FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL
FOR INFORMATION OF UNITED NATIONS SECRETARIAT ONLY
Juan Carlos Brandt, Associate Spokesman for the Secretary-General, began today's noon briefing by informing correspondents about a fatal shooting which occurred this morning in Eastern Slavonia. Three United Nations vehicles were shot at near the headquarters of the United Nations Transitional Administration for Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Sirmium (UNTAES) in Vukovar. One Belgian corporal had been killed. A Jordanian soldier and a United Nations civilian had been injured and immediately taken to a hospital. The civilian was later released after treatment. A suspect arrested by the Transitional Police Force was now in custody. A detailed investigation was being carried out, but so far indications were that the incident might be exclusively a criminal act.
It was the first time a United Nations staff member had been killed in the line of duty in Eastern Slavonia since the beginning of the United Nations operation in that region a year ago, Mr. Brandt said. The Secretary-General, who was briefed in the morning about the incident, had condemned it in the strongest possible terms. He had expressed condolences to the relatives of the Belgian soldier and to the Government and people of Belgium. Correspondents would be kept informed about developments in the case, Mr. Brandt said.
The Secretary-General had sent a letter to the President of the Security Council informing him of his intention to appoint Ambassador Kai Eide of Norway as his Special Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mr. Brandt said. Ambassador Eide, a Special Adviser in the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs since 1996, would succeed Iqbal Riza, now the Secretary-General's Chef de Cabinet. Ambassador Eide served with the International Conference on the Former Yugoslavia from 1993 to 1995. A biographical note on him was available in the Spokesman's Office.
Mr. Brandt said the Secretary-General had also decided to appoint Manfred Seitner of Denmark as the Police Commissioner of the International Police Task Force (IPTF) in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He would replace Peter Fitzgerald of Ireland, who was completing his tour of duty today. Mr. Seitner would assume duty on 3 March. In the meantime, Deputy Commissioner Robert Wasserman of the United States would serve as Acting Police Commissioner. A biographical note on Mr. Seitner was also available at the Spokesman's Office. The Secretary-General had expressed his deep gratitude to Mr. Fitzgerald for his leadership in managing the work of the IPTF. Mr. Brandt said both outgoing and incoming Police Commissioners were expected to visit Headquarters in mid-February and arrangements would be made for them to meet correspondents together or separately.
The Secretary-General had also decided to appoint Brigadier-General José B. Rodriguez Rodriguez of Spain as Chief Military Observer of the Military Observer Group for the Verification of Human Rights in Guatemala, Mr. Brandt said. The mission's mandate was to monitor compliance with the commitments of the comprehensive peace agreement signed by the Government of Guatemala and the Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca (URNG) last year. Referring to a question asked yesterday, he said the group of 155 required military observers who would be responsible for the task was still being put together.
A progress report by the Secretary-General on the United Nations Observer Mission in Liberia (UNOMIL) had been submitted this morning to the Security Council (document S/1997/90). The Secretary-General had stated in the report that the Liberian peace process had witnessed some positive developments. As of yesterday, 16,838 soldiers had been disarmed and demobilized, including 3,564 children and 146 adult female soldiers. It appeared, however, that the disarmament process could not effectively be completed by today's deadline. In that context, the Secretary-General had noted the intention of the Economic Community of West African States' Monitoring Observer Group (ECOMOG) to use vigorous measures to ensure the maximum possible level of security. Concerning the forthcoming elections, the Secretary-General said it was to be hoped that those faction leaders who had criticized some elements of the electoral recommendations would nevertheless continue to assist in their elaboration and to take part in the elections that all agreed to be necessary. Mr. Brandt reminded correspondents that the factions had agreed to the elections being held at the end of May.
Turning to the activities of the Security Council, he said it had Croatia on its agenda today. A draft presidential statement on the situation there was before it. Council members would also discuss the report of the Secretary-General on Sierra Leone (document S/1997/80). On that subject, Mr. Brandt said he understood that representatives of the Department of Peace-keeping Operations and the Department of Political Affairs would brief and answer questions from Council members. He believed copies of the draft presidential statement on Croatia had been made available to correspondents yesterday.
On the activities of Secretary-General Kofi Annan in Switzerland, Mr. Brandt said he had left Geneva this morning for Davos. Tomorrow morning at the World Economic Forum, the Secretary-General was expected to deliver a speech on United Nations reform and to hold a press conference. Copies of the Secretary-General's speech were available to correspondents under embargo and with a proviso advising them to check the text against delivery.
Mr. Brandt said that just before the briefing, he had received word from the Spokesman, Fred Eckhard, that the Secretary-General had arrived in Davos this morning and had attended internal meetings with his aides. Participating in those meetings were the Under-Secretary-General for Development Support and
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Management Services, Yongjian Jin; Under-Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development, Nitin Desai; and the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), James Gustave Speth. They had reviewed the agenda of the World Economic Forum and various aspects concerning the Secretary-General's activities during his presence in Davos.
At 12:15 p.m., Mr. Brandt continued, the Secretary-General attended a meeting with the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, Victor Chernomyrdin. During the meeting, according to Mr. Eckhard, who was accompanying the Secretary-General, the Prime Minister had reaffirmed his support for the United Nations as the pre-eminent international organization and reiterated his invitation to the Secretary-General to visit Russia. The month of April had been mentioned, but no firm date was established. They had also discussed economic, peace and security issues, as well as human rights questions. In the context of human rights, the Prime Minister raised the issue of Russian minorities in the Baltic States and asked for the Secretary- General's help. The Secretary-General had replied that he would be available to help.
The Secretary-General had then attended a luncheon hosted by Klaus Schwab, President of the World Economic Forum, Mr. Brandt said. During the luncheon, Mr. Schwab informed the Secretary-General of the Forum's proceedings so far.
Continuing, he said the Secretary-General then attended an afternoon brainstorming session on the global agenda. Also present at the session were distinguished individuals, presidents of corporations, university professors, and men of industry.
The Secretary-General then would have some time to work on other matters and follow-up on the situation in the rest of the world and at Headquarters, Mr. Brandt said. Later, in the evening, he would attend a dinner, also hosted by Mr. Schwab.
Mr. Brandt said he did not have a schedule of the Secretary-General's activities for Saturday and Sunday, besides the speech already mentioned. He would, of course, hold meetings with world leaders and personalities attending the Forum. He was scheduled to return to New York on Monday, 3 February.
Mr. Brandt reminded correspondents about a previously announced plan of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata to visit the Great Lakes region of Africa. Between 6 and 15 February, she would visit the United Republic of Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and Zaire for talks with senior government officials. She would use the visit to discuss a number of issues, including the recent repatriation of refugees from Zaire and the United Republic of Tanzania and ways of ensuring the welfare of refugees still remaining in the region.
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Replying to a question asked yesterday, Mr. Brandt said the assessment of Switzerland for the regular budget was 1.21 per cent for 1997. As a non- Member State, Switzerland paid 30 per cent of that figure which, for 1997, amounted to $3,866,623.
He announced that the Permanent Representative of Rwanda would meet correspondents at 10:15 a.m. on Monday, 3 February, in room 226. It would be followed at 11 a.m. by a press conference sponsored by the Permanent Mission of France, with Fabrice Hatem, Head of the Study Centre on International Investment of the French Ministry of Economic Affairs, as the speaker. The topic would be "International investments towards the year 2001". The briefing would include an audio-visual presentation.
Mr. Brandt said he had been asked by Samsiah Abdul-Majid, spokeswoman for the President of the General Assembly, to inform correspondents that the Assembly President, Razali Ismail (Malaysia), would leave on Sunday, 2 February, for an eight-day trip to East Africa. His schedule included an address before the high-level segment of the current session of the Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi, on Wednesday, 5 February. He would visit two refugee camps in Kenya on 7 February, and on 11 February would meet the President of the International Tribunal for Rwanda, Laity Kama, in Arusha.
On behalf of Ms. Abdul-Majid, he also informed correspondents that the Assembly, meeting in resumed session this morning, had decided to include on its agenda an item on the financing of the Military Observer Group of the United Nations Human Rights Verification Mission for Guatemala. The item would be considered in the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary). The Assembly had also decided to reopen consideration of the agenda item on the appointment of members to the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ). On that item, the Assembly appointed Syed Akbarrudin (India) and Fumiaki Toya (Japan) effective today to fill the vacancies arising from the resignation of Vijay Gokhale (India) and Yuji Kumamaru (Japan). The terms of office of Mr. Gokhale and Mr. Kumamaru would expire on 31 December next year.
At the outset of the Assembly meeting, a minute of silence was observed and tributes were paid to the memory of the late President of the Marshall Islands, Amata Kahua, he continued. On behalf of the Assembly, the President conveyed its condolences to the Government and people of the Marshall Islands and to the bereaved family. Finally, the President brought to the notice of the General Assembly documents A/51/780 and Add.1 listing 41 Member States that could not vote because they were in arrears in the payments of their dues to the Organization under the terms of Article 19 of the United Nations Charter. By Article 19, Member States in arrears shall have no vote in the Assembly if their arrears equals or exceeds their dues for the preceding two years.
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During the subsequent question-and-answer segment, a correspondent asked about the effect the contract dispute of the electronic engineers would have on the media at Headquarters. The correspondent said he understood that television monitors would be blacked out indefinitely and there would also not be radio coverage of meetings, including briefings. Mr. Brandt said he hoped that the negotiations would end satisfactorily for all concerned. He had been told that senior United Nations officials had been negotiating with the contractors day and night in the past few days, and the talks would continue until the issues were resolved and finalized. He took that to be an effort to ensure that there were no interruptions in services. He said functions of the engineers were extremely valuable. The engineers, who were known to all, were held in the highest esteem. The services provided by them would hopefully continue.
Was the United Nations trying to break up the engineers' union? a correspondent asked. Mr. Brandt said he did not have any further guidance on the matter. "I think it would be prudent for me not to make any further comment. It is a sensitive issue." "Is the United Nations trying to make cuts"? another correspondent asked, to which Mr. Brandt said the Secretariat was trying to make adjustments in all areas concerning its work. There was a practical necessity for that in the light of the financial crisis. He said: "We don't have the means any more. There's no particular effort to cut areas that are of significance to the work of the United Nations. It is a fact of life that we have to do more with less and that we all have to adapt to the circumstances we now have here." He told the correspondent that he would try to obtain figures on sales of United Nations television programmes and other activities. He noted that events covered here were undertaken on a cost basis. "This is not a profit-making operation. It is essentially a service- oriented operation."
A correspondent said it had been announced by the United Nations Office at Vienna that Giorgio Giacommelli, the Director of that Office and Head of the United Nations Drug Control Programme, had been reappointed to those posts. Had the Spokesman's Office received instructions from the Secretary- General to make that announcement? he asked. Mr. Brandt said he had "unfortunately not seen the announcement". He did know that Mr. Giacommelli still continued in his post and would continue to do so for the time being. He said he had given a similar response to a question yesterday from an Italian correspondent. Asked when Mr. Giacommelli's contract would expire, Mr. Brandt said that, as a rule, such details of staff contracts were not discussed. He, however, would try to obtain additional information on that. Responding to further questions on the matter, he said he believed that Mr. Giacommelli was among the senior officials the Secretary-General had met in Geneva yesterday.
A correspondent said that the Secretary-General had, in making the senior staff appointments, indicated that he would apply the recommendations of the Group of High-Level Intergovernmental Experts to Review the Efficiency
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of the Administrative and Financial Functioning of the United Nations -- known as the Group of 18 -- regarding a 10-year tenure for officials at the highest levels in the Secretariat, as a general rule (recommendation 54). The Group was established by a General Assembly resolution in 1986. The correspondent asked for the names of officials who would be affected. Recalling a statement made earlier in the week on the same topic, Mr. Brandt said the Secretary- General intended to apply the recommendation initially to the Under-Secretary- General category. It would, therefore, be impossible for an official in that category to continue to serve after 10 years.
On another matter, a correspondent asked what the United Nations policy was towards groups, such as the Gay, Lesbians and Bisexual Employees Group, recently formed at the Secretary. Mr. Brandt said the Group which went by the acronym GLOBE was established in May 1996, it was a United Nations employees advocacy group, and it was seeking to attain equal rights for lesbian and gay staff members and to eliminate discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation within the United Nations system. He added that the United Nations did not discriminate on the basis of nationality, gender, religion or sexual orientation. The group had been formed to promote and support the role of the United Nations in its efforts around the world, and to fulfil its principles regarding equal rights for all, including sexual orientation. The group was basically seeking equal rights and benefits for all staff. Replying to further questions, Mr. Brandt said he was aware that similar groups existed at other international organizations and in the private sector. "I think it is perfectly normal for the United Nations which is such a large and diverse organization to have a group like this", he concluded.
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