6 April 1999


6 April 1999

Press Briefing



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

Thank you for waiting. First on the crisis in Kosovo.

**Kosovo Crisis

The Secretary-General told reporters this morning that he will review the humanitarian crisis in Kosovo with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and other agencies in Geneva, the first leg of his Europe trip. "I think we should do whatever we can to bring comfort to the people who have been forced to leave Kosovo", he said.

Tens of thousands of new refugees, some recounting stories of summary executions and torture, continue to arrive in Albania. The refugees reported men were being tortured and even executed in front of their families.

The situation at the crossing itself was extremely tense. Serbian police stationed just opposite the Albanian border warned journalists that they would shoot if the correspondents approached. Serbian police told aid officials to withdraw 500 metres from the crossing.

At least 262,000 Kosovars have now arrived in Albania, and the total number of refugees leaving since 24 March totals more than 430,000. In addition to those in Albania, they include 120,000 in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, 36,000 in Montenegro, 7,900 in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and 6,000 in Turkey.

The situation at the border of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia remained critical. Some 13,000 people have been moved to Brazda transit centre where NATO troops are distributing aid. The facility currently has a capacity to hold up to 20,000; Brazda could hold up to 100,000 once more tents are put up. More tents are now being brought in.

The border region remained chaotic with at least 65,000 people milling around in muddy, open fields in no-man's land, while the nearby centres remained partially empty. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has urged the Government of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to speed up the transfer of refugees away from the border.

In Montenegro, an estimated 1,000 refugees arrived Monday in Rozaje after walking for 13 hours; only about 55 arrivals at Rozaje this morning. A bridge on the main road from Montenegro to Mitrovica was blown up by NATO air

strikes during the weekend, possibly halting an earlier movement of refugees from that region.

The High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, told an international emergency meeting in Geneva that the enforced evacuation from Kosovo was an attempt to "destroy its collective identity".

Mrs. Ogata delivered her remarks to the opening session of the Humanitarian Issues Working Group, which was convened to review the crisis and its implications for countries inside and outside the region. Fifty-six nations, including Albania, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, attended the one-day session, as well as the heads of humanitarian agencies and non-governmental organizations.

The UNHCR reports the relief operation is gathering momentum. Yesterday, 60 metric tonnes of food came to Kukes, Albania, by truck and by helicopter. The United States is flying in six aircraft into Tirana today with humanitarian daily rations.

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned that largest communicable disease threats are likely to come among those diseases, such as measles, for which immunization coverage was insufficient before the recent outbreak of hostilities, and among waterborne diseases, such as cholera. So far, four cases of measles have been reported in the north of Albania. Vaccines will be brought in, in the next 24 hours.

Carol Bellamy, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director, noted that the suffering of children and women is disproportionate and immense and relates it to increased targeting of civilians in contemporary armed conflicts.

Mary Robinson, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, announced that she will submit a report to the Commission on Human Rights within a few days time on what has been happening on the ground. She urged the members of the group to send her information that they would be able to provide "so that the world may know and the world may be able to respond appropriately".

**Allegations of Systematic Rape of Kosovo Albanian Women

This morning, The London Times published a story on reports of systematic rape of Kosovo Albanian women by Serb border guards.

The people from the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia told us that they were aware of these reports coming out of Kosovo. They see them as extremely disturbing.

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The Tribunal's investigators are in the region to look into these allegations, as well as all reports of violations of humanitarian law that fall under the jurisdiction of the Tribunal, which includes rape and mass executions. Rape is a crime against humanity and also falls under torture and violation of laws and customs of war.

To protect the integrity of the investigation, the Tribunal is not prepared, however, to provide more details at this time.

**East Timor

The following statement is attributable to the Spokesman on the subject of East Timor:

The Secretary-General is seriously concerned by continuing reports from East Timor of an escalation of violence. A high degree of political maturity and statesmanship is required at this time so that the opportunity now on the table can be seized.

He emphasizes his commitment to the continuation of the diplomatic process towards the settlement of the East Timor question, and urges the parties not to allow the process to be jeopardized by increasing armed conflict.

**Security Council

This morning, the Security Council adopted resolution 1233 (1999) on Guinea-Bissau, commending the steps taken in the implementation of the Abuja Agreement, in particular, the establishment of the new Government of National Unity, and calling for the holding of elections as soon as possible. The resolution also supports the decision of the Secretary-General to establish a post-conflict peace-building support office in Guinea-Bissau.

The Council also agreed this morning with the Secretary-General's recommendation that the United Nations Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission (UNIKOM) be maintained, and said they would review this question again by 6 October.

The Council also discussed Libya this morning. Consultations are continuing on whether or not to have a draft resolution or some other form of response to reflect the latest developments, including, of course, the fact that the sanctions have been suspended.

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Also, the Chairman of the committee which monitors the sanctions against Libya, that is, Ambassador Danilo Türk of Slovenia, is expected to issue a note verbale to States and organizations restating that the sanctions have been suspended. We expect that text to come out in the next 24 hours.

Finally, on the work of the Council, Ambassador Celso Amorim of Brazil will formally present to the Council tomorrow the three reports on Iraq by panels which he chaired. General discussion is expected to continue at least through Thursday.

**Statement by Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs/Sudan

We have a statement from the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Sergio Vieira de Mello. In it, Mr. Vieira de Mello says he welcomes the announcement made yesterday by President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir of the Sudan on his Government's decision to declare a comprehensive ceasefire in all the States of southern Sudan effective 15 April, upon the expiration of the current partial ceasefire.

As the Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Humanitarian Assistance for the Sudan, Ambassador Tom Vraalsen is about to undertake a mission to the region, he says. I hope that the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) will use this opportunity to reach an agreement with the Government of the Sudan on the comprehensive ceasefire throughout southern Sudan.

A cessation of hostilities will allow the United Nations-led Operation Life-line Sudan to maximize its present efforts to address the humanitarian needs of civilians affected by the ongoing civil war.

He concludes by saying, "I call on the international community to contribute generously to the 1999 United Nations Inter-Agency Consolidated Appeal for the Sudan" through which relief organizations aim at assisting some 2.3 million people in need.

**Concern about Oil Flow for Iraq from Air Strikes

Yesterday, the Iraq Programme was concerned that there was a reduction in the flow of oil to the Mina Al Bakr loading platform. You probably saw reports of air strikes on oil-related facilities in the south of Iraq.

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Today, however, the oil monitors say that the flow is back to normal. There's a ship loading at 50,000 barrels an hour now, which is its maximum loading rate.

United Nations oil experts will be in the south tomorrow and will provide a report by the end of the week on what they are able to see.

The regular weekly update form the Iraq Programme is available with a revision to update on the oil flow situation.

**Yugoslav Tribunal

We have a press release from the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague saying that the Chamber orders the appearance as witnesses of: General Philippe Morillon, the former Commander of the United Nations Protection Force in Bosnia and Herzegovina (UNPROFOR); Colonel Robert Stewart, former Commander of the British battalion; and a former Chief of Staff of the Croatian Defence Council; as well as Muslim commanders of the army of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Trial Chamber I recently decided to use its power under Rule 98 of the Rules of Procedure and Evidence to summon witnesses and order their attendance.

**Former Rwandan Officials Arrested in Cameroon

Three former Ministers of the 1994 Interim Government of Rwanda were arrested in Cameroon today at the request of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. We have a press release on that.

**Millennium Assembly

Some of you may recall that in his annual report on the work of the Organization, the Secretary-General said he planned to hold a series of regional hearings in advance of the General Assembly's year 2000 Millennium Assembly.

The hearings will involve representatives of governments, civil society and non-governmental organizations -– all gathering to discuss how the United Nations can best achieve its goals in the coming millennium.

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We are happy to announce that the first of those hearings will be held in Beirut at the headquarters of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), from May 23rd to the 24th.

Hearings will also be held over the next five months in Addis Ababa, Geneva and in the Asia-Pacific and Latin America-Caribbean regions.

We have a press release on that in my Office for you.

**Press Conference

Press conference this afternoon at 2:45: Olara Otunnu, the Secretary- General's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Ambassador Chowdury of Bangladesh, Cora Weiss and Bill Pace of The Hague Appeal for Peace, and representatives of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and UNICEF -- we'll have to double the size of this table.

They'll all be here to brief you on the upcoming international peace meeting in the Netherlands that will take place next month.

This press briefing follows a more in-depth discussion on the final preparations for the appeal, sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Bangladesh, to be held in Conference Room 7 from 1:15 to 2:45 p.m., to which the media are all invited.

**International Television Symposium

An international symposium on the theme "Dynamic Development or Aerial Assault?: Global Television and Its Effects on the Economies and Cultures of the Developing World" will be held tomorrow and Thursday in Conference Room 3.

The symposium is organized by the Brooklyn College Center for the Study of World Television and co-sponsored by the International Council Foundation and the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, with the support of our own Department of Public Information.

You'll find a note to correspondents on the racks with more details.

There's no end to this ...

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**World Health Day

Tomorrow is World Health Day ... You'll notice whenever the news dips, you get more.

This year, the WHO is marking the Day under the theme "Active Ageing Makes the Difference".

In that connection, we have a press release from the WHO, as well as a message from its Director-General, and there's also a press kit at the documents counter if you are interested.

It's 24 minutes already, and I think this is the last item.

**United Nations Flag at Half Mast

Tomorrow the United Nations flag will fly at half mast in observance of the death of the Prime Minister of the Kyrgyz Republic, Jumabek Ibraimov, who passed away two days ago.

**Question-and-Answer Session

Question: Was the Secretary-General aware Xanana Gusmao has announced this week that he's essentially ordering his guerrillas back into action after asking them to abstain from military action for several months?

To paraphrase his statement, he's basically saying that he thinks the Indonesian Government is negotiating in bad faith -- negotiating here while creating facts on the ground that would undermine any move towards independence. Did the Secretary-General have any more specific comment about that statement?

Spokesman: No, he does not. We're looking forward to the return of the assessment team that's been in the region; they're coming back next week.

Ambassador Jamsheed Marker will be here, I believe on Tuesday, to meet with them, not only to review what they went out to assess -- which was how to sample opinion on the autonomy proposal among East Timorese -- but the situation more broadly in East Timor. It's a very worrying situation, and that's why the Secretary-General made this appeal this morning.

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Question: Is there any official reaction on this unilateral ceasefire declaration in Belgrade announced this morning?

Spokesman: No. It came just shortly before the briefing, and I'm not sure it's anything we'd want to comment on in any case except to say that the Secretary-General's continuing hope is that the situation in Kosovo can be resolved peacefully by political means.

Question: Any call or attempt to get the Secretary-General personally involved in a mediation role?

Spokesman: No. As I said, he's focusing in Geneva, where he'll be arriving shortly, on the humanitarian response and how best to coordinate these new military assets that have been offered to the UNHCR, which is leading the humanitarian effort in Kosovo. So, we're trying to get food and shelter to people. That's our primary focus.

Thank you very much.

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For information media. Not an official record.