9 April 1999


9 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:

Sorry for the delay. We were hoping to have a statement in response to the developments in Niger, and we didn't quite make it, but I expect we'll have something to say within the hour.

**Secretary-General's Statement on Kosovo

At the World Meterological Organization in Geneva earlier today, the Secretary-General delivered a statement on Kosovo in which he outlined five demands to the Yugoslav authorities.

Let me read into the record the full statement:

He said, "I'm deeply distressed by the tragedy taking place in Kosovo and in the region, which must be brought to an end. The suffering of innocent civilians should not be further prolonged.

"In this spirit, I urgently call upon the Yugoslav authorities to undertake the following commitments:

"First, to end immediately the campaign of intimidation and expulsion of the civilian population;

"Two, to cease all activities of military and para-military forces in Kosovo, and to withdraw these forces;

"Three, to accept unconditionally the return of refugees and displaced persons to their homes;

"Four, to accept the deployment of an international military force to ensure a secure environment for the return of the refugees and unimpeded delivery of humanitarian aid; and

"Finally, to permit the international community to verify compliance with these undertakings.

"Upon acceptance by the Yugoslav authorities of these conditions, I urge the leaders of the North Atlantic Alliance to suspend immediately the air bombardments upon the territory of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

"Ultimately, the cessation of hostilities I propose is a prelude to a lasting political solution to the crisis, which can only be achieved through diplomacy. In this context, I would urge the resumption of talks on Kosovo among all parties concerned, at the earliest possible moment."

**Update on Crisis in Kosovo

Earlier today, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, briefed the Geneva-based Commission on Human Rights on the situation in Kosovo.

She spoke of arbitrary and summary executions, including the alleged murder of women and children. She also referred to reports to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia of four trucks filled with dead bodies being dumped into mass graves.

She mentioned Serb soldiers were demanding that women pay in order to pass the border. She said those women who can't pay are allegedly being raped. Her statement is available upstairs, if you're interested.

Mrs. Robinson's representative, Michel Moussalli, as well as the Special Rapporteur, Jiri Dientsbier, are in The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia interviewing refugees, along with six other United Nations human rights monitors. Three additional monitors are set to go to Albania, while two others are heading to Montenegro. Others are on stand-by to go to Belgrade when conditions permit.

From the region today, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that despite the closure by Serbian authorities of Kosovo's borders, several thousand Kosovars managed to flee to neighbouring areas.

In Montenegro, nearly 1,000 people arrived from Kosovo's town of Istok, looking exhausted after a 13-hour walk. They were taken to collective centres where they received food, blankets and medical aid.

In Albania, the main border crossings remained closed since Belgrade declared a unilateral ceasefire on Tuesday. At Morini, on the Albanian side, UNHCR saw Yugoslav soldiers digging trenches and planting mines.

A UNHCR team screened those applying for humanitarian evacuation from The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to third countries. Some 74,000 places have been offered in the West for Kosovars who might need to be moved to third countries. The UNHCR's priority continues to be to assist the refugees in the region, using evacuation only as a "safety valve".

Refugees have been airlifted to such countries as Germany, Norway, Turkey, and Switzerland. Evacuation plans for Friday include 620 to Germany, 100 to Norway, 157 to Turkey and 22 to Bulgaria. Please see the Kosovo displacement statistics for the most recent figures.

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High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata was in The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia today, meeting with authorities there and visiting refugees at a camp near the Kosovo border.

As part of the continued food aid flow to the refugees in The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the World Food Programme (WFP) said two 747 cargo planes had been scheduled to airlift 166,000 ready-to-eat meals today from Paris to Skopje. In the past several days, United States Air Force planes have delivered 160,000 daily rations into Tirana, Albania, from Anacona, Italy.

The WFP announced today that its Executive Director, Catherine Bertini, will travel to Albania and The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on a humanitarian mission beginning Monday.

Starting Saturday, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Olara Otunnu, will visit The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and move on to Albania. He will then address the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva next Wednesday.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) announced it was sending an assessment mission to Albania on Sunday to focus on improving the ability of host communities to receive refugees. "The impact on the host country and the needs of the population receiving refugees are often neglected", the head of UNDP's Emergency Response Division was quoted as saying.

Finally, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), in a press release, warned that the lives of pregnant women and newborns are at particular risk among refugees fleeing Kosovo.

**Assassination of Niger's President

I did get the statement on Niger. It's a statement attributable to the Spokesman:

"The Secretary-General has learned with dismay of the assassination this morning of President Ibrahim Mainassara Bare of Niger.

"The Secretary-General wishes to reiterate his condemnation of such terrorist acts, and any attempt to change the government of any country by force or by other unconstitutional means.

"He calls on all political, military and civil society leaders to make every effort to avert violence in the country, and to work for an early return to peace, stability and constitutional order.

"The Secretary-General conveys his condolences to the family of the late President."

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**Security Council

The Security Council is holding consultations today on the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the reports submitted to the Council by the three Iraq panels.

Council members agreed to hold a formal meeting to adopt a resolution on the Democratic Republic of the Congo at about 1 p.m. today, following the morning session.

Some of you have been asking about the six-monthly reports by UNSCOM (United Nations Special Commission to oversee Iraq's destruction of its weapons of mass destruction) and the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency).

We understand that the IAEA report is either out now or will be out shortly as a document. The UNSCOM report will probably go into translation late today and be out as a document on Monday. You'll recall that neither IAEA nor UNSCOM have had personnel in Iraq since 16 December.

**East Timor

Ambassador Jamsheed Marker, the Secretary-General's Personal Representative on East Timor, is having meetings in the building today.

He saw the Permanent Representative of Portugal at 11 this morning, and is seeing the Permanent Representative of Indonesia now.

He expects to see Jose Ramos-Horta, the Vice President of the National Council of Timorese Resistance at 4:30 this afternoon, and not at 6 p.m. as we announced yesterday.

**Secretary-General in Geneva

The Secretary-General spent the day chairing the semi-annual meeting of the Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC) in Geneva. The ACC focused on globalization and United Nations relations with the private sector.

The members of the ACC and the Secretary-General, at this point, should be now on their way to Mont Pelerin, which is about an hour and a half's drive from Geneva, for a retreat that will extend through tomorrow.

The President of Switzerland, Ruth Dreifuss, will host a dinner for all participants at Mont Pelerin tonight. The focus of the retreat will be the contribution that United Nations agencies, funds and programmes can make to next year's Millennium Assembly.

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**Polio Outbreak among Children in Angola

The World Health Organization (WHO) today confirmed that polio is causing an outbreak of paralysis among children living in Angola.

The WHO and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) are working with the Angolan Ministry of Health to mount a campaign to vaccinate 700,000 children. A full National Immunization Day campaign to vaccinate 3 million children is scheduled for this summer.

We have a press release in my office with more information.

**Senior Rwandan Officials Plead Not-Guilty

Five former senior Rwandan Government officials today pleaded not guilty to 11 counts against them at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

The five were charged with genocide and crimes against humanity. They are alleged to have conspired to exterminate the Tutsi population and eliminate members of the opposition so that they could remain in power. They are accused of organizing and participating in a series of massacres against the Tutsis.

We have a press release in my office with more details.

**Special Rapporteur on Torture to Visit China

In Geneva this morning, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nigel Rodley, announced that he would visit China at the invitation of the Beijing Government.

He said that he will be going either late this year or early next year, and he hopes to go to Tibet during the trip.

**UNDP and Human Rights Office Link Up

Today the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights launched a joint programme aimed at integrating human rights concerns in development work.

Activities will focus on strengthening public institutions and supporting countries in their efforts to ratify human rights treaties.

We have a press release on that for you.

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We're $52 million richer today, thanks to full payment by the United Kingdom of their 1999 dues, and that brings the number of Member States paid in full so far this year to 57.

**Week Ahead

We have our weekly `week ahead' feature available to you upstairs. I'll highlight a few things.

On Sunday, the Secretary-General will depart for Madrid, Spain, on the second leg of his current Europe trip. He's expected to be back in the office on Thursday of next week.

Monday, Security Council consultations are scheduled on the three Iraq panel reports.

Also Monday, Pino Arlacchi, the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drug Control and Crime Prevention, will travel to Pakistan to review United Nations/Government poppy eradication projects, and meet with officials.

He will also visit the Afghan border later in the week, followed by a trip to Tajikistan. We'll keep you informed of developments concerning his movements during the week.

On Tuesday, Security Council consultations on the Ethiopia/Eritrea conflict are scheduled.

On Wednesday, the Council will take up Angola.

On Thursday, they will consider Afghanistan, and the Secretary-General's Special Envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, is scheduled to brief them on Afghanistan on Thursday.

Also on Thursday, two reports by the Secretary-General to the Security Council are due: one on the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic, and a second on the United Nations Mission in Prevlaka, which is in the south of Croatia.

That's all I have for you. Questions?

**Question-and-Answer Session

Question: Two questions on Kosovo. One, is there any truth to the wire service reports about morning-after pills being distributed by UNFPA to women who have been raped. Second question is, do you have any information on any

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kind of epidemics or communicable disease problems in the camps in The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania?

Spokesman: I will refer you to UNFPA. You have been hearing now for several days about reports of alleged rapes by refugee women leaving Kosovo. The UNFPA will tell you what services they provided to these women. And, the second question was what?

Question: Do you have any information on the health situation among the refugees -- I've been hearing stories of cholera breaking out. Who would be handling that?

Spokesman: The UNHCR would be your best source, although for something like cholera, you might also check with the WHO. You can check with my office, Marie Okabe, after the briefing to see what she has on that.

Question: Among the conditions set out by the Secretary-General for President Milosevic to accept in order to move on is the acceptance of an international peace force. Now, in NATO's view, this peace force should be NATO-led. When the Secretary-General points out that an international force is necessary, would he imply that there should be a non-NATO force so that the Russians might be happier?

Spokesman: I think the words he used speak for themselves. He said, "an international military force", and he's called for negotiations to resume.

He feels that some form of international force will be needed. What shape that takes, who provides the troops, under what umbrella -- will have to be negotiated.

Question: Right. The point is that we know that should it be a NATO-led force, that would not solve the frictions, which could flare up at any time.

Spokesman: Well, I have to just stick to his language here. He was not more specific; he used a general term -- that's the term he used.

Question: Fred, is there a schedule for the Council to take up the UNSCOM and IAEA reports next week?

Spokesman: I don't have that. I'd have to double-check for you.

Question: With the Secretary-General's latest statement on Kosovo, has there been any indication that he wants to personally get involved in negotiations and go to Belgrade.

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Spokesman: No. These are his thoughts of the minimum conditions that should be met. The need for a diplomatic process to get resumed, the need for a political solution and an end to the suffering. So, these are his thoughts.

You know how he works; he would not have made this statement without thorough consultation. It's his initiative, but it does not imply that he is getting personally involved beyond this.

Question: On Wednesday, the Secretary-General told the Commission on Human Rights about an emerging international norm against the violent repression of minorities that will and must take precedence over concerns of States' sovereignty. Was he talking about a norm that would allow the use of force by any regional organization without Security Council approval?

Spokesman: You know his position on that. Under the Charter, the use of force should be sanctioned by the Security Council.

He's talking about the evolution of international law and also public attitudes, that increasingly the feeling is that certain standards need to be met, and that a government can't hide behind the barriers of sovereignty while breaching these standards. We still don't have an international police force, and we're dealing with these internal crises at the moment on an ad hoc basis.

Question: Is it the host country or the relief agencies who made the decision on who is to be airlifted from Albania, and what would be the criteria?

Spokesman: That's a good question. I think I want to defer to UNHCR. I'll ask you to get an answer either directly from them or through Marie in my office, from them.

Question: Fred, when you were reading out the list of what the Secretary-General said had to be done in regard to Kosovo, I think -- if I heard you correctly -- when you were reading the third one, you left out the word "all" as to refugees. Did I hear you correctly, or is that a correction in the text?

Spokesman: That's a correction in the text, although I wouldn't say a significant one, but I read the text as he read it.

Question: The fax I have has the reference to "all".

Spokesman: I realize that, but I'm reading from that text, corrected according to how the Secretary-General read it. Again, his eye might have just skipped over the word -- I don't think there's any significance to that deletion.

Question: When is the Secretary-General returning home?

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Spokesman: He'll be back in the office Thursday.

Question: Regarding Mary Robinson's human rights report and the trucks full of bodies, do you have indication of what the source is for that information?

Spokesman: Well, I have mentioned to you the people that she has in the region. But, you should look at the document. I have not seen the document myself, but it's available in my office for you.

Thanks very much.

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For information media. Not an official record.