DAILY PRESS BRIEFING OF OFFICE OF SPOKESMAN FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL
The following is a near verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by the Spokesman for the Secretary-General, Fred Eckhard:
Ambassador Jamsheed Marker is here to give you the latest on the discussions on East Timor. I will quickly run through my briefing first.
The Secretary-General returned this morning from Brussels, where European leaders yesterday strongly endorsed his initiative of last Friday on Kosovo. They also affirmed that they would work closely with the Russian Federation to find a solution and pledged to seek Security Council approval of whatever international force might be contemplated to provide security for the return of refugees and displaced persons to their homes.
The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia has requested an emergency meeting of the Security Council on the air raid on a refugee convoy in Kosovo yesterday. The request was made in a letter late yesterday transmitted by the Yugoslav Permanent Mission. The Security Council, which is currently holding consultations on Iraq, is expected to discuss the letter after that discussion.
Upon learning of the air raid yesterday, the Secretary-General told the news conference following the special European Union summit on Kosovo that he was extremely sorry about the tragedy and that the incident was "one more reason why we must intensify the efforts to find a political solution".
We reported to you yesterday about a new large exodus of refugees from Kosovo. Some of them told United Nations aid workers about a bombing and reported seeing decapitated bodies on their way, but they did not have details on who carried out the raid.
The steady stream of Kosovar refugees continued today. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that the new arrivals into Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) marked the highest one-day total since Yugoslav authorities turned thousands of people back from the borders on 7 April.
Those arriving in Albania from the municipalities of Srbica, Prizren, Istok and Djakovica are mainly women, children or elderly, and said their menfolk had been arrested and taken away. Many in the group were suffering from exhaustion and dehydration and two mothers carried with them babies who had died en route. One woman said her child died five minutes before she reached Albania.
Those arriving in FYROM on trains and buses originating in Urosevac said that no violence was used against them and that they were able to take their luggage, money and documents. New arrivals today are expected to be close to 3,000. More are on their way.
In the past 24 hours, UNHCR and partners have distributed 50,000 blankets to eight locations hosting Kosovar refugees in Albania. The deliveries of other emergency supplies continue, among these, 23,000 tents and 150 rolls of plastic sheeting to the main refugee receiving sites and areas of the country. UNHCR now has sixty different commodities in stock in warehouses in Albania. Thirteen UNHCR-funded sites presently have a capacity to house 53,000 refugees in Albania, and, by the end of the week, another three camps will be readied for an additional 2,000 refugees.
In Montenegro, UNHCR has delivered cooking stoves to the transit centre set up in Rozaje and is today distributing biscuits, fruit and other food to other shelters.
In her discussions with NATO, the High Commissioner for Refugees [Sadako Ogata] stressed, and the Secretary-General of NATO Javier Solana agreed, that the civilian character of the humanitarian operation must be assured. She underlined that refugee protection remains the fundamental responsibility of UNHCR and that military assistance should concentrate on key logistical areas. NATO and UNHCR have agreed that the management of four refugee camps in FYROM, where NATO has been actively involved, will be shifted to civilian control starting Friday, 16 April.
The number of 450 soldiers who have been present in the four sites will be decreased to between 20 and 30, and UNHCR and NGOs will take over the functions previously ensured by the military.
Please see the UNHCR update on the latest developments and refugee statistics. We also have a statement from UNESCO's Director-General on Kosovo, and a statement by Louise Arbour of the Yugoslav Tribunal made in Brussels yesterday.
Security Council consultations this morning focused on the recently issued UNSCOM (United Nations Special Commission) and IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) reports. Each report is being discussed separately. Richard Butler, the Executive Chairman of UNSCOM, was the first to give an oral presentation, following which Council members expressed their views. By now I expect that Gary Dillon, the head of the Action Team of the International Atomic Energy Agency, has begun his briefing on the IAEA report.
I would like at the same time to call your attention to a document out today containing Ambassador Celso Amorim's remarks to the Security Council in
Daily Press Briefing - 3 - 15 April 1999
presenting to the Council on 7 April the reports of the three panels on Iraq which he chaired. The Council is expected to discuss those reports tomorrow.
**Statement on India/Pakistan Missile Tests
I have this statement concerning missile tests in India and Pakistan:
"The Secretary-General feels strongly that the recent tests by India and Pakistan of medium-range missiles, as well as actions by other countries in the area of ballistic missile development and missile defences, have underscored the need for multilaterally negotiated norms against the development of such weapons. Currently, there is no treaty regulating missiles. International agreements on such norms would substantially improve prospects for future progress on existing bilateral and multilateral disarmament and arms control treaties".
**United Nations International Drug Control Programme
Yesterday in Islamabad, Pino Arlacchi, the Director of the Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention, signed with the Pakistani Minister for Interior and Narcotics Control a $5.2 million programme for drug law enforcement in Pakistan. During his stay, the Pakistani officials assured him of Pakistan's full commitment to drug control and full support for the activities of the International Drug Control Programme in that country. He also gained support from the highest authorities of the country to make a further attempt with the Taliban leadership to achieve progress in drug control in Afghanistan. His trip to Pakistan concluded today.
**Rwanda: Former Information Minister Pleads Not Guilty
We have a press release from the Rwanda Tribunal saying that the former Information Minister pleads not guilty to charges brought against him.
**UNICEF Staff Member Victimized in South Africa
We have this statement from UNICEF concerning an incident in South Africa.
"UNICEF is profoundly shocked and saddened by the news that one of its former staff members was brutally raped by intruders at the home where she was staying in Johannesburg. The incident occurred at 1 a.m. Thursday morning when an unknown number of intruders broke into the house, raped the victim at knife-point, and looted the house. The police response was swift and efficient, and a number of suspects were arrested within hours. UNICEF has arranged medical and other attention for the former staff member. UNICEF asks that the news media respect the privacy of the individual staff member in this situation and not make public her name".
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**Press Conferences Today
Press conferences today: at 2:45 p.m., as we mentioned to you yesterday, Ambassador Muhamed Sacirbey of Bosnia and Herzegovina. He will have as his guest Bianca Jagger, and they will brief on the humanitarian situation in southeastern Europe.
This will be followed by a press conference at 3:30 by Dr. Nafis Sadiq, the Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), who will brief on the crisis in Kosovo and the Vatican's response to UNFPA relief efforts. We have a press release from UNFPA in my office with those details.
UNFPA also issued a press release today saying that yesterday the United States House of Representatives International Relations Committee voted 23 to 17 to renew United States funding of UNFPA. The amendment received bipartisan support by members who argued that UNFPA plays "a critical global role in protecting women's health and curbing population growth, and that the United States should support its efforts".
Pick up the press release in my office.
Finally, from the Correspondents' Association, at 1 p.m. today, a briefing on oceans and overfishing by the Marine Stewardship Council, which is launching a new scheme on eco-labelling of fish products in cooperation with major fishing corporations. This is in relation to the Commission on Sustainable Development which starts its work next week.
That's all I have for you, any questions before we go to Ambassador Marker?
Question: Any response from the Secretariat to a letter from the Russian Federation requesting more information on the NATO bombing that affected the refugee convoy?
Spokesman: I have not seen it. We have not received it to my knowledge, so I am afraid I cannot react to it.
Question: Regarding the Secretary-General's remarks about the India/Pakistan testing, is there a pattern to his statements on the subject? It seems he is always very reluctant and then when the process is complete, he comes out with remarks.
Spokesman: No pattern there. We have had three testings of missiles in the last several days, so he is reacting to that cluster of incidents. If you read the statement carefully, you see there is also reference to the activities of other countries.
Daily Press Briefing - 5 - 15 April 1999
Question: A senior UNICEF official was gang-raped in South Africa. Do you have any reaction to that?
Spokesman: Yes. I think while you were walking down here I read a reaction that we received from UNICEF. I will be glad to share it with you after the briefing.
Question: You started by saying that the Secretary-General offered cooperation on the German Plan, could you offer any specifics on his response to the elements of this plan?
Spokesman: I did not mention the German Plan.
Question: I think you said "pledged to work with Germany".
Spokesman: No, Russia. I did not mention Germany at all. I believe the German Chancellor said yesterday that the Europeans endorsed the Secretary-General's appeal of last Friday.
Question: Was there a response by the Secretary-General to Germany's proposal?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General's assumption is that his appeal of last Friday now has the endorsement of the Europeans, and what everyone is waiting for is a response from Yugoslavia to his letter to President Milosevic. You may be confused because the reporting was a little bit scattered this morning, but that is the Secretary-General's understanding of what happened in Brussels.
Question: Will the Secretary-General encourage the Security Council meeting Yugoslavia requested?
Spokesman: Let's let the Council respond. I'm sure it will. I don't think the Secretary-General needs to get into the middle of something procedural there.
Question: What is happening with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) nomination?
Spokesman: Probably next week there will be an announcement of the new Executive Director. The Secretary-General still has a short list and is making some final consultations before announcing a decision.
Question: Apart from the Secretary-General's letter addressed to President Milosevic, has there been any other communication?
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Question: Could you fill us in as to approximately how many names are on the UNDP short list?
Spokesman: No, I can't say anything about it. I'm sorry.
Question: Yesterday Mr. Annan said he had no plans to go to Belgrade, yet earlier he had said he would go if it would help. It seems inconsistent: what is his position?
Spokesman: Those statements are not contradictory. He was first responding to the question 'would he go to Belgrade', and he said 'in principle, yes. If asked and if it could be helpful, I would go.' He was kind of saying 'that kind of thing is in my job description'. On the specific question 'do you have any plans to go now?', the Secretary-General said no. I think they are complementary statements.
Question: What are the Secretary-General's plans for going to South Asia?
Spokesman: There is a long-standing plan. There had been a date and then that date had to be shifted. I am not in a position to announce the new dates at this time.
Question: Any word on long-term projects for Haiti, as per letters between the Economic and Social Council and the Security Council?
Spokesman: I will have to look into that.
Question: There was a proposal, or a plan put forth, by the Germans yesterday, and there was some reporting today about this proposal to stop the bombing for a day if Serb forces withdrew. Is there a response from the Secretary-General on that and will he make a statement on whether a European Union-led force would be preferable to NATO-led forces if there is a withdrawal?
Spokesman: My understanding is that yesterday there were reports of a German proposal. After the European Union meeting, the German Chancellor, in response to questions, said that the European Heads of State and Government endorsed the Secretary-General's appeal of last Friday.
Today, there are editorial and press reports that continue to comment on a German proposal. I cannot be answerable for newspapers. The Secretary- General's proposal calls for a multi-national force to provide security for the return of the refugees and his only precondition on that is that it be endorsed by the Security Council. At this time, he has no position on who does it or what the shape is.
We are almost out of time. Ambassador Marker has to be somewhere in five minutes. I'm sorry we have taken up so much of your time. Would you like to make an opening statement?
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