29 October 1999


29 October 1999

Press Briefing



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

Briefing by Spokesman for Secretary-General

We need a few more people in here for the "quiz of the week".

**Secretary-General Opens Meeting of Administrative Committee on Coordination

Today is ACC Day. The Secretary-General this morning opened a meeting of the Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC), which brings together the heads of all the United Nations agencies, funds and programmes.

The formal item on their agenda is the "institutional and programmatic capacity of the United Nations system to respond flexibly and effectively to the challenges of the next century". Participants are expected to set priorities such as mobilizing resources; raising international awareness of the work and achievements of the United Nations; and building issue-based partnerships with civil society and the private sector in the pursuit of global objectives.

This two-day meeting will also tackle follow-up to the Beijing Platform for Action for the advancement of women, as well as the need for gender mainstreaming. Now, defining "gender mainstreaming" is a bit of a problem, but I think you get the general sense. This will include discussions on the gender dimensions of globalization, as well as how to create a gender-sensitive institutional environment within the United Nations system to promote equality.

**Indonesian Army Prepares to Leave East Timor, UNAMET Says

The United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) informed us today that the Indonesian Army (TNI) forces still remaining in East Timor are now consolidated in one single location, as part of their preparations to leave the territory. The last contingents are expected to leave in the coming days.

Now all communications and power plants, which were under TNI control, have been handed over to the multinational force (INTERFET).

**Interagency Mission Meets with Timorese Independence Leader, Acting Special Representative Today

The interagency assessment mission led by the World Bank arrived today in Dili. They met at United Nations headquarters with Xanana Gusmao, the leader of the CNRT (National Council of Timorese Resistance), and Ian Martin, Acting Special Representative of the Secretary General. The mission's objective as I told you a few days ago, is to assess the immediate rehabilitation needs in East Timor and outline reconstruction and development programmes.

**Special Rapporteurs Expected to Arrive in East Timor Next Week

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights announced in Geneva today that the Special Rapporteurs of the Commission on Human Rights dealing with torture, extrajudicial killings and violence against women were expected to go to East Timor next week, tentatively from 4 to 10 November. The Special Rapporteurs will count on specialized technical support, including investigators and forensic experts.

**Timorese Repatriation Program to Start from Atapupu

Meanwhile a total of 911 refugees aboard two ferries returned today to Dili at the start of a repatriation programme from the West Timor port of Atapupu. There were no major land border crossings today, while approximately 1,500 persons are reported to have crossed the border yesterday in the Maliana region.

**Security Council Holds Consultations on Mission in Prevlaka

The Security Council is holding consultations today on the Secretary General's report on the United Nations Mission in the Prevlaka Peninsula, which was introduced by Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Bernard Miyet. As you will recall this issue was to be discussed yesterday, but the Council decided to postpone it until today.

**Security Council Holds Consultations Monday to Establish November Programme of Work

The first of November marks the beginning of Slovenia in the presidency of the Security Council. Therefore, following usual practice, Monday the Council President, Ambassador Danilo Turk, will hold bilateral consultations to establish the programme of work for the month of November.

**Secretary-General's Report on Western Sahara Out Today

The Secretary-General's report on the situation concerning Western Sahara is out today (S/1999/1098). It deals with the work of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), which will give the Sahrawi people the option of choosing between independence and integration with Morocco.

The Secretary-General says there has been progress in the identification of the so-called "contested tribes", and he urges both parties to maintain their cooperation so that the process can be completed -- as planned -- by the end of December.

On the appeals process for those already identified, the Secretary-General points out that more than 79,000 appeals have been submitted -- a very large number. "Under these circumstances", he notes, "we might be confronted with a lengthy appeals process, involving almost all applicants rejected in the first instance, as well as a large number of applicants whose inclusion in the provisional voters list has been challenged". This will have consequences on the level of staff, financial and other resources required for the Mission, as well as the timetable for holding the Referendum.

The Secretary-General says in December he will provide the Security Council with a realistic assessment of the steps ahead.

**Planned UN Technical Mission Stalled in Kinshasa; Democratic Republic of Congo Refuses to Provide Security Guarantees

As you know, a United Nations technical survey team deployed to Kinshasa on 17 October had planned a series of visits to assess security conditions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo with the objective to prepare for the deployment of the remaining liaison officers and to make recommendations for an eventual larger United Nations presence in that country.

As of today, none of the scheduled visits have taken place because of the refusal by the Democratic Republic of the Congo to provide written security guarantees and freedom of movement by United Nations personnel to previously proposed sites.

The United Nations intends to press for these conditions at the next meeting of the Joint Military Commission, which is scheduled for Sunday in Lusaka. As you recall, the Commission was set up by the parties to the Lusaka agreement for the Democratic Republic of the Congo as the body responsible for monitoring the implementation of that agreement.

All the parties, with the exception of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, have provided guarantees in writing that they would safeguard the personal security of United Nations military and civilian personnel deployed in support of the United Nations mission in the areas under their control.

**Carolyn McAskie to Head OCHA as Vieira de Mello's Heads for East Timor

With Sergio Vieira de Mello's imminent departure for East Timor, we wanted to let you know that in his absence Carolyn McAskie, a 30-year veteran with the Canadian International Development Agency, will be the officer-in-charge of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

McAskie arrived this week at United Nations Headquarters to assume her functions as Deputy to the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator -- posts previously held by Martin Griffith.

We have copies of her CV available in my office.

**General Assembly Expected to Take Action on Development Account Resolution Today

This afternoon, the General Assembly is expected to take action on a draft resolution recommended by the Fifth Committee concerning the Development Account.

The idea of a development account was one of the Secretary-General's original proposals for reform. In December 1997, the Assembly approved the setting up of a development account to be funded from savings realized through reductions in administration and other overhead costs. Savings in the amount of over $13 million were set aside for this purpose.

If the General Assembly approves the Fifth Committee resolution as expected, it will agree on the modalities for operating the Development Account and formally establish its multi-year nature -- in other words, that it will continue to operate year after year.

All of the elements of the Development Account as initially suggested by the Secretary-General will then be in place. So we look forward to the Assembly's adoption of the Fifth Committee resolution this afternoon as another step forward in the process of reform.

**Afghanistan Refugee Return Opportunities Reduced Due to Lack of Funding, Staff Reduction, UNHCR Representative Says

At the weekly briefing in the Office of the United Nations Coordinator for Afghanistan in Islambad, the Representative for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stated that lack of timely funding, along with the withdrawal of international staff for part of the year, had reduced opportunities for refugee return this year.

"The international community has basically two choices", UNHCR's Ahmad Farah said. "They can continue to help 2.6 million Afghans stranded outside their own country, or donors can assist them to return home in safety and dignity".

**WFP Steps Up Humanitarian Efforts as Winter Hits Panjshir Valley

Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) said it was stepping up efforts to get stocks to some 65,000 people in Afghanistan's remote Panjshir Valley before the valley's limited access routes are cut off completely by snow. The displaced population in the valley is among the 1.2 million people in Afghanistan receiving food assistance from WFP.

The United Nations has requested the Taliban to allow a humanitarian corridor to be opened from Kabul. No permission has yet been received.

Without increased access, the plight of the displaced in the Panjshir over the winter may be intolerable.

**UNHCR and NGO Deliver Six-Week Food Supply to Congolese Refugees

In Burundi, UNHCR and the NGO Concern yesterday delivered a six-week food supply to a camp of Congolese refugees in Cibitoke, in the north-western part of the province with the same name. The convoy travelled under military escort and returned safely to the capital, Bujumbura, during the same day.

United Nations humanitarian operations in the country are still limited to emergency activities, with almost all projects outside Bujumbura suspended since the killing of two United Nations staff on 12 October. The camp of 300 Congolese has no other means of supply.

There has been an upsurge in arrivals of Burundi refugees in western Tanzania since late September.

** Poor Funding Stalls WFP Rehabilitation Programme in Central America

Central America is still struggling to regain the ground it lost, a year after it was struck by its worst storm in 200 years. The World Food Programme (WFP) is now warning that underfunding, with many pledges of assistance still not materialized, has stalled its rehabilitation programme for Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

Francisco Roque Castro, WFP Director for Central America and the Caribbean, says when the recent rains spawned $40 million in crop losses, Central Americans most affected began receiving food aid originally designated for post-Mitch activities.

"We cannot afford to let the world forget about Central America", Roque Castro says in the WFP press release on this subject, which you can get in my office.

**UN Team Carries Out Vaccination Campaign in Three Kosovo Villages

On Kosovo, we have available today's press briefing notes from Pristina with the latest developments.

Today's briefing contains an item on a mixed team of Albanian and Serb doctors and nurses carrying out a joint vaccination campaign in three villages in the first such joint operation, which involved UNICEF, the United Nations mission there, UNMIK and KFOR, the military force.

**Breast Cancer Awareness Week Activities

Just a reminder -- and I'm still wearing my pink ribbon -- that it is not too late to participate in Breast Cancer Awareness activities this week. Today from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m., the United Nations medical service will host an event on the latest detection and treatment technologies for dealing with breast cancer.

The seminar will take place at the United Nations Church Center across the street, and it will feature a number of specialists from area hospitals. That's 777 United Nations Plaza, on the eighth floor.

**Press Conference This Afternoon

Press conferences this afternoon, at 3 p.m., the Permanent Mission of Argentina to the United Nations will present the Argentinean candidate for Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Juan Carlos Vignaud.

The election for the FAO Director-General will take place in Rome on 13 November.

**Week Ahead

We have the "week ahead" that you can pick up in my office. I'll just go through a few of the highlights.

**Monday, 1 November

As we've said, Slovenia takes over in the Security Council.

Also, the guest at the noon briefing will be United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Assistant Administrator and Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific on the South Asia Human Development Report 1999.

**Tuesday, 2 November

The Secretary-General will address a meeting being organized here at United Nations Headquarters by Reverend Leon Sullivan. Among the 500 participants expected to attend will be representatives of international businesses. Reverend Sullivan is expected to outline a set of his own corporate responsibility principles.

And that's all I'll highlight for you. You can get the rest upstairs.

**Quiz of the Week

Ok. It's quiz time. Are you ready?

This year marks the end of the United Nations Decade of International Law. The Secretary-General has said that he can think of "no better way for States to mark the millennium than by bringing the International Criminal Court into existence". So today we're going to test your knowledge about the Court.

First question: The Court's statute was adopted at a conference in Rome last year by a recorded vote with seven countries coming out against it. Two of those seven were permanent members of the Security Council. Can you name them?

[Several correspondents answered correctly from the floor.]

Answer: Yes. The United States was one and China was the other. Good. 100 per cent.

Next question: Meanwhile, on the positive side, two permanent members of the Security Council have signed the Court's statute, indicating their intention to ratify it. Can you name them?

[Several correspondents answered correctly from the floor]

Answer: France and the United Kingdom. Good.

Final question, true or false: The Security Council can block any investigation by the Court's Prosecutor for renewable 12-month periods by adopting a resolution under Chapter 7 of the Charter.

[Several correspondents answered "false" from the floor]

Answer: True. [laughs]

Ok. Any questions before we go to Shirley?

**Questions and Answers

Question: On the Congo, has the Government given any reason for refusing to give the guarantees?

Spokesman: I'm not sure I can answer that question. They have indicated to us that they don't feel it's necessary for us to go into areas that are controlled by them. And yet it is our reading of the agreement that our observers should be posted throughout the territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. So that's one of the sticking points, and I'm not aware that they have ever said why they were the only ones who would not sign the security guarantees.

Question: On the Development Account, what's the money going to be used for?

Spokesman: Development projects; though I'm not quite sure how the selection process works. But the idea is to save money through improvements in management and efficiency and then to plough that into economic development. So the hope is that we can save a substantial amount of money and then put it to good use.

Question: Did the $13 million come from 1998-1999?

Spokesman: No. It would have been 1996-1997. Those were the first savings that Joseph Connor identified. The Fifth Committee had not approved the idea of the account and so they authorized us to put that $13 million in a development account that they would then continue to discuss the modalities for. They have now agreed on the modalities and they appear to be ready to make it official as a multi-year fund.

Question: Can you be a little more specific. When you say "multi-year", is there a time limit?

Spokesman: They haven't really fully agreed with this idea that we would save money, put it in this account and then spend it on development. They wanted to discuss it further. So the initial approval was to put it in something that we could call a "development account" while Member States continued to debate what this account will be. Now it will be a perennial item on the agenda. At the end of every budget year, we will calculate how much money we've saved through efficiencies, and put that money in this account.

Question: We have noticed that Cuba has had difficulty participating in United Nations conferences and the host country isn't about to solve this problem, what can the Secretary-General do in a case like this?

Spokesman: The Secretary-General, to my knowledge, really doesn't have a role in that case. It's a matter between the Member States -- in this case the Government of Cuba versus the Committee on Host Country Relations. There is a procedure for complaints, and so on, but all of that is handled by Member States. I don't think the Secretary-General would get involved in that.

Question: Can you respond to United States State Department Spokesman James Rubin's comments that the Secretary-General was getting bad advice from his advisors regarding his criticism of contract holds on humanitarian aid to Iraq?

Spokesman: That note that the Secretary-General sent to the Security Council, of course, was drafted by Benon Sevan. In that note, no particular government is named and Benon in addressing the Security Council said that the fault doesn't lie with any one government. That it's a problem as much of the preparation of the paperwork, the technical complexity of the procedures and so on. Apart from that, I don't think I want to get into a tit-for-tat with Jamie Rubin.

Question: This morning, a senior Yugoslav official urged the United Nations to make Bernard Kouchner personally responsible for what Belgrade alleges are failures of the United Nations mission in the province. Can you comment on that? Basically they are claiming that since NATO and the United Nations took over, that between 250,000 and 300,000 Serbs and other non-Albanians had been forced to flee and they're blaming Kouchner for not stemming the violence and breaching the United Nations resolution.

Spokesman: Well, I think it’s the inter-ethnic tensions that are driving Serbs out of the territory. Those tensions stemmed directly from the actions of the Yugoslav Government, directed against the Albanian population. It's been the express intention on the United Nations mission there, backed up by KFOR, not only to provide security to the Serbs remaining in the province, but also to urge them to stay on. And of course, in every effort we have been making to set up interim administrative arrangements, get hospitals working again, we've been bringing in representatives not just of the Serbs but of the other minorities as well. So we're trying to put the pieces back together again and I don't think you can blame us for what happened before. It was the very aggressive military action by the Yugoslav army against the Albanian minority, I think, that created the situation we are dealing with today. And with the amount of people we have there, we can't post a sentry at every Serb home. We've been doing the best we can.

Question: Were there any disagreements between the Secretary-General and Bernard Kouchner when the Secretary-General visited Kosovo, in particular in light of changing the currency there?

Spokesman: No. Of course these issues that Bernard Kouchner has faced -- setting up an administration from scratch, deciding on a currency, deciding on what legal basis to form a judiciary -- these are all very complex issues. There's been active participation with Headquarters on each of those questions, but eventually when a policy decision is made, it has the support of Headquarters as well as the field. And when the Secretary-General was in Kosovo, there wasn't a disagreement; it was an active discussion about a policy decision yet to be made, concerning the structure of interim administrative arrangements.

Question: Were you saying in your previous statement that you are not satisfied the number of United Nations presence in Kosovo?

Spokesman: No. Apart from the additional police that Bernard Kouchner asked for just in this last week -- which I think is also a reflection of the serious security situation we face -- we are willing to work with the numbers we have. But I think just as the New York City Police Department can't guarantee that there won't be an assault or murder, we can't guarantee absolute security to every person in Kosovo, although that's what we're trying to do.

Question: In reference to the attack on the convoy in Kosovo yesterday, it was reported in The New York Times today that a United Nations spokesman compared that convoy to Dutch collaborators and that they, as well as Serbs, deserved to be attacked. Isn't that a rather strange thing for a United Nations spokesperson to say?

Spokesman: I don't know what you're quoting there. We attempted to secure that convoy. We don't know what went wrong. The Secretary-General has asked Bernard Kouchner to share with him the results of the investigation. We don't understand why there were not [if there were not] security elements with that part of the convoy that was separated from the main group because of a breakdown. That's something that is now being looked into. And certainly it's not our position that anyone has a right to attack a convoy, in this case, of people who have elected to leave their homes, under United Nations protection, to go to another republic.

Question: Do you know the exact date that Sergio Vieira de Mello is supposed to be in Dili? Is he going to stop in Jakarta on the way?

Spokesman: I haven't heard that he would stop in Jakarta, no. I'd have to double check. And at this point I don't have an exact date.

Question: You said at the top that a Special Rapporteur was going out to look at torture (in East Timor). Is that the same thing as the investigative inquiry team, or are they completely separate?

Spokesman: Completely separate. The Human Rights Commission of course sends their rapporteurs around the world wherever the Commission decides they should go. So in this case, they decided to send these three rapporteurs to East Timor. The idea of the formal investigation is still pending approval by the Economic and Social Council, and I think they said they will meet on it in mid-November. So that is held up, pending ECOSOC approval, but this is part of the ongoing work of the Human Rights Commission.

Question: Do you have any idea why ECOSOC didn't pick it up earlier this week?

Spokesman: Something about the documentation not being complete is what I heard, and I don't know who is responsible for that. Certainly we would have liked to see this investigation move more quickly than it has or is.

Briefing by the Spokeswoman for General Assembly President

The General Assembly is holding elections for 18 members of the 54-member Economic and Social Council, for a three-year term starting 1 January 2000. The election is by secret ballot and a two-thirds majority of members present and voting is required. At the time of the briefing, the ballots from the first round of voting were still being counted.

In the elections, for five African seats, there are an equal number of candidates: Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon and Sudan. Likewise, for five Western European and Other States seats, there are an equal number of candidates: Austria, France, Germany, Greece and Portugal, with France and Germany seeking re- election.

For three Asian seats, there are six candidates: Bahrain, Fiji, Japan, Kazakhstan, Sri Lanka and Thailand, with Japan and Sri Lanka seeking re-election. For one Eastern European seat, there are three candidates: Croatia, Hungary and Lithuania. And for four Latin American and Caribbean seats, there are six candidates: Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Mexico, Suriname and Uruguay, with Cuba and Mexico seeking re-election. Copies of the list of candidates and ECOSOC members are available in room 378.

[Subsequently, when the ballots for the first round were counted, 13 States were elected: Angola, Austria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Costa Rica, Cuba, France, Germany, Greece, Japan, Portugal and Sudan.]

This afternoon, the Assembly will take action on eight reports of the Fifth Committee. The report on the programme budget for the biennium 1998-1999 (A/54/508) contains a draft resolution on establishing a special multi-year Development Account and its modalities, which Fred has just told you about. Three reports pertain to the financing of the United Nations Mission in East Timor (A/54/505), the United Nations Angola Verification Mission and the United Nations Observer Mission in Angola (A/54/504) and the United Nations Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission (A/54/510). The other reports deal with the financing of United Nations peacekeeping operations (A/54/509); financial reports and audited financial statements, and reports of the Board of Auditors (A/54/506); review of the efficiency of the administrative and financial functioning of the United Nations (A/54/511); and the Joint Inspection Unit (A/54/507).

In the work of the Main Committees, the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) will, this afternoon, conclude its thematic discussion on specific disarmament topics as well as the introduction of the remaining draft resolutions. It starts taking action, on Monday, on 48 draft resolutions and four draft decisions.

At two meetings today, the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) is discussing women in development. Documents include the World Survey on the Role of Women in Development: Globalization, Gender and Work (A/54/227). That report gives a detailed overview of employment and displacement effects of economic trends associated with globalization from a gender perspective. Draft resolutions on the implementation of Agenda 21 and the programme for its further implementation (A/C.2/54/L.14) and on the Convention on Biological Diversity (A/C.2/54/L.15) were introduced ahead of the discussion.

This morning, the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) continued its discussion on promoting and protecting the rights of children.

The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) is wrapping up its week-long discussion of international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space this morning, and is expected to take action on two related draft resolutions: on international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space (A/C.4/54/L.6), and on the Third United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNISPACE III), held in July in Vienna (A/C.4/54/L.7). Neither of those texts was available at the time of the briefing.

The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary), this morning, continued its consideration of the item on the United Nations common system, hearing statements from staff representatives. It was then to take up the report on the activities of the Office of Internal Oversight Services for the period from 1 July 1998 to 30 June 1999 (A/54/393), with Under-Secretary-General Karl Paschke introducing his report. In the preface, in which he comments on his five years at the helm of OIOS, he points out that the independence of the Office was never compromised under his tenure. He adds that OIOS as an independent and comprehensive internal oversight mechanism has become a catalyst for increased attention to and strengthening of similar functions throughout the United Nations system.

This afternoon, the Sixth Committee (Legal) concludes week one of its two- week discussion of the report of the International Law Commission on the work of its fifty-first session (A/54/10).

Looking ahead to next week: On Wednesday, 3 November, the Assembly will meet to hold elections, simultaneously with the Security Council, for five members of the International Court of Justice. The following day, it will discuss the report of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The First Committee begins taking action on draft resolutions before it, except those concerning the question of Antarctica.

On Monday, 1 November, the Second Committee takes up a much-anticipated item, that relating to financing for development. Under the heading of macroeconomic policy questions, it will consider two sub-items: high-level international intergovernmental consideration of financing for development; and financing for development, including net transfer of resources between developing and developed countries. The Committee will discuss the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction on 2 November. There are two pledging conferences next week: for the World Food Programme on 2 November, and for development activities on 3 November. The Committee will discuss industrial development cooperation as well as business and development on 3 to 4 November, before turning its attention, on Friday, to training and research, and to the item entitled “Permanent sovereignty of the Palestinian people in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, and of the Arab population in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights over their natural resources”.

The Third Committee will begin its discussion of the programme of activities of the International Decade of the World's Indigenous People on Monday, 1 November. The next two days, it will discuss the implementation of human rights instruments. Beginning on Thursday, 4 November, the Committee will hear introductory statements by the Special Rapporteurs and Special Representatives presenting reports under the item on human rights questions. That will be preceded by a series of dialogues with, among others, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson. Those dialogues will continue through 8 November.

From 2 through 4 November, the Fourth Committee will consider the item on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

The Fifth Committee will discuss the 1998-1999 programme budget. It is expected, on 2 November, to take up the financing of the United Nations Observer Mission in Sierra Leone. Starting on 3 November, the Committee will begin its section-by section consideration of the proposed 2000-2001 programme budget.

All week, the Sixth Committee will continue its discussion of the report of the International Law Commission, concluding on Friday.

Today, Assembly President Theo-Ben Gurirab is presiding over both meetings of the plenary.

Question and Answer

Question: When will the Assembly take up the item on the Development Account?

Spokeswoman: Looking at the listing in today’s Journal, that item will be the fourth one considered this afternoon.

* *** *

For information media. Not an official record.