DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY OFFICE OF SPOKESMAN FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL

15 November 1999

DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY OFFICE OF SPOKESMAN FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL

15 November 1999



Press Briefing


DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY OFFICE OF SPOKESMAN FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL

19991115

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’re competing with Ambassador Holbrooke at the stakeout today. We have today with us five Austrian journalists who are visiting New York. Welcome to the briefing.

We had announced on Friday that our guest at today’s briefing would be Agnes Asekenye-Oonyu, from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, who had just returned from Angola. She will now come tomorrow, and in her place will be her boss, who is Carolyn McAskie, the Deputy Relief Coordinator and the Deputy Under-Secretary-General for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. She’ll talk to you about her recent mission to Sierra Leone. She’ll be joining us here in a minute, and that’s why the map of Sierra Leone is up there.

At 12:45 p.m. in this room, there will be a background briefing by a senior United Nations official on the Srebrenica report which, unofficially, is out today in English only.

**Ogata to Russia to Discuss Situation in Northern Caucasus

In an understanding reached between the Secretary-General and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin by telephone on Saturday, Sadako Ogata, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, will travel to Russia Tuesday for discussions on the humanitarian situation in the Northern Caucasus. And we expect that she will also be moving on to Ingushetia later in the week.

**Afghanistan Sanctions Spark Protests; Crowd Sets Fire to UNHCR Office in Kabul

Crowds angry about the sanctions imposed on Afghanistan by the United Nations Security Council smashed windows and doors, furniture and computers and set fire to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Kabul and other offices in that country, causing extensive damage.

The attack on the UNHCR office in Kabul by about 1,000 demonstrators took place yesterday. The premises of other United Nations agencies, such as United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Food Program (WFP), as well as the United Nations political office (UNSMA) in Kabul also were targeted. Tension in Kabul was reported to be high today as new protests were reported in other locations in Afghanistan.

United Nations offices in Farah also became the target of protests today with the UNHCR office being burned and a number of vehicles damaged and windows broken at the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS). Demonstrations targeting United Nations offices were also reported today in Jalalabad and Pul-I-Khumri. Significant damage to the UNHCR premises in the latter location was reported.

So far, no United Nations staff has been injured in these attacks. United Nations offices will remain closed today.

**UN Coordinator ‘Extremely Concerned’ about Destruction of Property in Afghanistan

The Office of the United Nations Coordinator for Afghanistan issued a statement today saying it is extremely concerned about the destruction of United Nations property. Erick de Mul, United Nations Coordinator for Afghanistan, said he was appealing to the Taliban to support and protect United Nations premises and staff, who work to provide much-needed humanitarian assistance to poor and vulnerable Afghans. The United Nations has protested to the Taliban and has requested the Taliban to respect existing security agreements.

Mr. de Mul will travel to Kabul to discuss the current situation and request the authorities at the highest level to extend further cooperation to the assistance community.

**Secretary-General Reminds Taliban Authorities of Responsibility to Safeguard UN Property, Staff

The Secretary-General is distressed about the attacks against the United Nations offices in Afghanistan. In a statement issued today, he condemns the destruction of United Nations property in several locations and reminds the Taliban authorities of their responsibility to protect United Nations property and guarantee the safety of United Nations personnel. You can pick up that statement in my office.

**Secretary-General Welcomes Substantive Talks on Situation in Cyprus

Over the weekend, the Secretary-General announced in a statement on Cyprus that H.E. Mr. Clerides and H.E. Mr. Denktash have agreed to start proximity talks in New York on 3 December to prepare the ground for meaningful negotiations leading to a comprehensive settlement. The Secretary-General said he looks forward to welcoming them for what he expects will be substantive talks.

**WFP Confirms No Survivors in Plane Crash, Issues Passenger List

Also over the weekend –- and it was a weekend for statements –- the World Food Programme (WFP) issued a list of passengers who were on the WFP-chartered flight that crashed in Kosovo on Friday. The WFP confirmed there are no survivors.

Today, the bodies are being flown to Rome. The voice recorder and black box have been taken to Paris for analysis. The WFP will hold a memorial service in Rome for all the victims on Wednesday of this week. The daily WFP flight from Rome to Pristina has resumed. And, there is as of yet no new information as to the cause of the crash.

From Kosovo today, we have a transcript of a joint UNMIK-WFP briefing on the plane crash. We also have available today’s press briefing notes from Pristina, which includes reports on incidents involving police -- an assault on an UNMIK police officer on Saturday and a kidnapping of a Kosovo Police Service cadet on Sunday.

**Security Council Meets with Joint-Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina

The Security Council began its formal meeting today with a brief moment of silence in honor of the 24 people who died in the WFP plane that crashed in Kosovo.

The Council then met with the three-member joint Presidency of Bosnia- Herzegovina, in a formal meeting that was intended to focus attention on progress made towards realizing the integrated, multi-ethnic nature of that country.

The meeting is the first time that all three members of the joint Presidency met the Security Council together; the Secretary-General has previously met the joint Presidency when he visited Sarajevo.

The joint Presidency presented to the Council this morning a Declaration on which they worked until late last night, which they have called the “New York Declaration”. In it, they reaffirmed their commitment to the Dayton Peace Accords, noted the progress made since then, and condemned all forces that advocate “ethnic hatred and division”. You can get the text of that in my office. This formal meeting is continuing in the Council now.

**New Sanctions Committee on Afghanistan Established

The Security Council sanctions on Afghanistan went into effect yesterday and, as a consequence, a new sanctions committee on Afghanistan, including all 15 member States on the Council is automatically established. The Council is expected to select a chair for the sanctions committee later this week.

**Secretary-General in Beijing

The Secretary-General arrived in Beijing yesterday. Today, he met with President Buyoya of Burundi, who is also visiting China. They reviewed the security situation in Burundi, humanitarian conditions in the regroupment camps and efforts to identify a new moderator for the country's peace process.

In the late afternoon, he met with the United Nations Resident Coordinator, Kirsten Laitner, and heads of United Nations agencies, which are commemorating 20 years of working in China.

Tomorrow, he will have meetings with Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan, President Jiang Zemin and Vice-Premier Qian Qichen.

**Secretary-General Praises US-China Trade Agreement

Speaking in Beijing earlier today, Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed his "heartfelt congratulations" to China and the United States for the trade agreement which they had just concluded, and said that he hoped China's negotiations with the European Union, Canada and other nations would also be handled successfully. We have that statement upstairs in my office.

**’Oil-for-Food’ Programme Report

The Secretary-General’s 180-day report on the “oil-for-food” programme is out this morning. In his conclusions, the Secretary-General says that the programme continues to have a positive impact, noting that over the past three years, 12 million tons of food have arrived and continue to be distributed efficiently throughout the Government’s rationing system.

**UNICEF Rushes Supplies to Earthquake Victims in Turkey

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) says it has rushed tents, blankets, sleeping bags and wood stoves into the affected area of Friday’s earthquake in Turkey, but cautioned that physical relief is just the beginning.

“The first priority is to meet emergency needs, and that’s where we are focusing resources right now”, says UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy. That’s in a press release they’ve issued today.

“But it is heartbreaking”, she continues, “really heartbreaking, to imagine the emotional trauma that the children of these quakes must be going through. That’s where our energies will be focused on the long-term.”

**FAO Re-elects Diouf to Second Term

You may be aware that on Saturday, the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Jacques Diouf, won re-election to a second six- year term.

Speaking of FAO, the organization today released two reports in which it stated that the causes of food emergencies are changing. "For the first time, human-induced disasters, such as civil strife and economic crises, have more effect on food shortages than nature-induced crises." You can pick that up in my office if you are interested.

**Smoking Crisis among Young Women Could Hit Asia

A "young woman's smoking crisis" could hit Asia unless immediate action is taken to counter a growing tobacco epidemic, a group of international public health exports gathered in Kobe, Japan, said today. The World Health Organization (WHO) International Conference on Tobacco and Health, which began today in Kobe, brings together nearly 500 public health experts to focus particularly on growing tobacco use among women and youth.

**ILO Reports ‘Impressive’ Gains for Poland’s Economy

Poland's economy has recorded "an impressive economic performance" which is expected to continue for the rest of 1999, according to a new report from the International Labour Organization (ILO) issued today. You can pick up the press release if you’re interested.

**Russian Book Club Event

The Russian Book Club has a rare treat for Russian poetry lovers. At 6 p.m. Tuesday in the Dag Hammarskjöld Library Auditorium, renowned Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko will recite new verse, both in Russian and English translations. There is a book signing that will follow.

I’m sorry. Just a few more things and then we’ll go to Shirley.

**Criminal Tribunal to Begin Plenary Session

Today, the Judges of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia began their twenty-first plenary session.

The focus of the session will be the election of the new President of the Tribunal to replace Judge Gabrielle Kirk McDonald, who leaves the court on Wednesday, and a new Vice-President who will be chosen to replace Judge Mohamed Shahabuddeen, whose term also comes to an end after two years in that function.

Judge Patricia M. Wald from the United States will be sworn in as a new Judge on Wednesday to serve the remainder of Judge McDonald’s term, in her capacity of Judge, not President.

A press release, which also contains a biography of Judge Wald, is available.

**Economic and Social Council to Discuss East Timor

Today, in its resumed session, the Economic and Social Council is scheduled to discuss a draft decision through which it would endorse the decision taken last September by the Commission on Human Rights to establish an International Commission of Inquiry on East Timor.

**Press Conference

Press conferences: Tomorrow at 11 a.m., Dr. Nafis Sadik, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund, (UNFPA), will introduce balloonist Bertrand Picard, who is being appointed a UNFPA Goodwill Ambassador and Face-to-Face Campaign Spokesperson for Switzerland.

**Guest at Tomorrow’s Noon Briefing

Our guest at tomorrow’s noon briefing will be Agnes Asekenye-Oonyu, Chief of the Africa Section in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, who will talk about her recent visit to Angola. She was originally scheduled as today’s noon briefing guest.

That’s a lot, but that’s all I have for you.

**Questions and Answers

Question: Is there any response to the United States agreement to pay its United Nations arrears?

Spokesman: We are kind of waiting for the process to be completed. So, we’ve read about the understanding reached between the White House and the congressional leadership. I believe the Senate will vote tomorrow afternoon, the House on Wednesday and then to the President for signature. So, I think until the signature is on the legislation, we won’t have a reaction.

Question: On Afghanistan, you had mentioned the appeal made to the Taliban. Have they responded to this appeal?

Spokesman: We have been in touch with the Taliban and, in fact, we had anticipated that there might be demonstrations like this. Their security people have been doing whatever they can to help protect our people -- none of whom, so far, have been injured, I’m happy to say. Still, we appeal to them to continue to work with us to try to restore order.

Question: Is there any feeling in the Secretariat that the United Nations was bearing the brunt of a reaction to what is essentially United States-driven policy put through the Security Council?

Spokesman: Well, if the Council endorsed it, then it’s a Council policy. We’re the United Nations, so I suppose they throw rocks at us. It’s logical.

Question: Can you give us some concrete ideas as to what $900 million would mean to the United Nations if suddenly it appeared on your doorstep?

Spokesman: First, it’s not clear that all $900 million will come to us. This legislation covers arrears to a number of different United Nations agencies. And I think, at least as I understand it, it will be up to the State Department to decide how to apportion this money. One option they have, I suppose, is to give it all to the United Nations, and another is to divide it among others, so we’ll just have to wait and see.

Another thing is all the conditions attached. So, there’s $100 million that would come off the top if our budget grows at all, once adjusted for inflation -– that’s the budget for 2000-2001 that’s being discussed now. It’s to be paid out over three years, etc. So we’ll just have to see how much could be paid by the end of the year. I’m not sure that we can even say for sure that the Article 19 threat -– the loss of vote –- is no longer with us. It very much depends on the schedule for paying out this money and how much they try to get us.

That said, I think that the clear feeling in Washington was to avoid the loss of vote, so I think that they will do everything they can to pay us enough to avoid that. We owe troop contributors about $752 million. So I think that would be our first priority with this money as it comes in.

Question: How much would the United States have to pay to retain its vote? Not the full $1.6 billion they owe?

Answer: No. It was something like $550 million, of which $200 million had been appropriated for last year. It would be $350 million on top of that by 31 December.

Question: Has anyone made an impact assessment of the sanctions on Afghanistan?

Spokesman: You’d have to ask the Council’s sanctions committee that question. I’m not aware that such an assessment was made. Question: Last night, “60 Minutes” aired a disturbing piece on the reform of the justice system in Haiti. Since the United Nations is the organization that is involved in that reform, do you have any comment?

Spokesman: I didn’t see “60 Minutes”, so, if you don’t mind, I’ll try to watch a videotape and then answer your question.

Question: There were some conditions attached to the United States agreement to pay its arrears, among them was a cut in staff. In view of the fact that the Secretary-General has already said that he has cut staff to the bone, how will he handle that condition?

Spokesman: I don’t know about a staff cut provision in this legislation. It was a reform objective of the Group of 18 in 1986 to cut 15 per cent. We’ve since cut something like 25 per cent. I wasn’t aware that staff cuts were still an issue.

Briefing by Spokeswoman for General Assembly President

At the start of this morning’s plenary meeting, the General Assembly extended condolences to the Government and people of Turkey, again struck by a disastrous earthquake, extended deepest sympathy for the tragic loss of life and material damage, and expressed the hope that the international community would demonstrate its solidarity by responding promptly and generously to any request from Turkey for assistance in its present plight.

The Assembly also noted the crash that occurred on Friday of a plane carrying United Nations personnel. It expressed condolences to all the families of the victims.

The Assembly this morning recommended that the United Nations and the International Organization of la Francophonie should continue and intensify their consultations with a view to ensuring greater coordination in the areas of conflict prevention, peace-building and support for the rule of law and democracy and promotion of human rights. The Assembly did so by adopting a 49-Power resolution (A/54/L.25) introduced by France, and after hearing nine speakers.

Also this morning, the Assembly took action on six reports of the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary), dealing with appointments to fill vacancies in subsidiary organs and other appointments. Appointed to the 16-member Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) for a three-year term starting 1 January 2000 were: Gerard Biraud (France); Norma Goicochea Estenoz (Cuba); Vladimir V. Kuznetsov (Russian Federation); Susan M. Shearouse (United States); and Roger Tchoungui (Cameroon) (A/54/540).

Appointed to the 18-member Committee on Contributions for a three-year term starting on 1 January 2000 were: Alvaro Gurgel de Alencar Netto (Brazil); Ju Kuilin (China); Sergei I. Mareyev (Russian Federation); Angel Marron (Spain); Hae-Yun Park (Republic of Korea); and Ugo Sessi (Italy) (A/54/541).

To the three-member Board of Auditors, the Assembly appointed the Auditor- General of South Africa to serve a three-year term beginning on 1 July 2000 (A/54/542). It appointed to the nine-member Investments Committee for a three- year term beginning on 1 January 2000: Francine J. Bovich (United States); Takeshi Ohta (Japan); and Peter Stormonth Darling (United Kingdom) (A/54/543).

Appointed to the seven-member United Nations Administrative Tribunal for a three-year term beginning on 1 January 2000 were: Julio Barboza (Argentina); and Mayer Gabay (Israel) (A/54/544). And appointed to the United Nations Staff Pension Committee, for a term of office beginning 15 November to 31 December 2000, was Amjad Hussain B. Sial (Pakistan) (A/54/545).

By adopting draft resolution A/54/L.21/Rev.1, which was about to take place at the time of the briefing, the Assembly will affirm its confidence in the role of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in the application of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes; and urge all States to strive for effective and harmonious international cooperation in carrying out the work of the Agency, pursuant to its statute. It will express deep concern about the continuing non-compliance of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea with the safeguards agreement, urging that country’s full cooperation with the Agency.

By another provision, the Assembly will commend IAEA for its strenuous efforts to implement Security Council resolution 687 (1991) and other relevant resolutions, stress the need for full implementation by Iraq of all Council resolutions, and stress that the Agency’s ongoing monitoring and verification activities should be resumed without delay. It will also stress that greater transparency by Iraq in its dealings with the Agency would contribute greatly to the resolution of the few remaining questions and concerns in the framework of the Agency’s monitoring and verification plan. The Assembly is expected to vote, separately, on that operative paragraph, number 8, before voting on the draft resolution as a whole (A/54/L.21/Rev.1).

[It was subsequently learned that France had orally amended operative paragraph 9 of the draft resolution, which was then not voted upon. It reads: “Also commends the Director General of the Agency and his staff for their strenuous efforts to implement Security Council resolution 687 (1991) of 3 April 1991, 707 (1991) of 15 August 1991, 715 (1991) of 11 October 1991 and 1051 (1996) of 27 March 1996, stresses the need for full implementation by Iraq of all relevant Security Council resolutions, stresses that the Agency’s ongoing monitoring and verification activities should be resumed without delay, and also stresses that it is essential that although the Agency is satisfied that the remaining questions which were unanswered as of mid-December 1998 do not prevent the full implementation of the ongoing monitoring and verification plan, the basis for this resumption preserves the Agency’s rights specified in its ongoing monitoring and verification plan, including the full exercise of rights of access as enshrined therein and the necessary cooperation of Iraq, and that greater transparency by Iraq in its dealings with the Agency would contribute greatly to the resolution of the few remaining questions and concerns in the framework of the ongoing monitoring and verification plan.”]

[At the request of India, the Assembly voted on the third preambular paragraph, which states as follows: “Recognizing the importance of the work of the Agency in promoting the further application of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes as envisaged in the statute of the Agency and in accordance with the inalienable right of States parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and other relevant internationally legally binding agreements that have concluded relevant safeguards agreements with the Agency to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with articles I and II and other relevant articles of the Treaty, and with the objectives and purposes thereof”.

[The vote on the third preambular paragraph was 112 in favour to 2 against (Israel, India), with 7 abstentions (Benin, Bhutan, Cuba, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Pakistan, Togo, United Republic of Tanzania).

[The vote on draft resolution A/54/L.21/Rev.1 as a whole was 122 in favour to 1 against (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), to 6 abstentions (Benin, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lebanon, Syria, United Republic of Tanzania, Viet Nam).

Concerning the Assembly’s work programme, consideration of the item on the University for Peace (A/54/312), originally slated for tomorrow, has been postponed to Thursday, 18 November. Additionally, the Assembly will take up the item entitled “Zone of peace and cooperation of the South Atlantic” on 24 November.

This morning, the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) concluded its discussion of trade and development, before turning its attention to the question of financing for development, including net transfer of resources between developing and developed countries. The report of the Secretary-General on the financial crisis and its impact on growth and development, especially in the developing countries (A/54/471). It states that, despite several initiatives of the international community, the reform of the “international financial architecture” remains an urgent piece of unfinished business. The report then cites areas where further action might be taken, by attuning financial regulations to financial systems, confronting international financial volatility, meeting the need for international financing during crises, focusing the content of adjustment programmes and democratizing governance of the international financial system.

Ahead of the Third Committee’s (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) discussion this afternoon of the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (A/54/12), and questions relating to refugees, returnees and displaced persons and humanitarian questions, it will hear the introduction of 12 draft resolutions dealing with human rights questions and situations (A/C.3/54/L.59, L.60 and L.62 to L.71) and two texts on crime prevention and criminal justice (A/C.3/54/L.21/Rev.1 and L.88). The Committee will take action on two texts: the Third Decade to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination and the convening of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (A/C.3/54/L.28/Rev.1); and the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the rights of peoples for self-determination (A/C.3/54/L.27).

At a meeting this afternoon, the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) will discuss the organization of its work. At two meetings today, the Sixth Committee (Legal) is continuing its discussion of the item on the elimination of international terrorism. A report of the working group on the subject (A/C.6/54/L.2) contains a 28-article draft international convention for the suppression of the financing of terrorism that is being recommended to the Assembly for its adoption.

Assembly President Theo-Ben Gurirab (Namibia) today addressed the Third Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in Those Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, Particularly in Africa. He told the conference, in Recife, Brazil, that countries that were severely affected by drought and desertification, such as his own, Namibia, knew how important this Convention could be if fully implemented. It would contribute greatly to efforts to achieve effective environmental protection and sustainable development.

He told the participants: “There will be no sustainable development; there will be no environmental protection; there will be no improvement in the climate for future generations; there will be no preservation of the biodiversity if we, who have the best possible chance ever, cannot protect the earth from desertification and its political, moral, economic and social consequences.” Copies of the statement are available in room S-378.

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For information media. Not an official record.