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13 March 2001

DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL

13/03/2001
Press Briefing


DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL


The Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Manoel de Almeida e Silva, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon.


**Secretary-General


I'll start with the Secretary-General's programme in South Asia.  He arrived in Dhaka, Bangladesh, late afternoon, after concluding his visit to Nepal.


In Kathmandu, today, the Secretary-General and Mrs. Annan called on the King and Queen of Nepal.


King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev said he wanted to “see the UN stronger and more effective” and explained that as a small, landlocked country sandwiched between two giants –- China and India -– Nepal had a special appreciation for the United Nations. He said, "It helps us maintain our identity and gives us a voice.”


The Secretary-General then held meetings with the Defence Minister, Mahesh Acharya, and the Foreign Minister, Chakra Prasad Bastola.  He also met with Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and was the guest of honour of a luncheon hosted by the Prime Minister.  After lunch, the Secretary-General visited the UN House, where he was briefed by representatives of United Nations agencies in Nepal.


During his meetings with the Nepalese authorities, the topics discussed included economic and social problems in Nepal, political and economic developments in the region, as well as the follow-up to the Millennium Summit and Declaration.  They also talked about United Nations peacekeeping and the Nepalese contribution to that effort. 


The Secretary-General encouraged Nepal to develop its peacekeeping training centre, which he pledged the UN to support.  He assured Nepal that now that the Government had found premises, the Asia Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament would soon move from New York to Kathmandu.


Today in the Nepalese capital, Mrs. Annan visited Maiti Nepal, a UNDP-supported non-governmental organization working to protect women and children from exploitation, abuse and trafficking.  Mrs. Annan met with teenage Nepali girls who had been sold into prostitution, sometimes by their husbands or families.


At the Kathmandu airport, journalists asked the Secretary-General about the Taliban’s destruction of the Buddha statues and how that could be avoided in the future.  The Secretary-General said, "I think this is an issue that should be the responsibility of all of us.”  The answer has to do with education, and he added, "Education about tolerance, education about respect for diversity, education that allows people to understand that you do not have to hate what belongs to others to love your own, to respect your own religion.  Love and respect for your own religion does not require you to be disrespectful of other religions and other cultures."

Tonight in Dhaka, Bangladesh, the Secretary-General had a brief meeting with the representatives of United Nations agencies and some 200 UN staff working in Bangladesh.  His official programme in Bangladesh begins tomorrow.


We have available in our Office the transcript of the Secretary-General's press encounters at the Kathmandu airport and at the Dhaka airport


**Security Council


The Security Council this morning began its work with closed consultations on the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE), on which it heard a briefing by the Secretary-General's Special Representative and head of that Mission, Legwaila Joseph Legwaila.


Mr. Legwaila briefed the Council on the Secretary-General's latest report on the Mission, which recommends that UNMEE be extended from its current mandate, which expires on Thursday, by another six months, until September 15.


He noted that the Temporary Security Zone has not been set up yet, because Eritrean troops remained in the zone, and he pointed to some restrictions on the movements of UN peacekeepers that had been placed by both sides.  He added that there had been no significant ceasefire violations by either side.


We expect that Mr. Legwaila will brief you once the Council's consultations conclude, perhaps at around 12:30 p.m. or so.  We'll let you know via the squawking system whether it will be in this room or at the stakeout on the second floor.


This afternoon at 3 o’clock, the Council's working group on peacekeeping operations will hold a closed meeting that will be chaired by Ambassador Curtis Ward of Jamaica.


Yesterday afternoon, following Council consultations on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Council President Valeri Kuchynski of Ukraine told the press that the Council was concerned about continuing ceasefire violations in Bolomba.  He added that the Council would examine whether all the parties to the Congolese conflict would comply with the 15 March deadline for disengagement.


Also yesterday, the Council received a letter from the Palestinian Observer Mission, asking for an urgent meeting of the Council to discuss the situation in the Palestinian territories.


**Depleted Uranium


The final report of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on the environmental impact of depleted uranium ammunition used during the 1999 conflict in Kosovo, which was released this morning in Geneva, concludes that no widespread ground contamination exists in the investigated areas.  The United Nations Balkans Task Force, which last November visited 11 sites in Kosovo that had been identified as having been targeted by depleted uranium ordnance, added that the corresponding radiological and chemical risks from exposure to depleted uranium are insignificant.


UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer said, "These scientific findings should alleviate any immediate anxiety that people living or working in Kosovo may have been experiencing."  But he added, "Under certain circumstances, however, depleted uranium can still pose risks", and he noted that the report suggests that precautionary measures should be taken in areas struck by depleted uranium ammunition.


The head of UNEP's Depleted Uranium Assessment Team, Pekka Haavisto, said that considerable scientific uncertainties remain, particularly concerning the long-term safety of groundwater in areas where depleted uranium ordnance was found.


The UNEP, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are now studying the report to consider together whether it is necessary to prepare future missions to areas where depleted uranium has been used during military conflicts.


A press release is available at the counter, as well as an abridged version, a 27-page summary of the report.  The full report, which is more than 100 pages long, can be downloaded on the Task Force's Web site, which is www.balkans.unep.ch -- and we also have one full copy available for review at the Spokesman's Office.


**Kosovo


The Kosovo Interim Administrative Council today called on the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to open the border with Kosovo, saying it was gravely concerned at the social and economic consequences of the situation. 


**UNESCO Welcomes ICTY Action on Dubrovnik


In Paris, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Director-General Koichiro Matsuura says he welcomes the fact that the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia included the destruction of historic monuments in its 16-count indictment of 22 February relating to the 1991 attacks on the ancient port city of Dubrovnik in Croatia.


Mr. Matsuura drew a parallel between the attacks on Dubrovnik and the action by the Taliban to destroy Afghanistan’s pre-Islamic heritage by saying, "This important precedent shows the international community can take action to protect cultural property and apply sanctions for its protection.”  We have available in our Office a press release of UNESCO on this matter.


**Iraq


According to the weekly update from the Office of the Iraq Programme, Iraq exported, on average, 1.5 million barrels of oil a day during the week of 3 to

9 March, totalling 10.2 million barrels under the United Nations "oil-for-food" programme.  There were six loadings at the two authorized terminals of Mina

al-Bakr and Ceyhan.  The week’s exports raised an estimated 213 million euros in revenue at current prices.  In Phase IX of the oil-for-food programme, which runs from 6 December 2000 to 3 June 2001, Iraq has so far exported 100.8 million barrels of oil for an estimated revenue of over 2.18 billion euros.  The full text of the Iraq Programme's weekly update is available upstairs.


**East Timor


The National Council of East Timor, chaired by Speaker Xanana Gusmao, today approved a regulation on the election of a constituent assembly, with 17 members voting in favour, none against and five abstaining.  The regulation establishes that East Timor will elect an 88-member constituent assembly, which would prepare and adopt a constitution for a democratic and independent East Timor in a 90-day period.


All persons aged 17 or older who were born in East Timor, have at least one parent born in East Timor, or have a spouse meeting either of those conditions, would be eligible to vote on the constituent assembly.


We have further details in today's briefing notes from Dili, which also note that so far a total of two people have died following violence involving youth groups in Viqueque.  So far, more than 350 East Timorese have sought refuge in the United Nations peacekeeping headquarters in Viqueque, and the tensions remain high, although no incidents were reported today.


**Humanitarian News


The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported today that a fresh outbreak of violence in the volatile Parrot’s Beak region of Guinea has forced it to suspend the delivery of food to refugees and displaced Guineans.


Meanwhile, Sierra Leone refugees continue to go back to Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, from Guinea’ s capital, Conakry, the UNHCR reports.  The returnees speak of harassment by various armed factions they encountered along the way, both on Guinean and Sierra Leonean territory.


The UNHCR today welcomed assurances given to the Secretary-General by Pervez Musharraf, the Chief Executive of Pakistan, that his country will continue to provide assistance to needy Afghans.  The UNHCR said it hopes the agreement will pave the way for better humanitarian access to some 80,000 new arrivals from Afghanistan who are currently living in deplorable conditions at the windswept Jalozai site, where agencies have only been allowed to provide limited assistance. Conditions at the makeshift encampment are among the worst some relief professionals have ever seen.


The World Food Programme (WFP), meanwhile, said it has been forced to cut food rations to refugees by 50 per cent in Zambia because its food stocks in the country had been depleted and there were no funds to buy more food.  In Malawi, the WFP said it started distribution of food to 60,000 people isolated by rains and floods.


**Background Notes on Peacekeeping


A background note on United Nations peacekeeping operations, with updated figures as of the end of February, is available in English and French in the Spokesman's Office and on the UN peacekeeping Web site.  Ninety countries contribute approximately 39,000 military and civilian police personnel to 15 UN peacekeeping operations.

**Committee on Information


And my last note of the day is to inform you that the Department of Public Information announced today that the Web site for the Committee on Information, which it has developed, is now available in all six official languages.  The address is:  www.un.org/ga/coi.  This site will provide the Committee's documentation, as well as information, on its history, mandate and membership.


That's all I have for you for today.  Do you have any questions?  Robert?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Do you have any explanation for these riots in East Timor?  They must be quite serious, because I think Indonesia has denied any involvement.


Deputy Spokesman:  I don't think there's an explanation yet, but the mission is certainly looking into it.  This most recent violence was in Viqueque, and it was a fight of gangs.  The mission report indicates that two gangs fought with a great degree of violence, burning houses, with the use of machetes, and now two persons have died as a result of that.  A number of Timorese have taken refuge in the peacekeeping force regional headquarters in Viqueque.  It is of great concern because, as you may recall, this was preceded by acts of violence in Baukau, and a few days earlier also in Dili. They all took one day only -– they were all one-day episodes, or maybe a day and a half or two at the most.  But, certainly, it's of concern and the mission is looking into it.  Yes?


Question:  Last week, the Ukrainian President of the Security Council had mentioned that the Palestinian representative had requested the Security Council to take up the issue of the Middle East problem, the crisis and everything.  So is there any chance that the Security Council is to debate and when?


Deputy Spokesman:  That's a very difficult question for me to answer, because it's really entirely up to Council members to decide on that.  As you know, they received a letter from Ambassador Al-Kidwa yesterday.  This letter circulated among Council members yesterday.  If I remember well, I think Ambassador Kuchynski of Ukraine, as he left Council consultations yesterday and he spoke with you at the stakeout, he said that no decision had been made on what next.  So, I have to go with that.  I can only suggest that you try to speak with Council members to see where they are on that. 


Okay.  Thank you very much.  Have a nice afternoon.


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For information media. Not an official record.