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United Nations Daily Highlights, 98-07-30
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From: The United Nations Home Page at <http://www.un.org> - email: email@example.com
Thursday, 30 July, 1998
This daily news round-up is prepared by the Central News Section of the Department of Public Information. The latest update is posted at approximately 6:00 PM New York time.
"Sierra Leone today is faced with enormous military, political, humanitarian and developmental challenges. There is no denying or diminishing the obstacles of violence, corruption and hatred that have to be overcome if peace is to endure."
Secretary-General Kofi Annan made this statement on Thursday, explaining his decision to convene a special conference on Sierra Leone "to focus international attention on the situation and to ensure that we attack the problems with a collective unity of purpose."
The Secretary-General issued a strong call to the RUF and remaining junta forces to lay down their arms without further delay. "The people of Sierra Leone have suffered too much for too long for the killing and wanton destruction to continue," he said.
Mr. Annan called particular attention to the suffering of Sierra Leone's children, who were either conscripted as fighters or suffered indiscriminate attacks. He welcomed the Government's decision to offer an amnesty for child soldiers from all combatant groups, as well as its efforts to develop a national programme for children affected by the seven- year conflict.
The special conference was aimed at establishing genuine peace and security in the country, where the remnants of the ousted junta and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) are still resisting the Government's authority. The rebels had staged a coup d'‚tat in May 1997 and were ousted by forces of the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) on 10 March of this year.
"Since last March, 500 victims of mutilations, including amputations, have been admitted to hospitals," the Secretary-General said. For every victim who received assistance, four or five others died or remained in the bush "terrified of meeting another human being," he said.
The Secretary-General said that Sierra Leone would provide a test case of whether Africa had shaken the tyrannical ways of the past. "In Sierra Leone, in Liberia, in Nigeria and in other parts of Africa, there have been too many false starts, too many broken promises of democracy, too many pledges of uncorrupt rule for us to expect the people to believe in what they have yet to see with their own eyes," he said. "Is this the time we say enough? is this the time where elected leaders honour their mandate, serve the people, and begin anew? Sierra Leone must show us that it is," he concluded.
Sierra Leone's President, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, described the atrocities reportedly being committed by the rebels in the country, such as the deliberate amputation of hands, limbs, and other parts of the body as well as the burning of civilian homes and villages. "Incidentally, notwithstanding the acts of murder and terror which the rebels and remnants of the junta continue to inflict on innocent civilians, my Government, in a spirit of national reconciliation, recently extended by two weeks its offer to receive members of the junta and rebels who were prepared to lay down their arms and surrender to ECOMOG," he said.
President Kabbah called for additional support to ECOMOG in its efforts to remove destructive elements and restore normal life in Sierra Leone. "We fear that unless assistance for ECOMOG is forthcoming, as a matter of urgency, the rebel activities will not only continue and create more human tragedy, but will also drain our limited resources." The President drew attention to the country's deteriorating infrastructure, and said that he could not stress enough the urgent need for continued humanitarian assistance, including medicines, health care services and food.
The Security Council on Thursday unanimously adopted a resolution extending the mandate of the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) through January 1999.
The extension will be subject to a review of UNOMIG's mandate based on a report by the Secretary-General which is due in three months. The Council's review will also take account of the progress made by the two parties -- the Abkhaz side and the Georgian Government -- in creating secure conditions for UNOMIG to function.
The Council condemned acts of violence against the personnel of UNOMIG, the renewed laying of mines in the Gali region and attacks by armed groups -- operating in the Gali region from the Georgian side of the Inguri River -- against the Commonwealth of Independent States peacekeeping force. It demanded that the parties put a stop to such acts.
The Council called on the parties to display the necessary political will to achieve substantial results in negotiations. It welcomed a recent meeting of the parties held in Geneva which was chaired by the Secretary- General's Special Representative, and called upon the parties to increase their active engagement in that effort in order to achieve a comprehensive political settlement.
Deeply concerned at the recent exodus of people fleeing hostilities, the Council reaffirmed the right of all refugees and displaced persons to return to their homes. Calling on both sides to fulfil their obligations, the Council demanded in particular that the Abkhaz side allow the unconditional and immediate return of all persons displaced since the resumption of hostilities this May.
The Council also condemned the deliberate destruction of houses by Abkhaz forces, "with the apparent motive of expelling people from their home areas." It expressed deep concern at the extremely difficult humanitarian situation of the displaced persons from the Gali region. The Council also expressed concern about the serious negative impact of recent developments on international humanitarian efforts in the Gali region.
Addressing the Council, Georgia's Foreign Minister, Irakli Menagarishvili, said that despite five years of international efforts to resolve the conflict in Abkhazia "we have to confess that it is still premature to speak about serious progress."
He charged that the Abkhaz separatist regime continued to terrorize the population of the Gali district. "The punitive operations in the district have become systematic," he said.
The Security Council on Thursday adopted a unanimous resolution extending the mandate of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) through January 1999.
Through its resolution, the Council also urged the parties to put an end to all acts of violence, particularly those committed against UNIFIL.
Reiterating its strong support for the territorial integrity, sovereignty and political independence of Lebanon within its internationally recognized boundaries, the Council requested the Secretary-General to continue consultations with the Government of Lebanon and other parties directly concerned.
In a related statement read out on the Council's behalf by its President, Ambassador Sergey Lavrov of the Russian Federation, the Council stressed the urgent need for full implementation of resolution 425 (1978). By that resolution, the Council had called on Israel immediately to cease its military action and withdraw its forces from all Lebanese territory. UNIFIL was established in 1978 to confirm that withdrawal and to assist the Lebanese Government in ensuring the return of its effective authority in the area.
In Thursday's statement, the Council reiterated its full support for the 1989 Taif Agreement -- the peace formula worked out by Lebanon's leaders to achieve national accord -- and for the continued efforts of the Lebanese Government to consolidate peace, national unity and security in the country, while successfully carrying out the reconstruction process.
The Council expressed concern over the continuing violence in southern Lebanon, said it regretted the loss of civilian life and urged all parties to exercise restraint.
"The Council notes with deep concern the high-level of casualties which UNIFIL has suffered and pays a special tribute to all those who gave their life while serving in UNIFIL," said Ambassador Lavrov. "It commends UNIFIL's troops and troop-contributing countries for their sacrifices and commitment to the cause of international peace and security under difficult circumstances," he concluded.
There is no evidence of an explosion in the plane crash which last month killed the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Angola, Alioune Blondin Beye, and seven others, according to a preliminary investigation.
"At this point in the investigation, which is being led by the National Civil Aviation Agency of Cote d'Ivoire, no evidence has emerged of either an explosion or fire in the aircraft prior to impact," said United Nations Spokesman Juan Carlos Brandt on Thursday. He added that critical components of the aircraft are still being examined by laboratories.
The National Civil Aviation Agency of Cote d'Ivoire has stated that it would spend six months or longer completing its initial report on the crash.
The crash took place on 26 June as the plane approached its landing point in Cote d'Ivoire. There were several communications between the aircraft and the control tower in Abidjan prior to the crash, according to Mr. Brandt. "These communications gave no indication that the flight was proceeding in other than the normal manner," he said. Under international standards, the aircraft used in the flight was not required to carry a cockpit voice recorder or a flight data recorder (the socalled "black box"). Both the aircraft's operator and the manufacturer have confirmed that neither device had been installed in the plane prior to the crash, the Spokesman added.
A United Nations expert on Cambodia has urged the international community to retain its commitment to human rights in the country through words and practical assistance.
Thomas Hammarberg, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Human Rights in Cambodia, on Thursday said the Government must build a system of justice capable of tackling the widespread problem of impunity. "Violent and other crimes are still routinely going unchecked," he said, calling for the Government to "seriously look into the approximately 100 extra-judicial killings" which have occurred since last August. He said that the United Nations had brought the matter to the Government's attention but had received no response.
Mr. Hammarberg, whose statement followed last weekend's elections in Cambodia, said that the country's next Government should pay attention to critical human rights issues, including the rights of women and children, and the related problem of domestic violence; prostitution and the trafficking in persons; and child labour. "The school system is chaotic and corrupt, and special effort is needed to ensure that girls have access to education," he said. "As to the participation of women in public life, the low number of female candidates for posts in the National Assembly reflects only too accurately the current position of women in Cambodian society."
Major efforts were required to overcome hatred and prejudice against ethnic minorities in Cambodia, according to Mr. Hammarberg, who cited the April massacre of Vietnamese villagers in Kompong Chhnang as an example. "Political leaders have a moral responsibility to lead the way in showing tolerance and respect for their fellow human beings, regardless of origin," he said.
The Special Representative expressed concern about proposed legislation which would restrict the funding and operations of non- governmental organizations (NGOs). "I urge the Government not to take such a course, but to expand and build on its relationships with members of the non- governmental community." He pointed to the participation of NGOs in the recent election campaign as evidence of their capabilities and potential, saying, "it is essential that they continue to be able to work unhindered and with the full blessing of the Government."
The Conference on Disarmament on Thursday decided to meet in closed session next week to consult on the formation of an ad hoc committee to deal with the issue of fissile material used in nuclear weapons.
The representative of Pakistan, Munir Akran, expressed support for the establishment of such a committee, which would negotiate a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosive devices. Others supporting the committee's formation included the representatives of the Republic of Korea, Germany, Austria, Australia, New Zealand, France, the Netherlands, the United States and Belgium.
John B. Campbell, Australia's representative, said that immediate commencement of negotiations on a fissile-material cut-off treaty should receive priority attention. The international community was looking to the Conference for a constructive response to the challenges posed by the recent nuclear tests carried out by India and Pakistan, and it should send the right signal, he stressed.
Brazil's representative, Celso Lafer, said that the possession of nuclear weapons was no longer a source of strength or security. He called for a clear, unequivocal commitment to their complete elimination.
Actor Michael Douglas has been recognized by United Nations Secretary- General Kofi Annan as a "Messenger of Peace".
"This is a tremendous honour," Mr. Douglas told reporters on Thursday at United Nations Headquarters in New York. "I hope to use the entertainment, communication abilities that we have around the world to talk a little less about movies and hopefully a lot more about some of the issues pertaining to the United Nations."
Mr. Douglas, a citizen of the United States, said he was "deeply embarrassed" about the country's debt to the United Nations, which now stands at over $1.5 billion. "As a member of the wealthiest country in the history of civilization, I think that most Americans are deeply embarrassed and humiliated that this debt is tied up in a controversy that should not exist," he said, pledging to do whatever he could to encourage all United States citizens to talk to their elected officials about the issue.
The actor said he would focus his efforts on the problem of nuclear proliferation, calling it a human rights issue. He also pledged to call attention to the proliferation of small arms, which he said was a big issue in the United States.
A reporter said that in some ways, the entertainment industry had glorified the use of small arms, and asked Mr. Douglas to comment. "I think it is unfair and untrue to relate for instance my country, the United States, which spends so much money promoting the sale of weapons worldwide, and to understand what that has to do with violence in films." He said this kind of thinking amounted to putting the cart before the horse. "The smuggling and sale of weapons around the world I don't think are directly related to violent action in films," he stated.
"This is a great honour for me -- it means as much to me as the two Oscars I've gotten," said the actor, who has starred in a number of hit movies, including "Coma", "The Jewel of the Nile", "Wall Street", "The War of the Roses", "Falling Down", "The American President" and "A Perfect Murder". Mr. Douglas has also produced such movies as "Made in America", John Grisham's "The Rainmaker" and the 1997 blockbuster hit "Face/Off".
"Emissaries such as Michael Douglas promote the important work of the United Nations in world affairs," commented Secretary-General Kofi Annan. "It is wonderful to have him on board."
Mr. Douglas now joins other Messengers of Peace Enrico Macias, Luciano Pavarotti, Elie Wiesel and Magic Johnson who are all working to focus worldwide attention on the work of the United Nations.
The Department of Public Information on Thursday launched a new website for the World Conference of Ministers Responsible for Youth, which will be held in Lisbon from 8 to 12 August.
The website has been designed to appeal to young people, according to its creator, Andreas Damianou. "I decided to have something more creative and fun, so I used animation," he said. "Some of the letters on the screen move and jump, and they are written in a font that imitates the writing of a young person," he pointed out, adding, "I also tried to use bright colours to reflect the liveliness of youth."
As Webmaster and Internet Coordinator, Mr. Damianou will update the website daily throughout the Conference in order to enable anyone interested in the proceedings to follow developments as they unfold. The website will feature the Conference's daily programme, statements, press releases, documents, photographs and audio news. Background information on the Conference is already posted on the site, which can be located at www.un.org/events/youth98.
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