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United Nations Daily Highlights, 99-12-08

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From: The United Nations Home Page at <> - email:





Wednesday, December 8, 1999


The Spokesman announced after the briefing that Secretary-General Kofi Annan reached Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov by telephone at about 1 p.m. today. They had a long and frank discussion regarding the latest developments in Chechnya, including the protection of civilians, enhanced humanitarian assistance for them and protection of aid workers. They agreed that these contacts should continue. Over the past weeks, the Secretary-General has also discussed the Chechnya issue more than once with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Earlier today, Mary Robinson, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, joined the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) High Commissioner for National Minorities today in expressing concern over the situation of civilians in Grozny, Chechnya.

According to the ultimatum of December 6 from the Federal authorities of the Russian Federation, the civilians are being given no other choice than to leave the city within five days or risk indiscriminate bombardment.

Tuesday evening, Robinson reiterated her deep concern about the situation in Chechnya and called on the Russian Government to exercise restraint. She had called Monday's ultimatum "particularly disquieting," saying it would endanger the lives of the elderly and the infirm.

"Russia has legitimate security concerns but it is not appropriate to respond by violating people's human rights," she said. "International requirements for the protection of civilians in armed conflict are clear-cut and must be respected."


Today's Cyprus talks began at 9:30 a.m., when the Secretary-General's Special Adviser Alvaro de Soto met with His Excellency Glafcos Clerides. He then met at 11:30 with His Excellency Rauf Denktash.

De Soto said that this same schedule of meetings would be followed for the remainder of the week.

The Spokesman noted that both sides at the proximity talks were to abstain from making public statements on any issues relevant to the talks. "This undertaking notwithstanding, a public statement attributed to one of the two sides has appeared in yesterday's Cypriot press," he said. "It is obvious that press statements cannot reflect accurately what is going on in the proximity talks, of which the Secretary-General can provide an authoritative version."

He reiterated that the moratorium on statements is intended to preserve the confidentiality of the talks and to avoid public exchanges between the two sides that could affect the constructive spirit in which the talks should take place. He repeated the UN's hope that both sides adhere to the moratorium.


Today, Sergio Vieira de Mello, the Special Representative in East Timor, took Jos&eacute; Ramos Horta, the East Timorese Nobel Prize laureate, on a tour of three locations in East Timor.

They first visited Manatuto, east of Dili, where de Mello announced that the newly-created National Consultative Council would convene for the first time on Saturday. He also announced that a seminar on public health would take place Saturday as a first step towards creating a national health plan.

In a meeting with Manatuto leaders, de Mello said that 35,000 tons of shelter material would start arriving in East Timor in January. Ramos Horta addressed a crowd there, saying, "The United Nations is not going to be here for 500 years as the Portuguese were. The United Nations is not going to be here for 23 years as the Indonesians were. They are going to stay here two to three years--a very, very short period of time. We cannot waste time. We cannot waste the good will of the international community."

De Mello and Ramos Horta then visited the island of Atauro, north of Dili, which had been used by the Indonesians as a place to hold political prisoners. De Mello told a welcoming crowd there that never again would there be political prisoners in East Timor.

The last stop was Liquica, west of Dili, where the two men again were given a warm, enthusiastic welcome. There they were briefed by UN police on the identification of bodies. Some 130 bodies have been recovered at Liquica.


At 3 p.m. today, the Secretary-General and Peter Hansen, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) will give a press briefing to discuss UNRWA's accomplishments over the past 50 years.

The briefing is part of today's commemoration of UNRWA's 50th anniversary, which also included this morning's ceremony in the General Assembly.

In the Secretary-General's remarks, which were made available on an embargoed basis, he says that no other UN program "has been so closely linked, for so long, with the history of a people." Yet despite UNRWA's record, he warns, the agency "today finds itself in a state of financial strangulation," and he urges donors to provide the resources UNRWA needs.

UNRWA also issued a release to mark the occasion, which said that it is "the longest-running humanitarian program of the United Nations, and the only one devoted to assisting a single group of people." Also, the agency -- which employs more than 22,000 local staff, most of whom are Palestinian refugees -- is one of the largest employers in the region.


The Security Council met today on Iraq.

Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock of the United Kingdom briefed the Council on consultations among the permanent members of the Council on Iraq.


United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Sadako Ogata and Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Balkans Carl Bildt delivered statements today at the one-day meeting in Geneva of the Humanitarian Issues Working Group on the former Yugoslavia.

Ogata, in her statement, underscored two particular concerns in Kosovo: the harassment, murder, expulsion and flight of non-Albanians and the need to speed up the smooth transition from emergency humanitarian activities to long-term rehabilitation and reconstruction.

She stressed the need for a regional approach. "Let us today make known our commitment to work together so that the Kosovo crisis will be the last refugee exodus in European history," she said.

Bildt, speaking about the Balkans region as a whole, questioned whether the process of ethnic separation had hardened and if it risked becoming permanent in some areas. He warned that unless refugees can return to a society that adheres to the rule of law, "today's returnee might become tomorrow's refugee."

The United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), meanwhile, announced that it will open on Thursday the first movie theater in Pristina. There will be a premiere showing Thursday evening by invitation only, and the theater will then be open to the public, starting on Friday. The first showing will be "Microcosmos," a documentary about insects.


Carla del Ponte, the Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, gave a press conference today in Kigali, Rwanda, before leaving for The Hague via Tanzania and Switzerland. She said that although she did not have the occasion to meet Rwandan authorities, she met representatives of Rwandan civil society and diplomats posted in Rwanda.

Del Ponte noted the professional and personal commitment in the service of international justice by Tribunal officers, both in Rwanda and in Tanzania. She announced her decision to divide her time equally between the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and for the Former Yugoslavia, and to spend considerable time in her office in Kigali.

She said that she hoped to be able to present her arguments shortly to the Tribunal's Appeals Chamber to obtain a revision of the decision to release Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza. She said that Barayagwiza should not escape justice, even under national authority.

Asked for comment on del Ponte's visit to Rwanda, the Spokesman said that the United Nations was relieved that the Government of Rwanda had granted her a visa so that she could visit her office.


The Secretary-General's latest report on Western Sahara was issued Tuesday afternoon. In it, the Secretary-General said that the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) could face a lengthy appeals process after nearly 80,000 applicants, who had been excluded from the list of eligible voters, contested their exclusion.

As a result, he says, "the prospect of holding the referendum within a reasonable period of time, instead of becoming closer, has become even more distant." The Secretary-General reported that disputes over voter eligibility could delay the holding of the referendum until the year 2002, or even beyond.

He also recommended that the Security Council extend MINURSO's mandate until February 29, 2000, adding that the extension would give the UN mission time to complete voter identification and begin the appeals process.

The Security Council is expected to take up the report in its consultations on Thursday.


Human rights abuses, cease-fire violations and harassment of humanitarian personnel in Sierra Leone should stop, the Secretary-General said in his first report on the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL). He warned that the continued violence against the people of Sierra Leone and international personnel is unacceptable and perpetrators should expect to be held accountable for their actions.

The Secretary-General recognized that some progress has been made in the implementation of the Lom&eacute; Agreement. Positive developments include the return of the former rebel leaders in Freetown, the establishment of the Government of National Unity, the provisional registration of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) as a political party and a recent increase of the number of ex-combatants registering for the disarmament.

In Freetown, meanwhile, the advance team of the Fifth Battalion of the Eighth Gurkha regiment of the Indian army arrived Tuesday. A contingent of 350 Kenyans is expected to arrive today.


Friday is Human Rights Day, which this year is dedicated to theme of overcoming racism. The United Nations has planned several events at UN Headquarters to mark the occasion.

On Thursday, the UN Staff Union will hold a panel discussion on staff security and human rights issues, including the growing risk of abduction and hostage-taking of staff. Speakers will include Giandomenico Picco, Personal Representative of the Secretary-General.

On Friday, at 10:30 a.m., singer and actor Ruben Blades, Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, will give a press conference.

Immediately afterward, at 11 a.m., there will be a briefing on the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Assistant Secretary-General Angela King, and Waly Bacre Ndiaye, Director of the New York Office of the Centre for Human Rights, will participate. The Optional Protocol would enable women who have faced sexual discrimination to file complaints before the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. There will be a signing ceremony for that Protocol -- in which about 15 States are expected to participate -- at noon in the Trusteeship Council Chamber. At 3 p.m., the Secretary-General is scheduled to open a panel discussion on the Optional Protocol.


The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) will host the world premiere of "Gorillas on the Edge", a new film from National Geographic Explorer, at a special screening this evening at UN Headquarters. At the screening, actress Sigourney Weaver is to be presented with the Dian Fossey Conservation Award.

The Central African Republic signed the Rome Statute that establishes the International Criminal Court (ICC), becoming the 91st signatory to the Statute. So far, five countries -- Senegal, Trinidad and Tobago, San Marino, Italy and Fiji -- have deposited their ratifications of the Statute with the Secretary-General. The Rome Statute needs to be ratified by 60 countries before it can enter into force.

In response to a question at the briefing yesterday, the Spokesman noted that the Secretary-General met with Terence Sinunguruza, Minister of Justice of Burundi. The Minister informed him orally of the results of the Government's investigation of the killing of two UN staff members on 12 October in Burundi. The Spokesman said he could not provide any further details.


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