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United Nations Daily Highlights, 99-12-14

United Nations Daily Highlights Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: The United Nations Home Page at <http://www.un.org> - email: unnews@un.org

HIGHLIGHTS

FROM THE

SECRETARY-GENERAL'S

END-OF-YEAR NEWS CONFERENCE

UN HEADQUARTERS, NEW YORK

Tuesday, December 14, 1999

Secretary-General Kofi Annan's news conference substitutes for the noon briefing.

OPENING REMARKS BY THE SECRETARY-GENERAL

"Good Morning, Ladies and Gentlemen,

A year ago today, in this very room, I told you that, both in Kosovo and in Iraq, we had every reason to fear the worst in 1999 unless people redoubled their efforts to find peaceful solutions.

Well, perhaps the worst did not happen. But both those places have seen dramatic conflict since I spoke - in one case without even waiting for 1999. Meanwhile, we have seen other conflicts drag on in several parts of Africa, in Afghanistan, and now in Chechnya. All too often in these conflicts, one or more of the parties shows a shameful disregard for the provisions of international humanitarian and human rights law.

It has been an extraordinary year - and has brought unexpected new responsibilities to the United Nations. On opposite sides of the world - in Kosovo and in East Timor - people who have been through a terrible ordeal are now rebuilding their institutions and their future with the help of the United Nations.

The situation in Kosovo remains very difficult. The legacy of hatred left by such conflicts is not easily overcome. The UN Mission led by Bernard Kouchner is still short of manpower, especially in the crucial area of police work. Yet in all the circumstances it is doing a remarkable job.

In East Timor, I am glad to say, the process of reconciliation is moving faster. No doubt this is due in part to the fact that the territory's political destiny is clear, after the act of self-determination carried out in August under United Nations auspices. But I believe it is also a tribute to the statesmanship of exceptional political leaders - Xanana Gusmao, who is working closely with my Special Representative, Sergio Vieira de Mello; and President Wahid of Indonesia.

I am glad and delighted that President Wahid has accepted my invitation to visit East Timor, which I extended to him with the full consent and encouragement of Mr. Gusmao. And I hope this improved atmosphere will very soon allow the refugees who are still in camps in West Timor to return home in peace and safety shortly.

In the New Year, as you know, the United Nations force will take over responsibility for security in East Timor. I have decided to appoint a Force Commander from the Philippines, with a deputy commander from Australia, who will help ensure continuity with the excellent job done by the present International Force under General Cosgrove.

I deeply regret that we were unable to prevent the senseless bloodshed of August and September. But if we compare the prospect now with that of two years ago, we see that East Timor is one more case where time and patient diplomacy - ably conducted in this case by my Special Envoy, Jamsheed Marker - have brought hope to what had been a hopeless situation. And that, I believe, should encourage those who are struggling to end other longstanding and intractable conflicts, for instance in the Middle East and in Cyprus.

As you know, the proximity talks on Cyprus are adjourning today, after twelve days during which both parties have engaged very seriously with the whole range of issues that divided them. I have invited the two parties to resume the talks on the same basis early next year, and the date will be announced in due course. We have all agreed not to engage in public discussion of the substance of these talks, but I can at least say that the new dynamic between Turkey and the European Union, and between Greece and Turkey, provides a hopeful context in which to continue them.

The Iraqi problem, meanwhile, remains very much with us. Throughout the year the United Nations has been handicapped in dealing with it by divisions within the Security Council. I hope that today, or very soon, the Council will be able to agree on a new Resolution. I hope this will enable us at last to move into a more constructive phase in which we can both verify Iraq's disarmament, as mandated by Security Council resolutions, and bring an end to the long ordeal of the Iraqi people. I strongly urge the Iraqi authorities to make that possible by complying with the Council's decisions.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am glad to say that this has been a year of progress also in at least some parts of Africa, and above all a year of renewed attention to Africa's problems in this Organisation, from the Security Council to the General Assembly. The Council, in particular, devoted a special session to Africa in September, chaired by the prime minister of the Netherlands. It will hold another tomorrow, and Ambassador Holbrooke, who has just returned from an African tour, has promised us no less than three such sessions next month. If Africans think the world has forgotten them, they should take heart.

I would not pretend that we are close to solving all Africa's problems, but I believe we are now giving them the serious attention they deserve. In this I include not only the problems of bringing peace to the many African countries that have suffered long and bitter conflicts but also, and no less urgently, the battle against AIDS.

Perhaps the same observation could be made about the world in general. We are not short of problems - from global warming through weapons proliferation to the prison-house of poverty in which so many of our fellow human beings are still confined. The WTO summit has made us all aware, perhaps more sharply than ever before, of the strains and stresses that accompany globalization, and the need for shared global values and effective global institutions to underpin the global market. As I said in my speech there - or would have said, if I had been able to deliver it! - these problems cannot be solved by putting yet more restrictions on developing countries' exports. But they do call for a strengthening of the United Nations system.

As the millennium dawns, I believe the world is gaining a clearer understanding of its problems, and of the need to tackle them through collective action. I hope and trust that this new clarity will shine through during the Millennium Year, and will be matched by a determination to act - especially when Heads of State and Government assemble for the Millennium Summit here in New York next September.

Let me wish all of you a Happy New Year - and now I will take your questions."

THE SUMMARY OF THE SECRETARY-GENERAL'S ANSWERS ON:

IRAQ

The Secretary-General responded to questions on the next steps if the Security Council passes a comprehensive resolution on Iraq by saying that the United Nations is making preparations to select a Chairman for the proposed United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC). He said that the major hurdle is to win Iraq's cooperation if the resolution is approved.

Asked about the qualifications of a possible UNMOVIC Chairman, Annan said he would look for someone who knows about disarmament, a manager who has good judgment and people skills, and who is "firm, but correct." In short, he said, it would be someone like former UN Special Commission Chairman (UNSCOM) Rolf Ekeus.

Asked about whether the Iraq resolution could be implemented, he said that he still hoped the Security Council would find common ground on the subject. But he cautioned, "We know the history of the United Nations and Iraq, the history of UNSCOM and we know how difficult the task has been."

Asked about other members of UNMOVIC, the Secretary-General said that he, along with Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs Jayantha Dhanapala, would be drawing up a list of people who could be included in the staff. But the Chairman of UNMOVIC must be selected first, he said.

Asked about the escrow account for Iraq, he said that the United Nations was examining how the possibility of large amounts of money passing through the account could be handled, but added that he could not provide details.

On his personal involvement in negotiations with Iraq, he said, "At this stage, I don't think the question of a trip to Iraq is posed."

CYPRUS

Asked about disputes between the Cypriot parties on a resolution to extend the mandate of UN peacekeepers there, the Secretary-General said that he was aware of the differences, but added, "I am not discouraged. I am still hopeful that we will meet at the end of January."

Asked about whether any papers or "non-papers" had been circulated at the talks, he said no papers of any kind had been issued.

On the new climate in the region, he noted that the possibility of Turkey's inclusion in the European Union and the improved relationship between Turkey and Greece could help to make progress on the question of Cyprus.

HUMANITARIAN INTERVENTION

The Secretary-General said there continues to be an active debate, within and outside the United Nations, about humanitarian intervention. He called it "a healthy sign" that the debate is going on, and noted that he has a task force on the subject, headed by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Kieran Prendergast.

Asked on the "Annan doctrine" of humanitarian intervention the Secretary-General discussed at the General Assembly, he said that he did not expect the debate to be settled overnight.

He agreed with a reporter's observation that the treatment of the situation in Chechnya has been different from international reaction to Kosovo and East Timor. But he said that, even in Chechnya, "the international community may not have been able to put in troops but they have not sat with arms crossed." Annan said he has talked with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, and had sent (the High Commissioner for Refugees) Sadako Ogata as his Special Envoy to work with the Government on the issue.

TERRORISM

The Secretary-General responded to a question on terrorism by saying that terrorism needs to be fought. "We need to work across national boundaries to ensure that terrorists are not given refuge in one country or the other," he said.

At the same time, he noted, "we need to make sure that international humanitarian law is respected. I have often said that if we fall into the trap of using the means that the terrorists use in fighting them, we will be doing their work for them."

Asked about terrorist threats against UN personnel in recent weeks, he said, "We haven't had any direct threats as such." But he noted that over the past year, UN personnel have faced problems, and are advised to take care when they work in difficult situations.

RWANDA

Asked about the report of the Rwanda Inquiry that is being completed, the Secretary-General said he expects to receive the report tomorrow. He noted that he has previously received a report on the lessons learned from the Srebrenica massacre. "We need to draw the right lessons and prepare better for the future, and ensure that these things do not happen again," he said.

He added, "As a human being and an individual, I feel that it's painful and tragic that we couldn't have done more to avoid Srebrenica, to avoid Rwanda and to avoid what happen in East Timor."

He said take he would make further proposals on how to improve UN actions, and would act if the report requires steps against individuals deemed to have been negligent.

WORLD TRADE

On the importance of civil society, he said that it is clear that the United Nations will have to work in partnership with civil society and the private sector. "We are living in a different world and we have to work in partnership with civil society, with the private sector, with NGOs, foundations and universities," he said. On many issues, he added, civil society had taken the lead, from the land-mines ban to the International Criminal Court.

He also urged donor Governments to "give and give generously" to the poorest nations.

In response to a question about the major challenges for the coming year, he pointed to the strains of globalization, including the "fear, anxiety and disorientation" he had seen among protestors at the Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization in Seattle. The challenge ahead, he said, is for the international system "to come up with rules and values that will govern relationships."

He said he has encouraged the private sector and large corporations to pay attention to human rights, environmental and labor standards, and had invited them to enter into a compact with the United Nations on such standards. If they could not join such a compact, he said he had warned last January, the need for standards could be "tacked on" to trade negotiations, which he said was "the wrong thing to do."

He noted the tensions between North and South at the Seattle Conference, and said that "what we need is a trading system that is open and fair, a trading system that will permit the poor countries and the poor to trade themselves out of poverty."

COOPERATION WITH SECURITY COUNCIL

Asked about the cooperation he received from the Security Council and its five permanent members over the past year, the Secretary-General said that he had received "very good cooperation" from both groups, on issues ranging from Kosovo and East Timor to crises in Africa.

He noted the Council's holding of several special sessions on Africa and its holding of several open debates. "I am very satisfied with the cooperation I have had from the Council and I hope this will continue in the new year," he said.

AFGHANISTAN

Asked about child soldiers in Afghanistan, he noted that UN staff in the region had indicated that there were child soldiers. However, he noted, when UN Humanitarian Coordinator Erick de Mul was escorted to the front lines by Taliban officials, "he said he didn't see any children on that particular date."

MILLENNIUM SUMMIT

Asked about arrangements for the Millennium Summit, Annan said that Member States are discussing the Summit's agenda, and a report on the subject is expected by the end of March. He urged that Governments make efforts to include the views of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and Parliaments; "otherwise, we may have another Seattle," he said.

ARREARS

Asked about the United States legislation that would pay some US arrears, subject to certain conditions, Annan said, "The bill was not ideal." He noted that the United States would have to negotiate with the 187 other Member States about the conditions, which he said would be "a major challenge for US diplomacy."

Before the end of this year, he added, he believed enough of the arrears would be paid to avoid the loss of the US vote in the General Assembly.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO

Asked about UN efforts in the DRC, he said that the United Nations is trying to win Security Council approval for the deployment of 500 military observers there. He noted that discussions on appointing a Facilitator for the DRC are now underway, and noted that former President Ketumile Masire of Botswana had been mentioned, although the matter is not settled. He added that he has sent his Special Representative, Kamel Morjane, to the DRC to consult with the Government and rebels.

MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS

Asked about UN involvement in the Middle East peace process, Annan noted that he has designated a Coordinator, Terje Roed Larsen, who is working with the parties, and the United Nations is also deployed on the ground in the region.

"We support the process, and I am very encouraged by the fact that Syria and Israel are meeting tomorrow in Washington to discuss a resumption in talks on that track," he said.

If the parties engage honestly and straightforwardly in talks, he said, "it is likely that we will see major changes in that region within a year." The United Nations will do whatever it can to support the process, he added.

CORRUPTION

Asked about corruption in the United Nations, the Secretary-General urged UN oversight bodies "to redouble their efforts," and added that he hoped to name a replacement to former Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services Karl Theodor Paschke shortly.

MACAU

Asked about the hand-over of Macau to China, the Secretary-General said that "patience and careful negotiations have made a difference in the case of Macau, as they did in the case of Hong Kong." He congratulated the Governments of Portugal and China on their agreement, and noted that Under-Secretary-General Sergio Vieira de Mello will represent the United Nations at the ceremony.

PANAMA CANAL

Asked why he did not attend the hand-over ceremony of the Panama Canal, he said that he had to remain in New York to attend the last session of the Cyprus proximity talks today. He said he had discussed his schedule with the Panamanian Government.

"I congratulate the Government of Panama and the people of Panama on the historic transfer of the Canal to the Government, and I hope that it will prosper and have an impact on the economic development of the country," he said.

THE YEAR AHEAD

Asked about what the main challenges for the year ahead would include, the Secretary-General highlighted the problem of the AIDS epidemic. "AIDS is not over; it's very much present," he said, noting that it has made many children orphans and sometimes destroyed entire societies by causing the deaths of economically active people. "We have to fight it as a health issue, as a political issue and as a social issue," he said.

Asked what he would do at midnight on New Year's Eve, Annan said he would spend it with his friends in New York. "At midnight, I'll probably be dancing," he said.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS TODAY

The Security Council began today's work with informal consultations on Western Sahara; the Council is expected this afternoon to approve the extension of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) until February 29, 2000. The Council also continued its discussions on the comprehensive resolution on Iraq.

Also this afternoon, the Council expects to be briefed by Alvaro de Soto, Special Adviser on Cyprus, about the proximity talks in which the Secretary-General and de Soto participated. The Secretary-General met with the parties this morning, first with His Excellency Rauf Denktash at 9:45 a.m. and then with His Excellency Glafcos Clerides at 10:25 a.m. The talks then adjourned, and de Soto will brief the Council on the progress of the talks.

Wednesday, the Security Council will hold an Open Debate on Africa, at which the Secretary-General will speak. Also, the Council is expected to vote on the extension of the mandate for the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP).

In The Hague today, Goran Jelisic was sentenced to 40 years imprisonment, the harshest sentence so far handed down by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. The crimes on which he was convicted relate to the murder and the beating of people and plunder of private property in the Brcko area of Bosnia-Herzegovina in May 1992.

Today, the UN oil overseer received the pricing formula for the sale of Iraqi oil, which will be circulated today to the 661 Committee. The first contracts for the sale of Iraqi oil were received on Monday, and are also being circulated to the Committee for approval. On Saturday, the Ambassador of Iraq and the Office of Legal Affairs signed the Memorandum of Understanding for Phase VII of the "oil-for-food" programme, which went into effect one minute after midnight on Sunday.

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