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21 March 1996

Press Briefing



Ahmad Fawzi, Deputy Spokesman for Secretary-General Boutros Boutros- Ghali, began today's noon briefing by saying that the Secretary-General was in Paris where, at 9 a.m. Paris time, he had met with French President Jacques Chirac. The Secretary-General said the meeting was very useful and extremely positive. He and President Chirac discussed a number of topics: first and foremost, United Nations reform and the financial crisis of the Organization. They also reviewed the negotiations between the United Nations and the Iraqi Government on the "oil-for-food" formula outlined by Security Council resolution 986 (1995), United Nations activities in the former Yugoslavia, a number of African problems and the question of Western Sahara.

Today was the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Mr. Fawzi said. The Secretary-General's message was available (Press Release SG/SM/5930 issued today). The Secretary-General said, "On the eve of the twenty-first century, the political will to eliminate racism and racial discrimination must be stronger and more demanding".

The Deputy Spokesman said that, at 6 p.m. Paris time, the Secretary- General was delivering a major address to the French Institute of International Relations, a similar organization to the Council on Foreign Relations in the United States. He was speaking to a group of high-level academics, intellectuals and politicians. The speech was being delivered in French; copies in French and English would be available on the racks as a press release (SG/SM/5932 issued today).

Turning to the situation in Guatemala, Mr. Fawzi said the Secretary- General had learned with great satisfaction of the announcement yesterday by the Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca (URNG) that, as a contribution to progress in the peace process, it was suspending temporarily offensive military operations, and also of the response of President Alvaro Arzu, who was issuing instructions to the Army to cease counter-insurgency operations.

A complete text of the Secretary-General's statement on the subject was available as Press Release SG/SM/5934 issued today. The Deputy Spokesman emphasized that the developments in Guatemala were very positive, and that the Secretary-General was urging the international community to increase its support for the Guatemala peace process and, in particular, its support for the United Nations Human Rights Verification Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA) whose activities were, in the view of both parties, critical to the success of the peace process.

Regarding the World Food Programme (WFP) ship that sank in stormy seas in the Taiwan Strait, the Deputy Spokesman said it was carrying rice to flood victims in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. It was a terrible accident. Copies of the press release (WFP/1030), issued in Rome yesterday, were available on the racks. In it, the WFP Executive Director, Catherine Ann Bertini, expressed the organization's sadness over the tragic accident. The ship was carrying 5,636 tons of WFP rice, as well as 903 tons of rice that the WFP was shipping to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea for Caritas. The lost shipment was the second WFP consignment of rice shipped to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea since the country had suffered widespread flooding last summer.

Mr. Fawzi said the situation in the northern provinces of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea had become so bad that some people there had been reduced to eating leaves. Contrary to some media reports that things had improved, they had not. Things were extremely serious a few months ago. They were even worse today. The ship that sank was carrying enough rice to feed 750,000 people for three weeks. So those 750,000 people will have to go without food until the next consignment reaches the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. A third ship was scheduled to arrive around the end of April. However, the WFP was very quickly putting together another ship that would be arriving between 15 and 20 April. It would be carrying 8,500 tons of rice.

On behalf of the Department of Humanitarian Affairs, which was spearheading some of the relief efforts, the Deputy Spokesman said he would like to emphasize that certain recent media reports had conveyed the erroneous impression that the United Nations considered the humanitarian emergency in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea over. "Far from it."

Mr. Fawzi said a press release on the subject would be made available (SG/SM/5935 issued today). He underscored that the Department of Humanitarian Affairs believed that there were still serious needs in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, especially in terms of widespread shortages of food. More money from donor countries was needed. The joint appeal by United Nations agencies in September last year had received only 45 per cent of the $20 million requested.

The Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Alvaro de Soto, had travelled to El Salvador from 18 to 20 March, at the request of President Calderón Sol, to assess the state of implementation of the peace accords in advance of the expiration of the current mandate of the Mission of the United Nations in El Salvador (MINUSAL) on 30 April 1996. Regarding that trip, the Deputy Spokesman read a prepared statement (available as Press Release SG/SM/5934 issued today).

Mr. Fawzi said that five United Nations staff members had been kidnapped in Somalia today. Four of the five were affiliated with the United Nations

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Children's Fund (UNICEF) and one with the World Health Organization (WHO). Their nationalities were as follows: one each from India, Nepal, Sudan, United Kingdom and United States. Very delicate negotiations were going on with their captors. The staff members had just been flown into Mogadishu and were picked up at the airfield. The United Nations was demanding their immediate release. More news would be given as the situation progressed throughout the day. The incident highlighted the tremendous risks faced by United Nations staff members around the world.

On other matters, he said that the Security Council was holding closed consultations to undertake its 120-day review of the sanctions against Libya. Also, the Spokesmen's Office had copies of the bi-weekly summary of outstanding contributions to the United Nations budget. It included a list of the 15 major contributors, and the outstanding contributions to the regular and peace-keeping budgets. As of 15 March, outstanding assessed contributions to the United Nations totalled $3.2 billion -- $1.3 billion for the regular budget and $1.9 billion for peace-keeping. An additional $9.6 million was owed for the International Tribunals. Included in the peace-keeping and International Tribunals categories were assessments within the 30-day-due period.

Following up on questions posed by correspondents yesterday, the Deputy Spokesman said that Security Council President Legwaila Joseph Legwaila of Botswana had yet to talk with Jonas Savimbi, leader of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). Federico di Roberto, Representative of the Presidency of the European Union for Cyprus, had met yesterday with Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Marrack Goulding in the context of routine consultations between the United Nations and the European Union. And no Libyan planes were transporting Libyan pilgrims to Mecca. Egyptian planes were transporting the Libyan pilgrims.

Finally, he said, the United Nations University public forum "Women and Mainstreaming: Towards a Research Agenda" would be held tomorrow, 22 March, from 1 to 3 p.m. in Conference Room 7. The forum would provide an opportunity for an exchange of views between practitioners and scholars to identify an integrated agenda and to explore common strategies for addressing issues related to women. The moderator would be the Senior Vice-Rector of the United Nations University, Takashi Inogouchi. Panelists would include the Director of the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women. For more information, correspondents were urged to call the United Nations University office in Building DC-2; telephone: 963-6387.

A correspondent said the media had not misquoted the Department of Humanitarian Affairs regarding the situation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Mr. Fawzi said he had never claimed that anybody misquoted, but reports might have misrepresented the situation. The situation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea had not improved. It remained

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extremely serious. Mr. Fawzi said he was not blaming the media, but the statements that were made might have been taken out of context.

A correspondent referred to the fact that Rolf Ekeus, Executive Chairman of the Special Commission to monitor and verify Iraq's destruction or rendering harmless its weapons systems, had appeared yesterday as a guest of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the United States Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs and had given that Subcommittee an informal briefing on the status of the Special Commission's work in Iraq. The correspondent asked if it was normal for a United Nations official to testify at a United States Government hearing. Mr. Fawzi said there was no rule prohibiting United Nations officials from doing so.

Asked if the third ship carrying rice to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was coming from Bangkok, Mr. Fawzi said he did not know. Asked if there had been United Nations and WFP personnel on the ship, he said he was sure there had been WFP staff members, though he had yet to receive a run-down on the ship's personnel.

The Deputy Spokesman reminded correspondents of the briefing by the Director of MINUGUA, Leonardo Franco (briefing notes issued separately).

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For information media. Not an official record.