4 April 1997

Press Briefing



Juan Carlos Brandt, Associate Spokesman for the Secretary-General, began today's briefing with an answer to a question from yesterday's briefing regarding communication between the Secretary-General and the Mayor of the City of New York, Rudolph Giuliani.

The Secretary-General had sent "a very warm letter" to Mr. Giuliani on 4 February, Mr. Brandt said, to which he received "a very warm" letter in return dated 18 March. The Secretary-General also sent a letter on 4 February to the Governor of the State of New York, George Pataki, to which he received a "very nice reply" of 17 March. In their letters, the New York officials expressed their willingness to work together with the United Nations, and warmly congratulated the Secretary-General on his appointment, saying there was nobody better for the job.

To a question about whether there was a precedent for such correspondence, the Associate Spokesman said "yes", adding that an exchange of letters had taken place with other Secretaries-General. A formal meeting between the Secretary-General and the New York officials had not yet taken place, he further added.

Turning to matters under review by the Security Council today, Mr. Brandt said consultations had begun this morning on the Secretary- General's report on the United Nations Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission (UNIKOM). It was a progress report stemming from Council resolution 689 (1991) calling for a periodic six-month review of the Mission. The Secretary- General recommended in the report that the Mission be maintained for an additional six-month period. The Council was also being briefed for the second day by Assistant Secretary-General for Peace-keeping Operations Hédi Annabi on the situation in Sierra Leone. Mr. Annabi had briefed the Council yesterday, particularly on the stand-off that continued over the "arrest" by the chief field commander of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) of two RUF members of the Commission for the Consolidation of Peace, as well as a Sierra Leone Ambassador and some Guinean security officials. Council members wanted more information on that matter.

Mr. Brandt said that the Security Council was also expected to consider a draft presidential statement on Libya concerning unauthorized flights to Saudi Arabia. Finally, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Yasushi Akashi, would update the Council on the humanitarian situation in Zaire.

Continuing, Mr. Brandt said the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, the European Union Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid, Emma Bonino, the Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), Carol Bellamy, and the Deputy Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), Namanga Ngongi, had today issued a joint appeal to the participants in the talks in South Africa on Zaire to fully consider the urgent humanitarian needs of hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced persons stranded in the war zone.

Similarly, the Associate Spokesman said the Inter-Agency Standing Committee had issued another appeal on eastern Zaire, calling the attention of the participants in the Zaire talks to the very grave, serious and dramatic situation of the refugees there. (The Inter-Agency Standing Committee is comprised of agency heads of the WFP, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Health Organization (WHO), and UNICEF, as well as representatives of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the Steering Committee for Humanitarian Response, InterAction, and the International Council of Voluntary Agencies.) In its appeal, the Committee called for the parties to respect humanitarian principles and the Geneva Convention, and to allow free access to the refugees and displaced persons, especially the thousands of children in urgent need of assistance, Mr. Brandt said. Copies of both appeals were available in the Spokesman's Office.

The broad participation in those appeals illustrated the unity of the United Nations system in its "desperate call for action", Mr. Brandt continued. It was hoped that the principals in the talks understood that the United Nations wanted to prevent further deaths by allowing those refugees -- those children -- and those people who were dying, weak and abandoned to receive aid.

The situation in the makeshift camps of Kasese and Biaro near Kisangani was very worrisome, he reported, with the death toll rising rapidly. At least 120 people a day were dying. And, as of early today, 650 bodies had been collected. In addition to the estimated 80,000 people at those sites, there were still refugees on the riverbank opposite Ubundu town. Those were the "weakest of the weak", left behind on the road after the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (ADFL) took over Tingi- Tingi last month. People arriving at the aid facility at kilometre 82 near Ubundu were dying of hunger and exhaustion, and disease. Many children were now in an "irreversible stage", meaning that regardless of how much aid reached them, they would die. All told, at least 20,000 children, women, sick and elderly needed urgent help and were in urgent need of evacuation.

On another matter, Mr. Brandt announced that the Maldives had fully paid its regular budget assessment of $106,508 to the United Nations, making it the forty-ninth Member State to do so. By today's date last year, the same number

Daily Press Briefing - 3 - 4 April 1997

of Member States had also paid their contributions in full. The Organization was still owed $2.9 billion, of which $1.1 billion was owed the regular budget, and more than $1.8 billion was owed for peace-keeping.

The Associate Spokesman said that there were three reports from Geneva available in his office: a report on the Human Rights Field Operation in the Former Yugoslavia, dated 3 April; a status report concerning the attack on a primary school in Kivumu commune, Kibuye Prefecture, and the killing of six students and a night guard on 18 March; and a status report on the genocide trials in Rwanda for the period 3 January to 2 March.

The WFP and the Government of Italy had launched on Friday an emergency operation to provide food aid to the most vulnerable people in Albania's worsening food crisis, said Mr.Brandt. The food was targeted at orphanages, hospitals, homes for the elderly and centres for the handicapped in the capital city of Tirana, as well as in the towns of Skoder, Kavaje in the north and centre of the country, and Lushnje and Fier in the south-west. Also targeted were the most destitute households in rural areas affected by the collapse of the social welfare system. A news release from the WFP was available on the third floor.

Next Monday at the noon briefing, Mr. Akashi would announce the launching of the United Nations consolidated inter-agency appeal for emergency humanitarian assistance to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. The appeal covered the period from 1 April 1997 to 31 March 1998, and called for some $126 million to address urgent food and health needs resulting from the effects of the unprecedented flooding in 1995 and 1996.

Also on Monday, at 1:15 p.m., the Chargé d'affaires of the Permanent Mission of Rwanda, Pierre Emmanuel Ubalijoro, would brief reporters in room 226, Mr. Brandt said. Monday was also World Health Day. The theme for 1997 was "Emerging Infectious Diseases -- Global Alert, Global Response". The Director-General of the WHO, Hiroshi Nakajima, had issued a press release warning against lowering one's guard in the fight against new and emerging diseases. The press release was also available upstairs.

Also on World Health Day, the UN CyberSchoolBus on-line project in New York, in conjunction with the WHO and Turner Educational Services (TESI), would host a live Internet "chat" on the observance, he added. The chat would be joined by the director of the WHO Division of Emerging and Communicable Diseases, Dr. David Heymann, from Geneva. The event was part of a UN CyberSchoolBus six-week on-line project. A link to the chat area and technical information regarding the chat were available at the health project site: http://www.un.org/pubs/CyberSchoolBus.

Asked if the Secretary-General had any opinion or word from Mrs. Ogata in London yesterday concerning the relationship between refugee problems and the question of international peace and security, possibly re-opening the door

Daily Press Briefing - 4 - 4 April 1997

for a force under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, Mr. Brandt said what was required at present was for aid to reach the people who needed it the most, and for the diplomatic talks and cease-fire to succeed. He had no particular comment on a standing force just now. To a follow-up question about the leader of the ADFL, Laurent Kabila, wishing to meet alone, without United Nations presence, with that country's new Prime Minister, Etienne Tshisekedi, Mr. Brandt said, "that's fine, we want people to meet and talk".

Mr. Brandt then offered an answer to a matter concerning a problem with the United Nations Secretariat Building's energy source last night. Con Edison had four electrical lines, or feeders, which served the Secretariat Building, as well as other buildings outside, he said. Two of the lines had apparently developed faults outside the Building, while one of the feeder lines developed problems, too. The result was that the United Nations Building was left with only 25 per cent of its electrical power. Immediate action was needed to shut down 75 per cent of the power in areas of demand. Con Edison came in last night and restored full power by 12:30 a.m. Asked why the Building's own generator was not used, Mr. Brandt said that it was not necessary to activate the generator, since most of the staff had gone home by that hour of the night and Con Edison had promptly arrived to resolve the problem.

Another reporter noted that there seemed to be some trouble in the talks on Zaire, and asked if the Associate Spokesman knew more. Mr. Brandt said that he was aware of news reports this morning which indicated that one side was in South Africa, while the other still had not arrived. After speaking with several people this morning in the Department of Political Affairs, he believed that, for the time being, everything seemed to be ready for the talks to take place over the weekend. He hoped that things would move ahead as planned.

Asked if the United Nations had been officially invited to monitor the elections in Haiti, the Associate Spokesman reiterated the Security Council's decision to continue the United Nations Support Mission in Haiti (UNSMIH) until the end of July. There was also the Organization of American States (OAS)/United Nations component dealing with human rights. Regarding the monitoring of the legislative/parliamentary elections, they would be observed by the international community, and more would be learned as the elections approached.

* *** *

For information media. Not an official record.