15 April 1997

Press Briefing



Juan Carlos Brandt, Associate Spokesman for the Secretary-General, began today's noon briefing by introducing the Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), Stephen Lewis. Mr. Lewis, who had recently returned from Zaire, would brief correspondents in the second part of the briefing, he added. (Mr. Lewis' briefing will be issued separately.)

Continuing on the subject of the situation in the African Great Lakes region, Mr. Brandt told correspondents that the Office of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) hoped to start its airlift of Rwandan refugees on Thursday, moving people from the makeshift camps south of Kisangani to Goma. "We're talking about a distance upwards of 500 kilometres", he pointed out.

The Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (ADFL) wanted internally displaced people airlifted first, Mr. Brandt noted. The UNHCR, working with the World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had moved some 1,500 refugees so far and would continue with those lifts. "In fact, 500 people will be airlifted today from Kisangani to Goma", he said.

The airlift operation could start initially with an air bridge to Goma if the Alliance accepted it, Mr. Brandt said, but the UNHCR was continuing to negotiate the possibility of using other areas. The first group would consist of some 80 unaccompanied children. Afterwards, the UNHCR planned to bring out several hundred adults along with the children, and hoped to increase the number gradually, depending on transportation capabilities, so as to reach full capacity of up to 1,200 persons a day.

A transit centre for the departing refugees was being set up at Lula, seven kilometres outside Kisangani, Mr. Brandt added. A barge, with capacity for 350 people, would ferry refugees across the Zaire river to the airport in Kisangani. He noted that in Goma there was an existing transit centre for children where the UNHCR expected them to stay overnight before heading to Rwanda. Goma had the capacity to handle large numbers of refugees returning to Rwanda.

Mr. Brandt noted that the cholera outbreak would not affect the airlift. Isolation centres had been set up and medicine had been sent to the area; moreover, the cholera strain had been identified and it was not as virulent, he added. It was receptive to oral rehydration and was the same type of strain that had affected Goma last November, when 50 people had died. "That is not to say it is not a very serious problem, but it is less serious than other strains", he said.

The Security Council was holding consultations today and the first item on its agenda was the Secretary-General's report on Angola, as mentioned yesterday, Mr. Brandt said. The Council would also continue its consideration of the flight of the Iraqi plane to Jeddah. Mr. Brandt said he had no knowledge of what the item "other matters" might entail today. In the afternoon, the Council expected to finish its meeting on the situation in Afghanistan. Yesterday all Security Council members, except Portugal, had spoken, Mr. Brandt noted.

The Secretary-General was continuing his official visit to Italy, Mr. Brandt told correspondents. This morning he had a working breakfast with the heads of the World Food Programme (WFP), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). "It was an excellent opportunity for the Secretary-General to express his views on the need for better coordination among the agencies, and perhaps for them to consider the establishment of a mechanism similar to the one in place here at Headquarters, the Policy Coordination Group, which meets frequently for that purpose: to harmonize work, avoid topic duplication and so on", Mr. Brandt noted.

As correspondents were aware, the Secretary-General had then had a private audience with His Holiness Pope John Paul II at the Vatican, Mr. Brandt said. "Fred [Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General] tells me it was a very warm meeting. It was, of course, his first meeting with the Pope as Secretary-General. They had met before on the Pope's most recent visit to United Nations Headquarters, on 5 October 1995", he added. The private audience lasted about 25 minutes and the main issues discussed were the Middle East, the African Great Lakes region and the situation in the Balkans.

The Secretary-General also met with the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Mr. Brandt added. "During that meeting, they discussed Zaire and the Great Lakes, the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), United Nations reform, Albania, the former Yugoslavia and the situation in the Middle East." Later the Secretary-General met with the Prime Minister of Italy, Romano Prodi, where the two subjects discussed where Albania and Zaire. The meeting was followed by a working luncheon hosted by the Prime Minister.

In the afternoon, the Secretary-General was due to address the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Chamber of Deputies, Mr. Brandt said. At the moment, 6 p.m. local time, the Secretary-General was expected to hold a press conference. "We will give out a summary as soon as possible and later a transcription of that conference", he said. In the evening he would be the guest of honour at a dinner hosted by the Italian Minister of Defence, Beniamino Andreatta.

The Secretary-General had informed the Security Council that his Special Representative for Liberia, Anthony B. Nyakyi, who had served in that post

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since 11 December 1994, would be completing his assignment today, 15 April, Mr. Brandt said. It was the Secretary-General's intention to appoint Tuliameni Kalomoh, currently serving as Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Namibia, to that post. The Security Council was expected to reply to the Secretary-General this afternoon. Once appointed, the new Special Representative for Liberia would first visit United Nations Headquarters for briefings -- "that will happen soon, probably next week" -- and then travel to Monrovia to take up his new assignment. Mr. Kalomoh's biography would be made available later today in the Spokesman's office.

China, Mr. Brandt continued, had paid $4 million out of its total United Nations assessment for this year, which amounted to $7,881,584. So far this year, 51 Member States had paid in full for 1997. Last year at this same date, 53 Member States had paid their contributions. The outstanding contributions level were now over $2.7 billion, of which over $1 billion was for the regular budget and $1.7 billion was for the peace-keeping budget. Last year at the same time, the outstanding contributions level to the United Nations was $2.8 billion, of which $1.1 billion was for the regular budget and $1.7 billion for peace-keeping.

Regarding the elections in Eastern Slavonia, Mr. Brandt told correspondents that the polling there had been completed yesterday, excepting only the small village of Klisa (population 250), Mr. Brandt said. Due to the fact that the wrong ballot papers had been distributed, the polling there had been extended until today, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., in order to correct the problem.

The United Nations Transitional Administrator for Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Sirmium, Jacques Klein, said last night that there was every indication that he would be able to certify that the elections in Eastern Slavonia had been "free, fair and full", Mr. Brandt said. That assessment was based, he said, on the big turnout and the fact that everybody who was able to vote "had indeed voted". Vote counting had begun and authorities were still waiting for absentee ballots from displaced persons in Croatia. Votes were being counted twice for accuracy. However, due to the absentee ballots, even informal polling results might not be available until Thursday.

A press kit on "The Implementation of Security Council Resolution 986 (1995) and the Memorandum of Understanding" was now available at the documents counter, Mr. Brandt announced. The kit was prepared for the Department of Humanitarian Affairs by the Peace and Security Division of the Department of Public Information (DPI) "and it's very good: it contains the text of resolution 986, a chronology leading up to the first deliveries of food to Iraq, a fact sheet on the memorandum of understanding, another on the distribution plan and other relevant Security Council documents and resolutions", he added. The press kit was being made available to correspondents only, he noted; delegations would be able to obtain copies

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later on. For further information or additional copies, correspondents could contact Rosemary Musumba in the Department of Humanitarian Affairs, tel.: (212) 963-5069.

The Permanent Mission of Chile was co-sponsoring the sixth International Conference on Health and Environment focusing on "Environmental Degradation: Its Effect on Children's Health", Mr. Brandt said. The Conference, to be held on Friday, 18 April, in Conference Room 3, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 3 to 6 p.m., was also sponsored by the organization World Information Transfer. Topics to be considered included the impact of toxins on child development, environmental contamination in the Southern Hemisphere, dietary influences on behaviour, environmental degradation and learning, media and health, updates on the impact of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster on children's health and lead poisoning with regard to children's health.

The Russian Federation and the United Nations International Drug Control Programme (UNDCP), based in Vienna, were organizing an international Conference on Drug Control Cooperation, from 16 to 17 April in Moscow, Mr. Brandt announced. The Conference would be opened by the First Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, Mr. Iliyukin, and by the Director General of the United Nations Office at Vienna, Giorgio Giacomelli. The Conference would focus on efforts to assist the Russian Government in combating drug- related crime.

Mr. Brandt reminded correspondents that today in the Dag Hammarskjold Library Auditorium, there would be a panel discussion on "Lead Pollution and Lead Poisoning, a Human Settlements Issue" from 5 to 8 p.m. Panellists would include the Mayor of Baltimore, Maryland, Kurt L. Schmoke, who would address the problems created by lead pollution. Tomorrow, in Conference Room 7, there would be another panel discussion on "Building Drug-free Sustainable Cities and Towns" from 1 to 2:45 p.m. The Mayor of Trenton, New Jersey, Douglas Palmer, would moderate the discussion. Further information could be obtained from Bill Hass of the Department of Public Information (DPI), tel.: (212) 963- 0353.

Today's World Chronicle television programme would feature the Chairman of the Human Rights Committee, Christine Chanet of France, Mr. Brandt said, adding that it would be aired on in-house television channels 6 and 23, at 2:30 p.m. He then went on to the question and answer session.

Regarding the airlift in the Great Lakes region of about 1,500 people, were they all internally displaced persons? a correspondent asked. Mr. Brandt confirmed that they were.

And did they all go to Goma? And then what? the correspondent asked. "Yes", Mr. Brandt replied, "and then, depending on the arrangements that we have in place -- and this is being discussed right now -- they will be trucked

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or airlifted. Most likely by truck, we want to make the effort to ensure their further movement as easily and as effectively as possible."

Asked where they would be moved, Mr. Brandt said they would go from Kisangani to Goma and from there to Rwanda.

So they were Rwandans? the correspondent asked. "They are Rwandans. But they are Rwandans who, because of the war, moved to Zaire and were moving within Zaire all this time. Now they are going back to their homes", Mr. Brandt said.

Was the total cost of the airlift operation known? he was further asked. Mr. Brandt said he would have to look into it.

It had been reported that Russia and Iraq had signed an oil deal, a correspondent said. Was that compatible with the sanctions on Iraq? "That question came up two or three weeks ago, and I had no comment on it. The situation has not changed since then", Mr. Brandt noted.

A correspondent said that without deprecating the Muslim holiday to be observed by the United Nations next Thursday, what was the United Nations policy regarding other religions, including Buddhism and Judaism, which were not given any attention? he asked. The most important Jewish holiday, Passover, was next Tuesday and the United Nations would be wide open, why did the Muslims seem to have more importance? "This is a multilateral organization and we do not recognize one faith in particular, we recognize all faiths. It is one of the beauties of the Charter. In this particular case, it was a decision taken by the General Assembly. Member States had decided to recognize this particular holiday [Eid Al-Adha]; they were the masters of the house, they have spoken, and they have decided that this is what they want."

Regarding the recent memo to all heads of United Nations Departments regarding departmental responsibility and coordination, how was it going now? a correspondent asked. "It's working quite well. We are already feeling, as Fred [Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General] has said, that there is a feeling of openness and transparency, of information flowing easily now, and that is precisely what the Secretary-General was looking for when in his first days in office he gave that policy his utmost priority", he concluded.

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For information media. Not an official record.