21 May 1997

Press Briefing



Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, began today's noon press briefing by reminding correspondents that the Security Council was holding a plenary session on protection for humanitarian assistance to refugees and others in conflict situations. The Spokesman's Office had issued a speakers list, and a number of speakers' texts, but he apologized for not making available the text of remarks made by Steven Lewis, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), who had spoken from notes, and brilliantly as usual.

The Secretary-General was returning to New York today from his five- nation tour, and he would brief the Security Council at 4 p.m. tomorrow on Zaire, Burundi and Afghanistan, Mr. Eckhard said. The joint United Nations/Organization of African Unity (OAU) Special Representative for the Great Lakes Region, Mohamed Sahnoun, would also be in New York tomorrow to brief the Council in greater detail only on the situation in Zaire.

In the morning, the Council would be taking up the Secretary-General's report on renewal of the mandate of the United Nations Preventive Deployment Force (UNPREDEP), Mr. Eckhard said. The report, which had been available since 14 May, recommends that UNPREDEP's mandate be renewed for six months, and further recommends that the present strength of the force be reduced after four months.

Mr. Eckhard said the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, Yasushi Akashi, was scheduled to brief the Council at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow on his recent visit to Iraq to assess the implementation of its resolution 986 -- the "oil for food" plan. Following his appearance before the Council, he was scheduled to attend the noon press briefing.

Mr. Eckhard announced that the Russian Federation had today paid about $8.5 million, making it paid in full for the current year. It had paid $37 million on 14 May. When the Security-General met with President Boris Yeltsin last Saturday, 17 May, he had assured the Secretary-General that the Russian Federation would pay its arrears over time and pledged that there would be no further slippage.

During that meeting, which had continued over lunch at the Kremlin and lasted more than two hours, the two leaders discussed a wide range of issues, Mr. Eckhard said. Matters discussed included peace-keeping arrangements between the United Nations and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in Georgia and Tajikistan, expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and Russia's proposal for the holding of a third peace conference.

The Secretary-General had congratulated President Yeltsin on the recently concluded peace agreement on Chechnya, which the President pointed out had 400-year-old roots, and welcomed his decision to seek ratification by the Duma of the Chemical Weapons Convention by this fall. Mr. Eckhard then announced that Gabon had paid its United Nations budget contribution for the current year in full, with a cheque of $309,499. So far, 59 Member States had paid their contributions in full for 1997. Last year at this date, 63 Member States were paid in full. Minutes before the briefing, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda announced that the Swiss Government last night handed over Alfred Musema to the Tribunal Headquarters in Arusha, Mr. Eckhard said. Mr. Musema was charged with genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, and crimes against humanity committed against the population in the Kibuye prefecture. He was indicted in July 1996 by the Tribunal and was subsequently arrested in Switzerland in August. Out of a total of 21 indictees, 12 were now in the Tribunal's custody. One indictee was in the custody of the United Nations, and eight remained at large. Mr. Eckhard said the Spokesman's Office had also received a press release from the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia detailing the planned exhumation programme for 1997 and a summary of exhumations conducted in 1996. Turning to the situation in Liberia, he said the Summit Meeting of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Committee of Nine was taking place today in Abuja, Nigeria. As correspondents recalled that body was to decide the date of the Liberian elections. The current plan called for elections to be held by 30 May, a date that all parties agreed was unrealistic. It was expected that the elections would be delayed 56 days from the date of the ECOWAS decision, with an additional seven-day grace period. The ECOWAS decision was expected today. Mr. Eckhard said the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) would be holding a special panel discussion on the theme, "Economic Impact of HIV/AIDS and How Business Can Best Respond", during the Southern Africa Economic Summit of the World Economic Forum, to be held from 21 to 23 May in Harare, Zimbabwe. The discussion would address disturbing economic statistics concerning HIV/AIDS and business, including a survey which found that the HIV/AIDS epidemic was costing companies in Kenya nearly 4 per cent of annual profits. In Zambia, Barclays Bank had lost key managers to AIDS and nearly a third of the school teachers in Malawi were infected with HIV, he went on to say. According to current estimates, the epidemic, if unchecked, would eventually infect one quarter of South Africa's work-force and reduce economic growth by 1 per cent annually. A press release on the panel discussion was available in the Spokesman's Office.

Daily Press Briefing - 3 - 21 May 1997

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) would be holding an "Environment and Banking Roundtable" on 22 and 23 May at Columbia University, Mr. Eckhard announced. Some 350 leading banking and financial experts from around the world would consider new strategies for private investments and loans for environment initiatives. A press conference was scheduled for 12:45 p.m. tomorrow, 22 May, at the University's International Affairs Building, 420 West 118th Street.

The recently taped World Chronicle television programme with Agwu Uki Okali, Registrar of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, would be shown at 2:30 p.m. today on in-house channels 6, 23 and 38, Mr. Eckhard said.

He also reminded correspondents that President Sam Nujoma of Namibia would hold a press conference at 11 a.m. tomorrow, 22 May, in room 226, following his 10 a.m. meeting with the Secretary-General.

The Spokeswoman for the President of the General Assembly, Samsiah Abdul-Majid, said the Assembly this morning adopted the Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses by a vote of 103 in favour to three against (Burundi, China and Turkey) with 27 abstentions. The Convention was now open for signature until 20 May 2000. It would come into force on the ninetieth day following the date of deposit of the thirty-fifth instrument of ratification.

Also this morning, the Assembly appointed five members to the Joint Inspection Unit (JIU), for five-years terms from 1 January 1998 to 31 December 2002, Ms. Abdul-Majid said. They were: Fatih Bouayad-Agha (Algeria), Homero Luis Hernandez Sanchez (Dominican Republic), Eduard Kudriavtsev (Russian Federation), Francesco Mezzalama (Italy), and Khalis Issa Othman (Jordan). All the candidates except Mr. Kudriavtsev were being reappointed. The Assembly also confirmed the appointment of James Gustave Speth as Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for a further four-year term, as requested by the Secretary-General.

Yesterday, the Assembly met until 7 p.m. to complete the election of 11 judges of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, Ms. Abdul-Majid said. The voting was carried out in six rounds of balloting. Nine of the judges had been elected during the first round, and the results had been made available to correspondents at the briefing yesterday. The two other judges -- Florence Ndepele Mwachande Mumba (Zambia) and Almiro Simoes Rodrigues (Portugal) - were elected on the fourth and sixth ballots, respectively.

Daily Press Briefing - 4 - 21 May 1997

Would the Secretary-General and Mr. Sahnoun hold press briefings after they addressed the Security Council tomorrow? a correspondent asked. Mr. Eckhard said he had asked if they would address correspondents at the stakeout outside the Council Chamber following their respective briefings but had not yet received answers to those requests. Since the Council would not begin until 4 p.m., any briefing would be late in the afternoon.

A correspondent asked for the results of the vote on the appointment of Mr. Speth. Ms. Abdul-Majid said the Assembly did not vote; it confirmed his appointment.

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For information media. Not an official record.