23 May 1997

Press Briefing



Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, began today's press briefing by reminding correspondents that the Secretary-General had briefed the Security Council yesterday on the situation in Zaire. He then met with an inter-agency task force that he had called to discuss reconstruction in Zaire, and in the Great Lakes region of Africa as a whole.

The Secretary-General told the Security Council, Mr. Eckhard said, that the real threat to stability in Zaire was poverty, violence and the lack of human rights, and that he believed the United Nations should concentrate its efforts in those areas. He intended to retain the joint United Nations/Organization of African Unity (OAU) Special Representative for the Great Lakes Region, Mohamed Sahnoun, to pursue reconciliation in the region and to help coordinate reconstruction plans.

Mr. Eckhard said the Secretary-General had also spoken by telephone yesterday with World Bank President James Wolfensohn to enlist his assistance on the reconstruction effort, and Mr. Wolfensohn had agreed to cooperate. The others involved in the discussion yesterday were the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Departments of Humanitarian Affairs, Peace-Keeping Operations and Political Affairs.

In Haiti, the Provisional Electoral Council had decided to postpone the run-off elections that were originally scheduled for Sunday, 25 May, Mr. Eckhard said. The elections were now scheduled for 15 June. Nine out of 27 senatorial seats and two vacant house seats, as well as local council seats, were at stake.

Turning to the question of Cyprus, Mr. Eckhard said Under-Secretary- General for Political Affairs Kieran Prendergast, who had recently returned from his visit to Cyprus, Greece and Turkey, had submitted his personal report to the Secretary-General last evening. The Secretary-General was studying the report and would decide what steps to take next concerning his good offices mission on Cyprus.

Mr. Eckhard announced that Norway and the Netherlands had become the first Member States to contribute to the newly created trust fund for Preventive Action against Conflict. The Secretary-General had met this morning with the State Secretary of Norway, Jan Egeland, whose Government was contributing $2 million to the fund and expected to contribute another $2 million towards the end of the year. The Netherlands' contribution was

$500,000. A press release on the contributions was available in the Spokesman's Office.

The new Under-Secretary-General for Peace-keeping Operations, Bernard Miyet, was leaving today on his second familiarization tour of peace-keeping operations, Mr. Eckhard said. He was scheduled to visit the United Nations Transitional Administration for Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Sirmium (UNTAES) in Eastern Slavonia, and the United Nations Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina (UNMIBH) in Bosnia and would return to Headquarters during the first week of June.

The mid-month summary of outstanding contributions to the United Nations regular budget, as well as to the peace-keeping budget and the International Tribunals was released today, Mr. Eckhard said. As of 15 May, outstanding contributions totalled over $2.4 billion. Details of the breakdown of outstanding contributions were available in a hand-out from the Spokesman's Office.

Also available in the Spokesman's Office was a press release issued late yesterday regarding the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the host State, the Netherlands, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in The Hague on 22 May, he said. There was also a press release from the World Food Programme (WFP) appealing for food aid to avert the risk of starvation in Tajikistan.

The Department of Public Information (DPI) had issued a briefing paper entitled, "The World Conferences: Developing Priorities for the 21st Century", Mr. Eckhard announced. The publication focused on the actions the United Nations system was undertaking in the follow-up to each of the 12 major development conferences held between 1990 and 1996.

Responding to a correspondent's question from yesterday's briefing, Mr. Eckhard said that the Office of Internal Oversight Services had recently completed an investigation into the United Nations air charter business. The Oversight Office had passed on the results of its study to the Department of Administration and Management and was discussing ways to improve procedures. On the basis of the Office's findings, the United Nations had decided not to issue any further contracts to SkyLink, from which it had previously chartered airplanes, among other air services. The report would eventually be published and made public, at which time SkyLink would be given the chance to appeal and present its case.

The correspondent yesterday had linked that case to the earlier case of Secretariat personnel who had been accused of irregular practices in connection with SkyLink contracts, he continued, adding that there was no link whatsoever. In fact, those earlier cases predated the existence of the Oversight Office, and the Secretary-General was pleased that the Secretariat

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personnel had been belatedly found innocent of all charges and that justice had been done. He also regretted the stress caused to them as a result of the investigations, which had been carried out properly and to a satisfactory conclusion.

Asked what were the reasons for the suspension of SkyLink contracts, Mr. Eckhard replied that he could not say because the report was still confidential, but Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services Karl Paschke had assured him that it would be published.

Was it true that SkyLink would be given a chance to appeal? a correspondent asked. Mr. Eckhard said that once the report was made public, Skylink could respond to it.

Was not the United Nations suspension of business with SkyLink a case of passing judgement before the trial? a correspondent asked. Mr. Eckhard said there was clearly a feeling that it would be irresponsible to conduct further business with SkyLink in light of the findings in the Oversight Office report.

Asked if the Office had attempted to contact SkyLink during the writing of the report, Mr. Eckhard said he did not know and would check with the Oversight Office.

How many contracts had been awarded to SkyLink since the last suspension? a correspondent asked. Mr. Eckhard said he was not sure and would check after the briefing.

Asked for details regarding the visit of President Mary Robinson of Ireland to Headquarters today, Mr. Eckhard said Ms. Robinson would meet with the Secretary-General at 12:25 p.m. Later, the Secretary-General would host a luncheon in her honour at his residence.

Asked if Ms. Robinson would be briefing the press during her visit, Mr. Eckhard said correspondents should check with the Irish Mission.

Replying to another question, he said the Headquarters building would be closed on Monday, 26 May.

Had a decision been reached on the flag of Zaire? a correspondent asked. Mr. Eckhard said that a letter, dated 20 May, to the Secretary-General from the Permanent Mission included an attachment with a sketch and a verbal description of the 1960 flag, which was being revived as the national flag. It was being ordered but would take several weeks to complete. The change of name, from Zaire to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was also included in the letter and would be completed today.

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Asked if the United Nations would manufacture the new the flag, Mr. Eckhard said the job would be contracted out to a flag making company.

A correspondent asked for the United Nations reaction to the Government of Guatemala's denial of allegations made in a report by Jean Arnault, United Nations Moderator of the Peace Process in Guatemala. Mr. Eckhard said Guatemala's press release and been received at Headquarters and was being studied, but there was no comment at this time.

Asked if Mr. Arnault had knowingly suppressed information about the so- called Comrade Mincho case until after the peace agreement had been signed, Mr. Eckhard said that rumour was a piece of misinformation which had been circulated by several newspapers. Mr. Arnault had not participated, in any way, in the cover-up of information. He had been sent to the region to try to save the peace process when that kidnapping incident had threatened to disturb it, but he had not withheld information on the case.

Asked if there was any information about the Secretary-General's meetings with the United States Permanent Representative Bill Richardson and Pakistan Foreign Minister Gohar Ayub Khan, Mr. Eckhard said he was unable to get a read-out before the briefing, but he would get one after the briefing.

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For information media. Not an official record.