29 May 1997

Press Briefing



Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, began today's press briefing by announcing that the United Nations had evacuated some 60 people, including foreign nationals and journalists, and 11 international staff members from Mazar-e- Sharif, Afghanistan. Recent reports stated that heavy fighting was continuing in the northern part of the country, but no specifics were currently available.

The situation in Sierra Leone was deteriorating, Mr. Eckhard said. As announced in yesterday's press briefing, Nigerian troops had moved into Freetown. Approximately 900 additional troops had landed, in addition to the 700 or so that were already stationed there. Heavy weapons have been deployed, and several hundred fighters of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) had infiltrated the city. The United Nations was in the process of evacuating the last of its non-essential staff from Freetown.

Mr. Eckhard said the Security Council was still considering this morning a draft presidential statement, introduced by the United States, on the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Also before the Council were draft presidential statements on Burundi and the protection of humanitarian assistance to refugees and others in conflict situations. The latter was a follow-up to the public meeting held last week, and both statements were being proposed by Kenya, on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement. Under other matters, the Council had asked to be briefed on Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

The Executive Committee on Peace and Security had met this morning to discuss Afghanistan, Sierra Leone and the Great Lakes region of Africa, Mr. Eckhard said. The Committee, which was chaired by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Kieran Prendergast, was one of the four coordinating

mechanisms that the Secretary-General had set up to bring greater coherence to the United Nations system's approach to issues.

Kuwait this morning became the ninety-first Member State to deposit instruments of ratification with the Secretary-General on the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and of Their Destruction, Mr. Eckhard said. The Convention entered into force on 29 April.

Mr. Eckhard then announced that the United States had paid close to $63 million today as a partial payment against its arrearages.

World No-Tobacco Day, officially 31 May, had been observed yesterday in Moscow, Mr. Eckhard said. At the observance, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Hiroshi Nakajima, had declared: "Every day of inaction that passes means that millions of young people around the world begin using tobacco, often precipitating a lifetime of addiction and an untimely death." The WHO had picked Moscow to observe No-Tobacco Day because, according to its estimates, tobacco killed around 750 people per day in the Russian Federation.

A correspondent asked if the Secretary-General had met with Former Prime Minister of Sudan Sadiq al-Mahdi, who was speaking at the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA) Club this afternoon. Mr. Eckhard said the Secretary-General had an unofficial meeting with Mr. al-Mahdi outside of his office yesterday.

The same correspondent said that Israel today rejected any mission to the country by a United Nations envoy focusing on the east Jerusalem housing project as a follow-up to a General Assembly resolution adopted in April. Had the Secretary-General decided to send an envoy to Israel and what was the status of that mission? Mr. Eckhard said the Secretary-General wrote to Israel on 8 May declaring his intention to send an envoy consistent with the Assembly resolution. Today, it had been reported that an Israeli official had said that he was unsure if

Daily Press Briefing - 3 - 29 May 1997

an official request had been submitted, but one had been sent earlier this month. There had been discussions with Israel in New York, but the United Nations had not yet received a formal response on that matter. Informally, Israel had said that it would welcome an envoy to discuss a wide variety of matters, as had been reported by new agencies today.

Asked who would be the United Nations envoy to Israel, Mr. Eckhard said the Secretary-General intended to name someone soon.

Were there still approximately 230,000 refugees unaccounted for in eastern Zaire? a correspondent asked. Mr. Eckhard said that those were estimates of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). There might have been some recent repatriations, but not enough to alter that number significantly.

Asked what were the timetables for talks on Cyprus and East Timor, Mr. Eckhard said he could only supply correspondents with "ballpark" estimates. Talks on East Timor were currently scheduled for mid-June, and talks on Cyprus were tentatively set for 9 July, but the invitations had not been sent out yet. Venues for both had not been determined.

Had the nameplate for Zaire been changed in the General Assembly Hall? a correspondent asked. Mr. Eckhard said written confirmation had been received stating that the Democratic Republic of the Congo did want to be listed under "D". The latest word from General Assembly affairs was that the nameplates had not been put in place yet.

A correspondent said that the press briefing by Jose Ramos Horta, 1996 Nobel Peace Prize winner, would be held tomorrow at 2 p.m. in the UNCA Club and not at 1:30 p.m., as previously announced.

NOTE: In yesterday's press briefing of the Spokesman for the Secretary-General, paragraph 6 in page 3 should read:

Daily Press Briefing - 4 - 29 May 1997

"Would an investigator be appointed within the Secretariat or would the Security Council oversee the investigation in eastern Zaire? a correspondent asked. Mr. Eckhard said there were two issues being discussed. The first was the ongoing effort by the High Commissioner for Human Rights to conduct an investigation, and the second was the more recent desire expressed by Member States to deliver a message to Mr. Kabila on the importance of human rights, particularly as it applied to the situation in eastern Zaire. On the second point, there was currently discussion on the most appropriate way to deliver that message.

* *** *

For information media. Not an official record.