30 May 1997

Press Briefing



Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, began today's press briefing by announcing that the Secretary-General was leaving tomorrow, 31 May, to attend the Organization of African Unity (OAU) Summit, to be held from 2 to 4 June in Harare, Zimbabwe. At the Summit, a new OAU Secretary-General would be elected. The current Secretary-General, Salim Ahmed Salim, was running for a third four-year term. The Summit was preceded by a Council of Ministers meeting, which had begun on 26 May and was scheduled to conclude today.

In the Syrian Golan Heights, there were reports that two Austrian peace- keepers from the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) were killed today inside the area of separation that was patrolled by UNDOF, Mr. Eckhard said. The two peace-keepers were conducting a foot patrol near the Syrian town of Hadar at the time of the incident, and empty bullet casings from a Kalashnikov rifle were found on the scene. The UNDOF suspected that the motivation for the action was criminal rather than political and was investigating with the cooperation of Syrian authorities.

Regarding Iraq, Mr. Eckhard said the Secretary-General's comprehensive report on the implementation of Security Council resolution 986 (1995), which permits the sale of Iraqi oil to pay for humanitarian goods, was likely to be submitted to the Council on Monday, 2 June. The report, which was expected to be delivered to the Secretary-General today for his final review, had been prepared by the Department of Humanitarian Affairs and covered a 180-day period. The Security Council Committee which monitored the sanctions imposed on Iraq was also expected to approve its report on the "oil-for-food" plan by the end of the day. Once it was approved, that report would be submitted to the Council early next week.

The Secretary-General had met with Ambassador Nizar Hamdoon, Permanent Representative of Iraq, this morning, Mr. Eckhard continued. They discussed resolution 986, and Mr. Hamdoon indicated that his Government favoured its renewal. Mr. Hamdoon also said that he appreciated the Secretary-General's statement concerning the Turkish incursions into northern Iraq, but his Government was concerned about the silence and passivity of the international community as a whole on that subject.

Turning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mr. Eckhard announced that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had reported that 41,886 refugees had now been flown back to Rwanda. Of the total, 4,715 were from Mbandaka, and the balance were from Kisangani. Staff of the UNHCR continued to attempt to get access to the areas south of Kisangani.

Yesterday, a UNHCR staff member made an attempt to get beyond a roadblock at "kilometre 42" but was once again turned back. The UNHCR briefing note on the Great Lakes region of Africa, as well as Afghanistan, Sierra Leone and Central Asia, was available in the Spokesman's Office.

Mr. Eckhard said that Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Yasushi Akashi was in Tajikistan, where he had met in Dushanbe with President Emomali Rakhmonov and Prime Minister Yakhio Asimov. He also held meetings with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Gerd Merrem, who had just returned from Tehran. During his stay, Mr. Akashi also had a joint meeting with the ambassadors to Tajikistan from Germany, Russian Federation and the United States. His discussions focused on ways in which the United Nations system could support the inter-Tajik peace process, particularly in view of the latest success reached at Tehran.

United Nations peace-keepers in Lebanon had reported a pattern of harassment by the Hezbollah, Mr. Eckhard said. There were reports of an incident yesterday in which five armed Hezbollah gunmen harassed three Irish soldiers in a truck of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and demanded to see their identities. Today, seven Hezbollah gunmen forced two vehicles of the Irish battalion to stop near the southern port city of Tyre.

Mr. Eckhard announced that yesterday China became the last Permanent Member of the Security Council to express its willingness to participate in the United Nations stand-by arrangements for peace-keeping operations. With China's participation, there were now 66 countries which had expressed their willingness to participate in the arrangements, and eight countries had signed the memorandum of understanding. China's contribution would be particularly useful as they were planning to contribute in the areas most in need of support, which included logistics, engineers, medical personnel, military observers and civilian police.

The Spokesman's Office had received several questions concerning Angola, Mr. Eckhard said, because of press reports of fighting in the northern part of the country. There was some concern at Headquarters about those reports. While firsthand information was unavailable because access to the area of the fighting had been restricted, to his knowledge the recent fighting was not as serious or intense as some of the press reports indicated, particularly those that described it as the biggest offensive in two years.

The Security Council had been briefed on Tuesday, 27 May, that there had been significant troop movements in the north, which had been an area of tension for a long time because of the diamond mines located there, he continued. Areas of the north had been controlled by the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), and under the peace agreement the entire country was to come under the administrative control of the new Government of National Unity and Reconciliation. The events in the Democratic

Daily Press Briefing - 3 - 30 May 1997

Republic of the Congo, to the north, had changed the strategic equation and had added to the tensions. The United Nations was watching the situation very closely, and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Angola, Alioune Blondin Beye, had approached both sides about the fighting and had received their assurances of commitment to the peace process. The Council would also continue to be briefed on developments there.

The UNHCR had issued a press release concerning a call for $17.6 million to finance the repatriation and reintegration of refugees returning to Mali and Niger, Mr. Eckhard said. In the early 1990s, some 150,000 people, mostly ethnic Tuaregs and Moors, had fled an armed conflict in Mali and had found refuge in Mauritania, Algeria, Niger and Burkina Faso. During roughly the same period, political turmoil and resulting armed rebellion in northern Niger led to the exodus of 15,000 to 20,000 people, who fled to Algeria and Burkina Faso. Subsequent peace agreements resulted in a normalization of the situation there, and now they want to complete the repatriation process. The press release was available in the Spokesman's Office.

Mr. Eckhard said the Security Council was still considering draft presidential statements on Burundi and on the protection for humanitarian assistance to refugees and others in conflict situations. Both statements were left over from yesterday's programme, and a formal meeting was expected on the Burundi statement. [The Council later met to read the statement on Burundi.]

He then said he had been asked to announce that Jose Ramos Horta, co- winner of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize, would brief correspondents this after- noon in the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA) Lounge at 2 p.m.

Asked for an update on the situation in Sierra Leone, Mr. Eckhard said this morning the United Nations had evacuated the rest of its staff, approximately 40 people, with the assistance of the United States Marines, which led an operation to evacuate United States citizens. The situation continued to look threatening, he added.

Would the Secretary-General be making another statement on Sierra Leone given the recent developments? a correspondent asked. Mr. Eckhard said the Secretary-General was following the situation closely but had nothing more to say publicly at this time. The Secretary-General had placed phone calls to heads of State in the region and was doing all that he could.

Asked for the whereabouts of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Sierra Leone, Berhanu Dinka, Mr. Eckhard said he had been evacuated this morning and was among those on their way to Conakry, Guinea.

A correspondent asked Mr. Eckhard if he could speak with the President of the Security Council about supplying proper background information so correspondents would more fully understand the statements he made to them.

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The same correspondent reminded Mr. Eckhard that the Organization had previously denied the presence of the Angolan troops in Zaire and then asked why the United Nations and the Special Representative were not more concerned about the situation in Angola. Mr. Eckhard said, first of all, the United Nations never denied that Angolans were in Zaire, but it had had no presence in Zaire that would allow for confirmation. There had been confirmation that there were Angolan troops in Cabinda and in the northern parts of Angola. When the Angolan Government was asked about those troops, it said that its enlarged military presence in the north was related to the threat of Rwandan refugees coming through Zaire and into Angola. As stated earlier, the United Nations was concerned about the situation in Angola and that was why the Security Council had been briefed on Tuesday. There was no information, however, that the fighting was as intense as some news organizations had reported, and it was not true that the recent fighting was the largest offensive in two years. On the other hand, there were no firsthand observations of what was going on in the north, because the United Nations movement in the region had been restricted.

What did the presence of troops in Cabinda have to do with Rwandan refugees? the same correspondent asked. Mr. Eckhard said there had been movements of Rwandan refugees across Zaire, some going into the Central African Republic, others into Congo and some reportedly trying to get into Angola. There had also been reports that refugees had crossed over into Angola and then were driven back. But there was no firsthand information on the situation.

Asked if the evacuation of all United Nations staff from Sierra Leone came after threats were issued by coup leaders during meetings with Mr. Dinka, Mr. Eckhard said there had been no threats. United Nations security had decided that there had been a deterioration of the situation, and all essential staff were therefore evacuated. Heavy arms had been brought into the capital by the Nigerians, who had increased their presence in Freetown. There were reports that hundreds of guerrillas from the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) had infiltrated Freetown. The coup leaders had also invited the RUF to join their government, and there were reports that the RUF had accepted. The United Nations, and other interested parties, had hoped that the situation could be resolved peacefully, but the military option now seemed to be a more likely possibility.

Why did the Secretary-General rule out Sonia Picado, Costa Rica's Ambassador to the United States, for the post of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights? a correspondent asked. Mr. Eckhard said the Secretary-General had not made a statement. Ms. Picado had made a statement, however, and Mr. Eckhard said he could only confirm what she had said. Namely, that she had not been offered the post of High Commissioner for Human Rights, but the Secretary-General had indicated his interest in her for other possible assignments, which Mr. Eckhard was not at liberty to describe. The

Daily Press Briefing - 5 - 30 May 1997

Secretary-General's announcement of the new High Commissioner was still expected by the end of July.

Asked if the Secretary-General was ready to consider other candidates for High Commissioner, Mr. Eckhard said the Secretary-General had cast a wide net. A lot of potential candidates had been reviewed. The door was not closed to new candidates, but he was not aware of any new candidates that would be coming forward.

How did the Secretary-General intend to win the support of the General Assembly for the only remaining candidate for the position of Human Rights Commissioner? a correspondent asked. Mr. Eckhard said that was a hypothetical question, and he would not confirm that there was only one candidate under consideration at this time.

Asked if the United Nations was worried about the future of the Government of National Unity and Reconciliation in Angola, Mr. Eckhard said he could only repeat that Special Representative Beye had spoken with both sides, and he felt that they continued to be committed to the peace process. He had also been given assurances by the government that any military activities it might be undertaking in the north would not be allowed to get out of control and threaten the peace process. It could be assumed that the Secretary- General would be pursuing this matter at the OAU Summit in Harare.

Was there any specific information on the upcoming Cyprus talks? a correspondent asked. Mr. Eckhard said the invitations had still not gone out, but it was expected that the first round would be held in the New York area. The date of 9 July mentioned yesterday was only a "ballpark figure" and would not become the official date until the invitations were sent out and accepted by the parties.

Asked if he could comment on the reported decision of the United Nations Support Mission in Haiti (UNSMIH) not to assist the second round of elections there, Mr. Eckhard said he did not have any details and would give the correspondent an answer after the briefing.

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Note: In the 23 May press briefing by the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Yasushi Akashi, paragraph 4 in page 3 should read:

"Had the programme been affected by the incursion of Turkish elements into Iraq? a correspondent asked. No, the programme continued, Mr. Akashi said. Only the very northern part of Iraq has been affected by the recent Turkish incursion. The Organization's activities continued and its personnel were not threatened by the recent incidents related to the incursion."

For information media. Not an official record.