4 June 1997

Press Briefing



Fred Eckhard, the Spokesman for the Secretary-General, began today's noon briefing by drawing attention to a press release issued by the World Food Programme (WFP) concerning the situation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, which was on the brink of starvation. Following his briefing, the Executive Director of the WFP, Catherine Bertini, would brief correspondents on the situation.

The Secretary-General had a fairly crushing schedule in Harare yesterday, Mr. Eckhard said. He saw the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Melas Zenawi; the Deputy Foreign Minister of Iran, Hossein Sheykholislam; the Ambassadors of the United States and Ghana; President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda; the Permanent Representative of Japan, Hisashi Owada; and President Sam Nujoma of Namibia. He also gave a television interview, met with the Executive Director of the Economic Commission for Africa, Kingsley Amoako, and held a press conference. All of that was after 3 p.m.

The Secretary-General then spent the night on a plane, arriving in London this morning in time to catch the rush hour traffic into the city, Mr. Eckhard said. He met with Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Robin Cook and Secretary of State for Overseas Development Clare Short, and attended a luncheon hosted by Tony Lloyd, a junior minister covering foreign and international relations, under Mr. Cook. The Secretary- General had been too exhausted to attend an evening reception for World Environment Day.

Following his meeting with Mr. Cook, the Secretary-General answered questions from the press, including one on whether he supported military intervention to overthrow the coup in Sierra Leone, Mr. Eckhard said.

In his reply, the Secretary-General stated: "Ideally, I would prefer negotiations. I think it is quite clear, it must be clear to the coup-makers, that they don't have the support of the people, they don't have the support of their neighbours, they don't have the support of the region, and they don't have the support of the international community. How they expect to survive, I don't know. I wish they will be sensible and cut their losses and walk away, if not run. And I am realistic and hopeful that negotiations, and the pressure that has been put on them -- and the OAU was very strong on this -- will let them see the senselessness of their enterprise."

To a question on whether he would be prepared to back military intervention as a last resort, the Secretary-General had replied: "I think what is important is that the entire African continent has spoken with one

voice against the military coup d'├ętat in Sierra Leone. It shows the kind of changes we are seeing in Africa these days, and I think it needs to be applauded. I would also like to say that I would maintain what I have said earlier: that if use of force becomes a last resort and it is inevitable, it may have to come to that."

The full text of the Secretary-General's comments to the press, including answers to questions on East Timor, was available in the Spokesman's Office, Mr. Eckhard said.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had reported catastrophic mortality rates among refugees in the 24 hours after their reception at the transit centres in Kisangani and Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mr. Eckhard said. In Kisangani -- where the refugees were, on the whole, in better condition than those in the Mbandaka region -- the 24-hour mortality rate hovered in the range of 45 dead per 10,000. In recent days, the rate had varied from a high of 74 deaths per 10,000 per day, down to 23 per 10,000 per day.

Most deaths in Kisangani were due to malnutrition, severe dehydration, diarrhoea, severe anaemia and complicated malaria, Mr. Eckhard said. In Mbandaka, the death rate hovered in the range of 100 per 10,000 per day at the airport transit centre. According to the Department of Humanitarian Affairs, some 600 refugees were today transported by train from Obilo to Kisangani, where they were under medical care and still too weak to be repatriated to Rwanda.

In Burundi, fighting was getting closer to the capital Bujumbura, Mr. Eckhard said. According to humanitarian staff in the area, mortar and gunfire could be heard throughout the city, and people from its southernmost areas had fled their communes.

Mr. Eckhard then announced that Mohamed ElBaradei of Egypt had been selected this morning by the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as its new Director-General, to succeed Hans Blix. The formalities of the appointment would be carried out at an open meeting tomorrow and approved by the IAEA General Conference in September. Details of Mr. ElBaradei's selection and his biography were available in the Spokesman's Office.

The Security Council was holding consultations on the Secretary- General's report on implementation of its resolution 986 (1995), known as the oil-for-food formula, as well as on the related report of the Iraq Sanctions Committee, Mr. Eckhard said. The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Yasushi Akashi, would introduce the Secretary-General's report, after which he would speak to correspondents outside the Council Chamber.

Daily Press Briefing - 3 - 4 June 1997

Mr. Eckhard said the Secretary-General's report on Tajikistan, which was released today, recommends that the mandate of the United Nations Mission of Observers in Tajikistan (UNMOT) be extended for three months, until 15 September. The Secretary-General points out that, under the protocol and agreement signed by the two sides, the UNMOT mandate did not fully cover all that would have to be done. He would get back to the Council at a later date on a possible expansion of the Mission.

Referring to press reports of a harassment survey to be distributed to United Nations staff, Mr. Eckhard said the survey would cover harassment based on religion, race or gender. Contrary to one report, it was being distributed universally. Approximately 53,000 people worldwide in the United Nations system would get a copy of the survey on their desks. It would not cost the United Nations anything, as it was being funded by the Ford Foundation. The results of the survey were expected in the summer, possibly by the end of July.

Mr. Eckhard then announced that Uzbekistan had deposited its instrument of ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty on 29 May. To date, three countries had ratified the Treaty and 144 had signed it.

Responding to questions from earlier in the week, Mr. Eckhard said a basic bread roll in the staff cafeteria cost 65 cents. For refined tastes, a roll with a twist with olive, rosemary and seeds cost 95 cents. Two AA or AAA batteries cost $2.50 at the newsstand, not $8 as a correspondent had alleged. Contracts with suppliers of services at Headquarters were currently under negotiation.

Highlights from the press conference in Geneva today by the Executive Coordinator for United Nations Reform, Maurice Strong, would be available at the Spokesman's Office later in the day, Mr. Eckhard said.

A correspondent said it was the first time he had heard Mr. Eckhard announce death rates for the refugee transit camps on a "per 10,000 per day" basis. What were the total mortality rates per day? Mr. Eckhard said the rates represented a new calculation done by the UNHCR yesterday or today. He did not yet have the total figures, but would try to get them from the agency following the briefing.

Did that mean the UNHCR was in some way at fault for the death rates being so high? the correspondent asked. Mr. Eckhard said that was not the case. The UNHCR's point was that the refugees had been trekking around the bush and the tropical forest for so long that their condition was that bad, and many were too weak to be transported. The UNHCR was now dealing with refugees who had been in the jungle the longest and who had suffered the most.

Asked how long the refugees remained in the transit camps, Mr. Eckhard said that, originally, some would come in one day and leave the next if they

Daily Press Briefing - 4 - 4 June 1997

were strong enough. However, the latest group of refugees were being retained in the camps for medical treatment until they were healthy enough to be moved.

A correspondent said there was a discrepancy between Mr. Eckhard's report of the Secretary-General's comments at the London press conference and reports from London itself, which quoted the Secretary-General as saying that intervention was the only solution. Which was correct? Mr. Eckhard said he had not quoted the Secretary-General as saying that intervention was the only solution. Nowhere in the full text of the Secretary-General's statement did he say intervention was the only answer.

Mr. Eckhard said there had been wire service reports this morning referring to a United States support group that was working with military units in Haiti. In fact, the Haitian military had been disbanded and the group was working with civilian police units. In addressing the financing of the international presence in that country, those reports also distorted the amount covered by the United Nations and that covered through a voluntary fund.

Mr. Eckhard then drew attention to a 2 June letter from the Secretary- General (document A/51/239), in which he asked that the General Assembly include United Nations reform proposals on its agenda. The Secretary-General had asked to present his report on reform proposals personally to the Assembly, and he expected to be in a position to do so on 16 July.

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For information media. Not an official record.