9 September 1999

Press Briefing



The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

I think we have a number of journalists at the back of the room from the World Press Institute of Macalester College -- the Secretary-General’s alma mater. Welcome.

Also joining me a little later in this briefing will be Olara Otunnu, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, who will be discussing with you his recent trip to Sierra Leone.

**East Timor

The Secretary-General's Special Representative in East Timor, Ian Martin, told journalists this morning that he will remain in Dili, and that a significant number of the United Nations international staff had volunteered to stay behind with him.

On entering the building this morning, the Secretary-General said, "We will maintain our premises in East Timor." The thinning out exercise will begin tomorrow morning.

Meanwhile, the remnants of the United Nations Mission in East Timor said that the situation around the compound was "the quietest yet" last night and that things had marginally improved today. However, attempts to reach the Mission's warehouse in the port area again today were thwarted by militia who fired over the heads of United Nations staff despite the presence of an Indonesian military escort. However, supplies did come in by air from Australia, replenishing stocks of food, fuel and water.

Sanitary conditions within the compound are good, largely thanks to the cooperation of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) who’ve worked hard to keep things clean. Water, electricity and communications in the compound were restored today.

A number of those IDPs, however, did slip out of the compound during the night, possibly fearing a United Nations pullout.

President Habibie today told members of the Security Council mission visiting Jakarta that he would welcome any form of international assistance to deal with East Timor except military. Rejecting the Council mission's offer of a multinational force to help restore law and order to the Territory, the President repeated assurances that the Indonesian authorities would get the situation under control.

The mission also met with East Timorese resistance leader Xanana Gusmao, who made an emotional appeal for international intervention with or without Indonesia's consent.

The Security Council mission is scheduled to meet with Indonesian Military Chief General Wiranto on Friday and they agreed with President Habibie that the mission would visit East Timor on Saturday, if security permits.

Ian Martin met this morning with the new Indonesian military commander for East Timor, who told him he thought the violence had peaked. However, much of downtown Dili has been looted and burned, a significant percentage of the population has been displaced and hundreds may have been killed.

A number of militia have reportedly moved into West Timor, where they are driving around in United Nations vehicles, harassing foreigners.

The United Nations top humanitarian official, Sergio Vieira de Mello, has dispatched an emergency response team to Jakarta to support the efforts of the United Nations country team there and ensure the provision of relief assistance to displaced populations. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP) are among the agencies participating in the mission.

UNHCR and WFP say they have pre-positioned relief items to rush to the victims on short notice.

Meanwhile, Francois Fouinat of UNHCR, whose team came under attack in a displaced persons camp in West Timor earlier this week, met today with Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Ali Alatas, who assured him the UNHCR would be given security guarantees to resume work in East and West Timor. UNHCR says it would resume work on condition that its staff receive a clear signal that the situation had changed.

**Security Council

The Security Council met this morning on the situation in Western Sahara. At 11:30 a.m., the Council suspended its discussion of Western Sahara to hear a briefing by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Kieran Prendergast, on the subject of East Timor. He reported on the Secretary-General's conversation last night with Indonesian President Habibie, as well as his own conversation this morning with Ian Martin. The Council was then scheduled to resume its consultations on Western Sahara and, following that, return to other matters.

William Eagleton, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Western Sahara, introduced the report on the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO)(document S/1999/954), which was issued today.

The report cites positive indications that the Moroccan Government and POLISARIO intend to maintain the progress made towards the holding of the referendum.

As far as the timetable for completing the process goes, the Secretary-General says that the identification of the remaining members of the "contested tribes" could be finished by the end of December. The Mission will continue to keep some of its appeals centres open until 18 September, as planned, and after that hearings will be held to complete the appeals process. Still, the Secretary-General says he will not be in a position to give the Council a revised timetable until early December, so in the meantime, he recommends that the Mission's mandate be extended through 14 December.


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner, is here for two days of meetings. Tomorrow morning he will brief the Security Council on Kosovo and he will be available to talk to you at the stakeout outside the Council Chamber following that briefing.

**United Nations Environment Programme

From the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) we have a press release saying that today, on the campus of Northwestern University outside Chicago, a two- day international conference opens on the challenges facing financial institutions and their customers in the increasingly global and environmentally concerned marketplace of the twenty-first century. Organized by UNEP as part of its Financial Institutions Initiative, the conference will include keynote speakers from leading banking and investment firms, including Salomon Smith Barney, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Dow Jones, among others.

**Press Conferences

At 3 p.m. today, there will be a background briefing by a senior United Nations official on the forthcoming fifty-fourth session of the General Assembly and the twenty-second special session of the General Assembly on small island developing States.

And then tomorrow, at our briefing here, we have asked Ralph Zacklin, the Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, to discuss his recent trip to Cambodia, where he met with officials concerning the establishment of a mixed tribunal to prosecute Khmer Rouge leaders.

That’s all I have for you. Any questions before we go to Mr. Otunnu?

**Question-and-Answer Session

Question: How many UNAMET staff are volunteering to stay on?

Spokesman: That is a moving target. They put out a piece of paper, a sing-up sheet. It filled up quickly and then I think they closed it off after a while. At least half of the 200 people who were in the compound had volunteered to stay.

Question: Marginal improvement in the security situation in Dili has been reported. Have you noticed any improved willingness of the military in cooperating with UNAMET to bring the situation under control?

Spokesman: We’ve had repeated assurances from President Habibie on down that they are serious to get the situation under control. They have sent in additional troops. They’ve rotated out some of the troops who have been there during the worst abuses and it sounds quieter. Although, as I mentioned, we still had that disturbing incident as we went to our warehouse this morning. It is still a mixed picture, but "marginal improvement” is how we described it.

Question: The Secretary-General said this morning that he wanted some kind of evidence that the situation was under control within the next 48-72 hours. What kind of evidence is he looking for?

Spokesman: I think we would like to see an end to the harassment with weapons that our people have been subjected to. We would like to see an end to the burning of buildings. We would like to see an end to young militia members with weapons parading around in public, harassing people by their very presence. These are things that have to be brought under control. You have to have normal security forces -- police, backed up if necessary by military -- overseeing law and order. Not these militia parading around unchecked.

Question: How does the Secretary-General feel about Portuguese concern that this mission gets drawn out more and more and maybe is an exercise in buying time because there is such a reluctance to say that Indonesia is not cooperating and therefore there may be a need for the United Nations to act without Indonesia’s approval?

Spokesman: We have seen the beginning of improvement of the situation. Indonesia has appealed to us to give them a bit more time. The Secretary-General’s time-frame shifted from 48 to 72 hours, I think in response to that appeal. The Mission on the ground postponed its planned evacuation of yesterday. In the course of the day the Secretary-General began talking about “thinning out” rather than pulling out. Today we made a firm decision to leave a number of our people there. We are responding to the situation on the ground. If it is beginning to go in the right direction, I think there is a more credible basis for giving Indonesia a bit more time to get the situation under control. I think everyone’s preference was that Indonesia just do what it said it would do under the agreement and that, because they fail to do that, the next step would then be to bring in international troops. Why bring in international troops if the Indonesians can do the job? The question is: will they? And, as I said, we are beginning to see some improvement, so let us give it a little bit more time.

Question: Was there an initial reaction from the Secretary-General or members of the Security Council to Indonesia’s rejection of the dispatch of an international force?

Spokesman: No. He spoke, as I said, to President Habibie tonight, who informed him of his position on this. The Secretary-General told the Security Council yesterday that, if an intervention force were necessary, and because the countries willing to contribute troops to that force would do so only if Indonesia consented, that we would all have to work together to put pressure on Indonesia to change its position and say they would allow international assistance. For the moment they are saying, we can do it. Give us a little bit more time to show that we can and in the meantime, let’s not talk about foreign troops.

Question: Has the United States decision to have a minimal role in peacekeeping force diminished the pressure on the Indonesians to grant an international force?

Spokesman: I am not aware of what the political dynamic is among troop contributors. The Secretary-General told the Council yesterday that he had identified a significant number of countries willing to contribute to the force and he had identified a force leader. I think that situation has not changed.

Question: How many United Nations staff did you say will stay in East Timor?

Spokesman: I didn’t give a specific number. I said the indications we had as of about an hour ago, was that roughly half the 200 had volunteered to stay, but that my impression was that more were eager to sign up. It is partly a security determination by the Head of the Mission in consultation with the Security Coordinator in New York as to how many will be allowed to stay. But as of now, roughly half.

Question: The New York Times wrote this morning about close contact between General Shelton and General Wiranto. Wiranto’s plan was to remove rogue soldiers and replace them with soldiers loyal to Jakarta. Shelton’s hope to later persuade Wiranto to accept an international force was based on the fact that Wiranto would have stopped the most immediate violence and get some face saving out of that. Is this the kind of game plan the United Nations can go along with?

Spokesman: First of all, I know nothing about this conversation, if it did take place. The Secretary-General did speak to President Clinton, but he did not mention to me that the President raised the issue of any exchange between United States military and General Wiranto. I don’t know anything about that, and I don’t want to comment on it.

Question: Would it be a concern in regard to the prolongation of violence that the army is now divided, as indicated by the fact that the violence was fomented by the Special Forces within the Indonesian army?

Spokesman: I don’t want to speculate about the internal political situation in Indonesia. We do have our political analysts who look at those elements, but we don’t comment publicly on them.

Question: One of the reasons things might seem quieter is that there is nobody around anymore to shoot at. How are you going to test improvement of the situation?

Spokesman: As I have told you over the last couple of days, except for the occasional foray down to the port for supplies, we have not gone outside of our compound. We have no idea of what is going on in greater Dili or throughout East Timor. One of the reasons why the Secretary-General hoped we could keep some of our military liaison officers behind was that, if the situation did improve, we could immediately resume patrols and begin to get a sense of what the situation was in East Timor. I can’t tell you whether there has been significant depopulation or not, but credible reports indicate a significant number of people have been dislocated by the violence.

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For information media. Not an official record.