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United Nations Daily Highlights, 98-02-06

United Nations Daily Highlights Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: The United Nations Home Page at <> - email:


Friday, 6 February 1998

This daily news round-up is prepared by the Central News Section of the Department of Public Information. The latest update is posted at approximately 6:00 PM New York time.


  • Government of Iraq objects to parts of Secretary-General's report on expanding oil-for-food programme.
  • Secretary-General will set up UN office in Sierra Leone, asks Security Council to send "military liaison cell".
  • Secretary-General's Special Representative heads to Liberia to begin facilitating reconciliation there.
  • Advance team of United Nations Secretary-General's investigative team in Congo-Kinshasa goes to Mbandaka.
  • World Food Programme struggles to find alternative routes to deliver food to Great Lakes Region.
  • Head of United Nations refugee agency starts her 20-day tour of nine African countries.
  • United Nations dispatches humanitarian field staff to assess damage caused by earthquake in Afghanistan.
  • Repatriation of Cambodian refugees from Thailand resumes with United Nations assistance.
  • No consensus in United Nations committee drafting protocol to raise recruitment age of soldiers.
  • Secretary-General calls for seizing new consensus on strengthening Economic and Social Council.
  • Secretary-General reiterates support for goal of eradicating colonialism by year 2000.
  • New flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina is raised at United Nations Headquarters.

The Government of Iraq, responding formally for the first time to the Secretary-General's proposed increase in the oil-for-food programme, has raised a number of objections to key recommendations.

The Secretary-General on Monday issued a new report calling for increasing the level of Iraqi oil revenues to $5.2 billion for a six- month period.

Iraq's central objection concerns a recommendation from the Secretary- General that an "ongoing" distribution plan be developed for the oil-for- food programme. During the first two phases of the programme, Iraq submitted separate distribution plans, and oil sales were interrupted at one point as a result. "An agreement to have a single, ongoing distribution plan would... help to ensure that there is no disruption in oil sales", the Secretary-General wrote.

The Government of Iraq "reiterates its unconditional rejection of a single, ongoing distribution plan" in a paper sent to the Secretary- General by the country's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mohammed Said Al- Sahaf.

The Secretary-General's proposal was written using the current formula for the oil-for-food plan, originally laid out in Security Council resolution 986 (1995). As a result, 30 per cent of all revenue from oil sales would go to the Compensation Fund set up to pay claimants seeking damages arising from Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. Iraq wants all additional revenue earned from an increase in the oil-for-food programme to go directly to humanitarian relief efforts. It says that the programme "is intended to meet the basic needs of the Iraqi people, not to provide additional sums to pay compensation or for administrative and other expenses".

Iraq further rejects the Secretary-General's proposals for projects in the area of health, food, agriculture, water, sanitation, education, resettlement, demining and electricity. According to the Iraqi Government, such projects are its sole domain.

A United Nations spokesman told reporters on Friday that Mr. Annan is currently preparing a response to Iraq's position.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan has expressed his intention to re- establish a United Nations liaison office in Sierra Leone, while at the same time recommending that the Security Council consider sending as many as 10 military staff to the country.

In his latest report to the Security Council, issued Friday, the Secretary- General stops short of recommending the establishment of a United Nations peacekeeping operation in Sierra Leone, saying that such a force would be premature. Instead, he calls for placing the immediate focus on implementing a peace agreement which would restore the legitimate government to power.

The Government of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah was overthrown by a military junta on 25 May 1997. Although the junta remains in power, the two parties did sign a peace agreement on 23 October 1997 in Conakry, Guinea, where President Kabbah now resides. Under the Conakry Agreement, the junta agreed to the restoration of President Kabbah to power on 22 April of this year.

The Secretary-General stresses in his report that his Special Envoy to Sierra Leone, Francis G. Okelo, was prepared to assist in efforts to implement the Conakry Agreement.

According to the report, the United Nations liaison office in Sierra Leone will initially have a small staff, including a political officer, a military officer and a humanitarian officer. Eventually, the office could be expanded to comprise human rights and information officers.

The proposed military liaison cell, if established, would assess and report on the situation in Sierra Leone and coordinate regional and international efforts in the country. The Secretary-General says such a cell would "signal the commitment of the international community to the implementation of the Conakry Agreement and would serve as an important confidence building measure".

The report paints a dire picture of the humanitarian situation in Sierra Leone, noting that no food has come in the country since last May's coup. In the absence of new supplies of food aid, commercial food is increasingly scarce and expensive. For example, the price of rice -- a traditional staple food -- has tripled since the coup.

The security situation is highly volatile in the countryside, according to the report. While the junta has control in Freetown, intensified guerrilla- style actions are being conducted by an organization called the "Civil Defence Unit" which is comprised of groupings of traditional hunters.

The Secretary-General expresses particular concern about the "extremely tense" situation in the southern town of Bo. He says that civilians have reportedly been attacked and killed on the road to Bo. "In the meantime, fighting has also escalated in other parts of the country."

A United Nations team is in Sierra Leone assessing the humanitarian situation and the impact of sanctions on the civilian population. The Secretary-General says the team "should facilitate the early start of cross- border humanitarian relief efforts in order to alleviate the suffering of innocent civilians".

The Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General in Liberia is set to leave New York over the weekend to start his mission.

Felix Downes-Thomas, who is also going to head the United Nations Office in Liberia, told the press on Friday that he would focus on facilitating reconciliation taking place in the country. He added that his functions would also involve ensuring the resettlement of those affected by the war, including the refugees. The third major function, Mr. Downes-Thomas said, would be to assist in the mobilization of human, financial and material resources for reconstruction in Liberia.

Asked if he would be putting pressure on the Liberian Government in the area of human rights, Mr. Downes-Thomas said "I don't see my job, nor do I think the Secretary-General intends for me to be the one pressuring a legitimate government as such."

Concerning the return of refugees to Liberia, the Secretary- General's Special Representative said the Liberians returning home were not in sufficient numbers to make the humanitarian community "ecstatic". He cited factors hindering the return of refugees such as lack of access routes and resources. Mr. Downes-Thomas said that humanitarian agencies were appealing to the international community to support reconciliation and reconstruction efforts in Liberia.

An advance team of the United Nations Secretary-General's investigative team probing violations of human rights in Congo-Kinshasa left Kinshasa for Mbandaka on Friday.

The Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, Ms. Therese Gastaut said that the team went to re-establish a camp dismantled in December last year.

The Secretary-General's mission to investigate allegations of massacres during the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was supposed to conclude its work by the end of February. However, due to delays, it was agreed on 25 October 1997 that United Nations Secretary- General Kofi Annan could prolong the duration of the mission in agreement with the Congolese Government. The United Nations leader repeated on Monday that the members of the Mission would continue to do their work until it was completed.

The World Food Programme (WFP) said on Friday that it was struggling to find alternative routes to deliver vital food aid to the Great Lakes Region in Africa.

The United Nations food agency said that floods have devastated key transportation networks. Roads and bridges have been destroyed by the floods in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda which are vital for WFP food deliveries. Before the floods WFP was delivering 20,000 tonnes of food from Tanzania, and 13,000 tonnes from Kenya each month.

However, since December, torrential rains continued to batter the direct transport routes causing sixty per cent of Tanzanian wagons to be trapped at Dar Es Salaam port. As a result, over the last eight weeks only half of the needed amount of food aid had reached the Great Lakes Region forcing WFP to target only the most vulnerable people in countries like Rwanda and Burundi.

WFP said it was using alternative routes and had devised unique road-rail- barge networks to transport food from Tanzania where sixty per cent of the food requirements for the Great Lakes Region is dispatched.

The head of the United Nations refugee agency has started her 20-day tour of nine African countries.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Sadako Ogata arrived in Harare, Zimbabwe, on Friday on her first leg of the tour. She was scheduled to confer with President Robert Mugabe, and Foreign Minister Isack S.G. Mudenge. Zimbabwe is the current chair of the Organization of African Unity (OAU).

Mrs. Ogata will also visit Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of the Congo, and Ethiopia. She will meet with the leaders of these countries to hear their concerns about the refugee problem, to promote a regional approach to the problem and to seek a renewed commitment to humanitarian principles.

The United Nations Office for Humanitarian Assistance to Afghanistan (UNOCHA) has dispatched field staff to assess the situation following an earthquake in northern Afghanistan.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported on Friday that the humanitarian field workers came from UNOCHA's Faizabad Office 40 kilometres from the area struck by the earthquake.

Quoting a report from the Afghan Embassy in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, OCHA said that the earthquake which occurred on Wednesday and measured 6.1 on the Richter scale, caused heavy loss of life and serious damage in Rustaq. Hundreds of houses which are typically made of mud walls and flat timber roofs have reportedly collapsed.

According to the preliminary information provided by the Government authorities of Tajikistan to the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Dushanbe, as of Friday, no substantial damage nor casualties had been reported in Tajikistan as a result of the earthquake.

The repatriation of Cambodian refugees from Thailand has resumed, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

UNHCR officer, Judith Kumin told the press on Friday that to date, more than 3,500 refugees had returned to Cambodia. She added that there had been a number of flights arranged for Cambodian opposition leaders.

There are still 62,000 Cambodian refugees in Thailand, according to the United Nations refugee agency.

A group working on a draft protocol to protect children has not yet reached consensus on limiting the age for participation in armed conflicts.

The Working Group on a draft protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child has not agreed to limit to eighteen, the age for participation in hostilities, for recruitment into armed forces, or for recruitment by non- governmental armed groups, a Spokesman of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Friday.

The Group, meeting in Geneva, is expected to continue next week and would be addressed by High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson on Monday, Spokesman John Mills said.

Mr. Mills said that he had spoken to the Chairman of the Working Group Niels Eliasson who expressed concern at the lack of consensus regarding the age limit. Mr. Eliasson said that the meeting could end quite early next week instead of continuing until the end of the week.

Citing a new political consensus on strengthening the Economic and Social Council, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on Friday that "this opportunity must be seized".

In his first address to the Council this year, the Secretary-General praised that body for the changes it had already made to rejuvenate its work. But he added that there was no room for complacency, noting that reform issues remained on the Council's agenda. He said that reform of the Council was, in some ways, a "test case for the Organization's ability to enhance relevance and impact".

In a speech devoted largely to the work of the Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC), which he chairs, the Secretary-General said there was an evolution towards greater coordination within the United Nations system. "Some of the mutual suspicions of the past are being steadily replaced by a new sense of partnership and shared responsibility", he noted. He said leaders of United Nations agencies and members of the ACC were tackling the major strategic and managerial challenges confronting the system as a whole.

Echoing a theme he has been stressing of late, the Secretary-General talked about efforts to improve the Organization's work in the area of peace- building. He said a common, system-wide "strategic framework" was being developed to maximize the ability of the United Nations to assist countries in responding to a crisis, and recovering from it.

The Secretary-General also said that partnerships with civil society, including the private sector, were crucial to adapting the United Nations system to external changes. "And they are directly relevant to many of the major issues before us -- from increasing resource flows and strengthening the system's impact on development, to enhancing public support for the United Nations", he added.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan has reiterated his support for the goal of eradicating colonialism by the year 2000.

The Secretary-General said that the remaining 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories on the agenda of the United Nations decolonization committee represent "complex challenges". In a speech to the committee on Friday, he noted that the goal of eradicating colonialism by the year 2000 should continue to guide its work. "The main task of the United Nations is to live up to the trust bestowed upon it and to assist both the peoples of the Territories and the administering Powers in fulfilling our common aims", he said.

The needs of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) required particular attention, Mr. Annan said, noting that that Territory was the largest on the Committee's agenda. The Referendum, scheduled for this December, would give the people of Western Sahara the option of choosing independence or integration with Morocco.

As the new flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina was raised at United Nations Headquarters on Friday, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said it symbolized the country's hard-won peace.

The Secretary-General said that no conflict had posed a greater challenge to the United Nations than the conflict in Bosnia. "From all over the world, United Nations personnel went to Bosnia to promote the peace and the unity that we witness today", he said. "They did so for the sake of the people of Bosnia, and in the hope that the co-existence - - once flourishing among the communities of that country -- can once again become a reality."

In his remarks to the flag-raising ceremony, the Secretary-General said the occasion marked the promise of "one flag, one future, one nation" which was the world's fervent hope for the Bosnian people.

For information purposes only - - not an official record

From the United Nations home page at <> - email:

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