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United Nations Daily Highlights, 98-02-12

United Nations Daily Highlights Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

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


Thursday, 12 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.


  • On Iraq, United Nations Spokesman says Secretary-General "wants a deal, not a trip".
  • Director-General of UNESCO appeals for resumption of dialogue throughout Middle East.
  • United Nations food agency warns that 500,000 people in conflict-torn Sierra Leone face serious food shortages.
  • UNICEF-supported vaccination campaign starts in Congo- Brazzaville.
  • United Nations seeks $415.6 million for relief aid to avert famine in Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
  • United Nations appeals for funds for emergency airdrop of relief aid to victims of earthquake in Afghanistan.
  • President of International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia asks Security Council for additional judges.
  • United Nations well on "road from Ottawa", coordinating global effort to clear landmines, officials say.
  • General Assembly President is gratified at support of United Nations by prominent group in the United States.
  • United Nations Secretary-General is saddened by death of Sudanese officials in a plane crash.

On Iraq, Secretary-General Kofi Annan wants "a deal, not a trip", his Spokesman told reporters on Thursday. Fred Eckhard added that the Secretary- General would consider agreement among the five permanent members of the Security Council as "essential" to any trip he might take to Baghdad.

The Secretary-General had begun efforts toward that end, Mr. Eckhard noted, recalling that on Wednesday, the Secretary-General had brought together representatives of the five permanent members of the Security Council to discuss various proposals for resolving the crisis. "He feels they took a few steps forward yesterday, but they still have a long way to go", Mr. Eckhard said. He emphasized the Secretary-General, who was also in contact with Iraqi authorities, was working on the assumption that all sides wanted a diplomatic solution.

On the humanitarian side, Mr. Eckhard told the press that the Secretary- General had written to the Iraqi Foreign Minister on 10 February in response to Iraq's observations on his recommended increase in the oil-for- food programme. "In this letter, the Secretary-General has proposed detailed discussions with the Government of Iraq in New York to 'review all relevant issues and reach agreements as required with a view to enabling the Government to prepare and submit a revised distribution plan at the earliest possible date'", Mr. Eckhard said. He added that this would be subject to the Council's "positive consideration" of the Secretary- General's proposals. The Security Council was considering a draft resolution on the matter.

Meanwhile, in Baghdad, United Nations Spokesman Eric Falt told reporters that United Nations staff who are abroad on annual leave have been asked to stay out of Iraq. Currently, there is a total of 319 staff involved in the oil-for-food programme, including 174 in Baghdad and 145 in the three northern governorates.

Asked if threats of military action were impeding the implementation of the oil-for-food programme, Mr. Falt said United Nations humanitarian operations were affected to a limited extent. Because of the uncertainty surrounding the situation, observers in central and southern Iraq were limited to day trips from Baghdad, and "there are a few less bodies to man the entire operation".

Mr. Falt described progress in the humanitarian relief effort, particularly in the area of demining, which he said was "coming to life" in northern Iraq. A team of five experts from the United Nations Office of Project Services has been deployed to provide technical oversight, administration and logistical support. Actual demining is expected to start in early April.

The Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has appealed for the resumption of dialogue throughout the Middle East.

In a declaration issued in Paris on Thursday, Federico Mayor said that the current situation in the region could lead to further confrontations with violence on a massive scale. "To avoid more suffering, it is urgent to recognize that war is never a solution, that all sides are losers", he said.

He recalled that in a recent appeal in support of the Middle East peace process, he had urged all the parties to honour their promises, respect signed agreements and avoid the outbreak of violence. He reiterated his call on all concerned to make "the only possible choice: to resume dialogue, and to search tirelessly for a diplomatic solution."

Mr. Mayor called on the parties in the Iraqi crisis to overcome obstacles and continue along the path of diplomacy and dialogue. "In Iraq, and throughout the region, armed conflict will not solve problems", he said. He called for stocktaking of the situation, under the aegis of the United Nations, "without resorting to the use of force".

The Director-General of UNESCO cited the message of Pope John Paul II last Sunday, in which the pontiff said he was convinced that the parties involved still had the possibility of coming to an agreement and of reaffirming the principles which regulate international co- existence.

Reiterating that UNESCO's mission, according to its Constitution, was "to construct the defenses of peace in the minds of men", Mr. Mayor said that action must be taken when the spectre of war and violence reappeared.

The United Nations food agency warned on Thursday that some 500,000 people faced serious food shortages in conflict-torn Sierra Leone.

The World Food Programme (WFP) said that the number of needy people could increase by tens of thousands if fighting continued.

With the country's capital, Freetown, cut off from the mainland by continued fighting, WFP said, almost the entire population of the city was unable to find sufficient food. "We are receiving desperate requests for food from humanitarian agencies still operating in Freetown", said Paul Ares, WFP's West Africa regional manager. He said that WFP's food stock in Sierra Leone had completely run out. "We are urgently exploring every avenue of transporting food into the city", he added.

WFP expressed particular concern over the plight of 460 children who were already severely malnourished in Freetown, Port Loko, Kenama and Kambia. The United Nations food agency said the children would face "almost certain death" if its therapeutic feeding activities were discontinued. WFP added that current supplies would run out in 10 days. Also threatened were another 2,500 moderately malnourished children who depended on supplemental feeding rations to keep their condition from worsening, WFP said.

A vaccination campaign supported by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) began on Thursday in Brazzaville and its surrounding areas to minimize the threat of a measles epidemic in the war-ravaged city. The six- week campaign aims to immunize 250,000 children against the disease.

Most of Brazzaville's estimated 900,000 inhabitants fled the city during last year's civil war in the Republic of the Congo. Some 70 per cent of the displaced population has since returned, according to UNICEF. Many of these people, whose homes were destroyed in the fighting, are living in schools or other crowded centres, or with friends or relatives.

Under conditions of poor nutrition, inadequate living conditions, a destroyed economy, the disruption of health and social services, children are especially at risk for diseases such as measles. The campaign aims to reduce child illness and mortality in Brazzaville by vaccinating at least 90 per cent of the children under 12 years of age.

In addition to providing syringes and vaccine doses, UNICEF will supply children with vitamin A in order to strengthen their immunity against infectious diseases. Children will also be given de-worming treatment during the campaign in order to reduce the prevalence of anaemia and malnutrition.

"This campaign is part of UNICEF's efforts to protect children from the devastating effects of the recent civil war", said Eric Laroche, the agency's representative for the Republic of the Congo. "The vaccinations and vitamin supplements will no doubt save thousands of children's lives", he predicted.

The United Nations on Thursday appealed for $415.6 million for urgently required humanitarian assistance to avert famine and carry out other life- saving measures in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Included in the appeal is a call for $378.2 million for the World Food Programme to distribute food aid. Other United Nations agencies would be involved in "making the food aid as effective as possible", said Douglas Coutts, Humanitarian Coordinator for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. He told reporters that the appeal's key components covered health, food security, water and sanitation. "We've seen already that food alone is not going to be the solution to save the targeted population -- the vulnerable groups."

Last year, contributions from the international community helped the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to avert famine, but the situation there remains precarious. "We've seen a lot of progress so far, in that we are seeing many of the children that have benefitted from last year have improved nutritionally, but we have a long way to go to maintain that improvement and to assist the Government overall to deal with the structural problems which underlie the food insecurity throughout the Democratic People's Republic of Korea", Mr. Coutts said.

The Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said improved access to clean, safe drinking water and adequate sanitation facilities were critical to sustaining gains in the fight against malnutrition in the country. "Water shortages, contamination of water supplies and poor sanitation are contributing to child malnourishment and causing deaths that could be avoided with only a modest investment in salaries", Carol Bellamy said on Thursday.

The appeal aims to provide food to over 7 million people, including 5.5 million children, and will be complemented by support in health services to prevent widespread malnutrition among children. Participating agencies include UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The efforts by organizations of the UN system will be complemented by those of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and by non-governmental organizations in the country.

The United Nations on Thursday appealed for an emergency airdrop of urgently needed relief assistance to the victims of earthquake in the northern region of Takhar in Afghanistan.

The Organization said that $2.5 million was urgently needed to undertake an emergency airdrop of about 1,000 tonnes of relief goods, adding that it was imperative to save those who were still alive and those who were in remote areas.

According to relief staff of the World Food Programme (WFP) in Rustaq, some 30,000 people were in desperate need of relief aid in Takhar. WFP, which is conducting on-the-spot assessments together with other United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations, said the urgently needed relief items included shelter, blankets and food.

WFP has stepped up delivery of food aid and non-food items to ensure survival of the affected populations. Using a small passenger aircraft of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance to Afghanistan (UNOCHA), WFP on Thursday airlifted 300 kilogrammes of high protein biscuits from Islamabad, Pakistan, to Hajaghar.

Snow storms and very poor road conditions were slowing the movement of trucks to the affected area, WFP said. The staff of the United Nations food agency were making arrangements to repair the airstrip in Khojaghar, 120 kilometres from Rustaq. The airstrip has been battered by severe snow storms, making landing and taking off of aircraft dangerous, WFP said.

The President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia has requested the Security Council to provide additional judges to the Tribunal.

Judge Gabrielle Kirk McDonald, who came to New York to present the request to the Council, told reporters on Thursday that the Tribunal was asking for one Trial Chamber of three judges and an additional judge to handle preliminary matters.

Judge McDonald said that she had also visited New York to speak to representatives of various States about State cooperation. She pointed out that the Tribunal did not have a police force or a penal institution, and that it relied on States to provide what was necessary for the Tribunal to do its job effectively. Therefore, she added, the Tribunal was asking States to enter into agreements with it for the enforcement of sentences on persons convicted by the Tribunal. "These persons would then be placed in a penal institution in a particular State."

The President of the Tribunal also said that the Tribunal was negotiating relocation agreements with States since it did not have a witness protection programme. "Witnesses who appear before the Tribunal are very courageous. And it is important that those who feel that they may be subjected to reprisals have a place to go."

Stressing the need for States to cooperate with the Tribunal, as required under the United Nations resolutions, Judge McDonald said that States should pass implementation legislation. "Thus far only 20 States have passed implementing legislation. The legislation is necessary in order to establish a relationship between States and the Tribunal."

On the work of the Tribunal in general, Judge McDonald said that the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia had come a long way since its establishment in 1993. However, she pointed out, although 74 persons had been indicted, only 20 were in custody. That, she added, meant that 54 persons were at liberty. "And the reason that they are at liberty is that some States have refused to comply with their obligation under international law and execute arrest warrants."

The judge expressed the hope that the Tribunal would receive more indictees. She stressed that the Tribunal wanted to be in a position to try the cases effectively and efficiently to avoid keeping the accused in custody longer than desirable.

The United Nations has undertaken a coordinated strategy to address the global landmine scourge based on a humanitarian and pragmatic approach, according to two top officials.

At a press conference held in conjunction with the release of a new study on the issue, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Bernard Miyet, described the United Nations mechanisms that have been set up to coordinate global efforts on a number of key objectives, including mine awareness and victim assistance; emergency and development questions; advocacy, verification and compliance; and resource mobilization, information and quality management.

Mr. Miyet said the United Nations was working to develop a common strategy and policy guidelines. This would pave the way for the next important step, namely, "the road from Ottawa", he said, referring to the conference in that Canadian city last year which produced the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti- Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction.

"I have seen the consequences of these objects in terms of mutilated victims; returnee women killed while trying to reach their homes; young kids, old men, refugees trying to scratch out a living collecting firewood only to be crippled by the thousands", the Under-Secretary- General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Sergio de Mello, told reporters. He said the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), in close cooperation with the operational agencies, would have primary responsibility for coordinating a timely response to the landmines threat.

"We're here to tell you that demining and other mine-related activities, such as mine awareness, mapping, data collection and training are possible, cheap, worthwhile and vital", Mr. de Mello stressed. Effective mine action was possible, if conducted with the same kind of stamina, conviction, faith, perseverance and tenacity that has made the Ottawa Conference possible, he stated.

The thrust of the study calls for a focused approach to clearing landmines, according to its principal author, Professor Robert Eaton. He noted that in the past, the aim was to clear landmines wherever they were found, while the new approach calls for prioritizing mine clearance based on people's needs. Eliminating all landmines was not possible. "It hasn't been done from the battlefields of World War II in Europe and it wont be done in the battlefields of the third world of the last 20 years. What we can do -- what the Europeans have done -- is we can eliminate the worst of them and contain and control the rest."

The President of the United Nations General Assembly has welcomed the expression of support for the United Nations by a group of prominent United States citizens.

Assembly President Hennadiy Udovenko of Ukraine was reacting to the Open Letter from a large group of prominent United States political, public and business leaders, published in The New York Times of 11 February.

In a statement to the press, Alex Taukatch, the President's Spokesman, said that Mr. Udovenko was "extremely gratified" to see that such an illustrious group of personalities, including former United States Presidents, members of the Congress and cabinet ministers, as well as labour leaders and chief executive officers of major United States corporations had raised their voice in support of the United Nations.

The Spokesman said that Mr. Udovenko, who was directly involved in the recent consideration by the General Assembly of a far-reaching reform plan submitted by the United Nations Secretary-General, was particularly heartened by the group's recognition that the United Nations was now "reforming its bureaucracy, cutting costs, and becoming more efficient", in the words of the Open Letter.

Mr. Taukatch said that the Assembly President was encouraged by the group's conclusion that the vast majority of people in the United States supported the use of the United Nations to address global problems. Mr. Udovenko also shared the signatories' concern about the acute financial problems of the Organization, the Spokesman added.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Thursday said he was deeply saddened to learn of the death of a number of Sudanese officials in a plane crash.

In a statement issued by his Spokesman, Fred Eckhard, the Secretary- General said that he extended his heartfelt condolences to the Government of the Sudan and to the bereaved families.

Several high Government officials, including First Vice President of the Sudan, Mr. Al-Zubeir Mohammad Saleh, died in the plane crash in Sudan on Thursday.

For information purposes only - - not an official record

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

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