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United Nations Daily Highlights, 98-02-19

United Nations Daily Highlights Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

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


Thursday, 19 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 his way to Baghdad, Secretary-General stops in Paris and confers with President Jacques Chirac.
  • Security Council condemns hostage-taking of four United Nations military observers in Georgia.
  • Security Council concerned at delays in Angolan peace process.
  • UNICEF and Organization of African Unity campaign for ratification of landmines treaty.
  • Head of United Nations food agency says irrigated agriculture is key to food security in Africa.
  • Head of UN Environment Programme plans to meet with South-East Asian ministers on region's haze problem.
  • United Nations seeks over $100 million for emergency assistance to Sudan.
  • President of Conference on Disarmament predicts difficult work ahead.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan left New York on Thursday, stopping in Paris on his way to Baghdad on a mission to achieve a diplomatic solution in the standoff with Iraq over weapons inspections. Mr. Annan is expected to arrive in Baghdad on Friday afternoon.

In preparation for his trip, the Secretary-General has been conferring with a broad spectrum of world leaders. On Thursday morning, he spoke by telephone with Prime Minister Tony Blair of the United Kingdom. The two had a "frank and constructive" discussion, according to United Nations Spokesman Juan Carlos Brandt. The Secretary-General was scheduled to meet in the afternoon with President Jacques Chirac and at midnight with Crown Prince Hassan of Jordan.

Earlier on Wednesday, Mr. Annan had a "warm, positive and cordial" discussion about Iraq with former United Nations Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar, according to Spokesman Juan Carlos Brandt. "Both men agreed that the times that the former Secretary-General had lived vis-a- vis Iraq and the time this Secretary-General is facing right now are quite different," said Mr. Brandt.

Before departing New York, Mr. Annan told reporters at JFK International Airport that much has changed since 1991. "Iraq has been hit many times and knows what happens when the international community decides to use force," he said, adding, "I think that knowledge and that history should help in these discussions."

The United Nations Security Council has condemned the hostage-taking of four United Nations military observers in Georgia.

In a statement read out on Thursday by Council President, Ambassador Denis Dangue Rewaka of Gabon, the Security Council characterized the incident as "a terrorist act" and demanded immediate and unconditional release of the hostages.

Ambassador Dangue Rewaka said that members of the Council fully supported the efforts of the United Nations Secretariat, the Secretary- General's Special Representative and the Government of Georgia, aimed at earliest release of the observers. The Council members also expressed their solidarity with the efforts of the Secretariat and the Secretary- General's Special Representative to ensure the safety and security of the United Nations personnel in Georgia.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan added his voice to the condemnation of the hostage-taking in Georgia and called for the immediate release of all the hostages.

According to United Nations Spokesman Juan Carlos Brandt, a group of between fifteen to twenty "well-armed men" broke into the Zugdidi sector headquarters of the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) on Thursday morning and took the four military observers hostage. "In the process, they fired their weapons at the tyres of the UN cars inside the compound," Mr. Brandt said. The armed men then fled in a United Nations vehicle.

The Spokesman said that none of the hostages had been harmed and that they were in good health.

The United Nations Security Council on Thursday expressed its concern at the various delays in the Angolan peace process.

The President of the Security Council, Ambassador Denis Dangue Rewaka of Gabon, said that the Council reiterated the importance of adhering to the deadline of 28 February 1998 to complete the implementation of the peace plan for Angola.

The Security Council urged the two parties, particularly the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), to make every effort to ensure the completion of the peace process in Angola, Ambassador Rewaka said.

The Council, which had been briefed by the United Nations Secretariat on the situation in Angola, also highlighted the role that various United Nations agencies and the international community should play "to correct the humanitarian situation," in the country, Council President said.

The United Nations children's agency and the Organization of African Unity (OAU) will actively campaign for the ratification of the treaty to ban landmines, the head of the UN agency said on Thursday.

Carol Bellamy, the Executive-Director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), was briefing the press on her visit to Ethiopia and Angola last week. She said that she had met with the Secretary- General of the OAU Salim Ahmed Salim to discuss the issue and was now pleased "to report that the OAU and UNICEF together will actively pursue ratification activities in Africa." She said that the OAU indicated that it will actively pursue early ratification and that the issue will be placed on the agenda of the meeting of Foreign Ministers next week.

The Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and their Destruction will need forty ratifications to enter into force. So far the Convention, which was opened for signature in Ottawa, Canada, in December 1997, has been ratified by Canada, Ireland, Mauritius and the Holy See.

The head of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has called for an increase in irrigated agriculture throughout the African continent.

Addressing the 20th FAO Regional Conference for Africa in Addis Ababa on Thursday, the Director-General of FAO, Jacques Diouf, said that there could be no food security in Africa without controlled utilization and conservation of water resources and without intensifying production systems. "Irrigation is an important element of security in the face of widely fluctuating rainfall," he said.

Mr. Diouf warned of the dangers posed by Africa's almost 3 per cent annual population growth. "Recent United Nations projections indicate that Africa's population will virtually triple by the year 2050 if the current trend prevails, from 758 million people today to about 2 billion," he said. With population growth of this magnitude, the head of FAO added, food security will continue to be an imperative and a challenge.

He noted that 43 of the world's 86 low-income food-deficit countries were in Africa, mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa where two of every five persons did not have access to an adequate diet.

Expressing concern at the accelerated degradation of the natural resources on which agriculture depended, Mr. Diouf cautioned against increased food production at the expense of the environment. According to FAO, some 6 million hectares of forests in Africa were lost between 1990 and 1995, representing annual deforestation of 0.8 percent compared to 0.7 per cent between 1980 and 1990.

As forest fires resume their spread in Indonesia, the head of the United Nations Environment Programme is planning a trip to the region to explore the agency's possible role in coping with the calamity.

Indonesia's forest fires threaten the return of the choking haze which blanketed a large area of South-East Asia last year, causing widespread health and environmental problems, according to UNEP. Its Executive Director, Klaus Topfer, will travel to Malaysia next week to meet with ministers attending the second meeting of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) on the haze problem. He said he wanted to explore what role UNEP could play in addressing the "extremely serious" problem.

Meanwhile, a UNEP-supported documentary on last year's catastrophic fires will be broadcast worldwide on Thursday by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). UNEP provided background information and financial support for the film, entitled "Forest Fires: Primates, Palm Oil and Pyromania". The film raises the issue of how concern can be translated into action to save Indonesia's remaining tropical forests.

"The fires of last year, and those still burning today in Indonesia, may turn out to be the greatest ecological disaster of the decade," said Mr. Topfer. "The tragedy is that future generations, who have no say in current policy, will have to bear the costs, and nobody seems willing to safeguard their interests."

Many of the fires were started in order to shift cultivation of forest to palm oil production. A United Nations report found that the fires "have turned out to be an environmental emergency of exceptional proportions", and warned of "a repetition of the present emergency" if current practices remain unchanged.

Responding to intensified fighting and widespread drought in Sudan, the United Nations on Thursday appealed for $109.4 million to meet the country's urgent humanitarian needs.

The appeal seeks to help more than 4 million war and drought-affected Sudanese, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). It also covers projects aimed at protecting livelihoods and re-establishing communities and social networks. In addition, participating United Nations agencies are appealing for funds to address some of the underlying causes of civilian suffering through a mine awareness programme.

As Sudan enters its fifteenth consecutive year of civil war, more than 4 million people will require assistance to cope with the effects of war and displacement, including malnutrition and widespread disease caused by a severe shortage of adequate health care, lack of clean drinking water, appalling sanitary conditions and inadequate shelter.

Already this year, increased insecurity and crop failure in parts of the Sudan are forcing people to flee traditional grazing and fishing grounds. These trends are also causing the price of staple foods to rise to levels beyond the reach of vulnerable populations. The latest assessments estimate that hundreds of thousands of Sudanese will be unable to survive without food aid, especially during the primary food deficit period from April to August. The appeal will cover food aid and transport provided by the World Food Programme (WFP).

As part of the appeal, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) will provide essential medicines and health care, emergency shelter, basic education, seeds, hand tools and fishing equipment, and special care for children in difficult circumstances. UNICEF will collaborate with the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) on a number of projects. Other United Nations agencies participating in the appeal are the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Population Fund.

Last year, the United Nations received only 40 per cent of the $120.8 million required for emergency activities in the Sudan, seriously compromising its ability to respond to the growing humanitarian crisis. Among other effects, the lack of funding hampered efforts to adequately respond in hard-hit locations where malnutrition rates rose to over 50 per cent.

The new President of the Conference on Disarmament on Thursday anticipated a difficult period ahead for the multilateral negotiating body.

Ambassador Erwin Hofer of Switzerland predicted that in the coming months, the Conference would face "a very difficult period, characterized by many risks". At the same time, he noted that most subjects on the agenda of the Conference enjoyed wide support. He said the Conference was entering a phase in which it could commence the search for areas of understanding. Political will would be essential to any success, he emphasized.

Also addressing the Geneva-based Conference on Thursday, Guilio Picheca of Italy noted that the obstacles to reaching agreements were of an increasingly political nature. He urged the Member States to find a minimum common denominator for the success of the Conference's endeavours.

The representative of Chile urged the Conference to start negotiations immediately on nuclear disarmament. Javier Illanes expressed support for the establishment of a committee on a fissile material cut-off treaty. Germany's representative, Gunther Seibert, also called for discussions on nuclear disarmament and a fissile material cut-off treaty.

Other speakers focused their comments on the issue of anti-personnel landmines. Krzystof Jakubowski of Poland said that the pursuit of a global ban on the transfer of landmines within the Conference on Disarmament would represent an important step forward. Russian representative Gregori V. Berdennikov said the Conference should resume practical work on a prohibition of the import and export of anti-personnel landmines, to be followed by a global prohibition.

For information purposes only - - not an official record

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

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