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United Nations Daily Highlights, 99-04-01
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From: The United Nations Home Page at <http://www.un.org> - email: email@example.com
Thursday, 1 April, 1999
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.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on Thursday said a systematic and ruthless campaign by Serb authorities to round up and expel Kosovars by "refugee trains" appeared to be underway.
UNHCR officials are describing arrival scenes of people from Kosovo streaming in all directions as reminiscent of the last days of World War II when Europe was awash in refugees.
In the last two days, six trains carrying more than 25,000 people have arrived in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Passengers said that in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, people were being rounded up en masse and packed into trains "like sardines". One refugee said two old people had died while waiting for the train and three babies were born.
The new arrivals said Pristina, a city with a pre-war population of 200,000, had been reduced to a ghost town, and that more trains were en route.
Meanwhile, a UN spokesman said that as efforts were underway to aid those expelled from Kosovo, concerns were mounting over the fate of the people left behind in the province where humanitarian workers had no access.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) announced that some of its resources - vehicles, satellite and other communications equipment and personnel - would be transferred temporarily to UNHCR and other agencies to help in humanitarian work both in Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
By Thursday morning, 180,000 Kosovars had crossed into Albania, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Montenegro since NATO air strikes began on 24 March.
Highlighting the need for impartial verification of allegations of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo and for ensuring accountability for established violations, the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner, Mary Robinson, said on Thursday she would take immediate steps to help deal with those issues.
Ms. Robinson told the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva that she had requested the Special Rapporteur monitoring the situation in the former Yugoslavia, Jiri Dienstbier, to travel to the region next week for a first- hand assessment of the latest developments. He would be accompanied by Michel Mousalli, as personal representative of the High Commissioner.
In another move, Ms. Robinson said she had arranged to deploy human rights officers from field offices in the former Yugoslavia and United Nations Headquarters to Albania, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Montenegro. They would conduct interviews with refugees and other displaced persons and assess the human rights situation in Kosovo.
Announcing her Office's response to the crisis in Kosovo, the High Commissioner said she did it in full recognition that this was "a grave moment for humankind".
In her address to the Commission, Mrs. Robinson stressed that she had followed with "dismay and deep anguish" the developments on the ground that have occasioned massive violations of the right to life and have caused human suffering. "I deeply regret the turn of events that has led to the current military actions in Yugoslavia," she said.
UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund, has joined other humanitarian agencies in caring for thousands of Kosovar children and their families who have fled to Albania, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Montenegro.
On Thursday, UNICEF began airlifting supplies from its warehouse in Copenhagen into Tirana, Albania. The airlift includes emergency kits to meet the needs of 40,000 persons over three months, as well as 2,000 children's blankets, large quantities of oral rehydration salts to treat diarrhoea, water purification tablets, water testing kits and syringes.
"We are concentrating in the areas of health, education and water," said Carol Bellamy, the Executive Director of UNICEF. She said that what was happening in Kosovo "is beyond words," adding that the situation of tens of thousands of internally displaced people within the province was "every bit as horrific as that of the refugees."
UNICEF officials have expressed grave concern that humanitarian and human rights communities were entirely without means at present to prevent a continuing tragedy within Kosovo itself.
Eighty-one countries have indicated their willingness to provide troops, services and equipment for a United Nations plan to rapidly mobilize peacekeeping forces, according to a report released at UN Headquarters in New York.
In a progress report to the Security Council on standby arrangements for peacekeeping, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said those countries have pledged a total of 104,302 personnel ready to be deployed for peacekeeping operations.
Since December 1997, 14 more countries -- including 10 from Africa - - have said they were willing to participate in the standby system established by the United Nations in 1994 to assess the number of forces and amount of resources, and the time needed to mobilize them, in countries contributing toward peacekeeping operations.
The report said currently 43 percent of the total personnel pledged, both operational and support, could be deployed to a mission site within 30 days.
The Secretary-General said that while the Organization still did not have a true rapid-reaction capability, standby arrangements have been a step forward and he welcomed the efforts by Member States to increase the readiness of resources pledged for peacekeeping duties.
A former Rwandan municipal official accused of war crimes during the 1994 genocide in the country pleaded "not guilty" on Thursday to 13 counts including charges of conspiracy to commit genocide, genocide, crimes against humanity and violation of the Geneva Convention.
The plea was entered on behalf of Ignace Bagilishema, a former mayor of the Mabanza Commune in Rwanda's Kibuye Prefecture, by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda after he had failed to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty during his initial appearance. According to the tribunal's rules of procedure, should an accused fail to enter a plea on each count, the tribunal shall enter a plea of not guilty on his behalf.
Mr. Bagilishema is alleged to have murdered, assisted and conspired to murder thousands of Tutsis throughout the Kibuye Prefecture between 9 April and 30 June 1994. The accused is alleged to have ordered men, women and children into the Catholic Church and Home St. Jean Complex, and into the Stadium in Kibuye where he knew they would be attacked. Massacres had indeed taken place and thousands of people inside the complex and the stadium were killed or injured by the attackers who used guns, grenades, machetes, spears, cudgels and other weapons, according to the tribunal.
The genocide suspect was served with a warrant of arrest on 20 February 1999 in Pretoria, South Africa, where he had been detained by the country's authorities in connection with his immigration status. He was transferred to the tribunal's detention facilities in Arusha, Tanzania, the same day.
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