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United Nations Daily Highlights, 99-04-07
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From: The United Nations Home Page at <http://www.un.org> - email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Wednesday, 7 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.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Wednesday there were signs that genocide may be occurring in Kosovo.
Speaking in Geneva before the annual session of the UN Commission on Human Rights, Mr. Annan said even though the United Nations had no independent observers on the ground, "the vicious and systematic campaign of 'ethnic cleansing' conducted by the Serbian authorities in Kosovo appears to have one aim: to expel or kill as many ethnic Albanians in Kosovo as possible."
Mr. Annan said he was hopeful the universal sense of outrage that has been provoked would "give every future 'ethnic cleanser' and every state-backed architect of mass murder pause." He emphasized that no government had the right to hide behind national sovereignty in order to violate the human rights or fundamental freedoms of its peoples.
He called upon the United Nations to renew its commitment in the next century to protect the rights of every man, woman and child -- regardless of ethnic, national or religious belonging.
"I believe human rights are at the core of our sacred bond with the peoples of the United Nations," Mr. Annan said, stressing that "a United Nations that will not stand up for human rights is a United Nations that cannot stand up for itself."
The Secretary-General praised the Commission for its history of promoting gender equality and the rights of women, protecting the rights of minorities and indigenous peoples and its efforts to eliminate racial discrimination.
Earlier in the day, the Secretary-General was briefed on the situation in Kosovo by a representative of the UN refugee agency and by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson. He also met with his Special Envoy to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, to discuss the outcome of the peace talks held last month between the Taliban and the opposition group.
Serbian authorities have closed the border crossings from Kosovo into Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and there have been virtually no new arrivals at the third major exit point into neighboring Montenegro, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on Wednesday.
Aid workers were tremendously concerned over the fate of ethnic Albanians who had been waiting on the Kosovo side of the border with the former Yugoslav of Macedonia, said a UN spokesman. Those who had been in sight of the border had been brought across but people who were on the road behind a hill obstructing the view were now gone. UNHCR said there had been disquieting reports from inside Kosovo that authorities there were now sending people back to their home areas and turning them away from the border.
Meanwhile, as the international aid effort moved into high gear on Wednesday, UNHCR reported that the refugee situation varied wildly from region to region. In the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, authorities on Tuesday night cleared a huge field along its border in a matter of hours. For days, tens of thousands of refugees had been trapped in the field in a squalid no-man's land. Amid mass confusion, some of the refugees were transferred to new transit points a few kilometers away, others were sent by aircraft to Turkey and some were crowded into fleets of buses and reportedly driven towards Albania and Greece.
With the scale of the crisis mounting daily, UN agencies appealed for $138.4 million to assist an estimated 650,000 refugees through 30 June. The amount includes nearly $65 million for UNHCR, which is coordinating the humanitarian relief effort. The UN agency is also working closely with NATO, relying on its manpower and logistics to operate a joint airlift operation cell in Geneva, prepare transit camp sites, transport relief aid and evacuate refugees out of danger.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has issued a set of guidelines stressing that evacuations of Kosovo refugees to other countries must be voluntary and families must be kept together.
The guidelines were released after the government of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia began moving some refugees from its border areas to other countries, some of them against their will. According to UNHCR, some refugees complained that they didn't know where they were going and that they were being split from the rest of their families. UNHCR has been holding urgent consultations with government officials on the situation.
UNHCR's position on both the eventual return of refugees to Kosovo and their temporary evacuation to countries outside the region was summed up at a high-level conference in Geneva on Tuesday. The head of the refugee agency, Sadako Ogata, said since the majority of refugees eventually wanted to return home, "it is better to protect and assist refugees in the vicinity of Kosovo, in order to facilitate what we hope will be an early return."
However, the UN recognized that in the shorter term, it would be necessary to offer some refugees temporary safety in countries outside the region, said Ms. Ogata. In those cases all evacuations must be totally voluntary. "Forced evacuations will not -- I repeat not -- be accepted by UNHCR," she emphasized.
The number of refugees fleeing the carnage in Kosovo since widespread unrest started in the province in March 1998 is now more than 621,000, UNHCR reported on Wednesday. In the biggest influx, 293,000 have sought refuge in Albania and 136,000 in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. An estimated 100,000 Kosovo Albanians have lodged political asylum applications in 27 European countries over the last year.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has appealed to donor nations for an additional 24.1 million dollars to save lives of Kosovar refugees in Albania, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Montenegro.
The Rome-based agency said on Wednesday that the funds required would bring the total cost of its ongoing relief operations in the region to $46 million.
"Our donors have been extremely generous with food, money and logistical support", said Catherine Bertini, WFP Executive Director. Donor response to the WFP appeal has been so swift that 80 percent of resources have already been pledged.
Ms. Bertini pointed out that people were still pouring out of Kosovo. "We need donors to cover the remaining 20 percent. If the refugee outflow proves to be more than 650,000, WFP will still need more resources".
WFP's immediate appeal was for 32,700 metric tons of emergency food rations and financial resources to cover the costs of delivering food to 650,000 people for the next three months.
"The short-term and medium-term needs of the refugees are urgent," said Ms. Bertini. "We need these additional funds to avert a deterioration of the nutritional status of refugees. Some of the refugees have not had enough to eat since the war began inside Kosovo more than a year ago. Children are particularly hungry and vulnerable."
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has sent a mission to Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to assess the needs of the Kosovo refugees and the families hosting them.
The mission will review what agricultural assistance is needed to secure increased food production during spring and summer. FAO's goal is to help Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to cope with the huge influx of refugees by increasing local food supplies through the production of short term crops such as vegetables, potatoes, maize and back yard poultry.
The FAO mission will liaise closely with the governments and other UN agencies, including WFP, the UN High Commissioner for Refugee (UNHCR) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP).
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