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United Nations Daily Highlights, 99-04-19
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From: The United Nations Home Page at <http://www.un.org> - email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday, 19 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.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Monday urged members of the United Nations Security Council to seek a common stance to bring about a lasting political settlement of the Kosovo crisis.
In a briefing to the Council on his efforts to contribute to a political solution, the Secretary-General underlined the importance of consensus among Council members. "Progress is only possible when the international community is united," he said.
Warning that the situation in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and neighbouring countries might deteriorate rapidly with unpredictable consequences, Mr. Annan said the refugee crisis was overwhelming Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and jeopardizing their internal stability and security. The presence and activities of the Kosovo Liberation Army in northern Albania could create a situation not unlike the one in eastern Zaire during the Rwanda crisis, he said.
Citing his contacts with government leaders and his participation in last Wednesday's European Union meeting in Brussels, Mr. Annan said there was broad consensus that the UN should play a significant role in the search for a diplomatic solution. The Secretary-General said he intended to appoint diplomatic envoys to the region to facilitate the peace process and would travel to Germany and the Russian Federation next week to discuss the crisis.
The Council was also briefed by Martin Griffiths, the Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, who described the humanitarian situation as seriously worsening. He said here was increasing concern about the fate of some 700, 000 displaced people within Kosovo who had no access to basic assistance and about the increasing reports from refugees of crimes against humanity.
After the two briefings, Security Council President Alain Dejammet of France said in a press statement that Council members agreed that the UN needed to play a significant role in finding a solution. They also approved of Mr. Annan's intention to appoint diplomatic envoys.
Ambassador Dejammet said the Council members were dismayed at the detailed update on the humanitarian situation in and around Kosovo. They were also still concerned at the fate of two Australian humanitarian workers who were being held in Belgrade and hoped that their situation could be solved favourably very quickly.
The major exodus of refugees from Kosovo at the end of last week has slowed to a trickle with no new arrivals reported on Monday, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The UN agency said it did not know what had happened to the tens of thousands of people who were on their way out of Kosovo. Limited numbers of refugees reached Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on Sunday. New arrivals reported that a packed train and two busloads of refugees from Mitrovica were turned back from the border.
Meanwhile, the situation is critical in the northern Albanian town of Kukes, which is overflowing with more than 100,000 refugees, with shelter and sanitation among key concerns, said UNHCR. After a huge influx on Friday and Saturday, new arrivals slowed on Sunday. The border, which was closed after the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia announced it was breaking off diplomatic relations with Albania, opened again on Monday. Poor weather hampered helicopter flights ferrying relief goods from the Albanian capital of Tirana to Kukes.
In the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, attempts to expand camps have been frustrated by protests by local farmers. Negotiations for new sites was underway and the Deputy High Commissioner, Gerald Walzer, is conducting high-level discussions on the refugee problem. UNHCR said it was urging the Government to keep its borders open to refugees fleeing Kosovo and to allow the expansion of existing camps or the creation of new ones.
In the wake of the latest arrivals, UNHCR said it was stepping up the evacuation programme and had activated a number of offers from European countries. Several hundred Kosovars would fly to Poland on Monday while France, Belgium, Austria and Turkey have scheduled evacuation flights for Tuesday.
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is gravely concerned about the food security of more than a million people still inside Kosovo.
The Rome-based UN food agency said on Monday that it plans to send an assessment mission into the province as soon as it is safe to do so.
Meanwhile, the hundreds of thousands of Kosovars who have arrived from Kosovo have spent days walking with little or no food or water, said WFP. The children, who have not had enough to eat since the war began on 24 March, are seriously hungry. The agency is providing humanitarian daily rations, bread and high energy biscuits to refugees as they cross the border. As they find some kind of shelter and cooking facilities, the agency provides wheat flour, oil, sugar, canned fish and pulses.
WFP is also airlifting urgently needed food, personnel and equipment to refugee locations in Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Additional road convoys are rushing food aid. The agency has appealed for $24.1 million for the next three months to meet the immense needs of an estimated 650,000 refugees -- a figure which could soon increase.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan strongly deplored the latest acts of aggression in East Timor and regretted the apparent inability of the Indonesian authorities to control the violence by the militias and to protect the civilian population, a UN spokesman said on Monday.
The Secretary-General called for an immediate end to this escalation of violence following reports that a large number of pro-integration militia members entered Dili on Saturday morning and resorted to widespread violence, causing an undetermined number of casualties and damage to property, Spokesman Fred Eckhard said.
The Secretary-General spoke to the Foreign Minister of Indonesia, Ali Alatas, over the weekend about the incident, Mr. Eckhard said, while the Secretary-General's Personal Representative for East Timor, Ambassador Jamsheed Marker, was also in contact with the Indonesian authorities to ascertain the facts and learn of the measures taken by the Indonesian Government.
Meanwhile, preparations were continuing for the latest round of talks, to be chaired by Ambassador Marker, on Wednesday at UN Headquarters in New York between senior officials of Indonesia and Portugal. The Foreign Ministers of both countries will hold discussions on 22 and 23 April and are also scheduled to meet with the Secretary- General, Mr. Eckhard said.
Expressing their deep concern at the Taliban leadership's decision to withdraw from the recent inter-Afghan dialogue under the auspices of the United Nations, members of the Security have urged the Taliban to reconsider its position and return to the negotiating table.
In a press statement on Monday, the President of the Security Council, Ambassador Alain Dejammet of France, said that Council members expressed concern at the military preparations by the Afghan parties and encouraged them to negotiate, reiterating that there was no alternative to a peaceful settlement.
Ambassador Dejammet said that Council members were disturbed by continuous human rights violations in Afghanistan, especially the reported ethnic and religious-based persecutions, as well as discrimination against women. They expressed their concern at reports of arbitrary detentions and executions of personalities of Afghan civil society in areas controlled by the Taliban and outside of the country.
Members of the Security Council were also concerned about the grave humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, the continuing sheltering of terrorists and illegal drug-trafficking in the Taliban-controlled areas. Council members reiterated their demand that the Taliban fully comply with their obligations to ensure the security of international personnel returning to Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), expressed concern at the increasing risk of a major crisis following the resumption of fighting in Bamyan, the capital of the Hazarajat region of Afghanistan. OCHA said that the fighting would disrupt local food production and trade, further weakening an already vulnerable population of about 350,000 people at serious risk of food shortages.
A former Rwandan municipal official accused of participating in the 1994 genocide in the country pleaded not guilty on Monday to seven counts charging him with crimes against humanity.
Emmanuel Bagambiki, the former Prefect of Cyangugu, entered the plea during his initial appearance before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda based in Arusha, Tanzania. Mr. Bagambiki is charged with six counts of genocide, complicity in genocide, and crimes against humanity, including murder, imprisonment and extermination of civilians.
Jointly charged with others in the seventh count of conspiracy to commit genocide, Mr. Bagambiki is alleged to have killed and caused serious bodily or mental harm to members of the Tutsi population in Cyangugu. He is also accused of publicly expressing anti-Tutsi sentiments and preparing lists of people who were to be eliminated, including some Hutus in the opposition.
Bagambiki was arrested on 5 June 1998 in Lome, Togo, and transferred to Arusha on 10 July 1998.
Noting that the peace process in Burundi had reached a "critical stage," Secretary-General Kofi Annan has upgraded the United Nations presence in Burundi by elevating the level of the current head of the UN office in that country.
In a letter to the Security Council announcing the appointment of Cheikh Tidiane Sy as the Representative of the Secretary-General in Burundi, Mr. Annan said that it was even more urgent that the United Nations Office in Burundi continued to follow closely the situation in the country at the political and the security levels.
The Secretary-General said the United Nations Office in Burundi had played an active and constructive role in giving support to the parties engaged in the peace process, both in the building of an internal political partnership and in the Arusha talks.
With issues ranging from the negative impact of the tourist industry to the problems faced by small island developing States on its agenda, the UN Commission on Sustainable Development began its seventh annual meeting in New York on Monday.
The Commission, which monitors implementation of Agenda 21, the programme of action adopted at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, will also examine ways to protect the world's oceans from overfishing and pollution. In addition, it will look at current consumption and production patterns which generate waste and pollutants.
At the opening of the session, the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Nitin Desai said the world was expecting the Commission to move forward on measures to ensure a unified approach to ocean management. He also stressed that a wide array of issues on sustainable tourism were being taken up by the tourist industry and State leaders. Mr. Desai expressed hope that the Commission would develop an active programme of work between the UN and other intergovernmental bodies, such as the World Tourism Organization.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan has selected Mark Malloch Brown, a senior official at the World Bank, to be the new Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), a UN spokesman announced Monday.
The Secretary-General is consulting with the UNDP Governing Board on his selection of Mr. Malloch Brown, a national of the United Kingdom and currently World Bank Vice President for both External and United Nations Affairs, the spokesman said. The Secretary-General will make a formal announcement at midweek, when he will submit the appointment to the General Assembly for confirmation.
Mr. Malloch Brown joined the World Bank in 1994 from a communications management firm, where he worked on communications strategies for corporations, governments and political candidates. He was also active in human rights and refugee issues, serving as Vice-Chairman of the Board of Refugees International and as a member of the Soros Advisory Committee on Bosnia. From 1979 to 1983, he held several positions with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Thailand and Geneva.
Over 120,000 children under 18 years of age are being used as soldiers across Africa, according to the findings of a new report launched at UN Headquarters in New York on Monday.
The report, released by an international coalition of non- governmental organizations which spearheads campaigns against the use of child soldiers, said that the countries most affected were Algeria, Angola, Burundi, Congo- Brazzaville, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Uganda.
The report by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers says that children, some of whom are no more than 7 years of age, are often recruited by government armed forces as a matter of course.
Speaking at a press conference to launch the report in New York, Stephen Lewis, a Deputy Executive Director of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), said that UNICEF associated itself strongly with the Coalition in its efforts to prevent the use and abuse of children in the role of child soldiers.
While focusing on the African continent, Mr. Lewis pointed out that the use of children as soldiers was a global phenomenon involving at least 300,000 children under the age of 18. He said that one way of slowing this phenomenon would be the negotiation of an optional protocol raising the age of recruitment to a minimum of 18 years. He said that such negotiation had proceeded with "agonizing slowness in the last year" and expressed the hope that it would somewhat pick up.
The new report, which was partly funded by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), was released to coincide with the opening in Maputo, Mozambique, of a Regional Conference on the Use of Children as Soldiers whose participants include representatives of African governments, non-governmental organizations and UN agencies. The Secretary-General's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Olara Otunnu, is also attending the conference.
The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday reported that one of the world's most dreaded diseases -- leprosy -- was nearing elimination worldwide but stressed the need for a focused strategy to deal with this public health problem in the few remaining endemic countries.
Reporting the results of last week's meeting its lead expert panel on the problem, the UN health agency said that today over 9 million leprosy patients have been cured, with extremely low relapse rates. Since 1985, the use of multidrug therapy (MDT) to treat and cure patients has already reduced the global prevalence of the disease by 85%.
Since 1995, WHO has distributed the three MDT drugs to more than 4 million patients living in 71 endemic countries. Between two and three million people have been saved from the irreversible disablement that can result from untreated leprosy.
The UN health agency stressed, however, that at the end of 2000, there might still be about 10 countries where the leprosy burden was greater than WHO's target level of less than one case per 10,000 population.
Mapping up new ways to bring the leprosy cure to patients wherever they live and to ensure that the level of leprosy prevalence in all countries continues to decline was therefore the main goal of last week's meeting in Geneva of the Leprosy Elimination Advisory Group (LEAG), which brings together leprosy experts from many countries and representatives of the nongovernmental organizations working in the field.
According to WHO, the Group's meeting stressed that the renewed efforts towards elimination would call for existing partnerships with NGOs and other bodies to be strengthened and for new partnerships to be forged.
"We must not let slip this window of opportunity which will enable us to curb a disease that has filled humanity with dread since time immemorial," Dr. Maria Neira, WHO's Director of Communicable Diseases Eradication and Elimination, said on Monday. She underscored, however, that continued political commitment and adequate resources were needed to rid the world of yet another scourge of humanity "not too far into the new millennium".
Cigars and pipes -- long promoted by the tobacco industry as status symbols -- cause cancer and kill just like cigarettes do, according to a European study released on Monday by an independent research arm of the UN World Health Organization (WHO).
The new study was conducted by the International Agency For Research On Cancer (IARC) -- a world leader in research on cancer and carcinogens -- and covers Germany, Italy and Sweden.
Global tobacco control experts welcomed the study as a boost to their efforts for stricter controls on cigars and pipes. While numerous studies have documented cigarette-related health risks over the past 30 years, cigars and pipes have until recently escaped scientific scrutiny.
The study concluded that cigar smokers were nine times more likely to develop lung cancer than non-smokers, while pipe-smokers ran an almost eight-fold risk. A dose-response relationship between lung cancer risk and either duration of smoking or average and cumulative consumption was seen for cigar and cigarillo smoking, pipe smoking, and cigarette smoking.
"The time has come to apply the same controls used for cigarettes to cigars and pipes," said Dr. Derek Yach, head of WHO Tobacco Free Initiative (TFI), suggesting that controls must include statutory health warnings, taxes in line with tobacco and nicotine levels and advertising bans.
Tobacco kills four million people annually. According to IARC, lung cancer, caused in large measure by tobacco, accounts for over a million of those deaths.
The Year 2000 (Y2K) problem threatens farm production and food supplies worldwide, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned on Monday.
The computer-dependency of agriculture and food supply systems has received very little attention as Year 2000 computer problems threaten almost all of the supplies and services essential for agricultural production -- from seed supplies to distribution networks and market information systems, FAO said in a statement on its website.
According to FAO, countries that depend heavily on exports of agricultural commodities as a major source of income and countries that rely on food imports and food aid to feed their people are especially vulnerable.
"The Millennium Bug could prove one of the most dangerous pests threatening farmers, along with locusts and brown planthoppers they have battled throughout the centuries," FAO said.
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