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United Nations Daily Highlights, 99-04-30
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From: The United Nations Home Page at <http://www.un.org> - email: email@example.com
Friday, 30 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.
In the biggest exodus in weeks, more than 16,000 new refugees poured into Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on Friday, as the United Nations High Commission of Refugees (UNHCR) warned that the final cleansing of Prizen in southwestern Kosovo was under way.
By late Friday, more than 16,000 refugees had crossed the two borders and many more were reported on their way. According to UNHCR, more than 8,500 refugees crossed over into the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and another 7,500 streamed into Albania at the rate of 1,000 an hour. On the Kosovo side, a line of vehicles stretched along the road to the border as far as the eye could see, said UN field officers.
The refugees were either permanent residents of Prizren or people previously displaced from other areas, according to UNHCR. Many said Serb authorities had gone from street to street and house to house, telling people to leave and searching for men, most of whom had left or were in hiding. Others said they left because conditions were continuing to deteriorate.
One doctor and six nurses told UNHCR staff that they were working at Prizren hospital when they were arrested by the police, bundled into a vehicle and driven to the border. They were given no time to pack or tell their families they were being forced into exile.
UNHCR said that Serb authorities in Prizren appeared to be on their final push to cleanse the town of the remaining ethnic Albanians.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson on Friday called for an immediate end to ethnic cleansing in Kosovo and for a return to diplomacy and peacemaking.
Reporting to the Commission on Human Rights on the situation in Kosovo, Mrs. Robinson said that the conflict victimizes innocent people on all sides -- Serbs as well as Kosovars. It was therefore all the more crucial and pressing that diplomacy and peacemaking be stepped up to bring about a peaceful resolution of the situation respectful of human rights precepts.
"Unless diplomacy succeeds, Kosovo will be thoroughly cleansed of Albanians while Serbs will, on present performance, be bombed without end," Mrs. Robinson said.
The High Commissioner said some essential facts were beyond dispute. From reports of deliberate destruction of the homes of the Kosovar Albanians, the destruction of their property and the looting of their personal belongings, it was hard to avoid the conclusion of a "pattern of ethnic cleansing carried out with cold-blooded determination," Mrs. Robinson said.
Meanwhile in the NATO bombing, large numbers of civilians had incontestably been killed and civilian installations targeted on the basis that they are or could be of military application, the High Commissioner said. NATO remained the sole judge of what is or is not acceptable to bomb, and in this situation, the principle of proportionality must be adhered to by those carrying out the bombing campaign, she noted.
Mrs. Robinson said that the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia had made it clear that, it had jurisdiction over events in the Federal Republic, including Kosovo. The Prosecutor could investigate war crimes committed by any of the parties to the conflict. The actions of individuals belonging to Serb forces, the KLA, or NATO might therefore come under scrutiny, if it appeared that there had been serious violations of international humanitarian law.
The High Commissioner also announced that she would travel to the Balkans on Sunday to make a first-hand appraisal of the human rights issues and also to assess the co-ordination of the monitoring of human rights violations.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on Friday urged non-European countries to start evacuating Kosovo refugees, as the overcrowding in camps in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia reached crisis point.
High Commissioner Sadako Ogata cited the magnitude of the crisis and the "absolute need" to preserve the stability of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia as her reason for seeking an immediate expansion of the evacuation operation.
In a letter on Friday to the governments of Australia, Canada and the United States, Ms. Ogata asked them to go ahead with plans to start evacuating Kosovo refugees from camps in the Skopje area as soon as possible. The High Commissioner said she was also asking European nations to speed up their ongoing evacuations as well.
Until now, UNHCR had refrained from taking up offers of overseas evacuations. But the growing stream of refugees, deteriorating conditions in the camps and the mounting anxiety of the Macedonian authorities have forced the UN agency to change its stance.
European countries have offered to take in around 85,000 refugees, but only 25,000 have been flow out of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia since the humanitarian evacuation air bridge, organized jointly by UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration, opened on 5 April.
The Security Council voted unanimously on Friday to extend until 14 May the United Nations Mission for the Referendum on Western Sahara (MINURSO). The operation's current mandate expires on 30 April.
The Council also requested Secretary-General Kofi Annan to keep it informed of all significant developments in the implementation of the Settlement Plan and the agreements reached with the parties, as well as the continuing viability of the mandate of MINURSO.
In recommending to the Council that the current mandate for MINURSO be extended, the Secretary-General said in his latest report that he believed there was a "good foundation" for completing the current phase of the settlement plan for Western Sahara.
The Secretary-General noted that the area under MINURSO's responsibility remained calm and that there were no indications either side intended to resume hostilities. He stressed that the latest terms of a UN package to accelerate the referendum process for the territory agreed to by the Moroccan Government and the POLISARIO Front could be implemented "provided that the full and unequivocal cooperation and support of both parties is maintained throughout."
MINURSO was established under the Settlement Plan of August 1988 to monitor a ceasefire and identify and register qualified voters for a referendum to decide whether the former Spanish colony of Western Sahara will gain full independence or become a part of Morocco.
Groundbreaking and productive talks on sustainable tourism and fishing issues highlighted the annual session of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development, which concluded Friday in New York.
The 53-member Commission also agreed to resume its work in September as the preparatory body for the General Assembly's special session to review implementation of the 1994 Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States.
The Commission's discussion on tourism with industry, local government, activist groups and trade unions resulted in several joint initiatives. In separate action, the Commission also called for a reduction in illegal and unreported fishing -- especially by unregulated ships flying "flags of convenience" -- through action by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
At a news conference following the conclusion of the session, Chairman Simon Upton, New Zealand Minister of Environment, said the change in format of discussions at this year's meetings was marked by more constructive and interactive dialogue between the Ministers in attendance.
"From that point of view it's been a hugely successful meeting," Mr. Upton said. "It is now possible for the next chairperson to use this momentum to continue down a very different path."
The Commission is charged with monitoring the implementation of Agenda 21, the programme of action adopted at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED).
The formal admission of Cambodia to the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) at a ceremony in Hanoi on Friday, was enthusiastically welcomed by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
"The Secretary-General recognizes this event as a major step in the consolidation of Cambodia's relations with the region," Deputy Spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva told a press briefing at UN Headquarters in New York.
The ASEAN now links all the nations of the South-East Asian region, which will afford new opportunities for the region as a whole, Mr. de Almeida e Silva said.
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) on Friday made an urgent appeal to the international donor community to provide funds to pay the cost of airlifting food to beleaguered cities in the Angolan highlands.
The UN agency said it was seeking $8.8 million to charter additional cargo aircraft to transport food supplies to the war-affected cities of Kuito, Huambo and Luena. Air deliveries, which are more expensive than using trucks, are essential because military activity on the ground has made overland transport too dangerous, according to WFP.
"Most cities in the highlands are virtually isolated because of the ongoing fighting," WFP Representative in Angola Francesco Strippoli said in Luanda. "In the meantime, hundreds of thousands of people that have sought refuge in these areas, are now cut-off from outside assistance and local food supplies are running out."
In addition to providing relief food to well over 700,000 displaced people in Angola, WFP is also supporting supplementary feeding programmes to over 200,000 vulnerable persons.
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has condemned the coup d'etat in the Islamic Federal Republic of the Comoros as a result of which the constitutional Government was overthrown, a UN spokesman said Friday.
According to the spokesman, the Secretary-General reiterated his condemnation of any attempt to change the government of any country by force or by other unconstitutional means.
Mr. Annan called on all political, military and civil society leaders to make every effort to avert violence in the country, and to work for an early return to peace, stability and constitutional order, the spokesman said.
Officials of two United Nations agencies on Friday called on the Government and civil society of Pakistan to redouble their efforts to eliminate the practice of child labour.
Representatives of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund, told a news conference in Islamabad that even though recent efforts were definitely showing signs of progress, there were at least three million under-age school children working in Pakistan.
"There is a need for a country-wide effort against child labour", said Dani Appave, ILO's Regional Director. He noted that his agency, through its International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC), was actively collaborating with a wide range of government and non-governmental organizations in Pakistan. Mr. Appave pointed in particular to the Sialkot Soccer Ball project -- where latest reports indicated that 80% of the production of soccer balls had now been shifted to monitored stitching centres, which were child labour free. "We are making progress and demonstrating that our efforts can make a difference," he said.
Speaking on UNICEF's activities in this field, the agency's chief programmes officer for Pakistan Rana Syed said that UNICEF was advocating a holistic approach to eliminate child labour and to strengthen the government's capacity to review existing laws, to improve enforcement and to monitor violation of child rights.
Returning to New York Friday morning from his talks in Moscow on a diplomatic solution to the Kosovo crisis, Secretary-General Kofi Annan left later the same day for Michigan, where he is scheduled to speak before the largest live audience he has ever addressed.
In a commencement speech on Saturday at the University of Michigan before 80,000 people, the Secretary-General is expected to talk about diversity and the United Nation's struggle for tolerance and human rights, according to his spokesman.
Referring to reports of inhuman crimes committed in Kosovo, the Secretary- General would stress that "the battle against intolerance still needs desperately to be fought," Deputy Spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva told journalists at UN Headquarters on Friday. He noted that the Secretary- General was expected to underscore that slowly but surely an international norm against the violent repression of minorities was emerging that "will and must take precedence over concerns of state sovereignty."
Secretary-General Kofi Annan has appointed a senior economist from Cameroon to be his representative in Guinea-Bissau and to head the UN presence in that country, a UN spokesman announced Friday.
Samuel C. Nana-Sinkam will head the United Nations Peace-building Support Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNOGBIS), which will work with the Government of National Unity, with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and its military arm, ECOMOG, to facilitate the implementation of the Abuja Agreement.
The office will guide the activities of the United Nations system during the transitional period leading up to general and presidential elections and will also seek the adoption of a programme of voluntary arms collection, disposal and destruction.
Mr. Nana-Sinkamhad has held various positions with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and in the Cameroon Government. He is the author of a large number of publications on economic, monetary, development, trade and technical assistance issues. Since 1996, he has been active in the dissemination of ideas on conflict resolution and mediation, transition and democratization and their linkage to traditional African values.
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