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United Nations Daily Highlights, 00-05-08

United Nations Daily Highlights Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: The United Nations Home Page at <http://www.un.org> - email: unnews@un.org

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE NOON BRIEFING

BY FRED ECKHARD

SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL

OF THE UNITED NATIONS

UN HEADQUARTERS, NEW YORK

Monday, May 8, 2000

ANNAN: "RAPID REACTION FORCE MAY BE NEEDED IN SIERRA LEONE"

In a statement read by the Spokesman, Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed his concern over the "rapidly deteriorating situation in Sierra Leone, in particular the reports of continuing military movements by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and shooting in Freetown." He called on all parties to "do their utmost" to defuse the situation, and urged RUF leader Foday Sankoh to cease any hostile action.

The Secretary-General also stressed that, in addition to UN efforts, a Rapid Reaction Force may be needed in Sierra Leone "as soon as possible," Eckhard said.

Asked about the Rapid Reaction Force, the Spokesman said he assumed they would go in to calm the situation, and disarm armed groups to allow the political process to go forward. Peacekeepers, he noted, are not equipped to fight a war; so far, only a 100-strong Indian unit has rapid reaction capability in UNAMSIL.

FREETOWN REPORTED TENSE AS EFFORTS TO FREE DETAINEES CONTINUE

Freetown is reported unstable and very tense today as the Secretary-General has authorized the relocation of the non-essential civilian staff of the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL).

Hundreds of rock-throwing demonstrators marched on the home of Revolutionary United Front (RUF) leader Foday Sankoh in the capital. RUF members from inside the house threw rocks back. The situation escalated, and the RUF fired at the demonstrators. Several people have been reported killed or injured in that incident.

Sustained shooting was also reported in other parts of the city.

Former rebel leader Johnny Paul Koromah of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), meanwhile, has mobilized his supporters, saying that he and his followers will not sit back and allow the RUF to derail the peace process. There have been reports that some RUF supporters have been arrested, and then released, in Freetown.

The fate of an estimated 500 detained UN personnel remains a primary concern for the United Nations. Efforts continue to seek their release, to ferry water and food to some detainees and evacuate some of the wounded among the detainees.

At least one UN helicopter ferrying supplies to the detainees in the interior was fired upon on Sunday. No casualties were reported from that incident in Makeni.

Diplomatic efforts continued with the Secretary-General's Special Representative Oluyemi Adeniji, who is attending an emergency meeting of the so-called Mano River Union, which comprises Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. The leaders of Liberia, Mali -- the current chair of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) -- and Sierra Leone were in Conakry for that meeting, joining the President of Guinea.

Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Bernard Miyet is en route to Freetown as the Secretary-General's Special Envoy. Miyet will address the UN staff and meet with Force Commander Gen. Vijay Kumar Jetley and battalion commanders as well as meet with President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah and Sankoh.

REFUGEES SAY RUF REBELS STOPPING MORE FROM LEAVING

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported 149 Sierra Leoneans crossed the border to Guinea on Thursday, May 4. New arrivals report that many more are ready to come but are being stopped by RUF rebels on Sierra Leonea's side of the border. UNHCR staff has been deployed in the border areas to monitor new arrivals.

People are also reported on the move in the Masiaka area.

Following the noon briefing, the World Food Programme (WFP) announced that it has suspended emergency humanitarian assistance in most of Sierra Leone because of the deteriorating security situation.

SIERRA LEONE PEACE PROCESS "IN PROFOUND CRISIS"

Asked about the situation outside Sankoh's Freetown residence, the Spokesman said there was a Nigerian unit at the house, which has been there for several days following security concerns. He said that the peacekeepers are not in Sierra Leone for law enforcement although they will help in that area "to the extent that they can."

Asked about what the United Nations was doing to restore its credibility, the Spokesman said that "the main problem is that one of the main parties to the (Lom&eacute; Peace) Agreement appears to be renouncing it, and that is the Revolutionary United Front." He said that the RUF's actions, including the detentions of UN peacekeepers, had put the peace process "in profound crisis."

He said that the events over the weekend reflected the tensions in the country. He noted that the United Nations erroneously reported an RUF attack on Freetown on Saturday night, which did not take place, following a series of communications breakdowns. There had been a sighting of RUF elements on the road to Freetown, Eckhard said, and afterward the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) lost contact with Guinean and Jordanian units on that road, and wrongly made the assumption that the RUF had taken those positions. A helicopter reconnaissance the following morning, he added, showed that "there were no RUF elements near Freetown." He said the erroneous report "was a mistake, and clearly increased the level of anxiety in Freetown." However, he added, that anxiety stemmed primarily from the RUF's actions.

The events in Freetown today, Eckhard said, underscore that "people don't know what the RUF are up to, what they're trying to accomplish, but clearly the peace process is in deep trouble."

Also on Sunday, he said, a UN-RUF team visited some areas where there had been fighting, including Rogberi Junction and Masiaka.

As for whether the United Nations made other mistakes, he cautioned, the United Nations does not have the details to determine that, and added that the early months of UN missions tend to be unstable, with the equipping and learning process of troops continuing.

Asked about the Secretary-General's meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the Spokesman said they would discuss a variety of issues. He noted that the United States, by mid-day today, had not yet responded to a UN request for US support on airlift for the remaining three battalions to be deployed in Sierra Leone. A decision is expected shortly

UN SPOKESMAN: "WE'RE DOING PEACEKEEPING THESE DAYS ON A SHOESTRING"

In response to questions about communications problems, the Spokesman said that "we're doing peacekeeping these days on a shoestring." Resources for UN peacekeeping have been cut through the mid-1990s, he said, adding that the United Nations needs help to bolster its communications and other resources. "Our numbers have been reduced, our budgets have been reduced," but the number of missions has grown, he said. He noted that the General Assembly had voted to eliminate gratis personnel in the Peacekeeping Department.

Asked whether other fighting factions militarily supported UN troops, Eckhard said that the essence of peacekeeping is that "you don't take sides." However, he noted, UNAMSIL is authorized under Chapter Seven of the UN Charter to use force to defend the people and Government of Sierra Leone, as well as its own personnel.

The emphasis now, he said, is "to put the peace process back together." If that cannot happen, he said, the Security Council will have to decide on how the Mission is to proceed. He said that options include strengthening the three battalions that have not yet arrived in Sierra Leone, the provision of rapid reaction capability and withdrawal.

Eckhard said that the arrival of British troops in Sierra Leone has been intended to protect British nationals in case of evacuation, but could also provide "a stabilizing element."

Asked about the safety of the detainees, Eckhard noted that the casualty estimates have been revised downward. One Kenyan soldier has been reported as dead and one classified as "missing in actions," he said. The United Nations has no contact with the latest 200 or so hostages, who are Zambian troops, he said, but believes that a previous group of roughly 200 Zambians is being held in Koidu. The United Nations does not have contact with more than 400 of the 500 held. One Indian contingent has been able to receive supplies, he said. The RUF has not made any demands or conditions for their release, he added.

Asked about what equipment has been lost, the Spokesman noted many of the companies that have been detained had used armored personnel carriers.

In response to questions on reports that other fighting factions are returning to war, he said there are "worrying developments" but hoped that this was not a beginning of the resumption of war.

The Spokesman, in response to questions, noted unconfirmed reports of movement of RUF elements from Guinea and Liberia.

SECURITY COUNCIL DISCUSSES GEORGIA, SIERRA LEONE

The Security Council started its work today with closed consultations on Georgia, on which the members of the Council are considering a draft Presidential Statement. Last week, the Council considered the Secretary-General's latest report on the UN Observer Mission in Georgia, the current mandate of which lasts until the end of July.

Under "other matters," the Council also discussed the format for the open briefing scheduled for Tuesday on Bosnia and Herzegovina, and decided that only Council Member States will attend that briefing. Following that briefing, the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Wolfgang Petritsch, is also expected to meet with the press at 12:30 p.m.

The Security Council today also heard a briefing on the latest developments in Sierra Leone by Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations H&eacute;di Annabi.

On Sunday, the Council held consultations on both Sierra Leone and on the situation in Ethiopia and Eritrea. Following the consultations, the President of the Council, Ambassador Wang Yinfang of China, informed the Secretary-General on the terms of reference for a Security Council mission to Ethiopia and Eritrea, following one made by the same delegation to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and neighboring countries over the past week.

That mission, comprising seven Council ambassadors and led by Ambassador Richard Holbrooke of the United States, will express to both those Governments the Council's support for the Organization of African Unity's peace efforts. The delegation is expected to go to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, today and to Asmara, Eritrea, on Tuesday.

UN MISSION REPORTS ONE DEAD AND FOUR WOUNDED IN KOSOVO

The UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) today announced that a former KLA member was killed and four other persons wounded in two separate incidents in Kosovo.

Ekrem Rexha, a former KLA commander and Director of Environment and Safety for the municipality of Prizren, was shot to death this morning at around 8:30 a.m. on his way to work.

On Sunday afternoon, a family dispute in Danjane, near Prizren, resulted in a shooting incident in which three people -- two Kosovar men and one 10 year-old girl -- were injured.

UNMIK Police are investigating the incidents. All the injured were evacuated to a military hospital. They are reported to be in stable condition and their injuries are not regarded as life-threatening.

SPECIAL ENVOY MEETS WITH JORDANIAN KING, FOREIGN MINISTER

The Special Envoy of the Secretary-General, Terje Roed Larsen, continued his trip to the Middle East today in Amman, Jordan, where he arrived yesterday from Damascus, Syria.

In Amman, Larsen met with Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdulilah al-Khatib, and afterward had an audience with King Abdullah. During the past hour, he was expected to board a plane for Cairo, the Egyptian capital.

On Sunday, Larsen met with Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq al-Shar'a to discuss the implementation of Security Council Resolutions 425 and 426 (1978), which call for Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon.

Following that meeting, Larsen issued a statement, in which he noted that the Foreign Minister assured him of Syria's support for the United Nations, and that they agreed that peace in the region could only be achieved through "a just, lasting and comprehensive settlement" based on all relevant Security Council resolutions.

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ANNAN CALLS UN MISSION IN TAJIKISTAN A "SUCCESS"

The Secretary-General, in his final report on the UN Mission in Tajikistan (UNMOT), says that the Mission can be "rated a success" and that "Tajikistan is entering into a new phase of nation building, based on national reconciliation."

He warns, however, that the possibility remains of renewed instability, given the existence of armed elements operating outside of Government control and the unstable situation in the region. The Secretary-General tells the Security Council in the report that he will be writing to them shortly on the possible establishment of a UN post-conflict peace-building office in Tajikistan.

The Security Council is scheduled to discuss Tajikistan on Friday. The Mission's mandate expires on May 15, and the remaining personnel there are currently proceeding with their preparations for final withdrawal.

OTHER ANNOUNCEMENTS

The first session of the Preparatory Committee for the five-year review of the 1996 UN Conference on Human Settlements, which had been held in Istanbul, started in Nairobi today. In 1996 the Istanbul Conference resulted in a global call for action on urbanization. Klaus Toepfer, Acting Executive Director of Habitat said this morning, "In this era of globalization, the urbanization of poverty is a sad reality which must be confronted."

Greece became the 87th member state to pay in full its assessment to the regular budget for this year, with a payment of $3.7 million.

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