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United Nations Daily Highlights, 00-05-10

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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

Wednesday, May 10, 2000

UN TEAM ASSESSING NEEDS OF PEOPLE FLEEING TO SIERRA LEONE CAPITAL

Amid reports of increasing military activity between rebels and government soldiers in Sierra Leone, thousands of people fleeing the renewed fighting are heading toward Freetown.

A UN humanitarian team composed of representatives of the World Food Programme, UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), World Health Organization and Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, set out on an emergency assessment mission a short while ago. They will travel toward Waterloo and the eastern end of the Freetown peninsula as far as security conditions allow.

The people on the move are believed to be fleeing Waterloo, Mile 91, Masiaka and other areas where there is reported movement by the rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF).

No new movements of refugees leaving the country were reported today. There are close to half a million refugees in Guinea and Liberia from Sierra Leone, which is Africas largest country of origin for refugees.

UNICEF, meanwhile, said the current crisis could result in new efforts to recruit child soldiers and appealed to all parties to keep their promises to stop the practice.

UN PEACEKEEPERS CONSOLIDATING POSITIONS IN SIERRA LEONE

Against the backdrop of increased activity on the ground, the United Nations has decided that it will not issue public reports on military operations involving the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL). The Spokesman, in response to questions, said that the United Nations doesn't intend its information to affect events in the field, which he called standard practice during periods of fighting.

The United Nations' efforts continue to focus on trying to stabilize the situation by reinforcing and consolidating the peacekeepers in Sierra Leone. The contingent strength as of today is 8,936, according to the Mission.

At UN Headquarters today, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations brought together the troop contributors with the countries offering to provide logistical support to expedite their deployment. Battalions from Bangladesh, India and Jordan are expected to arrive in Sierra Leone between May 20 and the end of the month. The Spokesman said a number of resources are in the pipeline, which now need to be brought in an orderly way to the main airport in Sierra Leone.

Asked about what was being done to defend against an attack on Freetown, Eckhard said UNAMSIL "has been consolidating its positions, particularly concentrating troops around the entry points into Freetown." He said the UN force would do whatever is necessary to defend itself and the Government. "We hope that it's not going to come to a pitched battle, but in effect we're preparing for one," he added.

The peacekeepers, he noted, are not configured to do battle and are "basically in a defensive mode," but have been making preparations while "anticipating for the worst, which would be an attack on Freetown."

Asked about the location of the detained UN personnel, Eckhard said that the UN Mission is out of touch with two large bodies comprising some 200 Zambian soldiers each. One group is believed to be in Koidu, although there is no further information on their conditions, while the location of the other group is not known, he said. Asked about whether the Zambians had gotten lost because of inaccurate maps, the Spokesman said he doubted they could be lost for this amount of time, and noted that the UN Mission had up-to-date maps which were received in the Mission area.

The Spokesman said because no conditions have ever been given for the release of the detainees, "in that sense, they are more 'detainees' than 'hostages'."

In response to questions about training for peacekeepers, he said that the United Nations has never assumed responsibility for such training and expects it to be done by contributing Governments. In recent years, he said, there has been a training unit in the UN Peacekeeping Department which has developed manuals, and has helped to establish an infrastructure for training efforts.

Asked about casualties, the Spokesman said there are few accurate figures available, although he noted that Nigerian troops had sustained casualties during recent fighting at Rogberi Junction and that Kenyan troops had also been injured in recent fighting. Seven injured Kenyan had been evacuated to their home country, he noted.

The Spokesman, in response to a question, said that UNAMSIL did not have any helicopter gunships, but some are being ordered from Russia and could arrive in Sierra Leone by the end of this month.

ANNAN SAYS UN FORCE IN SIERRA LEONE BEING STRENGTHENED

Secretary-General Kofi Annan, upon entering UN Headquarters today, said, "Were strengthening the force (in Sierra Leone), bringing it up to strength, bringing in the Jordanians, the Indians and the Bangladeshis, while we pursue the issue of a Rapid Reaction Force."

He described the British presence as useful and positive, specifically mentioning their presence in helping secure the airport and the heliport at Hastings.

In response to a question about Nigerian deployment, the Secretary-General said that the defense ministers of the region agreed to meet on May 17, indicating that immediate deployment is unlikely.

Asked about the meeting of regional leaders Tuesday in Abuja, Nigeria, the Spokesman noted that they had given strong support to UN efforts in Sierra Leone, which the Secretary-General appreciated. He noted that President Charles Taylor of Liberia was asked at the Abuja summit to intervene personally to win the detainees' release.

He said that the leaders of the region appeared at Abuja to be involving themselves energetically in getting the situation in Sierra Leone under control. "We hope they're successful," he said.

Asked about the whereabouts of Revolutionary United Front (RUF) leader Foday Sankoh, Eckhard said that the United Nations did not know where he was, which was a handicap to its efforts to release the detainees.

There has been some indication, from UN aerial reconnaissance, that RUF troops have taken some UN armored personnel carriers, which have been painted black.

Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Bernard Miyet is ending his mission to Sierra Leone later today. Miyet was sent by the Secretary-General to meet with the peacekeepers, make an evaluation of the mission and send a clear signal that the UN intends to remain and get the peace process back on track.

In response to questions on the Mission's problems, the Spokesman acknowledged that there have been organizational problems, which Miyet has tried to address by bringing in a senior administrative official with him to Sierra Leone.

Asked about any contingency plans to evacuate the country, Eckhard said the United Nations always has such contingency plans but noted Miyet's recent comments on the UN's commitment to stay in Sierra Leone as long as it can.

SECURITY COUNCIL DISCUSSES C.A. REPUBLIC, SIERRA LEONE

The Security Council began its closed consultations this morning by hearing a briefing from Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahima Fall on the Central African Republic, where the United Nations maintains a Peace-Building Support Office.

Fall reported on the work of the Office since it was set up in February. The Secretary-General last week named Cheikh Tidiane Sy, currently his Representative for Burundi, to be his Representative for the Central African Republic. Sy is expected to take up his duties later this month.

Fall noted that, starting next Monday, there will be a two-day donors meeting held at UN Headquarters on the security and development needs of the Central African Republic. Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fr&eacute;chette will open the meeting and the Prime Minister of the Central African Republic, Anicet-Georges Dologu&eacute;l&eacute;, will lead his country's delegation.

The Security Council also went into consultations on Sierra Leone, on which it received an update on the latest developments by Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations H&eacute;di Annabi

The report of the Secretary-General on Sierra Leone, which had been expected for earlier this week, has been overtaken by events and is being re-written. It is expected to go to the Council shortly.

Asked about the trip of a Security Council delegation to Ethiopia and Eritrea, the Spokesman noted that the team was continuing its travels to both countries today and would be expected to report to the Council once it returns from its trip.

KOSOVO COUNCIL URGES ACTION ON PRISONERS, MISSING PERSONS

Today in Pristina, the Kosovo Transitional Council adopted a statement demanding that the authorities of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia unconditionally hand over to the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo all detainees from Kosovo currently being held in Serbian prisons and other detention facilities.

The Council, which includes members of all of Kosovo's political parties and ethnic communities, also demanded that the Yugoslav Government grant access to those detention facilities to the International Committee of the Red Cross and turn over all relevant information on missing Kosovars to the UN Mission.

The Council also called on the United Nations to appoint a special envoy for detainees and missing persons "at the earliest date."

On Thursday, Bernard Kouchner, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Kosovo, will inaugurate a Victims' Recovery and Identification Commission in a ceremony at the UN Mission.

That Commission is to be the key agency in identifying persons who died during the recent conflict. It is to identify and dispose of the remains of victims and coordinate its work with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

UN SPECIAL ENVOY RETURNING TO NEW YORK FROM MIDDLE EAST TRIP

The Special Envoy of the Secretary-General, Terje Roed Larsen, has concluded his trip to the Middle East and is on his way back to New York, where he is expected to arrive tonight.

On Tuesday, he met in Cairo with the Foreign Minister of Egypt, Amre Moussa, and the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, Esmat Abdel-Meguid, to discuss the question of Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon.

Larsen in particular expressed his appreciation at the declaration made last week by the Foreign Ministers of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria, which called for the UN Interim Force in Lebanon to be allowed to carry out its tasks under Security Council Resolutions 425 and 426 (1978). Larsen responded, "This is precisely the type of unconditional statement of support the United Nations needs to be able to carry out our responsibilities under 425 and 426."

He is expected to meet with the Secretary-General this week, and he is scheduled to brief the Security Council on his trip next Thursday, May 18.

TALKS ON AFGHANISTAN END WITH AGREEMENT ON PRISONER EXCHANGE

The indirect talks on Afghanistan under the auspices of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) ended today in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. An agreement on a comprehensive exchange of prisoners of war was reached Tuesday by the two warring parties, the Taliban and the United Front.

The talks were conducted by the OIC Committee on Afghanistan, headed by Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and with the participation of the Secretary-General's Personal Representative for Afghanistan, Francesc Vendrell.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been contacted by the head of the OIC Committee and requested to make the necessary arrangements for the early arrangement of the implementation of the agreement, in consultation with the two sides.

OTHER ANNOUNCEMENTS

The Office of the Iraq Programme, in its weekly update on the "oil-for-food" program, reported that in the week ending on May 5, Iraq exported 15.3 million barrels of oil for an estimated revenue of $341 million. This brings the volume of total oil exports in Phase VII of the program to 260 million barrels, for an estimated revenue of around $6.172 billion. The holds on a number of contracts have been lifted; currently, $1.824 billion worth of humanitarian and oil sector contracts are on hold, well down from last week's figure of nearly $1.95 billion.

Mayors of cities around the world who met this week in Nairobi, Kenya, declared their support for the World Charter for Local Self-Government, which draws up a framework for practicing local democracy. The Charter was initiated by mayors and representatives of local authorities in Istanbul in 1996, during the UN Conference on Human Settlements.


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