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United Nations Daily Highlights, 00-05-18

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From: The United Nations Home Page at <> - email:






Thursday, May 18, 2000


Shortly before midnight on Wednesday, the Security Council voted unanimously to adopt Resolution 1298, which places an arms embargo on Ethiopia and Eritrea for 12 months.

After that 12-month period, the embargo could be renewed by the Council, but, unlike previous sanctions regimes, the renewal would require the positive vote of the Council.

Sanctions could also end immediately if the Secretary-General determines that "a peaceful definitive settlement" of that dispute has been concluded.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that the Eritrean authorities have requested emergency humanitarian assistance for some 200,000 newly displaced persons near the front lines. The request, made today by the UN team in Asmara, Eritrea, seeks food items such as ready-to-eat meals and high protein biscuits, as well as medicine, water and shelter.

The United Nations has set up an emergency response unit on the ground comprising of UN humanitarian agencies, non-governmental organizations and Eritrean Government representatives.

New reports received shortly before the noon briefing from the World Food Programme (WFP) cite a total of 550,000 people who have fled the Gash Barka region of Eritrea during the recent fighting in the area. As soon as security permits, WFP said it will be part of a planned assessment mission by the United Nations and the Government of Eritrea to areas where people have been moving. WFP said that the priority for now is to bring food and supplies to the displaced as soon as possible.


The UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) reports relative quiet over the past 24 hours in Sierra Leone.

Following the return of 93 former UN detainees in recent days, another group of 44 were released into UN hands by Liberia yesterday and arrived in Freetown later in the evening, bringing the total released to 137. As with the previous group, the released personnel were reported in good physical health and are being debriefed today.

Today, another group of 13 freed detainees was brought from Foya, the Liberian border town, to Monrovia, Liberia's capital, from where they will be flown back to Freetown.

The Liberian authorities said Wednesday that 80 more detainees have been released, and the United Nations hopes that the remaining freed detainees are to be brought swiftly to Foya for onward transport. The United Nations could not confirm whether the 13 freed detainees flown to Monrovia today were part of the reported 80 freed detainees.

There continue to be reports from the Liberian Government of some 30 to 40 injured UN personnel believed to be in Sierra Leone. The United Nations lacks access to them, and continues to be seriously concerned by the reports. UN policy remains that all detainees must be released immediately and unconditionally.

Asked about the condition of the detainees, the Spokesman noted that President Charles Taylor of Liberia had said that 30 to 40 of the personnel had been injured and could not be transported by road. The United Nations, he said, was preparing for their medical evacuation by air but needed necessary arrangements to be made for their transport from Foya.

So far, he said, all the released detainees have been in good shape "so we have no reason to expect the worst of those who might still be in Sierra Leone."

In answer to questions, the Spokesman noted that Liberia has provided precise numbers of people who have moved from detention in Sierra Leone to Liberian soil, and the United Nations has responded by arranging their transport back to Sierra Leone.


Foday Sankoh, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) leader, continues to be in the custody of the Government of Sierra Leone at an undisclosed location. There is no plan by the United Nations to try Sankoh at this stage, the Spokesman said in response to questions.

"Our priorities are to get the detainees released, consolidate our positions in the country and, if possible, get the political process restarted," he said.

At present, Eckhard said, there is no indication of retaliation by the RUF to Sankoh's capture.

The Spokesman noted that the Sierra Leonean Cabinet had met Wednesday to discuss Sankoh's capture, but did not issue a public statement afterward. The Secretary-General spoke to President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah this morning, as well as to his Special Representative Oluyemi Adeniji.

Adeniji, Eckhard added, has not spoken to Sankoh at this time, and the United Nations does not know where he is being held in Government custody. Instead, he said, the United Nations is dealing with Liberian President Charles Taylor to facilitate the detainees' release.

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the humanitarian agencies on the ground are very concerned about the fate of former child soldiers and are trying to assist them. Details of their locations and numbers are being withheld for security reasons.

Human rights officers who had visited the Masiaka area earlier this week raised concern that a number of child combatants had been seen on that mission. They said it appeared as much as 25 to 30 percent of the combatants were children between the ages of seven and 14. No other details were given.

On Wednesday afternoon, Security Council members discussed Sierra Leone. The United Kingdom introduced a draft resolution, which would increase UNAMSIL's strength to 13,000 in anticipation of the arrival of reinforcements that would push the force strength beyond the mandated 11,100 by early next week. UNAMSIL has deployed about 10,000 troops by today.

The Security Council has scheduled consultations on that resolution at 4 p.m. with a view to adopting it at a formal meeting afterwards.

Asked about UN involvement in the Lom&eacute; Peace Agreement, the Spokesman said that the United Nations is not a party to that accord, which involves the Government, RUF and other armed factions. The United Nations, he added, is there to facilitate the implementation of the accords.


Secretary-General Kofi Annan has asked the UN Development Programme (UNDP) to explore the possibility of helping to facilitate a renewed land reform program in Zimbabwe.

UNDP Administrator Mark Malloch Brown participated in the noon briefing to describe the Secretary-General's initiative.


Today in southern Lebanon, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) reported intense fighting following a series of attacks by Hezbollah on South Lebanon Army (SLA) and Israeli positions. UNIFIL could not confirm accounts of casualties on both sides.

One UN soldier suffered some minor injuries from shrapnel following mortar fire by the armed elements, but no other UN casualties were reported. The situation in southern Lebanon is now described as calm.

Following the fighting, the SLA has declared the Hamra Bridge -- which is the only bridge linking many UN troops to the Mission's headquarters -- off-limits to the United Nations, the first such restriction of UN movement in that area in many years.

The United Nations is urging the SLA to end any restrictions on the freedom of movement of its personnel, and has stressed that access to the bridge is essential for UNIFIL's operations.

The Security Council's consultations on Lebanon, including a briefing by Special Envoy Terje Roed Larsen, were moved from today to next Tuesday. The Secretary-General's report on Lebanon should be coming out at the beginning of next week, possibly by Monday, the Spokesman said.

Asked if there were any plans for Larsen to return to the region, the Spokesman said, "Not at this time."


The Secretary-General, in a statement read by the Spokesman, commended Haiti's authorities and the Haitian people for the arrangements made to hold legislative and local elections on May 21.

"By turning out to register in large numbers, Haitians have demonstrated their commitment to constitutionality and to the democratic process," the statement said. However, the Secretary-General was "disheartened" by reports this morning that a grenade was thrown at the offices of the electoral council, causing injury to several people.

The Secretary-General emphasized the importance of free and fair polling and called on all Haitians "to forsake violence and to ensure that voters may exercise their constitutional right to vote without intimidation," the statement said.


The UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) reported today that intense flooding has hit the Betun region in West Timor, where there are several refugee camps for East Timorese. The flooding has killed at least 61 people, most of them East Timorese refugees in West Timor, UNTAET reported.

In addition, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reports that an estimated 100,000 people have been affected by the floods and 35,000 people have been displaced, more than half of them from three refugee camps in the Betun area.

Today, 10 trucks with staff from the International Organization for Migration arrived in the area, and other trucks are also transporting people and their belongings to higher ground.


The UN Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina announced today that a summary report prepared by the Mission and the Office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, concerning human trafficking in that country, was being released. The report covers incidents of trafficking over an 18-month period, and notes that Bosnia has emerged as a "significant" destination point for women trafficked from Eastern European countries.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata today expressed alarm about the plight of civilians caught in the fighting in Sri Lanka's Jaffna peninsula. The Indian Navy has rescued scores of Sri Lankans who have fled the fighting, but Ogata said she is disturbed by a reported statement that refugees will not be allowed entry into India. The High Commissioner's Office has repeatedly called on countries to open their borders to people seeking asylum.

Starting at 6:30 this evening, a Symposium to celebrate the 80th birthday of Pope John Paul II, which is sponsored by the Holy See Observer Mission, will be held in the Trusteeship Council Chamber, and the Secretary-General will deliver remarks.

  • The guest at today's briefing was Mark Malloch Brown, Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), who discussed UNDP support for land reform in Zimbabwe.


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