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United Nations Daily Highlights, 00-05-19

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

Friday, May 19, 2000

SECURITY COUNCIL INCREASES SIZE OF UN FORCE IN SIERRA LEONE

The Security Council voted this morning to raise on an interim basis the troop strength of the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) to 13,000 personnel. The UN mission expects to have forces deployed in excess of the previously authorized strength of 11,100 troops shortly. As of this morning, the force strength was reported at more than 10,200.

Sierra Leone was reported to be quiet overnight. The United Nations' primary concern remains the release of the estimated 350 detained UN personnel, and it has not received any new information concerning the detainees today.

The most recent group of 13 freed detainees was taken to Freetown Thursday night. All were reported in good health. They are being debriefed at the Lungi reception center today.

The Secretary-General's report to the Security Council on Sierra Leone is being finalized today. It is not likely to be released until Monday.

The World Food Programme warned today that the recent upsurge of fighting and insecurity in Sierra Leone is seriously disrupting the work of thousands of farmers throughout the country, especially in areas where clashes are still going on.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that the latest arrivals of some 650 refugees on Wednesday came from the Port Loko area, northeast of Freetown, where they reported heavy fighting between the rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and Government troops. This has raised the number of new arrivals in Guinea since the beginning of May to nearly 2,000.

Humanitarian agencies are assisting some 6,000 newly displaced persons in Freetown itself.

RUF leader Foday Sankoh is still in the custody of the Sierra Leone Government.

The UN crisis action team will continue to meet over the weekend and the troop contributors will be briefed as well.

Asked about the role of Liberian President Charles Taylor, the Spokesman said that he remains the principal facilitator for the release of the hostages, at the behest of the West African heads of state, who met in Abuja, Nigeria, last week.

Eckhard noted that, although President Taylor had announced on Wednesday that 80 additional UN troops had been released to the Liberian town of Foya, only 13 were found there and brought back to Freetown. However, he said, Taylor was out of the country Thursday, which could have been a factor in that discrepancy. The United Nations, he said, still expects the immediate and unconditional release of all UN personnel and their equipment.

He noted, in response to a question, that the need to lift the ceiling for UNAMSIL troops on an interim basis occurred after it was clear that additional troops have been arriving quickly. The Secretary-General, he said, would likely ask for an even higher ceiling in his upcoming report.

HUMANITARIAN CRISIS LOOMS IN ERITREA

The Secretary-General, in a statement issued through his Spokesman following the noon briefing, said he was deeply alarmed over the impact of renewed hostilities between Ethiopia and Eritrea on the already critical humanitarian situation of hundreds of thousands of innocent people. Annan said he endorsed the appeal of the Organization of African Unity for an immediate and mutual halt in fighting, and a resumption of talks leading to a complete restoration of peace.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) warned today in a press release issued in New York that the Government there estimates that as many as 1 million people have been displaced within the last week, due to the conflict with neighboring Ethiopia. With an additional 300,000 people already suffering from drought-related hunger and illness, nearly half of Eritrea's population of about 3.1 million people may be in need of an international humanitarian lifeline, according to UNICEF.

"In the space of one week we've seen an overwhelming humanitarian crisis develop," said Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF. "I can't recall another instance when such a serious natural disaster was followed so quickly by a man-made disaster. And it's the innocent civilians, including a quarter of a million children under the age of five, who have their backs against the wall."

UNICEF staff in Eritrea reported that the capital, Asmara, has quickly become the primary destination of displaced populations.

UN humanitarian agencies and their partners embarked today on a rapid assessment mission to one of the places where displaced have been reported.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today that thousands of Eritrean refugees are crossing the border into Sudan to flee fighting. Estimates range from 6,000 new arrivals yesterday to more than 20,000. UNHCR is currently assisting some 160,000 Eritreans in 12 camps in Sudan. Many of them have been there for up to 25 years.

UN HELICOPTERS HELP FLOOD RELIEF IN WEST TIMOR

Early this morning, two helicopters belonging to the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor went into West Timor, on the request of the Indonesian Government, to help deal with the crisis following the extensive flooding that hit the Belu district of West Timor.

The helicopters are helping to assist efforts to evacuate flood victims to higher ground and to deliver relief supplies, and are expected to be assigned to flood relief efforts for at least one week.

The Secretary-General informed the Security Council of the request from the Indonesian authorities for emergency assistance during its consultations Thursday afternoon, and the Council noted his proposal to accede to that request.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance said that an estimated 20,000 people have been affected by the flooding, with 48 people confirmed dead -- most of them East Timorese refugees residing in camps in West Timor -- and unconfirmed reports by local police of more than 125 deaths so far. An estimated 100,000 people live in the affected area, including some 16,000 refugees.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration are assessing the situation on the ground, and Indonesian authorities have said they will need medicines, food, mobile kitchens, tents, fuel and equipment for water purification.

East Timor has also been hit with some of the flooding, particularly near Suai, but there are no reports so far of any casualties in East Timor.

OTHER ANNOUNCEMENTS

In response to questions today on whether the Secretary-General had any reaction to vote in U.S. Senate concerning continued U.S. troop presence in Kosovo, the Spokesman said that the Secretary-General welcomes the result of the vote. "The international community still faces challenges in Kosovo, and the Secretary-General welcomes the continued support by all nations for the Kosovo Force and for the work of the UN Mission there," he added.

Asked about progress in the UN talks with the Cambodian Government on a possible trial of Khmer Rouge leaders, the Spokesman said that the two sides continue to exchange letters and that the United Nations hopes to find a formula for a trial that meets international standards.

Mary Robinson, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, ended a four-day visit to Brazil on Thursday. She called for further efforts from the Government to close the gap between legislation and implementation in areas such as child labor, indigenous rights, violence against women, racial discrimination, reported police brutality and conditions in prisons. (For more details, click here.)

The Secretary-General is scheduled to speak tonight at the Roseland Ballroom in New York City where he and Nane Annan will attend the BBC World Service Millennium Concert. The Secretary-General will deliver some remarks about jazz music, prior to a concert that will be given by the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and Wynton Marsalis.

THE WEEK AHEAD AT THE UNITED NATIONS

Sunday, May 21, 2000

The Secretary-General will deliver a commencement speech at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

Monday, May 22, 2000

The Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Millennium Forum will begin at UN Headquarters, with the Secretary-General scheduled to address the Forum on its opening day. The Forum will bring together representatives of civil society to discuss the role of the United Nations over the next century and will contribute its views to the upcoming Millennium Assembly.

The Executive Board of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) will hold its annual session through May 26 in Conference Room 2. The Board's President for this year is Ambassador Anwarul Karim Chowdhury of Bangladesh.

A press conference will be held at 11 a.m. to launch the "Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2000". Ambassador Jargalsaikhany Enkhsaikhan of Mongolia will address the press on behalf of Nyam Osoryn Tuya, Foreign Minister of Mongolia, who is the current Chairperson of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

The States Parties to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea will meet through Friday in New York.

In Geneva, the Commission on Human Right's Working Group of Minorities will meet through Friday.

In Rome, the Executive Board of the World Food Programme begins its annual session, which lasts through Friday.

In Montreal, the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization begins its 166th session.

The UN Environment Programme is sponsoring a Millennium Children's Conference on the Environment, which will open in Eastbourne, England. The Conference, run almost entirely by the children delegates themselves, is expected to bring together nearly 800 children between the ages of 10 and 12 from some 90 countries for a three-day meeting to develop ideas on protecting and improving the environment.

The Secretary-General's reports to the Security Council on Sierra Leone, Western Sahara, the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in the Golan Heights and on the situation in the Middle East are all due at the beginning of the week.

Wednesday, May 24, 2000

The Security Council has scheduled consultations on the Middle East, at which Special Envoy Terje Roed Larsen is expected to brief the Council on his recent trip to the region to discuss Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon. It has also scheduled consultations on Sierra Leone.

The recently concluded Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety will be opened for signature. The Protocol aims at minimizing the potential risks posed by international trade and cross-border movements of living or genetically modified organisms.

Thursday, May 25, 2000

The Security Council will hold informal consultations on the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in the Golan Heights and the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). The current mandates of both Missions expire on May 31. In the afternoon, the Security Council has scheduled an open briefing on East Timor.

The Secretary-General will travel to Washington, D.C. for one day, where he will deliver a commencement address at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. While in Washington, the Secretary-General is also expected to meet with senior U.S. officials and to appear at the John Quincy Adams Lunch with members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fr&eacute;chette will address the NGO Millennium Forum on the Secretary-General's Millennium Report.

Thursday is the first day of the annual Week of Solidarity with the Peoples of Non-Self-Governing Territories, and has also been designated by the General Assembly as Africa Liberation Day.

Friday, May 26, 2000

Acting Emergency Relief Coordinator Carolyn McAskie will begin a trip to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, including Kosovo, which is to last through June 2. During that trip, she will examine the humanitarian situation throughout the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, including trips to Belgrade, Podgorica and Pristina.


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