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United Nations Daily Highlights, 00-05-23

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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

Tuesday, May 23, 2000

UN PEACEKEEPERS TRY TO MAINTAIN CALM IN SOUTH LEBANON

The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) today described the situation in southern Lebanon, in areas vacated by the Israeli Defense Force and its allies, as "unexpectedly calm."

Upon entering the building this morning, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that UNIFIL had moved troops from its mobile reserve into area vacated by the Israeli Defense Force and its allies, and that the area was quiet.

The Secretary-General said that what was happening on the ground today was "encouraging," and he renewed his call for all the parties in southern Lebanon to cooperate with the United Nations. Once the withdrawal is complete, the Secretary-General said, the United Nations would go to the border to try to confirm that a full withdrawal has in fact taken place.

UNIFIL spokesman Timur Goksel today said that, in order to alleviate anxiety about the sudden withdrawal of the Israeli forces from a 60-kilometer swath -- which stretches eastward from Naqoura on the western shore -- the UN troops are trying to maintain calm through reconnaissance activities and close contacts with all parties.

In response to questions, the Spokesman clarified that UNIFIL hasn't taken over in areas vacated by Israeli and allied forces. Instead, it has carried on reconnaissance missions to reassure the civilian population worried about the earlier-than-expected withdrawal.

"We are trying to calm the remaining population by driving through these areas, not settling down anywhere," the Spokesman said. He noted the Secretary-General's intention to assist in a calm, orderly transition.

He noted that UN mobile reserve troops, military observers and civilians were fanning out in the vacated area.

SECURITY COUNCIL ENDORSES UN PLAN FOR SOUTH LEBANON

The Security Council this morning held consultations on a draft Presidential Statement endorsing the just-released Secretary-General's report on the Middle East and supporting the work of the United Nations and of the Secretary-General's Special Envoy, Terje Roed Larsen. The Council, which had begun consultations on the statement Monday afternoon, adopted the statement just before noon.

Later this afternoon, Larsen is scheduled to leave New York to return to the region. He will fly to Beirut, in an effort to talk with all the relevant parties to ensure that the United Nations can quickly confirm the withdrawal once it has been accomplished. The Spokesman did not offer details of Larsen's travels, but noted that the Special Envoy had visited five countries during his last trip.

Asked about reports of fighting in Lebanon, the Spokesman said the situation on the ground was seen by UNIFIL as relatively quiet.

In addition to its work this morning on Lebanon, the Security Council held informal consultations on the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea. They also discussed Somalia and Afghanistan. It heard briefings from Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Kieran Prendergast on all three subjects.

UN TEAM SENT TO INVESTIGATE CORPSES FOUND IN SIERRA LEONE

The past 24 hours in Sierra Leone was reported calm with no firing reported from any part of the country.

The UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) has begun to investigate the six to eight bodies found at Rogberi Junction, who were wearing remnants of uniforms with UN badges. The Mission has sent a team composed of military observers, civilian police and a human rights officer to the site.

The Mission has so far been unable to find a forensic expert to help identify the decomposing bodies.

Another 29 hostages were transported Monday afternoon from the Liberian border town of Foya to Monrovia, Liberia, but have yet to be handed over to the United Nations.

UNAMSIL's total force strength as of this morning was reported at just over 10,700.

Insecurity continues to hamper the delivery of assistance to thousands of newly displaced civilians in the Lungi and Port Loko areas.

On Wednesday, the Security Council is scheduled to take up the Secretary-General's report on Sierra Leone.

WFP LAUNCHES AIRLIFT OF FOOD TO ERITREANS DISPLACED BY FIGHTING

The World Food Programme (WFP) today announced that it had launched an urgent airlift of high protein biscuits to tens of thousands of Eritreans displaced by the fighting between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

This morning, two WFP-chartered C-130 Hercules aircraft, each carrying 14 metric tons of high protein food, left for Asmara, the Eritrean capital. An additional WFP flight from Entebbe, Uganda also departed this morning for Asmara, delivering approximately 40 metric tons of high protein biscuits aboard an Ilyushin-76 aircraft.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it has so far registered 11,500 Eritrean refugees in four transit centers in Sudan, but estimates 20,000 people have arrived over the past few days, and tens of thousands more may be on their way. Click here for more details.

The first of three Eritrea-bound cargo planes carrying relief supplies from the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) was also expected to arrive in Asmara today. The shipment includes 40 tons of medicines, medical equipment, water purification tablets, skimmed milk and water containers.

Within Eritrea, access to the large number of displaced people remains difficult because of the ongoing conflict.

WFP said the immense challenge is how to rapidly feed a highly mobile population which is without water, cooking pots and fuel, and that in these situations, high-protein biscuits are the one of the best solutions.

ANNAN SENDS SPECIAL ENVOY TO FIJI

Sergio Vieira de Mello, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for East Timor, left East Timor this morning for Suva, Fiji's capital, as Annan's Special Envoy to that country.

The Secretary-General on Monday afternoon named Vieira de Mello as his Special Envoy in a statement urging the release of the hostages in that country, following the May 19 coup attempt, and the restoration of democratic rule, in accordance with Fiji's Constitution.

Vieira de Mello first stopped in the Solomon Islands, where he was joined by the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Donald McKinnon. The two then went to Fiji, where they are expected to meet President Ratu Kamisese Mara and other Government officials.

ANNAN CALLS MEETING OF WESTERN SAHARA PARTIES "INCONCLUSIVE"

The Secretary-General's report to the Security Council on the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), issued today, noted the visit by the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General, James Baker III, to the region last month, as well as the meeting of the parties in face-to-face talks in London on May 14.

The Secretary-General noted that, although Morocco and the Polisario Front -- along with observer delegations from Algeria and Mauritania -- met in direct talks for the first time since 1997 for a "frank exchange" of views, "the meeting was inconclusive."

He said that Baker has called on the parties to bring specific solutions that they could agree to at a further meeting, to be held sometime in June, in order to achieve an early, durable and agreed resolution of their dispute. The Secretary-General voiced his hope that the parties will come forward with concrete proposals at that meeting.

He also recommended that the Security Council extend the mandate of MINURSO, which expires at the end of this month, by another two months, until July 31.

OTHER ANNOUNCEMENTS

In a report to the Security Council today, the Secretary-General said that the situation in the area of operation of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in the Golan Heights was calm. He urged the extension of the Force's mandate by six months, until the end of November, and drew attention to a shortfall of some $17 million in its funding.

On Wednesday, in Nairobi, Kenya, the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol will open for signature. The Protocol was agreed to earlier this year after five years of negotiation. A signing ceremony will take place at the opening of the High-Level Segment of the Convention on Biological Diversity, which is holding its fifth session at the headquarters of the UN Environment Programme.

The Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Olara Otunnu, has called on the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to follow its political commitments to the protection of war-affected children with concrete activities. Addressing an OSCE seminar in Warsaw, Poland, this morning, Otunnu said the protection of children should be a central concern in the organization's peace and security agenda.

The International Labor Organization issued a press release announcing a mission to Myanmar to discuss the issue of forced labor with authorities.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), in its briefing notes today, noted the internally displaced people living in inhuman conditions in Angola's northern provinces.

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