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United Nations Daily Highlights, 00-05-24

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

Wednesday, May 24, 2000

UNITED NATIONS TO VERIFY ISRAELI PULLOUT FROM SOUTH LEBANON

The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) monitored the situation following reports that Israeli troops have pulled back from positions in southern Lebanon. Although the United Nations will still have to confirm Israel's withdrawal to its side of the border, as it intends to do in an expedited fashion, the UN peacekeepers have been patrolling vacated areas in an effort to maintain calm on the ground.

The situation in southern Lebanon is described as relatively quiet. UNIFIL has been maintaining contacts with the Lebanese and Israeli authorities, as well as with the leaders of the armed elements, and have reported that the armed groups are currently taking a measured approach.

Lebanese President Emile Lahoud visited a village just 6 kilometers from the western town of Naqoura, where UNIFIL maintains its Headquarters. Some Lebanese officials have also been moving into the vacated areas, including the first customs official to visit the Naqoura area in several decades.

Meanwhile, UNIFIL is helping the Lebanese Army collect heavy weapons that have been left behind all over the vacated areas.

This evening, the Secretary-General's Special Envoy, Terje Roed Larsen, will arrive in Beirut for a trip to the region that he expects to last about a week to 10 days. Larsen hopes to visit Israel and Syria during his trip, and also expects to go to Naqoura shortly. The United Nations still intends to take cartographers to the border area to identify the 1923 border on the ground, and then to mark a practical line so that it can then confirm Israel's withdrawal to its side of the border.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan talked to reporters on arriving in Headquarters today, and said, "We are going to work with the Lebanese Government in assuring their own control over the territory and maintain peace in that part of the region." He noted that the Government of Lebanon remains responsible for law and order on its territory, but added that the United Nations might put in additional peacekeepers to calm the situation for a while.

Asked about the actions of armed elements, the Spokesman noted that there have been no reports so far of revenge attacks. "We're very pleased that they haven't occurred and we hope that they won't occur," he said.

In response to a question, Eckhard said that cartographers will be deployed soon to the border, once necessary assurances are received that UN helicopters could fly over the border. The UN team is to fly over areas where the border is not clearly designated, and would drop cement-filled canisters to mark the border.

He underscored that the "practical line," corresponding to the border, is not a demarcation of the border. Other elements, including the disbanding of the South Lebanon Army (SLA), would also have to be verified, he noted.

Once the practical line has been established, he said, UNIFIL would patrol the interior to make sure there were no Israeli elements or SLA on Lebanese territory. Later phases of activity, he said, would require more troops. Given the situation on the ground, he said, there may be a need for expedited activities on the ground and deployment of additional troops.

The United Nations, he said, has no mandate to protect the SLA but "would do everything we could to discourage any violence at all against any parties, including the families of the SLA."

In response to a question, he noted that the Secretary-General said earlier today that a letter by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak did not require a response.

Asked about whether UNIFIL is authorized to use force against Hezbollah, the Spokesman noted that it is a UN peacekeeping mission and does not use force against armed elements.

He said, in response to a question, that UNIFIL is supposed to have "absolute freedom of movement."

ANNAN NOTES POSITIVE STEP TOWARD KHMER ROUGE TRIAL

The Spokesman confirmed press reports today that the Secretary-General received a letter from Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia in response to Annan's last letter to the Prime Minister concerning internationally acceptable arrangements for a trial of Khmer Rouge leaders. The letter arrived on Monday, and the text of both letters has appeared in the media.

The Secretary-General considers the Prime Minister's latest response as a positive development, but the United Nations will not discuss details at this stage.

Some details still need clarification. For this purpose, the Cambodian Government has invited UN Legal Counsel Hans Corell to visit Phnom Penh, which he will do when a mutually convenient time can be agreed.

The United Nations cannot say that a formal agreement has been reached until the Cambodian Parliament adopts legislation conforming to the understanding reached between the United Nations and the Prime Minister. Once that has occurred, a formal agreement may be signed.

SECURITY COUNCIL DISCUSSES SIERRA LEONE

This morning, the Security Council heard a briefing by Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations H&eacute;di Annabi on the Secretary-General's report on Sierra Leone and the most recent developments involving the mission in that country.

The Secretary-General in his report said that the United Nations would have to draw lessons from its experience in Sierra Leone. He will be sending a multi-disciplinary high-level team led by former Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Manfred Eisele to assess these problems and make recommendations to improve the UN Mission's ability to discharge its mandate. Council members were informed of this mission, which is tentatively expected to begin work next week.

Today, there were no reports of fighting in Sierra Leone involving UN personnel.

The 29 most recently released UN detainees are still in Liberian hands and are believed to be in the process of being handed over to the United Nations. A helicopter sent to the Liberian town of Foya yesterday did not find any new released detainees.

The Secretary-General, upon entering the building this morning, said he spoke to President Charles Taylor of Liberia on the release of the remaining detainees. Taylor expects to be able to see some more of the detainees released before the end of the week, the Secretary-General said. He also said he hopes that by the time the heads of state of the Economic Community of West African States meet on Saturday in Abuja, Nigeria, most of the peacekeepers will be freed.

An eight-member team that went to the site at Rogberi Junction where bodies in uniforms with UN insignia had been found, could not confirm whether the bodies were those of UN soldiers. Further investigation will need to be conducted. The United Nations is actively seeking forensic experts for this purpose.

Asked about the possibility that the United Kingdom may arm and train troops of the Sierra Leone Army, the Spokesman noted that there has been some indication that some British troops may remain in Sierra Leone, which could be a welcome development.

He said that the training and arming of the Sierra Leonean Government was not inconsistent with UN goals, but he stressed the importance of bolstering Sierra Leone's peace process.

UN MISSION IN CONGO NOTES CEASE-FIRE VIOLATION

The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has welcomed the agreement by Uganda and Rwanda to withdraw its troops from the city of Kisangani, one of four locations where UN battalions will be deployed according to the concept of operations approved by the Security Council.

At the same time, the UN Mission also expressed its concern over troop movements by the Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC), which is led by Jean-Pierre Bemba. Those movements were reported along the Ubangi River and around the city of Mbandaka in northern Equateur Province. The Mission said this advance by MLC forces violates the Lusaka accord and the planned disengagement of troops from the front agreed upon subsequently.

ANNAN SUPPORTS OAU EFFORTS TO END ETHIOPIA-ERITREA WAR

The Secretary-General, in a statement read by the Spokesman, stated his strong support for the efforts of the Chairman of the Organization of African Unity, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who is currently in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The Secretary-General hopes that Bouteflika's initiative would lead swiftly to an end to the fighting between Ethiopia and Eritrea, the restoration of the status quo ante of May 6, 1998, and the resumption of a process which would bring a lasting end by peaceful means to the current dispute between those two countries, the statement said.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in an update that it has now registered 18,000 Eritreans at three refugee encampments along the Sudanese border.

Inside Eritrea, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that the Ziron camp about 90 kilometers from Asmara, Eritrea, seems to be the main location to which people displaced by fighting are heading. There are 33,000 people reported in that camp today, compared to the weekend figure of 5,000.

SPECIAL ENVOY MEETS DETAINED FIJIAN PRIME MINISTER

Today in Suva, the capital of Fiji, UN Special Envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello and Don McKinnon, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, were able to see Fijian Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and other senior officials who are being held hostage in the Parliament. They also met with George Speight, the Fijian businessman who leads the hostage-takers, and told him that his actions would not be accepted by the international community.

The Secretary-General, on entering the building today, said that de Mello asserted that the hostages should be released as soon as possible and that Fiji should be returned to constitutional rule.

De Mello, who is also Special Representative for East Timor, traveled to Fiji Tuesday to underscore the necessity of upholding the Constitution and internationally accepted norms of democratic governance.

He is not there to play any role in negotiating with the hostage-takers, the Spokesman said.

ANNAN TO MAKE ONE-DAY VISIT TO WASHINGTON, D.C. THURSDAY

The Secretary-General will visit Washington, D.C. on Thursday, where he is to deliver a commencement address to the John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and to attend the John Quincy Adams Lunch with some 70 members of the U.S. Congress.

He does not currently plan to meet individual members of Congress or US officials, the Spokesman said in response to a question.

OTHER ANNOUNCEMENTS

Asked about reports that the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Kosovo Bernard Kouchner could be leaving his post, the Spokesman noted that rumors of that departure have circulated over the past year and have been false.

Francois-Xavier Nzuwonemeye, a former Commander of the Rwandan Army during the 1994 genocide, was transferred to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda on Tuesday night by the French authorities. He was arrested in France last February and is facing charges for conspiracy to commit genocide and crimes against humanity. His initial appearance before the Tribunal will take place in Arusha, Tanzania on Thursday.

A six-member jury will be meeting today to select the winning entry among four finalists for a memorial dedicated to peacekeepers who have lost their lives. This afternoon, the Secretary-General will visit the models of the four finalist entries, and the Peacekeeping Memorial Jury will present its recommendation. The cost of the memorial is covered by the proceeds of the Nobel Peace Prize received by the United Nations in 1988 for its peacekeeping operations, which, including interest, comes to some $700,000.


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