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United Nations Daily Highlights, 00-05-30

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






Tuesday, May 30, 2000


Over the weekend, Secretary-General Kofi Annan issued a statement welcoming the news that the detained peacekeepers in Sierra Leone had been freed. The Secretary-General said he was grateful to the West African leaders who pushed hard for this outcome, in particular President Charles Taylor of Liberia, and that the development will create conditions in which the "long and agonizing" search for peace and stability can at last be realized.

The UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) said 467 detainees have been returned to Freetown via the Liberian town of Foya. The Mission drew attention to the fact that more than 250 personnel -- 224 Indians and 11 military observers at Kailahun, and 23 Indians at Kuiva -- are still surrounded by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in two eastern locations.

Of those who were released, 427 were Zambians, 32 Kenyans, 3 Indians and five military observers. Four Zambians are still unaccounted for, and it is increasingly likely that the four may be the bodies discovered at Rogberi Junction last week.

There are six injured UN personnel in hospital in Freetown -- some of whose injuries require specialized treatment outside the country.

The reinforcement of UNAMSIL continued today, with the Jordanian and Bangladeshi deployment proceeding at a good pace. The force strength as of this morning is 11,060.

Asked about whether RUF leader Foday Sankoh should face trial, the Spokesman noted the Secretary-General's comments that, by his actions, Sankoh "has excluded himself from the peace process." The Spokesman noted that the heads of state of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) recommended that Sankoh be removed from Sierra Leone for his protection. The United Nations, Eckhard said, has no position on either that statement or on previous statements by the Government of Sierra Leone that Sankoh should be tried.

In response to a question concerning the positions taken by ECOWAS heads of state during the weekend summit meeting in Abuja, Nigeria, the Spokesman said that the United Nations had just received the text of the summary of that meeting and is studying it.


The Special Envoy of the Secretary-General, Terje Roed Larsen, is in Damascus today, where on Wednesday he is to meet with Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa.

Over the weekend, Larsen traveled to Israel, where he met with Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister David Levy and Justice Minister Yossi Beilin, and told them that the United Nations assesses that the process of Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon is proceeding "very well."

He also raised with the Israeli officials the matter of Lebanese citizens who are held in Israeli prisons, saying that their release "would give an added impetus to the restoration of international peace and security in the area."

Then on Monday, Larsen met in Beirut with Lebanese President Emile Lahoud and Prime Minister Selim el-Hoss.

In a statement issued after that meeting, Larsen said that the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has verification teams moving throughout southern Lebanon, checking positions that had previously been held by the Israeli Defense Force and the South Lebanon Army (SLA). The UN mission is using mobile patrol units and helicopters for that task.

Larsen said the Israeli and SLA positions are vacated, but noted that Israel's withdrawal from the border area, including movement of security-related infrastructure on Lebanon's side of the border, is continuing.

With cooperation from both sides, Larsen added, UN cartographers expect to complete marking a practical line, corresponding to the internationally recognized border of Lebanon, within the next few days. That line on the ground in turn will be used by the United Nations to confirm Israel's withdrawal.

The UN mission in Lebanon reported today that dozens of soldiers from the SLA have returned to Lebanon from Israel, and have turned themselves in peacefully to Lebanese authorities.

On the ground, the situation is reported as calm, with increasing signs that Lebanese authorities are moving in to the south.

Asked about statements by the Lebanese Prime Minister on whether the Lebanese Army would need to be deployed in the south, the Spokesman said, "I think that is a decision to be taken by the Lebanese Government." He noted that the Security Council, in Resolution 425, calls for Israel to withdraw from Lebanon and for the Lebanese Government to extend its administration to the south. It would be the Government's decision, Eckhard noted, as to what kind of authority it intends to deploy in southern Lebanon.


The Security Council began consultations this morning on the Western Sahara to consider the draft resolution extending the mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) for a further two months.

Then, Council members heard a briefing by Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations H&eacute;di Annabi on recent developments in Sierra Leone, including the freeing of the remaining detainees over the weekend.

At 5 p.m. the Council expected to be briefed by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Kieran Prendergast on the Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict.

Formal meetings to vote on the mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum on Western Sahara and the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), whose current mandates are set to expire on May 31, are also expected to take place in the afternoon.


On Monday, thousands of new Eritrean refugees poured across the Sudanese border to Lafa, arriving on foot, donkey carts and trucks and tractors, which shuttled them away from villages in western Eritrea that had reportedly been taken by Ethiopian troops. This morning, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported from Lafa that the numbers crossing dwindled overnight but small groups were still arriving. They estimate that the total for the previous 24-hour period could reach 10,000.

Refugees arriving in Lafa told UNHCR that Ethiopian troops now controlled the town of Tesseney, 30 kilometers from the Sudanese border. Most said there had been no fighting for the town, although others reported artillery fire nearby. None of the arrivals on Monday were injured.

Most of those crossing into Sudan on Monday were children and women, although there were also significant numbers of men. The latest arrivals are exhausted and badly in need of water and food, UNHCR reported.

The World Food Programme (WFP) said today that its airlift to Eritrea is continuing despite the bombing of Asmara airport and its surrounding vicinity. WFP today continued airlifts of high-energy biscuits to Asmara to feed thousands of recently displaced people from the conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia.


Kosovo's Interim Administrative Council, which is representative of the province's ethnic groups, today condemned the killings which took place on Sunday night in the village of Cernica, in which three Serbs, including a four-year-old child, were murdered in cold blood. The Council called on the people of Kosovo to support the investigations of the police and Kosovo Force (KFOR).

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Bernard Kouchner, in a statement following the killings said that the killer, whom UN Police have identified, "in his own disgusting form of extremism, has only strengthened the hands of all extremists, and the hand of President [Slobodan] Milosevic."

In response to a question, the Spokesman confirmed that Serbs have joined the Interim Administrative Council.


In response to questions, the Spokesman noted that the Secretary-General, in a speech delivered at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies last week, said that peacekeeping needs to be rethought. The Secretary-General, he said, believed that, although a peacekeeping force does not intend to fight wars and is not configured to do so, it needs a sufficient war-making capability as a deterrent.

The Spokesman said that the Secretary-General's recent comments on peacekeeping represent an evolution of his thinking but is "not a fundamental change in the concept of peacekeeping."

He noted that Annan said that, in light of what happened in Sierra Leone, he was rethinking force requirements for the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The Spokesman noted that the Secretary-General has discussed matters with Lakdar Brahimi, who heads the UN Panel on Peace Operations that is exploring peacekeeping issues following the UN reports last year on Srebrenica and Rwanda. The Brahimi panel, he said, intends to present its own report by late summer, so it could be presented to the Millennium Assembly.


The First Global Ministerial Environment Forum opened Monday in Malmo, Sweden. The meeting, a special session of the Governing Council of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), is being attended by over 100 environment ministers, the largest such gathering to be held under UNEP auspices. The Forum was addressed on video by the Secretary-General and heard a statement from UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer, who noted that the Ministers have the opportunity to provide their unique environmental perspectives to the upcoming Millennium Assembly and Summit.

The World Health Organization (WHO) issued a press release on the occasion of World No Tobacco Day, which will take place Wednesday. Every day, it says, 11,000 people die from tobacco-related diseases. The WHO is seeking to make the case for a global ban on advertising and promotion of tobacco.

The Chief Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, Carla del Ponte, arrives in New York on Thursday. She is expected to brief the Security Council on Friday.

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