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United Nations Daily Highlights, 00-03-07

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





Tuesday, March 7, 2000

The following substitutes for the daily noon briefing


"Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.

Im delighted to be with you again. As you know, Ive been travelling quite a bit since we last met, including a trip to Southeast Asia and Australasia, starting with UNCTAD X in Bangkok. I thought UNCTAD X was an important meeting. I hope it will mark a new phase in international economic relations, after the disappointment in Seattle.

The most moving moments in the trip came during the visit to Indonesia and East Timor. In Indonesia, it was wonderful to witness the historic efforts of the government and people to overcome their many difficulties and advance into a new era of freedom and democracy. In East Timor, I was depressed by the spectacle of destruction, but above all I was impressed by Xanana Gusmao and his colleagues, and by the determination of the people to rebuild their country and achieve reconciliation, both with each other and with their neighbours.

Given the right kind of assistance, I have no doubt that East Timor can have a good and stable future. But the international community must remain involved for the long run. It would be tragic indeed if, after such suffering, we did not make the best of this promising moment in its history.

One other point that came up during the trip was the issue of a tribunal to try the Khmers Rouges who have been accused of genocide and other violations of international humanitarian law in Cambodia. I met Prime Minister Hun Sen in Bangkok, and we had a very constructive discussion.

But there are still some differences to be settled before trials can begin. The whole point of the United Nations being involved in this issue is to ensure that the special court which Cambodia is going to set up conforms to international standards of justice. I am sending a United Nations team led by Hans Corell to Cambodia next week to discuss the details, in the hope that we can reach agreement and then the court can get on with its job. These discussions will start on March 17.

While I was travelling, I kept hearing and seeing very disturbing reports of what was happening in Chechnya, and the terrible destruction and suffering caused by the hostilities there. And since I came back I have seen equally harrowing images of destruction and suffering caused this time by the wrath of nature in Mozambique and neighbouring parts of southern Africa. The people in both these places need help from the international community on a massive scale.

What is happening in Mozambique is all the more tragic because that country was considered one of the great success stories of Africa in the last decade and, I might add, a success story for United Nations peacekeeping and peace-building. It is bitterly ironic that the Economist Intelligence Unit had singled out Mozambique as likely to have the highest growth rate in Africa this year. But at least that means we know the government and people there can make good use of any aid they receive. Let me appeal once again to the whole world to give them as much help as possible, and as soon as possible.

In Chechnya, besides the humanitarian crisis there are very troubling questions about violations of human rights and humanitarian law. I fully support Mary Robinson's emphasis on the vital importance of ensuring an international human rights presence to monitor the treatment of civilians and to seek access to detainees - and I am glad she is going to be able to visit in person early next month. Meanwhile my envoy, Mr. Homann-Herimberg, is in Moscow this week to reach a formal agreement with the Russian authorities on humanitarian action inside Chechnya, and negotiate the detailed arrangements for implementing it.

But the main thing I want to announce to you at this press conference is the start of a major new Study on United Nations Peace Operations.

You will remember that last year in my report on the disaster at Srebrenica, and again in my response to the Carlsson Report on Rwanda, I said we must all do our utmost not to allow such horrors, and especially such appalling failures by the United Nations, ever to happen again.

We must not promise too much, or raise expectations higher than are justified by the will of Governments to act. But we must do whatever we can to raise the standards of international behavior and responsibility.

I think we can only hope to succeed in that, if we have a very clear idea of what has been wrong up to now. We need a clear set of recommendations on how to do better in future in the whole range of UN activities in the area of peace and security. (These recommendations should also, of course, take account of, and build on, the considerable successes we have had in peacekeeping as well.)

It is partly a question of being clearer about what we are trying to do, what kind of forces we need to do it, what are the conditions in which different kinds of mission are appropriate, and what do we do when circumstances change and you need to move from one kind of operation to another. What do you do, for instance, if the peace you are trying to keep breaks down and large numbers of civilians are in danger of being massacred?

And partly it is a question of getting the nuts and bolts right of having the right structure for the UN Secretariat and proper planning and organization - with clear lines of command, control, accountability, and cooperation between those carrying out different tasks.

I hope the Study I am announcing today will help us do both those things. And one reason why I am very hopeful about that is that Ambassador Lakhdar Brahimi has agreed to chair the Panel which will supervise the Study.

Mr. Brahimi, whom I think you all know, is one of my wisest and most experienced advisers - both in negotiations during conflicts and in running UN operations on the ground, both in South Africa and in Haiti.

And Im glad to be able to announce the names of seven other very distinguished people who have agreed to serve on the Panel. Some of these people are experienced in peacekeeping and related activities, others in humanitarian relief and economic development. As you know, it is often the combination of military, humanitarian and economic tasks which poses the most difficult problems we often face. Here is the list:

Mr. Brian Atwood, former head of the United States Agency for International Development;

Dame Ann Hercus of New Zealand, who was my special representative in Cyprus until last year;

Mr. Richard Monk of the United Kingdom, who played a most valuable role in the International Police Task Force in Bosnia;

General Klaus Naumann, former chief of the German defense staff and former chairman of the military committee of NATO;

Ms. Hisako Shimura, professor and President of Tsuda College in Japan, who served for many years in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations;

General Philip Sibanda of Zimbabwe, who was our Force Commander in Angola;

And finally, Cornelius Sommaruga of Switzerland, who has just retired as president of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

There may be one or two more names later on. But already I believe these eight people between them bring unrivalled experience and wisdom to their very important task. I am grateful to all of them for making themselves available. They will be assisted by Dr. William Durch of the Stimson Center in Washington D.C., whose expertise in this field is widely recognized and respected. He will conduct the research and prepare drafts for consideration by the Panel.

I hope that their Report will be ready by July, so that Heads of State and Government have the chance to read it before they come to New York for the Millennium Summit in September.

We have here with us this morning Lakhdar Brahimi, who will stay behind after I have gone, to answer any questions you may have for him.

And now let me do my best to answer your questions."


On Peacekeeping and the Brahimi Panel

In response to a question on criticisms of UN actions in Srebrenica and efforts to sue the United Nations in that matter, the Secretary-General noted that the Prosecutor and Deputy Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia have indicated that "there is no basis for any legal action" against the United Nations.

"The United Nations and those who worked with the UN and the Governments that offered men and women to go to these operations went there to assist, to try and stop the conflict and the killings," he said. "Our efforts may not have been adequate, but it does not mean we take responsibility for the killing." He noted that Tribunals had been set up for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda to determine criminal responsibility.

Asked how much the Srebrenica and Rwanda reports contributed to the formation of the Brahimi panel, Annan said that "reform is an ongoing process," but the United Nations was propelled into faster action by the two reports. "It wasnt enough to issue the two reports and just leave it at that," he said, calling it "essential" to take a critical look at past lessons and improve the structure and management of UN response.

In response to a question on any possible UN Rapid Intervention Force, Annan conceded, "It is not a project the Member States are excited about, for all sorts of reasons." He suggested the Brahimi panel might explore the Shirbrig Arrangements, in which Canada and the Netherlands, as well as some Nordic countries, have agreed to identify a High Readiness Brigade that would be placed on standby. If those countries decided to participate in a peacekeeping operation, he said, Headquarters elements could be on the ground within 48 hours and formed units within a month. That would be a major improvement in deployment of UN troops, he said, adding, "As far as a standing army is concerned, we don't have much support for that."

Asked what role the UN Mission would have in protecting civilians in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he said that the issue had come up in Security Council discussions. He said he had raised the question, which he hoped the Brahimi panel would look at, about what could happen if the situation changes. Should peacekeepers stick to their initial mandate, or should that mandate be adjusted? He noted that sometimes, when the United Nations takes on a peacekeeping task, it is given a "very low and arbitrary ceiling, and resources do not always match the mandate. He said he hoped the panel would look at the match between a mission's mandate, its resources, and the will of Member States to support a mission.

In response to a comment that no Latin Americans had been named to the Brahimi panel, the Secretary-General said that one of two more members would be added, and indicated that Latin America would be represented.

Asked about humanitarian intervention, Annan noted that he had posed the issue in September, and that Governments and researchers were exploring the issue. "I hope that in the next six months to a year, we would have enough ideas on how we intervene and under whose authority, and come up with something that will facilitate discussion and lead to consensus within the (Security) Council," he said. The United Nations, he said, is allowed to use force in the common interest, but he noted some questions that must be addressed, including: "What is a common interest? Who defines it? Under what authority, under what circumstances?"

On Kosovo

Asked about what the United Nations was doing to deal with Kosovo's urgent needs, the Secretary-General noted the Monday visit to UN Headquarters by his Special Representative for Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner, and Gen. Klaus Reinhardt, the Force Commander of the Kosovo Force, and he said they were "doing a great job on the ground."

He said the situation has improved in many parts of Kosovo but conceded, "We have pockets of problems," noting especially that "we need to stem the atrocities committed against minority groups." He added that the United Nations must establish a full working administration in Kosovo, with the necessary support in finances, police and other resources from Member States. "This has been very slow in coming," he said, but noted that the European Union recently gave 10 million euros, after giving 20 million euros before, and were expected to give 35 million euros shortly. "That is a good step, but it has to be sustained by all governments," he said.

He noted that Kouchner also raised the question of the political future of Kosovo. "We are operating in a very ambiguous situation," with no political outline defined for Kosovo, as it had been in Bosnia and Herzegovina, he said.

Asked about the political future of Kosovo, the Secretary-General noted that he would issue a report on the situation there to the Security Council in April, and added, "You can't deal with the situation in Kosovo in isolation from the region." He added that it would be difficult to discuss the future status of Kosovo in the April report.

Asked about Kouchner's recent comments on autonomy for Kosovo, the Secretary-General noted that Kouchner had said that the issue of substantial autonomy has been raised for Kosovo, but it has not been defined in any way. Kouchner, he said, was faced on the ground by an Albanian population that wanted independence, and the Yugoslav Government saw UN actions on a range of topics -- including the issuance of license plates, currency, identity cards and travel documents -- as steps that could lead to Kosovo's independence.

"If the future political settlement is not clear, it is going to be difficult for us to get these two communities to deal with each other and with us," he said. "The ambiguities are becoming clearer," he said, adding, "We are trying to do our best under very difficult circumstances." The Secretary-General said that if Kosovo is going to have elections, all Kosovars should be allowed to vote, including those, such as a significant number of Serbs who have gone to other parts of Yugoslavia, who have left Kosovo.

On East Timor

Asked about the East Timorese refugees in West Timor, the Secretary-General said the situation was one of the primary issues of discussions he had with President Abdurrahman Wahid. They had agreed that all refugees must be given the choice or remaining in Indonesia -- including areas outside West Timor -- or to return to East Timor. They had agreed to set up a Joint High Commission for Refugees, and discussed the suggestion that the bigger camps be broken up into much smaller camps to prevent intimidation by militias, he added.

Indonesia thought there were 154,000 refugees in West Timor, and expected about 50,000 to 70,000 of them to choose to remain there, Annan noted. He added that the United Nations also had encouraged the Government of Indonesia to involve its army in the process of preventing intimidation by militias.

He said he had discussed with many senior Indonesian officials the need to get the refugees back as quickly as possible, but added, "We cannot do it without the support and will and firm direction of the Indonesian Government." He tried to make sure that the necessary instructions were given by all key players for the refugees to be allowed to go back, Annan said.

Asked about the prosecution of Indonesian military leaders for atrocities in East Timor, the Secretary-General said he agreed with the Security Council that Indonesia should be given the chance to try the suspects. He noted that Indonesia's Attorney General, Marzuki Darusman, had told him that he hoped that the trial would begin within three months.


On Lebanon

Asked about the Israeli Parliament decision to approve Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon," the Secretary-General said, "It would be ideal, and I think everybody would be relieved, if there were to be an agreement and if the withdrawal were to be part of an agreement" between Israel, Syria and Lebanon. If withdrawal were conducted outside of an agreement, it would have an impact on UN troops in Southern Lebanon, but UN actions will depend on decisions taken on the ground at the time, he said.

"In all these situations where you have military presence, you do have contingency planning and look at different scenarios," he said. However, Annan said, the United Nations hadn't reached the stage yet of discussing contingency plans with the parties involved. The topic has been under discussion for a long time, he noted, and added that there may be progress on the Syrian and Lebanese tracks of the peace process before any withdrawal.

"It may be possible to get those talks off the ground, and real progress can be made if the parties come back to the table with a spirit of compromise and give and take," the Secretary-General said.

In response to a question on concrete UN plans in the event of an Israeli withdrawal, he added that the United Nations has not approached any governments, and that such action would not be appropriate at this stage. "We are looking at it ourselves," he said.

On the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Asked about plans to deploy UN forces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Secretary-General said that "we are anxious to move as quickly as possible, but as practicably and as cautiously as possible also." He said that Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Bernard Miyet is going to region with a team to work out practical arrangements on the ground, with regard to UN deployment plans. "At the same time, we are appealing with Governments for troops and for observers," he said. "We've had some offers, but we do not have the entire force put together yet."

On Other Topics

Asked about the importance of elections in the United States, the Secretary-General noted that "we live in an era where multilateralism and globalization is the new paradigm." Therefore, he said, "the United Nations today is needed even more than before," and the role of multilateral institutions has grown. As a consequence, he said, "I hope and believe that whoever wins the US election and moves into the White House will agree with me that the US needs the UN as much as the UN needs the US."

Asked about whether he is seeking a second term, Annan said that "a second term is the last thing on my mind. It seems to be more pressing for others than it is for me."

In response to a comment on his lack of a visit to South Asia during a recent Asian tour, the Secretary-General said the trip "was not on my agenda." He said he had planned a visit earlier this year, but it was not convenient to all the countries in the region, and he wanted to find another suitable time when he could visit all the countries in one trip.

On Afghanistan, he said that the United Nations recently held a meeting of the "Six Plus Two" group, and the Secretary-General also met with a delegation from the Organization of the Islamic Conference, led by Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, which is holding talks on Afghanistan this week. He also noted his recent appointment of Francesc Vendrell as his Personal Representative for Afghanistan.

Asked about plans for a Bosnian Embassy in Cyprus, the Secretary-General said he wasn't aware of that decision and pointed out that the next meeting of the Cypriot parties was being planned for May. He doubted that any decision by Bosnia and Herzegovina on an Embassy in Cyprus would affect the peace talks.

Asked about sectarian violence in Nigeria, Annan said, "I am personally very disappointed about it." He said he had been pleased by Nigeria's democratic transition, but warned that "the religious conflict that is taking place in Nigeria today is disturbing." He appealed to all Nigerians to work with the Government to bring this situation under control.



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