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United Nations Daily Highlights, 00-03-20

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





Monday, March 20, 2000


This morning, the Security Council heard several briefings on Afghanistan in its closed consultations.

Francesc Vendrell, the Personal Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Special Mission to Afghanistan, briefed the Council on recent developments. He said that he hoped to strengthen the Special Mission in the coming months, and expand its presence to bureaux in Islamabad, Teheran and Kabul. He added that he would try to deepen the dialogue among the "Six plus Two" group.

The Council also heard from Pino Arlacchi, Executive Director of the UN Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention, who warned that the opium harvest in Afghanistan had increased to some 4,600 tons last year, or approximately three-quarters of world production. He spoke to reporters following the Council's consultations.

Also, Ambassador Arnaldo Manuel Listre of Argentina, who chairs the Council's Sanctions Committee dealing with Afghanistan, gave a briefing on the Committee's recent work, which included approvals of some flights from Kabul to Saudi Arabia to allow Afghans to make the "hajj" pilgrimage to Mecca.


The United Nations team headed by Legal Counsel Hans Corell continued talks over the weekend with Cambodian leaders, concerning guidelines for a Khmer Rouge trial that would meet international standards.

After sessions with Foreign Minister Hor Namhong and National Assembly Chairman Prince Norodom Ranariddh, among others, Corell said that common ground had been established on a number of points, but differences remained.

Corell and his team took the occasion to visit Cheoung Ek, a Khmer Rouge "killing field" about 20 miles outside Phnom Penh, where he laid a wreath in memory of those killed there.

The wreath conveys a simple message, he said, that "we remember, we will never forget, and we must do something about it."

He was not in Cambodia just to discuss legal technicalities, he added, saying that the shadows of the victims were "ever present" during the discussions.

Asked about the team's schedule, the Spokesman said that it intended to meet with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday morning and leave for New York later that day. However, he added, if talks warrant prolonging the team's stay, the team will remain in Cambodia.


In response to questions on the UN reaction to the Sunday elections in Senegal, the Spokesman said that the United Nations welcomes the elections there and congratulates the people and the Government of Senegal for the peaceful conduct of those elections. He said that the conduct of the elections had been a testimony to Senegal's long-standing democratic tradition.


Today in The Hague, what has been described as the "rape trial" started at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

In the first case ever before an International Tribunal to treat sexual enslavement as a crime against humanity, three Bosnian Serbs stand accused of crimes against humanity, and violations of the laws or customs of war.

In 1992, Muslim women, children and the elderly were detained in the Bosnian town of Foca and surrounding villages, as well as at detention centers in the region. Many of the detained women and girls, some as young as 12 years old, were subjected to humiliating and degrading conditions of life, to brutal beatings and to sexual assaults, including rapes.

The suspects -- Dragoljub Kunarac, Radomir Kovac and Zoran Vukovic -- are specifically accused of rape, torture, enslavement, outrage upon personal dignity and plunder of private property. A background press release is available.


In response to questions on a news article about alleged Indonesian military involvement in cross-border militia attacks against East Timor, the Spokesman said that the information was neither new nor confidential.

Eckhard noted the visit earlier this month by Gen. Jaime de los Santos, Force Commander of the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) and Peter Galbraith, the Mission's Director of Political Affairs, to Jakarta. Following meetings with Government officials, Galbraith said in a press conference that "we believe that at a minimum the TNI (Indonesian Army) had been looking the other way as the infiltrations took place, and that there was some evidence that in such cases, there was cooperation."

The UNTAET officials asked that the borders be sealed and that the Government take steps to control the militias in West Timor. Since then, the Spokesman said, "we've had no further reports of border incidents or infiltrations," although the Government has not yet responded to the issue of TNI involvement.


The water crisis, in which one billion people do not have access to safe water and two billion people go without adequate sanitation, will worsen and affect millions more, unless action is taken now. This warning came from World Water Vision, a report unveiled at the Second World Water Forum which opened last Friday in The Hague.

The Forum is being convened by the Government of the Netherlands and the World Water Council, an international water-policy think-tank established in 1996 and sponsored by several UN agencies.

The report outlines the seriousness of the current water crisis and makes recommendations on how we can achieve "global water security."

The Forum will conclude with a two-day Ministerial Conference, on Tuesday and Wednesday, the latter of which is also World Water Day. The Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Mr. Klaus Toepfer, is scheduled to make closing remarks on behalf of the Secretary-General.


Bernard Miyet, Under Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, arrived in Sierra Leone on Sunday. He visited two disarmament camps and centers for child ex-combatants and children separated from their parents.

He also visited several team sites of the UN Mission in that country. Miyet returned to Freetown Sunday night and met with President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah today. He is scheduled to meet this afternoon with Johnny Paul Koroma and with Foday Sankoh, two former rebel leaders, and is expected to hold a press conference in Freetown Tuesday.

An Indian company of 107 troops and six military observers has now deployed in Kailahun, in eastern Sierra Leone, in the heart of the area controlled by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). They arrived on Thursday and found the town in a grim humanitarian situation. The people have no food, water or medicine. Only one hospital, managed by the RUF, shelters about a dozen patients, including four rebels with bullet and shrapnel wounds that have been untreated for months.

The UN troops' priorities will be to dig wells to augment the civilian water supply. They will also perform a reconnaissance mission starting Tuesday to check out sites to establish a Disarmament Center.


Asked about whether UN peacekeeping troops in Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of the Congo would be given a condom a day, the Spokesman said the policy was an evolution of UN efforts to sensitize troops to the dangers of AIDS.

That effort began at least two years ago in a joint effort with the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), he said, in which peacekeepers were warned in brochures to take precautions. More recently, Eckhard said, the Security Council had asked for measures to be taken against AIDS in its renewal of several UN Missions.

He noted that budgetary provisions for the UN Mission in Sierra Leone includes items for condoms and other preventive measures, and that other missions, like that in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, were expected to receive similar items.

"I think it will be a standard feature in peacekeeping missions in the future," he said.


Asked about former UN Humanitarian Coordinator Denis Halliday's recent comments on what he said was Secretary-General Kofi Annan's silence on Iraq, the Spokesman responded, "Frankly, I don't see how he could say that the Secretary-General has been silent on the sanctions issue."

He noted that the Secretary-General had discussed the impact of sanctions on innocent members of the civilian population even before he appointed Halliday humanitarian co-ordinator in Iraq.

Eckhard added that the Security Council, in its latest resolution on Iraq, modified the sanctions regime by lifting the ceiling on oil production and took steps to speed up the delivery of food and medicine. Ultimately, Iraqi cooperation with the Council on arms inspections would help achieve the lifting of the sanctions, he said.


Mary Robinson, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights opened the 56th session of the Commission on Human Rights this morning in Geneva.

In her opening address she invited to Commission to "give attention to how human rights strategies can help prevent conflicts, and to how we can help prevent gross violations of human rights through national, regional and international endeavours."

She added, "The appropriate response to all allegations of gross violations -- wherever in the world they are reported -- is that they be rigorously and independently investigated. Where proven to be well founded, those responsible have to be pursued and brought to justice. There must be no selectivity, no sanctuary, no impunity for those guilty of gross human rights violations." (For the complete text of her speech, click here.)

The session is expected to focus heavily on the situation in Chechnya. Mrs. Robinson will visit the region at the end of this month. Upon her return, she intends to directly report to the Commission, which will be in session until April 28.


The Secretary-General's new report on the work of the UN Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which covers the Mission's work since mid-December and was made available today, notes progress made by the Mission in restructuring the police force to better reflect Bosnia's multi-ethnic character.

The report cites the integration of the specialized police forces, including the Federation Anti-Terrorist Unit. Also, the Secretary-General notes the inauguration in January of a multi-ethnic police force in the district of Brcko.

The Secretary-General also notes that a Bosnian police contingent comprising 16 officers from all three major ethnic groups has successfully completed training and will be deployed to the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor.

However, the report also notes obstacles in other areas, including delays in implementing a State Border Service and in reforming the judiciary system. The Secretary-General cautions that, "while tangible progress is possible in Bosnia and Herzegovina, it requires intensive, coordinated and robust international engagement."

The Security Council will hold an open briefing on Bosnia and Herzegovina on Wednesday.


In his latest report on Tajikistan, which is out on the racks today, the Secretary-General says that the UN Mission of Observers in Tajikistan (UNMOT) has "fulfilled its tasks well" and will be withdrawn when its mandate expires on May 15.

He notes that the Tajik parties managed to overcome their differences to hold the country's first multi-party parliamentary elections last month. "The United Nations has played an important part in this success," the Secretary-General says, although he also warns that progress toward a stable democracy has just begun.

The report adds that the Secretary-General and the Tajik Government are currently in consultations about a possible future UN role, in which a small office can work on post-conflict peace-building activities.

The Security Council will hold an open briefing on Tajikistan on Tuesday.


In response to a question on Haiti's elections, the Spokesman said that "we all have our fingers crossed that these elections will take place now as scheduled" and that the situation in Haiti would become more stable.

Asked about UN efforts to release Albanian prisoners detained in Serbia, the Spokesman said that the United Nations is aware of a significant number of Albanians who have been arrested in Serbia and that the human rights component of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo has repeatedly raised the matter with Serbian authorities. However, he added, there was no progress to report on their situation.

Asked about an invitation by the Chairman of the US Senate's Foreign Relations Committee for Security Council members to visit Washington, the Spokesman noted that US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had also invited Council members to visit. He declined to comment on the proposed visit, noting that Council members would individually decide whether to accept the invitation.

After the noon briefing, Olara Otunnu, Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, issued a statement welcoming the decision by the Government of Rwanda to issue legislation allowing girls to inherit property.

A press release is available from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) on the latest round of talks opening today in Bonn, on an international treaty on persistent organic pollutants (POPs). The proposed treaty will deal with the production and use of 12 toxic pesticides, industrial chemicals and industrial by-products, such as DDT, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dioxins, among others. The final round of talks is scheduled for South Africa at the end of the year.

The Secretary-General and the President of the Security Council exchanged letters on the decision to appoint Maj. Gen. Franco Ganguzza of Italy as Chief of Staff of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO). General Ganguzza takes over command on the first of April from Maj. Gen. Timothy Ford of Australia.

On Tuesday, in the UN Visitors' Lobby, Nane Annan will welcome five children who are being recognized for their community service. They are among 2,000 children between the ages of 8 and 15 who have been selected as Millennium Dreamers, in a campaign sponsored by McDonald's Corporation and The Walt Disney Company, in association with the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

On Tuesday at 11:15 a.m., Joseph Chamie, the Director of the Population Division, will give a press briefing on the Population Division's recent report on replacement migration. Also, the UN Correspondents Association (UNCA) announced that Ambassador Shamshad Ahmad of Pakistan would address correspondents at the UNCA Club on Tuesday at 3:30 p.m.


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