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United Nations Daily Highlights, 98-01-20

United Nations Daily Highlights Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

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


Tuesday, 20 January 1998

This document is prepared by the Central News Section of the Department of Public Information and is updated every week-day at approximately 6:00 PM.


  • Secretary-General emphasizes importance of nuclear disarmament as Disarmament Conference opens in Geneva.
  • United Nations refugee agency urges European countries to adopt generous approach to Algerian asylum seekers.
  • United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees expresses concern over relocation of Sudanese refugees in Ethiopia.
  • Spiral of violence in Burundi and Rwanda affects humanitarian operations in the two countries.
  • Secretary-General welcomes progress in resolution of border dispute between Ecuador and Peru.
  • United Nations official briefs Portuguese authorities on progress of talks on East Timor.
  • Women in Caucuses are leading call for peace in the region, Azerbaijan's representative tells UN Committee.
  • Actress Linda Gray to lead UN Population Fund campaign for gender equality and reproductive health care.
  • As World Health Organization deliberates on its next chief, Dr. Nafis Sadik says she is number two contender.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has emphasized that nuclear disarmament must be pursued more vigorously, in particular by the nuclear powers.

In a message to the 1998 session of the United Nations Conference on Disarmament, which opened on Tuesday in Geneva, the Secretary-General underlined the primary responsibility of the United Nations in the field of disarmament.

The message, delivered by Secretary-General's Personal Representative in Geneva Vladimir Petrovsky, noted a number of encouraging events that had taken place over the past year, in particular, the outlawing of chemical and biological weapons and the strengthening of the non-proliferation regime. The United Nations leader nonetheless expressed concern at the spread of various types of conventional weapons, especially land mines and small arms.

Recalling that he had proposed a managerial reorganization of the Secretariat capacities and a new structure to meet the challenges in disarmament, the Secretary-General welcomed the consensus on the re- establishment of the Department of Disarmament Affairs.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has urged the Western European authorities to adopt a generous approach to Algerian refugees seeking asylum in their countries.

UNHCR has noted that some of these countries only consider as refugees those persons who fear persecution at the hands of the state. The United Nations agency's Spokeswoman Judith Kumin said in Geneva on Tuesday that such a restriction affected Algerian refugees who have fled their country in the face of threats from Islamic militant groups. "The High Commissioner would like to emphasize that from UNHCR point of view, fear of persecution is fear for one's life, regardless of who the perpetrator is."

Spokeswoman Kumin said that the United Nations refugee agency nonetheless welcomed the fact that some countries have adopted ad hoc measures which allow Algerians to stay on a temporary basis without applying for asylum.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has expressed concern at the plight of Sudanese refugees who have been rounded up and relocated in Ethiopia.

UNHCR Spokeswoman Judith Kumin told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday that more than one thousand Sudanese refugees have been moved to a refugee camp in the west of Ethiopia. She said that there were a few dozen of refugees outside the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, waiting to be transported to the UNHCR-run Shirkole camp.

She added that UNHCR representatives in Ethiopia met with the country's Foreign Minister last Friday to set up a joint committee to look into the concerns that the United Nations refugee agency had raised with the Government regarding the manner in which the round-up and relocation of the refugees were conducted.

These concerns include separation of families, in particular where an Ethiopian spouse was left behind and a Sudanese spouse moved to the camp; recovery of property left behind in Addis Ababa; access of representatives of resettlement countries to the refugees who were awaiting interviews for resettlement to the United States, Canada and New Zealand; and the death of a refugee in the collection centre outside the capital.

The continuing spiral of violence in Burundi and Rwanda is affecting humanitarian operations in the two countries, according to the United Nations refugee agency.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on Tuesday that in Burundi thousands of people have been forced to move temporarily into safer areas in the outskirts of the capital Bujumbura.

On Sunday, an intense exchange of fire between Government and rebel forces in the north of the capital caused panic among the local population and compelled UNHCR and other aid agencies to cancel field mission which had been planned for Tuesday.

UNHCR said that in Rwanda the violence has reached alarming levels and has affected refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo. The United Nations refugee agency has asked the Government for permission to move about 13,000 Congolese refugees from a refugee camp in the Kibuye prefecture to a safer area in the east after several attacks by armed insurgents. She said her agency was waiting for authorization from the Government for military escorts to proceed with the transfer which could take about two weeks.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has welcomed the progress made to resolve the border dispute between Ecuador and Peru.

On Monday, the two countries signed in Rio de Janeiro an agreement aimed at a definitive solution to the border dispute. According to a United Nations Spokesman, the agreement provides for the creation of four commissions to address the main issues of contention. Those issues are navigation rights on the Amazon River, a free trade area, a definitive marking of the border, and the adoption of security and confidence measures.

The Secretary-General's chief negotiator on East Timor has reported to members of the Portuguese Parliament on the status of talks on the Territory.

Ambassador Jamsheed Marker, the Secretary-General's Personal Representative, met on Tuesday with the Portuguese Parliament's committee in charge of the question of East Timor. He gave them a full account of his visits to Indonesia and East Timor, including his meeting with Xanano Gusmao, the imprisoned leader of the Timorese armed resistance.

The Chairman of the Committee, Nuno Abecasis, told Ambassador Marker that the Portuguese Parliament is grateful to the Secretary-General for his continued personal effort in the search for a lasting solution. He emphasized that Portuguese parliamentarians "do not have any other national interest other than seeing the self-determination of East Timor accomplished".

For his part, Ambassador Marker assured the Committee that the United Nations would spare no effort to find a just, comprehensive and internationally accepted solution.

In addition to meetings with Portuguese officials, Ambassador Marker met with various representatives of the East Timorese resistance and non- governmental organizations working to protect the cultural identity and human rights of people in the Territory.

Women are leading efforts to achieve peace in the Caucuses, according to a representative of Azerbaijan, who addressed the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women at United Nations Headquarters on Tuesday.

Fatma Abdullazadeh, Chief of the Humanitarian Policy Division of the Office of the President of Azerbaijan, told the Committee that women from Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan had met in Tblisi from 26 to 28 September. At the conclusion of their meeting, they had issued a declaration on behalf of their citizens stressing that women politicians and women as mothers should make the Caucuses peaceful and safe. "We do not want war, they said, we want peace." Only a peaceful settlement involving the return of refugees to their homes would make peace a reality, she said.

The Committee is charged with monitoring States parties' compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination. Ms. Abdullazadeh stressed that without a peaceful settlement to the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, there could be no implementation of the Convention in her country.

The conflict, she said, was the source of human rights violations endured by women and children refugees. "Today and daily in every refugee camp, women and children are dying, but the hopes of these people do not die; that is their hope to return to their own land," she said.

Azerbaijan's report to the Committee, which is dated September 1996, states that an extremely serious humanitarian situation has developed, in which every year hundreds of elderly people, women and children die in refugee camps as a result of disease and epidemics.

According to the report, the presence of refugees and displaced persons has aggravated the country's already serious economic situation. In addition, the imposition of economic reforms has caused a widening of the income gap, with 85 per cent of Azerbaijan's population living in conditions of poverty.

Actress Linda Gray will head a new United Nations campaign for women's equality around the world. Organized by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the campaign aims at promoting gender equality, reproductive health care and the empowerment of women around the world.

As a UNFPA "Goodwill Ambassador", Ms. Gray will travel to developing countries to raise awareness about reproductive health care. The actress, who is best known for her role in the United States-produced television series "Dallas", told reporters at a press conference at United Nations Headquarters in New York that she hoped to "bring help and dignity to people around the world".

Explaining the role which Ms. Gray will be playing, UNFPA Spokesman Hugh O'Haire said she would communicate widely about the issues. "It works both ways: one is that we raise consciousness in developing countries, and the other is that we hopefully make people in the West aware of the work that we are doing."

According to UNFPA, some 40 per cent of the world's women lack access to reproductive health services, while one woman dies every minute from pregnancy-related causes.

Ms. Gray's campaign, called "Face to Face", aims to publicize the plight of millions of women worldwide who lack family planning and other reproductive health services. Along with UNFPA, the campaign is being sponsored by the International Planned Parenthood Federation as well as a coalition of national non-governmental organizations.

As the World Health Organization (WHO) met in Geneva to deliberate on its next chief, Dr. Nafis Sadik said she is second in the running.

Dr. Sadik, who heads the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), told reporters in New York that Dr. Gro Harlem Bruntland was the leading contender. "I personally think that I have the next best chance," she said, adding, "It's so political: on the basis of competence I think I have the best, but that's not the way the world works."

The Executive Board of the World Health Organization met on Tuesday to agree on a short list of five candidates for the post of Director- General. In addition to Doctors Bruntland and Sadik, they are George Alleyne, Ebrahim Malick Samba and Uton Rafei. Each candidate will be interviewed on Monday, 26 January. The following day, a vote will be held to nominate one of the five for the post. The nomination must be confirmed by the World Health Assembly in May.

For information purposes only - - not an official record

From the United Nations home page at <> - email:

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