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United Nations Daily Highlights, 99-02-11

United Nations Daily Highlights Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: The United Nations Home Page at <http://www.un.org> - email: unnews@un.org


Thursday, 11 February, 1999

This daily news round-up is prepared by the Central News Section of the Department of Public Information. The latest update is posted at approximately 6:00 PM New York time.


  • Security Council extends mandate of UN Mission in Western Sahara until 31 March.
  • Secretary-General says conflicts in Africa overshadow economic gains.
  • UN human rights mission says rebels inflicted devastating human rights violations in Sierra Leone.
  • Secretary-General welcomes transfer of East Timorese leader from prison to residential detention.
  • Former senior Rwandan official accused of genocide is transferred to detention facilities in Arusha Tanzania.
  • CITES to permit highly controlled sales of existing ivory stocks from Namibia and Zimbabwe.
  • Secretary-General calls for long-term planning to address impact of demographic revolution.
  • UN Population Fund hails Bill and Melinda Gates $2.2 billion gift to fund population and health activities.

The Security Council on Thursday extended the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) until 31 March.

MINURSO was established under the Settlement Plan of August 1988 to monitor a ceasefire and identify and register qualified voters for a referendum to decide whether the former Spanish colony of Western Sahara will gain full independence or become a part of Morocco.

The mandate extension is to allow for consultations between the parties -- the Moroccan Government and the POLISARIO Front -- in the hope of agreement on the protocols on identification of eligible voters, appeals and repatriation planning and the implementation calendar.

In an unanimous vote, the Council asked both parties to take concrete action to enable the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to prepare for the repatriation of Saharan refugees eligible to vote, and their immediate families, according to the Settlement Plan.

The Settlement Plan provides for a referendum under United Nations auspices, in cooperation with the Organization of African Unity (OAU). A package of measures to implement the Settlement Plan includes a proposal for a referendum in December 1999. The package was presented to the parties last October.

The Council supported the Secretary-General's intention to ask his Personal Envoy, James A. Baker III, to reassess the viability of MINURSO's mandate if prospects for putting the package of measures into effect remained elusive.

Earlier on Thursday, Morocco signed a status-of-forces agreement with the United Nations concerning the legal status of MINURSO personnel.

A UN spokesman said the Security Council had been calling for Algeria, Mauritania and Morocco to sign such an agreement since military units from Sweden and Pakistan were deployed in Western Sahara last Spring. Algeria and Mauritania signed similar agreements with the UN last November.

Speaking to the press following his briefing of the Security Council on Thursday on security issues around the world, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the present conflicts in Africa were giving the impression of a continent in crisis. He pointed out that there were countries which were doing well economically and politically in Africa.

The Secretary-General said that the Security Council had discussed the tendency in Africa to rely on military instead of political means to solve problems. Concern had been expressed, he said, about "military adventures", where governments sent troops to fight in other countries' conflicts. "The Council, of course, is worried about the implications of this development for the concept of the nation state on the African continent," Mr. Annan added.

Asked about the possible role for outside powers in helping to resolve the conflicts in Africa, the Secretary-General said that he did not think that was "entirely off the table." Ideally, he told reporters, problems should be resolved through diplomatic and political means, but added that even where there was an agreement to resolve a conflict, some military presence might be necessary. "We did discuss this in the context of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the UN role if it came to that, cannot be excluded."

Regarding United Nations efforts to find political settlements to the conflicts in Africa, the Secretary-General stressed that such efforts could only succeed when the parties involved wanted to make peace and settle their differences. "Where they are determined to fight, I am afraid there is very little that an outside force can do unless you go in massively, as an enforcement force and (are) prepared to stay on the ground for quite a while."

He spoke of the need for the leaders to resolve these conflicts. "Divided and conflict-ridden, I don't think we (Africa) stand a chance to move on to economic and social development," the Secretary-General said.

According to a report of a UN human rights mission brought to the attention of the Security Council on Thursday by the Secretary-General during a briefing on security issues, rebels in Sierra Leone have inflicted devastating human rights violations on Freetown, the country's capital.

According to the report of the mission which visited Freetown last week, many of the 5,000 people estimated to have been killed during the fighting were feared to have been civilians and hundreds of civilians had been mutilated by rebel soldiers. The rebels, many of whom appeared to be child- soldiers, also committed mass rapes, the report said.

In the city centre, up to 20 per cent of the housing stock was estimated to have been destroyed by fire and in some areas, such as Calaba in the eastern part of the city, up to 90 per cent might have been destroyed, according to the mission. The report estimated that at least 150,000 people had been displaced and more than a thousand men, women and children were known to have been forcibly abducted by the rebels.

The report said that the ultimate responsibility for the fighting, most civilian casualties and the related humanitarian emergency in Freetown rested with the rebels. However, the report noted, forces of the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) and the Civil Defence Forces had also been accused by eye witnesses of committing summary executions of suspected rebels and mistreating civilians, including children. The report added that during the fighting, ECOMOG jets had bombed parts of Freetown, causing civilian casualties.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has welcomed the transfer of an East Timorese leader from prison to residential detention.

A UN spokesman said on Thursday that the Secretary-General hoped that the transfer of Xanana Gusmao would enable the East Timorese leader to participate actively in the discussion about the future of East Timor.

Earlier this week, foreign Ministers of Indonesia and Portugal concluded their discussions on the future of the territory. The meetings were described as productive notwithstanding a number of points which still needed further discussion on both sides. The two sides had discussed a proposal for a wide-ranging autonomy for East Timor.

The Secretary-General told reporters today that although the talks on East Timor had gone very well and some progress had been made, there were still some major hurdles ahead. He said that while he was pleased with the progress which had been made, he cautioned against celebrating yet. "But I think we are moving in the right direction", Mr. Annan added.

A former senior member of Rwanda's Interim Government accused of participating in the 1994 genocide in the country was on Thursday transferred to the detention facilities of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania.

The tribunal said that Eliezer Niyitegeka, the former Minister of Information was arrested in Nairobi by Kenyan law enforcement officials on Tuesday. He is charged with Genocide, Conspiracy to Commit Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity and Serious Violations of the Geneva Conventions. Mr. Niyitegeka is alleged to have personally attacked and killed people who sought refuge in Bisesero in the Kibuye Prefecture of Rwanda.

The tribunal, which began its operations in November 1995 has so far convicted three individuals, including Jean Kambanda, the former Prime Minister of Rwanda. A fourth judgement is expected after the joint trial of Clement Kayishema and Obed Ruzindara which ended in November last year.

The Standing Committee of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) on Wednesday agreed to allow Namibia and Zimbabwe to each make a single shipment of existing ivory stocks to Japan. The money realized will go to support conservation and community development projects in the two elephant-range States.

Klaus Toepfer, the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which administers the CITES secretariat, said that the decision followed a strict process which ensured that there were no deviations from the comprehensive pre-conditions set by the international community for an experimental and limited trade in ivory.

"Like others, I'm concerned that this sensitive issue is handled properly and in an open and transparent manner," he said. "If it is, then we have taken an important step forward in preventing the re- emergence of the illegal trade in elephant ivory."

The CITES Standing Committee, meeting in Geneva from 8 to 12 February, agreed that the conditions set for had been met in the case of two of the three intended exporters and in the case of the recipient, Japan. Namibia and Zimbabwe may therefore ship 13.8 and 20 tonnes, respectively, of their ivory stocks to Japan on or after 18 March 1999.

Botswana, the other African country that also wants to sell its ivory, was found not to have satisfied one important condition and will be further inspected by the CITES Secretariat's verification team before a final decision is made.

The Standing Committee's actions are a follow-up to the June 1997 decision at the tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES, held in Harare, Zimbabwe, to permit some highly controlled exports of elephant ivory for the first time since 1989.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Thursday stressed the importance of long- term planning to deal with the demographic revolution which was having far- reaching effects on individuals, families, communities and countries.

In opening remarks to the Global VideoConference on Ageing at UN Headquarters, Mr. Annan said special attention should be given to the plight of older women and the situation in developing countries. Women were more likely than men to be poorer and face discrimination in old age and their contributions as caretakers were often overlooked and underpaid, if at all. Developing countries, where most older people lived, would need international help and solidarity, he added.

The Secretary-General said increasing longevity also required wiser investments in childhood, youth and middle age to contribute to healthy life-styles, life-longing learning and the other pillars of an active old age.

The VideoConference is one of a series of events sponsored by the Non- governmental Committee on Ageing at the United Nations to commemorate the International Year of Older Persons 1999.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) on Thursday hailed Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda Gates, for their donation of $2.2 billion to a family foundation that supports population and health projects.

The donation coincided with this week's UNFPA-sponsored Hague Forum which is reviewing progress since the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo.

According to UNFPA Executive Director Nafis Sadik, news of the donation electrified the Hague Forum. The international community was looking for ways to build on the gains in reproductive health and rights since Cairo, and the gift was a powerful boost and a shining example for other donors, she said.

The gift of Microsoft stock to the William H. Gates Foundation brings its endowment to $4.2 billion, making it one of the richest foundations in the world. Last April, Bill Gates gave UNFPA $1.7 million, including $200,000 to review the Cairo Conference's programme of action.

For information purposes only - - not an official record

From the United Nations home page at <http://www.un.org> - email: unnews@un.org

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