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DAILY HIGHLIGHTS

"A WORLD OF NEWS FROM THE WORLD ORGANIZATION"

Thursday, 5 August, 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.



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The recent large-scale military offensive by the Taliban, punctuated by acts of violence against Afghan civilians, drew condemnation from Security Council members who said on Thursday they were prepared to consider additional measures to influence the events in Afghanistan.

Council members also expressed their concern at reports of massive foreign military assistance in support of the latest attacks. They called for an immediate end to all external interference, particularly by those countries whose territories are reportedly being used by Afghan parties.

Council President Ambassador Martin Andjaba of Namibia said in a press statement that Council members demanded the Taliban stop its offensive immediately and resume political negotiations under UN auspices, in line with the commitments expressed at last month's "six- plus-two" Group meeting in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

The Group comprises the Russian Federation, the United States and Afghanistan's six neighbours: China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Ambassador Andjaba said Council members voiced their concern at the forced displacement of civilians and the separation of women and children from their menfolk and demanded that the Taliban respect human rights and international humanitarian law. "Members also called for the respect of the rights of women and girls," he added.

In order to influence the situation in Afghanistan and to achieve full compliance with their relevant resolutions, Council members intend to consider possible additional steps, including the imposition of measures, Ambassador Andjaba said.

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United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Thursday urged armed rebels to immediately release a group of UN military and civilian personnel in Sierra Leone held hostage along with 100 children.

Fred Eckhard, the spokesman for the Secretary-General, said in New York that Mr. Annan called on the Government of Sierra Leone and the leader of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), as well as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and its military group, ECOMOG, to do their utmost to secure the earliest release of all detained personnel and ensure the safety of all international staff assisting in the implementation of the Lome peace agreement signed last month.

"The Secretary-General deplores this serious incident and urges the armed group to release all detainees immediately and without any conditions," said Mr. Eckhard.

On Wednesday, a team from the UN mission in Sierra Leone, escorted by Nigerian ECOMOG troops and a Sierra Leonean bishop, were taken hostage 70 kilometers outside the capital, Freetown, by rebels not related to the RUF.

The UN group had gone to Ocra Hills to gain the release of 100 children, who had been abducted by the rebels. Instead of releasing the children as promised, the rebels detained the delegation and presented them with a list of demands as a condition for the release of all the hostages.

According to Mr. Eckhard, the bishop, a UN spokeswoman and three military observers were later released and concerted efforts are under way to secure freedom for the rest of the team.

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The head of the United Nations mission in Kosovo has received assurances from Kosovo's two most prominent ethnic Albanian leaders of their participation in the UN-administered Kosovo Transitional Council, a UN spokesman said on Thursday.

Dr. Bernard Kouchner got the pledges from the two men yesterday during his first joint meeting with Ibrahim Rugova, of the Democratic League of Kosovo, and Hashim Thaci, of the Kosovo Liberation Army. Both of them said they would attend the next meeting of the Transitional Council, scheduled for Monday, 9 August.

Dr. Kouchner, who as Special Representative of the Secretary-General leads the UN Interim Administrative Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), will preside over the forthcoming meeting.

The Transitional Council is open to all groups and parties in Kosovo and will serve as the province's highest political forum.

Meanwhile UNMIK reported today that Jock Covey, Principal Deputy Special Representative, met with the Deputy Foreign Minister of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Mr. Vujovic, to discuss continuing concern over the security of Serbs remaining in Kosovo.

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The team of scientists dispatched by the United Nations to Kosovo and Serbia to study the impact of the conflict on the country's ecology has found serious environmental consequences and potential threats to human health, the team's leader said Thursday.

The team from the joint Balkans Task Force of two UN agencies -- the UN Environmental Programme and the UN Centre for Human Settlements (HABITAT) -- concluded a 10-day tour in late July of the industrial sites hardest hit during the NATO bombing campaign.

Speaking at a news conference at UN Headquarters, Pekka Haavisto, said his group had found toxic and hazardous chemicals, including mercury, at several locations in Kosovo and Serbia.

He stressed that immediate protective actions were needed to ensure that the chemicals did not cause further environmental degradation, such as ground water contamination, or threaten the well-being of workers already rebuilding some facilities.

Pekka Haavisto

Mr. Haavisto said international humanitarian assistance could be provided to address the pressing environmental concerns at locations inside Serbia, which was not receiving international assistance for reconstruction.

"It's common sense that efforts be made to avoid further environmental or human health problems, which could be totally separate from reconstruction," Mr. Haavisto said.

A second team of scientists will visit the area later this month to assess the condition of the Danube, the impact of the bombing on biodiversity, and long-term health consequences. The teams' official findings and recommendations will be submitted to Secretary-General Kofi Annan in September or October.

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Despite two new security incidents, efforts to register voters for the upcoming ballot to decide East Timor's future continued successfully, with a large turnout of internally displaced people expected in the next two days, a UN spokesman said Thursday.

In the first episode, some 20 men believed to be local militia attacked a group of students in front of a registration site in Suai. According to a UN civilian police officer who was there, the mob overturned plastic seating and began hurling chunks of concrete at UN mission staff. The attack lasted no more than six minutes before the mob fled and the civilian police restored calm.

In Maliana, a second large group of people surrounded the registration site and refused to allow UN staff to leave, the spokesman said. Eventually, through negotiations, the staff were allowed to leave. Senior staff from the UN Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) will visit both sites Friday to learn more.

UNAMET reported, however, that it had successfully signed up hundreds of prisoners and internally displaced people for the 30 August ballot. Almost 600 people came down from the hills to registration centres in Maliana after UNAMET civilian police and military liaison officers teamed with Indonesian police to secure the area.

Continued large turnouts of displaced people in the western region were anticipated for the extra two days of registration given to those inside East Timor, a UNAMET spokesman said.

The UN mission had also registered more than 250 prisoners in six prisons throughout East Timor. In Surabaya, more than ten prisoners were taken to the registration centre there to register to vote.

As of 3 August, 428,180 people had registered, with 416,812 of those people inside East Timor itself. Registration is scheduled to end 6 August for people in East Timor and 8 August for those living abroad.

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Secretary-General Kofi Annan has welcomed the recommendations of the Tokyo Forum for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament contained in the group's report "Facing Nuclear Dangers: An Action Plan for the 21st Century."

In a press statement issued after his meeting Wednesday with the Forum's Co-Chairmen, Mr. Annan commended the initiative of the Japanese Government to assemble the group of international experts to address the urgent issues of nuclear disarmament and nuclear proliferation.

Mr. Annan said he hoped the international community would study the recommendations with a view to reducing and eliminating nuclear weapons in the world.

During the visit to UN Headquarters in New York, one of the Tokyo Forum's Co-Chairs, former UN Under-Secretary-General Yasushi Akashi, told a press conference that experts participating in the Forum had concluded that the international community was at a very dangerous point.

"Either we will be able to strengthen the nuclear non-proliferation regime or we will face the danger of re-evaluated nuclear weapons spreading to many parts of the world," he said.

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