Humanitarian situation in Sierra Leone shows signs of improvement UN official

Carolyn McAskie, the UN Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, who recently returned from the region, told a press conference at UN Headquarters that “with the apparent weakening of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and with the considerably more robust presence of UNAMSIL [the UN mission in Sierra Leone], there is a sense that a solution is on the way in Sierra Leone.” She stressed, however, that it was premature to predict whether the trend would hold, noting that Sierra Leone was a very poor country and that there had been great difficulty in raising funds for the area.Against the background of some positive signs in Sierra Leone, the humanitarian crisis in Guinea and Liberia was worsening, Ms. McAskie said. In Guinea, the past few years had witnessed ongoing concerns about how to help the Government support hundreds of thousands refugees from Sierra Leone. To complicate matters, the country now had 300,000 internally displaced persons of its own because of the fighting along the borders with Liberia and Sierra Leone, she noted. In Liberia, rebel factions in the north of the country seemed to have joined forces against the authorities, Ms. McAskie said. As a result, Liberian President Charles Taylor was mobilizing the old territorial forces, which had been demobilized in 1997 and 1998, effectively creating a humanitarian crisis in the country. Potentially, there could be 60,000 internally displaced persons in Liberia alone, she pointed out. Describing it as “not a happy state at all,” Ms. McAskie said that in addition to the half-million refugees in the region, the number of internally displaced persons could reach three quarters of a million. read more

In Washington Annan urges business leaders to join fight against HIVAIDS

“Even though AIDS poses a huge economic threat, it is first and foremost a humanitarian imperative,” Mr. Annan told members of the US Chamber of Commerce during a breakfast meeting. “In fact, there is a happy convergence between what your shareholders pay you for, and what is best for millions of people the world over.”Stressing that the spread of AIDS causes costs to rise and markets to shrink, he said, “The business community needs to get involved to protect its bottom line.” The Secretary-General detailed the negative effects of the pandemic, pointing out that by 2005, AIDS would strike a combined 10 million people in China and India – “two of America’s largest export markets and sources of supply.” Looking to the broader implications of the spread of the disease, he cited a CIA report which found that the burden of infectious diseases will add to political instability and slow democratic development in Sub-Saharan Africa, parts of Asia, and the former Soviet Union. “That is certainly not good for business,” he said. Outlining how corporate action can fight the epidemic, Mr. Annan called on those present with employees in the developing world to implement effective AIDS policies. “Programmes to educate your work force about HIV can become a corner stone of our global prevention campaign,” he said. Beyond contributing through the workforce, the Secretary-General said businesses can serve as advocates for change by speaking about the AIDS epidemic and what can be done to stop it. “Silence and stigma drive the virus underground and fuel its spread,” he said. “Speaking up helps to halt it.” The Secretary-General also pointed out that businesses could help to stop the spread of AIDS by donating money to the Global AIDS and Health Fund, which he proposed earlier this year as a means of supporting national programmes and strategies. Citing a Harvard University estimate that AIDS has already cost the world more than $500 billion, he said the suggested $10 billion to defeat the disease “seems fairly reasonable – in fact, a bargain.” Later, Mr. Annan had a one-on-one meeting with US Secretary of State Colin Powell. Speaking to the press afterwards, the Secretary-General said the two had discussed Iraq, the Middle East, Secretary Powell’s recent visit to Africa, and the struggle against AIDS. read more

UN envoy reports Israeli commitment to suspend overflights in Lebanon

Staffan de Mistura, Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Personal Representative for Southern Lebanon, said that Israeli Minister of Defence Benjamin Ben Eliezer had expressed the commitment to UN representatives during a “difficult but frank” meeting in Israel. On the UN side, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Terje Roed-Larsen, also took part in the talks.”At the end of the meeting, the Minister of Defence of Israel gave us the confirmation that, effective immediately, there will be a suspension of all overflights over the cities of Beirut, Tyr, Sidon, Tripoli and deep inside the territory of Lebanon, and that there would be no more sonic booms over such cities,” Mr. de Mistura said in a statement after his meeting today with Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, whom he informed of the development.”We are taking the words of the Minister of Defence of Israel seriously; they were said clearly and they were said firmly,” the UN envoy stressed. “Of course, facts in the skies of Lebanon will have to prove the consistency of this commitment.”Describing the reaction of President Lahoud, Mr. de Mistura said that Lebanese leader “very appropriately, reminded me that according to Lebanon any action beyond the Blue Line [of Israeli withdrawal] is an infringement. In fact, we as United Nations are mandated to request the respect of the Blue Line by all concerned and involved sides.” read more

Annan names Finnish general top military observer for IndiaPakistan mission

Secretary-General Kofi Annan today announced the appointment of a Finnish general to the top post at the United Nations Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP).Major-General Pertti Juhani Puonti takes over as the mission’s Chief Military Observer from Major-General Hermann K. Loidolt of Austria, who has led the Group since July 2001.Major-General Puonti, who is currently the Chief of Staff of Finland’s Northern Command Headquarters, previously served as a military observer in the UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO). In 1992, he was commanding officer of the Finnish Construction Battalion in the UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR).

UN delivers new shipment of emergency reproductive health supplies to Iraq

In an effort to restore reproductive health services in Iraq, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has delivered a new shipment of emergency reproductive health supplies to key maternity hospitals and primary healthcare centres in Baghdad.The shipment included much needed emergency obstetric care supplies, clean delivery equipment, contraceptives, syringes, essential drugs and other medical supplies sent by the UNFPA office in Iran, the agency said in a press release. The supplies were distributed among healthcare centres by UNFPA and the Iraqi Ministry of Health. Priority was given to healthcare facilities serving densely populated areas, those that were directly affected by the war, and others located in areas in need of immediate support.Additional UNFPA shipments of reproductive health supplies are expected to arrive in Baghdad soon. read more

Dues arrears force borrowing from peacekeeping funds UN official says

Under-Secretary-General for Management Catherine Bertini told the General Assembly’s Administrative and Budgetary Committee on Tuesday that unpaid regular budget assessments from 78 countries totalled $693 million, while the arrears for peacekeeping was $1.56 billion.”The financial stability of the organization is under pressure,” she said. “We must be able to rely on payment in full and on time to provide the predictable resource base needed to carry out all our mandated activities.”The United States contributed $31 million of its regular dues earlier in the year and said it would send in another $233 million to $341 million, depending on congressional action, by the end of the year. If it got the lower amount, the United Nations would be $5 million in the red; if the higher amount, it would have a surplus of $103 million, Ms. Bertini said.At the end of September, the United States owed $732 million for peacekeeping, but it paid $252 million of that on Monday, she said. Fourteen other major contributors owed $464 million.Nonetheless, the organization was reimbursing Member States for troops and equipment as promptly as possible. It had paid $339 million in troop costs and planned to add another $64 million by year’s end, she said.Meanwhile, the war crime tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia were $117 million in the hole, compared to an unpaid amount at this time last year of just $49 million, so they, too, had had to borrow from peacekeeping funds, Ms. Bertini said. Sixty States had paid their tribunal assessments in full, but five major contributors owed $102 million and 126 others owed $15 million. read more

AsiaPacific governments must do more to stop spread of HIV UN official

“We are at risk in the Pacific of a serious HIV epidemic,” Asia-Pacific Regional Director for the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS, Prasada Rao told the audience of more than 300 delegates representing government, scientific and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) at the Pan Pacific Regional HIV/AIDS conference in Auckland.”The question is not whether this will happen, but when this will happen,” he predicted. ‘Whether it does or not will depend on the decisions made now, not in ten years,” he added, underlining that governments and donors must do more to shore up the inadequate resources for HIV prevention, treatment and care across the Pacific.In Papua, New Guinea an estimate 1.7 per cent of the adult population or approximately 47,000 people are already infected with HIV, and the epidemic is on its way to spreading through the rest of the Pacific region, with potentially devastating results, Dr. Rao said.”In small nations, we are talking about the very survival of peoples, cultures, languages,” and security of the country, Dr. Rao said. “We need governments throughout the Pacific to make substantial commitments by investing now,” he added. read more

Annan urges attention to grave and growing problem of unemployed youth

Addressing the fourth European Union/Latin America and Caribbean Heads of State Summit, being held in Vienna, he warned that the failure to deliver jobs can weaken faith in democracy, and undermine popular support for reasonable economic reforms.“Today, such discontent is palpable in many parts of Latin America, where high unemployment has led to reduced confidence both in democratic institutions and in the market economy,” he said, noting also that Caribbean democracies suffer from “an unemployment-fuelled assault of violence, drugs and HIV/AIDS.”Meanwhile, “persistent unemployment in developed economies such as those in Europe creates conditions that xenophobic and other extremist political movements seek to exploit,” he added.Explaining the benefits of providing jobs to young people, he said youth employment creates consumers, savers and taxpayers while alleviating problems like drug abuse and crime. “Most important, it gives young people a sense of purpose, and a real stake in the success of their communities,” he said.To generate jobs for youth, he called for direct policies on the issue. “We must re-evaluate our approach, and place job creation right next to economic growth in national and international economic and social policies,” he said.He also recommended fostering both increased employment opportunities for the young, and their improved employability. “In effect, Governments must seek to create and to increase both the demand for youth labour and the supply of young people with the skills that are needed,” he said.The Secretary-General called for a broad-based approach to the issue. “No country, and no single actor, can take on this challenge alone. Governments cannot do it without business; and business cannot do it without trade unions and civil society at large. We need genuine coalitions for change, in which all of us unite our efforts behind a common purpose. The United Nations system stands ready to assist in this work,” he said. read more

Middle East UN team leader cites promising first efforts but says much

“I can announce today that we have made some promising first efforts on the way forward. My team has discussed concrete ideas with the Government of Lebanon. We leave shortly for Israel, where we will convey these ideas for further discussion,”Vijay Nambiar, the Secretary-General’s Special Political Adviser, told reporters.“I must stress that this is a first step and much diplomatic work needs to be done before we arrive at any grounds for optimism,” he said.“Our work will require the support and goodwill for my delegation from all the parties. But they should know that the consequences of failure could indeed be grave,” he warned.Mr. Nambiar, who is accompanied by Alvaro de Soto and Terje Roed-Larsen, made his remarks after what he described as “a productive round of meetings” with the Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, Nabih Berri, and Prime Minister Fuad Siniora. “Our meetings have been very useful and I believe the Lebanese Government has a crucial role to play in restoring peace and security in Lebanon and the region,” Mr. Nambiar said, adding that after conveying the details of these meetings to Israeli officials the team may return to Lebanon to explore these ideas further, although he stressed there was no time to lose.“Time is of the essence. Creative solutions have to be found in order to prevent a broadening and deepening of the conflict.”The team, which Secretary-General Kofi Annan decided to send to the region last week, has already visited Egypt on its regional mission and apart from Israel may also travel to Syria, Jordan and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. read more

Calling on Israel to end Lebanon blockade Annan urges Hizbollah to free

Mr. Annan made his remarks after meeting Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and his cabinet to further discuss implementation of Security Council resolution 1701 that ended the recent month-long conflict between Hizbollah and Israel. “The Secretary-General… called for the lifting of the Israeli blockade and the return of the Israeli soldiers. He also stressed the importance of having ‘one law, one authority and one gun’ in Lebanon,” United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York. On his arrival in Beirut, Mr. Annan said this was a “very critical time,” and stressed that it was important for him to discuss personally with the Lebanese authorities the aftermath of the war and the measures being taken to implement UN resolutions, “and also to underscore international solidarity.” Later the Secretary-General also met with Lebanese Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri, during which he assured him that the UN and the international community wanted to work “very, very effectively with the parties” to ensure full implementation of resolution 1701 so that there will be “long-term peace in this region.” “We have a chance now to have a long-term ceasefire and a long-term peace and we all need to work together. This is the purpose of my visit here.” The Secretary-General is also scheduled to have a working dinner hosted by Prime Minister Siniora which Alain Pelligrini, the head of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), will also attend. UNIFIL said today its force commander had met senior representatives of the Lebanese and Israeli armies this morning at the Ras Naqoura border crossing in the south to discuss and coordinate the latest progress of withdrawal and deployment as stipulated by resolution 1701. It described the meeting as “productive” and said others were scheduled. From Lebanon, Mr. Annan is also scheduled to travel to Israel to discuss the cessation of hostilities and longer-term peace in the Middle East and he will then go to other countries in the region, including Iran. The Secretary-General’s trip follows his high-level meeting with European Union (EU) ministers in Brussels on Friday during which EU countries agreed to provide the ‘backbone’ to a beefed-up UN force of up to 15,000 troops in Lebanon as called for by resolution 1701. European officials said between 5,600 and 6,900 extra soldiers were pledged during the meeting, plus sea, air and logistical support, and Mr. Annan has said it is vital that advanced units of this expanded force be on the ground as soon as possible. read more