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UN News: Israel, Aghanistan, Ireland & East Timor

UN News: Israel, Aghanistan, Ireland And East Timor

HEADLINES:
- Annan urges Israel to halt strikes in West Bank
- Air strikes against Afghan city of Herat send civilians fleeing, UN reports
- UN food agency signs new accords to provide aid throughout Afghanistan
- Annan hails Irish Republican Army announcement on disarmament
- East Timor: talks with Indonesia on legal issues 'generally positive,' UN says


Annan urges Israel to halt strikes in West Bank

24 October – Secretary-General Kofi Annan today urged Israel to halt its strikes against a Palestinian-controlled area in the West Bank, and to ensure that medical and relief workers could reach those hurt in the attack.

"The Secretary-General is very disturbed to learn that, in spite of international calls on Israel to withdraw its armed forces from Palestinian controlled areas in the West Bank, Israel has instead intensified its occupation of those areas," said his spokesman, Fred Eckhard, in a statement released in New York.

Mr. Eckhard cited particular concern over reports from the village of Beit Rima, where Israeli forces launched a major assault today resulting in substantial loss of life. "The Secretary-General calls on Israel to cease this attack immediately, withdraw all its forces from Area A [which is under full Palestinian control] and also ensure that Palestinian ambulances and ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] personnel have full access to the wounded in the village," the spokesman said.

Mr. Eckhard also repeated Mr. Annan's longstanding call for a return to the negotiating table. "The Secretary-General reiterates that this further dangerous escalation, quite apart from being a breach of signed agreements, only deepens the cycle of violence in the region where tensions are already at boiling point," the statement said. Stressing that there was no alternative to a negotiated political solution to the conflict, the spokesman said that Mr. Annan strongly urged the parties "to return to this path."

Meanwhile in Gaza, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Terje Roed Larsen, met today with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, who informed him of the Israeli Defence Force incursion into and around the West Bank village of Beit Rima.

In New York, spokesman Eckhard noted that while it was difficult to obtain information about the village as the Israeli operation continued, "our office in Gaza says that at least nine Palestinians have been confirmed killed, and many others are reported injured."

Late on Tuesday, the UN Security Council met to consider a letter from the Ambassadors of Mali and Qatar requesting "an immediate meeting" to deal with the question of Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian areas. "Council members discussed the issue, but did not come to any decision yesterday afternoon on holding such a meeting," said Mr. Eckhard, adding that the body's current President, Ambassador Richard Ryan of Ireland, would continue to consult with the members on possible Security Council action in the coming days.

*******

Air strikes against Afghan city of Herat send civilians fleeing, UN reports

24 October – Some 70 per cent of the population of the Afghan city of Herat has fled to surrounding villages in the wake of recent air strikes, which included the use of cluster bombs, the United Nations reported today.

The strikes, which occurred on Monday night into Tuesday morning, prompted fearful villagers to visit the UN-supported Mine Action Centre, according to UN spokesperson Stephanie Bunker, who briefed the press today in Islamabad. "They told the Mine Action Centre that many bomblets were littering their village and that they were afraid and could not leave their houses," she said.

Confirming the peril of these weapons, Dan Kelly, Manager of the Mine Action Programme for Afghanistan, said, "Villagers do have a lot to be afraid of as these bomblets, if they did not explode on impact, are very dangerous and can explode if touched." There are normally as many as 200 bomblets in each cluster bomb.

The bomblets contain a small shaped charge, which provides the explosive energy to puncture through 125 millimetres of armoured steel, Mr Kelly said. "When the bomblet explodes, it splits up into hundreds of high velocity pieces of shrapnel each travelling at the speed of a bullet," he noted. In addition, these munitions will ignite any combustible materials in the immediate vicinity.

The Mine Action Centre Quick Reaction Team in Herat is working to clear paths for the villagers while sandbagging the devices. "They are putting sandbags around the bomblets for a very good reason: Our de-miners are not familiar with and have not yet been trained to destroy these devices," explained Mr. Kelly. He appealed for information about the types of cluster munitions used "so that we can train our people and prevent further loss of human life."

*******

UN food agency signs new accords to provide aid throughout Afghanistan

24 October – The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today announced that it has reached new agreements with 19 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working inside Afghanistan, paving the way for the distribution of food throughout the country.

"As all of these NGOs are operational in the rural areas of Afghanistan, WFP will now be able to bypass our logistic hubs in urban areas and go directly to the needy people," agency spokesperson Heather Hill told reporters in Islamabad. She characterized the development as a shift in WFP's logistical strategy enabling the agency to "save time and assist more people."

New agreements with additional NGOs are expected in the coming days "in order to cover as many food insecure areas as possible," she added.

In Islamabad, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar today said his country would do its best to provide temporary care for displaced Afghans and expressed hope that the UN would be able to "mobilize adequate funds for the maintenance of these unfortunate persons for the duration of their stay and then ensure their return to their own country."


Speaking at a flag-raising ceremony on the occasion of UN Day, which marks the Organization's founding, Mr. Sattar signalled his country's strong support for the world body, calling it "the repository of humanity's deepest hopes" for the preservation of international peace and security. "All of us must hope that the community of States will enable the United Nations to discharge its duty effectively," he said.

Pakistan will be the first stop for Lakhdar Brahimi, Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Representative for Afghanistan, when he begins his visit to the region over the weekend. Today, Mr. Brahimi continued consultations in New York in advance of his mission.

*******

Annan hails Irish Republican Army announcement on disarmament

24 October – The United Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, today welcomed the announcement by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) that it had begun disarmament.

"This decision is a watershed in the history of Northern Ireland, and also addresses one of the critical challenges of post-conflict peacebuilding - specifically, control over and the disposal of weapons," a spokesman for Mr. Annan said in a statement released at UN Headquarters in New York.

"The Secretary-General calls on all parties concerned to seize this unique opportunity to consolidate the Good Friday Agreement further, and on those who had left the process to re-enter Northern Ireland's devolved government," the statement said.


*******

East Timor: talks with Indonesia on legal issues 'generally positive,' UN says

24 October – Senior officials from the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) today said their recent meetings with the Indonesian Attorney General in Jakarta had been constructive, but more needed to be done to resolve outstanding legal issues.

"We had generally positive discussions with the Attorney General and his staff on a number of justice related issues," said Dennis McNamara, the deputy head of UNTAET, adding that a number of specific issues spanning as far back as 1975 were raised. "But there are many issues outstanding. We need much more active cooperation from the Indonesian side if we are going to make real progress."

Mr. McNamara's remarks came at a press conference in Dili, where he briefed journalists on the first meeting last week between UNTAET officials and new Attorney General Mohamad Abdurrahman. The UNTAET deputy was accompanied by the Special Advisor to the Prosecutor General, Mohamed Othman.

The meeting was a follow-up to the 12 September visit to Indonesia by UNTAET chief Sergio Vieira de Mello, Chief Minister Mari Alkatiri, Cabinet Member for Foreign Affairs José Ramos-Horta and independence leader Xanana Gusmão during which they met with Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri and other senior Indonesian Government representatives.

Mr. McNamara said that his delegation had proposed monthly meetings with the Indonesians in order to go through each of the cases in detail, and suggested the next meeting would be held in Dili in November.

Meanwhile, the East Timorese Council of Ministers today approved the creation of two new institutions to fight poverty in the territory following agreements between UNTAET and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) signed in December 2000.

The decision to set up a Foundation for the Reduction of Poverty in East Timor and a Society for Micro-finance in East Timor came after an ADB briefing to the Council on a micro-finance project that would boost development in East Timor and reduce its poverty.


ENDS

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