UN High Commissioner for Refugees seeks assistance for the Balkans

In the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, the High Commissioner was heartened by a new generation of government officials determined to find solutions for the refugees and the displaced, said Peter Kessler, spokesman for the Geneva-based UNHCR. The pace of returns to some areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina has begun to accelerate, Mr. Kessler said, with nearly 90,000 minority returns registered in the past 18 months – almost 22,000 of which in the first five months of this year, twice the figure for the same period a year ago. “Each and every one of these individual returnees is an investment in the future of this troubled region,” Mr. Lubbers said.Most returnees are in urgent need of reconstruction assistance, with many living in tents and other makeshift shelters next to their destroyed or damaged homes. Funds are needed for building some 15,000 houses, UNHCR said, and with the large numbers now returning, many could face real hardship this winter — or perhaps again abandon their homes if they cannot get help. Their success or failure will have a major influence on thousands of others still considering return. According to UNHCR, bureaucratic foot-dragging and the failure to enact property laws returning homes to their rightful owners constitute major obstacles. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, some 190,000 houses are still to be returned to their pre-war owners.Mr. Lubbers flew from Sarajevo to Kosovo today. He will go next to Skopje, the capital of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and southern Serbia. read more

Afghanistan UN health agency sends medical supplies to avert displacement

“Though a functioning health centre alone will not keep people in a village or be the main reason why they return, it is an essential part of the jigsaw of social and economic support needed to avert displacement and encourage return,” explained WHO’s representative to Afghanistan, Dr. Said Salah Youssef.The WHO official said adequate medical care could prompt families to decide to stay in the country. “If a family member is sick, the pull of health services in both the larger towns in Afghanistan and over the border in Pakistan can tip the balance between staying and going,” said Dr. Youssef. Together with the UN and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), WHO is working to raise funds for projects which will help people to stay in their place of origin. Among other measures, the agency plans to refurbish basic health centres that have fallen into disuse because of inadequate drugs, poor equipment and lack of pay for staff.WHO also hopes to pre-position drug supplies to allow quick response to epidemics in Afghanistan. In addition, the agency is helping with water quality monitoring while supporting intensified health education campaigns. read more

UN environment agency announces new talks on hazardous waste treaty

Participants will be discussing technical guidelines for the environmentally sound management of waste lead-acid batteries, metal and metal compounds, plastic wastes, persistent organic pollutants, and the dismantling of ships. These are all covered by the Basel Convention on the Control of the Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal. In addition, the experts will consider adjusting the lists of wastes considered hazardous or non-hazardous under the treaty, and will debate proposals on asphalt wastes and edible oil wastes, like frying oils. The Basel Convention was adopted in March 1989 after a series of notorious “toxic cargoes” from industrialized countries drew public attention to the dumping of hazardous wastes in developing and East European countries, according to UNEP. The treaty, which has 149 parties, obliges its members to ensure that such wastes are managed and disposed of in an environmentally sound manner. Governments are expected to minimize the quantities that are transported, to treat and dispose of wastes as close as possible to where they were generated, and to minimize the generation of hazardous waste. read more

Liberia Security Council reviews sanctions discusses draft text for Mondays vote

After meeting in closed-door consultations to review the sanctions imposed on Liberia for its support for the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) of Sierra Leone and other armed groups in the region, the United Nations Security Council today said it had also discussed a draft resolution that it intended to vote on next Monday.During the consultations, the Council heard a briefing by a senior UN official on the latest report by Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Liberia’s compliance with the measures imposed by the Council in March 2001 by resolution 1343, Council President Kishore Mahbubani said in a statement to the press after the meeting. In the report, the Secretary-General, in part, says that while the Mano River Union countries have been holding a series of meetings to find a permanent solution to the region’s crisis, greater efforts are still needed to restore lasting peace in Liberia,Mr. Annan reports that starting with a summit in February of the leaders of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, which was hosted by Morocco, several other meetings at the technical and ministerial levels have also been convened and that a second Rabat summit meeting has reportedly been scheduled for this month.Moreover, efforts are being made to find a solution to the current fighting within Liberia with a view to achieving national reconciliation and, ultimately, lasting peace in the country, Mr. Annan says. He notes that a pre-reconciliation conference was held in March, under the auspices of ECOWAS, between Government representatives and members of opposition political parties, civil society and religious and community leaders, in preparation for a full-fledged national reconciliation conference in Monrovia in July.”Much remains to be done to restore sustainable peace in Liberia, whose stability is essential for the stability of the wider Mano River Union,” the Secretary-General writes. “I have no doubt that the Council, as it considers the appropriate follow-up to resolution 1343, will take stock of developments and strive towards consolidating the momentum that the Rabat summit, in particular, seems to have generated.” read more

Kosovo UN envoy unveils plan to return divided city of Mitrovica to

“If we just leave things as they are, they will slide even further. We need to stop this slide,” Michael Steiner, the Special Representative of Secretary-General Kofi Annan and chief of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), said in a speech last night in Mitrovica. Mr. Steiner promised the Serb community living in northern Mitrovica that UN police and the international Kosovo Force (KFOR) would keep watch to ensure that there were no incursions from the southern part of the city, which he said was unlikely to happen. Serbs from northern Mitrovica, meanwhile, have begun to join the Kosovo Police Service. The UN envoy also said that what was needed was a new start for governing all of Mitrovica so that important decisions in the municipality were taken jointly. Common interests needed to be decided at the level of the municipality, while specific interests could be dealt with at a more local level. “I propose a coalition agreement after the elections, under my auspices, between Serb and Albanian political parties in the Municipal Assembly,” Mr. Steiner said. “That agreement would ensure that, irrespective of size, the communities would have their say on the municipal level.” As for the upcoming elections, he urged all Mitrovica residents to participate in the polls, warning that without taking part, “the Serb community will have excluded itself from political life for the next four years.” Mr. Steiner said that he was prepared to move an important part of UNMIK’s administration, the Kosovo Trust Agency, to northern Mitrovica, and to organize a conference of donors and potential investors specifically for the town. “This is a time when the destiny of Mitrovica is being decided,” he said. “What I have outlined is the way to recover your future.” read more

DR of Congo UNbacked mission to assess refugee site hit by rebel

Delphine Marie, a spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told reporters in Geneva that the Diocèse de Mahagi would dispatch a team to the village of Biringi, where some of the 17,000 Sudanese refugees who fled last week’s fighting between rival rebel groups are now beginning to trickle back. Working on UNHCR’s behalf, the team will evaluate possible casualties among the local and refugee populations.UNHCR’s own staff based in Aru, 80 kilometres east of Biringi near the border with Uganda, have not been able to travel to the refugee sites because of security concerns. “Although there is no fighting along the Aru-Biringi main road, heavy military presence is reported and the roads are still unsafe,” Ms. Marie said.While the fighting has apparently moved to the west of Biringi, UNHCR remains concerned about the overall security situation in the northeast, where there are some 75,000 Sudanese refugees.Clashes between rebels of the Congolese Patriotic Union/Popular Rally (UPC-RP) and ethnic Lendu militias first started in Biringi over a week ago. The refugee settlement was “overrun by the UPC-RP rebels who caused panic and drove more than 14,500 refugees in Biringi, along with locals, into the bush,” the spokeswoman reported.Last Thursday, further fighting between the two groups shifted the conflict to the nearby refugee settlement of Ayamba, on the outskirts of Biringi, causing another 2,500 Sudanese refugees and staff of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working with UNHCR to flee as Lendu militias looted the settlement, the agency said. read more

SecretaryGeneral deplores killing of Palestinian civilians

“Not for the first time, the Secretary-General reminds Israel that the disproportionate use of force in densely populated areas is not compatible with international humanitarian law,” spokesperson Hua Jiang said at news briefing.Mr. Annan called again on both sides to take every measure to avoid harming innocent civilians, she added.Meanwhile, Syria, chairing the Arab Group for October, submitted a draft resolution for consideration by the 15-member Security Council. The text protests Israel’s construction of a separation barrier in the occupied Palestinian territories.The draft, sent to the Security Council President for October, Ambassador John Negroponte of the United States, urges the Council to decide “that the construction by Israel, the occupying power, of a wall in the Occupied Territories departing from the armistice line of 1949 is illegal under relevant provisions of international law and must be ceased and reversed.”Answering questions about the draft after closed Council consultations, Ambassador Negroponte said an open meeting on the resolution would take place next Tuesday. read more

Eritrea suffering profound water shortage UN says

The drought has led people to start migrating from Northern and Southern Red Sea and Gash Barka, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). A World Food Programme (WFP) workshop on selection criteria for aid beneficiaries that should have taken place last week in Barentu, Gash Barka was postponed after a bomb went off in Barentu, killing five people and injuring 88. The device was placed under a vehicle used by musicians observing Eritrea’s 24 May independence anniversary, OCHA said. The UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) is collaborating with two non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in building a road to the site where a 45 metre water reservoir will be built to supply 2,000 people in Ashiti. A German NGO, GTZ, has also begun feasibility studies on repairing water supply systems in Agordat, Barentu, Hakikota and Tessenei. Meanwhile, some farmers have already ploughed their land in hope that the rainy season will start at the expected time in June or July, depending on the location. read more

Sudan UN human rights expert expects large number of deaths in Darfur

Video of press briefing [26mins] Briefing reporters in New York after completing a 13-day tour of Sudan earlier this month, Asma Jahangir, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said there was no doubt that Khartoum had sponsored, armed or recruited the so-called Janjaweed Arab militias.Last month two UN human rights fact-finding reports said the Janjaweed and other militias allied to the Government had committed numerous human rights violations in Darfur, including murders, rapes and the looting and destruction of villages.Ms. Jahangir said that during her visit, “nearly every third or fourth family” she spoke to in the camps for internally displaced people (IDPs) within Darfur had lost a relative to the militias.”It’s very hard to say [accurately] how many people have been killed,” she said, but interviews with IDPs indicated it would be “quite a large number…They are bound to be staggering.”Secretary-General Kofi Annan is due to arrive tomorrow in Sudan to see first-hand the situation in Darfur, which he described last week as a catastrophe. Mr. Annan will visit IDP camps and then inspect refugee camps in neighbouring Chad, as well as hold talks with government officials of Sudan and Chad.UN agencies estimate that two million people need food and humanitarian assistance as a result of the conflict. There are more than one million IDPs and at least another 150,000 others have fled to Chad.Ms. Jahangir said it is vital that the international community begins to catalogue what has happened in Darfur since fighting broke out between the Sudanese Government and two rebel groups early last year. Once it does that, it can decide what steps to take against the planners of the militia campaign.She said the militias – who, like their targets, are predominantly Muslim – often wear the uniforms of Government soldiers and use Government vehicles. They also often make their raids on villages in concert with attacks by military forces, she said.Ms. Jahangir stressed she did not have enough information yet to categorize what has happened as either ethnic cleansing or genocide, but she said “there are strong indications of crimes against humanity.”The Rapporteur is expected to hand down her formal report on her visit to Sudan by the end of next month. read more

Reconstruction in tsunamihit counties must avoid overfishing – UN meeting

Reconstruction in the countries devastated by December’s Indian Ocean tsunami should restore the livelihoods of fishers and fish farmers but must prevent the plague of over-fishing, a United Nations-backed ministerial meeting has declared.Adopted over the weekend by a group of 121 fishing ministers and high-level fisheries officials gathered at the Rome headquarters of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), including representatives from countries affected by the tsunami, the declaration stressed the need to protect the rights of fishers and fish workers and ensure their access to fishing grounds and resources.At the same time, the ministers said improving the efficiency, sustainability and governance of fisheries was also a priority, and they agreed to cooperate to ensure that reconstruction does not produce a level of fishing capacity in excess of what fishery resources can sustainably support.The tsunami, which killed more than 200,000 people in a dozen Indian Ocean countries, hit the coastal fishing industry particularly hard, inflicting losses of more than half a billion dollars with over 111,000 vessels destroyed or damaged, 36,000 engines lost and 1.7 million units of fishing gear ruined.The meeting also called for intensified action to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU), including the creation within FAO of a comprehensive global record of fishing vessels and supply and refrigerated transport ships to facilitate prevention of illegal fishing.Participants said they would renew efforts to ensure that all large-scale industrial fishing vessels operating on the high seas be fitted with vessel monitoring systems (VMS) by December 2008. VMS involves putting monitoring units on vessels that transmit data on their location and activities, allowing remote monitoring to strengthen general fisheries management as well as more effectively combat IUU fishing.FAO has identified IUU fishing as a major impediment to ensuring sustainable world fisheries. Combating it outside countries’ exclusive economic zones on the high seas, where governance is particularly complex, is not easy. read more