United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today told UN staff serving in Geneva that the safety of the Organization's personnel worldwide is a paramount concern.
"Let me assure you and those of our colleagues who are working in field operations, whether in Afghanistan, Kosovo or Congo, that your safety and theirs is a constant concern of mine and now the General Assembly is taking up this issue," Mr. Annan told the staff in Geneva, his first overseas visit since the 11 September attacks against the United States. The Assembly is currently considering a set of proposals put forward by the Secretary-General to shore up UN security measures worldwide.
In a question-and-answer session which followed, the Secretary-General addressed a range of issues, including Afghanistan, terrorism and the situation in the Middle East.
Concerning the humanitarian effort on behalf of millions of Afghans, Mr. Annan stressed the UN was working as hard as possible under very difficult circumstances. "I hope that the military action will be completed as soon as possible so that we can resume our humanitarian work in earnest in an environment which will be more secure," he said.
The Secretary-General also noted that the UN "is likely to be given another major assignment" depending on what happens in Afghanistan. He emphasized that the Afghan parties themselves must reach agreement on a broad-based Government, adding, "I hope that once it is done, we will be able to give them all the technical and administrative support and assistance that we can."
Answering a question of one staff member, Mr. Annan said he was in full agreement with the view that the root causes of terrorism needed to be confronted. "We need to fight [terrorism] on many fronts," he said, "not just sending in police or intelligence people or military, but we have to make conditions that dissuade people from getting engaged in these sorts of activities in the first place."
In response to a question about the situation in the Middle East, Mr. Annan said the search for peace was being actively pursued. "I, over the months, have been very active behind the scenes, working with the Americans, Europeans and Russians to try and see if there cannot be a collective international effort to break the impasse, and move forward, and press the parties forward, and get them back to the negotiating table," he said. "The efforts are continuing, and I hope we will see some results."
Also today, the Secretary-General visited the headquarters of the World Health Organization (WHO), where he met privately with Director-General Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland for a review of progress in setting up the Global AIDS and Health Fund. They also discussed bio-terrorism and the situation in Afghanistan.
The Secretary-General also met with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, to discuss the challenges of providing assistance to Afghan refugees.