US Department of State Daily Press Briefing #83: Friday, 5/17/91

Boucher Source: State Department Deputy Spokesman Richard Boucher Description: 12:29 PM, Washington, DC Date: May 17, 19915/17/91 Category: Briefings Region: MidEast/North Africa, East Asia, South America, E/C Europe, Subsaharan Africa Country: Iraq, Kuwait, South Korea, Libya, USSR (former), Angola, Uruguay, Yugoslavia (former), Lebanon Subject: Development/Relief Aid, State Department, POW/MIA Issues, Trade/Economics, Regional/Civil Unrest, Refugees, United Nations (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED) MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I don't have any statements for you today, so I'd be glad to take your questions.

[Libya: Ex-POWs resettled in US]

Q Can you tell us anything about these 300 Libyans who are being flown to New York from Kenya? MR. BOUCHER: About 350. This is a group of Libyan POWs who had been in Chad for several years. They have refused to return to Libya after the Chadian coup of last November. These individuals sought assistance through the international community. They were subsequently interviewed by the International Red Cross and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Both organizations determined that the individuals met the refugee determination. That is, that they had a well-founded fear of persecution if they should return to Libya. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees then sought third country resettlement on behalf of these refugees. The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service interviewed all those who had been referred to the United States for possible admission to the United States as refugees. The Immigration and Naturalization Service determined that some 350 persons qualified for the U.S. refugee program. All aspects of their processing, transportation and resettlement in the United States are being handled through the U.S. refugee program. This will include access to the normal resettlement assistance provided to refugees, such as English language and vocational training and cash and medical assistance, if necessary. These people landed in the United States yesterday. They have gone on to various destinations around the United States, but in recognition of refugees' right to privacy, our normal practice is not to comment on specific cases, including dates of arrival, destinations in the United States or the identities of their local sponsors. Q How many decided to go to Libya before? MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I have a number on that. We put out a rundown of the situation -- where it was on March 12 -- and at that point we said the Government of Libya had visited the location in Zaire where they were and persuaded a number to return home. But it was the majority who had no desire to return to Libya. Q Richard, what, if any, arrangements are being made for their security? MR. BOUCHER: The flights -- if that's what you're asking about when they came -- Q No. I mean now that they're here. MR. BOUCHER: -- they came on commercial charters and normal airline security precautions were taken. Q I mean here. MR. BOUCHER: We don't see any increased threat to their security here. Q After their defection from their army units, did they have any operational role in the war in Chad? MR. BOUCHER: Jim, the description that I'll give you is the description that we gave in the answer on March 12, and it was: Several hundred Libyan ex-POWs in Chad, who had formed an anti-Libyan force -- the Libyan National Army -- had to flee Chad at the time of the fall of the Habre government. Q And did they actually get into military operations? MR. BOUCHER: Not that I'm aware of. Q Is this sort of a reward -- their refugee status a reward for siding against their former government? MR. BOUCHER: These are people who are legitimate refugees. They were interviewed by international organizations. They were interviewed by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. I think it's easy for people to understand how a group of people who had formed an anti-Libyan force would face a well-founded fear of persecution should they try to return to Libya. They're refugees. They're being handled as refugees. Q Does their dispersal around the country mean that the United States no longer has any interest in using them as a force to go back to Libya? MR. BOUCHER: They're being resettled as refugees in places where they can live and start new lives. Q But they are not treated as people with political asylum in the country? MR. BOUCHER: There's a technical difference between political asylum and refugees, and I probably couldn't explain it to you. But they're people who meet the international definition of having a well-founded fear of persecution. They are refugees when they come from outside the United States, and that's why they're here. Q They have the right to practice political activity in any way? Inside this country, I mean. MR. BOUCHER: They have the same rights as other people inside this country. Q Did every single one of these people who was seeking refugee status get it? MR. BOUCHER: The people that were referred to us by the High Commissioner and the International Red Cross -- all those that were referred to us, we felt qualified as refugees. Q Were there any others who were referred to other places? MR. BOUCHER: As far as I'm aware, no other countries resettled any people in this group. Q So they got 100 percent refugee status, because they were part of a CIA force? MR. BOUCHER: Chris, they got refugee status -- Q I mean, this is an astoundingly good percentage. I mean, if you took 350 refugees from anywhere else in the [world] and they applied here, I don't think they all might make it. MR. BOUCHER: Chris, I think if you take about 350 people who'd formed an anti-Libyan army -- Q Kurds, for instance. MR. BOUCHER: -- and asked, "Is it safe for you to go back to Libya?" -- I think it wouldn't be hard for any of us to agree that they couldn't go back to Libya. And that's how they qualified as refugees. Q It's nice they can come here. Q Why did they come here instead of staying in Zaire or going to some other third country? MR. BOUCHER: We explained all along that in the process, in the route that they traveled, that the governments had said that their presence in those countries had to be temporary. Again, if you look back at what we put up on March 12, we described how the Zaire government made clear from the beginning that it could only provide short term sanctuary. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees identified another temporary site. This was Kenya. The Government of Kenya agreed to meet this need to accept the POWs temporarily until permanent resettlement sites are found. They were referred to us. We interviewed them and we decided they qualified as refugees, and that we were able to resettle them. Q How did they come to leave their army units? Were they captured by Chadian forces, or did they defect, or what? MR. BOUCHER: They were prisoners of war in Chad. Q So they were captured then. MR. BOUCHER: I assume so. I don't know how many might have walked across and how many were captured in battle. I don't know. Q Richard, do you see this as a function of Qadhafi influence in Africa -- refusal by other governments to host them? MR. BOUCHER: I think you'll have to go to other governments and ask them to explain. We were dealing with a situation where they were very properly, appropriately and kindly given temporary sanctuary by other governments. We had to also -- working with the international organizations -- find a permanent place of resettlement, and that was found here. Q But surely you see this as an unfriendly move by the governments who refused to cooperate with the United States in settling them? MR. BOUCHER: I certainly would not say that. I would say right from the start it was clear that these countries could only offer short term refuge. Q New subject? Q One other question: Is the Government -- U.S. Government -- providing these people with any security at all at this point? MR. BOUCHER: These people are being resettled as refugees. Q But are we providing them with any security? You said that they are not -- you don't see any increased threat to their security. Do you see any threat to their security and, if so, are you making -- MR. BOUCHER: I don't think security is part of the package of resettlement for refugees. These people are being handled as refugees. Q Last one on the same subject: Do you have any idea about the fate of those who have chosen to go to Libya? They are well treated? They are imprisoned, or whatever? MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any information on that. Q Has the United States received a letter from Soviet President Gorbachev, addressed to all the members of the G-7, asking for economic aid and offering in exchange extensive structural economic reforms? MR. BOUCHER: I don't know, Bill. Q There's a report out today. MR. BOUCHER: A quick answer: I don't know. The President addressed the issue of Gorbachev and the G-7 over the course of the past few days. I hadn't heard anything new since then. Q This was specifically, apparently a request to each of them. MR. BOUCHER: I'll look into it, but I'd suggest also that you ask the White House since many Gorbachev letters go there. Q Richard, where do we stand now on the guard unit or police force, or whatever that thing is called, this week? MR. BOUCHER: The discussions between the United Nations representative, Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, and the Iraqi government are continuing. We certainly hope that they will come to fruition and the refugees will be provided the kind of safety that they need to return to their homes. Q Are they meeting on a regular basis now? Is this like the Middle East mission for the Secretary? Is he shuttling back and forth? MR. BOUCHER: You can go ask them. I think we reported to you the fact of Sadruddin Aga Khan's conversations over the weekend and the fact that his representative was continuing talks after that. During the course of this week, those talks have continued in Baghdad. Q Are we talking about 400 to 500 -- or they were talking about 400 to 500 peacekeeping personnel, which you said sounded pretty good to this Administration? Are they still talking? MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I said that, Steve. I just said they're still talking. Q Well, you said something to that effect -- they're positive -- MR. BOUCHER: I said they're still talking and I don't have any new details for you today. Q Have they slowed up? Some of us expected this to be concluded a little more quickly. Is anything holding these talks up? MR. BOUCHER: I don't know why you expected this to be concluded more quickly. The discussions have been going on in Baghdad. They continue in Baghdad. We certainly hope that they will come to fruition soon. Q You don't know of anything that's holding them up? MR. BOUCHER: Nothing particular, no. Q Do you have anything on these reports that the Iraqi Government in recent days has razed several thousand homes of those belonging to dissident elements in southern Iraq? MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't. Q It's on Iranian News Services. MR. BOUCHER: No, I hadn't seen that. I'll look into that and see if we have anything.

[Angola: Cease-fire Violations]

Q Richard, there are continued reports or allegations, if you want to call them that, that UNITA is violating the cease-fire in Angola. Do you have anything on that? MR. BOUCHER: Our understanding of the situation with the cease-fire is that there was a de facto cessation of hostilities that began at midnight, May 15, Angolan time. This followed the parties' formal notification to the Portuguese Prime Minister of their acceptance of the language of the Angola peace accords which were initialed on May 1. Despite on-going skirmishes, prior to midnight, May 15, we have no indications that the truce has been violated by either GPRA or UNITA forces. We are concerned that continuing significant troop movements by the Luanda government toward areas under UNITA control could lead to unnecessary clashes. We are encouraging UNITA and the GPRA to establish direct contact to avoid misunderstandings and misperceptions regarding military matters. A formal cease-fire monitored by the United Nations will enter into force upon signature of the Angola Peace Accords at the end of this month in Lisbon. Q If violations were confirmed by either side, would that compromise the signing of the agreement? MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. That would be speculative at this point. Q Are troop movements allowed under the terms of the cease-fire? MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that, Jim. The importance is that we have a de facto cessation of hostilities that should be turned into a formal cease-fire. Once the accords are signed, we think it's important for people to avoid clashes, to avoid any misunderstandings or accidental clashes. That's why we've been urging them to get in direct contact to avoid that. Q Richard, now that the Secretary is back, and questions are no longer referred to the party on the road, can you tell us whether or not the window of opportunity for peace in the Middle East is open, closed, slightly ajar? MR. BOUCHER: I can tell you that the Secretary spoke to the status of his discussions as he was leaving Israel yesterday; that he should be meeting with the President right now, and that I don't have anything to add to what he said yesterday.

[Lebanon: Syria's Role]

Q Richard, do you have any comment on the statement made by Mr. Arens with regard to the role of Syria in Lebanon, characterizing it as "absorbing Lebanon all together," and things like that? MR. BOUCHER: I guess there had been some statements about Syrian hegemony, or something like that, about Lebanon by various parties. I hadn't really noted the one by Minister Arens, but I think others have been saying that. I'd say that's certainly not our objective, nor is that the objective of the Taif Accords. The Lebanese-Syrian Treaty is one of a number of steps that's called for in the Taif Accords which have as their objectives the extension of Lebanese government authority over all of the country and the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Lebanon. We would look forward to reviewing the text of the treaty once it's available. We'll be looking closely at the manner in which it's implemented in light of the goals that we've just mentioned. Q Do you see any connection between these statements and the latest news about Israeli intentions to attack in south Lebanon? MR. BOUCHER: If you're asking whether Minister Arens sees the connections, I don't know. These accords were called for by the Taif Accords. It's one of the steps that was planned. We've known about it. Everybody has known about it all along. We have been in touch with the various parties about the implementation of the Taif Accords. I think our very strong support for the full implementation of the Taif Accords is very well known. Q How about the timing of the statements coming just hours after Secretary Baker left Israel? MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any speculation on why other people said things when they said them. As I said, I haven't really focused on remarks by Minister Arens. Q Have you got any comment on the continuing trouble in Korea? MR. BOUCHER: In Korea? Q Yes. MR. BOUCHER: I think I'll get you something on that, if I can. Q Do you have anything today on Yugoslovia? MR. BOUCHER: Well, I have the same thing I had yesterday. My understanding is that the discussions are still going on in Yugoslovia. As I said yesterday, we attach great importance to the orderly transfer of constitutional authority. We are disappointed that Serbia continues to block such a transfer despite assurances to the contrary, and we believe the transfer is essential to progress towards a united and democratic Yugoslovia. Q So nothing since yesterday? MR. BOUCHER: Our views remain the same. A remarkable consistency in U.S. policy. Q Is the United States encouraged by the latest -- anti-crisis program in the Soviet Union with 13 republics agreeing to it? MR. BOUCHER: We don't have enough information on that to comment in detail based on the press reports we've seen. They announced this agreement on May 16. It's a new program of anti-crisis measures. The details haven't been released and it's difficult for us to comment, therefore, on the significance. It's also unclear what the relationship is between this new agreement and the decree issued on May 16 by President Gorbachev of emergency economic measures to guarantee operations in basic industries. The decree, apparently, instructs authorities to take extreme measures to maintain output in the energy, metallurgy, chemical and rail sectors. Some administrative incentives are offered, but strikes are banned and penalties are created for strike organizers. We do not believe that political and economic stability can be restored by suspending legitimate, peaceful, democratic forms of expression, including legitimate political activity and the right to strike. Q Richard, did the United States play any part in the consultation between Mr. Gorbachev and Mr. Yeltsin? MR. BOUCHER: None that I'm aware of. Q Will you take the question? MR. BOUCHER: I think any explanation of how they got together on this is best left to them, frankly. Q Do you have anything on the visit next week by Uruguary's President, Lacalle, and whether the issue of bank secrecy will be discussed? MR. BOUCHER: I'm afraid I just don't know. I'll have to get you something later on that. Q Thank you. (Press briefing concluded at 12:47 p.m.)