US Department of State Daily Briefing #21: Monday, 2/10/92

Boucher Source: State Department Deputy Spokesman Richard Boucher Description: Washington, DC Date: Feb, 10 19922/10/92 Category: Briefings Region: Caribbean, E/C Europe, South Asia, MidEast/North Africa, South America, Southeast Asia Country: Haiti, Yugoslavia (former), Pakistan, India, Algeria, Iraq, Venezuela, Cambodia, Israel Subject: State Department, Refugees, United Nations, Arms Control, NATO, Trade/Economics, Regional/Civil Unrest, Immigration, Human Rights 12:20 P. M. (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED) MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I don't have any statements or announcements for you, so I'd be glad to take your questions.

[Haiti: Reports of Reprisals/US Embassy Investigations/ Repatriation Issues/Other]

Q Richard, there have been fresh reports of allegations about beatings and tortures involving the Haitians' return to their homeland. Also reports that the Department is looking into these reports, and I wonder if you have any statement or comments or observations? MR. BOUCHER: O.K. Let me try to run through what's happened with that. Yes. There were some reports. We've checked them out, and, as in our checking out of previous reports, we have no information to substantiate them. UNHCR has at least one person down in Guantanamo and has done some interviews with people down there. They've provided the Department with summaries of their interviews with a number of Haitians who claim to have been persecuted upon their return to Haiti in November, and these people were subsequently picked up at sea a second time and taken to Guantanamo. So that's where these claims come from. There were basically four individuals who made these claims. They were unsubstantiated at the time. Two of the individuals were from Port-au-Prince and two from a place called Petit Goave. They said they left Haiti in November and were repatriated later that month and were then mistreated by Haitian officials. We asked our Embassy to look into these reports. In the visits to the Port-au-Prince neighborhood and to the prison where one of the individuals said he'd been held, our Embassy officers were unable to turn up any information to corroborate that story. Our officers also went to a place called Petit Goave. They met some people -- themselves repatriates -- who know one of the individuals who made the claims of mistreatment. He had reported that they had disappeared at the hands of police. Our Embassy officers said that these people are in fact alive and well, and that people said that they had not been arrested. So in that case as well, our officers found no information to corroborate the individuals' accounts. So, as we've said before, in all these cases we take these allegations seriously. We checked them out. We, I think, reported to you on Friday a combination of Embassy people and others who were available there to check these kinds of things out, and at this point our position remains what it's been before, and that's having taken these things seriously, checked them out, we've not found information to corroborate these stories. We don't have evidence that people are being persecuted on going back. Q So you're continuing the investigation as they do come in from time to time? MR. BOUCHER: Yes. Any further reports we get, we will check out. Q So you're saying that despite these reports, which you narrow down to four individuals, you still have no evidence whatsoever of any persecution or retaliation against those who have left and been repatriated? MR. BOUCHER: That's right, Bill. Yes. Q Richard, how many of these people have been picked up for a second time? How many people in Guantanamo are there for the second time? MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I have had the numbers on that, Alan. I'll try to see if we can get them. I think there is a substantial number of people. Q There are surely more than four, right? Q There's a public -- MR. BOUCHER: Yes. There were at least 41 or 42, I think, that UNHCR -- at least that I've seen reported that UNHCR interviewed, and I think all those people were said to be "double-backers," as we say. I will check and see if we ever had a total number for the number of people that have come in a second time. Q And of those "double-backers," how many have been found to have a plausible case -- plausible enough, at least, to be brought to the United States and have that -- their claim pursued further? MR. BOUCHER: I don't know the total numbers on that. Q Could you get that number? MR. BOUCHER: Yes. Q Richard, is the U.S. making any modification in its plans to send them back to Haiti while you're pending investigation of these complaints? MR. BOUCHER: Not at this point, Carl. As I said, we check out all these complaints. We checked out these four specific claims that were of sufficient concern to us that we sent people out to investigate these claims. As I said, we don't have any information to corroborate them. We'll continue to check out any reports we get like this, but we continue to process people in accordance with our laws and in accordance with the procedures that we've been handling. As for repatriations, there were 200 people that went back on Saturday. There are a further 510 that are going back today, and we expect there will be another 500 this week on Wednesday and 500 more on Friday. Q How confident are you that you are able to determine what is actually going on inside Haiti, and that you are not -- or that your Consular Officers aren't simply being told what it is safe to tell them? And do they in fact get back into the interior of the country where some of these abuses are alleged to have taken place? MR. BOUCHER: They do get to places in the interior. We have a combination of mechanisms that I think we talked about on Friday. It's our Embassy people who are there, and all the people in the Embassy are pretty much available to go and check these things out as necessary. We've augmented our staff at the Embassy by two officers specifically to handle this task. They have good contacts with human rights organizations, religious organizations, development organizations that have people throughout the country. I think the OAS has said that it is establishing a mechanism to help the monitoring, and they're in the process of doing that. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is available to help out on these things. So there's quite an extensive network to check these things out. And in this particular case, I said, we've gone to this place, Petit Goave, and we've talked to people there. Q So you don't think that there's any shortage of good intelligence on this situation? MR. BOUCHER: At this point, no. At this point we think that we've got a good network established to follow this situation. We've augmented our Embassy down there to help do this task. As I said, we've checked out many, many of these reports, and they just don't fly. Q But the U.N. is saying that they think that the policy ought to be kind of revisited because of this large number of -- or the number of double-backers that they're getting, and people who are saying recently that there have been problems with repatriation. MR. BOUCHER: Well, I haven't seen exactly what the U.N. said, so I don't want to try to comment specifically. I don't think we should necessarily change the policy just because people try again. There are conditions in Haiti, both economic conditions and a general situation of instability, that lead people to want to try to go elsewhere, and particularly to try to come to the United States. That is not new. Q Richard, do you have any figures, or have there been any more boat people intercepted over the weekend or since we last spoke about this? MR. BOUCHER: There were 13 Haitians picked up yesterday according to information we've received from the Coast Guard. There were no pickups on Friday or Saturday. This brings the total number of Haitians picked up since the coup to 15,388. In the nine days since the Supreme Court decision on January 31, seven boats with a total of 358 Haitians aboard have been interdicted. Q Richard, if these people are not facing any persecution, why are they being fingerprinted by the Haitian authorities and interrogated? Isn't it unusual? MR. BOUCHER: I'm not sure if they're being interrogated, Frank. I'll have to look into that and see I can get you more on the actual procedures. I'm told that the handling of the repatriation on Saturday was orderly, was smooth, and that everybody has gone back to their homes. Q And what about the fingerprints? MR. BOUCHER: I'll have to check on that. Q But they do that here too, of course, for a security check. MR. BOUCHER: Right. We've spoken about that before, Bill, but fingerprinting is also a means of identification this time. Q Richard, the fact that some people are trying for the second time to reach the United States suggests that some of them actually got to Florida. Do you have any indications that people are escaping the surveillance of the Coast Guard and making it to Florida? MR. BOUCHER: I hadn't heard that. I don't know why you say that people who tried for a second time means that they got to Florida. They may just be trying for the second time. Q Well, I wouldn't try for a second time if I didn't think I'd have a chance. MR. BOUCHER: Well, they may think they have a chance. I have not heard any reports of people actually making it all the way from Haiti to Florida.

[Former Yugoslavia: US Support for UN Peacekeeping Mission]

Q Richard, according to press reports, Croatia is prepared to intervene in Bosnia-Herzegovina for the protection of the Croatian minority there, something that will result in similar action by Serbia. Can you clarify the U.S. position vis-a-vis to the Yugoslav republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina? MR. BOUCHER: I don't want to speculate on what you say are reports that somebody's going to intervene. I think we've made very clear that our policy is to support the U.N. mission, to support the U.N. plan for peacekeeping, support peaceful dialogue to resolve the issues there, and not to support attempts to change borders or change the situation by violence. That's a very firm policy. Q But on January 20, your Ambassador to Yugoslavia speaking in Sarajevo, stated inter alia that America somehow will protect the territorial integrity of the Yugoslav republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Can you confirm this? MR. BOUCHER: I don't know what remarks you're speaking of, so I don't want to try to comment on something that Ambassador Zimmerman may have said without seeing it. Q It's possible to confirm it? MR. BOUCHER: I'll see if we have any readout of what he said. Q Richard, a couple of questions on south Asia. Last Friday you said that as part of the nuclear non-proliferation efforts the U.S. has suggested this five-nation conference -- regional conference. Has India agreed to come to the table? You said that you couldn't confirm last Friday, but has -- MR. BOUCHER: That's right. I leave it for India to state its own position. I'm not going to try to comment on that. Q No. But has the U.S. got any intimation from India that it will be -- because the Foreign Secretary is coming, I believe, next month. MR. BOUCHER: Again, I want to leave it to India to state its own position. Q And, Richard, there are also war drums beating between India and Pakistan on the Kashmir border. Have you got anything on that, or does the U.S. intend sending a troubleshooter over there like it did three years ago when -- MR. BOUCHER: I haven't heard of anything like that at this point. I'd have to check on that -- whether we're sending anybody special. It's an issue that we have discussed with people on both sides, and I think you know our position that we've said before. Q Have you heard any war drums beating across the border? MR. BOUCHER: Not into this little room here.

[Algeria: Update on Civil Unrest/State of Emergency]

Q Do you have any update on the situation in Algeria? MR. BOUCHER: This is our understanding of the situation on the ground as of this morning: In the wake of civil disturbances over the weekend that left an estimated 40 dead and 300 wounded, the Algerian Government has declared a state of emergency. At the same time, the government has begun proceedings which would lead to the rescinding of the legal status of the Islamic Salvation Front -- that is, the FIS. We're concerned about the upsurge in violence and the loss of life. As the Secretary said in Congress last week, we hope that Algeria gets back on the road to democracy as quickly as possible. Q In another area -- in the Middle East. Any update on the loan guarantees to Israel and the talks which are going on now? MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't. The Secretary addressed that on television over the weekend. I have nothing to add to that. Q Neither did he. Q Richard, can you shed any light on the increased efforts to get Saddam Husayn out of Iraq? MR. BOUCHER: Again, the Secretary was asked those sort of questions over the weekend. He said that if you're implying something covert, that's obviously something we couldn't talk about. Our position, I think, has been made clear repeatedly, including by him in testimony and over the weekend -- that we completely support the efforts of the United Nations to carry out the inspections and to make sure that the sanctions resolutions are fully implemented. As he and the President have said, we'd like to see Saddam gone and we would have a different relationship with the Iraqi people and any new Iraqi regime that wanted to have a different relationship with us. Q Are we trying harder, or do we care more? MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to try to ascribe adjectives to it. This has been a long-standing and firmly-held position of the United States.

[Venezuela: Suspension of Constitutional Guarantees]

Q Any comment on the shutting down of El Nacional in Venezuela today? MR. BOUCHER: I wasn't -- you're talking about the -- there's a suspension of constitutional guarantees for ten days. I take it that anything on El Nacional would flow from that. Our general comment is just to note that President Bush has made clear, immediately after the coup attempt and subsequently, I think, that we support President Perez and Venezuela's democratic government. Venezuela's democracy withstood a serious attack last week. In response to that attack, and with the approval of Venezuela's legislature, President Perez suspended certain constitutional guarantees for a period of ten days. Venezuela has had a good record of respecting human rights and civil liberties. We hope that all civil liberties, including freedom of the press, can be restored as soon as possible. Q But it sounds as though you support the suspension if you support President Perez? MR. BOUCHER: The suspension of constitutional guarantees was done with the cooperation of his legislature. We certainly support democracy, and we hope that full democracy, including the rights and the constitution are restored as soon as possible. Q In other words, if a democratically-elected legislature suspends human rights, it's okay? MR. BOUCHER: Bill, I don't want to get that specific into approving or disapproving of specific steps that were taken down there. You know our general support for democracy. We support a democratic government in Venezuela; and, certainly, we hope that any civil liberties that are suspended are reinstated as soon as possible. They said they've done this for a period of ten days. Q Do you think a newspaper criticizing the President is a threat to democracy? MR. BOUCHER: Again, I don't want to comment on one specific newspaper. Q Do you have any fresh intelligence on the situation in Venezuela, whether a democracy is stable or ready or there are any other -- I don't know -- reasons for concern? MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I'm going to try to comment on the internal political situation in Venezuela. Q Not political. Military. MR. BOUCHER: Again, I'm not going to try to analyze the military situation inside Venezuela either. Q It seems like the conflict in the Nagorno-Karabakh area between Armenians and Azerbaijanis has now been internationalized. The Russian paper Kommersant reported that some 150 to 200 Islamic revolutionary guards from Iran are fighting on the Azerbaijanian side and some people -- Lebanese-Armenian -- are fighting on the Armenian side. Do you have anything on that? MR. BOUCHER: I had not seen those reports. But in any case, with the Secretary travelling in the area, I have to leave any comment to him. Q Two quick questions. There's a report that you're going to be negotiating trade accords with four of the Central Asian republics. Can you give us -- take that question and give us a Background on who's going to be in negotiations and who's on the other side in this? Are these functioning governments -- MR. BOUCHER: As I said, I haven't seen that report either. But since the Secretary is travelling in the area, that's something I would want to leave to him. Q A question on the multilateral talks on the Middle East for disarmament, I guess you would call it. Are those going to be at all connected with the same talks, same type of talks of the five nations in South Asia, since they both deal with proliferation and so on? MR. BOUCHER: I guess it would speculative on my part, but why not. Certainly, to some extent, the subjects are similar. I think some of the countries involved are similar, but I'm not aware of any specific institutional tie that's been established. Q Do you have a schedule for the Secretary's trip? MR. BOUCHER: No. Q Do you have a date for the peace talks, the bilateral talks here in Washington? MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't. Q The recent situation of Cambodia has become worse and worse. There's a state of demonstration and rampant shooting of the (inaudible). Do you have any new plan to deal with that situation, please? MR. BOUCHER: I don't know what you're talking about in terms of a new plan. We've supported the U.N. efforts. We've supported the U.N. deployments as early as possible. We continue to support that, and as far as I know those plans are going forward. Q You issued a travel warning on the date of February 7. This kind of warning might become a cancellation in the future, or something like that? You expect the Cambodian situation becoming worse and worse in the future? MR. BOUCHER: We certainly hope it will get better and better. And whatever happens, we will revise our travel advisory when we need to to reflect the situation at the moment. Q Richard, one more try on the south Asia regional talks. The U.S. has been promoting this initiative. Are those talks, if it comes about, is the U.S. hoping to host it here in Washington? MR. BOUCHER: I'm not aware of anything scheduled at this point, so it would be premature for me to try to say where they would be. Q But what I mean is, the U.S. has been promoting the initiative and it's already got acceptance, I believe, of China, Russia, and Pakistan. So, could it be -- MR. BOUCHER: We're not at the point yet of telling you when and where that might be. Whether it's accepted by all, I don't even know. But I'll leave the other governments to speak for themselves. It's an idea that we've been promoting. It would be a little premature to start scheduling it at this point. Q You have already got acceptances from three of the four parties, haven't you, Richard? MR. BOUCHER: Again, I'm not aware that there's anything that we can schedule at this point. Barrie. Q Richard, a number of American officials, including the Vice President, have been reported as hinting that there could be some link between the current GATT negotiations and future American commitments to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. I know you're not willing to announce that there is a direct linkage. But could you give us some sense of how you see these two things in any way connected? MR. BOUCHER: No. Q Do you think that the number of troops in Europe -- American troops in Europe -- could be reduced if the GATT talks were to fall apart? MR. BOUCHER: Barrie, I'm not familiar with what the Vice President might have said. I don't think I want to speculate on that. I'll see if we can find something appropriate for you. I'm not aware of what linkage he might have made. Q Has the State Department offered its position or opinion of the torture and death in Israeli interrogation centers as it happened last, I think, Thursday or Friday. One Palestinian, 36 years old, Mr. Mustafa al-Akawi, suffered, I think, failure and died in the center? Do you have any position on these things which are happening in Israeli jails? MR. BOUCHER: We certainly -- our position on the abuse of prisoners is very well known. We're strongly against it and always have been. We are concerned about the reports that were coming out of Israel on this situation. We've raised them with Israeli authorities. We understand that there was an autopsy done late last week. We expect that there will be also an investigation done. Q Did you raise this particular report, or are you talking in a general way? MR. BOUCHER: No. We've raised this particular report. Q I understand that an autopsy was carried out, I think, by a Red Cross envoy who is actually a U.S. national? MR. BOUCHER: Yes. I understand the pathologist was a U.S. national. I can get you something of a rundown of what we understand of the situation. Q He spoke on NPR. Did you raise your concerns before or after his report? And were they allayed by his report, which I believe found that the person in question had a congenital heart disease? MR. BOUCHER: Again, not being a doctor, I may not have the right words. What I understand is that they found he died of a heart attack that was brought upon by arteriosclerosis, or a condition like that, and said that his treatment while in captivity may have contributed. I know we raised our concerns before the autopsy. I expect we probably discussed it since then as well. Q Were they allayed in any way or were they exacerbated by the autopsy itself? MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I can characterize them at some level before and after. I would just say that we raised our concerns. We've talked to Israeli authorities at a senior level about this situation, and we expect that they would conduct an investigation. Q What are your concerns exactly? Could you be specific? MR. BOUCHER: Our concerns are about reports of mistreatment of a prisoner while in Israeli custody. Q How many U.S. citizens are there in Cambodia now? MR. BOUCHER: How many U.S. citizens in Cambodia? Q Yes. MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. Q Thank you. (Press briefing concluded at 12:43 p.m.)