24/10/2005
Spokesman's Noon Briefing

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICES OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL


AND THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT


Following is a near verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Pragati Pascale, the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.


Briefing by Spokesman for Secretary-General


Good afternoon.  I’d like to welcome our visiting journalists from Tanzania.  Welcome to the United Nations and welcome to this briefing.


**South Asia Quake


On the earthquake which hit South Asia, plunging temperatures and sheer desperation are driving earthquake survivors out of their devastated mountain villages into a rising number of camps in northern Pakistan, where the UN refugee agency says it is rushing supplies to people who have lost their homes.


Meanwhile, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says there is a three-week window of opportunity to deliver assistance to quake-hit areas of Pakistan before the first snowfall.  In addition, severe weather, with heavy rains, is forecast to hit the area in the next three to four days.


There is a press release on these updates available upstairs, and you will be getting a live update here in this briefing room by Margareta Wahlström, the Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, who will give you an update on what the UN’s humanitarian staff is doing.


**Security Council


The Secretary-General this morning attended an open meeting in the Security Council on Kosovo.  Speaking at that meeting were the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for reviewing the situation in Kosovo, Kai Eide; the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Kosovo, Søren Jessen-Petersen; and the Prime Minister of Serbia and Montenegro, Vojislav Kostunica.


The Council discussed Mr. Eide’s recent report, which, as you know, concluded that the time had come to move to the next phase of the political process in Kosovo.


In his remarks to the Council, Søren Jessen-Petersen said that, though its ultimate outcome could not be known, the resolution of Kosovo’s status could only have a positive effect on the wider region, including on Serbia, in terms of political stabilization.


He also said that, over the coming months, the UN Mission in Kosovo would focus on six priority areas, namely, implementing the internationally agreed standards for Kosovo, reforming the local government, bolstering Kosovo’s institutions, restructuring the UN Mission, and maintaining a safe and secure environment for everyone in Kosovo.  We have a full copy of his remarks upstairs.


The Council is now in closed consultations on Kosovo, and is expected to issue a presidential statement later.  Also at the end of these consultations, both Mr. Jessen-Petersen and Mr. Eide will be coming to the Security Council stakeout to take your questions.  At 3 p.m., the Council will reconvene in a meeting with troop-contributing countries for the UN Mission in Western Sahara, and this meeting will be followed by closed consultations on that Mission.


**Secretary-General


The Secretary-General, also on Kosovo, was asked, at the stakeout just a few moments ago, about his intention to appoint a special envoy to deal with status talks there.  He said he expected to make an appointment over the course of the week, and said that envoy would “likely be Martti Ahtisaari”, the former Finnish President.


The Secretary-General took questions from the press also about Mr. Mehlis’ report, which you all heard.  And just as a reminder, Mr. Mehlis will brief the Security Council in an open meeting tomorrow, followed by consultations, and once he’s done with closed consultations, we intend to bring him in here into room 226 so he can take your questions.


** Eritrea


Concerning the ongoing issues with the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE), the Mission, whose peacekeeping operations are already being hampered by the ban on its helicopter flights, now reports restrictions on its land vehicle movements.


The Mission reports an increase in restrictions to freedom of movement of its patrols at the local level over the past two weeks, especially after dusk.  In some areas, patrols have indeed been warned "to confine their land vehicle movements to the main roads" in the 25-kilometre (16-mile)-wide demilitarized buffer zone.


The issue has been taken up at the Sector level and with the Eritrean Commissioner for Coordination with the Peacekeeping Mission.  In both instances, officials have denied issuing orders to this effect.  These restrictions, however, continue.


**Democratic Republic of Congo


An update from the Democratic Republic of the Congo:  over the weekend, a Nepalese peacekeeper was shot.  He was serving with the Mission, and he was wounded during an operation in the north-east district of the Ituri Province.


The peacekeeper was part of a unit made up of more than 30 “blue helmets”.  They’d been sent to the town of Fataki, approximately 70 kilometres north of Bunia, to search for weapons following reports of militia activity there.


The patrol came under fire while in Fataki's marketplace.  The UN peacekeepers returned fire.  It was able to capture one of the attackers, while other suspected militia members escaped.


During the exchange, the peacekeeper received a gunshot wound to the head. He was evacuated and is now in Kinshasa, where he is in stable condition, we are told.


** Afghanistan


The UN Mission in Afghanistan today expressed its concern about the case of an Afghan journalist who was sentenced to two years in prison for publishing an article considered by a court to be offensive to Islam.  The Mission, in a statement, said it believes the right of freedom of expression applies to everyone, including journalists, and should be strongly defended.


**Avian Flu


The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says today that it will assemble a team of experts in Indonesia to help that country start with a new phase of the battle against the avian flu.


The new team will include national veterinary authorities, ministries, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Food Programme (WFP).


The project is supported by a donation of $1.5 million from the US Agency for International Development.


**United Nations Day


Today, as you know, is the sixtieth anniversary or birthday of the United Nations, and the Secretary-General today noted the anniversary is being celebrated around the world by men and women coming together from all walks of life.  He said that celebrating UN Day “energizes us” and pledged to make the United Nations as effective as it can be.  The Secretary-General this morning also honoured our fallen colleagues with a wreath-laying ceremony.


In a video message, the Secretary-General said that, if the United Nations is to serve the people of the world, it must reflect a new age and respond to its challenges, including epidemics, climate change, terrorism and deadly weapons.


There are a huge number of events scheduled to mark this day.  Among them, at 6 p.m., the Deputy Secretary-General will participate in a ceremony to dedicate the completed restoration of the Peace Window done by Marc Chagall.


Then at 7 p.m., the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra will hold a concert in the General Assembly Hall, at which the Secretary-General will speak.  And, of course, at night, the Secretariat Building will be lit up to read “UN 60”.


**Press Conferences


And tomorrow, press conferences:  at 11:15 a.m., the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) will hold a press conference in this room on its two-day global round table entitled, “Innovative Financing for Sustainability”, which begins tomorrow in the Economic and Social Council Chamber. 


Speakers will include Paul Watchman, Partner at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, and James Mahoney, the Director of Public Policy for the Bank of America.  That is it for me.  Any questions?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Two things on the Eritrea situation.  One, I’m not sure I understand -- they’re saying you can’t travel on main roads.  Help me out here on detail, how much that restricts, the fact that you have to go on back roads.  You can get where you want to go, but it takes longer, or ...?


Spokesman:  It’s a restriction.  Obviously, we would want to be able to go wherever our patrols feel they need to go, which means off-road, on small roads.  This is pretty hard terrain we’re talking about, so confining us to main roads definitely hampers our freedom of movement. 


Question:  The second thing -- what is the Secretary-General’s response to this letter from the Chargé d’affaires of the Eritrean Mission, which says that “I have to state with much regret that your good self and the Security Council has forfeited your relevance on the very issues raised in a rather habitual manner.  Allow me to underline that you cannot claim the legal, political, moral or humanitarian high ground on matters of law, the rule of law and humanitarian issues.”


Spokesman:  I think the Secretary-General’s prerogative on these peacekeeping missions is well set by the mandate of the Security Council, and we will continue on our course of action to gain clarification from the Eritreans, to get a full explanation from them as to why they continue to restrict our freedom of movement. 


Question:  Could you just clarify -– the Secretary-General just said that the Foreign Minister is going to come.  The Syrian Ambassador says no, he’s not going to come unless there is a ministerial meeting, so...


Spokesman:  Yes, we were advised at some point this morning by the Permanent Mission that the Syrian Foreign Minister would not be coming.  The Secretary-General had not been updated by the time he spoke to you because he was in the Security Council meeting for most of the morning.


Question:  Do you know the reason?


Spokesman:  I think you’d have to ask the Syrians.


Question:  They have cancelled?


Spokesman:  Yes, they have cancelled.


Question:  So the meeting was cancelled, but is he still receiving a letter from the Syrian Government, and is tomorrow’s Security Council meeting going to be on the level of foreign ministers or on the level of ambassadors?


Spokesman:  My understanding, at this point, is that it is not at the level of foreign minister, but you would have to check with the presidency of the Security Council.  They are masters of their own organizations.  [It was later confirmed that the meeting, which is scheduled to take place at 10 a.m., will not be at the ministerial level.] 


As to whether or not he’ll receive a letter from the Syrians, I don’t know, but I would remind you there is a permanent representative of Syria to the UN, so they can always pass a message through him.


Question:  So Mr. Annan’s office doesn’t know if he did receive the letter from the Syrians?


Spokesman:  No, no, I’m saying there was no ... I’m not aware of any letter that was received from the Syrians at this point.


Question:  OK, just another question, sorry.  On Larsen’s report, did Mr. Annan receive a copy yet?  Because we know that some newspapers, like Haaretz, already have a copy.


Spokesman:  I think the Haaretz article was based on speculation rather than hard facts, and ... 


Question:  But they said they had a copy.


Spokesman:  Let me finish, please.  Thank you.  And I would remind you that this report to the Council on resolution 1559 is the Secretary-General’s report.  It is his report, and he will release it once he’s satisfied with the report.


Question:  Excuse me, do you know when the report ...


Spokesman:  I think the Secretary-General said he would expect to send it to the Council at some point during the week.


Question:  Not tomorrow before the (inaudible).


Spokesman:  At some point during the week.  I don’t think it will be tomorrow, because one of the things we had tried to do was to avoid the congestion of Lebanon-related reports all on one day.


Question:  Are you aware of any special measures being contemplated or taken by the Secretariat to protect the staff from the avian flu?


Spokesman:  It is something that we are looking at with the assistance of WHO, whether in duty stations that are more exposed than others, but it is a risk we are very, very much aware of, and it is something we are definitely looking into.


Question:  Can you please tell us when the Secretary-General had been advised that the Minister of Syria is coming to the, when he was advised that he was coming, that Farouk al-Shara was coming?


Spokesman:  When he was advised?  I don’t know off the top of my head.  If I can get some ... we were advised this morning that he was not coming.


Question:  The twenty-(inaudible)


Spokesman:  I understand that.  I will check and I will get back to you.


Question:  I want to ask what is the response so far to the Secretary-General’s call for more, increased aid (inaudible) and assistance to quake-ravaged Pakistan?


Spokesman:  We will have Ms. Margareta Wahlström from the humanitarian affairs department in about three or four minutes here, as soon as we’re done, and she’ll be able to answer for you that question.


Question:  Two questions.  I’m a bit confused about the wording of the letter from the President of Eritrea.  It says that the Security Council and the Secretary-General have forfeited their relevance.  What does that mean?  What does it mean to you, actually?  And, secondly, given this letter, is the Security Council going to meet to discuss the issues now, whether it plans to continue having the Mission there?


Spokesman:  I believe there may very well be consultations on Ethiopia and Eritrea later this week.  As for your confusion with the letter, I think that question should be addressed to the Eritreans.  Thank you very much. 


**Briefing by Spokesperson for General Assembly President


General Assembly President Jan Eliasson participated in this morning’s ceremony marking UN Day, where he stated that “we need to work with a sense of urgency and common purpose to implement the necessary reforms to make the United Nations an even stronger and more effective actor on the international scene”.  He told the crowd present that their continued dedication to the Organization was the best birthday gift possible.  We have those remarks upstairs.


The President will also be speaking at lunchtime, as part of a panel discussion on the launch of the book, The Adventure of Peace:  Dag Hammarskjöld and the Future of the UN.  That’s at 1:15 p.m. in Conference Room 8.  He’ll also be making remarks at the ceremony to dedicate the restored Chagall Peace Window at 6 p.m., and at the UN Day Concert with the Stockholm Philharmonic at 7 p.m.


Informal consultations of the plenary on the Human Rights Council are being held all day today, to hear views on the size, composition and membership of the Council.


The consultations held on Friday for the Peacebuilding Commission were constructive, and a [revised options paper] will be circulated by the Co-Chairs tomorrow or Wednesday. 


Any questions?  Thank you.


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For information media • not an official record