15/12/2005
Spokesman's Noon Briefing

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

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


AND THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT


Good afternoon.  David Gressly, the United Nations Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator for Southern Sudan, will be joining us today as our guest. 


**South Asia Earthquake


I have an appointment to announce.


The Secretary-General today appointed former United States President George Herbert Walker Bush as his Special Envoy for the South Asian Earthquake Disaster.


As a Special Envoy, former President Bush will represent the Secretary-General and the United Nations system in the national and international response to the 8 October earthquake in South Asia.  He will lead the Organization’s efforts and sustain international political will to support humanitarian, medium-term and long-term rehabilitation, reconstruction and risk reduction.


As you know, the devastating 7.6 magnitude earthquake on the Richter scale, which struck South Asia on 8 October killed more than 73,000 people in Pakistan and 1,300 in India.  An additional 69,000 people in Pakistan were injured as a result of the quake.


A press release is available upstairs and the Secretary-General will personally introduce former President Bush in this room at 4 p.m.  And they will both take questions on the issue at hand, on the Pakistani-earthquake relief.


**Ethiopia-Eritrea


The Security Council, in a Presidential Statement yesterday afternoon, agreed, in consultation with the Secretary-General, to temporarily relocate military and civilian staff of the United Nations Mission to Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) from Eritrea to Ethiopia.  That relocation has been taking place today.


The Council intends to maintain an UNMEE military presence in Eritrea during the period in which it is reviewing future plans for the Mission.


The Security Council made it clear that it approved this decision solely in the interests of the safety and security of the UNMEE staff.  The Council strongly condemned Eritrea’s unacceptable actions and restrictions on the United Nations Mission.  It intends, with the Secretariat, to review promptly all options for the United Nations Mission’s deployment and functions in the context of its original purpose, capacity to act effectively and the different military options available.


The Secretary-General was asked about the redeployment at a press stakeout just a few minutes ago, and he said the restrictions placed by the Eritrean authorities made it impossible for us to operate as effectively as we want to.  He also said an options document on the way ahead would be presented to the Security Council next week.


The Secretary-General added that he gave a clear and firm message to the Eritrean authorities when he met with the new Eritrean ambassador to the United Nations yesterday during the presentation of credentials.  And we will have a full transcript of both the Secretary-General’s comments, as well as the comments made by Mr. Guéhenno to the press, and those will be available to you shortly.


**Central Emergency Response Fund


Also a short while ago, the General Assembly decided by consensus to establish the Central Emergency Response Fund, a key component of the Secretary-General’s reform package.  The Fund will provide immediate resources for life-saving aid during the early days and months of emergencies.  It will also help to ensure that aid is channelled to overlooked and under-funded crises.  The Fund, which aims to hold $500 million, will be operational in 2006, and donors already pledged some $175 million during the World Summit.


In remarks to the General Assembly, the Secretary-General said he was “delighted” that the Fund had been approved, adding that, “quite simply, it will save lives”.


He also said that, for far too long, humanitarian assistance for disaster victims had remained a reactive process, and that lives which could and should have been saved were lost.  Now, however, today’s decision would ensure that in the critical realm of humanitarian aid, the United Nations could do more and sooner.


We have the full text of his address upstairs, as well as more information on the Fund.  And, of course, the Secretary-General in his press stakeout made some comments on the Fund and those will be available to you.


** Iraq


Turning to Iraq, in a statement the Secretary-General issued yesterday afternoon, he encouraged Iraqi voters to turn out and exercise their democratic right to vote as a first step towards building together a stable, united and prosperous Iraq.  “This is your chance to let your voice be heard as a force for peace and national reconciliation”, he said, adding that, “Ultimately, only you as a people can move Iraq forward”.


**Security Council


The Security Council is currently receiving briefings right now from the main officials at the International Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda on their continuing work.


Carla Del Ponte, the Prosecutor for the Yugoslav Tribunal, said that Serbia and Montenegro should be held accountable for the failure to bring Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic to justice.  The international community must remain fully committed to their transfer, she said.


The Presidents of the two Tribunals -- Erik Møse for Rwanda and Fausto Pocar for the former Yugoslavia -- also briefed the Council on the progress of the completion strategies for each Tribunal.


And earlier today, the Council approved a resolution, renewing for one year the sanctions provisions on Cote d’Ivoire detailed in resolution 1572.


This afternoon at 3:00, Council members will hold consultations to discuss a draft resolution concerning the mandate of the International Independent Investigation Commission dealing with Lebanon.


** Sierra Leone


Today from Sierra Leone, 290 Pakistani peacekeepers left Sierra Leone, just two weeks short of the end of the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission’s mandate.  Also in Freetown, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Daudi Mwakawago, turned over to the Government some 25 light vehicles and hundreds of communications equipment.


The Secretary-General’s last report on the Mission, out on the racks today, says it is with a deep sense of satisfaction that he can report on what he calls the remarkable accomplishments of Sierra Leone Mission over the past six years.  He said UNAMSIL’s methods are now being studied by other United Nations missions.


The Secretary-General said that although most blue helmets were leaving, the United Nations was staying in Sierra Leone in the form of a new, integrated United Nations office that would continue the process of peace consolidation.


** China


From the World Food Programme (WFP), having fed some 30 million people in China for over the past 26 years, the World Food Programme will end its food aid in China at the end of 2005.


Speaking in Beijing, the Agency’s head, James Morris, said, “The Chinese Government’s tremendous success in alleviating hunger means our food aid can be put to better use elsewhere”.  WFP is now looking to China for a broader partnership to combat hunger worldwide.


And we have a press release available on that upstairs.


**UNDP/OCHA


This afternoon, the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Kemal Derviş, along with the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Jan Egeland, will sign a disaster relief partnership with the shipping company DHL.  The agreement is aimed at speeding up delivery of United Nations aid to remote disaster areas. 


And that signing ceremony is at 3:30 p.m., and it is on the twenty-first floor of the DC-1 Building where UNDP is located.  And you are all invited.


**Press Conference


And lastly, the Secretary-General’s Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide, Juan Mendez, will be joining us at noon tomorrow to brief on his recent visit to Côte d’Ivoire and the Sudan.


That is it for me.  Any questions?  Yes, Sir?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Do you have any idea that before the new year that the Secretary-General can have a press conference?


Spokesman:  Yes, as we’ve, I think, announced here a couple of times, he will hold a press conference, I believe, at 10:30 a.m. next Wednesday.


Question:  Is the United Nations encouraged by early signs from the Iraqi election? 


Spokesman:  You know, obviously, judging from reports we’ve received, the voting has been going smoothly, despite some localized incidents.  But you know, sitting here in New York, or even sitting in the international zone in Baghdad, it’s much too soon, I think, to offer a definitive view on the situation on the ground.


Question:  Do you have any readout or detail of the meeting between Mr. George Soros and the Secretary-General yesterday?


Spokesman:  No, but I’d be happy to try to get one for you.


[The Spokesman later added that the Secretary-General and George Soros had discussed different human rights issues of concern to the Open Society Institute of which Mr. Soros is Chairman.]


Question:  And one other question.  Has Mr. Guéhenno met anybody from the Eritrean Government?


Spokesman:  No, I believe he was not able to meet anyone from the Eritrean side.  


Mr. Varner? 


Question:  I would just like, publicly for the record, to express my objection to a situation that occurred again in the Security Council stakeout area this morning, when it happened that one reporter, in order to get close access with a tape recorder with an ambassador being interviewed, stepped on the sort of wrong side of the barrier leading down the hallway back to the entrance to the Security Council chamber.  Security objected to that, applying the rule that reporters are, ostensibly or supposedly, are supposed to stand behind the barrier.  There is no particular access issue or anything involved there other than a very strict interpretation of something I don’t even believe is a rule, in and of itself.


Spokesman:  All right.  I will follow up with you right after the briefing.


Thank you very much.  We’ll go to Pragati and then onto our guest.


Spokesperson for the General Assembly President


Good afternoon.


As Steph mentioned, this morning in Plenary, the Assembly adopted a number of draft resolutions on humanitarian issues.  Among these is a resolution establishing a Central Emergency Response Fund, which is being upgraded from the current Revolving Fund. 


Assembly President Jan Eliasson stated that by today’s action, “we have fulfilled the mandate given by our leaders, who last September called upon us in the Summit Outcome document, to make concrete improvements in the humanitarian response system, including the timeliness and predictability of humanitarian funding”.


Yesterday afternoon, the Assembly President presented a new text of a draft resolution for the Peacebuilding Commission to Member States at the informal consultations.  He told delegates that the text is his “best attempt to strike the middle ground without giving up important principles related to the Peacebuilding Commission”. 


He stated that he hoped that Member States would be ready to adopt this draft resolution early next week, Monday or Tuesday.  There were no requests to speak from Member States, and the meeting closed with a round of applause.  We circulated the text of the draft resolution and the President’s remarks last night and we have them available upstairs.


This morning, the Plenary also approved the recommendation from the General Committee, proposed by Costa Rica, for inclusion in the Assembly’s agenda of an item on the follow-up to the Volcker report.


And tomorrow morning from 10:00 to 1:00 pm, the President and several of his co-chairs will give a briefing to non-governmental organizations and civil society on the follow-up process to the 2005 World Summit.  The press are welcome to attend that.


Any question?  Thanks.


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For information media • not an official record