06/01/2006
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


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon.


**Security Council


Starting off with the Security Council.  Council members today began their work by hearing Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hédi Annabi.  He briefed them about the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.


Annabi discussed developments in that country since the Secretary-General’s last report, which came out on the racks earlier this week.


And after those consultations end, Mr. Annabi will remain to brief the Security Council on the situation in Haiti.


**Ethiopia-Eritrea


Turning to the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE), the Mission tells us today that the military situation in the Temporary Security Zone (TSZ) and Adjacent Areas remains tense and potentially volatile.


Routine troop movements have been noticed on both the Ethiopian and Eritrean sides, and the ban imposed by the Eritrean Government on United Nations helicopters is still in place, as are restrictions on the movement of peacekeepers patrolling in certain sectors of the Temporary Security Zone.


Nonetheless, the Mission carried out 760 ground patrols in the past week, and peacekeepers are still providing medical help and supplies of bulk water to the local population in the Zone, as well as adjacent areas.


The Mission adds that the Eritrean authorities did not respond to a medical evacuation request made in order to evacuate an Indian soldier who had suffered serious burn injuries.  This is the seventh such occasion when a casualty had to be evacuated by road over long distances due to the lack of air medical evacuation facilities.


Also on the same issue, the Secretary-General’s latest report on UNMEE is out on the racks today.


In it, as you will see, he says that as a result of the restrictions imposed on the United Nations Mission, its position is becoming increasingly untenable, and the time may be fast approaching to take difficult decisions on the Mission’s future.


The report outlines six options for the Security Council’s consideration.  These include relocating the Mission, downgrading it to a liaison mission, or withdrawing it altogether.


Also, a reminder that Jean-Marie Guéhenno, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, will be here on Monday, following his appearance in the Security Council, to discuss that report with the Council members.  And Mr. Guéhenno will either be here in 226 or at the stakeout depending on the time and other activities that may be taking place.


** Haiti


Turning to Haiti, the United Nations Mission in that country has launched an operation to increase security and try to bring to an end the spate of kidnappings in Port-au-Prince.


The operation began yesterday with the establishment of road blocks around the city.  It follows several weeks of planning and preparation.


The Mission says it is aware that the operation may cause traffic and other disruptions to residents, but has asked that they show patience and understanding.


**UNHCR


Turning to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the refugee agency reports that it is attempting to interview more than 600 Sudanese who are being held in detention centres in Cairo after their sit-in demonstration ended tragically last Friday, in a confrontation which left several people dead and injured.


The agency is attempting to assess the legal status of the detainees and their possible need for international protection.  The Egyptian Government has given UNHCR three days to make the assessment, before they carry out their announced intention to deport some of these Sudanese nationals.


The Egyptian authorities have already released most of the demonstrators who were holding UNHCR identification cards.  And the agency is assisting those people with food, medical attention and blankets.


And we have more details in the UNHCR briefing notes upstairs.


** Pakistan


Turning now to the aftermath of the earthquake in Pakistan, UNHCR also says that, following the recent storm, which caused some tents to collapse under the weight of heavy snowfall, as well as flooding in other camps, they are now distributing additional emergency supplies to camp dwellers.


For its part, the World Food Programme (WFP) notes that, despite many roads still being blocked, some 3,000 tonnes of food aid have been distributed since 27 December. 


And according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the United Nations flash appeal is now at 55 per cent level of funding.


**WFP


Also from the World Food Programme, with eastern and northern Kenya continuing to suffer from failed rains, WFP is this week sending an emergency assessment team to the worst-hit areas to determine how many people require food aid.  The agency is currently feeding some 1.2 million drought victims, but fears this figure could more than double to 2.5 million.


WFP has dispatched food aid convoys to northern Kenya to replenish its school feeding programme there.  It recently added some 200,000 students to that programme, pushing the number of Kenyan children receiving free school meals up to 1.3 million.


Meanwhile, as it has warned last month, WFP has been forced to cut in half its rations to Angolan and Congolese refugees in Zambia, because of funding shortfalls.


**FAO


And in related news from the Horn of Africa, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that millions of people in that area, in the Horn of Africa, are on the brink of starvation.


The agency said in an alert issued today that because of drought and lasting effects of conflicts, conditions are particularly poor in the area, with some 11 million people in need of aid.


The agency is calling for domestic purchases of food in the areas where harvests are expected to be favourable, and imports of aid where that is not possible. 


And we have a press release from FAO upstairs.


**Kosovo


And lastly, the United Nations Mission in Kosovo announced today that a newly refurbished camp will open on Monday for internally displaced Roma populations that are currently exposed to unhealthy lead levels in their present site.


The new camp will closely follow recommendations by the World Health Organization to protect children and pregnant women from lead poisoning.  And for its part, the United Nations Mission has offered to help the Roma to relocate.


**The Week Ahead


And today being Friday, we do have the Week Ahead for you.


That’s it for me.  Any questions?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Just after the news out of Harare today, will you verify, what is the status of the planning for any trip by the Secretary-General to Zimbabwe?


Spokesman:  It continues to be exactly that -- planning.  There’s been no decision made on a date.  No decision set.  The discussions are ongoing with the Government about a possible visit by the Secretary-General, as well as to its timing, and, of course, the agenda that would come forward.


Question:  What’s the chance that that might take place in March?


Spokesman:  Really, I don’t want to be held to any timetable.  Mr. [Ibrahim] Gambari, if you recall, did discuss a possible visit by the Secretary-General when he was attending the France-Africa Summit in Bamako, in Mali, but he told the Zimbabwean authorities that no decision had been set on a date.  And Mr. Gambari continues to manage those contacts with the Zimbabwean Foreign Ministry.


Question:  How would you characterize this article that was in The Herald this morning, saying that the Secretary-General was scheduled --


Spokesman:  No, I think it is erroneous.  No decision has been made on a date and the discussions are continuing.


Question:  With the Iranians failing to show up for talks in Paris this morning on the nuclear programme, does Dr. [Mohamed] ElBaradei have anything to say?  Are there any measures that the IAEA is contemplating and what does the IAEA plan to do next in order to get the Iranians to join the discussions again?


Spokesman:  I would urge you to address those questions to the IAEA.  They have an office here and we can put you in touch with them.


Question:  In Haiti, I’m wondering as the United Nations, as in Congo, is taking a bit more aggressive actions against militias and gangs and so forth, following a certain amount of complaints or questions or concerns about people getting killed by the United Nations forces.  First of all, I was wondering, does the United Nations have any mechanism to tally how many civilians might be killed accidentally in these operations?  And does it have any monitoring body that it has set up for itself to check that there aren’t abuses or miscarriages of justice, or to ensure compensation for accidental killings or so forth in these operations?


Spokesman:  You know, it’s a pretty detailed question.  I will check with the Mission as to what structures are in place to address those issues.


Question:  On a somewhat related question, the Staff Union reported yesterday a significant increase in the number of deadly attacks against United Nations personnel in 2005.  Is the Secretary-General planning to do anything or take any measures or to look into why this increase happened and what could be done to bring it down?


Spokesman:  The security of staff has always been paramount on his mind.  He has repeatedly called for Member States to live up to their obligations to not only protect United Nations staff that are in the field, but to bring to justice those who kill and attack our colleagues.  And it has been a constant call of his.


If you will recall, the Member States did agree on an additional protocol to extend the protection to an even larger number of our colleagues, and we do hope that those countries that signed up do live up to their obligations and protect the United Nations staff.


Question:  Are you aware that in Haiti, the civilian population, as well as the political parties, are very, very upset with MINUSTAH, especially with Mr. [Juan Gabriel] Valdes, in Haiti?  Are you aware of that?


Spokesman:  The United Nations Mission is operating in -- obviously, as most peacekeeping missions -- in a difficult and delicate environment.  And I know the Mission is in constant contact with the political authorities and the opposition in Haiti.


Question:  Are you expecting Mr. Valdes to be in New York at any time?


Spokesman:  I do not have a date for him to come.  But I would be happy to check right after the briefing.


Thank you very much.


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