24/02/2006
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


Following is a near-verbatim transcript of todayís noon briefing by Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon.† Iím sorry Iím a bit late.


**Secretary-Generalís Travels


The Secretary-General is on his way to Qatar, where he will convene a meeting tomorrow to discuss the current crisis related to the caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed.† That gathering will be followed by a joint press conference with most of the participants, where they will read out a joint statement.


On Sunday morning, he will address the opening session of the second meeting of the High-Level Panel of the Alliance of Civilizations.


** Iraq


Turning to Iraq, the Security Council received a briefing this morning on developments in Iraq from Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari.† He talked about the events on the ground, and the contacts that Special Representative Ashraf Qazi has had in his efforts to calm the situation.


The Secretary-General was asked yesterday about the violence in Iraq following the attack on the shrine in Samarra, and he said he had appealed for restraint and was happy to see Iraqi leaders coming together to see what can be done to calm the situation.


He said, ďI hope they will work together in the common interest of Iraq, and in the interest of their own citizens who have suffered for far too long, through the violence of the past few years.Ē† The Secretary-General also offered his deepest sympathy to the families of the journalists killed in Iraq yesterday.† And we have the transcript of those comments upstairs.


**Security Council


The Security Council, in closed consultations, also discussed Eritrea-Ethiopia with the Secretary-Generalís Special Representative for Eritrea and Ethiopia, Legwaila Joseph Legwaila.† A presidential statement on that subject was circulated, and they are expected to go to a formal meeting to issue that statement following the consultations.


** CŰte díIvoire


Turning to CŰte díIvoire, the United Nations Mission in CŰte díIvoire today reports that following discussions between the Missionís Human Rights Officers and the leaders of the Forces Nouvelles in the north, the Forces Nouvelles have released 20 people who had been arrested on suspicion of spying or alleged disloyalty to their movement.


Seven of the detainees had been in jails near the northern border with Burkina Faso since last November.† The others were arrested more recently.† Thereís more information on this Iím sure upstairs.

**Democratic Republic of Congo


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs meanwhile reports that United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations have begun feeding some 60,000 persons in the Democratic Republic of the Congo who have fled the fighting between Government troops and the Mayi-Mayi.† Trucks from the World Food Programme, the United Nations Childrenís Fund (UNICEF) and private NGOs have been able to negotiate insecure roads in the Katanga area to feed displaced persons, some of whom have been without homes since November, according to OCHA.


They also have called upon the local authorities to help arrange security for the displaced persons, and to put an end to impunity in Katanga.† We have a press release in French upstairs on this subject.


** Lebanon


Terje Roed-Larsen, the Secretary-Generalís Special Envoy for the Implementation of Resolution 1559, told us a short while ago that he spoke by phone yesterday with Nabih Berri, the Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, and expressed support for the start of a national dialogue in Lebanon.


Roed-Larsen recalled that it is the Secretary-Generalís view that the issue of Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias, as expressed in resolution 1559, should be resolved through a national dialogue, and he said that the United Nations encourages this initiative.


**UNRWA


And the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East -- or UNRWA -- informs us that Israeli forces caused a significant amount of damage after occupying two schools run by the Agency at the Balata refugee camp in Nablus this week.


The Agency has compiled a list of damages, including broken doors and windows, as well as waste materials left behind in the schools, and it says it will approach the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs to discuss the matter further.


**Democratic Peopleís Republic of Korea


And turning to the Democratic Peopleís Republic of Korea, the World Food Programmeís Executive Board yesterday approved a two-year plan to continue tackling nutritional deficiencies and chronic hunger in that country.


Costing $100 million and covering nearly 2 million North Koreans, the plan aims to provide vitamin- and mineral-enriched foods to young children and women of child-bearing age, as well as cereal rations to underemployed communities.† And thereís a press release on this subject upstairs.


** Philippines and Indonesia


Regarding the recent landslides in the Philippines, the United Nations Country Team is working on helping the Government in the areas of response, contingency planning, recovery and long-term preparedness and disaster risk reduction.


The Team is especially concerned by health conditions at the evacuation centres, where cases of mumps, conjunctivitis and respiratory problems have been reported.† An assessment team assessed two of the eight centres yesterday and will continue the assessments today.


And in Indonesia, the United Nations is deploying an assessment team to the island of Sulawesi, in the aftermath of this weekís flash flood and landslides, which displaced more than 1,000 people.† And there are press releases on both of these subjects upstairs.


** Pakistan


The World Food Programme today also announced the formation of a team of international and Pakistani mountain guides to assess damage and destruction in mountainous areas of Pakistan and Pakistan-administered Kashmir hit by last Octoberís earthquake.


**International Narcotics Control Board


And we have a press release from the International Narcotics Control Board.† Itís releasing its Annual Report next week.


**Week Ahead


And we have this weekís Week Ahead for your planning purposes.


**DPI Announcement


And an announcement from the Department of Public Information.† A photographic exhibition showcasing Mexicoís renowned UNESCO World Heritage Sites will open with a reception on Friday, thatís today, at 6 p.m. in the North-East Gallery of the General Assembly Visitorsí Lobby.† Shashi Tharoor Under-Secretary-General for Communication and Public Information will formally open the exhibit together with representatives of UNESCO and the Mexico Tourism Board.† All media are welcome to attend.† And thereís a press release on the racks.


**Press Conference


And just on Monday, one press conference to let you know about.† At 11:15, Anders Johnsson, Secretary-General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union will be here to present the latest world statistics on women in parliaments.† He will be joined by two women parliamentarians from Burundi and Latvia.


And thatís all I have for you.† Any questions for me?


**Questions and Answers


Question:† On the Lebanese judges, they arrived in New York yesterday.† Do you have anything to say about their meeting with Nicholas Michel?


Deputy Spokesman:† I have no details.† All I can do is confirm that they are here and they are meeting with Michel, the United Nations Legal Counsel.


Question:† Anything else on the Brammertz trip to Syria?


Deputy Spokesman:† Nothing further than from yesterday.† No.


Question:† Is he going back to Syria?


Deputy Spokesman:† I can look into that one for you.


Question:† Can you just confirm national dialogue?† Do you mean that they are going to have, like, town hall meetings?†† Is Terje Roed-Larsen going to propose any ideas for national dialogue?


Deputy Spokesman:† Well, we literally got off the phone with him about two seconds before we walked down here, and so I think this is a general statement and he wanted to let us know that he wanted to encourage this process.† If you want more details on it, I can look into that for you after the briefing.


Question:† Yesterday, it was mentioned in the briefing that the International Advisory and Monitoring Board (IAMB) for Iraq finally posted its minutes of a meeting held in late January.† So, in looking at the minutes, they say that in this room in December it was said that the Development Fund for Iraq was entering a contract with a United States firm to meter oil flow, so they can see how much was being sold.† And the minutes that were released yesterday for the first time say the IAMB was informed that no progress had been made with regard to the metering contract.


What we canít figure out is, does that mean the contract exists with an American firm, but hasnít gone forward? †That no contract ever existed?


Deputy Spokesman:† Iím stopping you a little bit because I cannot elaborate on the IAMB website information.† Weíre going to have to refer you to the IAMB spokesman, who was here in December when they did have their meeting, and he is with the IMF, and we can provide you with his phone number.


Question:† Itís Mr. Murray.† Heís been very nice, but I havenít got any answer from him.† The reason Iím asking here is because Mr. Halbwachs, the United Nations, is the Chair of it.


So I guess Iím just saying I donít really care which channel we get the answer from, but it does seem fair that that [inaudible] is intentionally vague.


Deputy Spokesman:† We will certainly ask the question to Mr. Halbwachs, as well and we will also prod Mr. Murray for an answer for you.


[The Deputy Spokesman later informed the correspondent that the IAMB had asked the Government of Iraq to provide information about how the metering plan is proceeding.]


Question:† Heís been very polite; I think he just has the same problem.† Actually Iíve noticed that, not to, in the minutes as well, this might seem minor, but the representatives of the Government of Iraq are not named.† Everyone else is named that attended the meeting.† Maybe thereís a reason for that.† I donít know if thereís a policy of not naming them for security reasons, but I think...


Deputy Spokesman:† We will pass that question on to those who are more closely involved and get you an answer.


Question:† I would just like to know why I had to read briefing notes from Asmara Ė- an UNMEE briefing in Asmara -- on Thursday afternoon to discover that a meeting had taken place in the United Nations basement here in New York on Wednesday of the witnesses to the Algiers Agreement and that Legwaila Joseph Legwaila, the UNMEE Special Envoy I believe, was in New York for that meeting and that this was never mentioned in New York, as far as I can tell, that he was here, that this meeting would take place -- that this meeting did take place -- that this meeting adopted a declaration, which was issued.† This only became apparent because of an accidental reading of a document from Asmara, which enabled us to do a story last night about 30 hours late.† And if Iím reading the file correctly, Associated Press was able to cover only from Nairobi this morning at 4 or 5 a.m.


Deputy Spokesman:† I checked on that with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.† Yes, Legwaila Joseph Legwaila, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Ethiopia-Eritrea, is here.† I just mentioned before you came in that he took part in this morningís consultations as well.


We have been confirming to anybody who has asked that he is here to attend this meeting.† My understanding is that this is a United States-led initiative, that we are one of the members, but it was in their lead to publicize the meeting, its contents and whatever statement that was coming out.† So thatís what I have learned about this.


But, just for everybody else here, the presidential statement that the Council is about to issue does touch upon this witnesses meeting, which does comprise, as I mentioned, the United Nations, but also, led by the United States, and the European Union, as well as the African Union, as well as Algeria.


Question:† I may be mistaken, but I think the Security Council, the statement at some point called for this meeting of the witnesses, as well as a meeting of the full Boundary Commission.† And I heard that the Boundary Commission is going to be meeting now, which is hinted at in the witnessesí statement.† Would be able to find out about that before...?


Deputy Spokesman:† I think the best person to approach that is the Security Council President when he comes to the stakeout.


Question:† Follow-up on a question I asked yesterday.† Has Italy, in fact, cut its voluntary contribution to United Nations organs and specialized agencies or not?


Deputy Spokesman:† We have read press reports and we have been taking questions from journalists regarding reported intentions, about Italyís intentions.† And as we mentioned from this podium yesterday, we hope it wonít happen.


Question:† Earlier today, or much earlier, given the time difference, the Special Rapporteur for Human Rights [Paulo Sergio] Pinheiro, gave a sort of a final statement about Myanmar, saying that he hadnít had access for two and a half years and that the conditions are deteriorating.† I guess, maybe I should know this, but what happens next?† This was described as the end of his six-year mission.† Whatís the plan?


Deputy Spokesman:† Rapporteurs, as you know, are selected by the Commission.† They normally then will prepare a report, which is taken up by the Commission when it meets.† And itís the body of the Commission that decides on the next steps.


Question:† Given the bleak nature of his public statements, does the Secretary-General, it doesnít seem -- there was no nuance.† He was saying, he didnít have any access, he couldnít get in.† So, I guess Iím just asking whether there might be from this office any sort of statement on that, or whether weíll just...


Deputy Spokesman:† Well, as you know, the independent rapporteurs are precisely that.† They are independent experts who are contracted by the Commission to carry out their work on an independent basis.† We are trying to contact him now to see, because we have not seen, weíve seen the press reports of his comments.† But, as I said, his report will be going to the Commission and it will be up to them to take any decision.† I donít have anything further from this podium today.


If there are no other questions, have a good afternoon and a good weekend.† Thank you.


* *** *


For information media • not an official record