21 March 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.


**Secretary-General in the Democratic Republic of the Congo


I’ll start off with the update on the Secretary-General’s trip.


The Secretary-General and his wife Nane arrived today in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), on the fourth leg of his current mission in Africa.


They immediately headed to the headquarters of the UN Mission in the country, where the Secretary-General laid a wreath for fallen UN peacekeepers and spoke to the Mission staff about their role in the historic elections planned this June.


He said that this is the first time in 45 years that the Congolese are going to have a chance to vote in multiparty, open elections.  He told the Mission staff, “You are no little part of that gift that they’ll have for June of this year”.


And these remarks are available upstairs.


He then received a briefing from Special Representative William Swing, the Force Commander for the eastern DRC, Patrick Cammaert, and the other senior staff of the Mission.


The Secretary-General met in the afternoon with President Joseph Kabila of the DRC.  He told reporters afterward that they had discussed the political situation in the country, elections, the reform of the army and economic reconstruction, as well as UN reform.


In response to a question from reporters about the electoral process, the Secretary-General said that everyone must be allowed to participate unconditionally.


The Secretary-General and his wife then visited a centre for street children, former child combatants and other exploited or abused children.  And that is a centre supported by UNICEF.


And we also expect to have a transcript of the Secretary-General’s press encounter available for you shortly.


**Security Council


In an open briefing to the Security Council this morning, Jan Pronk, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sudan, said that the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between North and South of that country is still on track, but killings and the cleansing of villages continue in Darfur.


Pronk noted that, despite the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the security situation in the South already shows signs of deterioration, and that the security mechanism envisioned by the Agreement is still not functional.  At the same time, the United Nations has reached about 80 per cent of its troop deployment in the South.


In Darfur, however, Pronk said that “the ceasefire does not function” and that the Security Council sanctions “exist only in theory”.  He said that, now that the African Union’s Peace and Security Council had decided to support a transition to a UN operation in Darfur, the international community must provide all necessary resources to preserve the lives and aspirations of Darfur’s people.


The Council is currently holding closed consultations on Sudan.  And then, at 1:15 this afternoon, Mr. Pronk will speak to you here in this room.


**UNHCR -– South Sudan


Also on Sudan, the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, has suspended the repatriation of Sudanese refugees from various African countries to the towns of Yei, Yambio and Kajo Keji areas of South Sudan, starting today, and to Tambura from Wednesday.


The Agency’s international staff working in these locations have been relocated or are in the process of being relocated to other areas.


This decision follows a spate of recent armed attacks in South Sudan, in particular an attack on the compounds of UNHCR in the town of Yambio this past weekend.


And the Agency is sending a team to assess the security situation in the areas involved.


And we do have more information available for you on that upstairs.


** Liberia


On Liberia, the Secretary-General’s latest report on the UN Mission in that country is now out on the racks today.


In the report, the Secretary-General asks the Security Council to extend the mandate of the Mission for a year, until March 2007.


He recommends a reduction in the UN’s military forces there, and an increase in the UN police presence.


He also asks for a revision of the Mission’s mandate, to one emphasizing assistance to the new Government in Monrovia.


** Lebanon


Ahead of tomorrow’s resumption of the National Lebanese Dialogue, Terje Roed-Larsen, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for resolution 1559, held talks in Doha, Qatar today with the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassem, as well as other senior Government officials.


Roed-Larsen’s talks focused, again, on the broader dynamics in the Middle East, which affect the implementation of resolution 1559.  Roed-Larsen underscored the fragility of the situation in the region, and emphasized, in this context, the significance and importance of the National Dialogue in Lebanon.


**UNRWA


Turning to UNRWA, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, John Ging, the Agency’s Operations Director in Gaza, visited the Karni crossing point between Israel and the Gaza Strip this morning.  He said that he sincerely hopes that today’s opening of that crossing point is “the beginning of a return to normality”.  He noted that Gazans are rationing bread for the first time in living memory.


Ging expressed his frustration with the fact that the crossing was only operating at 10 per cent of its capacity this morning, and he called on all involved to open it up fully, adding that, “at 10 per cent, we are not even meeting today’s needs”.


He also noted critical shortages of fuel in Gaza and called on the Israeli and Palestinian authorities to “let the fuel in today”.


**Bird Flu


The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that, with the five recent bird flu related deaths in Azerbaijan, the number of humans who have died as a result of the disease has now passed 100.


The Agency says that bird flu remains an animal pandemic that very rarely infects humans, and that there are no signs that the virus is changing, in order to spread more easily from animal to human, or from human to human.


WHO stresses that the detection of the bird flu virus in new regions does not mean that a human pandemic has started.


** Somalia


From Nairobi today, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) launched a revised humanitarian appeal for Somalia.


The appeal, which amounts to nearly $330 million, is on behalf of the more than 2 million people whose dire humanitarian situation has been further aggravated by the worst drought in a decade.


And we have a press release on that upstairs.


**Tsunami


We also have a media advisory for you upstairs on the UN Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery, former US President Bill Clinton.  He will be attending the International Early Warning Conference this Monday that is being held in Bonn, Germany.


And the meeting is being hosted by the German Government in coordination with the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction.

**Racism


And today we have a Secretary-General’s message for the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, with a message calling on all persons to join the battle against racism.


Noting that the theme of this year is “Fighting Everyday Discrimination”, the Secretary-General says in the message that the ultimate success in this struggle rests with ordinary citizens, speaking out against intolerance.


**Press Conference


And tomorrow at noon, Carolyn McAskie will be my guest.  She is, as you know, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Burundi.  And she will be providing you an update on the situation in that country.


**In-house Note on UN Correspondent


And lastly on an in-house note, I want to take a minute to note a very important milestone today.


Legend has it that, over 40 years ago, a young cub reporter named Edie Lederer joined the Associated Press and asked her first question.  I think you’ll all join me in congratulating Edie on a great 40-year run at the Associated Press.  And, as someone who actually has to answer her questions, I say this with a bit of trepidation, but I wish her many more decades of asking questions.


And that is it for me.  Any questions?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  In his statement on the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the forthcoming June elections, the Secretary-General speaks about the fact that there is very little infrastructure and that this poses a major challenge, if not, he says, a nightmare.  Which specialized agency in the DRC is helping build the infrastructure?


Spokesman:  I think, in terms of the elections, obviously the Mission and UNDP and our colleagues in Electoral Assistance will do their best to help make sure these elections are organized as best as possible.  But years of decay over the infrastructure will not be bridged over the next three to four months, so we will have to overcome whatever challenges are posed and make sure the elections are organized as best as possible.


Question:  Do you know if the Secretary-General plans any extra, unscheduled stops in other African countries?


Spokesman:  We may be able to announce something a bit later on, but he will remain in the western part of the Continent.


If you’re asking me if he will be attending the League of Arab States summit, I think the answer is “no”, if that was your question.  Thank you.


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For information media • not an official record