31 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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon.  If you can turn off your cell phones, that would be great.


**Statement on Deputy Secretary-General


I have a statement by the Secretary-General on the departure of Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette.  And I quote: 


“For the past eight years, Louise Fréchette has played a pioneering role as the first Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations.  She has been crucial in ensuring coordination across the entire United Nations system -- from economic and social issues to the strengthening of our peace operations.  She has worked tirelessly for a more coherent and effective United Nations, on subjects ranging from HIV/AIDS to our relationship with civil society.  And she has helped advance understanding everywhere of what it takes to equip the United Nations to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century.


“As the most senior woman in the history of the Organization, Louise Fréchette has been an inspiration to women both inside the United Nations and around the world.  As my right-hand woman, she has been a constant source of support and strength to me personally.  Her indefatigable efforts for reform of the Organization and her unstinting faith in its ability to keep changing for the better have contributed immeasurably to the renewal we are experiencing today.  We owe her a profound debt of gratitude for that legacy of reform and renewal -- a legacy that is hers as much as it is mine.”


And that was a statement by the Secretary-General on the departure of Louise Fréchette.


**Statement on Iran Earthquakes


I now have a statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on the earthquakes in Iran.


The Secretary-General is deeply saddened by the loss of life, the hundreds of injuries and the destruction suffered by the people of Iran after the earthquakes that struck Lorestan Province on the evening of 30 March and this morning.  He extends his deepest condolences to the families of those who have been killed or injured in the earthquakes.


The United Nations will send an inter-agency assessment team to the affected region immediately, and stands ready to lend its assistance to efforts to respond to humanitarian needs created by the disaster and to mobilize international support for that response.


And we do also have a press release from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs with more details on that development.


**Charles Taylor


Turning to Charles Taylor, the Special Court for Sierra Leone says it is expected to announce before the end of the day a date for an initial court appearance by the former Liberian President.  [The spokeswoman later announced that the Court scheduled Taylor’s initial court appearance at 3 p.m. on Monday, local time.]


And in a press release issued today, the Court reports that lawyers from the defence office met with Taylor yesterday and they described him in fairly good health and in good spirits.  They say he cooperated with the lawyers who explained his rights and addressed personal matters, as well as detention-related issues.


The Court says Charles Taylor is considering possibilities in respect of his legal representation.  And that it is his right to be tried in his presence, and to defend himself in person or through legal assistance of his own choosing.


And that press release is available for you upstairs.


**Security Council


The Security Council this morning held consultations on the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.


Council members spoke by videoconference with the Tribunal’s President and Deputy Registrar on detention conditions and other aspects of the Tribunal’s work.


And under other matters, Council members discussed the proposed transfer of Charles Taylor to a facility outside Sierra Leone, while remaining under the Special Court’s responsibility.


The Security Council has just voted on a resolution to extend the mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission in Georgia by six months.


**Sudan-Chad


Turning to the situation on the Sudan-Chad border, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees is strongly condemning the forced recruitment of Sudanese refugees from Darfur by various armed groups in UNHCR-run camps in eastern Chad.


The recruitment, the refugee agency says, breaches the civilian character of asylum and of UNHCR camps.


This activity is further evidence of the growing insecurity that has now spread to both sides of the Chad-Sudan border, UNHCR says, and reminds that the High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, has been warning about this for months.


UNHCR says there are also reports of clashes yesterday in eastern Chad.


**Mandate Review Report


And just to recap yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General presented his report on the review of UN mandates to the General Assembly, calling the review a unique opportunity to strengthen and adapt the United Nations to the priorities of today.


In presenting the report, the Secretary-General made clear that it is the Member State’s review, adding, “I am only giving you the tools to conduct it.”


And we have that speech upstairs as you know.


And those tools he mentions, by the way, include a registry of all mandates, which will be available to the public on the UN website after 12:30 p.m. today -- in other words, after the Member States have had a tutorial on access to the registry.


And we have that website address upstairs for those of you who don’t have it.


**Central Emergency Response Fund


The United Nations has granted nearly $2 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to the World Health Organization (WHO) for urgent, life-saving programmes in the drought-hit Horn of Africa.


With those funds, WHO will work to strengthen immunization campaigns, disease surveillance and the training of health professionals in Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, in order to reduce suffering and death from the drought crisis.


And we have a press release on this upstairs.


**United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime


And in Nairobi, the UN Office there reports that the Kenyan Government, with help from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), destroyed more than one ton of cocaine today in a Nairobi medical facility.  The street value of the cocaine exceeded $90 million, according to the UN in Nairobi.


The UN agency assisted the Government in ensuring that the planning, testing and destruction were carried out in accordance with international legal standards.  The drugs had been seized in a raid in 2004.


And there’s a press release upstairs with more details on that.


**Secretary-General’s Travel Next Week


And just to flag to you some things for the coming week.  Next week, the Secretary-General will begin a week of travel to Spain and the Netherlands.


While in Spain, the Secretary-General will chair the twice-yearly meeting of the Chief Executives Board, which brings together the heads of the UN agencies, funds and programmes.  And next week’s session is being hosted by the World Tourism Organization in Madrid.


He will also meet in Madrid with Spain’s Prime Minister, as well as with the King.


And then in the following week, the Secretary-General will travel to The Hague, where he will speak at the sixtieth anniversary of the establishment of the International Court of Justice.


While in The Hague, he also expects to meet with officials from the International Criminal Court and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.


He plans to depart in the latter part of next week, returning to New York a week later.


**The Week Ahead


And for those of you who count on our Week Ahead -- I flag that for you.  We have that upstairs.  There are a number of events, including one on sports for peace, on decolonization and the Commission on Population and Development.


**Press Conferences


And for press conferences, on Monday here, at 10:30 a.m., the Permanent Mission of Spain will be sponsoring a press conference by international model Karolina Kurkova, pop artist Shakira, microcredit expert Ela Bhaat, and the non-governmental organization Women Together.  There will be a briefing on “Fashion for Development”, a programme aimed at fostering development through the introduction of fabrics from traditional weavers in less developed countries to the western world.


And at noon, as our guest we’ll have Max Gaylard, Director of the UN Mine Action Service, who will be here in advance of the first International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance to Mine Action, which is on 4 April.


And that’s what I have for you today.  Any questions for me?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  The Secretary-General met with Alpha Omar Konare earlier today.  Do you have a readout on that, and did they talk about Chad, and did they talk about funding the African Union troops who are in the region?


Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, I can confirm that the Secretary-General did have a meeting with Mr. Konare.  I don’t have a readout yet.  I am expecting one.  The Secretary-General said that he would give me one after.  And yes, the situation –- developments inside Chad -- along the border, which I just mentioned, are expected to come up, as is his intention of raising the issue of support for the African Union force in Darfur.  These are all issues that are expected to have come up.  So I’ll give you a readout on that as soon as I get one.


[The Spokesman’s Office later announced that the Secretary-General and

Mr. Konare discussed Darfur, in particular the Abuja peace talks, with Mr. Konare reporting on steps taken to accelerate progress at those talks.  They also discussed support for the African Union force in Darfur, including the possibility of a donors conference, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in particular, how to ensure an inclusive electoral progress in advance of Mr. Konare’s visit to that country next week.  The situation on the Chad-Sudan border was also discussed, as steps being taken to defuse the tension there and the implementation of the Tripoli agreement.]


Question:  I was wondering, is there any specific reason for the Secretary-General’s meeting with Javier Solana?


Deputy Spokesman:  I will give you a readout on that, as well.  But again, we can expect the issue of the African Union force in Darfur coming up, as well, in that discussion.


[In the Secretary-General’s meeting with Mr. Solana, the issues of Darfur and the Democratic Republic of the Congo were discussed.  On Darfur, support to the African Union force by the European Union was discussed.  On the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the European Union rapid reaction force and support for electoral process were discussed.  This was followed by a one-on-one working luncheon.]


Question:  I’ve been asking this question the last couple of days about

Mr. Ibrahim Jaafari, the Prime Minister of Iraq.  In the United Nations assessment, has Mr. Jaafari been a good Prime Minister of Iraq and what is the UN assessment of his reforms as the Prime Minister?


Deputy Spokesman:  Let me see if I can get you more on that since you have not been satisfied with my answer for the last two days.


Question:  I have another question.  Last year, the Secretary-General, I think his Office, started an investigation into Mr. Dileep Nair after he was removed from office following the Volcker report.  And that Ackermann report is still not available as yet.  It should have been [inaudible] days.  It’s almost a year.  When will it be available?


Deputy Spokesman:  I will raise that question.  I have nothing new.  I have no further guidance on that as of now, but I will look into it immediately after the briefing.


Question:  At its recent Arab Summit in Khartoum concerning Darfur, the Arab League decided, on the one hand, to finance the African Union in the area and, on the other hand, to commence the contingents of the members participating in this mission.  Are there any reactions from the Secretary-General to these decisions?


Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the Secretary-General, as I just mentioned to Laura, is meeting with Mr. Konare -– had a meeting with Mr. Konare this morning -- and the issue of convening a donors’ conference for the AU force in Darfur, which is, as you know, as of now, the only game in town there, is something that he wanted to raise, because he wants the African Union to have the best possible support in advance of the possible transition to a UN force in Darfur.


Question:  Earlier this morning, in this room, the Human Rights Committee presented this report on the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  And the report, they gave it out in French, so I’m admittedly at a bit of a disadvantage, but it details a number of ongoing problems.  One of the issues that also came up in their hearings downstairs was the Democratic Republic of the Congo claiming they didn’t get either question letters from the Committee or individual communications alleging violations of human rights.  So given that the Secretary-General was just there, I don’t know if you’ll know this off the top of your head, but I wonder what’s the connection.  Did the Secretary-General raise any of these issues while he was there?  Does your office have some statement on the just released human rights report on the Democratic Republic of the Congo?


Deputy Spokesman:  Let me look into that for you.  I don’t have an answer off the top of my head about his reaction to something that just happened a few minutes ago.


[Regarding the letters that were referred to in the question, the correspondent was later informed that they had been transmitted to the DRC’s Mission in Geneva.]


If there are no other questions for me, have a great weekend.  Yes?


Question:  You mentioned that Georgia –- also again in this room, the Permanent Representative of Georgia has a number of times, has twice at least that I’m aware of, held press conferences here, among other things, expressing dissatisfaction that Georgia is not heard in the Security Council prior to these votes to extend the Mission.  And he’s asked, in fact, I think he asked journalists to ask, I certainly don’t work for him, but I do think it’s a fair question, do you know if Georgia had the opportunity to be heard prior to today’s meeting and what’s the Secretary-General’s position on nations who are the subjects of Security Council debates being heard?


Deputy Spokesman:  I think the question about Georgia in the Security Council is probably best left to –- you should probably ask the Security Council members and the President on that question.  The Secretary-General has a Special Representative assigned to this beat, so to speak, and she is in constant touch, obviously, with all authorities, and is his eyes and ears to this issue.


Question:  Do you know if they were heard though?  I mean, I will ask that, but I just wanted to know if you know whether he [inaudible] -– it was earlier this week that he claimed that they weren’t being given an opportunity to speak.


Deputy Spokesman:  I think you have to ask the Security Council.


Correspondent:  I will.  Thank you.


Question:  Does Mr. Mark Malloch Brown take over today or tomorrow?


Deputy Spokesman:  Well, today is Louise Fréchette’s last day -- as we announced –- is 31 March.  So starting tomorrow, Mark Malloch Brown will assume the duties of the Deputy Secretary-General. 


OK?  Have a good weekend everybody.


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