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

26 August 2005

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

26/8/2005
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

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

Good afternoon.  In a few minutes, Jan Egeland, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, will be joining us to provide an update on the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe.

**Security Council

An update of the Security Council from yesterday -- the Security Council was briefed late yesterday by the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Ibrahim Gambari, on the work of the International Independent Investigation Commission which is investigating the death of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in Beirut this year.

Speaking to the press afterwards, the Council President, Ambassador Kenzo Oshima of Japan, said that the Council members noted with satisfaction that the Commission has significantly advanced the course of its investigation.  He added that Council members reiterated their full support to the Commission, as well as their call on all States and all parties, especially those who are yet to respond adequately, to cooperate fully in order to expedite the work of the Commission.

Mr. Gambari also spoke with the press after his briefing.  He noted that the Commission’s head, Detlev Mehlis, is meeting with Syrian Government representatives in Geneva today, and that he will be in New York next month.

We have copies of each gentleman’s statement and you can watch them both on the UN’s webcast website.

** Burundi

A ceremony to mark the inauguration of Burundi’s first elected president in more than a decade was held in Bujumbura today.  To mark the occasion, the Secretary-General has sent a message in which he congratulates the people of Burundi for their efforts during the country’s transition process.

He also pays special tribute to Burundi’s Transitional Government and its leaders, and expresses gratitude to other parties, such as the African Union, which have also helped in Burundi’s peace process.

The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, delivered the message on the Secretary-General’s behalf, and we have copies of that statement upstairs.

** Somalia

On Somalia, the Secretary General’s Special Representative for that country, François Lonseny Fall, will visit Egypt and Ethiopia this weekend for consultations on the Somali peace process. 

Fall is expected to meet on Saturday with the Egyptian Foreign Minister and the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States.  On Sunday, he will travel to Ethiopia to meet with the Chairman of the Commission of the African Union.  While in Addis Ababa, he is also expected to meet with the Ethiopian authorities.

We have more information on Mr. Fall’s trip upstairs, in the Spokesman’s Office.

** Sudan

Turning to Sudan, the World Food Programme (WFP) says that it has handed over an airport upgraded at more than $1 million to the local government in the south Sudan interim capital of Rumbek to provide greater access to the south. The new airport will provide greater access to the south, where poor roads, an annual rainy season and insecurity are major obstacles to transport and commerce.  The runway is long enough to accommodate aircraft as large as Hercules C-130’s.  WFP will continue using Rumbek airport as part of its emergency aid operation in the south, which is struggling to recover from drought and civil war. 

WFP also says that it is concerned by the forgotten plight of 90,000 Eritrean and Ethiopian refugees in Sudan, who are completely dependent on the agency’s food aid.  WFP needs more than $9 million to feed the refugees until the end of the current operation in 2006.  The agency says that the levels of malnutrition among children under five are particularly alarming.

**Cholera

The World Health Organization (WHO), meanwhile, says it is concerned by cholera outbreaks in southern Niger, near the border with Nigeria.  Given the high fatality rate, a WHO team will be going to the region on Sunday to investigate the matter.  Throughout West Africa, the cholera wave, which began several weeks ago, have already led to 500 deaths out of over 31,000 reported cases.

WHO is working with partners to strengthen surveillance activities, among other things, and water chlorination supplies have been dispatched to some of the countries.  But all efforts are being seriously constrained by a lack of resources.  And you can read more on that upstairs.

**Tuberculosis

The World Health Organization’s Regional Committee for Africa, which is comprised of health ministers from 46 member States, has declared tuberculosis an emergency on the African continent.  The resolution, adopted today at the end of the Committee’s meeting in Maputo, Mozambique, comes in response to an epidemic that has more than quadrupled the annual number of new tuberculosis cases in most African countries since 1990, and is killing more than half a million people every year.  We have a press release upstairs.

**General Assembly

The General Assembly will hold an informal plenary meeting today at 3 p.m. on the next stage of the draft outcome document of the September Summit.

**Contributions

And finally:  with the arrival of a check today from Bolivia, the honour roll of fully paid-up Member States has reached 108.   Bolivia sent in a check for about $160,000 today.

We have the ”Week Ahead” upstairs for your planning purposes.

If you have any questions for me, I’ll take them, but Jan Egeland is here already for his briefing.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I want to raise something that has not been raised here before.  A Reuters cameraman in Iraq is being held incommunicado for more than two weeks at Abu Ghraibprison by the United States military.  The United States in Iraq has justified the policy of detaining journalists for months without charge as terrorist suspects by referring to its powers under Security Council resolution 1546 adopted in June 2004, which gives the multinational force authority to take all necessary measures to contribute to security and stability.  Is there any UN reaction to the policy that gives no special role for journalists while detained on suspicion of any links to terrorism?

Deputy Spokesman:  Let me look into that for you right after the briefing.

Question:  Do you have any reaction to the killing of five Palestinians by Israeli forces and to the statement by Mahmoud Abbas that the consolidation of West Bank settlements is now wrecking the peace process in the Middle East?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don’t have anything on that as of now, but let me see if I can get a reaction for you after the briefing.

Question:  I just want to put on the record again my request for a briefing by Under-Secretary-General Veness on the security arrangements for the summit.

Deputy Spokesman:  I think one is in the works, and Gary Fowlie of Media Accreditation is working on choosing an appropriate date.  We will come back to you on that.

Question:  Do you have the latest on Iraq?  It seems that the constitutional process is going down the hill, despite President Bush’s intervention.

Deputy Spokesman:  At this moment, all I can say is that the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Mr. Qazi, has been active in the process.  The UN Mission, as you know, has been providing technical assistance to the constitution efforts, as requested.  But the United Nations, as you know, is not in the driver’s seat and this is an Iraqi-led process.  But, as I mentioned earlier, Mr. Qazi has been very active in the process.

Question:  Is the Secretary-General concerned that the actions of a few countries are wrecking the whole UN-reform process and the prospects for the outcome of the summit?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, he isn’t.  We have been mentioning to you, just a moment before you walked in, that the General Assembly President will be meeting this afternoon, convening the meeting on the draft outcome document.  He has said that he will be putting together a core group to really begin the final stage of these negotiations, that we all know the challenges that we face, that this is a historical opportunity.  I think we are looking at some serious involvement by Member States in the last phase of this process.

Question:  Just to clarify. The UN, the Secretary-General, has no concern that a few countries are actively causing difficulties for this reform package and undermining it for the rest of the countries?

Deputy Spokesman:  I think the Secretary-General is watching the process very closely.  He has been, as you know, the one who has put out various initiatives on the crucial challenges that face us.  I think that at this point, it is really in the hands of the Member States, but he is optimistic.

Question:  The Secretary-General has put forth this reform package, but he seems disengaged.  Most of the time he is not even here.  Some leadership is required.  I know that the General Assembly President is doing this, but Mr. Annan seems to be disengaged.

Deputy Spokesman:  First of all, from someone who has been travelling with Mr. Annan extensively during the last six months, I can say that everywhere we have gone the issue of UN reform -- the urgency of it, the stakes involved in it -- has been the key topic he has discussed, whether this was in Africa, whether it was in Asia, whether we were in London, whether we were at the G-8.  The subject of UN reform, his visions and his hopes for Member States to seize upon this opportunity, has been at the foremost of his visits.  So no, he is not at all disengaged; that I can tell you.  He does have advisors who are watching and facilitating, but this is a process that the Member States have now taken upon themselves to negotiate and we have to see how that plays out.

If there are no other questions, I would like to turn the floor over to Jan Egeland.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.