DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICES OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL AND THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT

12 October 2005
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DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICES OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL AND THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT

12/10/2005
Spokesman's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Daily press briefing by the officeS of the spokesman for the secretary-general

and the spokesperson for the general assembly president

Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Pragati Pascale, the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.

Briefing by Spokesman for Secretary-General

Good afternoon.  My guest at noon will be María José Alcalá, the main author of the United Nations Population Fund’s State of the World Population 2005 report.  She will be joining us shortly to brief you on that report.  Also present is Henia Dakkak, who is here to answer any specific questions on the United Nations Population Fund’s emergency response to the earthquake in South Asia.  We also expect to have someone from Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the back if you have any questions on the relief efforts in the quake.

**Secretary-General in Lisbon

The Secretary-General, as you know, is in Portugal.  He began his day in Lisbon with a meeting with his Special Envoy for elections in Côte d’Ivoire, Antonio Monteiro.

He then received an honorary law degree at the New University of Lisbon.  The Secretary-General spoke to the students and faculty about human rights and the rule of law, areas where last month’s World Summit brought concrete gains that were “truly significant”, he said.  We have a copy available of his speech to that university upstairs.

The Secretary-General then had a meeting with Prime Minister Jose Socrates and a working luncheon with Foreign Minister do Amaral.  At a press encounter with the Foreign Minister afterward, the Secretary-General was asked about his biggest challenge during his mandate, and he said that, undoubtedly, it was Iraq and the whole issue of disarmament that led to war.

This evening, the Secretary-General has meetings scheduled with opposition leader Marques Mendes of the Social Democratic Party, as well as with former Portuguese President Mario Soares.

**South Asia Quake

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has informed us that the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Jan Egeland, will leave Sri Lanka for Pakistan tomorrow, to get a first-hand look at the devastation and the relief efforts.

Meanwhile, United Nations agencies are still on the ground in Pakistan, working to meet the needs of earthquake survivors.  Yesterday, we told you that the World Food Programme (WFP) was flying in high-energy biscuits from Europe.  That food has arrived in a town south-west of the quake’s epicentre, and aid workers are working to distribute it as soon as possible.  A second convoy is due to leave later today for Muzaffarabad, the hardest-hit city in Pakistan.

Also, WFP reports that the first two of 10 helicopters, which will aid in relief operations, are scheduled to arrive in Pakistan today, enabling rescue and aid workers to reach the most remote areas which have been cut off by landslides.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) has deployed 11 surgical teams and one public health team to the affected areas.  WHO is also sending in cold climate tents, blankets and generators.

According to a UN assessment team in Muzaffarabad, approximately 70 per cent of the city is now destroyed, and the remainder is uninhabitable.  People are sleeping outside in very cold weather, and the danger of epidemic diseases increases day by day.

And I mentioned Hansjoerg Strohmeyer, who should be here from OCHA, who can answer questions for you afterwards.  

**Disaster Reduction Day

On the subject of natural disasters, today is the International Day for Disaster Reduction.  In a message to mark the occasion, the Secretary-General says we can’t stop natural calamities, but we can and must better equip individuals and communities to withstand them.

The most vulnerable to nature’s wrath are usually the poorest, he adds, which means that when we reduce poverty, we also reduce vulnerability.  The full text of that message is upstairs.

** Iraq

Ashraf Qazi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Baghdad, met yesterday with Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafari, to discuss the latest political and constitutional developments.

Qazi expressed the importance of ensuring an atmosphere for the referendum in which the people of Iraq could exercise their choices free from fear and intimidation.  He also discussed the status of Arab nationals, particularly of Palestinian refugees in Iraq, and some of the difficulties they face.  We have more in a press release upstairs.

** Eritrea

The UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) reports that the restrictions placed on UN helicopters by Eritrea remained unchanged, leaving our helicopters grounded on the Eritrean side of the Temporary Security Zone for an eighth straight day.

Legwaila Joseph Legwaila, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and Head of Mission, met today with the Eritrean official who is the main point of contact for the UN Mission, and that’s Col. Zecarias Ogabagader.  Legwaila said, however, that he did not receive any clarification on why the flight ban was imposed or any indication that it would be lifted anytime soon.

The UN Mission’s Force Commander, Gen. Singh, made it clear that, if the current situation continues, he does not rule out the possibility of closing even more outlying outposts.

**Deputy Secretary-General Travels

The Deputy Secretary-General, Louise Fréchette, continued her visit to Australia today, holding a series of meetings in Canberra with senior Government officials, including the Secretary of the Department of Defence, the Chief Medical Officer in the Department of Health, and the Director-General of the Australian Agency for International Development.

Ms. Fréchette also discussed UN-related issues with senior international advisers to the Prime Minister.

In the afternoon, she addressed a meeting of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, and answered questions from several Members of Parliament.

She will hold additional meetings with officials in Canberra tomorrow, before flying off to Sydney in the afternoon.

** Somalia

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, François Lonseny Fall, will travel to Moscow and Stockholm this week, as part of his continuing efforts to find a peaceful solution to differences among the Somali Transitional Federal Institutions.

** Uganda

The World Food Programme (WFP) is warning that its operation to feed nearly 1.5 million internally displaced people in northern Uganda will run out of donations in December.  WFP says it urgently needs $58 million to buy food locally for almost the entire population of northern Uganda, which has been living for years in overcrowded and unsanitary camps after fleeing the Lord’s Resistance Army.

**Guest Tomorrow

Lastly, tomorrow our guest at noon will be Nils Kastberg, UNICEF’s Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, who will brief you on current relief efforts in Central America.  That is it for me.  Any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I know you don’t have any reaction to the suicide of the Syrian minister.  Did he see Mr. Mehlis lately, and do you see any link between that and the report that was presented by the United Nations and his taking his own life? 

Spokesman:  Thank you for providing me the answer to your question in your question.  We have no comment on the death of the Syrian official.  Whether or not he met Mr. Mehlis, as I’ve told you, I think, before, Mr. Mehlis keeps his investigation very close to his chest.  We are not briefed on who he meets or when he meets them, but I’m sure all of that will become clearer when his report is released towards the end of this month.

Question:  That is only an endeavour to find out so there can be a link between that.  That’s the reason why it is necessary to establish whether he did meet with Mr. Mehlis or not.

Spokesman:  I’ve just used all the words I can to answer your question.

Question:  There are reports that Mehlis actually left Beirut and went to Cyprus in the last couple of days.  Can you confirm or deny or say “I do not comment” on that?

Spokesman:  You’re all welcome to come up here and answer for me.  Mr. Mehlis, as you know, is finishing up his report.  We had been told that he may at some point go back to Beirut before finalizing the report.  Whether or not he stopped in Cyprus, I do not know, but it should be no surprise if he did have to go back to Beirut at some point before putting the final touches on the report.

Question:  But he’s not in Beirut now?

Spokesman:  I don’t know his exact location, but I can be happy to try to find out for you.  [Following the briefing, it was announced that Mr. Mehlis has returned to Beirut, as he has a team there, part of which is continuing its investigation.]

Question:  Reports are rife in the Middle East that the team of Mehlis has actually met with Mr. Kanaan and Rostum, the two of them, and that a television station in Lebanon, New TV, has put out a report that Kanaan gave him a lot of documents and Kanaan came to deny that afterwards, and he said in that interview that this is the last time he talks to the press about this issue, and next day we find him dead.  So it’s obvious his death has something to do with the investigation by the defendant investigators, Mehlis and his team.  Not to give us any comment, it’s really...

Spokesman:  I can’t speculate on why this person is now dead and, as I said, whether or not he met with Mr. Mehlis, the contacts he had with him, that will become clear...

Question:  It’s a foregone conclusion.  It’s known.  It’s a known fact.  He was met by investigators, not by Mehlis himself, but by investigators.  This is acknowledged, and he came out to deny the reports that he gave Mehlis checks and documents to the team, which was a report by New TV in Lebanon.  And he said this is the last time he speaks to the press about the issue.  Many people said that he was alluding to his coming demise, but...

Other Correspondent:  Not suicide, right?

Question:  Well, I’ll leave that to you.  But the thing is, we need some substance from you guys.  This is an investigation...

Other Correspondent:  Condolences to the Syrian people.

Question:  ...that belongs to the United Nations.  It’s a committee that’s established by the Security Council, and as a result of this investigation, a guy is dead.  And you keep saying “no comment”.

Spokesman:  What I’m telling you is I cannot speculate why this gentleman is dead.  As for the investigation and Mr. Mehlis, it is still going on.  As I mentioned, he went back to Beirut recently, and he’s now putting the final touches on his report.  Those questions you will have to address to Mr. Mehlis when he is done with his report, and he will come here and hopefully answer those questions.

Question:  Lots of times when a high official, such as an interior minister, passes away, there is condolences by the Secretary-General.  Do you plan to issue condolences to the Syrian... ?

Spokesman:  I’ve said all I’ve had to say on the death of this gentleman.

Briefing by Spokesperson for General Assembly President

The General Assembly President also issued a message today for the International Day for Disaster Reduction, in which he noted that the last few weeks have once again reminded us all of the power of nature to bring great loss, suffering and destruction to the peoples of the world.  He called for quick, effective international responses to disasters, and speedy implementation of the Hyogo Framework for Action adopted at the Kobe Conference on Disaster Reduction last year.

This morning, informal consultations of the plenary are being held on the Peacebuilding Commission, co-chaired by the Ambassadors of Denmark and Tanzania.  As the co-chairs spelled out in their letter yesterday, the meeting today will examine underlying, operational aspects of peacebuilding, with involvement from senior officials from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), OCHA and the UN Development Group.  The next meeting will include discussion with representatives of field operations.  The co-chairs stated in their letter their belief that it would be helpful at this stage, through these more concrete discussions, to seek a common understanding of how the Peacebuilding Commission is supposed to operate in practice.  Once that is done, they hoped, Member States could revisit the outstanding institutional questions with more clarity.

Yesterday the first day of informal consultations on the Human Rights Council concluded, chaired by the Assembly President assisted by his two co-chairs, the Ambassadors of Panama and South Africa.  Most statements expressed support for the process and reiterated positions prior to the Summit.  There was general agreement on a tentative timetable, calling for additional consultations over the next few weeks, with the aim to present a compilation text toward the end of November. This would be the basis for more intensive negotiations starting at the end of November, after the Third Committee has concluded its work.

All the Main Committees are continuing their work today.  In the Sixth Committee’s Working Group on Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism, there will be discussion on the proposal by Egypt to hold a high-level conference on terrorism.

Tomorrow morning, the Assembly plenary will meet to review the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the Decade to Roll Back Malaria.  Any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Will you let us know what is the decision on this high-level conference call by Egypt?

Spokesperson:  Yes, there may not be a decision right away.  The Working Group on Terrorism is submitting its report to the Sixth Committee on October 21st, I believe.  Thank you.

* *** *

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