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

23 December 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

23/12/2005
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

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

Briefing by the Spokesman for Secretary-General

Good afternoon.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

I’ll start of with a statement on the Democratic Republic of the Congo:

The Secretary-General congratulates the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Independent Electoral Commission for the successful conduct of their constitutional referendum on 18 and 19 December, despite the tremendous challenges which they faced. 

The relatively high voter turn-out and the fact that the polling was conducted in a largely free, fair and peaceful manner attest to the determination of the Congolese people to participate in deciding their nation’s future.  The United Nations remains committed to supporting the people of the DRC in this historic process.

That statement is available in English and in French upstairs.

** Pakistan

A quick note on the aftermath of the Pakistan quake, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is starting a new round of aid distribution to help quake survivors in camps cope with the extreme cold.  The agency is handing out some 250,000 blankets and 77,000 plastic sheets this week.  In addition, UNHCR has been fixing latrines, bathrooms and communal kitchens in 50 of the camps, and is working with UNICEF to provide water.

Regarding financial commitments, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that the UN flash appeal is about 43 per cent covered, and that $50 million to $60 million per month is needed through April to avoid having to phase down operations in Pakistan.

** Uzbekistan

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, in a statement today, urged the Uzbek Government to abide by international standards of due process, amid reports that defendants have been convicted in closed-door trials this month in connection with events in Andijan last May.

Ms. Arbour says that “If the latest proceedings were anything like the trial that resulted in the conviction of the first 15 defendants last month, there is very good reason to worry.”  She adds that, at the previous trial she had expressed concerns over alleged irregularities, and today she once again urged the Government to abide scrupulously by the fair-trial standards.

** Zambia

From Zambia, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees say the Zambian Government has appealed today for $8.5 million to provide food for up to 82,000 Angolan and Congolese refugees in that country.  Faced with severe shortages of food and funding, WFP plans to reduce rations by half, starting 1 January, to assure that refugees get some level of food assistance in the months ahead.

**Clarifications and Corrections

Yesterday, we had mentioned, as fact, reports that several thousand Sudanese refugees had left Chad for North Darfur, following attacks by Chadian opposition groups.

We should have said those reports had come from the Sudanese Liberation Army.  The UN Mission in Sudan has now flown to the border area to check out the reports and found them to be almost totally unfounded.

Yesterday, we also announced that the International Advisory and Monitoring Board for the Iraq Development Fund will be holding its meetings here next week and that the Board will be holding a press conference on Thursday, following a two-day meeting.  We have now been informed the Board will only be holding a one-day meeting on Wednesday, and that the press conference will now be Wednesday afternoon at 4:30 right here.

**The Week Ahead

Today is Friday and we have the Week Ahead.  Just to let you know that we are closed next Monday and that, barring any breaking news, we will not have noon briefings.  We will post highlights up on the web around 12 or 1 o’clock, but obviously our office will be staffed if you all have any urgent questions.

**Marriage Proposal

And lastly, in the spirit of the season, I want to flag to you a very heart-warming story from our very own Building here.

Earlier this week, a Californian Catholic professor surprised his German Jewish girlfriend by proposing to her in the General Assembly Hall, as they ended a private tour of the UN.  Standing at the central podium, which is usually off-limits to visitors, the young lady said “yes.”

The couple had then had planned to eat in the Delegate’s Dining Room.  But because their luggage had been lost on their flight to New York, they were dressed in jeans, which, some of you may know, is not acceptable in the Delegate’s Dining Room.  Thinking quickly, their German-Iranian UN tour guide, Ahmad Azadi, lent the groom-to-be his UN tour guide uniform, and wrapped his personal Indo-Iranian shawl, which he usually wears on tour, around the bride-to-be’s jeans.

The groom remarked, “The UN is a giant symbol of peace and hope and love and understanding.  And those are qualities that make a foundation for a good relationship.”

Happy Holidays to all of you, and on that note I will take questions.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Happy Holiday to you.  Today, I think, is the deadline for the Eritrean and Ethiopian troops to withdraw from the borders.  From all indications, they have not done so.  Is there any concern expressed in the Secretariat?

Spokesman:  The deadline is the 23rd.  The Mission’s position is that the deadline has not yet passed.  They are monitoring activities as best as they can on both sides of the Temporary Security Zone and the Adjacent Areas.  Obviously, you know, the Eritreans have made it much more difficult for us to monitor their side.  We will report to the Security Council on 2 or 3 January on the compliance or non-compliance on both sides.

**Briefing by Spokesperson for Assembly President

Good Afternoon

The General Assembly met in plenary this morning to adopt three resolutions on:  the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), malaria and the causes of conflict in Africa.  The President then suspended the meeting until the Fifth Committee concludes its work on the budget.

Informal talks on the budget went until 3 a.m. last night.  We are anticipating that, after the G-77 consultations this morning (which were still going on as of noon), the Fifth Committee will meet in informal session to review the proposed text.  Immediately following that, the Fifth Committee will meet in formal session to act on the draft budget resolution.  And finally, the Assembly will meet in plenary to act on the Fifth Committee recommendation.  Services have been scheduled throughout the lunch hour, and the President is hopeful that the plenary could conclude its work this afternoon.

Also scheduled to be adopted later today, along with the budget, is a resolution setting out the arrangements for a high-level meeting on HIV/AIDS to be held in the General Assembly on 2 June next year, preceded by a two-day comprehensive review of progress towards realizing the targets agreed in the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS.  [In addition, several draft resolutions forwarded for the Second Committee are also expected to be adopted.]

In his remarks to the plenary this morning, the Assembly President noted that 100 days ago, our leaders gathered here for the World Summit and adopted an ambitious reform agenda for the United Nations.  He stated that we have already recorded some important achievements, including the agreement on the Peacebuilding Commission and the arrangements for the Central Emergency Response Fund.  These are an early indication to the world that the General Assembly can and will take difficult but important decisions on the challenges that confront us. 

In his end-of-the-year letter, which we circulated yesterday, the President set out the schedule for the upcoming consultations on the Human Rights Council, to start 11 January, and on development and Economic and Social Council reform, to start 13 January, as well as his plans for other reform initiatives.  Copies of that are available in the Spokesman’s Office.

Assuming that we get a budget today, the Office of the General Assembly Spokesperson will be closed next week.  I will be away for much of January, but Freh will be available to provide you with information.

And just to close on an inspirational note for the holiday season, the President ended his letter yesterday with a quote from Dag Hammarskjold, on the close of his centennial year:  “We have too much in common, too great a sharing of interests and too much that we might lose together, for ourselves and succeeding generations, ever to weaken in our efforts to turn simple human values into the firm foundation on which we may live together in peace.”  Happy holidays to you.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Suppose there is no budget today -- and I should tell you that, just before coming here, the G-77 did break up and are now headed to the boss’ office to talk about yet another proposal -- is the GA prepared to remain open and continue in session until the budget is resolved next week?

Spokesperson:  I think contingency plans have been put in place for meetings next week.  But the President is planning to go home to Sweden tonight.  In the event of a crisis, I think he will consider returning next week.

Question:  You indicated that the President will resume some negotiations on certain reforms, including the Human Rights Council, but I didn’t hear anything about the reforms of the Security Council.

Spokesperson:  Yes, he did give that report on Security Council reform.  Also, in his end-of-the-year letter, he stated that the Working Group on Security Council Reform will be meeting early next year.  He is planning on taking up this issue actively next year.

Question:  Is that the Open-ended Working Group?

Spokesperson:  There are so many working groups, I get them mixed up.  [The President intends to convene in the new year the General Assembly Open-ended Working Group on matters related to the Security Council

Thank you very much.

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