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

24 February 2006

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

24/02/2006
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

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

Good afternoon.  I’m sorry I’m a bit late.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General is on his way to Qatar, where he will convene a meeting tomorrow to discuss the current crisis related to the caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed.  That gathering will be followed by a joint press conference with most of the participants, where they will read out a joint statement.

On Sunday morning, he will address the opening session of the second meeting of the High-Level Panel of the Alliance of Civilizations.

** Iraq

Turning to Iraq, the Security Council received a briefing this morning on developments in Iraq from Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari.  He talked about the events on the ground, and the contacts that Special Representative Ashraf Qazi has had in his efforts to calm the situation.

The Secretary-General was asked yesterday about the violence in Iraq following the attack on the shrine in Samarra, and he said he had appealed for restraint and was happy to see Iraqi leaders coming together to see what can be done to calm the situation.

He said, “I hope they will work together in the common interest of Iraq, and in the interest of their own citizens who have suffered for far too long, through the violence of the past few years.”  The Secretary-General also offered his deepest sympathy to the families of the journalists killed in Iraq yesterday.  And we have the transcript of those comments upstairs.

**Security Council

The Security Council, in closed consultations, also discussed Eritrea-Ethiopia with the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Eritrea and Ethiopia, Legwaila Joseph Legwaila.  A presidential statement on that subject was circulated, and they are expected to go to a formal meeting to issue that statement following the consultations.

** Côte d’Ivoire

Turning to Côte d’Ivoire, the United Nations Mission in Côte d’Ivoire today reports that following discussions between the Mission’s Human Rights Officers and the leaders of the Forces Nouvelles in the north, the Forces Nouvelles have released 20 people who had been arrested on suspicion of spying or alleged disloyalty to their movement.

Seven of the detainees had been in jails near the northern border with Burkina Faso since last November.  The others were arrested more recently.  There’s more information on this I’m sure upstairs.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs meanwhile reports that United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations have begun feeding some 60,000 persons in the Democratic Republic of the Congo who have fled the fighting between Government troops and the Mayi-Mayi.  Trucks from the World Food Programme, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and private NGOs have been able to negotiate insecure roads in the Katanga area to feed displaced persons, some of whom have been without homes since November, according to OCHA.

They also have called upon the local authorities to help arrange security for the displaced persons, and to put an end to impunity in Katanga.  We have a press release in French upstairs on this subject.

** Lebanon

Terje Roed-Larsen, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Implementation of Resolution 1559, told us a short while ago that he spoke by phone yesterday with Nabih Berri, the Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, and expressed support for the start of a national dialogue in Lebanon.

Roed-Larsen recalled that it is the Secretary-General’s view that the issue of Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias, as expressed in resolution 1559, should be resolved through a national dialogue, and he said that the United Nations encourages this initiative.

**UNRWA

And the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East -- or UNRWA -- informs us that Israeli forces caused a significant amount of damage after occupying two schools run by the Agency at the Balata refugee camp in Nablus this week.

The Agency has compiled a list of damages, including broken doors and windows, as well as waste materials left behind in the schools, and it says it will approach the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs to discuss the matter further.

**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

And turning to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the World Food Programme’s Executive Board yesterday approved a two-year plan to continue tackling nutritional deficiencies and chronic hunger in that country.

Costing $100 million and covering nearly 2 million North Koreans, the plan aims to provide vitamin- and mineral-enriched foods to young children and women of child-bearing age, as well as cereal rations to underemployed communities.  And there’s a press release on this subject upstairs.

** Philippines and Indonesia

Regarding the recent landslides in the Philippines, the United Nations Country Team is working on helping the Government in the areas of response, contingency planning, recovery and long-term preparedness and disaster risk reduction.

The Team is especially concerned by health conditions at the evacuation centres, where cases of mumps, conjunctivitis and respiratory problems have been reported.  An assessment team assessed two of the eight centres yesterday and will continue the assessments today.

And in Indonesia, the United Nations is deploying an assessment team to the island of Sulawesi, in the aftermath of this week’s flash flood and landslides, which displaced more than 1,000 people.  And there are press releases on both of these subjects upstairs.

** Pakistan

The World Food Programme today also announced the formation of a team of international and Pakistani mountain guides to assess damage and destruction in mountainous areas of Pakistan and Pakistan-administered Kashmir hit by last October’s earthquake.

**International Narcotics Control Board

And we have a press release from the International Narcotics Control Board.  It’s releasing its Annual Report next week.

**Week Ahead

And we have this week’s Week Ahead for your planning purposes.

**DPI Announcement

And an announcement from the Department of Public Information.  A photographic exhibition showcasing Mexico’s renowned UNESCO World Heritage Sites will open with a reception on Friday, that’s today, at 6 p.m. in the North-East Gallery of the General Assembly Visitors’ Lobby.  Shashi Tharoor Under-Secretary-General for Communication and Public Information will formally open the exhibit together with representatives of UNESCO and the Mexico Tourism Board.  All media are welcome to attend.  And there’s a press release on the racks.

**Press Conference

And just on Monday, one press conference to let you know about.  At 11:15, Anders Johnsson, Secretary-General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union will be here to present the latest world statistics on women in parliaments.  He will be joined by two women parliamentarians from Burundi and Latvia.

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

**Questions and Answers

Question:  On the Lebanese judges, they arrived in New York yesterday.  Do you have anything to say about their meeting with Nicholas Michel?

Deputy Spokesman:  I have no details.  All I can do is confirm that they are here and they are meeting with Michel, the United Nations Legal Counsel.

Question:  Anything else on the Brammertz trip to Syria?

Deputy Spokesman:  Nothing further than from yesterday.  No.

Question:  Is he going back to Syria?

Deputy Spokesman:  I can look into that one for you.

Question:  Can you just confirm national dialogue?  Do you mean that they are going to have, like, town hall meetings?   Is Terje Roed-Larsen going to propose any ideas for national dialogue?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we literally got off the phone with him about two seconds before we walked down here, and so I think this is a general statement and he wanted to let us know that he wanted to encourage this process.  If you want more details on it, I can look into that for you after the briefing.

Question:  Yesterday, it was mentioned in the briefing that the International Advisory and Monitoring Board (IAMB) for Iraq finally posted its minutes of a meeting held in late January.  So, in looking at the minutes, they say that in this room in December it was said that the Development Fund for Iraq was entering a contract with a United States firm to meter oil flow, so they can see how much was being sold.  And the minutes that were released yesterday for the first time say the IAMB was informed that no progress had been made with regard to the metering contract.

What we can’t figure out is, does that mean the contract exists with an American firm, but hasn’t gone forward?  That no contract ever existed?

Deputy Spokesman:  I’m stopping you a little bit because I cannot elaborate on the IAMB website information.  We’re going to have to refer you to the IAMB spokesman, who was here in December when they did have their meeting, and he is with the IMF, and we can provide you with his phone number.

Question:  It’s Mr. Murray.  He’s been very nice, but I haven’t got any answer from him.  The reason I’m asking here is because Mr. Halbwachs, the United Nations, is the Chair of it.

So I guess I’m just saying I don’t really care which channel we get the answer from, but it does seem fair that that [inaudible] is intentionally vague.

Deputy Spokesman:  We will certainly ask the question to Mr. Halbwachs, as well and we will also prod Mr. Murray for an answer for you.

[The Deputy Spokesman later informed the correspondent that the IAMB had asked the Government of Iraq to provide information about how the metering plan is proceeding.]

Question:  He’s been very polite; I think he just has the same problem.  Actually I’ve noticed that, not to, in the minutes as well, this might seem minor, but the representatives of the Government of Iraq are not named.  Everyone else is named that attended the meeting.  Maybe there’s a reason for that.  I don’t know if there’s a policy of not naming them for security reasons, but I think...

Deputy Spokesman:  We will pass that question on to those who are more closely involved and get you an answer.

Question:  I would just like to know why I had to read briefing notes from Asmara –- an UNMEE briefing in Asmara -- on Thursday afternoon to discover that a meeting had taken place in the United Nations basement here in New York on Wednesday of the witnesses to the Algiers Agreement and that Legwaila Joseph Legwaila, the UNMEE Special Envoy I believe, was in New York for that meeting and that this was never mentioned in New York, as far as I can tell, that he was here, that this meeting would take place -- that this meeting did take place -- that this meeting adopted a declaration, which was issued.  This only became apparent because of an accidental reading of a document from Asmara, which enabled us to do a story last night about 30 hours late.  And if I’m reading the file correctly, Associated Press was able to cover only from Nairobi this morning at 4 or 5 a.m.

Deputy Spokesman:  I checked on that with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.  Yes, Legwaila Joseph Legwaila, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Ethiopia-Eritrea, is here.  I just mentioned before you came in that he took part in this morning’s consultations as well.

We have been confirming to anybody who has asked that he is here to attend this meeting.  My understanding is that this is a United States-led initiative, that we are one of the members, but it was in their lead to publicize the meeting, its contents and whatever statement that was coming out.  So that’s what I have learned about this.

But, just for everybody else here, the presidential statement that the Council is about to issue does touch upon this witnesses meeting, which does comprise, as I mentioned, the United Nations, but also, led by the United States, and the European Union, as well as the African Union, as well as Algeria.

Question:  I may be mistaken, but I think the Security Council, the statement at some point called for this meeting of the witnesses, as well as a meeting of the full Boundary Commission.  And I heard that the Boundary Commission is going to be meeting now, which is hinted at in the witnesses’ statement.  Would be able to find out about that before...?

Deputy Spokesman:  I think the best person to approach that is the Security Council President when he comes to the stakeout.

Question:  Follow-up on a question I asked yesterday.  Has Italy, in fact, cut its voluntary contribution to United Nations organs and specialized agencies or not?

Deputy Spokesman:  We have read press reports and we have been taking questions from journalists regarding reported intentions, about Italy’s intentions.  And as we mentioned from this podium yesterday, we hope it won’t happen.

Question:  Earlier today, or much earlier, given the time difference, the Special Rapporteur for Human Rights [Paulo Sergio] Pinheiro, gave a sort of a final statement about Myanmar, saying that he hadn’t had access for two and a half years and that the conditions are deteriorating.  I guess, maybe I should know this, but what happens next?  This was described as the end of his six-year mission.  What’s the plan?

Deputy Spokesman:  Rapporteurs, as you know, are selected by the Commission.  They normally then will prepare a report, which is taken up by the Commission when it meets.  And it’s the body of the Commission that decides on the next steps.

Question:  Given the bleak nature of his public statements, does the Secretary-General, it doesn’t seem -- there was no nuance.  He was saying, he didn’t have any access, he couldn’t get in.  So, I guess I’m just asking whether there might be from this office any sort of statement on that, or whether we’ll just...

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you know, the independent rapporteurs are precisely that.  They are independent experts who are contracted by the Commission to carry out their work on an independent basis.  We are trying to contact him now to see, because we have not seen, we’ve seen the press reports of his comments.  But, as I said, his report will be going to the Commission and it will be up to them to take any decision.  I don’t have anything further from this podium today.

If there are no other questions, have a good afternoon and a good weekend.  Thank you.

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