|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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. It’s Friday -- something we can all rejoice about.
The Security Council is holding consultations today on Somalia. Francois Lonseny Fall, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, is briefing Council members on the Secretary-General’s recent report, which came out a couple of weeks ago, and which we had flagged for you. In that report, the Secretary-General said the signing, in January, of the Aden Declaration, created encouraging prospects for reconciliation among Somali leaders.
The Council is also hearing today from the chair of the Sanctions Committee on Somalia, the Ambassador of Qatar.
Also today, members of the Security Council will have their monthly luncheon with the Secretary-General, in the Delegates’ Dining Room, and the Secretary-General told us that he will be available to take your questions after the lunch. That will probably be around 2:30, but you’ll need to keep an eye on the time.
Turning to Afghanistan, the Secretary-General, in a report that has gone to the Security Council and the General Assembly, says that security continues to be a major challenge in that country.
He points to different causes of conflict in Afghanistan, including the continued insurgency and terrorism, factional violence, and the influence of the narcotics trade. He adds that there are other necessary conditions to improve the security situation, including the disarmament of illegal armed groups and the development of credible, sustainable national security institutions. And that report is available as I mentioned.
From Kosovo, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Kosovo, Søren Jessen-Petersen, today welcomed the decision by the Kosovo Assembly to elect a new Government.
Congratulating all parties for, once again, upholding democratic values in challenging circumstances, Jessen-Petersen paid special tribute to the new Prime Minister, Agim Ceku, who has proved to be a good working partner for the UN Mission in Kosovo, and the international community as a whole. And we have that statement available upstairs.
** Democratic Republic of the Congo
And turning now to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where today the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, arrived in Bunia, the capital of the Ituri district, in the eastern part of the country. He held a series of meetings with local authorities and civil society representatives, during which he stressed the need for a stable environment in Ituri, and discussed the issue of sexual violence against women.
And from Bunia, Mr. Guéhenno will travel to Goma. And I think somebody has a cell phone on if you could please turn it off, thank you.
And while on the topic of the DRC, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) notes that President Joseph Kabila has promulgated a new electoral law that sets 18 June as the date of the first election in the DRC’s 46-year history as an independent nation.
The preparations for the 18 June vote for a President and parliament already constitute the largest and most complex UN electoral-assistance mission ever undertaken.
From Sudan, the World Food Programme (WFP) said that, as a result of the shortage of funds for its Sudan appeal, it had been obliged to cut down its rations of vegetables, sugar and salt for 3.5 million persons in Darfur and south Sudan.
Meanwhile, the lack of water, proximity to the Sudan border and a deteriorating security situation is forcing the UN refugee agency to relocate more than 16,000 Sudanese refugees, from a site in eastern Chad to a refugee camp further away from the border.
And turning now to Pakistan, where, with winter drawing to an end in the earthquake affected zones, the authorities there have announced that relief camps will start closing today, with most camps to be closed by the end of March.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR), which currently helps care for more than 140,000 quake survivors in more than 150 relief camps, has stressed to the authorities that returns must be informed and voluntary, and that provisions should be made for vulnerable people who cannot return for the time being.
UNHCR is planning to contribute to a return package for the quake survivors. And we have more on that upstairs.
Meanwhile, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) report that a global immunization drive has cut measles deaths by nearly half between 1999 and 2004. That is in a report issued today.
The largest reduction occurred in sub-Saharan Africa, the region with the highest burden of the disease, where measles cases and deaths have dropped by 60 per cent. Still, the disease remains a killer, with almost a half million children dying from it in 2004 alone.
The agencies are expanding their efforts in South Asia, where measles deaths are highest outside of sub-Saharan Africa. And we do have a press release available upstairs on that.
**United Nations Population Fund
Today the Secretary-General has approved the appointment of Mari Simonen of Finland, as one of two Deputy Executive Directors of the UN Fund for Population. And we have a press release on that upstairs.
And lastly, a new group of 26 multilingual UN tour guides from 18 countries will join the team next week, bringing the total number of guides to 67. The tour office informs us that the recruitment of guides this year reflects the pattern of visitors to New York, with an increase in need for French, Russian and Mandarin speakers.
The guides assist about a half a million people who visit the UN each year. And we are also informed that the tours are done in 16 languages, which is more than I can do from here.
And on that note, I will take your questions if you have any.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Does the Secretary-General have any statement about what’s happening with the AU [African Union] and the talks right now about switching from AU forces to UN forces?
Spokesman: Obviously, we’re watching very closely what is going on in the AU meeting. We are waiting to see what the final communiqué will say. And, I think, as the Secretary-General mentioned to you yesterday, we are continuing our work with the African Union and the Sudanese Government, whose cooperation he hopes will be forthcoming. But, the Secretary-General has been in touch with a number of African leaders recently, including the head of the AU’s Peace and Security Council, Mr. Konare, as well as Sudanese authorities, trying to see how this issue is progressing.
Question: While we are on that subject, while the African Union is meeting to decide whether or not they will turn the mandate into a UN peacekeeping force, there are indications that a summit between Mubarak… The President of Egypt, the President of Libya and the President of Sudan are going to meet urgently to discuss the issue. Is this something that the Secretary-General would encourage at this stage?
Spokesman: I think I just saw, in fact, the wire report on my way down. We have nothing official on it yet, but obviously, any sort of discussions that would help moving the process along, and that would lead us to a situation where the people… the civilian population in Darfur can be better protected, would be a good thing.
Question: I don’t know whether somebody has already asked this question or not, about the Staff Union resolution being passed, I mean, a no confidence resolution against Mr. Annan. I mean, what implication does this have for the Organization, as it is with… I mean… the image is so bad now? And did Mr. Annan have any reaction to it at all?
Spokesman: We understand this can be a very unsettling time for staff, as they have just been given this report. I think we would encourage them to read the report -- to read the report fully -- to see that it has a number of suggestions that would be beneficial to staff, throughout the UN, including more funding for training, equalizing the way contracts are being held, and allowing General Services staff to apply for Professional posts, without having to resign. So, I think we would encourage people to read it, and read it fully.
Meanwhile, we will be moving ahead with consultations with the staff, both at a formal level, with the Staff Unions here in New York, and at other duty stations. And we will also be moving ahead with… each department head has been told to meet with its staff and consult staff more informally. So, we will continue to work with staff, as closely as possible, to consult with them on exactly what is in the report and on the implementation of it.
Question: But, mostly, the staff’s reaction, which can be judged from their meeting with the Secretary-General and their meeting yesterday, seems to be… I mean, obviously, they are also fearful. They are fearful that there will be lots of losses of jobs and everything, and they believe that they were never taken into confidence from the beginning. Then, after the report comes and is discussed, it a different story, but if they had been taken into confidence from the beginning, probably this reaction would have…
Spokesman: You know, the Secretary-General had acknowledged that there had not been… maybe, sufficient consultation with staff beforehand. But, there had been input from staff on human resources, as I think I mentioned to you yesterday. E-mails were sent out to all staff, asking for their suggestions on the human resources packages. But again, I would stress that this is a strategic vision laid out be the Secretary-General at the request of Member States, who specifically asked him to do that.
Question: Was the Secretary-General pleased to hear of the plans to close Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad?
Spokesman: I think the location… it’s symbolic, obviously… and I have no specific comment on that closure, but wherever people are held, their rights need to be respected. And if there are violations, they need to be investigated.
Michael, welcome back.
Question: Thank you. Can you tell us exactly what the Secretary-General and Mr. Papadopoulos agreed in Paris?
Spokesman: I would urge you to read the statement that I read out after that meeting in Paris, and I think that will answer your questions. I have a copy of it and I’ll be happy to share it with you.
Question: Can you tell us if there has been any reaction from the Turks? Are they ready to come and talk?
Spokesman: I have no update on that. I’ll see if I can get you something after the briefing.
Question: Can you tell us if Mr. Papadopoulos gave to the Secretary-General, any ideas or any proposals he has?
Spokesman: I think that the answers to those questions are in the statement.
Question: What is the main purpose of the Secretary-General’s future visit, very soon, to the three or four African States? What would he like to accomplish?
Spokesman: Well, you know, on South Africa, this would be his first official State visit to South Africa. South Africa has been a major partner of the UN, in helping solve a number of political conflicts throughout the continent. President Mbeki has shown leadership on that. They’ve also become increasing contributors to peacekeeping operations.
As for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), I think it’s a good opportunity for the Secretary-General to visit one of our main peacekeeping operations and, as I said earlier, we are extremely involved in all aspects of what is going on in the DRC. And, he will also have meetings in Congo with the President, who, as you know, is the Chair of the African Union, and they have quite a lot of material on their plate for that. Yes, Richard?
Question: I don’t mean to put you at a disadvantage, but there is a story on the wires that says the African Union has said it’s going to continue its peacekeeping mission, of sorts, until September 30 of 2006. What does that mean? What are the implications? Does that mean…
Spokesman: I’ve answered the question…
Question: No. You answered that you were waiting for the wire and that’s…
Spokesman: Well, you know, then you’re right, you are putting me in an unfair situation. Let us take a look at the communiqué and, as soon as we have a chance to read it, digest it, we will answer.
Question: Well, I came down to ask if you could please answer it today. Because it seems to me that, what the African Union is doing, is not letting you plan for a peacekeeping force.
Spokesman: Well, our contingency planning is continuing, and we will effort to answer it, as soon as possible.
* *** *