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

23 March 2006

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

23 March 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

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

Good afternoon.

**Secretary-General

I will start off with an update on the Secretary-General’s travels.

The Secretary-General and his delegation today travelled to Kisangani, in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, and visited the UN Mission’s Eastern Division headquarters.  The UN Mission has about 14,000 troops deployed in the eastern part of the DRC, out of a total of 17,000 in the country.

The Secretary-General visited the local office of the Independent Electoral Commission and then met with women leaders at a church compound in Kisangani, where he also met with the Archbishop of Kisangani, Laurent Monsengwo.

In remarks at a joint press conference with the Archbishop, the Secretary-General said he senses the excitement of the Congolese people about the opportunity to elect their own leaders democratically.  He said that the Congolese are fed up with war and do not want to go back to the destruction and the misery of the past.

And we’ll put out that transcript later today.

The Secretary-General then went to a centre where former combatants can decide whether to go into the Government military or back into civilian life.

And the Secretary-General afterward departed the Democratic Republic of the Congo for Libreville, in Gabon, where he should be landing just about now.  And he’s scheduled to meet with the Gabonese President, Omar Bongo, in the evening.

**Security Council

Turning to the Security Council, this morning the members unanimously approved a resolution extending the mandate of the UN Mission in Afghanistan for another 12 months.  The Council also emphasizes the importance of meeting the benchmarks and timelines laid out in the Afghan Compact that was agreed to in London nearly two months ago.

The Council is now holding consultations on UN efforts in two African countries, Guinea-Bissau and Burundi.

On Burundi, they are being briefed by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Carolyn McAskie, who spoke to you at length yesterday. 

A draft presidential statement on Burundi was also circulated, and is to be adopted after consultations.

On Guinea-Bissau, they are expected to hear from the head of the UN Peacebuilding Office in the country, João Honwana.

And then, at 3:30 this afternoon, the Council will hold closed consultations to hear from Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Nicolas Michel on the Secretary-General’s report, issued yesterday, about assistance regarding a tribunal of an international character to try suspects in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 22 other people.

And Mr. Michel has told us he does intend to take your questions at the stakeout after the end of consultations this afternoon.

** Lebanon

Turning to Lebanon, Terje Roed-Larsen, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Security Council resolution 1559, held talks today with King Abdullah of Jordan and other senior officials in Amman.  Discussions focused on issues related to the implementation of the resolution and the current situation in the wider region.

Following those talks, Mr. Roed-Larsen also met today in Jordan on the Secretary-General’s behalf with Palestinian Authority President and PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.  And the discussion revolved around issues related to Palestinian militias in Lebanon.

Roed-Larsen said afterwards that he was encouraged by his talks with the Palestinian President, and added that “President Abbas’ strong support for resolution 1559 is much appreciated”.

And we have more details upstairs.

**Arab League Summit

I wanted to let you know that Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari will lead a delegation of UN officials that will participate in the Summit of the League of Arab States taking place next week in Khartoum, Sudan.  Mr. Gambari will deliver an address on the Secretary-General’s behalf to that Summit.

And we will, of course, make that speech available to you next week.

**Ethiopia-Eritrea

Meanwhile, from the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE), it says today that the military situation in the Temporary Security Zone and adjacent areas remains tense.

It also says that routine troop movements have been noticed on both the Ethiopian and Eritrean sides.

The ban imposed by the Eritrean Government on the UN Mission’s helicopters is still in place, and restrictions continue on the movement of UN patrols in some areas of the Zone.

And we have more details upstairs in the transcript of the press briefing that was held today.

**Human Rights Commission

Late yesterday evening the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) decided by consensus to abolish the Commission on Human Rights as of 16 June 2006.

ECOSOC also asked the Commission, which it established in 1946, to keep its current session short and procedural.

** Afghanistan –- Avian Flu

Turning now to the avian flu, the Food and Agriculture Organization has given the Afghan Government pressure sprayers, protective glasses, masks and rubber boots, as well as gloves, reusable overalls and disinfectants, to help control the spread of bird flu.

Following the recent outbreak among birds, FAO experts are continuing to test poultry and other birds collected in different provinces, and have attended culling operations in Kabul.

And so far, no human cases of bird flu have been reported in Afghanistan.

**WHO/UNICEF

And the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today announced a new formula for making oral rehydration salts.

The new formula will better combat acute diarrhoeal disease and advance the Millennium Development Goal of reducing child mortality by two thirds before 2015.  According to the two agencies, diarrhoea currently kills 1.9 million kids every year, mostly from dehydration.

And we have a press release with more information on that upstairs.

**WFP -- Somalia

From Somalia, the World Food Programme (WFP) today appealed to leaders and militias throughout Somalia to protect humanitarian agencies and let them do their work to alleviate a worsening drought emergency.

The appeal follows a fatal shooting incident two days ago, which happened at a place where WFP food aid was being handed out in southern Somalia.

WFP has condemned the violence and stressed that insecurity is delaying humanitarian deliveries, which is especially hurting Somali women and children.

And we have a press release from WFP upstairs.

**Mad Cow

FAO today also reports that the number of cases of “mad cow disease” worldwide has been declining by about 50 per cent a year over the past three years.

The agency said that it is clear that the measures taken to stop the disease have been effective, but further success depends on continuing to apply those measures worldwide.

**Nuclear Terrorism Convention

And I have a ratification to advise you of.  Today, Slovakia became the first country to ratify and become party to the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism.

The Convention, as you may recall, was adopted on 13 April 2005, and it currently has 100 signatories.

**Press Conferences

A couple of press conferences to flag for you.

At 2 p.m. in this room, the Permanent Mission of Serbia and Montenegro will sponsor a press conference by members of a delegation of the Serb Orthodox Church, who are visiting the UN.

And tomorrow, Alan Doss, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Liberia, will be joining me at noon to provide you with an update on Liberia.

And that is it for me.  Any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  A couple of questions -- where are we on Ethiopia-Eritrea?  A couple of months ago or more now the Secretary-General said we have to take a decision and warned that people, whose lives are at risk.  And then there was this American initiative which went nowhere.  And nothing really has happened and you lost an Indian peacekeeper because he couldn’t get to hospital on time and still no one’s doing anything.

Spokesman:  No, the US initiative is still ongoing and the Secretary-General recommended that the Council extend the current mandate of the Mission for another 30 days, which I believe it did.  So we’re in a bit of a holding pattern right now.

Question:  And one other question.  On the Arab League, is there anything that the UN is going to be doing there, appealing for, asking for, lobbying for?

Spokesman:  There are quite a number of agenda items that are to be discussed between the UN and the Arab League, notably the issues of Sudan and Darfur, Iraq, the situation in the Middle East.  This provides a good forum for us to address those issues with members of the League of Arab States.

Question:  But will you be able to go into more detail?  Can we have a briefing from somebody explaining --

Spokesman:  We can see if we can get Mr. Gambari to come -- Excuse me?

Question:  Sorry, rather than just sort of listing topics, if we can have a briefing --

Spokesman:  We’ll see if Mr. Gambari can come down maybe before he goes.

Question:  I just wanted to know if the Secretary-General has any comment on the trial of Abdul Rahman, the Muslim man who converted to Christianity that’s going on right now in Afghanistan.

Spokesman:  On that, the Secretary-General’s Representative in Afghanistan has spoken up and called on the Afghan authorities to uphold his legal and human rights.  Koenigs noted that article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Afghanistan adheres to, says everyone has the right of freedom of religion, including the freedom to change religion or belief.

And Koenigs said he trusts that these principles will guide the judicial authorities in all cases, including this one.

Question:  Any reaction from the Secretary-General on the ETA ceasefire?

Spokesman:  Yes, in fact, while I was talking I was given a statement to read out, which I will now read out:

“The Secretary-General welcomes the permanent ceasefire declared yesterday by ETA.  He urges that this commitment be honoured, thus ending the violence which has caused so much suffering over so many years.”

Question:  Is the Secretary-General satisfied with the conclusions of the Fourth World Water Forum?

Spokesman:  You know I don’t believe I can speak to that at this point, but we’ll see if we can get you an answer.

Question:   On the Cyprus issue, did the Turkish Cypriot side respond about the Paris agreement?

Spokesman:  I have no update on that, but we’ll see if we can get you an answer.

Question:  Did Mr. Michael Møller send a letter to Mr. Mehmet Ali Talat, which clarifies whatever they decided in Paris, Mr. Annan and Mr. Papadopoulos?

Spokesman:  I think, you know, for questions relating to the activities of the Secretary-General’s Head of Mission in Cyprus, I would urge you to call the Mission.  We could put you in touch with them.

Question:  When does the Secretary-General intend to call the two parties to start discussing all the technical aspects?

Spokesman:  We’ll see if we can get you an update on that.

Question:  Who is the delegation from the Serbian Church meeting at the United Nations and do you have any readout of those possible meetings?

Spokesman:  No.  I can try to find out if they’re meeting any United Nations officials.  It’s not clear to me that they’re meeting UN officials.  The press conference is being sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Serbia and Montenegro, so they might be able to give you more details as to what their schedule is.

Question:  Do you have any timetable for the in-house return of Secretary-General Annan next week?

Spokesman:  Yes.  You should expect to see him back in the office on Monday.

Question:  Do you know if he will be making comments?  Are you going to set up a camera?

Spokesman:  We’ll try to do that.  It may be either Monday or Tuesday, depending on what the schedule is.

Question:  Can you get an answer perhaps for tomorrow, when will those security turnstiles go into operation?  I’d love to see day one, if you could find out.

Spokesman:  We hope to all be there on day one.

Question:  Is the Secretary-General’s trip to Gabon and Equatorial Guinea something scheduled ahead previously, or has it been added to his schedule?  And is the purpose to discuss the maritime border dispute?

Spokesman:  Yes, it’s a continuation of his good offices efforts at mediating between the territorial dispute between Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.

Question:  Does the Secretary-General plan any other trip like this for two weeks or more during this year to have right now on his schedule?

Spokesman:  Does he have more -- yes, I think there’ll be lots more travel for the Secretary-General.

Question:  Like this?  For two weeks?

Spokesman:  I can’t answer that.  I mean, some trips are two days.  Others are more than two weeks.  It just depends on where he goes and what he has to do.

Question:  It is a Security Council matter, but is the Secretary-General concerned of the deadlock still on Iran in the Security Council?

Spokesman:  You answered your own question.  It is a Security Council matter.  I’m sorry, Richard, I don’t mean to –-

Question:  But he has -–

Spokesman:  No, I understand, but I think right now, this issue is in the hands of the Council.

Correspondent:  I like my answer.

Spokesman:  Yes, Mark?

Question:  Can you get more clarity on what exactly Mr. Roed-Larsen is doing? 

Spokesman:  There’s been quite a lot of clarity.  It’s part of his efforts to talk to the P-5, to talk to all the regional players who may have an influence in Lebanon as it relates to 1559.  He will go to Lebanon on this trip, and he will then report back to the Council the middle of next month with a full report.

Question:  Well, would it be possible, I mean, is it, for example, is he negotiating or talking with regional players about the President of Lebanon and possibly trying to do a deal with Syria as to the replacement of Mr. Lahoud with somebody who’s not anti-Syrian for example?

Spokesman:  I think his mandate is laid out by 1559, and I think we’ll have to wait to see what his report says.  Thank you.

* *** *

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