|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 Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. A small house.
**Secretary-General in Washington
The Secretary-General is at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs in Washington, D.C., right now, where he just delivered the first of a series of annual lectures on the US-UN relationship. In that speech, he underscored how urgent it is that we all do more to help the people of Darfur, whose human rights have been violated in the most appalling way.
The Secretary-General said that he still hopes that, within the next day or two, we may have an agreement embracing all the parties in Darfur. He appealed to all of them to seize this opportunity and come to a peace agreement for the sake of their people, who have suffered so much. Even if an agreement is reached, he said, we should not imagine that the problem is solved. The humanitarian agencies urgently need financial support, and humanitarian workers need a more secure environment.
We do expect him back in New York later today.
The Security Council is taking up Sudan this afternoon, in consultations scheduled for 3 p.m. An update on the Abuja peace talks on Darfur is expected then.
Meanwhile, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, is wrapping up her one-week visit to Sudan. In a statement issued at the end of her visit, which took her to Darfur and South Sudan, she notes that the situation in Darfur is just as critical, and in some respects worse, than it was during her visit in September 2004. Despite a number of measures taken by the authorities, notably the establishment of special courts and committees, impunity remains the norm in most cases of human rights violations in Darfur, she says.
Arbour goes on to say that the responsibility to protect entails not only putting an immediate stop to violations, it also means prevention and prosecution. Where impunity is allowed to prevail, protection will remain elusive. And she also urged the international community to wholeheartedly support the efforts of southern Sudan and NGOs to strengthen the judiciary.
And we have her statement available upstairs.
Just now, Sukehiro Hasegawa, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Timor-Leste, today told the Security Council that, following the completion of the mandate of the current UN Office in that country, the presence of a small integrated UN office would be of utmost importance in helping the country maintain peace and stability.
In an open meeting of the Council, the Special Representative said that while significant advances have been made in the past five years, recent developments have reminded us that democracy in Timor-Leste is still fragile.
Hasegawa told the Council about the demonstration last week in which some youth and political elements attacked a Timorese Government building and the Government deployed the military in response. The UN Office estimates that five people were killed and at least 60 injured in the ensuing rioting.
He added that the psychological impact of these events was immense, with as many as 14,000 people seeking refuge in parts of Dili, and more than 1,000 people yesterday coming to seek a haven in the UN Headquarters compound there in the capital. We have a speech upstairs and the open debate of the Council is continuing.
In a statement issued today, John Ging, the Director of Operations in Gaza of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), said that, while two weeks ago we were counting down to a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, “today that crisis is on our doorstep”.
Ging said that there are now shortages of medical supplies in the public hospitals in the Gaza Strip, and UNRWA has seen a large increase in the number of refugees coming to its centres seeking food aid and cash assistance. And that statement is available upstairs.
Regarding the Kosovo status talks, delegations from Pristina and Belgrade today wrapped up their fourth round of direct negotiations on decentralization, in Vienna.
The delegations discussed the criteria to be applied to the creation of new municipalities, including those which would have Kosovo Serb majorities. The Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Envoy for the Kosovo status talks, Albert Rohan, said that, while it was true that there had been no agreement on the entire range of issues at hand, common ground had indeed been found.
The next round of direct talks will take place in Vienna on 23 May, and will focus on the protection of cultural and religious sites. And we have more on that upstairs
The Colombia office of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that the Nukak Maku, an indigenous community of Colombia, is at risk of extinction. In the last 20 years, the population has declined by almost 60 per cent, and today they have fewer than 500 members, of whom more than half have been forcibly displaced from their homes.
Since their first contact with outsiders in 1988, the Nukak population has been devastated by malaria and flu, and now their lands have been occupied by coca growers and parties to the conflict under way in Colombia.
We have more upstairs on this in a press release.
On Pakistan, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) reports that quake survivors are continuing to return home at a steady pace. Although some 100,000 camp dwellers have returned to rebuild their homes in the last month, about 55,000 people remain in nearly 100 camps.
UNHCR is providing cars, office equipment and camp management training to the civilian authorities in charge of those camps. UNHCR has also given $2.25 million to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which is working to facilitate the voluntary and safe return of quake survivors to their home villages. And we also have more on that upstairs.
UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] is appealing for $1 million to fight a serious cholera outbreak in Angola. Despite efforts by UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Angolan Government and other partners to get care and medication to the sick, the ongoing rainy season has made it likely that the epidemic will spread.
According to WHO, the outbreak, which has already claimed over 1,000 lives, is Angola’s biggest since 1988. And we have more on that in the Geneva press briefing notes for today.
Next Tuesday, the members of the Middle East Quartet will meet at the principals’ level here at UN Headquarters, and we have a note upstairs for your planning purposes concerning that meeting.
And we also, of course, for your planning purposes, have the Week Ahead available upstairs.
That’s it from me. Are there any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Yesterday, the Secretary-General urged the United States to have direct talks with Iran on the nuclear issue. Does he plan to follow-up, now that he is in Washington?
Associate Spokesman: Well, in terms of his trip to Washington, his trip to Washington is almost over. I just mentioned, at the start of this meeting, that he was delivering a speech at George Washington University, where he commented very much on the situation in Darfur. Once that is done, he really has nothing further on his schedule for today, and he will be returning back here.
So, this wasn’t about his own personal involvement. What he was saying… he had been asked by the newscaster, Mr. Lehrer, yesterday, about whether the US should get directly involved in the talks with Iran, and the Secretary-General responded that he thought that would be a good idea. So, that is just part of his overall effort to encourage all of the various parties to find a negotiated way out of the current problem that we face. It is not a proposal by him for any direct involvement.
Question: I think President Bush was also speaking yesterday evening at the dinner of the American Jewish Committee. Did the two of them have any contact?
Associate Spokesman: I am sure that they were able to greet each other, at least, but, as far as I am aware, President Bush wasn’t there for the full dinner, so it is not that they had any bilateral meeting of any sort. It is just that President Bush, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Secretary-General were all there, and all of them did speak to the American Jewish Committee. We do have the speech that the Secretary-General delivered there upstairs.
Question: Is there any Israeli response to UNRWA?
Associate Spokesman: I am not aware of a response from the Israeli Government. Yes, you are quite right that, also, not just in Gaza but in the West Bank, our officials on the ground have made protests having to do with things such as restrictions on movement and, of course, we are waiting for a response.
And with that, good afternoon. Have a good Friday.
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