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 Manoel de Almeida e Silva, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Susan Markham, Spokeswoman for the President of the General Assembly.
Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary General
Good afternoon. Before I start, let me welcome a group of four Jordanian journalists who are visiting the United States and are honouring us with their visit today to the briefing.
I am going to start with Kosovo. There has been a flare-up of violence in northern Mitrovica, Kosovo.
This morning around 7 local time, following the arrest, by United Nations police, of three Kosovo Serb suspects for illegal possession of weapons, a crowd of some 150 Kosovo Serbs gathered in front of the police stations in Mitrovica North demanding the suspects’ release. The crowd threw stones at the police station.
Preliminary information includes the following. Once the crowd had dispersed from the police station, smaller groups began to move around the area, looting residences of United Nations police officers. Groups of Kosovo Serbs also entered apartments of Bosniak Moslems and beat the residents. In the afternoon, a United Nations Special Police Unit was confronted by a crowd of
200 to 300 Serbs.
As of 5 this afternoon local time, the situation was described by the mission as relatively calm but still tense. The bridges between North and South Mitrovica remain closed. Small groups of Kosovo Serbs are still moving about.
Meanwhile, the Secretary-General’s report to the Security Council on the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo should be out as a document later today. The report is expected to note the continuing violence in the province as the single most important threat.
Just a reminder: the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Kosovo, Hans Haekkerup, will be here Friday to talk to the Council and to you.
The Secretary-General began his official visit to Bangladesh this morning by travelling by helicopter to the National Martyr's Memorial at Savar,
north-west of the capital, Dhaka, where he laid a wreath at the base of a monument commemorating the Bangladeshis who died in the independence struggle.
From there, he traveled to the Peacekeeping Operation Training Center in Rajendrapu, where he was briefed on the training programme for Bangladeshi troops who serve in United Nations peacekeeping missions. He also met with former peacekeepers and met with the families of Bangladeshi soldiers who died while in United Nations service.
He then returned to Dhaka, where he and his wife, Nane Annan, visited the house where the first Bangladeshi President, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was assassinated in 1975. The Secretary-General laid a wreath at the portrait of the late President, who is the father of the current Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina.
The Secretary-General then met with Foreign Minister Abdus Samad Azad, with whom he discussed a wide range of issues. He and the Foreign Minister also had a working lunch together.
In the afternoon, the Secretary-General met with Bangladesh's President, Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed, before delivering an address on sustainable development at the office of the Prime Minister. In that address, he noted that Bangladesh, more than almost any other place on the planet, is expected to suffer the devastating impact of climate change.
In addition to touching on several aspects of sustainable development, the Secretary-General noted that the World Summit on Sustainable Development will be held next year in Johannesburg, and said that an early test of resolve to meet sustainable development goals would be whether governments enforce the Kyoto Protocol, which aims to reduce greenhouse emissions.
He said, "The burden of leadership at this juncture falls on the industrialized countries, and in particular the United States, the European Union and Japan". He urged those countries to proceed with reductions in emissions and assistance for similar efforts in the developing world. He added, "To abandon this process now would set back the global climate strategy for many years".
We have copies of his speech available in our Office, which, as you may recall, were distributed yesterday under embargo.
In the evening, the Secretary-General met first with Bangladeshi Finance Minister Shah A.M.S. Kibria, and then with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who later hosted a dinner for him.
Nane Annan today visited an open-air school that provides job training and education for street children in Dhaka, a project which is supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP. She also visited a pilot project, also supported by the UNDP, that provides small loans and training to women entrepreneurs.
Tomorrow, the Secretary-General will leave Bangladesh for India, the last country on his four-nation travel through South Asia.
**Pavarotti in Benefit for Afghans
We have now an announcement from the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which is related to South Asia as well, where the Secretary-General currently is.
World renowned tenor and United Nations Messenger for Peace Maestro Luciano Pavoratti has agreed to organize a benefit concert for Afghan refugee children in Pakistan to be held in Modena, Italy on 29 May.
This benefit concert by Pavarotti and friends should raise significant contributions for the United Nations refugee agency's (UNHCR's) programs aiding Afghan refugee children in Pakistan and will help to further increase the public's awareness of the plight of these victims of Afghanistan's long conflict.
The Secretary-General and Mrs. Annan visited New Shamshatoo refugee camp in northwest Pakistan on Monday, as you may recall. There they saw the difficult conditions under which some of Pakistan's 170,000 new Afghan refugees are living.
The Secretary-General is very grateful for the initiative shown by Maestro Pavarotti and friends in supporting the UNHCR in its mission to help Afghan refugee children.
Still on Afghanistan, the United Nations Humanitarian Office for Afghanistan announced today that both the Taliban and the Northern Alliance have given their commitment to respect a ceasefire during the first rounds of National Immunization Days against polio, which will be conducted from March
15 to 17.
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization made the request to both sides.
Special efforts will be undertaken to ensure that internally displaced children in Afghanistan will be reached during this vaccination campaign. Additional efforts will be made to ensure that children who cross borders are also vaccinated.
The United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) began its first deployment into territory held by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) since the crisis of May 2000.
An advance party of peacekeepers arrived this morning in Lunsar, a town approximately 200 kilometres from Freetown in the Northern Province of Sierra Leone, to initiate preparations for the full deployment of a Nigerian battalion later this week.
The deployment into RUF-held territory is among the terms of the Abuja cease-fire agreement, signed by the Government of Sierra Leone and the RUF in November 2000.
The UNAMSIL Force Commander, Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande, has held several meetings with the RUF since the beginning of the year to facilitate the movement of peacekeepers into areas controlled by the RUF.
The RUF has agreed to remove its roadblocks on the Rogbery-Lunsar Road and to ensure that Lunsar is a weapons-free zone. Forward UNAMSIL deployment into RUF-held towns is expected in the coming weeks.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
We have a press statement from the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) on the eve of the start of the disengagement of forces which will continue from March 15 until March 28.
Kamel Morjane, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the DRC will be traveling to Goma and is expected to review the situation with Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD) officials. Force Commander General Mountaga Diallo will be in Equateur for talks with Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC) leadership.
**UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea
Still on Africa: two vehicles belonging to Canadian peacekeepers of the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) struck mines near the town of Tsorena, Eritrea.
No one was hurt, although both vehicles, which are light armored vehicles, sustained some damage.
“Fortunately these incidents did not result in tragedy,” said the Mission's Force Commander Major-General Patrick Cammaert. “However, it underscores the absolute necessity of receiving all relevant mine information from both parties”, he stressed.
The press release on this is available in our Office.
As you have noticed, there are no Security Council meetings scheduled for today, although the Sanctions Committee on Iraq will meet at 3:30 this afternoon.
[It was later announced that, at 3:30 p.m., the Security Council would hold consultations on the Middle East followed by a private meeting with the Foreign Minister of Israel, Shimon Peres, and a private meeting with the Permanent Observer of the Mission of Palestine to the United Nations, Ambassador Nasser Al-Kidwa. The Sanctions Committee meeting, it was also announced, had been cancelled.]
Today, the General Assembly is taking action on the list of candidates, given to it by the Security Council, for permanent judges on the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. The list of 25 judges -- 14 of whom are to be seated on the Tribunal -- is available in the Spokesman's Office; Sue Markham will give you more details on how things are developing in the General Assembly on that issue.
Tomorrow, the Council expects to vote on a draft resolution, circulated yesterday by the United States, on a six-month extension of the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE). That Mission's present mandate expires tomorrow.
A new publication, Gender Perspectives on Disarmament, will be launched at a Panel Discussion in Conference Room 2 today at 1:15 p.m. The keynote speaker will be Under Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, Jayantha Dhanapala. United Nations staff, members of Permanent Missions and the media are invited to attend and copies of the publication will be available at the launch.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today that the current outbreak of Foot-and-Mouth Disease requires urgent international action. The outbreak demonstrates the ability of the virus to infiltrate wide geographic areas and cause epidemics in countries which have been free from the disease for many years. The FAO recommends that countries most exposed to risk should reinforce surveillance, control measures at borders and develop contingency plans.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) announced a new report “Beyond Krimson -- the social legacy of Indonesia’s financial crisis”. It warns that the new Government is deep in debt and that debt servicing will account for about one-quarter of Government expenditure in 2001 and 2002. Since the 1997/1998 budget, the health budget has shrunk by 20 percent and the education budget by 40 percent.
The United Nations Drug Control Programme today announced that basketball star Eduardo Nàjera of the Dallas Mavericks has been named a Goodwill Ambassador for Sports Against Drugs.
There's a press release with more details on that in our Office upstairs.
Yesterday, Brazil became the 85th country to sign the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.
This morning, Liechtenstein signed the Protocol Against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air and the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. Both supplement the Convention against Transnational Crime.
Today, three more Member States paid their contributions to the
2001 regular budget in full. Cape Verde and Dominica both made payments of more than $10,000 and San Marino made a payment of more than $20,000. This brings the number of fully paid-up Member States to 62.
Finally, I have an announcement that the third United Nations Department of Public Information (DPI) Public Relations Forum, "Youth and Violence: addressing the problem through public relations", will take place tomorrow. It will be at 3 in the afternoon in Conference Room 1. Shashi Tharoor, Interim Head of DPI, will make opening remarks followed by a round-table discussion. A note to correspondents on this event is on the racks.
Do you have any questions before we move on to Sue? Yes?
**Questions and Answers
Question: A coalition of women's groups has sent a letter of protest to the Secretary-General over the fact that of all the nominees for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) judgeships, there is only one woman. Are you aware of this letter, and if so, is there any reaction yet?
Deputy Spokesman: No, I am not aware of this letter. I will have to look into it for you. Yes?
Question: What are the Secretary-General's plans after the tour is finished in India?
Deputy Spokesman: He comes back to New York. He should be here this weekend. Yes?
Question: Is any date finalized for the Arab Summit?
Deputy Spokesman: You should ask the Arabs about that. [The Arab Summit is not organized by the United Nations.]
Question: Did you say that the Taliban and the United Front are going to meet?
Deputy Spokesman: No, I said they agreed on a cessation of hostilities for this event to take place. They have both committed to respect a ceasefire for a vaccination against polio. It will be a day of immunization against polio. That will be happening between March 15 and March 17. Thank you very much. Sue?
Spokeswoman for the President of the General Assembly
In response to part of what that question was about, the candidates for the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, there is indeed only one woman candidate. She is from Zambia and she is currently a sitting judge on the Tribunal.
The procedure for selecting the judges for the Tribunal is as follows: the Secretary-General solicits nominations from Member States. The nominations go to the Security Council, which then reviews the list and provides it to the General Assembly, which then elects the candidates.
The deadline for the nomination was extended already once because there were not sufficient candidates. After that extension, they couldn't wait any longer, I assume. That was the reason it was sent without the minimum number of candidates. So that's just to give you some background on that.
Sorry I don't have any news to give you on the election. When we came down to the briefing, they were still counting the votes. So as soon as we have that information, we will give that to you. [After the briefing, it was announced that 12 judges were elected in the first round of voting. The list of those judges was made available in the Spokesman's Office.]
Just to be more formal about it, the President of the General Assembly this morning presided over the plenary meeting where the election of the
14 judges for the Yugoslav international tribunal is being held. There are
25 candidates for the 14 vacancies. The vacancies will occur in November, when the current term of office for the Tribunal's judges comes to an end. Of the
14 current judges, 11 of them are standing for re-election. The term of office for the judges is four years.
A candidate requires an absolute majority of 96 votes in order to be elected. This is on the basis of the fact that there are 189 Member States and two non-Member States –- the Holy See and Switzerland -- who are eligible to vote. So an absolute majority is one over half which, in this case, is 96. And it doesn't matter whether the countries vote or not, they still have to receive the 96. So, the election will continue until there are 14 candidates who receive the absolute majority. In other words, the first ballot contained all names, and if any receive 96, they will be taken off the next round until
14 candidates are chosen.
Also today, the President will be presiding over the Working Group on Security Council Reform, which is meeting this afternoon. I think I mentioned at a previous briefing that the Working Group will meet all this week. On Monday and Tuesday, it discussed the veto use in the Security Council, and today and tomorrow there will be discussion of organizational matters. On Friday, whatever is left to discuss will be discussed.
Also, just to remind you about the seminar on the Aland Islands. You may have been confused by my pronunciation on Monday of this. "A" with an umlaut is pronounced "or", I'm instructed. So I apologize. If you all thought I was talking about Ireland, it's not -– it's the Aland Islands. That seminar is in the Dag Hammarskjold Auditorium from 3 p.m. until 5 p.m. and I understand that some participants will be available for a press conference in the Dag Hammarskjold Auditorium immediately afterwards, or around 6 p.m., whichever is the soonest.
On Friday, we expect the General Assembly to meet in the afternoon. I think I already mentioned this on Monday. I don't have any more details, except that, as I said on Monday, we expect them to take up the two resolutions that came out of the preparatory committees for the Financing for Development Conference, and for the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat) General Assembly Special Session.
You probably will have also noticed that the Fifth Committee has resumed its session and is meeting all day today. If anybody wants more details, I can give you that as well.
Deputy Spokesman: Any questions for Sue? Thank you very much. Have a pleasant afternoon.
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