22 August 2005


Spokesman's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Information Officer, Office of the Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.  This briefing, we will actually be joined by a guest, Tor Stenbock, who is the Head of the UN Observer Mission in Bougainville, to talk about the successful UN Mission there.  He will be introduced by the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Ibrahim Gambari.

** Niger Trip

The Secretary-General will begin his two-day trip to Niger tomorrow, and we have a programme of events during that trip available upstairs.

As we told you earlier, this trip is intended to show solidarity with the people and Government of Niger and also to help focus international attention on the special developmental challenges faced by the countries of the Sahel, including Niger.

** Sudan

The UN Mission in Sudan reports that the Government of Sudan has asked for its help in the investigation of the helicopter crash that took the life of Vice-President John Garang.  Garang died in a crash on July 30 while returning from Uganda, following a meeting with President Yoweri Museveni.

The United Nations will provide transportation and other logistical support for the investigation, a spokesperson said.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, MONUC, reports that voter registration has begun in the country’s eastern provinces.  The Mission in the Congo reports that the UN is fully involved in the process, providing transportation and technical help.  The registration is going very well and without any incidents, so far, a spokesperson for the Mission said.

** Iraq

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, said he deeply regretted the decree signed last week by Iraq’s Vice-President that authorized the execution of three men convicted of kidnapping, killing and rape.

In a statement issued Saturday, Qazi said that, during Iraq’s transition process, “one should look at consolidating the right to life instead of imposing the death penalty, which has a very poor recognized effect in deterring crimes.” He urged the Iraqi Transitional Government not to apply the death penalty.

** Afghanistan

A report by Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission and the UN Mission in that country notes a number of recent positive developments recently in Afghan’s political process, including progress in voter registration.

At the same time, the report also notes some worrying trends.  The escalation of violent attacks against candidates, election staff, civic educators and community leaders is particularly alarming, it says, and poses the greatest threat to the election process.  We have copies of that report upstairs.

** Sierra Leone

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is closely monitoring the situation in southern Sierra Leone, following heavy rainfall and flooding there.

For their part, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have supplied water containers, chlorine, soap, and essential drugs.  The World Food Programme (WFP) is making arrangements to provide food.  OCHA reports that there are concerns that the flooding could lead to the spread of waterborne diseases, especially cholera.  We have more information on that upstairs.

** Eritrea

Meanwhile elsewhere in Africa, the UN’s Special Envoy for the Humanitarian Crisis in the Horn of Africa, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, is in Eritrea at the start of a week-long trip to assess current humanitarian needs in Eritrea and Ethiopia.

**Millennium Development Goals

Building up and strengthening health systems is vital if more progress is to be made towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals, according to a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO).

The report, which was launched today in Geneva, points to weak and inequitable health systems as a key obstacle, as well as a crisis in health personnel and the urgent need for sustainable health financing.  The report adds that, despite gains in reducing poverty worldwide, if trends established in the 1990s continue, the majority of developing countries will not achieve the health goals.  And that, in turn, will affect progress towards the other Millennium Development Goals.

We have a press release on that upstairs, and the report is available on WHO’s website.

Lastly, in related news, a Millennium Development Goals progress report for Latin America and the Caribbean was presented today by Mexican President Vicente Fox and several UN agencies in Mexico City.  We have a press release on that in the Spokesman’s Office.

As I said before, we should, within the next few minutes be hearing from Tor Stenbock, the Head of the UN Office in Bougainville, who will be joined by Ibrahim Gambari.  Until then, do we have any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  On Iraq, the Sunnis are asking the UN to intervene because the constitution that is being adopted at this point in time does not take their concerns into account.  Do you have a reaction from the UN on that?

Mr. Haq:  Right now, the only thing to say about that is that we do have an Office of Constitutional Support, headed by Nicholas Fink Haysom, which is on the ground in Iraq.  Mr. Haysom, as well as Ashraf Qazi, have been meeting with all the parties over the course of this process, trying to make sure that this constitutional drafting process is as inclusive as possible.  We are hopeful that the final results will, in fact, be inclusive of all the sides.  We have to wait and see, of course, whether they will meet today’s deadline or not.

Question:  How does he [Qazi] resolve this issue of the Vice-President of Iraq on the death penalty?

Mr. Haq: As I just read out, he made his concerns known.  We have placed our concerns on the record and we will raise them with officials as need be.

Question:  On Sudan, could you be more specific about technical help for the Garang investigation?

Mr. Haq:  At this stage, it would really depend on the content of the request that we get from the Government of Sudan.  We are willing to provide it, and we will see what kind of things are requested from us.  One of the things I mentioned just now is that we would provide transportation and logistical support, so that the investigation could proceed.  There is also the possibility that the International Civil Aviation Organization could help out.  We will have to see, again depending on the request, whether they get involved.

Question:  Do you know if any flight recorders were on the helicopter?

Mr. Haq:  I am not aware of that.  That would have to wait…

Question:  One quick follow-up.  There were reports on the Sudan last week that the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement [SPLM] were totally confident in the investigation.  Who actually invited the UN within the Sudanese Government?

Mr. Haq:  I don’t know. I would have to check up on that.

[After the briefing, it was announced that the invitation came from the Sudanese Ministry for Foreign Affairs.]

Question:  What happened to the Zimbabwe appeal?  It has been three weeks now.  It was pretty urgent at that time, and I imagine it is still pretty urgent.  Another thing I just wanted to check:  can you confirm that there is going to be a request for an extension of the Hariri investigation?

Mr. Haq:  On your first question on Zimbabwe, the appeal is not ready yet.  You are right.  We are hoping to get it ready fairly shortly and we have been trying to work among the UN agencies and also with the Government of Zimbabwe to get the appeal out.  Hopefully, it won’t be that much longer.

In terms of a request for the extension of the Hariri investigation, we don’t have to say anything about that, but I’ll check after the briefing if there is...  I know that there has been some talk going around on this, and I’ll see whether there is anything fresh we can say on that.

[After the briefing it was announced that Ibrahim Gambari would brief the Security Council on the investigation this Thursday.]

Question:  On Zimbabwe: just to make sure that the SG is not heading that way while he is in Central Africa.

Mr. Haq:  No, the current trip is a two-day trip to Niger.  You have the rough itinerary of events available upstairs.  It includes stops to two parts of Niger:  Niamey, the capital, and Zinder.

Questions:  A quick follow-up on Zimbabwe, what was the delay, exactly?

Mr. Haq:  It is just the normal process of trying to work with governments in terms of putting out an appeal, and we have been working with the Government of Zimbabwe.  Hopefully we will put one out before too long.

Question:  While in Niger, would the Secretary-General make an appeal for financial contributions?  And also, there is some indication that Japan would no longer pursue its search for a permanent seat, at least for the time being.  Do you have some further details?

Mr. Haq:  On the Japan thing, no, of course not.  That is really a question that you can ask the Japanese Mission here, if they have any details.  There is nothing that I have to say on that.  The General Assembly is resuming its discussions about the draft outcome document today and hopefully you will get some more answers about these sorts of things in the coming days.

We have made an appeal for Niger, as you know, and the Secretary-General is hoping to raise the awareness of the need to fulfil that appeal.  So, yes, this is an effort to help push that appeal along.  We have gotten some response to that more recently. 

Questions:  On Lebanon, the Prosecutor, Detlev Mehlis, will be here in New York this week, right?

Mr. Haq:  No, I don’t believe that is the case.  That was an erroneous report.  He had gone to Geneva briefly, but has since gone back to Lebanon.  There will be a briefing to the Security Council later this week about the work of the Commission, but I believe that briefing will be done by Mr. Gambari.

Question:  Is the Secretary-General planning any other trips in Africa and when is he due back here?

Mr. Haq:  I believe he is due back here possibly before Labour Day.  I don’t have the date of his return here.  He doesn’t have any scheduled official visits in Africa. 

[After the briefing, it was announced that the Secretary-General would be back in New York on 8 September.]

Question:  On what date do you expect to have the interim report from the Hariri Commission?

Mr. Haq:  I will try and see what time line I can get on when we will get that report.  I believe they have been working on that.  

[After the briefing, it was announced that Mr. Gambari’s briefing to the Security Council on Thursday would be the Commission’s interim report.]

Question:  Can we have a readout of Ali Alatas’ meeting with the Burmese?

Mr. Haq:  As you know, we said something about his visit at the time that he had gone there, about the focus on UN reform in the meetings with the Foreign Minister and with Senior General Than Shwe.  I’ll see whether we have anything further to add, beyond what we said last week.

And with that, have a good afternoon.  Of course, wait around.  Hopefully, in the next couple of minutes, we can have a press briefing on Bougainville by Tor Stenbock.

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