DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
17 March 2004
Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
**Guest at Noon
Ibrahim Gambari, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Africa and special envoy for polio eradication in Nigeria, is with us here today and he will be coming forward to tell you about his recent visit to Nigeria and talk about the polio-eradication campaign in that country. We also have a press release on this issue.
**Kosovo -- Violence
The UN Mission in Kosovo reports that earlier today, a crowd of around 3,000 people gathered in south Mitrovica and attacked the UNMIK police station and regional headquarters. They then marched across the bridge and attacked Serbs in the north, which led to a large riot.
In the course of that riot, there was repeated gunfire and explosions and, as a result, over a hundred people are injured and people have died. The situation is far from stable and there are reports of clashes elsewhere in Kosovo.
**Holkeri -- Violence
Harri Holkeri, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Kosovo, has appealed to all communities to stay calm and not let today’s incidents jeopardize the stability of Kosovo. He added that the vast majority of ordinary people want to live in peace with each other, and they don’t want to be governed by extremists.
Holkeri said that all ordinary citizens can do now is to cooperate with the authorities, with the local police and the international police.
**Statement Attributable to Spokesman on Violence in Kosovo
The following statement on Kosovo is attributable to the Spokesman:
“The Secretary-General strongly condemns today's violence between Kosovo Albanians and Kosovo Serbs in Mitrovica, Lipljan, Pec, and Gnjilane, which has reportedly left at least seven people dead and hundreds injured. Preliminary reports indicate that several KFOR soldiers and UNMIK international civilian police are among the casualties.
“He urges all parties involved to bring an immediate halt to the violence, which jeopardizes the stability of Kosovo and the security of all its people.
“He expresses his full support for the efforts of his Special Representative and the rest of the international community, and calls on local authorities to help return the situation to normal, and bring to justice those responsible for the violence.”
On Tuesday, OIOS took the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) that was sent to UN Headquarters in 1994 from the UN Mission in Rwanda to the National Transportation Safety Board in Washington, D.C., where, in the presence of experts from the International Civil Aviation Organization, the CVR was opened. The tape duration is about 30 minutes and recorded some conversation in French. Nothing heard so far on the tape links the CVR to the aircraft crash on 6 April 1994 in Rwanda. Additional expert attention, as is normally the case, will be required to determine the exact contents of the tape. And that process will require a bit more time, and we can’t tell you how much more right now. And only when we have this additional review can we draw any definite conclusions about the recorder.
The Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for Haiti, Reginald Dumas, met with Prime Minister Gérard Latortue yesterday and will be attending the inauguration of Haiti’s new Cabinet in Port-au-Prince around midday today.
Yesterday, a UN humanitarian assessment mission went to Saint Marc, 90 kilometres north of Port-au-Prince. It reported that basic social services and commerce are slowly resuming.
The port area of Port-au-Prince, the scene of much looting in recent weeks, is now considered secure and is beginning to function. Yesterday, the World Food Programme started receiving containers of food from the port terminals.
The World Food Programme has successfully delivered 20 tons of food to schools in Cap Haitien and will be sending a further 70 tons of supplies to that area today.
**Democratic Republic of Congo
The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is stepping up efforts to control the illegal flow of arms into the country, which is driven mainly by militias operating North and South Kivu provinces, as well as in Ituri. The Mission’s action is in response to last week’s Security Council resolution.
The resolution authorized the UN Mission to seize arms found in violation of the arms embargo imposed on all foreign and Congolese groups operating in the east of the country. The Security Council also established a Committee to monitor progress in implementing the arms embargo. We have a press release from the Mission upstairs.
**ElBaradei -- Washington
Mohamed ElBaradei, the Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is today scheduled to meet US President George Bush, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, and other senior officials to discuss a range of issues -– including the IAEA’s verification of Iran's nuclear programme.
The high-level working meetings will focus on current efforts to strengthen the nuclear non-proliferation regime. We have more in a press release on that in my Office.
There is nothing on the Security Council agenda today.
The Security Council Sanctions Committee on Liberia has issued a new list of individuals subject to a travel ban. These include senior members of former President Charles Taylor’s Government and their spouses, as well as members of Liberia’s former armed forces who retain links to Taylor. The list is published as a press release.
**UNHCR - Srebrenica
Kamel Morjane, the Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees, has called for those responsible for the Srebrenica massacre to be brought to justice.
You’ll recall that Srebrenica was the scene of the worst massacre of the 1992-1995 Bosnia war -– thousands of men and boys are believed to have been killed by the Bosnian Serb army after it overran the town.
Morjane made the remarks during a wreath-laying ceremony in the village of Potocari outside of Srebrenica. He also urged the local authorities to help determine the fate of Srebrenica’s men -– most of whom are officially listed as missing. Morjane is currently on a week-long tour of the Balkans. We have more on his trip upstairs.
**UNICEF - North Korea
Carol Bellamy, the Executive Director of UNICEF, the UN Children’s Fund, has completed a three-day visit to North Korea –- her first since 1997.
At a press conference in Seoul today, Bellamy said that despite international isolation and a political impasse with the West, efforts to save and improve the lives of North Korean children are working. She cited vastly improved immunization rates and better systems for dealing with cases of severe malnutrition.
But despite the positive results, Bellamy said North Korea’s social service infrastructure is in a severe state of decline and poses serious challenges to the future of children there. We have more on her visit upstairs.
[To a correspondent who had raised his hand to ask a question]
I am not finished yet. Just give me a little more time.
**Central African Republic
Speaking to correspondents in Geneva today, Ramiro Lopes da Silva, the Special Humanitarian Advisor for the Central African Republic, said there were serious problems in that country that could lead to a major humanitarian crisis in the coming months, if not solved. So far, only $700,000 has been pledged against a $16.8 million humanitarian appeal.
**Secretary-General at Council on Foreign Relations
The Secretary-General was the featured speaker last night in the David A. Morse lecture at the Council on Foreign Relations on the theme of the “The United Nations and global security in the 21st century”.
A conversation with Council President Richard Haass was followed by a question-and-answer session with Council members who posed questions on topics ranging from Security Council reform, the UN’s role in Iraq, the “oil-for-food” programme, efforts to counter terrorism, the high-level panel on change, the Spanish election results, and Myanmar.
The Council told us that they would provide us with the full transcript as soon as it is ready. And we have the Secretary-General’s opening remarks upstairs, which we made available to you yesterday afternoon.
**Lecture Series -– Tutu
Just a quick reminder that Archbishop Desmond Tutu, winner of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize, will be the guest speaker at the Secretary-General's Lecture Series today. He’ll be speaking on the topic: "God's Word and World Politics".
The lecture will take the form of a brief presentation followed by questions. And that’ll happen from 1:10 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. in the Trusteeship Council Chamber.
**Press Conference Tomorrow
Finally tomorrow in this room there will be a press conference by Marjatta Rasi, the President of the Economic and Social Council, and also present will be Anwarul Chowdhury, the Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States; and Rogatien Biaou, the Foreign Minister of Benin, will brief you here on the state of the world’s least developed countries.
Now, Colum is itching to ask me a question; so I’ll call on him first.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Any indication on what basis they say the tape was not involved in a crash? And on Iraq a report from Reuters today citing an aide to Sistani saying that he never sent a letter to Kofi Annan. Can you clarify that? And it would probably be much better if you just provide us the communication, the actual communication, so we can see what it says.
Spokesman: I would like to provide you with every confidential communication that comes into this Building, but I am not at liberty to do so. I think Mr. Brahimi said yesterday that the communication was not from Mr. Sistani or Ayatollah Sistani, directly, but from one of his aides. I think I can ... (interrupted)
Question: He said in a message directly from ...
Spokesman: Yes, the person who conveyed the message said it was from the Ayatollah to the Secretary-General, and it was conveyed by telephone. So, I don’t think Mr. Brahimi said yesterday that it was by telephone ... (several interruptions)
Question: He said a written letter ... He didn’t say letter, but written ... He said he received a letter ...
Spokesman: That may have been a misunderstanding; I don’t know. What he told me this morning was that it was in a telephone conversation.
Question: Can somebody please clarify what this is all about? I mean, Mr. Brahimi told us “in a written message” ... You know, he did say that it, he suggested that it might have been sort of through an intermediary, but he did suggest that the message was coming directly, written to the Secretary-General from Sistani. And now it’s a telephone conversation. Can someone give us a sort of a more detailed clarification of what exactly the communication consisted of?
Spokesman: When I saw that press report this morning, I asked Mr. Brahimi and he told me that it was a telephone message from an aide to Ayatollah Sistani, who said that he was conveying a message from the Ayatollah to the Secretary-General. That’s what he told me this morning.
What’s the other? Oh, the black box. I don’t think we know any more. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is taking copies of the tapes and they’re going to subject them to further listenings by experts. And I think until that second review is complete, we won’t be able to say any more. I don’t know anything about the technical side of this. So, all I can tell you is what I read out to you, that the initial indications were that “nothing heard so far on the tape links the CVR to the aircraft crash of 1994”. I don’t know whether that means there was no indication that it was linked to any crash. I know that, among other things that Dileep Nair of OIOS is looking into, is again the serial number; that the black box has a serial number that cannot be traced to this or any other plane. And again initially yesterday, as I understand it, they were unable to trace that number to any plane. But that effort will continue. Mark? [He later explained that Mr. Brahimi had received by telephone a message that had been committed to pager by the person who read it.]
Question: Okay, could you say who the aide is that sent this telephone message and whether -- since details have already changed from yesterday, I’ll ask the same question that was asked yesterday -- whether the UN is confident and why the UN is confident that that aide was accurately reflecting Ayatollah Ali Sistani’s views rather than ... and on another question, I just wanted ... (interrupted)
Spokesman: Before you get to your second question, I’ll have to ask Mr. Brahimi. I did not ask him this morning. He did not tell me. I don’t know whether he wants me to tell you, but I’ll convey your question to him.
Question: I mean, he has basically provided us, you know, as you’re saying, with inaccurate information that every major news agency and newspapers published in their papers. That’s like, you know, it’s a serious inaccuracy and it would really be helpful if he could clarify. This is the second issue. We were getting indications before he took his first trip to Baghdad from your Office that he was not going back; that changed. I mean, we’d like to get a straight story.
Question: Just on the OIOS investigation or half investigation of the oil-for-food programme. Just to clarify. Is the OIOS doing anything other than waiting for a response from the CPA and the Governing Council? Is it, for example going through documents? Is it sequestering computer files? Is it interviewing former oil-for-food programme officials?
Spokesman: Because I don’t know, I can’t give you the answers to all those questions. I can answer one of them. I know for a fact that they have interviewed a number of people. So, it isn’t just that they’re waiting for the Governing Council to provide copies of the documentary evidence that some members of the Council indicated they had. So, the investigation is proceeding as best it can and we don’t yet know whether we will ever get this evidence from Baghdad. Whether we are going to leave it at that, that nothing came in the mail, or whether we will take further steps to try to get at what they claim to have in Baghdad, I can’t tell you at this time. But the investigation, as far as I know from OIOS people who have told me, is active and ongoing. Let me take one.
Question: On Iraq, Fred, Reuters is reporting out of Baghdad that Ahmad Chalabi said today that they have reached an agreement on inviting the United Nations back to Iraq. Reuters also quotes Emyr Jones Parry, confirming that much from here. Two questions: are you aware if this has happened or is happening? And if so, is there date attached to when the UN might be going back?
Spokesman: No. We’ve seen the press reports and as of two minutes to 12 or so when I checked with the person who logs in all of the Secretary-General’s mail, we had not been in receipt of this letter. So, I cannot tell you what it says until we see it, or we have not yet received it. Yes?
Question: Who will see it if the letter comes? Might Mr. Brahimi and the team to help with the elections be able to get back into Iraq and start working?
Spokesman: You know, one of the things that we will want to see is what the letter says. So, if there is a very clear request for a specific kind of assistance that we feel we’re in a position to give, well then, I think you’d see us move quickly. But until the letter comes in and we read it, I don’t think I can react specifically to that. Let me take Benny.
Question: On a separate issue: since everybody starts with “Reuter reports”. AFP reports from Gaza that Terje Larsen said that there may be a need for a multinational force in Gaza. This idea has come up and been chopped down so many times. Why bring it up again?
Spokesman: I suppose he thinks it’s a good idea. I haven’t spoken to him or anyone on his staff yet this morning so I can’t comment on what he might have said in Cairo. So, if you let us try to get in touch with him to see what, if anything I can say in response to that. But I have no guidance on that right now. Now we take Richard.
Question: Oil-for-food again. I know there is an investigation and the Secretary-General has commented on it briefly, but strong articles again from The Wall Street Journal, which, on the one hand, yesterday prints an article from the Secretary-General on one page about Haiti and, on the other, says the UN is an evil empire. Articles again mentioning the Secretary-General’s son, Benon Sevan’s name being linked to profiting from this. This investigation may take some time. Is the UN, does it have a response today while this snowball of appearances of UN chicanery is building? Is there a response to these accusations today?
Spokesman: No. The response from Benon Sevan is the same one that I read out on his behalf a number of weeks ago. What you know since then from the Secretary-General is that he has asked the Office of Internal Oversight Services to look into any possible wrongdoing by UN staff. The Secretary-General doesn’t have the authority to investigate some of the other allegations that are being made in the media about wrongdoings by governments or companies. Let me take Abdurrahim.
Question: Fred, just for the benefit of those that ... (inaudible) ... of the war in Iraq. Can you take us again through the circumstances the Secretary-General made in his decision to withdraw inspectors and UN personnel from Iraq, and was that decision based on any communication that he had with the Americans, and did they give him a specific date for when the hostilities were about to start?
Spokesman: I am not going to take questions regarding history here. If you come to my Office afterwards we’ll dig out the files and see what the answer might be, and we’ll discuss whether to give it to you on the record or off the record. We’ll have to see what the answer is. Yes, sir?
Question: Fred, can you confirm the Secretary-General will go to Switzerland on March 23 for talks on Cyprus?
Spokesman: No, I cannot confirm any details of the Secretary-General’s travel plans yet. Yes?
Question: Earlier you had said that the black box was in pristine condition. Today you say there is a recording on it. Can we assume from that that it was in fact used on a flight somewhere?
Spokesman: I cannot say any more than I have said. It seems logical that if there is voice recording on the box that that came from some flight on some plane. I mean, that’s what you would expect. But because I am not expert in these things, I can’t tell you whether there is any other way to get voices on that thing except if it’s used in flight.
Question: And the other question I wanted to ask you about oil for food. There have been some suggestions that the Security Council might appoint a committee to investigate that. Would the Secretary-General favour that?
Spokesman: The Security Council would have to decide what it wants to do. I don’t think the Secretary-General wants to comment at this time about discussions they may or may not be having about a wider investigation. David?
Question: I am not sure if it’s something you want to deal with here or upstairs, but the OIOS seems to be involved in a number of different issues that relate to the UN right now -- the black box, the Benon OIP -- but can you just give us a quick snapshot of the staff up there and how it’s able to deal with this sort of extensive investigations? They also have just concluded, or might be a work in progress, this investigation into what happened, you know, around August 19?
Spokesman: I don’t have a staffing table with me, so, if you want to come up after the briefing I’ll give it to you. Yes, Richard?
Question: The NTSB might be willing to have a photo-op with this black box and keeps throwing the issue back to the UN. I asked this yesterday. Are you ruling out any possibility of open and transparent process of letting a video camera see what they are working on as this process takes place?
Spokesman: The black box is currently with OIOS here in New York. So, I will relay your request to Mr. Nair; not with great hope, but I will ask him. Yes, Serge? [He later announced that Mr. Nair agreed to have the black box photographed.]
Question: Fred, I asked you this question before. Under which governing law is the Government of Haiti going to operate?
Spokesman: I think I have answered that there is no clear legal path for Haiti, given that its Constitution calls for a parliament, which is currently not functional, to approve a change in presidents following the stepping down of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. So, I can’t say that there is firm legal basis.
Question: What is the status of the ambassador since Jean-Bertrand Aristide still claims that he is the president? What is the status of his ambassador here?
Spokesman: As far as I know, as long as the international community, starting with the Organization of American States and CARICOM are dealing with the new president as if he were a constitutionally approved president, which we all know is not possible because there is no functioning parliament. If that president leaves in place his representative to the United Nations here as the legal representative, then we will deal with that person. That person, in any case, has credentials that have already been recognized by the United Nations. So, if there is no concrete action to reject or withdraw those credentials, that person will represent Haiti as far as the United Nations is concerned. Warren?
Question: Back to the possible communication from Iraq. So that we don’t call you so much every 30 minutes; if that does arrive, will you let us know that it’s here and that someone (inaudible)
Spokesman: Yes. Bill?
Question: Concerning the OIOS and the oil for food, I think there is a letter written to the Governing Council asking them to forward documents relating to the investigation of the charges of fraud.
Spokesman: There were two letters from OIOS -- one to the Coalition Provisional Authority, one to the Governing Council. And then there was a second set of letters to each of those two that went out about a week ago. So, there have been two formal written requests for assistance with forwarding to us any evidence they have of wrongdoing by UN personnel.
Question: Was the second set of letters written because the first set didn’t receive any response?
Spokesman: That’s correct.
Question: When was the first set written?
Spokesman: I’d have to look into that. But it’s, I don’t know, it’s some time ago. I can find out for you and let you know. Mr. Agashi? [He later said the first letter went out on 6 February, and the second one on 11 March.]
Question: In case you receive the letter in the course of this afternoon, will you release that information immediately today or will it be at the noon briefing tomorrow that you will announce it officially?
Spokesman: I have already said that if my Office is informed of receipt of the letter, we will squawk that to you. Whether I can tell you anything about its contents, I am not in a position to say at this time. Yes, Mark again.
Question: Has the Secretary-General come any closer to taking action following the accountability report, and is there any change of policy in terms of publicizing elements of what that accountability report might have contained?
Spokesman: No, I think he took a question on that coming into the Building yesterday. He said that he’d make an announcement when he is ready; indicating that he is still studying the report’s contents and I think, for reasons we have tried to explain to you, the report cannot be made public. Richard?
Question: Just to clarify –- I know both sides we’re not airplane experts –- the internal workings of the black box removed to Washington, the tapes; while the physical black box, the orange boxes are left here in New York with OIOS, the investigators, is that what you’re saying?
Spokesman: No. The black box which contains the tapes was taken to Washington. It was opened up by the NTSB in the presence of an ICAO expert. The tapes were taken out of the box and were listened to. It was put back together, brought back to New York. Copies of the tapes were made for the International Civil Aviation Organization; they were taken to Ottawa for further examination. So, the black box, with the original tapes, is here with us. Copies of the tapes have gone to Ottawa.
Question: Can I make a request for video, five-second shooting of this box, which is in UN hands?
Spokesman: I have already told you that I will ask Mr. Nair if he is willing to give you that privilege. Yes, sir?
Question: There are some reports in the Spanish media today saying that the Spanish President-elect Mr. Zapatero is planning to have a meeting with the Secretary-General in relation to the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. Do you know if this request of a meeting has already been passed to the Secretary-General and if that meeting will take place here in New York, or is the Secretary-General planning a trip to Spain ...?
Spokesman: I am not aware that such a request came in. I’d have to check with the Secretary-General’s Office and then I’ll see how to answer the second part of your question. Bill? [He later said no request had yet been received.]
Question: Back on the oil for food. I guess a number of people have been interviewed. Can you be more specific and also give us in some of the communication what type of people we’re talking about, UN, you know, level?
Spokesman: Both UN, former oil-for-food personnel and outside personnel, but I can’t get any more specific than that.
Question: Outside the UN or ...?
Spokesman: Outside the UN, yes.
Question: But we can’t say who they were working for or ...?
Spokesman: No. No. Mr. Abbadi?
Question: On the oil-for-food programme, Mr. Sevan is reported to be on leave. At what point did he ask for the leave and for how long?
Spokesman: He is on verge of retirement and he is taking accumulated leave. The maximum leave you can accumulate in the UN system is two months; after which, if you don’t take it, you lose it. I don’t know how much leave he’s lost over the years, but he did have the maximum two months accumulated and I believe he’s taking those two months which ends towards the end of April, after which he goes into retirement. Yes, Riccardo?
Question: Fred, on the oil for food again, has the Secretary-General spoken to Mr. Sevan regarding this issue, and does the Secretary-General trust him?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General does trust him and has confidence in him. At the same time, as a responsible administrator, he’s got to investigate these allegations against Benon and others, and he’s doing that through OIOS. I haven’t seen any record of his talking to Benon since Benon went on vacation. But I would have to check that with his office to make sure, but I haven’t seen any record of a phone conversation. Yes, sir?
Question: Two Nigerian ministers are being paid from a UNDP fund that we understand is being contributed by international donors. There is a controversy in Nigeria now as to who are these international donors that are making the funds available for the payment of two Nigerian government ministers?
Spokesman: Who is being paid by these funds?
Question: Two Nigerian ministers are being paid from a UNDP fund. They are taking their salaries from a UNDP fund. This is the ... (inaudible) of the Nigerian Government and there is a controversy going on right now about who are these international donors who are paying the salaries for those two Nigerian ministers.
Spokesman: That sounds very unusual to me. I don’t know anything about it, but I can’t imagine government ministers being paid salaries out of UNDP funds. (Laughter) Someone is signalling to me, “watch out what you’re saying!” Okay. Well, I know nothing about this. Let me look into it to see what I can find out and if such a thing is true, whether I can tell you who the donors are. I have to see as well from UNDP. Bill?
[At the end of the briefing the Spokesman added the following clarification from United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)]:
If I can just go back to the gentleman’s question from my briefing: According to the UN Development Programme, there is a trust fund, which has been used to supplement the salaries of professional from the Nigerian Diaspora who returned to Nigeria to work. These people include the Finance Minister and the Foreign Minister. This was announced publicly in Nigeria and by the UNDP in Abuja earlier this year. And if you want to know the details on that trust fund and who contributed to it, please talk to the Spokesman for UNDP. His name is Bill Orme, and we can give you his number in my Office after the briefing.
Question: Will the OIOS not want to interview Sevan before the end of April? If not, why not?
Spokesman: I can’t tell you who they will want to interview. Undoubtedly, they will be talking to him. And they have the option of talking to him as soon as he gets back or if they care to, calling him back after he’s gone into retirement. But I don’t know what their plans are.
Question: And also, you listed two categories of people being interviewed: former oil-for-food programme officials and outside personnel. Are any current oil-for-food people still on the payroll being interviewed?
Spokesman: I don’t know. I am just giving you the categories based on information I am privy to about people who have actually been interviewed. But I don’t know that that’s all-inclusive.
Question: In addition to those interviews and the requests for information from the Governing Council and the CPA, what other avenues is the OIOS pursuing on this front?
Spokesman: I don’t know and I am not able to say. Richard?
Question: Does the Secretary-General believe that this was up to the countries, and has been said before, to monitor what they knew was potentially scheming kickbacks and problems with personnel, or was this and indeed something that the UN’s oil-for-food programme should have had the responsibility to investigate?
Spokesman: No. The oil-for-food programme had no responsibility to oversee or investigate the kinds of contract scheming that has been reported in the media. So, it would be something for the Security Council through the sanctions committee, the 661 committee, to look into. I don’t know what other body, but it would be something for governments -- either individual governments to investigate their own national companies or the Security Council collectively to look at the actions of companies or governments, for that matter, in relation to the oil-for-food programme.
Can I call up Mr. Gambari? Thank you.
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