DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
2 December 2004
Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General this morning received the report of the High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, and he said that he wholly endorsed its core arguments for a broader, more comprehensive system of collective security.
In a letter transmitting that report to the Member States of the General Assembly, the Secretary-General says that the report “offers the United Nations a unique opportunity to refashion and renew our institutions”.
In particular, he pledges to take the lead in promoting a new comprehensive strategy against terrorism and to articulate his vision in a report that he will submit to Governments next March, which will factor in the panel’s recommendations. That report will help to set the agenda for the summit next year on implementing the UN’s Millennium Declaration.
The Secretary-General agrees with the Panel’s view that the world’s threats are interconnected, saying, “We cannot treat issues such as terrorism or civil wars or extreme poverty in isolation”.
He also notes that the report’s concerns have also figured in his own reform efforts, including the need for a more representative Security Council.
**Statement Attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General
The following statement is attributable to the Spokesman regarding the Democratic Republic of the Congo:
“The Secretary-General is very disturbed by the increasing tension between the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Rwanda, particularly by indications from Rwanda of military operations on the DRC territory against ex-FAR/Interahamwe elements which Rwanda maintains is a threat to its security.
“The Secretary-General calls on the Government of Rwanda to refrain from any military action on the DRC territory, which would disrupt the vital transitional process in that country. He hopes that Rwanda will work within the established process for the disarming and repatriation of the remaining ex-FAR/Interahamwe elements still in the DRC territory.
“He also calls on the Government of the Republic of the Congo to intensify its efforts for disarming and repatriating such elements. He would expect that Rwanda would provide the DRC and the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC) with all information it may have on the location of such elements.
“The UN Mission is prepared to activate immediately the Joint Verification Mechanism for the purpose of disarming and repatriating these groups.”
**MONUC -- Update
Meanwhile, the UN Mission in that country says it has compelling evidence that Rwandan soldiers have crossed into the east of the country. The Mission’s helicopter reconnaissance patrols have taken photos of abandoned bivouacs and well-equipped soldiers who are moving with new uniforms and materials.
The Mission says that the communications equipment the soldiers were carrying suggests they’re from the Rwandan army, rather than members of one of several other armed groups in the region. Mission patrols have also been getting consistent and coherent information from locals about hundreds of Rwandans that have crossed into the country. The Mission is continuing its reconnaissance activities, with the aim of obtaining full confirmation, if possible.
The UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs has sent an assessment team to the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s North Kivu province which shares a border with Rwanda.
The team says it has encountered people who claim to have witnessed fierce fighting in that area, and that villages have been looted and burned, while children have been separated from their families.
The OCHA says that over 2,000 newly displaced persons people have been registered so far in the south of Lubero -- which is in North Kivu province -- and others continue to arrive. OCHA says humanitarian actors on the ground there warn that such displacement is likely to have dire humanitarian consequences, as people are arriving with little or no food, and the existing health system is unable to cope with the influx of new cases.
The Security Council this morning approved the program of work for the month of December and then held consultations on the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Council members heard a briefing by Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, on the latest developments in the DRC. Following the consultations, Council President, Algerian Ambassador Abdallah Baali will brief you here on the month’s program.
**Security Council -- Wednesday
To recap, yesterday afternoon the Security Council held brief consultations on Burundi and then extended the mandate of the UN Operation in Burundi (ONUB) for six months, until 1 June 2005. Council members, in a unanimously adopted resolution, reiterated their strong condemnation of the Gatumba massacre and reaffirmed that the perpetrators of such crimes must be brought to justice.
On Burundi, the World Food Programme today started providing food to ex-combatants in support of the demobilization and reintegration efforts that are vital to that country’s peace process.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, ended a three day visit to Iran, which included the Conference of the Interior Ministers of Neighboring Countries. He met this morning with Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazzi for talks on the latest developments in Iraq as well as international and regional efforts to support Iraq through the transitional process. Qazi stressed to the Foreign Minister the importance of the role of the regional countries in contributing to the success of the transitional process in Iraq.
In a separate meeting with Iran’s Interior Minister, Abdel Wahed Mousawi Lary, Qazi pointed out that improvement in the security situation in Iraq is essential for advancing the political process towards the goal of rebuilding a stable, democratic and prosperous Iraq. We have more information upstairs.
The UN mission continues to report fighting in parts of Darfur, Sudan. The mission reported heavy fighting today in a government-stronghold southwest of Nyala in South Darfur, as well as shooting at a camp housing displaced persons in Kalma yesterday. And in West Darfur, the area of north Geneina has been declared a “no go” area for UN staff until further notice following an ambush on policemen yesterday.
Meanwhile, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that it is providing vegetable seeds and gardening tools to 35,000 of the poorest households in conflict-affected areas of Darfur.
**Côte d’Ivoire -- Newspapers
The UN Mission in Côte d’Ivoire welcomes the return of newspapers forced off the stands since 4 November. A press release is expected out on that subject later today.
Meanwhile, the UN Mission reports that its office will be closed as of 3 p.m. local time because of the young patriots descending on the streets to welcome South African President Thabo Mbeki, who is working to bring the Côte d’Ivoire peace process back on track.
UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland is in Nairobi, where he met with Abdullahi Yusuf, the President of the Republic of Somalia, to discuss the response to the humanitarian situation in that country. The United Nations has just launched its 2005 Humanitarian Appeal for Somalia, seeking $164 million for programs to address humanitarian needs caused by continuing insecurity, worsening drought, and deep poverty.
On landmines, China, India, Russia and the United States should join the Mine Ban Treaty immediately and cease landmine production, Carol Bellamy, the Executive Director of UNICEF, said at the Nairobi Summit for a Mine-Free World. She was joined by a fourteen-year old boy from Bosnia-Herzegovina, who had lost a hand to unexploded ordnance when he was three. We have more information on that.
Tomorrow is the International Day of Disabled Persons. In Kabul today, the UN Mission in Afghanistan supported a number of events to mark the occasion. The Mission reported that the new Afghan Government would implement a $9 million strategy to deal with disability that it had designed with the UN Development Programme. The Mission says that an estimated 800,000 to 2 million Afghans are disabled.
Here in New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, will issue a Mayoral Proclamation tomorrow to recognize the International Day of Disabled Persons. Present at that event will be a young, award-winning filmmaker, Victor Pineda, who is a person with disability himself.
**SG Message -- Slavery
Finally, people everywhere should know that slavery is not a thing of the past. It still exists, and must be eradicated. Those remarks are part of the Secretary-General’s message for today, the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. He also notes that the practice offends every value that underlies the UN Charter. And we have the full text of his message available upstairs.
That’s my report for you for today.
Thank you very much.
We have a reluctant questioner. Yes?
Questions and Answers
Question: (Correspondent from Tokyo introduces himself). Concerning Mr. Qazi’s visit to Baghdad, could you just update the number of UN officials in Baghdad and who is guarding them right now?
Spokesman: The ceiling has not changed. So, it’s still 59 international UN personnel in all of Iraq at this time. Yes?
Question: Who is guarding them?
Spokesman: Who is what?
Question: Who guards them?
Spokesman: Who guards them? The multinational force has assumed responsibility for guarding the UN personnel until the special arrangements can be put in place as far as the close protection unit, the middle ring, and there are negotiations still going on to firm that up. Yes?
Question: There was a photo that was released last night on ABC World News Tonight of Kojo Annan, a UN-accredited photo. Are you releasing that photo at all?
Spokesman: I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Question: There was a photo last night that aired on World News Tonight of Kojo.
Spokesman: I did not see World News Tonight. I am not sure we have any official photos of the Secretary-General’s family. If there are any official photos, certainly, you can have them. But I’m not sure whether there are any.
Question: And then there was a report in The New York Post this morning about...(Interrupted).
Spokesman: I am not going to comment on it. That’s a matter between Kojo Annan and Cotecna. It has no UN angle at all. Yes, Mark?
Question: Er, (After long pause). Sorry, I blanked there for a second. George Bush today said that in order for U.S. taxpayers to feel comfortable about funding the UN, there had to be clear, open accountability. Now, I was wondering, do you argue that the Volcker commission supplies that clear, open accountability about what’s happening in the oil-for-food programme? And also, do you intend to release audits or any further information about the oil-for-food programme to Congress over the next couple of months, even before the Volcker Commission reports?
Spokesman: I didn’t see the President’s comments, so, I really can’t give you any reaction to them. And I thought the business of documentation was regulated once and for all with the exchange of letters between Paul Volcker and the members of Congress who are conducting these investigations.
Question: I am just trying to see if I can clarify what documents you are going to...(Interrupted)?
Spokesman: We’re not going to release anything. We’ve given everything, and literally everything, to Paul Volcker. I believe Paul Volcker went public with his letter to the members of Congress. But you’ll have to ask him, I don’t speak for him. But my understanding of what he said in that letter is that when he next reports publicly on the progress of his investigation, which will be some time in January, he might release the UN’s internal audits on oil-for-food at that time. And we, of course, would not stand in the way of that.
Question: One more thing. In the wake of the attack on Kojo and his activities in relations to Kofi Annan, is the UN, in any way, considering a re-think of how you handle the sensitive question of the activities of relations to senior members of the UN management? Most countries have been through some sort of similar scandal, whether in Britain, you know, son of Maggie Thatcher or even here at the time when questions might be asked about Bush junior as related to Bush senior. But is the UN considering any re-think or guidelines or whatever as to how senior management or the relations of senior management should make declarations about what they are doing and what their activities are, especially as they might affect the activities of the UN?
Spokesman: I think we have guidelines already in place regarding hiring practices of family members. Whether we would need to take a closer look at a possible need to elaborate on those, I don’t know. I have not heard any discussion of that. We can ask the chief of management if she’s had any thoughts of expanding these guidelines along the lines that you suggest. But I am not aware of any plans at the moment to do so. Yes?
Question: Any comment yet from Mr. Qazi concerning the situation in Iraq?
Spokesman: I already gave my report. I reported on Mr. Qazi’s activities in Iraq today. Yes?
Question: Fred, yesterday, I believe some ambassadors of most of the countries met with the Secretary-General, lending him their support in view of what’s happening in the United States, especially in the right-wing press. Can you please tell us exactly who met with him yesterday and what did they say?
Spokesman: The list of countries, or the ambassadors, was in the programme that we put out. I don’t have them in front of me, but we mentioned all the ambassadors of the countries that were meeting collectively with the Secretary-General yesterday. The purpose of the meeting was not to give support to the Secretary-General. Incidentally, they happened to each and without exception, express on behalf of their governments and their support for the Secretary-General.
Thank you very much.
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