DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
7 January 2005
Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Marie Okabe, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
**Guests at Noon
We have a pretty busy briefing schedule today. As we announced earlier, joining me in a few minutes will be Kevin Kennedy from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to give you update on tsunami assistance. Then following that, we will have Jean-Marie Guéhenno, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, and William Swing, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), to talk about the situation in the eastern part of that country.
And that briefing will be followed by Barbara Dixon, from the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) on the just-released report on the allegations of sexual exploitation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
**SG in Indonesia
So, let me start here with the Secretary-General. Today he saw the areas in Indonesia that had been hit worst by the earthquake and tsunami, as he flew by helicopter over sites in Aceh.
He touched down at the district capital of Meulaboh, a fishing town of some 90,000 people. He received a military briefing at the airport, describing clean-up operations, the restoration of potable water and electricity and the rebuilding of schools. The military commander said that he did not have enough tents for tens of thousands of people displaced.
The Secretary-General and Nane Annan went on to examine the damage done to the town, where the estimated death toll is in the tens of thousands. Frogmen were seen searching for bodies offshore, while fishing boats lay overturned in the streets, amid buildings that had collapsed.
At a press conference afterward, the Secretary-General said, “I have never seen such utter destruction, mile after mile. And you wonder where are the people? What happened to them?”
He said he had visited displaced people in the camps, who will need help with post-traumatic stress, and will also need help to build their homes.
Asked about relief efforts, he said, “I think we are moving ahead.” He said a joint command post has been established in Aceh, which should tighten cooperation and coordination on the ground even further.
Asked about criticism that the United Nations has been tardy with relief efforts, the Secretary-General said that such criticism is unfair, and that the United Nations is as capable as its Member States allow it to be. Overall, he said, “cooperation is going very well.”
He was accompanied at the briefing by the heads of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Asian Development Bank. We have the transcript of his remarks upstairs.
The Secretary-General then left Indonesia and arrived in Sri Lanka, where he will also visit the tsunami-affected areas.
Turning to Iraq, the Special Representative Ashraf Qazi, met in Amman today with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari for talks that focused on the political situation in Iraq.
They also discussed preparations for the elections and the outcome of the Conference of the Foreign Ministers of Iraq's Neighbouring Countries, which ended in Amman yesterday with a call on all Iraqis to participate in the forthcoming elections.
Qazi reiterated the importance of the Conference as a clear message of support by all neighbouring countries of Iraq to its political process and to the goal of advancing it towards building a democratic, secure and prosperous Iraq.
Qazi, who arrived in Amman last Tuesday to represent the United Nations in the Conference, had underlined the importance of the participation of all Iraqis in the forthcoming elections, which represent a major step forward in the political process.
We have an announcement of the Secretary-General’s appointments.
The Secretary-General today announced two appointments in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.
Major-General Randhir Kumar Mehta of India as Military Adviser is replacing Major-General Patrick Cammaert of the Netherlands, who has been appointed as Division Commander for the UN Mission in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. And he is sitting right in front of us as I announce this.
Also, Mark Kroeker of the United States was named as the new Civilian Police Adviser. Kroeker is currently serving as the Police Commissioner for the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). And we have their bios upstairs.
**MONUC/Investigation in Buramba
The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) says that it has the results of an investigation carried out at the end of last year by a multidisciplinary team which was investigating human rights violations allegedly committed between 17 and 22 December in the town of Buramba.
The results of the investigation indicate that at least 30 civilians -- including women and children -- were killed by rebellious government troops, in reprisals to the murder of three of its own soldiers by forces of another armed group, made up of ex-Mayi Mayi from the so-called ‘Jackson unit’.
The Mission says that the exact number of the civilian victims killed could be higher given that the rebel government troops would have burned a certain amount of bodies, and could have killed civilians in the hills overlooking Buramba.
We have more on this in a press release upstairs.
And as a reminder and as I just mentioned, we will be having a briefing on the DRC immediately after this noon briefing.
And turning to Sudan, at a meeting of the Joint Implementation Mechanism in Khartoum today, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative Jan Pronk expressed concern at the increasing harassment of non-governmental organization staff -- mostly nationals -- by local authorities in Darfur.
He also reminded the authorities of the request of observance of days of tranquillity during the upcoming national polio vaccine campaign.
Jan Pronk will be attending the scheduled signing of the North-South peace agreement on Sunday and then is planning to arrive in New York early next week to brief the Security Council on Tuesday on the latest report on Sudan.
That report is expected to go to Council members later today.
And over the last two days, the UN’s liaison and support units provided the opportunity for over 350 observers from 63 different delegations to be briefed by senior staff from the Palestinian Central Election Commission, as well as Palestinian security officials.
On election day, the UN’s offices will continue to provide the necessary support for these observers to carry out their mission.
The UN will also organize a debriefing on Monday for the observers.
We understand the provisional results for the Presidential elections are expected on Monday morning.
And here (at Headquarters) there are no Security Council meetings or consultations scheduled for today.
And on Monday, the Council has scheduled an open briefing, followed by consultations, on Afghanistan.
And then turning to the ICC, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, has received a letter sent on behalf of the government of the Central African Republic, asking for the Prosecutor to investigate potential crimes in that country.
We have more information on that upstairs.
**Global Compact - Tsunami
And, we have a press release from the Global Compact office saying that amid the catastrophe in South Asia, private sector organizations around the world have stepped up contributions with unprecedented donations in the form of financial aid, food, medicine and other supplies and services.
We also have a press release regarding the signing of the so-called Tampere Convention. Victims of natural disasters will be able to benefit from faster and more effective rescue operations starting tomorrow, when that Convention enters into force.
The Convention simplifies the use of life-saving telecommunications equipment in the 30 countries that have ratified it.
**World Chronicle Television Programme
And then World Chronicle programme today; this afternoon, hosted by Tony Jenkins will be shown at 3:30 on in-house channels 3 or 31.
And the guest is Mohammad Riza Salamat, UN Advisor on Climate Change.
**The Week Ahead at the United Nations
We also have “The Week Ahead” -- as we always do on Friday, to help you plan next week’s coverage of the United Nations
And that’s all I have for you.
Before we get Kevin, do you have questions for me?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Can you tell us anything about the extent to which separatist tensions in both Indonesia and Sri Lanka are hampering the relief effort? And on Ashraf Qazi’s statement that the elections in Iraq are important, do you know how confident he is that the elections will happen at the end of the day -- at the end of the month?
Associate Spokesperson: Well, the first question regarding the relief effort, Kevin is here. So, I’d rather have him address those issues because he has been in touch with the field up to the moment. As for your question about Mr. Qazi’s assessment, I think that he has been quite clear about his support for the elections taking place at the end of the month. I am sorry, your specific question was?
Question: If he is confident that they will actually happen.
Associate Spokesperson: He has repeatedly said that, yes. Yes?
Associate Spokesperson: Sorry to interrupt you, somebody’s cell phone is on and it’s interrupting the broadcast. If you could kindly turn it off, thank you.
Question: Although you keep on distancing yourself from making any assessment of the situation in Iraq, I just want to know, despite the fact that the Iraqi President has also said that that assessment should be made whether (inaudible)... elections can be held there, especially in view of what a U.S. General has said today. Will you be able to make any assessment today at all, or will you just still leave it to the Iraqi Government?
Associate Spokesperson: I think the United Nations position has not changed on this. We have said that the decision to hold the elections on the date is, and continues to be, an Iraqi decision. The United Nations has been assisting the preparations all along and, in terms of the technical side, the elections are ready; and we have continuously mentioned that and our support of whatever the Iraqis decide to do as a nation.
Question: Have all the senior staff and top aides of the Secretary-General been asked to resign?
Associate Spokesperson: I just checked that. There are rumours, as you know, circulating that the Secretary-General has asked his senior managers to resign and to reapply for their jobs. I am not sure where they originated but I just checked with the Chief of Cabinet. The Chef de Cabinet says that he believes the Secretary-General has no such intention to do so.
Question: So it hasn’t happened?
Associate Spokesperson: Well, that’s what the Chief of Cabinet of the Secretary-General says, yes.
If there are no more questions, I’d like to turn the floor over to Kevin because we’re having Mr. Guéhenno and Mr. Swing here in just about 10 to 15 minutes.
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