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Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

23 December 1999

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Shirley Brownell, Spokeswoman for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by Spokesman for Secretary-General

Good afternoon. Our guest at today's noon briefing will again be Joseph Connor, the Under-Secretary-General for Management. Yesterday he talked about the year-end finances; today he wants to tell you about the latest developments on the budget for the years 2000-2001, the details of which are being finalized by the Fifth Committee today.

[Mr. Connor's press briefing notes will be issued separately.]

**UN Mission Reports Two Days of Quiet in South Lebanon

The United Nations mission in southern Lebanon reports that for a second day in a row not a single rifle shot was fired in all of south Lebanon. These two days have been the quietest in 22 years, according to the mission. And they say that many local people are disoriented by the tranquility.

The quiet is a result of a ceasefire arranged initially for two days by the five-nation Monitoring Group to recover the bodies of six Islamic resistance fighters killed in clashes in the Israeli-controlled area. That five-nation group was set up in 1996 and includes Lebanon, Israel, Syria, France and the United States.

The evacuation of the remains is being carried out by the International Committee of the Red Cross assisted by the United Nations. At dusk today, one body remained to be recovered and the ceasefire was extended for another 24 hours.

**Staff Trapped in UN Offices as Heavy Shooting Erupts in Abidjan

We've received reports from our security coordinator in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, of heavy shooting throughout the Ivoirian capital. Some of our staff is pinned down in United Nations offices across the street from the radio station, which appears to be under attack. Two vehicles in the United Nations compound there have been damaged by gunfire.

That's all the information we have for now and until the situation is clear, we will have no further comment on the situation in Abidjan.

**Notes from East Timor: UN Experts Find No Truth to Reports of Starvation Deaths in Manatuto

Humanitarian experts with the United Nations mission in East Timor (UNTAET) today denied reports of 20 deaths from starvation in the Manatuto area in the last week. Jose Ramos Horta, one of the independence leaders, reported the deaths, and the reports have been carried by a number of the international wire services. United Nations officials accompanied by representatives of CARE International and Assistencia Medica Internacional (AMI) visited the area today and concluded that there have been no hunger-related deaths. AMI runs a mobile clinic in Manatuto. In November and December, aid agencies delivered 375.5 metric tons of food to the six districts of Manatuto.

The United Nations mission is concerned that the inaccurate report could further impede the return from West Timor of refugees, who have already been the targets of misinformation designed to discourage them from going home.

Meanwhile, Sergio Vieira de Mello, the Transitional Administrator for the United Nations in East Timor, today left for Thailand, where tomorrow he will meet with senior Government officials and representatives of the private sector. Those talks will focus on Thailand's future participation in the United Nations mission and the private-sector role in the reconstruction of East Timor.

**Security Council

The Security Council has nothing on its agenda for today. The next scheduled meeting is Wednesday, 29 December, when they will have consultations on Kosovo and Guinea-Bissau.

There is always the possibility that the Council could meet sooner, should the need arise.

**Secretary-General Reaffirms Confidence in Bernard Kouchner

The following statement is attributable to the Spokesman, concerning defamatory press and official comments out of Belgrade concerning Bernard Kouchner:

“The Secretary-General has been informed about allegations levelled recently against his special representative, Dr. Bernard Kouchner, by the Yugoslav authorities. The Secretary-General views these allegations as a malicious and transparent attempt at character assassination, which has no basis and deserves no attention. The Secretary-General reaffirms his confidence in Dr. Kouchner and commends the extraordinary efforts he has undertaken to create a just and civil society in Kosovo under difficult and demanding conditions.”

**Secretary-General Appoints New Personal Envoy for Greece-FYROM Talks

This is also a statement attributable to the Spokesman concerning the resignation of Cyrus Vance:

“The Secretary-General has accepted the resignation of Cyrus Vance, his Personal Envoy for the Greece-former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) talks. Mr. Vance resigned for personal reasons.

The Secretary-General wishes to pay tribute to Mr. Vance, a great statesman, for his untiring efforts and invaluable service to the United Nations. He will miss his wise counsel.

Following Mr. Vance's resignation, the Secretary-General today appointed Matthew Nimetz of the United States as his Personal Envoy for the Greece-FYROM talks. Mr. Nimetz has been involved in the process since March 1994 and has acted as Deputy Special Envoy and chaired the talks between Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia since November 1997.”

**OCHA to Expand Web Site During Y2K Rollover

We have a handout from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), saying that its Web site, "Reliefweb", will expand its normal coverage of humanitarian issues and events during the rollover period from 31 December 1999 to 4 January 2000 and serve as the United Nations central Web site for public information and analysis related to significant Y2K impacts around the world, with special attention to their humanitarian implications.

**Final Briefing of Millennium

This is the last briefing of the millennium. As we announced to you earlier, we are suspending the noon briefings between Christmas and New Year's. Our office will be staffed, however, from Monday through Friday of next week, and we will do daily postings of highlights of United Nations news from around the world on our Web site. So if you want to stay in touch, tune in to the Web site.

We have “the week ahead” available for you. There's nothing in particular I want to highlight from it, but you can pick it up in my office.

Are there any questions before we go to Shirley?

**Questions and Answers

Question: Is there an official United Nations response to the draft law on the trial of the Khmer Rouge?

Spokesman: The Secretary-General is expected to send a letter to the Cambodian authorities today. It may have gone out. If not, it's about to go out. I can't say anything about its contents; I don't want to, as a courtesy to the Cambodian Government, until we've had confirmation that they have received the letter. If we get that confirmation by the end of today, I can indicate to you the thrust of what it says.

[Shortly after the noon briefing, the Spokesman announced that the Secretary- General had responded to the draft law on the trials of the Khmer Rouge and was looking forward to further contact.

[Following the press briefing by the Under-Secretary-General for Management, Joseph Connor, the Spokesman said for the record: "There was a report in an American newspaper this morning that there were credible security threats against the United Nations. Many of you were briefed yesterday by the Chief of Security, who said that he had no information from any law enforcement or security agency that the United Nations was a specific target. I double-checked with him this morning and he stands by that statement."]

Briefing by Spokeswoman for President of General Assembly

Good afternoon.

I will leave it to Under-Secretary-General Joseph Connor to tell you the outcome of the Fifth Committee negotiations on the proposed programme budget for the biennium 2000-2001.

After the Committee concludes this stage of its work, the General Assembly is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m., to consider 18 Fifth Committee reports, including the $2.535 billion biennium budget. Additionally, the Assembly will take action on a Second Committee report (document A/54/587/Add.6), postponed from yesterday, on preparations for the Third United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries, to be held in Brussels in 2001. The Assembly will also take note of the report of the Economic and Social Council (document A/54/3 and Add.1).

By the time it recesses the main part of its fifty-fourth regular session later today, the Assembly will have adopted over 250 resolutions on the agenda items before it.

In concluding remarks, Assembly President Theo-Ben Gurirab will highlight the major achievements of the session thus far. As soon as I get hold of the statement, I will announce it.

That’s all I have to say, except to wish everyone “Happy Holidays”.

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