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

7 February 2002

Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon. In a few hours, the Secretary-General will be in the air on his way to Salt Lake City for the opening of the Nineteenth Winter Olympic Games. We've put out a revision to the programme which is available in my office now and has some specific times of press opportunities during the Secretary-General's visit there.

**Afghanistan Avalanche

We also have an update from Kabul on the efforts to rescue people trapped in vehicles under snow near the southern exit of the Salang Pass, some 100 kilometres north of the capital.

As of Thursday evening in Afghanistan, the United Nations Spokesman in Kabul -- the Acting Spokesman -- Yusuf Hassan, said that at least five people were reported dead, including two children.

But rescuers battling atrocious weather conditions -– ferocious winds and heavy snowfalls with temperatures dropping to minus 20 degrees below zero centigrade –- pulled out 400 people, the Spokesman told us. They were taken to the town of Jabal-i-Saraj for treatment.

All 57 vehicles have now been reached, Hassan said, adding that initial reports had indicated an avalanche had struck the area, but later reports from rescuers noted that the heavy snows could have been blown on top of the vehicles.

The United Nations in Afghanistan has been coordinating the rescue effort at the request of the Interim Administration after the incident occurred yesterday. A United Nations demining team, as well as a United Nations medical team, were at the site, as was the non-governmental organization Halo Trust.


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, is scheduled to go to Washington, D.C. for talks with United States officials later today.

In Afghanistan, Interim Administration leader Hamid Karzai today officially inaugurated the Special Commission for the Convening of the Emergency Loya Jirga at a ceremony at the United Nations mission headquarters in Kabul.

Expressing his strong support, Karzai assured the members that they would function as an independent commission to pursue their activities.

The officer in charge of the United Nations mission, Carl Fisher, said at the inauguration that the commission was for and of the people of Afghanistan, but that the United Nations would stand ready to assist as required.

We have put out the list with a brief description of each of the 21 members of the Commission, who were announced during the Secretary-General’s visit to Kabul last month.

From Islamabad, we have the humanitarian briefing notes, which you can pick up upstairs.

**Security Council

The Security Council is holding a public meeting today, which began with a briefing by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, on the links between refugees and international peace and security.

On counter-terrorism measures and their impact on refugee protection, Lubbers cautioned against allowing the global fight against terrorism to weaken the international refugee protection regime. Refugees and asylum seekers must not be discriminated against because of their religion, ethnicity, national origin or political affiliation. Detention of asylum seekers, he said, must remain an exception, not the rule.

On Afghanistan, Lubbers talked about the issue of security. If the security situation continues to deteriorate, Afghanistan will slide back into a situation similar to 1992, he said, and expressed his strong support for the position taken by Lakhdar Brahimi yesterday to extend the mandate of the International Security Assistance Force beyond Kabul.

In his statement that gave an overview of the refugee situation around the world, Lubbers also touched upon the situation in the Great Lakes region of Africa.

On Burundi, he said that in the event of an effective ceasefire, he anticipated the return home of hundreds of thousands of refugees in Tanzania.

On the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he welcomed the deployment of the United Nations mission but added that the lack of access remains one of the main challenges for the refugee agency. He said he hoped that further United Nations deployment in the country would lead to improved access.

You have the text. The format of the Council meeting is an interactive one with Lubbers responding to questions from members. There is no formal speakers list.

We have asked the High Commissioner to come to the stakeout microphone after the meeting.

This morning, Council members have also been considering the draft text of a Presidential Statement on Burundi, following the meeting they had on Tuesday with that country’s President, Pierre Buyoya. If Council members reach agreement on that draft text, they may adopt it in a formal meeting following the one going on right now with Ruud Lubbers.


Someone asked me earlier this week whether the Secretary-General had a position on the current standoff between the President of Madagascar and the opposition party leader concerning the outcome of recent elections there.

I can now tell you that the Secretary-General, in the last 36 hours, has been in telephone contact both with the President and the opposition leader, urging them to find a peaceful and constitutional resolution to their impasse consistent with the press statement issued last week by the Security Council.

He is considering a number of ways that he might be of assistance, and is coordinating with the Organization of African Unity, the European Union and the Francophonie.

**Rwanda Tribunal

Father Athanase Seromba, a former Catholic priest in Rwanda’s Kibuye prefecture, was detained yesterday in the United Nations Detention Facility in Arusha, Tanzania, following his surrender to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

Immediately after his arrival from Italy, where he had been living in exile, Father Seromba was arrested by Tanzanian authorities and later handed over to the Tribunal. He is the fourth clergyman to be detained.

Last year, the Tribunal issued a warrant against Father Seromba after he was indicted on charges of genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide and crimes against humanity. According to his indictment, Father Seromba is alleged to have been responsible for killing or harming thousands of Tutsi who sought refuge, including about 2,000 Tutsi trapped inside the Nyange church, who were killed when Athanase allegedly bulldozed the Church, and its roof subsequently crashed in.

The Tribunal thanked Italy and Tanzania for their help in Father Seromba’s transfer.

**Peacekeeping Budget

On the racks today we have a note detailing the approved budgetary levels that the General Assembly has authorized for the period lasting from the beginning of July 2001 to the end of June 2002. Over that year-long period, the total amount of the General Assembly-approved peacekeeping budgets, including provisions for the United Nations logistics base at Brindisi, Italy, is a little over $2.7 billion.

By comparison, the final year-end figure for United Nations peacekeeping costs in the year 2000 was $2.6 billion.

**Press Releases

Press releases -- two, to mention today.

The United Nations Information Service in Vienna offers some news on the progress that has been made in talks in Vienna on a draft United Nations Convention against Corruption. Member States last week repeatedly endorsed a convention with clear, precise and realistic provisions, and an ad hoc committee divided up responsibilities for dealing with the text among its members. Further talks on the draft convention will take place in Vienna from 17 to 28 June.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says that trials of a cholera vaccine manufactured in Viet Nam at a cost of about 20 cents a dose have produced encouraging results, especially for children. The WHO has more details on that in a press release.

**Press Conferences

Press briefings. The guest at the noon briefing tomorrow will be Michael Steiner, the new Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Kosovo. Press conferences scheduled for tomorrow: at 10:30 a.m., the Department of Economic and Social Affairs is sponsoring a press conference on the outcome of PrepCom II of the Johannesburg Summit. And then at 11 a.m., immediately after that, Nitin Desai, the Secretary-General of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, and the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, will be joined by Dr. Emil Salim, Chairman of the PrepComm II. And they will brief on the outcome of the PrepCom II.

That's all I have for you.

**Questions and Answers

Question: Regarding the avalanche, were there any casualties?

Spokesman: Well, I mentioned five dead -- did I not -- at least five people reported dead, including two children. The other side of that coin is that about 400 people were successfully pulled out of the tunnel alive.

There was also a question in the final paragraph of this thing that I just read as to whether it actually was an avalanche or just very heavy snows.

Question: Is there anything further about the contact between the Secretary-General and Iraq concerning a possible meeting?

Spokesman: No, we haven't heard from the Iraqis to my knowledge as of 11 o'clock this morning, when I last checked.

Question: Any idea when we'll get a first draft on the PrepCom?

Spokesman: No, I think you'd better ask Mr. Desai that tomorrow morning if you don't mind waiting that long. If you can't wait that long, just check with my office afterwards. We'll see if anyone has any idea.

Question: Do you have any idea if the people in Northern Afghanistan have any food left, or if the United Nations can reach them?

Spokesman: Why don't you check with Marie Okabe after the briefing? We had pre-positioned enough food in the region. There were still some problems of access, either due to weather or security. Whether that had led to any dramatic food shortages in any areas, I'm not aware, but Marie would probably know.

Question: The Secretary-General is waiting for a formal request in terms of a letter or something from Iraq for a meeting, before he goes any further?

Spokesman: You know how this came about. Amre Moussa, the Secretary-General of the Arab League, delivered a message to the Secretary-General on behalf of the Iraqis after he had visited Baghdad. The message from the Iraqis is that they were prepared to resume the dialogue that had begun a year ago without any preconditions. The Secretary-General responded through me that he is prepared to meet with the Iraqis and that he hopes the discussions would be more focused than they were a year ago. And now I think it's up to the Iraqis to signal a date. He said he was prepared to look at his calendar, and he's waiting to hear from them.

Question: What would be the nature of the discussion between

Mr. Brahimi and the United States officials?

Spokesman: I honestly don't know. In fact we didn't even have -- the reason why the announcement was so general is that the programme still hasn’t been fixed. So I suggest you speak to Manoel, my ex-Deputy, who is with Brahimi and will be leaving with Mr. Brahimi. But anyway, he's still in his office today and he might be able to give you a few more details.

Question: What is the position of the Secretary-General on the augmentation of troops in Afghanistan?

Spokesman: Well, he was briefed by General McColl of the ISAF, the International Security Assistance Force. At that point, Kabul Airport had just recently been opened, and the new ISAF troops were coming in quite rapidly, and he expected by the end of that month, or maybe it was the middle of this month, to be up to just about full strength, 4,500. And that additional presence -- there were only 2,000 or so when he was in Kabul -- that additional strength he expected would make a big difference in the security situation around Kabul.

Yesterday, of course, Mr. Brahimi endorsed what the Transitional Administration leader, Hamid Karzai, has been saying here, in Washington, in London and elsewhere, that he would like the mandate expanded so that this International Force could operate elsewhere in the country. So the Secretary-General endorses that idea. It's now up to the troop contributors and the members of the Security Council. First the members of the Security Council to change the mandate -- if they so chose -- and second, the bigger issue, who's going to provide the troops.

Thank you very much.

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