DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
18 March 2002
Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Marie Okabe, Associate Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. I'm sorry I'm late. We were waiting for a few statements.
**Attack on Islamabad Church
The first statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General concerns yesterday's attack in Pakistan:
"The Secretary-General is appalled by Sunday’s grenade attack on a Christian church in Islamabad that left several people dead and many wounded.
"He condemns in the strongest possible terms this vicious act of terrorism. The heartless and indiscriminate killing of innocent worshippers is a crime against humanity and religion. The Secretary-General offers his deepest condolences to the bereaved families of the victims."
**High Commissioner for Human Rights
The second statement is regarding the High Commissioner for Human Rights:
"The Secretary-General wishes to pay a warm tribute to Mary Robinson, who announced this morning at the opening of the fifty-eighth session of the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva that she would be completing her term as High Commissioner for Human Rights in September 2002.
"During her time as High Commissioner, Mrs. Robinson has achieved remarkable progress in raising the profile of human rights and making them a central issue in all societies. She has traveled far and wide to promote respect for human rights and has never been afraid to take up the cause of the victims of human rights abuses wherever they occurred. Nor has she ever tired of lending her powerful voice to the cries of these victims which otherwise might not have been heard.
"The Secretary-General deeply appreciates her invaluable contributions to the United Nations and to the human rights programme. The Secretary-General extends to Mrs. Robinson his very best wishes and looks forward to her continued support for the cause of human rights."
**Commission on Human Rights
Speaking at the Commission on Human Rights today, High Commissioner Mary Robinson said, “I know that at times my voice may have been considered awkward, but I must say my inner ear was always tuned to the Secretary-General’s words of advice to me at the time of my appointment as High Commissioner: ‘Stay an outsider within the United Nations’.”
In her other comments, the High Commissioner noted her recent visit to Afghanistan, saying that until the Interim Administration becomes effective in
protecting the Afghan people, the extension of the International Force’s mandate beyond Kabul is “imperative."
She mentioned her dialogue with the Russian authorities about human rights in Chechnya, and voiced her deep concern about reports of serious abuses on both sides of that conflict. And she repeated her call for international observers to be present to deter human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territories.
We have her statement upstairs as well as the transcript of the press conference she gave in Geneva earlier today.
**Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
Over the weekend, the Secretary-General issued a statement through his Spokesman on the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
He expressed his extreme concern at the reports that the town of Moliro, in the south-eastern corner of the country, had been captured by elements of the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD)-Goma.
He said the United Nations deplores this development, which took place after repeated appeals by the Security Council to cease all fighting in the area. The Secretary-General said he had instructed the UN mission in the DRC (MONUC) to assist in the immediate disengagement and withdrawal of all military forces from this town and other contested locations in the south-east. Accordingly, MONUC will be prepared to deploy its military observers in those locations, subject to security guarantees.
The Secretary-General also appeals to the Congolese parties to immediately resume the inter-Congolese dialogue.
UN military observers on Saturday landed at Moliro airport. They reported that the airport was under the control of RCD troops and heavy fighting was going on in and around that town. After awaiting clearance from RCD to go into Moliro for a second time, we have just learned that a four-member UN team arrived in Moliro a short time ago and will remain there until further notice.
The Special Representative for the DRC, Amos Ngongi, at a news conference in Kinshasa earlier today, said that the leaders of the countries involved in the war would be gathering in Lusaka, Zambia later this week.
On Wednesday, the Political Committee of the Lusaka Accords, bringing together the six countries and two rebel movements, will be meeting, also in Lusaka. The Summit meeting to which he referred is now taking place on Friday and the Political Committee meeting on Wednesday.
Here at UN Headquarters, there is no meeting of the Security Council today.
Tomorrow, the Council expects to have a busy schedule, including a briefing in closed consultations on the recent fighting in the south-eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo by Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno.
Also, the Council is scheduled to discuss the Special Court for Sierra Leone, on which it received a report last week. Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Ralph Zacklin will brief the Council, and he is scheduled to brief you at Wednesday’s noon briefing here.
The Council has also scheduled consultations tomorrow on Liberia.
The Secretary-General is in San José, Costa Rica, today, where this morning he had a private meeting with President Miguel Angel Rodríguez Echevarria, after which they were to have a joint press encounter, which should be under way right now. In fact, the press conference has just started and we should have a transcript of that later in the day for you.
The Secretary-General arrived in Costa Rica on Friday afternoon, and was met at the airport by the Foreign Minister. Speaking to reporters at the airport, the Secretary-General was asked about United Nations efforts in the Middle East and responded, “We are all working very hard to try and pull the parties from the abyss. I have also challenged the leaders to lead their people from desperation and despair.” He added his hope that recent international efforts, including those by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, US Vice President Dick Cheney and US envoy Anthony Zinni, would yield results.
On Saturday, we put out a statement in which the Secretary-General strongly supported the statement by the leaders of the European Union, at their Summit in Barcelona, calling on Israelis and Palestinians to “stop the bloodshed” and to pursue peace and security through negotiations. The Secretary-General said he agrees with the European leaders that “there is no military solution to this conflict.”
While he was in Costa Rica Saturday, the Secretary-General went to the University of Peace, just outside San José, accompanied by the country's Vice President. University Rector Martin Lees thanked the Secretary-General for challenging the university to revitalize itself. The Secretary-General then unveiled a plaque commemorating his visit and planted a tree, before joining the faculty and guests for an outdoor lunch.
Yesterday evening, he was the guest of the President at an informal dinner.
This afternoon, the Secretary-General will leave Costa Rica to arrive in Honduras for an official visit to that country, the third on his four-country Central American tour.
**Conference on Financing for Development
As you know, the Secretary-General will be addressing the Monterrey Conference on Financing for Development when its summit segment opens on Thursday. The international conference opened today in Mexico, while side events have been going on since the weekend. Yesterday, Nitin Desai, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, told reporters that the international debate no longer centres over whether development aid is needed, but rather how it should be increased.
Turning to Afghanistan, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, is in Herat today -– the first visit in a series of trips he’ll be taking throughout the country to contact local authorities and see United Nations colleagues in the field.
Tomorrow, Mr. Brahimi heads to Kandahar before returning to Kabul in the afternoon.
In other developments, the United Nations Habitat programme is employing over 3,000 workers, including women, to clean up the capital city. You can read more about that effort in the briefing notes for Sunday from Kabul.
The note also provides information on the United Nations distribution of vitamin C in scurvy-affected parts of Afghanistan.
And for those of you who are interested, a report on the International Security Assistance Force is out on the racks today.
According to that report, as of early March, the Force was composed of over 4,800 troops from 17 different countries. You can pick up the report upstairs.
On Colombia, there is a statement from our office there. The United Nations deplores and condemns the murder of the Archbishop of Cali, Isaias Duarte Cancino, on Saturday night.
In a press release issued in Colombia over the weekend, the United Nations system expressed its condolences to the Archbishop’s family, the authorities, the people of Cali and the religious community. The press release added that the United Nations called on the authorities to act immediately to find and bring to justice those responsible for this crime.
We have copies of the statement in Spanish upstairs.
East Timor’s Constituent Assembly today adopted the last of the amendments to the draft constitution. It is expected that final approval of the complete document, including the preamble, will come in the next few days.
In other news from Dili, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees announced a large increase in the number of refugees returning to East Timor from camps in West Timor. So far this month, close to 2,000 refugees have returned, up from 900 in February and 400 in January.
We have the briefing notes from Dili upstairs.
The UN Verification Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA) issued a press release today strongly condemning the murder on Saturday of Jorge Alberto Rosal Zea, a member of the opposition Patriot Party, who was killed in Guatemala City.
The mission urges the authorities to investigate this murder as well as a series of other similar cases that have taken place in the last three weeks. We have a press release also in Spanish on this with more information.
Turning to the Rwanda Tribunal, a former Rwandan colonel, Aloys Simba, and a former municipal official in Gikoro, Paul Bisengimana, today made their initial appearances before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and each entered a plea of “not guilty." Both are charged with genocide, and each was transferred last week -– respectively, by Senegal and Mali -– to stand trial in Tanzania.
While we’re talking about tribunals, I’d like to note that the trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, under way at The Hague, has been suspended for at least three days because of Milosevic's illness.
Today, Nicaragua became the fifty-ninth Member State to pay its 2002 regular budget contribution in full, with a payment of more than $11,000.
We have two more press releases, one by the UN Environment Programme, talking about the Sixth Meeting of the Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, that will be taking place in The Hague next month.
The Food and Agriculture Organization announced today that the Panel of Eminent Experts on Ethics in Food and Agriculture will meet in Rome beginning today.
You can pick up press releases for more information.
That's all the announcements for today.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Reports from Myanmar indicate that the visit of Ambassador Razali has been cancelled. Do you know why, and is there any connection with rumours of a coup?
Spokesman: We have been informed by the Government of Myanmar that Ambassador Razali's visit has been postponed due to illness of the Deputy Foreign Minister. We are disappointed to hear of this development, but hope that the mission can be rescheduled as soon as possible in order to facilitate the national reconciliation process.
Mr. Razali, as you know, was intending to begin a mission starting tomorrow. He had not left Kuala Lumpur at the time of this new information.
As for your second question, the United Nations has been informed by the Government and the National League for Democracy (NLD) that the ongoing talks between the two sides would not be affected by the coup plot to which you refer.
Question: How many officials was Mr. Razali supposed to meet, and how important was the Foreign Minister in the hierarchy of those he was supposed to meet?
Spokesman: When we made the announcement on Friday, we mentioned a number of officials he would be meeting with in the Government as well as in the National League for Democracy. I don't have a comprehensive list. It was the Government of Myanmar who came to us with this information, that because of the illness of the Deputy Foreign Minister, they would have to postpone. That is their official announcement to us.
Question: What is the Deputy Foreign Minister's name?
Spokesman: It's (spelling it out) U-K-h-i-n M-a-u-n-g W-i-n.
Question: Regarding Mrs. Robinson, is there any chance the Secretary-General might ask her to stay on for an additional period of time or is he going to look for a successor?
Spokesman: Judging from the statement we just read to you, I think it speaks for itself. He is thanking Mrs. Robinson for a job splendidly done, and that was in response to her announcement earlier today that she would be stepping down later this year.
Question: When will you be distributing the Secretary-General's address in Monterrey?
Spokesman: As soon as possible, but let me find out for you and we'll squawk to you when that will be available.
[The Spokesman's Office later announced that the text of the Secretary-General's address at the Monterrey Conference should be available Tuesday afternoon.]
Question: On the question of Mrs. Robinson relinquishing her post, everybody agrees that she has been doing a great job, as witnessed by the Secretary-General and others. What are the specific reasons advanced by her or others for leaving her post?
Spokesman: I think you'd have to ask her. There's a Q & A upstairs. The Secretary-General has issued a statement. I don't have anything further to add to that.
Are there no more questions?
If not, have a good afternoon.
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