DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
16 April 2002
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
We received this from Terje Roed Larsen, the Secretary-General's Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process:
United Nations Special Coordinator Terje Roed Larsen commented today on the situation in Jenin. He said that today access was given to two trucks of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Middle East, or UNWRA, as well as two vehicles of the International Committee of the Red Cross, or ICRC.
The UNWRA had been able to distribute 20 tonnes of food, enough for 150 families for one day, as well as limited water supplies. One ICRC team had been able to provide immediate medical assistance. Security was a major problem, given the high level of unexploded ordnance, the possibility of booby traps, and unstable buildings.
He said that the situation inside the camp was appalling and required a response on a far wider scale than so far has been possible. He said that there was a humanitarian imperative to take every possible action to save life.
Roed Larsen said there were three immediate requirements: first, lifting of the curfew and freedom of movement for both civilian population and humanitarian workers; two, expanded assistance from the Israeli Defence Force to humanitarian workers, both in terms of provision of equipment and in terms of security liaison; and, three, facilitation of large-scale water and food supplies to the population in need.
He called on the Government of Israel to extend its fullest possible cooperation to UNWRA and the ICRC, consistent with its obligations under international humanitarian law, both in Jenin and across the West Bank.
**UNWRA Press Release
We have more from UNRWA in a press release that we just received. One of the UN aid workers that went into the Jenin camp today said it looks like the aftermath of an earthquake. The wholesale obliteration of homes, streets and commercial buildings will leave thousands homeless, UNRWA officials said. They’ve been told by residents that human sounds can be heard from people still trapped under the rubble.
Although Israeli authorities did allow limited access for the two trucks of humanitarian supplies, earth-moving equipment and the necessary aid workers to move the rubble are not permitted to enter the camp. The distribution of the supplies was halted at one point when an Israeli tank blocked a team from handing out the remaining food and water. The food and water supplies that UNRWA did
manage to distribute was delivered to crowds composed mostly of women and children who were desperate for aid after being trapped for 14 consecutive days.
The UNRWA urgently needs to gain unlimited access to the camp to allow it to care for the large number of people in need of basic supplies. Large quantities of aid are ready to move in as soon as access is granted. Damage to UNRWA facilities in the camp was widespread, including much damage to the facade of UNRWA's school and clinic. Unexploded ordnance was also found in the schoolyard. Much of the equipment and medicines in the UNRWA clinic were also badly damaged. The UNRWA's Camp Services Office and Sanitation Stores were leveled to the ground.
**Cyprus Meeting on Palestinian Rights Committee
In a related note, in a message to a meeting in Cyprus on the Middle East, organized by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, the Secretary-General said the Middle East peace process needs our support more than ever. The message was delivered by Karen Koning Abu Zayd, the Deputy Commissioner General of UNRWA.
The dire financial situation of UNRWA was highlighted in his message to the conference. He called on donors to "continue to assist UNRWA and contribute generously to its budget, especially now, when the refugee camps have become targets of military operations”.
The full text, as well as the UNWRA press release, are available upstairs.
**Human Rights/Middle East
Yesterday afternoon, in a statement to the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson said that her three-member mission to the Middle East remains ready to travel to the area and report back expeditiously, although the mission has still not been able to do so. The planned visit is still under active review by the Israeli authorities.
Meanwhile, Robinson said, there were some welcome signs, including Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s condemnation of last Friday’s suicide bombing and all civilian killings, and the decision of the Israeli High Court to direct that the bodies of people killed in Jenin be handed over to the Palestinians for burial.
Serious problems remain, however, including the continuation of suicide bombings and of the military measures by Israel that have left hundreds dead and thousands displaced, she said, adding, "the unresolved standoff in Bethlehem and the virtual destruction of Jenin are of deep concern to us all".
We have her briefing to the Commission upstairs.
**Venezuela Monday Statement
If you missed it, we issued the following statement yesterday, I think it was around 6 p.m., on the subject of Venezuela:
“Earlier that day, the Secretary-General telephoned His Excellency Hugo Chávez Frías, the President of Venezuela, expressing satisfaction that the process of restoring constitutional order in Venezuela was under way. He appealed for national reconciliation and underscored the importance of an inclusive democratic system in the country.
“President Chávez reiterated his commitment to the principles of constitutional rule, legality and democracy and his determination to pursue a broad-based national dialogue. The Secretary-General welcomed the return of calm to the country, and noted his readiness to assist in the effort to strengthen the democratic dialogue, the rule of law and human rights in Venezuela.”
**Security Council -- Ethiopia/Eritrea
The Security Council began its closed consultations today on Eritrea and Ethiopia. The Secretary-General delivered opening remarks, saying that “for once, I bring the Council some good news.”
Referring to the decision delivered over the weekend by the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission on the delimitation of the border shared by those two countries, the Secretary-General noted both Ethiopia and Eritrea had reaffirmed their acceptance of the decision since the announcement was made.
After the Secretary-General’s introduction, Legwaila Joseph Legwaila, the Special Representative for those two countries, outlined the role of the UN mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea in the demarcation phase following the Commission’s announcement, which includes security and demining support.
Also on the Council’s agenda is East Timor. A briefing by Assistant Secretary-General of Peacekeeping Hedi Annabi is expected.
In East Timor today, United Nations election officials have finished counting ballots in 12 districts in the vote for the first democratically elected President.
East Timor's Independence leader, Xanana Gusmão, has won 11 out of 12 districts. Mr. Gusmão has received a total of 267,615 votes, while his opponent, Legislative Assembly Vice President, Francisco Xavier do Amaral, has won 57,536 votes.
There is only one district where vote counting has still to be completed. Final national results will be announced tomorrow, and the Independent Electoral Commission will certify the official results on 21 April. Meanwhile, the official number of total votes was determined today at 378,538, which represents 86.2 per cent of registered voters.
We've been informed by the UN Information Centre in Rome that Afghan Interim leader, Hamid Karzai, has arrived in the Italian capital from Kabul and will be accompanying former King Mohammad Zaher Shah home from exile tomorrow.
The United Nations is not involved in the return of the former King, as you know, but the UN-facilitated Bonn Agreement states that the emergency Loya Jirga will be opened by him. As we reported to you yesterday, the Loya Jirga election process is now underway in Afghanistan. The opening is expected to happen in June in Kabul.
Earlier today in Kabul, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, discussed with Karzai UNHCR's strategy for the repatriation and reintegration of Afghan refugees and internally displaced people. Lubbers' meeting with Karzai came as the number of Afghans returning from Pakistan under a UNHCR joint repatriation programme that began on 1 March topped a quarter of a million.
In their meeting, Lubbers told Karzai that security is indispensable to repatriation. But more importantly, he said, successful reintegration would lead to stability.
Also on Afghanistan, Julia Taft, the Assistant Administrator of the UN Development Programme, who just returned to New York from Kabul, is scheduled to speak to reporters tomorrow at 11 a.m. on the 21st floor of UNDP headquarters.
According to the weekly update from the Office of the Iraq Programme, there have been no Iraqi oil exports under the "oil-for-food" programme since 8 April. However, prior to Iraq’s announced month-long suspension of its oil exports on 8 April, there were five cargo loadings for a total of 8.6 million barrels of oil between the 6th and the 8th of the month.
This week’s exports netted an estimated $190 million in revenue. So far in the current phase eleven of the programme, which ends on 29 May, Iraq has exported 207 million barrels of oil out of the 360 million barrels approved by UN oil overseers. Revenue generated so far during this phase stands at approximately $3.91 billion.
It's estimated that Iraq's decision to temporarily halt its oil exports will reduce phase eleven revenue by some $1.3 billion, bringing the total shortfall in funding for the purchase of humanitarian supplies in this phase to $3.6 billion.
If you need any more statistics, you can get it in the complete update, which is available upstairs.
The UN Mission in Kosovo announced that six Ashkali, or Gypsy, families are being returned today to their homes in Vushtrii, in an effort supported by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Some Ashkali had left when other Kosovars, whose homes were destroyed during the Kosovo conflict in 1999, occupied Ashkali houses. Now, with European Union funding supporting the rebuilding of the destroyed houses, the Ashkali residents of Vushtrii have expressed their willingness to return.
In a press release available upstairs, the UN Mission says the return of displaced persons to their homes is “a major step in Kosovo’s journey to joining a free and democratic Europe”.
Father Hormisdas Nsengimana, a Catholic priest, today pleaded not guilty to charges of genocide and crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania. He is accused of playing a leading role in a death squad called the Dragons, which played a crucial role in killing Tutsis in the prefecture of Butare. We have more details in a press release.
The incidence of polio is at the lowest point in history, with only 537 cases being reported last year. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative, spearheaded by the World Health Organization with the United Nations Children's Fund, reduced the number of countries in which polio was endemic from 20 to 10 in the 2000-2001 period, and the number of new cases dropped 80 per cent in the same time.
However, the Global Polio Eradication Technical Consultative Group warns that the programme is at risk in three areas with the highest transmission of the polio virus. They are northern India, Afghanistan/Pakistan and Niger/Nigeria. The Group noted that the surveillance system in Afghanistan had suffered in the last few months and its re-establishment should be a global priority.
You can read more in the press release.
**Additional Press Releases
Two more press releases to mention -- the Food and Agriculture Organization warns in a press release that several countries in southern Africa are still threatened with a food crisis. More than 4 million people are facing serious food shortages, with Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe being the worst affected. The tri-annual report "Food Supply Situation and Crop Prospects in Sub-Saharan Africa" is now available on the FAO Web site and has more details on the situation.
The second press release is from the World Food Programme, which announces that the second annual International Shipping Conference will take place in Rome on 18 and 19 April. The Conference will bring together logistics experts to share information on international shipping as it relates to humanitarian assistance.
**Messenger of Peace
Finally, Dr. Jane Goodall, the renowned primatologist, who we told you yesterday is I think probably at this moment being appointed the newest United Nations Messenger of Peace, will herself present an award later today. At a ceremony at 1:15 in Conference Room 4, she will give the first Alan Cranston Peace Award to Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs Jayantha Dhanapala.
The award is named for the late US Senator Alan Cranston, who was a leading proponent of nuclear disarmament in the US. The award honours visionary leaders who distinguish themselves in the effort to check the spread of nuclear weapons. The ceremony is organized by the Global Security Institute, which was founded by Senator Cranston.
One last thing -- we had one signing this morning. Costa Rica became the 127th country to sign the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Is the Secretary-General making representations to the Israeli Government to accelerate the arrival of Mrs. Robinson's mission?
Spokesman: I am not aware that he has had any direct contact with the Israeli Government on that subject. Yes?
Question: Have there been any attempts by UNWRA officals to make some assessments of casualties in the area, or was the visit too brief and access too limited?
Spokesman: My understanding is that the assessment of casualties is being done by the International Committee of the Red Cross. Yes?
Question: Has there been an official UN reaction to the report published last week on Srebrenica?
Spokesman: No, we don't have an official reaction. I think I said last week when the report first came out that all we had was something like 7,000 pages in Dutch. But, based on our reading of the executive summary that was provided in English, we did not see anything inconsistent with our own report on Srebrenica, but we were taking a closer look at it. I can see if we've made any progress in our reading of the Dutch, if you want to check with me in my Office later today.
Question: Have there been any recent conversations between the Secretary-General and the leadership of Israel today, yesterday?
Spokesman: To my knowledge, no.
Question: I know you didn't mention it, which probably means no, but is there any update on the Iraqi/UN talks?
Spokesman: They were still discussing dates last night and this morning, but nothing yet to announce. Edie?
Question: Fred, is there any chance of getting the Secretary-General's comments and/or Mr. Legwaila's to the Council on the Boundary Commission?
Spokesman: Yeah, I guess we teased it by quoting his opening line. So, we'll ask if we can release the whole text. Yes?
Question: I understand the Secretary-General is to brief the Council tomorrow on his idea for a multilateral force. Is that correct?
Spokesman: No, that's now shifted to Thursday, which is still tentative, but his current thinking is that he would brief the Council on Thursday.
Question: Is there any actual comment at all on the resignation of the Dutch Government, not just on the report?
Question: Has the Secretary-General spoken to Hans Blix following that newspaper report and your defence of the chief weapons inspector yesterday? Has there been any meeting or communication?
Spokesman: No, I think you probably saw that Mr. Blix was in Washington yesterday. I am not aware that they spoke and I don't even know if he's back today. I'd have to check.
Question: Do you know who he met with?
Spokesman: Well, based on the Washington Post account that said he had spoken to their editors and reporters, I assume he went down to speak to the editorial board of the Washington Post. But, I don't know what other appointments he had. We'll have to check with his spokesman.
Question: On a public safety question, we know that Joseph Connor had warned that air conditioning would be cut off after 5 p.m. Yesterday, was a test of this. I note the General Assembly Spokesman is resplendent without a tie --I don't know if that's because of what happened yesterday. But, who makes the decision on which days or is this automatic? There seems to be a potential risk factor; there's a lot of smoke in the air, no ventilation and people doing a lot of work at that hour, including the cleaners and UN TV. I'd like subsequent briefings on this potential health risk with late night meetings.
Spokesman: We're not supposed to have late night meetings, also as a result of the same austerity measures. It's supposed to go to 90 today here in New York, so it'll be an interesting test. I'll try to get a reaction for you.
Question: Is the Secretary-General contributing to the efforts to get a partial ceasefire? What is his view of the proposal from Mr. Sharon for a regional peace conference excluding Mr. Arafat?
Spokesman: He has no public view on the proposal, I think made by the US Secretary of State, for an international conference, although he did speak to the Secretary of State early this morning and was briefed on the concept. And, on a ceasefire, he continues to consider this the number one priority. But, of course, it's out of his hands; he can only appeal to the senses of the parties to get the political process going again, starting with a ceasefire.
Question: Was the Mideast the number one topic at the meeting between the Secretary-General and US Ambassador Negroponte this morning?
Spokesman: I did get a read out of that meeting and they touched on quite a few issues, but it would probably be fair to say that the Middle East was the main issue.
Question: Are you able to reveal the other topics?
Spokesman: I don't think I should, no. You can ask the Ambassador if he wants to say what it is they talked about.
Question: That's like waiting for Halley's Comet.
Spokesman: Thank you very much.
Briefing by the Spokesman for the President of the General Assembly
Thanks. Just a quick remark to Richard: I always tend to look at the bright side of things, so this is a great excuse not to wear a tie.
General Assembly President Han Seung-soo is on the last leg of his visit to Africa. Over the past five to six days, he has met with Government officials and UN representatives in Ghana, Sierra Leone and Gambia. He has seen what UNAMSIL, the UN peacekeeping operation in Sierra Leone, is doing on the ground, and has visited UN project sites.
In addition to reviewing the United Nations social, economic and peacekeeping activities in the region, the President has been focusing on ways to promote development, combat HIV/AIDS and alleviate poverty. Coming from the Republic of Korea, a country which in a relatively short period has risen out of poverty, he feels that there may be lessons he can share with African leaders. There are a lot more details of his visit on his Web site.
Today, in Dakar, Senegal, the President addressed the Summit Conference organized under the New Partnership for Africa's Development initiative, NEPAD. In his address, he said, among other things, "to promote economic development of Africa, the political leadership and the commitment of the African leaders is of critical importance. From this perspective, today's NEPAD summit meeting can provide a powerful momentum for both developed and developing countries to seriously engage in substantive discussions on the development of Africa. This coming September, the United Nations General Assembly will hold a high-level plenary meeting to discuss ways to support the New Partnership for Africa's Development. I believe that this high-level meeting will be an invaluable opportunity for the 189 Member States, both developed and developing, of the United Nations to galvanize their political will in support of NEPAD".
The full text of that statement is available upstairs. Any questions for me? Thanks.
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