DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
7 May 2002
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Jan Fischer, Spokesman for the General Assembly President.
Spokesman for Secretary-General
The Secretary-General's Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Terje Roed-Larsen, met at midday today with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat. After the half-hour meeting, Roed-Larsen told the press that Arafat had agreed to accelerate reform of the Palestinian Authority along the lines recommended by the United States Council on Foreign Relations in a report that was issued in August 1999. Roed-Larsen said that Arafat had invited the special envoys of the so-called "Quartet" to meet with him this Thursday to discuss reform, and specifically implementation of the report on ways to strengthen Palestinian institutions. The Quartet consists, of course, of the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and the Russian Federation.
**Middle East Damage Evaluation
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), along with the World Bank and several donor governments, has been carrying out a damage assessment of the West Bank and Gaza following the recent Israeli incursions, which it expects to finalize by next Wednesday.
Today, Tim Rothermel, the Special Representative of the UNDP Administrator for the Programme for Assistance to the Palestinian People, said that a rough estimate of total damage in the West Bank could range between $300 million and $400 million. The UNDP has already come up with estimates for the total damage to Nablus –- which is estimated at $110 million -– and Qalqilya, which suffered some $3.5 million worth of damage. UNDP officials estimate that the Palestinian Authority’s central institutions in Ramallah suffered damages to buildings and equipment worth approximately $16 million. The UNDP has earmarked $1.5 million for a recovery programme for the Palestinian Authority institutions. Rothermel said, “Without an efficient and transparent Palestinian public administration, there will be no foundation for peace in the occupied Palestinian territories.”
The World Food Programme (WFP), meanwhile, today gave the preliminary results of its own assessment mission for the food situation in Jenin, and it estimates that, including refugees, some 35,000 people in the governorate of Jenin are in urgent need of food assistance. Around 90 per cent of all commerce with Israel has been lost due to the recent closures, while WFP adds that a total of 4,320 people in the Jenin area are now homeless.
The United Nations has suspended, effective today, all activities in Mogadishu, Somalia. In a statement, the United Nations Resident Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Maxwell Gaylard, said this action has been taken following refusal by kidnappers to date to release a staff member of UNDP who was abducted 28 April and held at an undisclosed location since that time.
The statement says, “It is with regret that activities designed to assist all the people of Mogadishu are being suspended due to these unlawful actions by a few individuals.” It went on to say that this position will be maintained until the abductee, Mohamad Ali Abokor, who has a serious medical condition, is released unharmed and without preconditions. Abokor is the coordinator for the UNDP Capacity Building Project in the Somali capital. We have a press release on that upstairs.
**Secretary-General Meets with Children
One day before the General Assembly special session on children begins, the Secretary-General and Nane Annan will be meeting, within the next few minutes, with two-dozen children at the Dag Hammarskjöld Auditorium, in an event being filmed for Nickelodeon and MTV. I think you all know what those are.
The Annans will first take questions from a dozen children as part of a Nickelodeon programme, before they then turn to face a dozen youths participating in an MTV programme, who will talk to the Secretary-General about the Asian Youth Charter, called “Speak Your Mind”, that was prepared in advance of the special session. The Secretary-General, in appearing before these two groups, will emphasize that their voices will be heard at the upcoming special session, and that children need to keep speaking up to ensure that adults keep their promises.
Then, at 3 p.m. in Conference Room 2, the Secretary-General will appear at an event, called “Reclaiming Our Children”, that his Special Representative dealing with children and armed conflict, Olara Otunnu, is holding to draw attention to the plight of child soldiers. He will stress that, for too long, the use of child soldiers has been seen as merely regrettable; now, he is to say, it must be recognized as intolerable. We have his embargoed remarks upstairs.
Upon entering the Building this morning, the Secretary-General spoke briefly to reporters from Moroccan TV and radio and said, “We must insist on education for every child; not only education, but also health. And I hope that, over the next three days, we will be able to reach agreement on these essential criteria.” We have a transcript of his comments, which he made in French, upstairs.
The Security Council is scheduled to hold an open meeting on children and armed conflict from 1:45 p.m. to 2:45 p.m. today. The proposed scenario envisages opening remarks by this month’s Council President, Ambassador Kishore Mahbubani of Singapore, followed by a number of statements. Among those giving statements are the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Olara Otunnu, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy, and three child delegates to the UN special session on children. A presidential statement is expected to be issued.
The Security Council has not scheduled any meetings over the next three days while the special session on children is taking place.
**Security Council Mission
The Security Council mission to the Great Lakes region of Africa is back in New York. We have a press release on the mission, which concluded yesterday in Kigali, Rwanda.
During a two-hour meeting with President Paul Kagame at the Presidential Palace, Ambassador Jean-David Levitte of France underlined in Kigali the Security Council's attachment to the respect by all the parties of the provisions of the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement. He recalled, in particular, that the Security Council had demanded the immediate pursuit of an inter-Congolese dialogue in order to conclude the agreement which was initiated in Sun City, South Africa, last month. Ambassador Levitte had also requested that the different parties "demonstrate flexibility and openness and not to leave anybody on the road", in his words. He called, on the Security Council's behalf, for the "conclusion of an inclusive agreement", which would include the RCD-Goma. This was the only possible way to achieve the establishment of a transitional government, which was capable of guaranteeing unity for the country and assuring its sovereignty over the entire territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
On behalf of the Council, Ambassador Levitte presented to President Kagame the idea of a "curtain of troops" which would permit a military presence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo along its borders with Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi to ensure -- in a limited portion of the territory of the DRC and for a limited period -- better monitoring of its borders and to facilitate, with the support of the United Nations mission there, the withdrawal of foreign troops from the DRC.
The United Nations Mission in Afghanistan reports today that a forensic investigation mission fielded by the United Nations to the areas of Bamiyan and Mazar-i-Sharif has completed their field investigations and returned to Kabul. The team undertook a preliminary assessment of domestic forensic capacity before leaving Afghanistan today. The team’s findings and recommendations will now be finalized before being submitted to the United Nations for further consideration.
The team also prepared a list of other alleged mass gravesites in the country. More details are available in today’s briefing notes from Kabul, which also report on a United Nations-brokered agreement between Generals Abdul Rashid Dostum and Atta Mohammad on the withdrawal of heavy weaponry from the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. The notes also contain an update on the record numbers of refugees returning home despite the difficult conditions, and an update on food aid to Afghanistan.
The Office of the Iraq Programme has been informed by Iraq’s State Oil Marketing Organization that two vessels are expected to arrive at Mina al-Bakr loading terminal. No dates were mentioned for the arrival of the vessels, which would be the first to carry Iraqi oil since Iraq began its month-long suspension of oil exports. Also, there are no vessels scheduled to arrive at the second authorized loading terminal, which is at Ceyhan, Turkey, so far.
The Iraq Programme’s weekly update notes that about $1.2 billion in estimated revenue have been lost as a result of the month-long suspension of Iraqi oil exports. Owing to a funding shortfall, about $3.1 billion worth of contracts for the purchase of humanitarian supplies, although approved, could not be funded. The full text of the weekly “oil-for-food” update is available upstairs.
In East Timor today, the Council of Ministers approved a Ministry of Finance proposal, paving the way for East Timor to become a member of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Asian Development Bank.
**Deputy Secretary-General Speeches
Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette is going to address the Pacific Council on International Policy this afternoon in San Francisco. She will highlight the global AIDS crisis and focus on a number of fallacies about the disease. This will be her second speech on the subject in the same number of days. Yesterday in Denver, at the “Better World Campaign Breakfast on HIV/AIDS and Business”, the Deputy Secretary-General talked about the role that the private sector could play in the fight against the disease. Also in Denver yesterday, she addressed the 34th Congress of the International Chamber of Commerce on how the United Nations and the business community could work more closely together. We have all the three speeches available upstairs.
**New Director-General in Vienna
The new Director-General of the United Nations Office at Vienna and Executive Director of the Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention, Antonio Maria Costa, assumed his functions today in Vienna. He highlighted good governance, clear strategic priorities and a stable budget among the five key aspects of the work of the Vienna Office.
Costa had met previously with the Staff Council leadership and he told staff today, “I want you all to know that your concerns are my concerns.” He went on to say, “Good management is based on several pillars: fairness, transparency and accountability.” He pledged to work closely with the staff “to make these values a fundamental part of our culture”. We have a press release with more details.
Today is the Buddhist holiday of Vesak, which marks the life of Gautama Buddha, and we have a message to mark the occasion from the Secretary-General. He says, “In this time of global uncertainty, the Buddha’s vision of peace and of humanity’s highest potentials may be more relevant than ever before.” He urges all people to work together towards the common good and the peaceful and harmonious coexistence of all the world’s people. We have the text of his message upstairs.
Two press releases to mention, both on the special session on children. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) says that 60 heads of State or government will be among the estimated 6,000 participants in the special session, which begins tomorrow, and Jan will have more on this for us.
In the other press release, Olara Otunnu, the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, calls on the soon-to-be created International Criminal Court to vigorously pursue those who recruit children and use child soldiers. Otunnu said more than 300,000 children are being used as fighters around the world and added, “We must put an end to this abomination.”
And finally, press conferences: at 12:45 p.m. today, in this room, the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict is sponsoring a press conference by the Child Rights Caucus.
At 2:30 p.m., the Child Rights Caucus will present NGO perspectives on the special session, and will discuss the controversies and shortcomings in the outcome document under negotiation. This is being sponsored by UNICEF.
At 3 p.m., the Permanent Mission of Norway is sponsoring a press conference on the Arria Formula Meeting on the situation in the Middle East, in the context of Security Council resolution 1325 on women and peace and security.
This is all I have for you before we go to Jan.
**Questions and Answers
Question: The General Assembly, in its resolution today, is asking the Secretary-General to report on ...
Answer: Let us not talk about things that might happen.
Question: What is happening?
Answer: When and if the resolution is adopted, we will comment on how the Secretary-General will implement it. I am sorry.
Question: What kind of report is Terje Roed-Larsen referring to?
Answer: This report by the Council on Foreign Relations laid out ways to strengthen Palestinian institutions, including a number of specific reform recommendations. The Palestinian Authority began to work with the United Nations, the World Bank and others to implement these recommendations. Then the political situation turned bad, the violence increased and work on implementing these recommendations stopped. So, today, Mr. Roed-Larsen spoke to Yasser Arafat about reviving the report and Mr. Arafat agreed with that and said “Let us talk with representatives of the Quartet on exactly how to do that, starting this Thursday.” You can get that report from the Council on Foreign Relations here in New York. I do not think we have copies here. I will see if we can get some copies for you, though.
Question: Are there any circumstances under which the Secretary-General could reconstitute the fact-finding mission to the Jenin refugee camp?
Answer: This is another way of asking your earlier question. We’ll have to see what the General Assembly asks and, when and if that happens, I will be announcing how the Secretary-General plans to respond.
Question: Are three main participants of the fact-finding team -- Martti Ahtisaari, Sadako Ogata and Cornelio Sommaruga -– on standby to begin the mission?
Answer: They can be called back at any time. The circumstances, under which they would be called back, I do not want to speculate about.
Question: Are there any press releases about the meeting between Mr. Roed-Larsen and Yasser Arafat?
Answer: I think this is all I’ve got. I got it by telephone from the region. If you like, we can give you the phone for Mr. Roed-Larsen or one of his aides.
Spokesman for General Assembly President
This morning, General Assembly President Han Seung-soo (Republic of Korea) presided over a resumption of the tenth emergency special session, which was convened to consider the item entitled “Illegal Israeli Actions in Occupied East Jerusalem and the Rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory”. The list of speakers, which I made available this morning, is up to 38, so the meeting will resume at 3 o’clock this afternoon. When I left to go down here, they were hearing Iran -– speaker number seven.
I am sorry if there was some confusion about the starting time this morning. It was originally scheduled to begin at 10 a.m., but quite late yesterday some Member States requested some extra time for consultations before the meeting, which is why it began at 10:30 a.m. Yesterday, I gave you a bit of background to the emergency session, so I will not repeat that today. At the end of the meeting today, the Assembly is expected to adopt draft resolution A/ES-10/L.9, which is available at the documents counter.
Also, yesterday, I provided copies of speakers list number 3 for the special session on children, but I would like to draw your attention to the Journal, part I, which contains a list giving names and titles of the speakers. The Journal also outlines the agenda for tomorrow’s meeting.
As mentioned, the President will preside over the emergency special session. In addition, he will have a meeting with the Chairman of the Council of Presidents -– this Council brings together a number of former General Assembly Presidents.
Question: Do you have the list of those former Presidents?
Answer: I think, it is about 10, and I will get that list for you.
Thank you very much.
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