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DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL

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

21 May 2002

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

Good afternoon.

[Guest was Special Adviser on Africa Ibrahim Gambari, who discussed recent developments in Angola.]

We have the Ambassador of Ethiopia coming in here in 15 minutes. So I’ll try to get through my briefing quickly. We’ll start with East Timor.

**East Timor

A day after East Timor attained its independence, with authority over the new country being transferred from the United Nations, another kind of transition took place, with one United Nations Special Representative heading out and another taking up his duties.

Sergio Vieira de Mello, who had served for more than two and a half years as the UN Transitional Administrator in East Timor, headed out of Dili, seeing his closest staff at a simple farewell gathering at Comoro Airport.

Kamalesh Sharma, recently India’s Permanent Representative to the UN, took up his duties as the head of the new UN Mission of Support in East Timor, or UNMISET, just two days after his own arrival in East Timor.

The new UN Mission initially comprises 1,250 civilian police officers and 5,000 troops, including 120 military observers. The civilian component will include 100 personnel filling core functions, as well as units dealing with serious crimes and human rights and experts dealing with gender and HIV/AIDS.

We have further details in the last press release to go out from the previous UNTAET mission.

**UNDP/East Timor

In other news on East Timor, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) today noted the daunting challenges the new country faces, with a gross domestic product of only $478 [per capita, per year], average life expectancy of 57 years, and the subsistence by nearly half the population on less than 55 cents a day.

The figures in East Timor’s National Human Development Report, which was presented last week by UNDP to President Xanana Gusmão, place the country among the world’s 20 poorest, on a par with Angola, Bangladesh and Haiti.

We have more information in a press release.

**Security Council

There are no meetings or consultations of the Security Council scheduled today.

Tomorrow, the Council is scheduled to have a public meeting on the Ad Hoc Working Group on Conflict Prevention and Recovery in Africa. It will be chaired by the Singaporean Foreign Minister, Professor S. Jayakumar.

The scenario and background documents for the meeting are available on the Web site of the presidency of the Security Council.

**WFP/Palestinians

The World Food Programme (WFP) today launched an emergency operation to help feed about half a million non-refugee Palestinians no longer able to afford their basic needs amid dramatically deteriorating living conditions in the Palestinian territories.

The WFP expects to help the most needy 500,000 Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with about 70,000 tonnes of food and to provide for their basic needs until the end of the year.

With about 29,000 tonnes of food already accounted for, WFP is appealing to donors for cash or in-kind donations to cover the remaining 41,000 tonnes of food which is valued at $18 million.

The food commodities to be distributed during the eight-month operation include wheat flour, rice, sugar, vegetable oil, and pulses.

The full press release is available upstairs.

**UNDOF

Out on the racks is the Secretary-General’s regular six-month report on the UN Disengagement Force in the Golan Heights, known as UNDOF.

In it he reports that although the situation in the Israel-Syria sector has remained generally quiet, the situation in the Middle East is very tense and is likely to remain so, unless and until a comprehensive settlement covering all aspects of the problem can be reached.

So, under the circumstances, the Secretary-General considers the mission’s presence in the area to be essential and, therefore recommends that its mandate be extended for a further six months, until 30 November 2002.

In the report, he also notes that there is a $15 million shortfall in the Mission’s funding.

**UNHCR

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees is expressing concern about refugee children being recruited to fight in Colombia.

The UNHCR says it has received reports that illegal armed groups from Colombia have been recruiting Colombian boys under the age of 18 in the border areas of Ecuador, Panama and Venezuela.

The refugee agency also says that in the last few months and, particularly since the end of the peace process, thousands of people have been displaced inside Colombia or have moved to other countries in the region.

Today’s UNHCR briefing notes also contain an update on Afghan repatriation, including the closure of the 22-year-old Nasir Bagh camp in Pakistan. The UNHCR says it is probably the most famous refugee camp in the world.

Refugees from Liberia continue to arrive in Guinea, the UNHCR notes say.

**Afghanistan

The UN Mission in Afghanistan today confirms the killing of Loya Jirga candidate Mohammed Rahim in a village in Ghor province. They say that he was shot and killed hours after he had been selected on Sunday by the local district to be one of the members of the electoral college from that district for the Loya Jirga. No other details were available.

The mission also reports the second and final round of the Loya Jirga process has begun in some districts today, including in Mazar-i-Sharif in the north.

The briefing notes from Kabul also contain an update on efforts to reach recent flood victims in the Bamiyan province. The affected population is estimated at 25,000 people.

**DRC

In a press conference given today in Kinshasa, the head of the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Amos Namanga Ngongi, said he would be traveling to Kisangani tomorrow.

Ngongi added that the UN Mission was preparing a detailed report on the recent events there.

Meanwhile, there has been an increase in UN military patrols in the town.

In responding to a question from a journalist, the Special Representative said he did not think last week’s mutiny would delay the demilitarization of Kisangani.

In light of reports of armed confrontations and human rights violations, Ngongi reminded the Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD) that, as the de facto authority in the town, they have a responsibility to ensure law and order.

**Ethiopia/Eritrea

The Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission reports today that it is meeting with the parties in The Hague to consider modalities of demarcation.

The independent Commission also reports that representatives from the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Organization of African Unity are attending this meeting.

As you know, the Commission delivered its decision on delimitation of the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia to representatives of the two Governments onApril 13. The text of the decision is available on the Commission Web site.

Also last week, the Security Council after holding back-to-back meetings with representatives from the two countries, said it looked forward to today’s meeting.

**Iraq Update

The weekly update issued by the Office of the Iraq Programme shows that there were 6.9 million barrels of oil lifted through five loadings in the first week of exports, following Iraq’s termination of its month-long self-imposed stoppage.

The week’s exports generated an estimated $169 million in revenue, bringing the total revenue in phase eleven to about $4.15 billion.

The full text of the update is available upstairs.

**Kosovo

Today in Kosovo, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Michael Steiner, visited Ashkali families -- those are Gypsies -- in the area of Vushtrii, and during that visit launched his concept paper on the right of sustainable returns. The paper lays out basic principles for displaced persons and refugees to return to Kosovo.

The fundamental principles are that returns must be based on the rights and decisions of individuals, and that returnees must have equal access to public services, employment, property, humanitarian assistance, freedom of movement and other attributes of normal life. Displaced people should try to return to their original homes, or at least their original areas.

We have copies of Steiner’s concept paper, and an accompanying press release, upstairs.

**Rights of the Child

Today in Geneva, the Committee on the Rights of the Child began its spring session, which was opened by Maria Francisca Ize-Charrin, a representative from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, who noted recent progress in dealing with children’s rights. Among signs of progress was the recent decision by the Commission on Human Rights for the establishment of an independent expert to study violence against children. That expert would be appointed by the Secretary-General.

**Signings

The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants received more signatures today. They were from Brunei Darussalam, Gabon, Tajikistan, Tonga and Vanuatu, bringing the number of signatories to 146.

**Press Conferences

Finally, press conferences scheduled for today. In just a few minutes, as I indicated, Ambassador Abdul Mejid Hussein of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, will brief on the situation in Somalia.

Then tomorrow at 1 p.m., the Permanent Mission of the United Kingdom is sponsoring a press conference by the Parliamentarians for Global Action. They’ll be speaking on “Strengthening United Nations Peace Operations -- International Parliamentary Input".

So that’s what I have. Yes, Richard?

**Questions and Answers

Question: Is the United Nations ready to formally announce any talks with Iraq?

Spokesman: As we told you yesterday, we did confirm that the talks are now scheduled to take place in early August.

Question: July.

Spokesman: In early July, I’m sorry. Early July. I can’t give you any specific date. And I understand that the Iraqis have mentioned today that the meeting would take place in Vienna. So I can confirm that.

Question: On Kisangani. Did Ngongi comment at all on these reports about Congolese who are going for a UN police training either missing or killed?

Spokesman: I don’t believe that he did. But during the course of

Mr. Gambari’s briefing we got through to the mission area. And the latest information is that 53 police officers who had been reported missing or killed are now all accounted for and alive. They had been selected by the RCD to take part in an eventual UN training course for police trainers. That course, I don’t think, had yet been authorized by the Security Council but it was in anticipation of it being authorized that they had done a pre-selection process.

Question: You referred, I think yesterday, to the Somalia/UN kidnapping. I wasn’t sure if I could follow that up. Can you explain the UN’s policies, or the new policy of not paying ransom now or having others pay, or dealing with the kidnapping?

Spokesman: No. It’s always been our policy not to pay ransom. And we still have no word on the UNDP local employee, although I understand his kidnappers call us several times a day making various demands. But we’re demanding that he be released, unconditionally.

Question: Follow up. The policy behind not paying -- you’re hoping what? To put pressure on the kidnappers or . . . ?

Spokesman: No. You start a new business if you pay a ransom because then your people all over the world are subject to also being kidnapped as a way of making some fast money. Yes, Todd?

Question: Can you update us on the Secretary-General’s efforts on the fact-finding mission? Whether the letters have gone out to the Palestinian and Israeli authorities?

Spokesman: Earlier this week I confirmed that the letters had gone out and I said we’d be saying nothing more until the work had been completed. One minute before the Ambassador comes in. Yes?

Question: Has there been any, no, I know you’ll really not tell us. Anything new regarding security in the building in light of recent terror reports? Anything that we should know about? Any change in staffing, management drills, ventilation, anything?

Spokesman: We don’t discuss that, Richard. You know that since 11 September, like most other public institutions, we’ve taken additional steps, spent more money, brought security procedures into line with the latest threat estimates. But we don’t discuss the details.

Thank you very much.

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