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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

16 August 2002

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Hua Jiang, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

**Iraq

Last night, the United Nations received a letter from Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri, addressed to the Secretary-General. That letter is right now being translated from the original Arabic. It will be circulated as a Security Council document.

You’ll recall that last Tuesday, 6 August, the Secretary-General had written to Foreign Minister Sabri and had indicated that he looked forward to receiving from the Iraqi Government a formal invitation to the UN weapons inspectors.

I won’t have any further comment on the letter for now, while it is being translated.

**Statement on Floods

And here is a statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General: “The Secretary-General expresses his sincere sympathy for the people and Governments suffering the effects of flooding in Central Europe, Russia, Iran, South Asia, China and the Philippines. The United Nations is providing support to affected countries who have requested it, by delivering relief materials, mobilizing donor support, and serving as a conduit for the timely sharing of information which is so important in coordinating emergency response. The United Nations stands ready to assist any other affected countries that ask for help.

The Secretary-General also points out that the World Summit on Sustainable Development, opening in just a few days’ time, will provide an opportunity to move forward on development strategies to reduce the effects of natural disasters and to confront the serious environmental challenges affecting our planet. “Such strategies must become an essential component of sustainable development policies and practices.”

**Security Council

The Security Council is not holding any sessions today, having wrapped up its work this week yesterday afternoon, when it voted unanimously to authorize the establishment, for an initial six months, of a UN Mission in Angola, to help consolidate peace in that country.

The Mission, the Council decided, would assist the Angolan parties by chairing a Joint Commission to be established to deal with the peace process, among other tasks to help the parties fulfil the 1991 Lusaka Protocol dealing with peace between the Angolan Government and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, known as UNITA.

The Mission will also assist the Angolan Government in the promotion of human rights, mine action, humanitarian assistance, reintegration of demobilized former combatants, economic recovery and preparations for elections.

As for the Council’s programme for the days ahead, nothing is scheduled until next Wednesday, when it plans to discuss Burundi and missing persons and property in Iraq.

**Bertini’s Middle East Trip

Today was Catherine Bertini’s fifth day in the region. The Secretary-General’s Personal Humanitarian Envoy spent most of it in Gaza.

This morning, she was able to hear directly from Palestinian children as to their concerns and feelings when she visited the “Children’s Parliament” in Gaza. The project is run for Palestinian student leaders by the UN Children’s Fund.

Ms. Bertini and her team then went to Khan Yunis where she spoke to Palestinian families especially hard hit by the current crisis.

She ended her day in Gaza by a visit to Rafah on the southern tip of the strip. There she toured a Women’s Center run by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

The Personal Envoy and her team are now back in Jerusalem, where they are currently meeting with representatives of the international donor community.

Saturday will be spent in the northern part of the West Bank.

On Sunday, Ms. Bertini will resume her meetings with Israeli authorities. She’s expected to see both the Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, and the Defence Minister, Binyamin Ben Eliezer, as well as the Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

A relief flight organized by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, left Kinshasa this morning for the town of Bunia in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

As you know, Bunia has been the site of fierce ethnic fighting which left close to 100 dead.

The UN estimates that up to 30,000 people may have been displaced by the clashes.

The Antonov cargo plane is carrying 14 tonnes of aid materials, including tents, plastic sheeting, jerry cans and clothes as well food.

The DRC Government has also supplied two tonnes of medical supplies.

**UNHCR

In a statement issued today, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, hailed the decision by the Sri Lankan government to begin direct peace talks with the Tamil Tiger Rebels.

This carries “a huge potential for the return of hundred of thousands of people uprooted by the conflict”, Mr. Lubbers said.

UNHCR estimates that the 19-year old conflict -– south Asia’s longest –- uprooted some 800,000 people within the country and drove another 80,000 out of Sri Lanka.

The announcement by the Government coincided with a visit to the island by Kamel Morjane, Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees.

During his tour, which included the northern Jaffna Peninsula, Mr. Morjane noted that considerable funds would be needed to ensure the feasibility of the return of Sri Lankans uprooted by the conflict.

The UNHCR briefing notes, which are available upstairs, also include items on the resumption of aid activities in the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia as well UNHCR’s follow-up action in Uganda following the attacks on refugee camps last week.

**Discrimination

Out on the racks today is a report by the Office of Internal Oversight Services, on its inspection of possible discrimination within the United Nations, whether due to nationality, race, sex, religion or language.

The report concludes that there does not appear to have been any systematic and consistent preference or exclusion that impaired equal opportunity for any given region, whether in appointments, promotions or re-appointments, during the past six-year period. However, there have been instances where, at certain levels, regional differences do exist.

The report says that, although some strides have been made in achieving gender parity, that process has been slow, with men more likely to be hired, promoted or re-appointed, particularly at the higher levels. These higher levels refer to P4 to D2.

The Office of Internal Oversight Services also says that the complaint mechanisms for dealing with discrimination within the UN need to be strengthened, in part by making the Panel on Discrimination and other Grievances more effective. It also recommends that the Secretary-General should issue a bulletin in which he articulates a policy on discrimination for the UN.

In a note attached to the report, the Secretary-General says he concurs with the report’s recommendations and is committed to ensuring that discrimination is not tolerated in the United Nations, and that any allegations of discrimination will be promptly addressed. He recently appointed an Ombudsman, Patricia Durrant of Jamaica, to work to help resolve conflicts, including allegations of discrimination.

**Guatemala

High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson today expressed serious concern about the prosecution in Guatemala, on defamation charges, of Bruce Harris, the director of Casa Alianza, an organization that defends the rights of street children in Central America.

At a 1997 press conference, Mr. Harris mentioned an individual allegedly involved in trafficking Guatemalan and Mexican babies. Following a 1999 ruling by Guatemala’s Constitutional Court that only journalists have freedom of expression, Mr. Harris is to be tried in a criminal, and not civil, court for defamation over his comments.

Ms. Robinson urged Guatemala to implement international obligations to protect freedom of expression.

We have a press release with more details.

**Afghanistan

A report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and World Food Programme says today that some 6 million people in Afghanistan would remain highly vulnerable to food insecurity and would continue to need relief food assistance over the next year.

The report says that the effects of successive years of drought, deteriorating irrigation and other infrastructure, among other things, render a timely and effective intervention all the more essential.

Besides urging the continuation of food distributions, the report calls for sustained investment in the agricultural sector.

We have their press release in the office.

**Exchange of Letters

Out on the racks is an exchange of letters between the Secretary-General and the President of the Security Council, which extends the mandate of the United Nations Office in the Central African Republic for a further 12 months, until 31 December 2003.

**Press Releases

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) announces in a press release that some 90 judges will attend the Global Judges Symposium in Johannesburg beginning on Sunday. The three-day symposium will look at environment-related laws and ways to strengthen their implementation.

The World Health Organization has issued a revised fact sheet on UV radiation and skin cancer and cataracts. It outlines the dangers of UV radiation and measures that can be used to minimize risk of skin cancer and cataracts and outlines exposure categories and colours associated with them as part of the Global Solar UV Index.

**General Assembly

And I have a note from Jan Fischer, Spokesman for the President of the General Assembly. Following many requests, he has been in touch with the Chief of Security with a view to releasing a provisional list of speakers for the upcoming general debate. As a result, Security has now agreed to make the list available to you, but for planning purposes only. It should not be reproduced or disseminated in any way.

You can obtain copies from the Spokesman’s Office, and we also have a provisional programme of work for the plenary of the General Assembly and the schedule of work for the main committees.

**Cyprus

A press release from the UN peacekeeping mission in Cyprus reminds local hunters that hunting is not permitted in the buffer zone.

As the “small game” season opens this Sunday, the Mission says that hunters wearing camouflage outfits and carrying guns are easily mistaken for soldiers and therefore can be at risk of coming under fire from either of the opposing forces.

Firing of guns in the narrow areas between the ceasefire lines, the press release goes on to say, inevitably increases tension because soldiers on duty cannot immediately determine where the shots have come from and may feel obliged to react.

You can pick up the full text of the press release upstairs.

**The Week Ahead at the United Nations

And we have the Week Ahead available for you upstairs.

Questions and Answers

Question: Regarding the letter, I know you don’t want to go into the details regarding the contents, but you mentioned that it’s going to be released as a Security Council document. Do you know when that will be?

Deputy Spokesperson: We expect the translation will be finished before the end of today. So once that one is done, it can be released as a document.

Question: When can we expect some kind of a reaction from the Secretary-General to the letter?

Deputy Spokesperson: As you know, the Secretary-General is away on vacation. But we have been in touch with him. So as soon as he’s ready to make a comment, we will let you know.

Question: Can you give us any idea about any of the letter, about the content of the letter at all?

Deputy Spokesperson: No. In fact, I haven’t seen the letter. It’s in Arabic. It’s being translated, so I can’t make any comments just now.

All right, have a very good weekend. Thank you.

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