DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
20 September 2002
Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Richard Sydenham, Spokesman for the General Assembly President.
Briefing by the Spokesman for the Secretary-General
**Background Briefing on Reform
It is now five years and nine months that Kofi Annan has been quietly working to transform the United Nations into a more efficient and a more effective organization. On Monday morning, at 10:30, he will come to this room to present his report on UN reform, containing his vision of what can be improved in his second term. But it is also a time to take stock of what was accomplished in the first.
Immediately after this briefing, a senior UN official will walk you through that report and embargoed copies will be available, along with an embargoed press kit. The briefing will be off the record; therefore, the TV cameras will be off. Delegations who have an interest, however, can, as usual, view the briefing in Studio 4.
And, as usual, when the Secretary-General gives a press conference, there will be no noon briefing, although we will post the news of the day on the Web site.
The Security Council this morning held an open meeting to receive a briefing by the UN Special Coordinator on the Middle East, Terje Roed-Larsen, on recent developments in the region.
Mr. Roed-Larsen noted the deeply unfortunate upsurge of violence in recent days, including two suicide bombings in Israel and a bomb blast at a Palestinian school near Hebron, which he called “repugnant and tragic events”.
Most recently, he said, the Israeli Defence Force yesterday once again encircled Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s offices in Ramallah and carried out major demolitions, in a siege that continues today. Noting recent Palestinian reform efforts, he said, “Yesterday’s incursion and the renewed isolation of President Arafat’s compound undoubtedly weaken the position of those working for major reform.”
Mr. Roed-Larsen described the recent work done by the Quartet –- made up of the United Nations, the European Union, Russia and the United States –- including its meetings held this past Tuesday. There was a common understanding at the
Quartet meeting, he said, that neither the security problem nor the humanitarian crisis can be fully solved without a political solution.
He asserted, “Security first, as the Secretary-General has said so often, is never going to work in the Middle East. Steps need to be taken not on a sequential basis, but in parallel and with reciprocity.”
Mr. Roed-Larsen also informed the Council about the continued deterioration of the Palestinians’ humanitarian situation. The latest report by the Special Coordinator on social and economic conditions, which is to be issued later today, shows that Palestinian unemployment is now around 50 per cent, and that poverty levels have reached 70 per cent in Gaza and 55 per cent in the West Bank.
We have the text of his briefing available in my Office. And after the open meeting, Mr. Roed-Larsen and the Security Council members discussed the Middle East further in closed consultations. And he will speak to you at the Council stakeout once those consultations are finished.
**Economic Report from UNSCO
As I just mentioned, Roed-Larsen’s Office is officially releasing the latest economic report on the Palestinian economy, which you can pick up in my Office. It will also be posted on the Web in the Newscentre’s Middle East pages.
The report’s major preliminary findings on unemployment, poverty levels and income losses were released late last month in Jerusalem, as part of a statement on the rapidly expanding humanitarian crisis in the West Bank and Gaza Strip by the Secretary-General’s Envoy, Mr. Roed-Larsen. That speech will be distributed with this full, 35-page report, which covers the first six months of the year, one of the most violent and unstable periods since Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967. Its findings are a core part of the ongoing diplomatic discussions that included this week’s Quartet meeting here.
**Secretary-General Condemns Armed Attacks in Côte d’Ivoire
Late last night, we issued a statement attributable to the Spokesman on the situation in Côte d’Ivoire. I’ll just read it now into the record:
“The Secretary-General is deeply concerned by reports of armed attacks by elements of the armed forces of Côte d’Ivoire in various parts of the country. He is particularly saddened by the loss of life that has ensued.
“He unequivocally condemns any attempt to settle disputes through violence. He calls on all those involved in these attacks to immediately and unconditionally cease their activities and submit to the constitutional order. He also calls on all concerned parties to refrain from any action that could worsen the situation.
“He deeply regrets that these events are happening at a time when Côte d’Ivoire was moving towards enhancing national reconciliation and broad-based political dialogue in an evolving democratic framework.
“He reaffirms the commitment of the United Nations to continue to work closely with the Government and people of Côte d’Ivoire as they endeavour to restore peace, stability and progress in the country”.
Yesterday afternoon, Hans Blix, the Executive Chairman of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) for Iraq, briefed the Security Council in closed consultations about the timetable for work by UN inspectors, following Iraq’s acceptance earlier this week of the inspectors’ return.
He told the press after the consultations that a first advance party of inspectors could be on the ground by 15 October. As you know, the Commission will hold talks with Iraqi experts in Vienna, starting 30 September, to finalize practical arrangements for the inspectors’ return.
Mr. Blix also gave the Security Council a timeline for the first 120 days of the inspectors’ work, as detailed by Security Council resolution 1284. After a two-month period of preparation, including getting the inspectors’ facilities in Baghdad ready, UNMOVIC could start its work on the ground and begin a 60-day period for examining Iraq’s remaining disarmament tasks. The Commission would then report to the Security Council on its work, so that the Council could approve a programme of work for the inspectors.
**Bosnia and Herzegovina
The UN Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina today strongly condemned the destruction of a newly rebuilt mosque in Kljuc, after a powerful explosion on Wednesday night completely destroyed its minaret and damaged its roof and windows.
The mosque had been one of the first to be reconstructed in eastern Herzegovina, and the Mission is urging the local police to identify and bring to justice the perpetrators of “this malicious act”. The Mission will also closely monitor the investigation by local police into the incident. We have a press release on that.
The World Food Programme (WFP) has started to distribute 5,800 tons of food aid to assist more than half a million vulnerable people in provinces most affected by insecurity in Burundi.
The food aid will be given together with seeds and farm tools provided by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Continual fighting in Burundi has resulted in significant population displacements, erosion of assets, significant livestock theft, as well as destruction of homesteads. Nearly 1.4 million people in Burundi, mainly internally displaced persons, do not have adequate access to food and thus depend on WFP for food assistance.
A memorandum of understanding on United Nations support to mine action in the Sudan was signed yesterday in Geneva between the Government of the Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement. It was also signed by the United Nations. The memorandum of understanding was signed in the margin of the fourth meeting of States parties to the anti-personnel mine ban Convention and focuses on the request of both parties to the United Nations to implement an emergency mine-action project in the Sudan with the overall objective of reducing mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) casualties among the civilian population and the humanitarian aid community. Mine action offices are being established in Khartoum and Rumbek.
The UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Angola, Erick de Mul, expressed his concern about the critical humanitarian situation faced by more than 100,000 persons in the town of Mavinga in the southern province of Kuando Kubango from where he just returned.
According to Mr. de Mul, of the new areas that have become accessible to humanitarian partners since April, this has been one of the most difficult to stabilize. Access is very difficult. The roads and bridges need repair and the airstrip is wearing down from all the flights bringing in assistance. The sheer numbers of people in need in Mavinga and surrounding areas is overwhelming, he says. See a press release upstairs for more information.
Meanwhile, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Angola, Ibrahim Gambari, met with Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos this morning. Mr. Gambari told reporters afterwards that the Technical Group of the Joint Commission has already started working on the first formal meeting of the Joint Commission, which will be held next Thursday, 26 September. The Commission is tasked with accomplishing outstanding issues of the Lusaka Protocol.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is expressing its grave concern about allegations from Congolese refugees in Rwanda that local authorities and officials of the rebel group Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD/Goma) are pressuring able–bodied men to return to north Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo from Rwanda to join rebel security forces.
"They are asking all able-bodied men to repatriate and secure the area", one 20–year–old male complained to the UNHCR in Byumba camp on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, information posters telling refugees that the return operation being managed by the Government of Rwanda should be voluntary have been torn down. The UNHCR had posted more than 1,000 posters in two refugee camps housing some 32,000 refugees.
In Arusha, United Republic Tanzania today, Jean-Baptiste Gatete, the former Mayor of Murambi Commune, who was transferred to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda after being arrested in the Republic of the Congo, pleaded “not guilty” to all 10 counts linking him to the Rwandan genocide.
Gatete was making his initial appearance before the court, where he faces charges of genocide, direct and public incitement, crimes against humanity and serious violations of the Geneva Conventions. He is alleged to have urged Interahamwe and other civilian forces to rape and kill Tutsi women, and to have led a campaign of terror against Tutsi civilians in the prefectures of Byumba and Kibungo. A date for his trial is to be fixed in due course. We have a press release on that.
The new High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sergio Vieira de Mello, spoke to the press in Geneva today, telling them that, after one week of getting his bearings in his new job, “The task before me is enormous. I am conscious of that.”
Asked about the recent upsurge of violence in the Middle East, he said, “I hope that we will revert immediately to this six-week period of relative peace and get down to the real job, let the Quartet continue.” Asked about whether he would adopt a lower profile than his predecessor, Mary Robinson, he responded, “Judge me on the basis of results, not on style.” We have the full transcript in my Office.
**International Day of Peace
This morning, the Secretary-General rang the Peace Bell to mark the International Day of Peace, which will be observed tomorrow.
In his remarks, the Secretary-General said that this year marks the beginning of a new peace-day tradition, as the General Assembly has decided from now on to observe the International Day of Peace on 21 September as a “day of global ceasefire and non-violence”.
He called on all nations and all people to cease all hostilities for the duration of the Day. Twenty-four hours are not a long time, he said, “but enough for the world's leaders to begin to listen to their peoples”.
United Nations Information Centres and other offices around the world have organized a range of activities and events to mark the day. The UN mission in Sierra Leone, UNAMSIL, tells us that about 100 children from advocacy groups in the country went on a “Peace Bus” tour of the capital, Freetown, today to deliver messages of peace to the United Nations Mission and various government offices.
The Secretary-General's Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Amos Namanga Ngongi, has accepted an invitation by the leadership of the Congolese Rally for Democracy to visit Goma in the eastern DRC tomorrow for International Day of Peace commemorations. Ngongi has not been in that part of the country since June, since the RCD leadership declared him persona non grata.
I would also like to remind you about the Peace Vigil that began this morning in the Meditation Room -– which is just off the public lobby of the General Assembly Building -- and that will last through tomorrow evening.
We have the Secretary-General’s message and those of other UN officials around the world and a number of press releases available in my office.
And on Monday, in a DPI-sponsored event, war-affected children, including refugee children living in the United States, will join Mrs. Nane Annan for an International Day of Peace to be held in the Dag Hammarskjöld Library Auditorium in the morning.
**Address by Nane Annan
Nane Annan gave a keynote address today at the annual meeting of Learning Leaders, a non-profit that recruits, trains and supports over 11,500 public school volunteers in New York City. She praised the work of the 2,000 volunteers present saying she could feel their “contagious spirit” in going out into schools. “Every day you are performing miracles in opening the eyes of children to the wonders of the world”, she said.
Noting her experiences in visiting New York City schools, she added, “It’s a flavour of all this that I want to give kids –- that there is an immense world out there, there are sad things but also wonderful things when somebody stretches out a hand to help, or children take their fate in their own hands and find their way to a school. Because, after all, education is the way to the future.”
**Conference on Women for Peace, Dialogue for Action
Women politicians, wives of heads of State, academics and professionals will meet in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, beginning tomorrow for a two-day conference to launch a women’s movement for world peace. The Secretary-General’s message to the conference will be delivered by Mervat Tallawy, Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for West Asia. And we have the text available in my Office.
**The Week Ahead at United Nations
And finally, we have the Week Ahead, which you can pick up in my Office.
Any questions before we go to Richard? Yes?
**Questions and Answers
Question: I just wondered whether we’d have the opportunity to put any questions to Mr. Hans Blix at the same time as he’s being interviewed by Swedish Television?
Spokesman: I think you’d be encroaching on Swedish Television’s territory, you know.
Question: Yeah, but it was publicly announced. So, I wondered whether he might answer some, you know, questions afterwards, or something?
Spokesman: I think he probably would want to schedule that as a separate interview, if he had the time, and I urge you to contact Ewen Buchanan, his spokesman, to see if he has any flexibility in his schedule. Yes, Bill?
Question: How strictly is the Secretary-General’s press conference on Monday going to be limited to the reform programme?
Spokesman: I haven’t discussed that with him, but I suppose if we had our druthers, we’d ask it be reform and only reform. He doesn’t have too much time. So, we’ll see if, once you exhaust the reform questions, he could take a few questions on Iraq, which I am sure is what you want to ask about.
**Briefing by the Spokesman for the General Assembly President
This morning General Assembly President Kavan attended the Peace Bell ringing ceremony to commemorate the International Day of Peace. In his address, he said that by adopting the date of 21 September, the General Assembly not only set a firm date for the observation of the International Day of Peace, but it also provided the forum in which the International Day of Peace could have a global reach and a practical impact. The General Assembly decision, he said, has strengthened the significance of the day, a significance which should even grow in coming years.
President Kavan went on to say that he hoped that parties in conflict will commemorate the International Day of Peace by observing a ceasefire. “This year we inaugurate the global day of peace, ceasefire and non-violence. I hope to see a commitment to it rising as it becomes an enduring tradition”, he said.
His statement is available as a press release.
The General Assembly is scheduled to hear 22 speakers in the plenary today in the general debate and to wind up the general debate this afternoon. The General Assembly will then consider adoption of the agenda and orgnization of work contained in the first report of the General Committee, which is document A/57/250.
Next week and the following week, committees start their meetings and the next plenary meeting of the General Assembly is scheduled for next Friday, 27 September, with the admission of East Timor to membership in the United Nations.
I have some provisional totals for statistics for the general debate. As I said, they are provisional, because the general debate is still ongoing. But there have been 33 heads of State, 14 heads of Government, two vice-presidents, 14 deputy prime ministers, one crown prince, 110 foreign ministers, two vice-ministers, 11 chairs of delegations and one observer. Making a total of 187 Member States and one observer who have spoken in the general debate. These are provisional figures, but that is expected to be total.
Question: Who is missing on the 187?
Spokesman for the GA President: Countries not represented in the general debate were Kiribati, Libya and Seychelles. Thank you.
Spokesman Eckhard: Are there any further questions? All Right. Well, thank you very much ... I’m sorry ...
Spokesman for the GA President: One more question there.
Spokesman Eckhard: Yeah?
Question: I guess the observer was Palestine?
Spokesman for the GA President: Yes.
Spokesman Eckhard: Okay. So, if we turn the TV cameras off, we’ll go to the “Off-the Record” briefing. Thank you, Richard.
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