DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
2 December 2002
The 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 President of the General Assembly.
Briefing by Spokesman for Secretary-General
**WFP in Israel
Good afternoon. The World Food Programme (WFP) today said it was urging the Israeli Government to observe humanitarian principles, following the loss of 537 metric tons of food aid after Israeli forces targeted a WFP warehouse in the town of Jaballia in the northern Gaza Strip on Saturday night. The warehouse collapsed and its contents were destroyed after Israeli soldiers had entered the building and, after searching it, were seen placing dynamite in various parts of it. The total value of the lost food is estimated at $271,000 and WFP has asked Israel to compensate it for the loss and to conduct a thorough investigation of the incident.
Jean-Luc Siblot, WFP’s Country Director, said it was worrisome that WFP was not permitted to remove the food, which was to be distributed to more than 40,000 destitute people in the Gaza Strip. We have a press release from WFP with more details. And I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesman.
**Secretary-General on WFP in Israel
“The Secretary-General is extremely concerned at the demolition by the Israeli Defense Forces of the World Food Programme warehouse on Friday night in the northern part of the Gaza Strip. He supports the request by WFP that the Government of Israel thoroughly investigate the incident. The Secretary-General once again calls on the Israeli authorities to live up to their commitments and obligations to facilitate emergency humanitarian assistance in the occupied Palestinian territory.”
And we'll try to reconcile the Friday and Saturday night timing contradiction in those two items. (It was later confirmed that the incident occurred on Saturday night.)
**Secretary-General in Washington
The Secretary-General is in Washington today, not meeting with officials, but meeting with civil society. This afternoon, he is to have a private discussion with fellows at the Woodrow Wilson Center. And then tonight he'll address the 100th anniversary of the Pan American Health Organization, or PAHO, and he'll highlight that organization’s accomplishments over the past century, which have helped increase life expectancy in the Americas from 50 years a century ago to 72 years today. But he’s also to highlight the enormous backlog of health-related despair in the Americas, including the AIDS epidemic and violence, particularly against women and children.
We have embargoed copies of his speech upstairs. Also, we have a press release from PAHO, noting the activities being held to commemorate its centennial, which has seen the eradication of polio and smallpox in the Americas.
UN weapons inspections are continuing in Iraq today following a busy weekend in which the inspectors from the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) paid surprise visits to several Iraqi sites. Among the sites visited over the weekend were the Balad Chemical Defence Battalion, a previous “sensitive site” located some 90 kilometres north of Baghdad, and several facilities 40 kilometres south of Baghdad that were known for dual-use capabilities. The inspection teams arrived unannounced and were able to perform all their inspection activities without any difficulties.
**Cameroon-Nigeria Border Commission
In line with a communiqué issued following the Secretary General's meeting in Geneva last month with Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria and Paul Biya of Cameroon, the so-called mixed commission dealing with the Cameroon-Nigeria border issue is meeting for the first time. The commission, chaired by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for West Africa, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, held an informal session in Yaounde, Cameroon, on Sunday. And then today in Yaounde, delegations from both countries are meeting in a formal session expected to include discussions on the programme and calendar of work. The commission has been set up to consider ways of following up on the 10 October ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi is in Petersberg, Germany for the 2002 talks on the first anniversary of the Bonn Agreement for Afghanistan. Thirty two countries, including Afghanistan and the host country, Germany, were represented at the talks, during which a communiqué noted that, “while security concerns remain in parts of Afghanistan, there has nevertheless been considerable improvement in security and stability in much of the country”. The communiqué also strongly endorsed the decision taken by the Transitional Administration to create an Afghan national army and achieve the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of ex-combatants into civilian life.
Lakhdar Brahimi delivered a statement on behalf of the Secretary-General, in which he noted that peace in Afghanistan requires, not only that the Afghans choose cooperation over die-hard habits of confrontation, but it also demands the same from the international community. He says, “The intention of Afghanistan and its neighboring countries to sign a declaration of good neighborly relations is an especially welcome signal of this spirit of cooperation”. We have copies of the communiqué, as well as of the statement. And a transcript of a joint press conference by Brahimi and Afghan President Hamid Karzai is expected in the course of the afternoon.
Colombia has replaced China as the President of the Security Council for the month of December. There are no consultations or meetings of the Council as a whole scheduled for today.
The Council President, Ambassador Alfonso Valdivieso of Colombia, is holding bilateral consultations on the Council's program of work for December. Ambassador Valdivieso is expected to speak to you about the program of work after the Council approves it tomorrow. And then there is a meeting at 3 p.m. today of the ad-hoc working group on conflict prevention and resolution in Africa.
A Special Panel of the Dili District Court for Serious Crimes today sentenced a juvenile to 12 months imprisonment following his conviction for the manslaughter of three people during the 1999 violence. His name was suppressed by the court, as he was only 14 years old at the time the crimes were committed. During the trial, the courts were told that the juvenile had been abducted and brutalized by the Skunar militia before the crimes were committed. The Human Rights Unit of The United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) and Timor-Leste Social Services are planning a reconciliation meeting between the juvenile and the families of the victims, as part of the reintegration process following his release. We have more details in the briefing notes from Dili.
**FAO and WFP on Hunger in Africa
The Food and Agriculture Organization said today that the food situation of a large number of displaced people in Angola is cause for a growing concern. Following the ceasefire between the Government and UNITA, massive numbers of people are returning to their homes and the number of people in need of emergency food aid has increased from 1.42 million to 1.9 million. FAO has launched an appeal for $12.7 million to assist the most vulnerable people in returning to their agricultural activities to increase the amount of food grown locally.
The World Food Programme has started moving large amounts of food by rail from Nacala -- that's a port in Mozambique -- to Malawi, to speed up food aid to millions of hungry people. WFP expects the number of hungry people to jump from 2.3 million to 3.3 million this month and will move an extra 10,000 tons of food a month by rail, bringing the monthly total of food aid delivered to 33,000 tons.
Also on hunger in Africa, in Burundi today the World Food Programme launched an emergency appeal for food aid ahead of a food shortage expected this month, due to a two-month delay in rains. WFP urgently needs 40,000 metric tonnes of food to help feed more than 1 million Burundians until the main harvest in April of next year. We have press releases on both those items.
**WHO Rapid Outbreak Response Fund
In Washington today, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Gro Harlem Brundtland, and former United States Senator Sam Nunn, who is Co-Chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, announced the formation of a Rapid Outbreak Response Fund. The fund will strengthen the global response to infectious disease outbreaks, either from natural causes or by biological weapons. Rapid detection, identification and response are essential to saving lives and controlling infectious diseases from any source and the fund will make it possible to mobilize international teams, materials and vaccines immediately.
The Fund has been established with $500,000 from the Nuclear Threat Initiative and additional funds will be requested from traditional humanitarian donors. We have a press release on that.
**Secretary-General on Day for Abolition of Slavery
The Secretary-General marked the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery with a message today in which he says that slavery was, in a very real sense, the first international human rights issue to come to the fore. Human beings, he says, are not property, and today we should redouble our efforts so that no one shall be held in slavery or servitude.
**Secretary-General on Mine Action
A second statement issued today concerns Martin Barber, the chief of the UN Mine Action Service. Over the weekend, he attended a ceremony marking the fifth anniversary of the opening for signature of the Ottawa Convention, which bans anti-personnel landmines. And he delivered a statement on the Secretary-General’s behalf, welcoming the fact that, under the Convention, which now has 130 States parties, millions of mines have been destroyed. We have both these messages upstairs.
**Deputy Secretary-General in Finland
Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette is in Finland today, where she will attend the Helsinki Conference 2002. It has the theme “Searching for Global Partnerships”. Tomorrow she will address a working session on “Values and Aims of Global Governance -– Perspectives for a Common Approach”. While in Finland, she will also meet with President Tarja Halonen and other senior officials.
Tomorrow, in addition to the President of the Security Council, as I already mentioned, at 10 a.m. Stirling Scruggs, Director of Information and External Relations of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), will be joined by Jeffrey Sachs, the Special Advisor to the Secretary-General, to launch, "The State of the World Population 2002".
**World Chronicle Human Rights Programme
We've been asked to announce the World Chronicle Programme 881 featuring Asma Jahangir, the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights on extrajudicial summary or arbitrary executions. That will be shown today at 3:30 p.m. on in-house television channel 3 or 31.
Finally, I have a United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA) announcement. Nominations for elections to the UNCA Executive Committee are open. Please check the UNCA bulletin board for details. No nominations will be accepted after tomorrow, Tuesday, 3 December. And we'd like to see some good nominations. We depend on that Executive Committee for our relations with UNCA. So let's see a lot of volunteers.
That's all I have for you. Any questions before we go to Richard?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Mr. Spokesman, I have two questions on the Cyprus developments. First, when does the Secretary-General expect the two sides to submit their thoughts and comments on the proposed plan? And has the Secretary-General decided to call both sides to talks any time soon?
Spokesman: To your second question, he has not fixed any date for calling the two sides together. On the first, as you know, he did ask for both sides to give him substantive comments to his proposal. Alvaro de Soto, his Special Envoy, is in Ankara today. He met with the Foreign Minister of Turkey. And he does expect to get these substantive comments from both sides, perhaps as early as tomorrow.
Question: Mr. Denktash said yesterday the United Nations plan for the Cyprus issue must be changed before start of negotiations. What are your comments?
Spokesman: The whole point of putting forward the plan was to get reactions from both sides so that it could be revised as necessary. So as soon as we get Mr. Denktash's substantive comments on the plan, and those from the Greek Cypriot side, we can compare notes and decide how, if at all, we want to revise the plan. The idea is to bring the two sides together to agree on a single text.
Question: Will the Secretary-General have enough time to complete negotiations before the Summit in Copenhagen?
Spokesman: Time is running out. We don't have much time, but we're making every effort to meet that deadline. We think it's probably the best opportunity we've had yet to resolve the Cyprus issue and we're doing everything we can to bring this matter to a head by the Copenhagen Summit.
Question: Peace talks on Burundi are apparently resuming today. Who's attending and what are the latest developments?
Spokesman: That's a good question. I don't have anything on that, but we can find out for you after the briefing and let you know then. Okay. Thank you. Richard?
Briefing by Spokesman for Assembly President
Good afternoon. The General Assembly plenary this morning heard 14 speakers in continuation of debate on the question of Palestine. The plenary will take action on four draft resolutions on this issue tomorrow morning as the second item on its agenda.
After conclusion of debate on the question of Palestine, the plenary took up the situation in the Middle East. The representative of Egypt introduced two draft resolutions and 37 speakers are inscribed. This debate is expected to continue this afternoon and tomorrow morning.
The Second Committee (Economic and Financial) and the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) are in informal consultations.
And looking ahead to Wednesday morning, the plenary discusses agenda item 23 marking the end of the United Nations Year for Cultural Heritage. And further in the week, Thursday is the holiday of Eid Al-Fitr, with no meeting of the plenary expected. And on Friday, the General Assembly will hold a joint debate on Afghanistan. Any questions? Thank you. Happy Monday.
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