DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
4 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
Good afternoon. Considerable disturbances took place in Dili in East Timor, Timor Leste, during the daylight hours of 4 December, with an estimated 600 individuals involved in violent demonstrations. These included some vandalism against Parliament offices, and the residence of the Prime Minister. Some stores and international hotels were targets of arson and looting. While final figures for casualties are not yet available, we understand that at least one Timorese has been killed, while others, including a member of the Government and at least two police officers, have been injured and at least 20 people have been brought to hospitals. Over 30 people have been detained as a result of the disturbances. And as of the close of the day, the situation had once again become calm.
At the request of the Prime Minister, military peacekeepers from the United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET) have been deployed in Dili to assist the Timorese and international police in maintaining order in the capital.
The Secretary-General calls on the Timorese political leadership to pursue its efforts to restore calm. UNMISET will continue to provide support as required.
Shortly after the initial violence, Kamalesh Sharma, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, visited the Timor-Leste Parliament building, which had been damaged in the clashes.
Sharma expressed his concern at the injuries and loss of life that took place at the Parliament building. He asked for the immediate deployment of peacekeeping and police forces around the Parliament and the principal Government administrative building, and said the UN Mission would assist the Timorese Government in maintaining peace and security.
We have a briefing note from the UN Mission with more details.
Dimitri Perricos, the leader of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) inspection team, briefed the press today in Baghdad on his team’s work by saying that they had inspected Al-Mutanna site. This was the site where Iraq had had a chemical weapons warfare programme and thousands of chemical weapons shells and agents had been destroyed by the UN weapons inspectors there in the past. The UNMOVIC team wanted to know if some shells containing mustard gas, which were left out at the site, were still stored there. Mr. Perricos said that, in fact, the team had found the shells stored at the site.
Jacques Baute, the IAEA Iraq Action Team leader, said that his team had conducted an inspection at the Tuwaitha site run by the Iraqi Atomic Energy Agency. The team inspected several major areas at the site for about five hours in order to review changes that had taken place since December 1998.
Responding to another question on the practicality of increasing the number of weapons inspectors, Mr. Perricos said that “we will be using a multiplicity of teams, utilizing multiple disciplines” to conduct weapons inspections in the coming weeks. The full briefing note from Baghdad is available upstairs, and you can pick it up in my office.
Also on Iraq, out on the racks is the 11th quarterly report to the Security Council from, Dr. Hans Blix, the Executive Director of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC). Blix will present the report to the Council this Friday afternoon in closed consultations. In the report, Blix reports on UNMOVIC’s activities from 1 September to 30 November.
Blix says that the first team of inspectors already in Iraq is to be followed by additional groups of inspectors drawn from the Commission’s roster of trained experts. UNMOVIC expects to have around 100 inspectors plus support staff in Iraq by the end of December. The report is now out on the racks.
**United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA)
The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, better known as UNRWA, today lodged a formal protest with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs at a new travel restriction imposed on international staff in the Gaza Strip.
The Agency has been informed that, as of 4 December, vehicles entering Israel from Gaza must carry two or more staff members travelling together. Single occupancy vehicles, with the exception of a small number of high-ranking diplomats, are banned from crossing into Israel until further notice.
UNRWA, which has a team of only three international staff drivers for the whole of the West Bank and Gaza, will find its operations severely curtailed by this order. Even its diplomatic pouch will be prevented from leaving Gaza without two drivers, while simple staff meetings and other basic communications between its operations in the West Bank and Gaza will be greatly impeded.
Security Council members met this morning to consider three draft resolutions: on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), on Sierra Leone sanctions and the “oil-for-food” program for Iraq.
The Council suspended consultations after discussions on the DRC and a briefing by the Chairman of the Sierra Leone Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Adolfo Aguilar Zinser of Mexico, and then held two back-to-back formal meetings to vote on those two resolutions.
On the DRC, the Council voted unanimously to endorse the Secretary-General’s recommendations in his latest special report, in particular the new concept of operations for the UN mission. The resolution authorizes the expansion of the mission to up to 8,700 military personnel. The Council also authorizes the funding of quick impact projects by the UN mission.
In the resolution, the Council also expresses its deep concern over the humanitarian situation throughout the country, particularly in the Ituri region in the northeast of the country.
Then, Council members voted 15-0 that measures to prohibit the direct or indirect import of all rough diamonds from Sierra Leone remain in force for another six months. Rough diamonds controlled by the Government of Sierra Leone under the Certificate of Origin regime shall continue to be exempt from these measures.
The Council then resumed consultations on the oil-for-food programme extension. A briefing on the latest developments in Timor-Leste has also been added.
In the afternoon at 3:30, there will be a public meeting with South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma on the subject of Burundi. Jacob Zuma, in his capacity as Facilitator of the Peace Process in Burundi, has scheduled a press briefing immediately after the Council meeting and that will take place here in Room 226.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo reports that the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in that country, Amos Namanga Ngongi, received from the leader of the Union of the Congolese Patriots, Thomas Lubanga, security guarantees concerning non-government organizations working in Ituri area, in the northeastern part of the country. Ngongi stressed the need for the humanitarian community to be allowed access to the populations in need of humanitarian assistance in order to bring them that assistance. For more information, please look at the briefing notes from the mission that came in today.
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Mission in Angola (UNMA), Ibrahim Gambari, left Luanda for New York yesterday.
While Mr. Gambari is expected to visit Luanda regularly as a non-resident Representative of the Secretary-General until the expiration of the Mission's mandate in February 2003, a Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator, Erick de Mul, has been designated as Deputy Special Representative and Officer-in-Charge of the mission.
Prior to his departure, Mr. Gambari told reporters that the peace process under the Lusaka Protocol is now completed and peace in Angola is now a fact. The major challenges faced by Angola, he said, were humanitarian and developmental, adding that was why it is appropriate that Erick de Mul will be taking over as Officer-in-Charge from this point on.
**Civilians in armed conflict
The Secretary-General’s third report to the Security Council on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, which is out on the racks today, focuses on challenges that occur during the transitional phase from conflict to peace, and stresses the importance of protecting civilians throughout that process.
The report examines three emerging challenges for the protection of civilians: the sexual exploitation of civilians in conflict, including by UN and other humanitarian personnel; the commercial exploitation of conflicts; and terrorism. The report notes that the United Nations is working to ensure that the design of peacekeeping and relief operations incorporates protection measures for groups vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.
On terrorism, it says that terrorism must be condemned without reservation, but warns that the targeting of civilians and the disproportionate use of force beyond legitimate military objectives are violations of international humanitarian law and must be strongly condemned. The United Nations will need to formulate clear guidelines for its future work on protecting civilians in armed conflict where terrorist organizations are active.
The Special Rapporteur of the UN Commission on Human Rights dealing with the independence of judges and lawyers, Dato Param Cumaraswamy, today expressed his grave concern over the deterioration of the rule of law in Swaziland, following comments by that country’s Prime Minister that his Government does not intend to recognize two judgements by its Court of Appeal. The Special Rapporteur criticized the failure of the Government to honour decisions of its courts, and urged the Government to respect the judgments of its Court of Appeal. We have a press release with more details.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said today that Friday would mark the end of a 30-year campaign to eliminate river blindness as a public health threat to West Africa. At the beginning of the campaign in 1974, as much as 10 per cent of the population in high impact regions were completely blind and 30 per cent had severe visual handicaps. Hundreds of thousands of square kilometers of river-valley had been abandoned at an economic loss of $30 million a year. Now, after almost 30 years of vector control and public health management, the fertile river valleys are now free of the parasite that causes river blindness and fit once again for human habitation. We have a press release on that.
Today and tomorrow, Nane Annan, the Secretary-General’s wife, will be visiting the cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul and Chicago to raise awareness about the global HIV/AIDS crisis.
This visit is being sponsored by the United Nations Foundation and the United Nations Association of the United States and is in support of the UN Foundation's and Ad Council's “Apathy is Lethal” national public service campaign. While in Minneapolis and Chicago, Mrs. Annan will be meeting with local community leaders. She will tour children's hospitals and speak at public events in order to engage these communities and their leadership in the global fight against HIV/AIDS.
Finally, the World Chronicle TV programme, featuring Ashok Khosla, winner of the UNEP -- and that is the United Nations Environment Programme -- Sasakawa Prize, will be shown today at 3:30 p.m. on in-house television channel 3 and 31. Any questions before we go to Richard?
**Questions and Answers
Question: I have two questions, both on Iraq. One is, do you have any information that Iraq is to submit its report to the United Nations? And the other is, the White House Spokesman today asked the inspectors to do their jobs simultaneously and more aggressively.
Spokesman: On the first subject, I think it’s our understanding now -– and I believe, this also has been made public in Baghdad -– that Iraq intends to make its declaration in Baghdad sometime late on Saturday. So, we have to see if that happens. My understanding is that it will then be brought –- whatever they submit -– will be brought to New York for transmittal to the Security Council.
As to whether the inspectors can be more aggressive or more active than they are, I didn’t see that comment by the White House Spokesman. I think Hans Blix and Mohammed ElBaradei have instructed their inspectors to be as active and aggressive as possible. I have already mentioned comments made by our people this morning concerning the addition of inspectors. They have only the preliminary teams there. We’re getting more inspectors. It is assumed that, as time goes on through this month of December, they’ll be getting much more active. As for the aggressive nature of their work, I think Mr. Blix had said what he expects of his people. He wants effective inspections, and he has instructed his people on how best to carry out their work. And, I think, he’s pleased with how they have done it so far.
Question: Has Israel given any justification for two drivers, and also did anything special incite the Timorese violence?
Spokesman: I think on East Timor, you should read the briefing note which might provide some more details on how these riots erupted.
On Israel, I think these were security-related actions taken for reasons that Israel knows best. But, of course, they conflict so directly with the humanitarian work that the UN is trying to do, that we have issued this protest, and hope that there will be more flexibility in terms of UNRWA personnel. I understand that these restrictions don’t just apply to UNRWA, but to all United Nations agencies working in the Gaza Strip.
Question: Can you tell us how many people and from which countries specifically these inspectors come from?
Spokesman: You can ask IAEA, if it concerns the IAEA inspection team, or ask UNMOVIC, if it concerns their inspection team. They will have the statistics on their nationalities and the numbers. I don’t have them with me.
Question: On Cyprus, first of all, did you receive any answers from the leaders by noon today? And secondly, after receiving those answers, how much time does the Secretary-General need to revise and resubmit his report to Mr. Denktash?
Spokesman: As of noon, we have not received any submissions and I can’t predict how long it would take to reconcile the two positions until we see what the substantive comments on the Secretary-General’s proposals are from each side. The deadline is fixed for 12 December. We still have a few days. As the Secretary-General said yesterday, there’s still time. Much will depend on the extensiveness or lack of extensiveness of the comments of each side on the draft proposals.
Question: Mr. Denktash this morning disagreed with Mr. Annan’s statement yesterday that his dream is to see Cyprus as one State in the European Union. He said that there are two communities on the island and he does not accept one State in the future. What are your comments?
Spokesman: When he submits his comments in writing we’ll deal with those, as we’ll with those submitted by the Greek Cypriots. I’m not going to respond to public statements made by either side. There’s a process underway here, and we’re waiting for the written responses.
Question: If the two proposals are too far apart what will be Mr. Annan’s next step?
Spokesman: We’ll deal with that when we get the submissions. So, we don’t know how big a job there would be in reconciling the two positions until we see those positions in writing. That’s what we’re waiting for, so I don’t want to speculate how long it would take.
Question: The Greek Cypriot side yesterday warned Mr. Annan that his role is not that of a mediator, but to offer useful services. It does not accept a revised plan that will be imposed. What are your comments?
Spokesman: We have never said that our role is of a mediator. This has been a negotiation between the two sides and it is the Secretary-General’s good offices that are offered to facilitate the two sides to reach agreement. So, I’ll have nothing further to say about that. Okay?
Question: What will be the logistics Saturday night and Sunday in terms of getting the declaration physically or putting it on the plane and bringing it back here. How is that going to be determined?
Spokesman: I frankly don’t know. First of all, we don’t know what the document would look like, how much of it would require translation. We don’t know how many pages it would be. We don’t know whether the members of the Council will want to receive copies the minute they hit New York, whether they will want us to start the translations right away. All of this stuff is still up in the air. I hope we’ll know by Friday. We have asked them, if possible, to firm up these details by Friday, so that you’ll know what you have to do over the weekend.
Question: Has a person or persons been designated to carry the documents back?
Spokesman: I’m not authorized to comment on that kind of detail. I think you’ll have to ask UNMOVIC or IAEA what arrangements they are making to transmit the document to New York.
Question: Are you speaking of UN time, East Coast time?
Spokesman: I think, that’s Baghdad time. But again, you’ve to ask the Iraqis. I’m basing myself on what, I think, was a public statement by an Iraqi official saying that their intention was to deliver the document in Baghdad on Friday sometime late in the day. Okay? Richard?
Briefing by Spokesman for Assembly President
At the request of the Philippines, the General Committee of the General Assembly this morning decided to include an additional item on the agenda of the 57th session, that is, the International Year of Rice, 2004. This will be considered by the plenary on Friday as the first item.
In his opening statement to the General Assembly Plenary meeting this morning marking the end of the United Nations Year for Cultural Heritage, President Kavan noted that in proclaiming the year 2002 as the United Nations Year for Cultural Heritage, the Assembly intended to raise awareness of the importance of protecting the world cultural heritage, with UNESCO as the lead agency. Recalling that the proclamation of the UN year took place just nine months after the destruction of the Buddha statues of Bamiyan in Afghanistan, President Kavan said, “All too often, heritage is the target of destruction by virtue of its value as a symbol and an identity”. President Kavan also particularly mentioned the destruction of the bridge at Mostar as a vivid example in this regard.
“Attack on cultural heritage symbolizes the attack on the group, as such, and indicates intolerance and hostility. The protection of the heritage, and its transmission to future generations, are therefore, ethical imperatives.” The President’s statement goes on to say, “I would like to encourage countries that have not yet joined the Convention and other related international heritage protection instruments, to do so at the earliest opportunity. I also urge the active involvement of institutions, organizations and individuals at the international, national and local levels to protect and preserve our common cultural heritage and share the financial responsibilities.”
The statement is available at the documents counter on the 3rd floor and on the President’s Web site.
The plenary then took up Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) reports on: Report of the Economic and Social Council and appointments to fill vacancies in subsidiary organs and other appointments.
The Assembly then decided to defer the following agenda items to the 58th session. These items are:
-- Declaration of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the Organization of African Unity on the aerial and naval military attack against the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya by the United States Administration in April 1986 ;
-- Armed Israeli aggression against the Iraqi nuclear installations and its grave consequences for the established international system concerning the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and international peace and security ;
-- Consequences of the Iraqi occupation of and aggression against Kuwait ;
-- Implementation of the resolutions of the United Nations ;
-- and launching of global negotiation on internal economic cooperation for development .
These items were deferred to the 58th session.
The Ad Hoc Committee of the General Assembly for the Announcement of Voluntary Contributions to UNRWA held its first meeting this morning.
The Second Committee (Economic and Financial) is taking action on draft resolutions on international strategy for disaster reduction and operational activities for development this afternoon. The Fifth Committee is meeting in informal consultations.
Tomorrow is a holiday and no official meetings are expected. On Friday, the General Assembly will discuss the situation in Afghanistan.
On Monday, the General Assembly commemorates the 20th anniversary of the opening for signature of the Convention on the Law of the Sea, with debate in the plenary on oceans and the law of the sea; and a treaty event at 9 a.m. in the west foyer adjacent to the General Assembly Hall at which delegations will deposit instruments of ratification or accession in a solemn ceremony. That’s Monday.
A final note on the schedule of the General Assembly. This morning, the President was informed by the Chairman of the Second Committee that the Committee will not be able to conclude its work for the main part of the session until
11 December. The Assembly will, therefore, not be able to conclude its work by the previously agreed target date of 11 December. The President suggested, and proposed to the Assembly, that it postpone the date of recess of the current session to Wednesday, 18 December. This was agreed to. So, 18 December, is the target date for the end of the General Assembly session this year.
Questions and Answers
Questions: Is there a document number for the President’s comments on the Cultural Heritage Year?
Assembly President’s Spokesman: No. It’s a copy of his statement that was delivered in the General Assembly this morning.
Thank you very much.
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