DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
22 July 2003
Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
In speaking to the Security Council this morning, the Secretary-General said: “In all we do we need to keep the interests of the Iraqi people at the forefront of our minds. We should listen to their needs, expressed by them in their terms, and we should try to respond.”
He added that it is vital for the Iraqi people to be able to see a clear timetable with a specific sequence of events leading to the full restoration of sovereignty.
Iraq, now more than ever, needs the support of its neighbours, he said. What happens in the region does not happen in a vacuum. “A stable Iraq –- one that is at peace with itself and its neighbours –- is in our collective interest”, he said, “particularly that of the region”.
Following the Secretary-General, his Special Representative for Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, presented the Secretary-General’s report, which we flagged for you yesterday.
He told Security Council members that, with the creation of the Governing Council, we now have “an institution that, while not democratically elected, can be viewed as broadly representative of the various constituencies in Iraq”. It will need the support of the international community and the faith of the Iraqi people to succeed, he said. To that end, he went on to say, the Governing Council “must be empowered to deliver tangible improvements to the welfare of the population, yet not bear the brunt of criticism for what remains the legal obligation of the Coalition Provisional Authority under the current situation. This will be a difficult balancing act to manage”, he said.
As for the future, the UN will need to be flexible and be in a position to respond quickly to calls for assistance as they arise, Vieira de Mello told the Council. In conclusion, he said the international community owes a debt to the Iraqi people and that debt can best be honoured by the international community’s commitment -– in word and in deed -- to supporting the rehabilitation of Iraq, both now and in the future.
Also speaking at the meeting was Adnan Pachachi, the head of the delegation of the Iraqi Governing Council.
The meeting is also presided by the Foreign Minister of Spain, Ana Palacio.
We expect Vieira de Mello to speak to the press at the Security Council stakeout, following the meeting.
Afterwards, members of the Council and the Secretary-General will hold their monthly working luncheon.
**Security Council Disturbance
A final note on today’s Security Council meeting, you may have noticed that just as Adnan Pachachi was about to speak, two people in the public gallery got up to protest against the US occupation and the Governing Council.
They were immediately escorted out of the chamber by UN security.
The two were later identified as members of the San Francisco-based non-governmental organization (NGO) "Occupation Watch." This NGO is not accredited with the UN. The two people were in the UN on one-day passes.
They were subsequently escorted off UN premises.
Amid the reports of shelling and loss of life in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has been unable to continue its efforts to bring home thousands of Sierra Leonean refugees currently in Liberia, with the ship it has been using, the MV Overbeck, unable to dock safely in Monrovia.
The UNHCR operation, which had successfully evacuated 1,250 Sierra Leonean refugees, was interrupted by the resumption of fighting on Friday following a four-week lull, and the agency has lost contact with many of the roughly 15,000 Sierra Leoneans living in and around Monrovia.
The World Food Programme (WFP), in a press release today, expressed its concern that hundreds of thousands of people who have sought refuge in makeshift shelters across Monrovia have been left without access to adequate food supplies. Gregory Blamoh, the WFP officer-in-charge in the city, says, “As long as the fighting continues, there is no way that we can get supplies to them.”
Today in Dakar, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Olara Otunnu, and the UN Children’s Fund’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Rima Salah, issued a joint statement, urging the deployment of a stabilization force without further delay, and saying that one key priority is the release of abductees, including forcibly recruited child soldiers.
It is estimated that one out of every ten Liberian children may have been recruited to fight at some time during the war.
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned today that the reintegration of former child soldiers into civilian life in Sierra Leone is being threatened by flagging donor support, with almost $1.4 million needed immediately, and a further $2.5 million needed in the near future, to complete critical education programs that affect almost 100,000 children.
UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy stressed the importance of financial support for those programmes, saying, “If we can’t show proof of the dividends of peace to children, how can we prove the dividends of peace to adults?” We have a press release with more details.
High-level representatives of the “Group of Friends” of the Secretary-General, which include France, Germany, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States, have met in Geneva yesterday and today to review progress in the Georgian-Abkhaz peace process.
The meeting was chaired by Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, and attended by Heidi Tagliavini, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Georgia.
Representatives of the Georgian and Abkhaz sides were each given an opportunity to share their views.
The Group of Friends was encouraged by the constructive engagement of the two sides on economic cooperation, internally displaced persons and refugee returns, as well as political and security matters, following the Group’s first meeting, at the invitation of the Secretary-General, in February and the subsequent summit of the Presidents of the Russian Federation and Georgia in March.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today welcomed the Venezuelan Government’s decision to establish a National Commission on Refugees, which will be officially sworn in tomorrow to oversee the Government’s efforts to protect and assist asylum seekers. So far, Venezuela has received 1,474 formal requests for asylum –- 99 per cent of them from Colombians. We have more details in the briefing notes from UNHCR.
The UN Children’s Fund today released its yearly report for the Caucasus and Central Asia, the Social Monitor 2003, with a specific focus on infant mortality.
Reporting a “child survival crisis” in nine countries of Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, UNICEF said that the infant mortality rates were up to four times higher than official figures have long claimed.
“Misunderstanding the scope of what’s happening”, said Carol Bellamy, “prevents effective action to fix it, so getting the numbers right is a major issue. It’s a crucial first step to saving young lives”, she said.
We have a limited number of copies of the report in my office.
**General Assembly Seating
And finally, yesterday afternoon, in the traditional lottery to determine the seating arrangement at the upcoming session of the General Assembly, the Secretary-General drew Malawi as the first seat at the next General Assembly -– that is, the top left desk, from the perspective of someone looking at the podium of the General Assembly Hall.
That’s all I have for you. Okay, back to the Council, thank you very much.
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