DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
31 July 2003
Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
We have some visiting journalists from Kosovo, is that right? Welcome.
The Security Council wrapped up its work for the month of July by adopting, in two brief formal meetings this morning, resolutions extending the United Nations peacekeeping missions in Western Sahara and Lebanon.
On Western Sahara, the Council unanimously passed a resolution supporting the efforts of the Secretary-General and his Personal Envoy, James Baker, and their peace plan for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara, on the basis of agreement between the two parties. It called on the parties to work towards acceptance and implementation of the peace plan.
The Council also extended the mandate of the UN Mission in Western Sahara until the end of October.
In another resolution, the Council unanimously extended the mandate of the UN Mission in Lebanon until the end of January 2004, and also welcomed the deployment of Lebanese armed forces throughout the south, calling on Lebanon to extend these measures.
Today is the last day of the Spanish Presidency of the Security Council, and tomorrow, Syrian Ambassador Mikhail Wehbe will take over from Spanish Ambassador Inocencio Arias as the Council President for the month of August.
Yesterday, Sergio Vieira de Mello, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, addressed the Governing Council for the first time since its inauguration.
He highlighted for the members areas in which the UN was ready to assist and for which no new specific mandate would be needed from the Security Council. These include, among others, providing support to the Governing Council’s secretariat, the drafting of a constitution and electoral assistance.
Vieira de Mello also mentioned that while on the security front many governments are hesitating to contribute to the Coalition without a new Security Council resolution, a number of them are prepared to assist training and capacity-building for police as soon as is practicable.
Beginning this Saturday, the Special Representative will start a new regional tour, which will include stops in Kuwait and Turkey.
On humanitarian affairs, the UN agencies operating in Iraq have been voicing their concerns about the level of insecurity, particularly in a stretch of road south of Nassiriyah where World Food Programme (WFP) contractors reportedly had 18 trucks hijacked. While these incidents have not yet hampered UN efforts, humanitarian official say they could discourage commercial transporters from sending more trucks into trouble spots in Iraq.
For more information, please pick up the notes from the weekly Baghdad briefing, which are available upstairs.
Yesterday afternoon, the United States circulated within the Security Council a draft resolution on Liberia to authorize Member States to set up a multinational force to support the implementation of that country’s ceasefire agreement. Discussions on that draft are to be held for now at the expert level.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that in Liberia, acute shortages of fuel and food continue to drive up the prices of basic commodities, hindering aid operations and compounding the critical food situation. Aid agencies say that food commodities in Monrovia are in desperately short supply, and when available, their prices are prohibitive.
While Monrovia was reported to be relatively calm, we continue to receive reports of people having been displaced by recent fighting near Buchanan, Liberia’s second-largest city, and Gbarnga. Thousands of internally displaced persons are reportedly on the move as a result of recent fighting around Buchanan.
The Secretary-General’s Representative for Internally Displaced Persons, Francis Deng, today voiced his grave concern about the plight of such persons in Liberia, calling for swift action to ensure their protection. We have his full statement upstairs.
Yesterday, the Secretary-General responded to reporters’ questions about his reaction to the death of Foday Sankoh, the indicted former leader of Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front, by saying that one should not speak ill of the dead, and by wishing that Sankoh’s soul rests in peace.
But he went on to say, “This is a man who terrorized his people and almost destroyed Sierra Leone. In the end, he died an indicted war criminal, a lonely and broken man.”
Sankoh died on Tuesday night in the Choithram Hospital in Freetown, where he had been receiving medical treatment since March, according to an announcement made by the Registrar of the Sierra Leone Special Court.
The Secretary-General’s latest report to the General Assembly and the Security Council on the situation in Afghanistan and its implications for international peace and security is out on the racks today.
The report notes that despite considerable obstacles, the implementation of the Bonn Agreement continues to be largely on track. While expansion of government authority beyond Kabul is making gradual progress, what has been achieved so far is still insufficient, it says. The Transitional Administration “needs to send a strong signal to the effect that insubordination and corruption within its ranks will not be tolerated and that its officials will be held accountable for their actions”, the report adds.
The report once again addresses the fragile security situation in the country, which is showing signs of deterioration in some places –- the north in particular. The report warns that failing to provide for sufficient security for the Bonn process to succeed may have implications far beyond Afghanistan.
The report points out that the right environment for holding free and fair elections in the summer of 2004 does not really exist at the moment. It calls for an establishment of clear and time-specific benchmarks to enable the Afghans and the international community to meet the preconditions for staging a credible election.
**DRC – Human Rights
Also available on the racks today is a letter from the Secretary-General to the Security Council, transmitting two reports concerning human rights violations that took place late last year and earlier this year in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
One of them is by an investigation team that visited Mambasa, in the eastern Congo, and received testimony that indicates a pattern of looting, killing and violence against women, used by the armed factions during fighting last October and December. The team also noted acts of cannibalism, and tactics to force family members to eat parts of their loved ones, that could be considered part of a policy of psychological torture, mainly conducted against the Nande and Pygmy populations.
A separate report, on the violence in the Drodro area in Ituri province this past April, concludes that the proliferation of rival factions and militias that are manipulated by warlords and some neighbouring countries explains the unprecedented violence that has swept Ituri for a number of months.
Finally on the subject of Haiti, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today warned of a worsening food crisis in Haiti, the poorest country in Latin America and the Caribbean, leaving more than 3.8 million people suffering from hunger. According to FAO, the looming food crisis is mainly caused by increased social and political tensions, drought, poor living conditions and the impact of HIV/AIDS on the country.
FAO launched a $6 million appeal for key relief activities in Haiti and it will soon distribute around 180 tonnes of seeds to help some 60,000 people prepare for the next planting season in September.
We have a press release on that.
Questions and Answers
Question: Two questions: one, the Secretary-General yesterday said that you expected an announcement from ECOWAS or the Nigerians about when D-Day was. I wondered if you’ve heard that? And also on the question of Foday Sankoh’s death, was there some concern, there had been reports that after his stroke that his legal counsel or his doctors sought some sort of medical treatment outside the country? I mean my vague recollection was that there were some suspicions about whether he really was sick or was play-acting. In any event, is there some concern that he received adequate health care, that he can receive adequate health care in Sierra Leone in the condition he is in and that the court should have made some provision to allow him to get better medical treatment outside the country?
Spokesman: On the word from ECOWAS about deployment in Liberia, we did not hear anything by the end of yesterday. The Secretary-General remained in contact with the key actors in this. There may be an announcement today, but that is really up to ECOWAS to provide. We’re standing by in Sierra Leone to provide the airlift of the men and their equipment to Liberia once the Nigerians give us the green light. So, again, we have not heard formally from ECOWAS about Nigerian deployment but our understanding is that there will be an announcement very soon.
On the second question, I can’t really give you an answer other than to say that I believe that in legal terms they wanted more expert opinion on Foday Sankoh’s health condition as to whether he was competent to stand trial. He had been described as catatonic following his stroke and I think there was media speculation that he might be faking it. I don’t know what prompted that, apart from maybe healthy scepticism, but I mean, clearly he was very ill because he passed away this week. I can’t tell you off the top of my head what the impediments were to moving him outside of Sierra Leone. I know the kinds of experts that his lawyers wanted him to see were not available in Sierra Leone. So there was some impediment to moving him outside of Sierra Leone. We can check with my office afterwards to see exactly what that was. Yes, Bill?
[Asked if the UN was concerned about whether Foday Sankoh had received adequate medical care in Sierra Leone, the Spokesman later noted that the Special Court for Sierra Leone had discussed with Sankoh’s lawyer the possibility of allowing him to receive medical care outside that country, once he had received a physical and psychological evaluation to verify his condition. A doctor had performed a preliminary examination of Sankoh earlier and described his state as “catatonic”.]
Question: Is it the UN’s intention that the troops from Sierra Leone will move into Liberia simultaneously with the D-Day, say it’s 5 August, for example, that they all come in together?
Spokesman: We are only assuming responsibility for moving the battalion that’s in Sierra Leone and I believe the Nigerians are making the arrangements to move the second battalion, which will leave from Nigeria. I don’t know; I’d have to check with the Peacekeeping Department whether there is going to be an attempt to move the battalions simultaneously. I don’t know that.
[He later said that the deployment would be sequential, with the battalion from Sierra Leone going in first.]
Question: Who is going to undertake the movement, which nations are going to fly the planes or whatever?
Spokesman: Are you talking about Sierra Leone?
Question: Sierra Leone.
Spokesman: I believe the equipment that they have are armoured personnel carriers from Ukraine and I believe we had to make arrangements with Ukraine to move that equipment with the battalion to Sierra Leone. I don’t know who provides the airlift for the mission in Sierra Leone. But anyway, all of those logistical arrangements, which were rather complicated, have all been worked out on our side and we’re ready to move once the Nigerians give us the go-ahead.
[About UN support for deployment plans for ECOWAS troops, the Spokesman said that the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) would assist in the transport and support of one Nigerian battalion that would travel from Sierra Leone, where it is now deployed, to Liberia.
He added that the battalion in Sierra Leone would arrive prior to another Nigerian battalion, which would travel to Liberia from Lagos. UNAMSIL’s transport arrangements, he said later, could either involve Ukrainian Mi-26 helicopters currently in Sierra Leone, or Ilyushin-76 aircraft now in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
He noted that the Nigerian battalion would also use Ukrainian armoured personnel carriers (APCs), in addition to its own APCs, but would only keep its own APCs upon repatriation].
Question: Do you know if the Americans are doing the airlift from Lagos, that’s the other battalion?
Spokesman: I don’t know that, I think you should probably check that with ECOWAS or the Nigerians or the Americans for that matter.
Question: There was some question yesterday about the cost involved; can you shed any more light on that?
Spokesman: I wasn’t given any details from DPKO. I know the Secretary-General said you could check with DPKO. If you’re still interested in that, my office will try to get any figures that might be available.
Question: Yeah, basically the whole thing, you know, the deployment and sustaining the whole vanguard force, which I guess is in the SG’s proposal.
Spokesman: Yes, well, as he said to you yesterday, I think that we, as part of our normal process of rotating troops, we would have repatriated that Nigerian battalion to Nigeria in any case. And so, moving it instead to Liberia probably would not be any significant additional cost, but there are other costs involved and we will try to get them for you. Yes, Bill?
Question: Is the August 15 deadline for [a report by the Secretary-General on the proposed peacekeeping force] considered realistic in terms of recommendations and you know, plans et cetera, for a UN mission in Liberia?
Spokesman: Did you say August 15?
Question: Yeah, I believe that’s what the date is.
Spokesman: That’s two weeks from now.
Question: I understand that. Isn’t that the date in the resolution?
Other correspondents in attendance: Yeah, August 15. Yeah.
Spokesman: I don’t know; I’d have to check with the Peacekeeping Department to get an answer. Off the top of my head I don’t know.
[He later said it was too early to comment on a date in a draft text.]
Thank you very much.
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