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Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

29 September 2003

Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Michele Montas, Spokeswoman for the General Assembly President.

Good Afternoon,

**Guest at Noon

Tom Vraalsen, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Humanitarian Affairs for the Sudan, will be joining us today. We have a background press release available in my office.

**Security Council

The Security Council is winding downan open meeting on Guinea-Bissau this morning. Tuliameni Kalomoh, the Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, and Jose Ramos Horta, in his capacity as Special Envoy of the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries to Guinea-Bissau, were the briefers.

The statement by the UN Secretariat follows a briefing the day after the coup d’état in Guinea-Bissau led by General Verissimo Correia Seabra.

In it, Kalomoh noted that a new transitional president and prime minister had been sworn in yesterday.

He said that the political class, the military and the organizations of civil society seem to have pulled back from the brink and have agreed on a truce and a consensus solution for the transition. He went on to say there seems to be a genuine atmosphere of give-and-take, which augurs well for the future.

But serious social and economic tensions persist and will require careful management, Kalomoh went on to say. He said it was the urgent task for the international community to help ensure a successful transition by responding as generously as possible to the needs of the country.

Following the briefing, the Council was to go into consultations.

Benon Sevan, the Executive Director of the “oil-for-food” programme, was scheduled to brief on the phasing out of that programme by the 21st of November, as required by resolution 1483.

Sevan's report to the Council notes that the handover preparations and best case scenarios have been undermined by chronic insecurity as well as the terrorist attack of the 19th of August.

We expect Mr. Sevan to come to the stakeout after his briefing.


To mark the official end of the mourning period in Islam, exactly 40 days after the August 19th terrorist attack on the UN compound in Baghdad, a group of young Iraqi artists, both men and women, opened an art show in the Baghdad exhibition centre today.

The thirty works of art, mostly paintings but also some sculptures, represent the artists’ vision of the blast and its aftermath.

With the exhibition they said they wanted to express their sympathy, solidarity and compassion to the all of the victims of the blast.

Speaking at the opening of the exhibit, which was attended by over 100 people, Kevin Kennedy, the acting head of the UN’s operations in Iraq, said that art had always been very important, even vital, for Sergio Vieira de Mello. Kennedy added the late Special Representative had made a special effort to reach out to artists during his time in Iraq. And for him was art was “a unique manifestation of expressing freedom and personal choice”.


Today in Geneva, UN refugee agency chief Ruud Lubbers opened the annual meeting of its governing body by affirming UNHCR's commitment to Iraq and pledging to work closely with local authorities to help hundreds of thousands of displaced Iraqis return home eventually.

Lubbers stressed that UNHCR “cannot operate from a fortress”, despite the August 19 attack on the UN headquarters that put on hold UNHCR’s has plans to repatriate some 500,000 Iraqi refugees and 800,000 internally displaced people.

He said, “Our strength lies in our ability to communicate with the people who need us, to work through local authorities, and to build up local capacities”. He went on, “If we cannot work with the Iraqi people and with Iraqi authorities, then we cannot work there at all”.

He pledged to build confidence in UNHCR among the people of Iraq, help strengthen the capacities of Iraqi authorities and work closely with them.

For more on this, please pick up the UNHCR press release in my office.


On the first of October, the UN Mission if Liberia will begin its work as troops from the West African contingents currently serving in Liberia will begin work under UN command -– a process sometimes called “re-hatting”. Some 3,500 troops from eight countries -- Benin, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo – will be “re-hatted” to become the first UN peacekeepers in the country, out of a force of up to 15,000 UN troops authorized by Security Council resolution 1509.

The West African troops will be joined within two weeks by a battalion from Bangladesh.

We have a press release from the new UN Mission in Liberia with more details.


The Office of UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that the number of Afghan refugees who have returned to Afghanistan with UNHCR’s assistance since the repatriation operation began on March 2002, has now surpassed the 2.2 million mark.

This year’s assisted return figure will hit 400,000 by today, where there are also 100,000 Afghans who returned spontaneously.

In addition to the returning refugees, more than 50,000 internally displaced people have returned home with assistance this year.

We have the Kabul briefing note available in my office with more details.


You may have noticed that the Secretary-General met with the Foreign Ministers of Guyana and Venezuela midday Friday.

The meeting was requested by Foreign Minister Samuel Insanally of Guyana and Foreign Minister Roy Chaderton-Matos of Venezuela to review the state of discussions on the border controversy between the two countries. The meeting was attended by the Secretary-General and by his Special Representative, Oliver Jackman.

In reviewing the situation, the Foreign Ministers noted that relations between the two countries were constructive and at a point that would ensure future cooperation. They said that they wished to reinvigorate the discussions taking place under the aegis of the Secretary-General in order to resolve the controversy.

**SG Messages

The third Tokyo International Conference on International Development began today, and, in a message to that conference, the Secretary-General says that there are signs of a possible rebound in donor assistance, following the decline that took place in the 1990s. But more needs to be done, he says, including bold reforms by African countries and work by the developed nations on aid, trade and debt relief.

We have that message upstairs, as well as one delivered on the Secretary-General’s behalf at the World Conference on Climate Change that is taking place in Moscow. In that message, the Secretary-General notes that almost 120 nations have ratified the Kyoto Protocol, an essential first step in tackling climate change, and adds, “I join people throughout the world in eagerly awaiting ratification by the Russian Federation, which will bring the Protocol into force and further galvanize global action”.

Copies of both messages are available in my office.

**Treaty Actions

Last week’s treaty event at the United Nations was a big success, with delegations attending the General Assembly contributing 70 signatures to key treaties and 120 ratifications and accessions.

As a result of the flurry of ratifications, the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, received on Friday the 40th ratification it needed to enter into force, and, as a result, the treaty will take effect on Christmas Day, the 25 of December. Belize, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Poland and Rwanda all deposited ratifications or instruments of accession to the treaty on Friday.

Entering into force today is the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, which has 147 signatories and 51 States parties.


Director-General Koichiro Matsuura from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, better known, I think, as UNESCO, today opened the 32nd General Assembly in Paris, saying that the conflicts in the two years since September 11, 2001 have plunged the UN system into an unprecedented crisis.

A high point of the 32nd session is the return of the United States to UNESCO, after it had left the Organization in 1984, sighting concerns over mismanagement. The return of the United States, a founding member of UNESCO, was marked with a flag-raising ceremony and an address to the General Assembly by Laura Bush, the First Lady of the United States.

Of the countries that had left the Organization, only Singapore has yet to rejoin.

We have a press release with more details.


Available on the racks today is a report by a Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights, Abdelfattah Amor, dealing with religious intolerance, in which he says that in general, States have used the pretext of security in response to terrorist attacks to limit freedom of religion or belief. While understandable in some cases, he warns, this shift is harmful to the protection of human rights in general, and of the right to freedom of religion or belief in particular.

He notes that, in some cases, the events of the September 11, 2001, have been used to legitimize or even strengthen pre-existing policies for the persecution of religious groups.


In budget news, Jamaica today became the 107th Member State to pay its regular budget dues to the UN in full for this year, with a contribution of more than $54,000.

**Press Conference this Afternoon

At 3 o’clock, Foreign Ministers Allan Wagner Tizon of Peru, Roberto Tovar Faja of Costa Rica and Celso Luiz Nunes Amorim of Brazil, will be here to brief you on the work of the Rio Group.

That’s all I have for you. Any questions before we go to Michele? Maybe I’ll ask Mr. Vraalsen to come up to a seat. Come up and join us, please, thank you. We’ll get to you in just a moment. Thank you.

Questions and Answers

Question: (inaudible) the border between Guyana and Venezuela, this is the first time we hear something from you. Does the Secretary-General still have somebody there?

Spokesman: I think I mentioned his name. We’ve had a representative in connection with the Secretary-General’s offices since 1990. The current representative is Oliver Jackman of Barbados, who was appointed in 1999.

Question: Why we do not have a report on this matter?

Spokesman: We report to you when we feel there is something substantive moving, and in this case the two Foreign Ministers signaled that they had the intention to renew their efforts to resolve their differences. Given the good climate between the countries, we thought that was worth telling you about.

Spokesman: Betsy?

Question: In Iraq, how many international staff are left now?

Spokesman: You’ll forgive me if I don’t give you specific numbers. Over the weekend, I think since Friday, 30 left the country. That leaves something under 50 in all of Iraq. There will be some continued movement out, but there also is occasional movement back in, so that number will fluctuate. So it’s just under 50 today. Ok, Michele. What’s going on with the General Assembly?

Spokeswoman for General Assembly President

Thank you, Fred. Good afternoon.

The General Debate continues today with the heads of delegation of 10 Member States addressing the General Assembly in the second week of general debate. This morning, the eleventh speaker is Farouk Kaddoumi from the Observer Mission of Palestine. Two heads of State spoke this morning, the Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the President of Mongolia. Two heads of Government will address the Assembly this afternoon, Prime Minister Percival James Patterson of Jamaica and Mari Alkatiri, Prime Minister of the democratic Republic of Timor-Leste. Ten other speakers are also scheduled for this afternoon.

President Julian Hunte is continuing his series of bilateral meetings. He met this morning with the Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dragan Covic, and with the Foreign Ministers of Liechtenstein, Yemen, Belize and Cape Verde. He also met with the Vice Minister of Economic Affairs and International Cooperation of Mexico, who assured him of the support of his country for the High-Level Conference on Financing for Development next month. It’s a priority of the presidency. A bilateral Meeting is scheduled this afternoon with the Prime Minister of Bulgaria, Simeon Saxe-Coburg.

The committees have started meeting. The First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) and the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met this morning to elect Vice-Chairmen and Rapporteurs and to consider and approve their programmes of work and timetables. As you probably already know, Jarmo Sareva, Deputy Representative of Finland, was elected Chairman of the First Committee on 6 June. Martin Belinga-Eboutou, Permanent Representative of Cameroon, was elected Chairman of the Third Committee on the same date.

The Special Political and Decolonization (Fourth) Committee and the Sixth Committee (Legal) meet this afternoon to elect Vice-Chairmen and Rapporteurs and organize their work for the session. The Working Group on the International Convention against Reproductive Cloning of Human Beings will meet after the Sixth Committee adjourns this afternoon.

The Committee is expected to submit a report to the Legal Committee on 20 October. I’m giving these details on the Committee and the working committee, because I’ve received several phone calls this morning about when the report will go to the Legal Committee and when the issue of cloning would be debated in the General Assembly. As you know, the General Assembly had established that committee in December 2001. The working committee is expected to submit a report to the Sixth committee at the end of October.

Spokesman: Any questions for Michele? Ok.

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