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DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL

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

7 January 2004

Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good Afternoon.

**Côte d’Ivoire

We’re going to start with a statement attributable to the Spokesman concerning Côte d’Ivoire:

“The Secretary-General welcomes the participation yesterday of the Forces Nouvelles in the meeting of the Côte d’Ivoire Council of Ministers, for the first time since that group suspended its participation in the Government of National Reconciliation in September 2003. The Secretary-General hopes that the return of the Forces Nouvelles to the Government will give fresh impetus to the peace process. He urges all Ivorian parties to abide by their commitment to implement the Government’s work programme and the Linas-Marcoussis Agreement until the elections scheduled to be held in late 2005.”

**Sudan

On the Sudan, Tom Eric Vraalsen, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Humanitarian Affairs for Sudan, is on his way to Chad today to advocate for a resumption of the peace talks on Darfur in western Sudan.

Vraalsen will advocate for a resumption of the peace talks being mediated by Chad in order to reach a ceasefire and allow increased access to the victims of a humanitarian crisis which the UN refugee agency describes as a “silent emergency”.

Vraalsen will also visit the border region of Chad with Sudan that is affected by the conflict in Darfur and will advocate for increased emergency relief to the refugees and other people affected.

After the recent talks on peace in Darfur failed to renew a ceasefire between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), fighting continues to rage in Western Sudan, causing massive displacement. One million are affected by the conflict, at least 600,000 are internally displaced and an estimated 95,000 refugees have arrived in Chad.

On the racks today there is a letter from Sudan addressed to the Security Council President, which refers to Eritrea and the situation in the Darfur region of the Sudan.

**Security Council

The Council is holding consultations on Eritrea and Ethiopia.

Council members heard a briefing and discussed the latest report on

Eritrea and Ethiopia, which came out as a document last week.

Briefing on the report was Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hedi Annabi.

The Council also finalized the list of chairs and vice chairs of Security Council sanctions and other Committees.

**Iran

Jan Egeland, the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, arrived in Tehran today to meet with Iranian government and humanitarian officials to discuss relief and reconstruction issues following the devastating earthquake in Bam.

Egeland is carrying with him a letter from the Secretary-General to President Mohamed Khatami pledging the UN’s long-term support to Iran’s efforts in Bam.

Tomorrow he will travel to Bam to launch the UN's Flash Appeal. The appeal will cover requirements for humanitarian needs for a 90-day period and is designed to smooth the transition from emergency relief to recovery initiatives.

**Guatemala

This morning the UN signed an unprecedented agreement with the Government of Guatemala to establish a Commission to Investigate Illegal Groups and Clandestine Security Organizations in Guatemala, to be known by its Spanish acronym CICIACS. Its aim is to limit current criminal behaviour in Guatemala by prosecuting some cases, as well as to fortify the country’s justice sector.

The agreement was signed in this building by the Guatemalan Foreign Minister, Edgar Gutierrez, and by the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Kieran Prendergast.

Once ratified by the Guatemalan Congress, the Commission will have an initial lifespan of two years. It will be headed by a Commissioner appointed by the Secretary-General, and will include a team of investigators and prosecutors experienced in human rights and organized crime.

This is the first time the United Nations has been given prosecutorial powers to work within the justice system of a Member State.

We have copies of the agreement in English and in Spanish for those who are interested.

On another matter concerning Guatemala, the UN Mission MINUGUA has today issued a report on the dissolution of the Presidential Guard, an institution which was for many years linked to grave human rights violations. The report, in Spanish only, is available upstairs.

**Accountability Panel

A number of you have been asking us about the report on accountability of UN managerial staff relating to the August 19th bombing in Baghdad. We were informed this morning that this report is now not expected until approximately the middle of February.

The delay is mainly due to the extensive travel panel members have had to do to interview staff and the fact that many of those interviewees were unavailable through the holiday season. We will keep you posted once we have a more exact date. You’ll recall that the Panel’s initial objective was to finish by the middle of January.

**Budget

It’s a new year, and 10 countries have responded quickly by paying their UN regular budget dues in full. They are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Denmark, Gabon, Madagascar, Monaco, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Sierra Leone and Trinidad and Tobago.

Congratulations to all those who paid their bills at this first opportunity and for the remaining 181 Member States, you have until the end of this month to pay before your assessments are overdue.

**UNHCR/Croatia

Finally, it’s the end of an era for the UN’s refugee agency in Croatia, with the closing of its remaining field offices there.

The closure of the UNHCR offices in Knin, Sisak and Osijek recognizes that local relief agencies and the Government are now meeting many of the needs of asylum seekers and refugees.

UNHCR first arrived in Croatia in 1991 and gradually expanded its presence there throughout that country’s upheaval. UNHCR isn’t abandoning Croatia; it’ll continue to operate from its headquarters in Zagreb.

**Press conferences tomorrow

A press conference to announce: Tomorrow at 11:15 a.m. Ambassador Philippe Djangone-Bi of Côte d’Ivoire will be here to brief you on the latest developments in his country.

**World Chronicle television programme

And the Information Department asked me to announce that World Chronicle programme No. 918 featuring the Spokesman will be shown today at 3:30 p.m. on in-house television channel 3 or 31. And the best part of that programme is the segment of Steve Whitehouse’s annual film “The UN Year in Review”.

Thank you very much. Any questions? Yes, Bill?

Questions and Answers

Question: What’s your best estimate right now as to when the Secretary-General will appoint a new SRSG for Iraq?

Spokesman: I can’t predict that. A decision is not expected imminently and I think the Secretary-General is just continuing to assess the situation. I have to assume that the meeting scheduled for 19 January regarding the substance of what such an SRSG would have to do would be a factor in his thinking. Yes, Evelyn?

Question: Since the Council is having, I mean it has been discussing Ethiopia/Eritrea today, Council members speak openly of actually making an attempt and having been appointed by the SG, was that announcement done officially while I was gone or when is it supposed to be done?

Spokesman: No, there has been no announcement regarding any appointment in connection with Ethiopia/Eritrea. I think I did, while you were away, concede that a consultation process was under way. It’s still under way and until it is concluded I wouldn’t have anything to say about any…

Question: Consultations you mean with the parties there?

Spokesman: Well, not just with the parties, but, yes, including with the parties.

Question: (Inaudible) their usual positions and… (Inaudible)

Spokesman: Well, they’re free to do that, but the Secretary-General’s policy is to not discuss these matters until he’s made a final decision. Yes?

Question: Is (inaudible) for the recovery programme on Iran?

Spokesman: I didn’t hear your question?

Question: Where would the meeting take place on Iran for the recovery?

Spokesman: Are you talking about the flash appeal?

Question: Yes.

Spokesman: The flash appeal will take place tomorrow in Bam and Jan Egeland will be there for it. Yes?

Question: To what extent will the delay in this accountability report affect the implementation of the security changes that will be necessary before the UN can return in force in Iraq?

Spokesman: I don’t think there is any link at all. This report will be looking back at decisions taken by managers in the UN system prior to the 19 August bombing and it will assess accountability for what happened. And then the Secretary-General will take whatever actions he feels are justified once he has all the facts placed before him by this panel.

The ongoing assessment of the security situation in Iraq continues and there have been actions taken in Baghdad regarding the Old Canal Hotel and presumably those, that is to increase the security of that facility, and presumably those efforts will continue once the Secretary-General authorizes them to go ahead. But I see no link between security preparedness and this report.

Question: But the Ahtissari Report indicates that changes are going to have to be made; that systemic changes in the UN security will be required, it seems, before any return in force to Iraq.

Spokesman: Well, that review has been taking place and changes have been planned not just for Iraq, but worldwide; but particularly for Iraq. But I think the lessons of the Ahtissari Report apply for us more broadly than just to Iraq. Yes, Akram?

Question: Fred, can you tell us if you have any information concerning that fund that has been provided to rebuild Iraq from the United Nations? What’s happened? Who is in charge of that?

Spokesman: Why don’t you come to my office and we’ll brief you on that. But I mean, the latest thing we announced on that was the transfer of $2.6 billion to that fund by the United Nations proper. It’s oil-for-food money in connection with the close-down of the oil-for-food programme and we did say at the time we announced the $2.6 billion that there would be one last transfer of funds once the books have been closed on the oil-for-food programme and a report to the board of auditors has been done. But the bulk of the money has now all been transferred to that fund. How it operates you can get from my office afterwards. Bill?

Question: Fred, what’s the current status of the selection process for the new High Commissioner for Human Rights?

Spokesman: Moving along, but we’re not ready to make an announcement. But people are being interviewed.

Thank you very much.

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