DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
21 January 2004
Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stephane Dujarric, Associate Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. Please pardon us for the delay.
**Guest at Noon
Our guest today is Major-General Franciszek Gagor, from Poland, the outgoing force commander of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force. His successor, Major-General Bala Nada Sharma from Nepal, is also with us in the audience. And Major-General Gagor will provide you with an update on UNDOF.
**Secretary-General in Germany
Turning to the Secretary-General, who, as you know, is in Germany today. Earlier, he met with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer in Baden Baden, and afterwards, he told the press that their talks touched upon problem areas like Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Afghanistan, as well as German-UN relations and the Secretary-General’s high-level panel on UN change.
Asked about recent political developments in Iran, the Secretary-General expressed his hope that Iranians would find a way to resolve their differences so that they could hold “free and fair elections with participation of all the parties.”
Asked about UN efforts to find a settlement in Cyprus, he said that his settlement proposal was still on the table, and that he is waiting to hear from all parties that they are ready to resume negotiations. He said, “We haven’t reached the stage where I would get involved yet”, but noted that he expects to meet with the Prime Minister of Turkey, Mr. Erdogan, in Davos in the next few days.
In response to questions on when he might send a UN team to Iraq, he said he was in touch with parties in Iraq and was still considering how best the UN can help.
This evening -– shortly after this briefing ends -– the Secretary-General is scheduled to receive the German Media Prize, which is based on a poll of the editors of the most important media outlets in Germany. The jury said that the Secretary-General “stands, like no other politician, for the basic ideals of the United Nations, striving for a better-organized and peaceful world”.
In his acceptance speech, embargoed copies of which are upstairs, the Secretary-General will express his hope that the world will not allow its attention to be monopolized by Iraq in 2004, as it was in 2003.
He points to three tasks that confront us in the coming year: to refocus the world’s attention on development, to start rebuilding our system of collective security and to rebuild trust and confidence between peoples of different faiths and cultures.
On the Security Council calendar, there are no meetings or consultations of the Security Council scheduled for today.
On Lebanon, the Secretary-General says that the past six months have been marked by numerous incidents threatening the fragile stability of southern Lebanon, including exchanges of fire in the Shab’a farms area and air strikes and shooting incidents across the Blue Line.
In a report to the Security Council, which is out on the racks today, the Secretary-General says that, although the violent incidents that took place along the Blue Line were contained, they led to the deaths of six people in the area, and tensions were frequently high.
It remains a matter of concern, he said, that Israel persists in its provocative air violations of sovereign Lebanese territory. And at the same time, Hezbollah’s firing of anti-aircraft rounds across the Blue Line is also a violation, and one that poses obvious mortal risks. In his report, the Secretary-General also recommends that the Security Council renew the UNIFIL mission’s mandate by a further six months, until the end of July of this year.
We have some additional details today from the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) about Israel’s demolition of buildings yesterday in the Rafah refugee camp in southern Gaza Strip, as well as in part of Rafah town, which had re-housed Palestinian refugees in the 1970s.
Israeli forces demolished 36 buildings that were home to 412 people. A fresh incursion began this morning, and the UN Agency adds that details of that operation have yet to be confirmed.
Since the start of the current strife in late 2000, around 10,000 people in Rafah have been made homeless by the house demolitions, the Agency says. And we have a press release upstairs with more information.
**Democratic Republic of Congo – Swing Condemns Attacks in Ituri
Today, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the United Nations Special Representative, William Swing, strongly condemned recent attacks on UN troops in Ituri by members of the Union of Congolese Patriots militia, known as UPC.
Following several incidents in which the Ituri Brigade has been fired upon, Swing conveyed his indignation to UPC leader Thomas Lubanga, noting that the UN Mission does not accept the notion of “uncontrolled groups”. Swing also stressed that the UN Mission was in Ituri to protect the civilian population and restore peace and that its troops would respond robustly to any attacks. A press release is available upstairs.
The World Health Organization plans to expand collaboration between national programmes for tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS in an effort to curb the growing pandemic of TB and HIV co-infection.
The plan’s principal focus is on Africa where 70 per cent of the world’s 14 million people who are co-infected live. The new policy guidelines define the necessary activities to address the dual epidemic and give clear guidance on how to carry out the activities.
Taken together, the two epidemics, HIV/AIDS and TB, pose a major challenge to public health, with 40 million people currently infected with HIV. According to WHO, one third of the world’s population is also now infected with the TB bacillus. We have more information on this upstairs.
The UN Children’s Fund says reducing vitamin deficiency can improve the world economy.
A new report from UNICEF and the Micronutrient Initiative finds that lack of basic vitamins and minerals in the diet is damaging the health of one third of the world’s people and holding back the economic development of virtually every country in the southern hemisphere.
Few outside specialist circles are aware of what vitamin and mineral deficiency means for individuals and nations. But the report, released today at the World Economic Forum in Davos, finds that a lack of key vitamins and minerals is responsible for impairing intellectual development, compromising immune systems, provoking birth defects, and consigning some 2 billion people to lives below their physical and mental potential.
In Sierra Leone, the Registrar of the Special Court for Sierra Leone has ordered that all communications involving indicted suspect Sam Hinga Norman -– except for those with his legal representation -- be restricted for a period of 14 days, after a telephone intercept recorded late Monday. The content of the intercepted conversation indicated his involvement in coordinating activities calculated to cause civil unrest in Sierra Leone.
In Liberia, the UN mission in Liberia announced the launch of a nationwide campaign to inform commanders, combatants and communities about the disarmament, demobilization, rehabilitation and reintegration programme.
The campaign was launched yesterday in Tubmanburg, headquarters town of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, located 50 kilometres north-west of Monrovia. Cartoon flyers depicting the process were distributed to the combatants.
Yesterday’s event was the first in a series of field visits to inform and sensitize combatants and communities on the program, a campaign agreed by all parties as one of the necessary prerequisites to a resumption of disarmament and demobilization of combatants.
**Seed Awards to Promote Environment
A new initiative to support entrepreneurs in environment and development was launched today at the World Social Forum in Mumbai and the World Economic Forum in Davos.
The initiative, known as the Seed Awards, will reward partnerships between community groups, businesses, worker organizations or local authorities, which aim to promote development while protecting the environment. The awards for innovative proposals will be presented every two years. And we have more details in a press release from the UN Environment Programme.
**World Marathon Champion Becomes Ambassador against Hunger
Today in Rome, the world marathon record holder and Olympic medallist, Paul Tergat, was appointed “Ambassador against Hunger” by the World Food Programme.
Mr. Tergat is a natural advocate for the fight against hunger. Growing up in the drought and poverty-stricken region of Baringo, in Kenya, he was one of the hundreds of children who received free school lunches from the World Food Programme.
Now aged 34, Tergat will use the high-profile platform of international athletics to raise awareness of how food aid can transform the life of a hungry child by boosting energy, school attendance and concentration on study.
Tomorrow, starting at 10:30 a.m. in the Dag Hammarskjöld Library Auditorium, several psychoanalysts will offer their perspectives on anti-Semitism, Islamaphobia and racism. The panel discussion is part of the DPI/NGO schedule of briefings, and will be moderated by Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information Shashi Tharoor.
Three more countries paid their regular UN budget dues today in full for this year: Australia, with more than $22 million; Canada, more than $40 million; and New Zealand, which paid more than $3 million. To date, 18 Member States have paid their dues in full.
**UN Web Site
And lastly, our colleagues at the UN web site report to us that last year, 2003, their site had over 2.15 billion hits, which is a sharp increase from 2002, during which the site had 1.6 billion hits. And this places the UN web site, according to our sources, among the top 100 Internet sites worldwide.
That’s it for me. Before we turn to General Gagor, do you have any questions? Bill and then Lee.
Questions and Answers
Question: You said that the Secretary-General has been in touch with Iraqi officials, I guess since Monday, a continuing dialogue. How, and then with who?
Associate Spokesman: As I think I told you yesterday, these contacts with both the CPA and Governing Council members continue whether in person or over the phone, and it’s an ongoing process.
Question: But the Secretary-General, is he involved too?
Associate Spokesman: I don’t have a list of his phone calls. Whether he is doing it personally, I know his staff is engaged in those contacts. Lee?
Question: I received a number of calls about the film of the life of our Secretary-General last night. Could we possibly be informed in advance when films of that nature might be shown? This was on, I was told, channel 21, the lengthy film.
Associate Spokesman: Sure. Was it a rerun of the...
Question (CNN’s Richard Roth): It was the rerun of “In the Eye of the Storm” on WLIW21.
Associate Spokesman: Okay.
Associate Spokesman: It was a rerun I think, of the film that PBS did last year, “In the Eye of the Storm”.
Question: Oh, I see. I just received calls about it.
Associate Spokesman: Richard?
Question: Was there any reaction to the State of the Union address from the Secretary-General?
Associate Spokesman: No, I have no specific reaction from him.
Question: Did he watch?
Associate Spokesman: I don’t think he watched it live. Bill?
Question: Have the people who were involved in the meeting on Monday, sort of the first meeting to prepare for a possible UN political mission, have they met again since then, or have they just been talking on the phone?
Associate Spokesman: No. As I said, the meetings, whether in person or over the phone, are continuing. I have not been given a set schedule of meetings. But, I think we just have to see it as an ongoing process of contacts between us and the CPA and the Iraqi Governing Council.
Question: What’s the latest on the planning of the security mission leaving for Iraq?
Associate Spokesman: I don’t have anything else on that. Thank you very much. General, welcome.
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