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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

24 March 2004

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

Good Afternoon.

**Guest at noon

Ahemdou Ould-Abdallah, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa is here and will be coming up in a few minutes to brief you about the cross border situation in that region.

**Secretary-General’s trip

I have an announcement to make regarding the Secretary-General’s travel plans –- a very tentative programme.

He will leave this weekend for Bürgenstock in Switzerland to attend the Cyprus talks. I think we’ve already announced that to you. He will then go to Tunis, to attend and address the meeting of the League of Arab States there.

From Tunis he will go to Vienna. Well, actually he will go back to Bürgenstock. He may go back to Bürgenstock depending on the pace of the Cyprus talks. But from there he will go on to Vienna where he will attend the semi-annual meeting of the Chief Executives Board, which brings together the heads of all UN specialized agencies, funds and programmes.

From Vienna, on to Moscow for an official visit. He is expected to meet with President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and other officials. And finally, he will return to Switzerland, to address the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva.

And he will be back in New York before Easter. Any of you who want the specifics of that trip, specific dates, see me after the briefing and I’ll tell you, on and off the record, the basis.

**Statement Attributable to the Spokesman

I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesman on Kosovo. It reads in part:

“The Secretary-General is shocked and outraged at the killing last night in Kosovo of two UNMIK police officers -– one from Ghana and one from Kosovo itself.

“The Secretary-General condemns this inexcusable act in the strongest possible terms. He sends his heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims – and also to the Government of Ghana, whose police officers have served the United Nations with dedication and courage.

“The current violence and instability in Kosovo cannot be tolerated. The targeting of UNMIK and KFOR staff must stop immediately. The Secretary-General calls on all inhabitants of Kosovo to cooperate with UNMIK and KFOR in support of the police investigation, so that those responsible for the killing of the police officers will be brought to justice.”

**Kosovo

The UN Mission in Kosovo reports that one international police officer from Ghana and one Kosovo police officer were shot dead by automatic gunfire last night when carrying out routine police work in Kosovo near Podujevo town in Pristina region. The international police officer was killed instantly; the Kosovo police officer later died of his wounds. And an UNMIK language assistant was also shot and is in serious but stable condition.

Local and international police have begun an intensive investigation into this grave crime.

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Harri Holkeri, condemned the killings and sent his personal condolences to the families of the officers, in recognition of their honorable service to Kosovo. We have copies of his statement upstairs as well as one from the UN mission that provides details of the shooting.

**Statement attributable to the Spokesman

The following statement attributable to the Spokesman regards the situation in Côte d’Ivoire:

“The Secretary-General has been following with deep concern the recent deterioration of the situation in Côte d’Ivoire, including plans for rival massive demonstrations to be held in Abidjan on 25 March. The Secretary-General appeals to all Ivorian parties to exercise utmost restraint, reduce tensions and avoid any steps that could further exacerbate the situation in the country. He also appeals to the leaders of all Ivorian political parties to demonstrate statesmanship and engage in constructive consultations, as recently promised by President Gbagbo, in order to move forward with the implementation of the letter and the spirit of the Linas-Marcoussis Agreement.”

**Cyprus

The Greek and Turkish Foreign Ministers have joined the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot delegations in Bürgenstock, Switzerland. The Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Alvaro de Soto, will have met each of the four by the end of today. In the meantime, intense and fluid diplomatic exchanges are taking place.

**Security Council

The Security Council this morning adopted a Presidential Statement that welcomed and strongly supported the Secretary-General’s decision to dispatch a team led by Special Adviser Lakhdar Brahimi to Iraq, as well as an electoral assistance team. The Council called on all parties in Iraq to cooperate fully with these UN teams.

The Council followed that brief formal meeting with an open briefing on Afghanistan. Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hédi Annabi said that the first phase of voter registration in that country has progressed more or less on target. As of yesterday, 1.56 million voters, out of an estimated 1.9 million eligible voters in eight key cities, have registered.

He also noted the constant increase overall of women’s participation, although only 28 percent of registered voters are women. The next phase of registration, he added, will demand an enormous rise in logistics needs, increased security risks and organizational requirements.

Annabi also cautioned that the recent fighting in Herat, and recent factional fighting in the north, strongly indicate that security remains an unresolved problem. The situation in Herat has calmed down following the deployment of Afghan Government troops.

The formal meeting was followed by consultations, also on Afghanistan.

**Afghanistan

On Afghanistan as well, we have the Secretary-General’s report to the Security Council and the General Assembly on the UN Mission’s work. In it, the Secretary-General recommends that the mandate of the UN Mission be extended by a further 12 months.

He says that the peace process has brought many benefits, in particular to large parts of the urban population, but many Afghans still feel that the peace is not irreversible, and act accordingly. He says that, outside the main city centers, much work remains to be done. We have copies of the report at the documents centre upstairs.

**Security Council –- Yesterday’s activities

Going back to the Security Council, they held informal consultations yesterday on Haiti as you know. Assistant Secretary-General Danilo Turk briefed then on the situation in Haiti.

Mr. Turk provided an update on the security situation, political developments, and the humanitarian situation as well. And he also outlined the activities of the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Haiti, Reginald Dumas and those of the UN mission that is assessing the requirements for a peacekeeping operation in Haiti.

Following these informal consultations, the Council held an open debate on Israel’s assassination of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin on 22 March. Most of the 41 speakers condemned the assassination, saying that it would trigger further violence in the region and further complicate prospects for the peace process.

**Sheikh Yassin

In Geneva today, the Commission on Human Rights began a special sitting to discuss the situation resulting from the Monday assassination of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin. This session comes after a vote yesterday afternoon, in which 34 countries voted in favor of holding the special session, with three countries against; those were the US, Eritrea and Australia and there were 14 abstentions in that vote.

Also today, the special rapporteur dealing with extra judicial, summary or arbitrary executions said she was aghast at the deliberate execution of Sheikh Yassin, which also killed seven other civilians. We have copies of her statement upstairs.

**Statement Attributable to the Spokesman

Another statement attributable to the Spokesman on the situation of Colombia and human rights:

“The Secretary-General met on 23 March 2004 with the head of the United Nations Human Rights Office in Colombia, Mr. Michael Fruhling, who briefed him on the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ new report on the situation in the country. The Secretary-General expressed deep concern over the continuing violations of human rights, and offered his full support to the work of the Office. He also voiced dismay over grave abuses of human rights by both the guerrillas and paramilitaries, especially actions against civilians.

“The Secretary-General expressed appreciation for the cooperation that the Colombian Government has extended to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia. He hopes that the Colombian Government will take urgent steps to implement the recommendations contained in the report; and that both the guerrillas and paramilitaries will cease their violations of international humanitarian law.”

**Sierra Leone

On Sierra Leone, the Secretary-General says that the Security Council should consider authorizing a residual UN peacekeeping operation in Sierra Leone once the current UN Mission in that country ends its mandate at the end of this year.

The residual force would comprise 3,250 troops, as well as a little over 200 military observers and civilian police –- that would be down from the present level of 11,500 troops. It would focus its work on the capital, Freetown; the center of the country; and the border and sensitive diamond-mining areas in the east.

The Secretary-General also recommends that, as the current UN Mission draws down over the course of the year, the reduction of its military strength should be conducted gradually, down to a level of 5,000 troops by the end of December. Copies of this report are out on the racks today.

**Lebanon

Yesterday, the Secretary-General’s Personal Representative for Southern Lebanon, Staffan de Mistura, noted the serious violations of the Blue Line earlier this week.

On Monday afternoon, he said, Hizballah launched a heavy attack on Israeli military positions in the Sheba farms area, using rockets and mortars. There was an immediate and heavy retaliation by Israeli forces.

De Mistura expressed the United Nations’ deep concern regarding the attack by Hizballah, launched at a time when regional tensions are already at a high point. Both Hizballah’s action and the Israeli response constitute grave breaches of the Blue Line and risk a further, dangerous escalation. We put out a statement yesterday with more details.

**World TB Day

Today is the annual observance of World Tuberculosis Day, and the Secretary-General, in a video message, says that we must spare no effort in our work to meet the targets to halt, and begin to reverse, the spread of TB by 2015.

What that means, he says, is that by next year, we must identify 70 per cent of all infectious cases and treat successfully 85 per cent of those that we identify. We have copies of his message upstairs.

**Press conferences tomorrow

Finally, press conferences tomorrow. I thought I mentioned this yesterday. Anyway, at 10:30 a.m., Sarbuland Khan and Jose-Maria Figueres Olsen, Executive Coordinator and Chairman, respectively, of the UN Information and Communications Technological Task Force, will be here to brief you on the Global Forum on Internet Governance scheduled to take place at Headquarters tomorrow and Friday.

At approximately 11 a.m., there will be a press conference in this room by the French Minister for Cooperation, Pierre-Andre Wiltzer, and the Foreign Minister of Ghana, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, who will be participating in the Security Council’s open meeting on West Africa tomorrow.

Any questions before we bring up Mr. Ould-Abdallah? Abdurrahim?

Questions and Answers

Question: Yes, Fred, why is the Tunis meeting so important that the SG wants to attend it in person? And does his interest relate to Iraq or does it encompass other issues like President Bush’s greater Middle East initiative democracy project?

Spokesman: I don’t think those two issues exhaust all of the items to be considered at the Arab League summit. It’s not uncommon for him to attend Arab League summits. He considers them extremely important. He’s had it on his agenda for a while. I don’t think the reason for going is linked to any specific issue on the agenda, but rather his desire to, first, address them with a message and when we have that, an advance copy of that message we’ll share it with you on an embargoed basis, and to interact with as many leaders as he can. Yes?

Question: On oil-for-food and the SG appointing a panel, where do we stand on that right now?

Spokesman: I have nothing to add to what I said yesterday -- that he hopes to present the Security Council with the terms of reference and the names of the members of the panel by the end of this week before he leaves for Bürgenstock, Switzerland.

Question: Has he received any signal, any sort of reply from the Security Council indicating their support?

Spokesman: He has had ongoing consultations with individual members over the last couple of weeks; he felt that on Friday the time was right to send them the letter announcing his intention to form such a panel. And his hope is that they will indicate their support for this effort once he presents them with the terms of reference and the panelists. Bill?

Question: On that subject, the President of the Security Council, the French Ambassador among others, said they would seek clarifications on what the Secretary-General had in mind in terms of cooperation from the Council. Where does that process interns of those two getting together or clarifications being provided?

Spokesman: Yesterday I said in response to a question that there was no meeting scheduled with the French Ambassador -- the President of the Council -- nor one for today. But actually, in the course of the day, there was a telephone conversation between the Secretary-General and the Ambassador. So, those consultations are ongoing.

Question: I’m sorry, that conversation was when now?

Spokesman: Yesterday.

Question: And the subject was precisely the oil-for-food investigation?

Spokesman: They don’t tell me what the subject is. I’d have to assume that that was at least one of the things that they discussed.

Question: And no further plans at this point for further contact or meeting or…?

Spokesman: Not that I am aware of. Mark?

Question: Fred, two housekeeping questions on Iraq and one on the Ivory Coast. Has there been a reply yet from the Governing Council to the OIOS request? Secondly, could you give us some sense of, has anybody gone, have there been people gone into Iraq? Not necessarily Mr. Brahimi, but I mean other people from the teams there enroute to, or have already arrived that we don’t know about? And on the Ivory Coast, in view of the deterioration there that the SG mentioned in his statement, there are rumors going round that the peacekeeping force at the moment might just be limited to the African troops on the ground being (inaudible), no extra troops going in. Do you have any information on that and what would the Secretary-General feel about the situation if that’s the case?

Spokesman: I am not going to speculate about the plans regarding the peacekeeping force for Côte d’Ivoire. On your first question, I have asked OIOS, the Office for Internal Oversight Services, to give me a call when they hear from the Iraqi Governing Council, should there be a written response to the two letters sent to them by the head of OIOS, Dileep Nair. I didn’t hear from them this morning, so, I assume that there is still no response from them. The second of that barrage of questions was what?

Question: Whether there’re people from the teams that have gone in that we haven’t been told about.

Spokesman: I don’t believe so. I believe we told you a couple of weeks ago that the acting Special Representative [Ross Mountain] had gone in for several days. I have told you that we have a number of security personnel who have been there several weeks for the ongoing planning for the security aspects of the eventual return of international staff. And we told you that the Secretary-General intends to send in an electoral team and a political team under Mr. Brahimi although, I think I made it clear, that we wouldn’t announce the dates of those trips; we wouldn’t say anything about them until they have safely arrived in Baghdad. So, we will do that. They will travel separately, with the electoral team going first. And the minute they get into Baghdad, we expect a call from the security coordinator and we will squawk it or send out a notice to the lid list even if it’s 3:00 o’clock in the morning here. Mr. Abbadi?

Question: Does Ambassador Brahimi plan to meet the Shiite leader Sistani?

Spokesman: You’ve been reading the newspapers, Mr. Abbadi. Mr. Brahimi’s intention when he gets there is to talk to as many political, religious, civil society leaders as he can. His job is to help them overcome differences as they try to identify a path to take the transition process along. If he can help, he will be very happy. Yes?

Question: Ahmed Chalabi today issued a statement welcoming the (inaudible)… the investigation by Kofi Annan, and said Iraqi officials will fully cooperate with the UN and make all necessary information available. I was wondering if that message had been sent to the UN and whether the UN was satisfied now that it was getting special cooperation from the Governing Council on questions surrounding the oil-for-food programme?

Spokesman: I’d have to check with OIOS whether they would consider a public statement a formal response. But any way, if he has made that statement –- and I am taking your word for it that he did –- we would welcome that, certainly. I think we’re all moving towards the same goal -- to establish the facts regarding oil-for-food. Bill?

Question: I am sorry I walked in when you were going over the Secretary-General’s itinerary and his trip. Is he going to the Afghan conference in Berlin?

Spokesman: No. Mr. Brahimi will be joining the Secretary-General in Tunis for the Arab League meeting, and then Mr. Brahimi will be representing the Secretary-General in Berlin for the Afghanistan meeting. Yes?

Question: For the new crowd, can you give a little context on what the Secretary-General is trying to accomplish by going there himself?

Spokesman: The Bürgenstock meeting is, we hope, the final leg of marathon negotiations for a Cyprus settlement. Cyprus has been on the UN agenda for something like 40 years. With the prospect of the admission of Cyprus to the European Union, we’re trying to get the Greek and Turkish Cypriots, with the support of both Greece and Turkey, to agree on a plan [for the reunification of the island] that the Secretary-General put forward. And the terms of that plan and the approach to negotiating it that all four parties agreed to here in February is that should they not be able to reach agreement amongst themselves, they would let the Secretary-General write the compromise language. So, that’s what’s happening, we hope, in Bürgenstock. Yes, Mark?

Question: Fred, there was report this morning that some US senators were calling on the United Nations to send a fact-finding mission to Laos to investigate human rights abuses. The report said that that letter had been sent to one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council. Has the Secretary-General received any word on that? Is it on his radar screen at all? Is it something he might be prepared to do?

Spokesman: A letter to the Secretary-General or to the President of the Security Council?

Question: No, the letter from the senators went to Security Council, and I am wondering if the Secretary-General had any communication on the subject?

Spokesman: I think the Security Council would want to receive a letter from the Administration before taking action. But I don’t know if such a letter has been received, and I’d have to check with the Secretary-General’s office to see if anything was sent to him or received by him. Mr. Abbadi?

Question: Tension is mounting in the Ivory Coast. In addition to the appeal just made by the Secretary-General, did he communicate with President Gbagbo to urge him to speak to or to open a dialogue with the opposition?

Spokesman: He has had telephone contact with the President in the last couple of days, yes.

May I bring Ahemdou Ould-Abdallah up to the podium to talk about the cross-border situation in West Africa?

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