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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

31 March 2004

Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Marie Okabe, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good Afternoon.

**Guest at Noon

Stephen Lewis, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, is expected to join us today, in a little while. He recently visited Swaziland, and will talk to you about the situation in that country and the World Health Organization’s “3 x 5” initiative, which aims to treat 3 million people by 2005.

**Cyprus

On Cyprus, the Secretary-General met today in Bürgenstock, Switzerland, with all sides to discuss further revisions to the proposal on Cyprus that he unveiled on Monday, with a view to finalizing the text that would then be put to simultaneous referenda in April.

He is determined to wrap up the Cyprus talks tonight, in accordance with the agreement reached in New York on 13 February.

He met this morning with Greek Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis.

That was followed in the afternoon by a meeting with the Greek Cypriot delegation, led by His Excellency Mr. Tassos Papadopoulos, followed by one with the Turkish Cypriot delegation, led by Their Excellencies Mr. Mehmet Ali Talat and Mr. Serdar Denktash.

In the late afternoon, he saw Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

[The Spokesperson later announced that the Secretary-General met with the Greek and Turkish Prime Ministers in the evening. The Secretary-General invited the four delegations to a hand-over ceremony of the plan at 10:30 p.m. local time.]

**Statement on Sudan

Upstairs, we have copies of a statement of the Secretary-General that was distributed at the ceasefire talks in Darfur, in N’Djamena, Chad. We mentioned to you yesterday that the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Humanitarian Affairs for the Sudan, Ambassador Tom Vraalsen, had arrived for those talks. I am quoting the Secretary-General:

“I am very disturbed by events in Darfur where the continuing conflict is having a devastating impact on the lives and well-being of the people. Civilian casualties and serious human rights violations are routinely reported. This is unacceptable and must stop.

“I welcome the efforts of President Idriss Derby, the Government of the Sudan, parties to the conflict and the international community to achieve a cessation of hostilities and, ultimately, a long-term solution to the causes of the conflict. First, the fighting must stop, and to this end I strongly encourage all parties to work intensively towards declaring an effective humanitarian ceasefire. Humanitarian organizations and staff must also receive safe and unimpeded access to all those in need.

“The United Nations remains ready to assist in the search for solutions in any manner the parties consider useful.”

** Statement Attributable to Spokesman on Myanmar

The second statement I have –- and this one is attributable to the Spokesman –- on Myanmar:

“The Secretary-General notes with interest the announcement by the Government of Myanmar that it will convene a National Convention to draft a new constitution on 17 May 2004.

“The Secretary-General believes that, for the National Convention to be credible, it should be all-inclusive. He thus urges the Government of Myanmar to lift the remaining restrictions on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her senior colleagues in the National League for Democracy (NLD) as soon as possible, and allow the party to participate in the preparations for the reconvening of the National Convention, together with other political parties and ethnic nationality groups.

“He further hopes that, in order to make themselves ready for the National Convention, all these representatives will be permitted to meet freely together and to conduct peaceful political activities.

“The Secretary-General believes that the convening of a credible National Convention involving all political parties and ethnic groups would mark the beginning of a new phase in Myanmar’s political evolution and would result in positive responses from the international community.”

We have copies of that upstairs.

**Afghanistan

In Berlin today, the Secretary-General said in a message read out at the international conference there, that Afghanistan faces a major challenge in holding free and fair elections this year. The magnitude of the election task is enormous, with objectives on greater security, greater political freedoms, demobilization and reintegration needing to be achieved in a very short time, he said.

In his message delivered by Special Adviser Lakhdar Brahimi, the Secretary-General said that the road ahead will not be easy, nor will it end with the holding of elections.

His Special Representative for Afghanistan, Jean Arnault, told the conference that the vast majority of Afghans maintain that there will be “no election without disarmament”.

He noted that recent events in Herat brought home the consequences of allowing heavy and light weapons to remain in the hands of rival factions.

UN Development Programme Administrator Mark Malloch Brown said that disbursements by donors to Afghanistan already amount to some $4.7 billion, and says that trust, as well as commitment to partnership, has emerged.

And Antonio Maria Costa, the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, called for more resources to counteract the growing drug problem in Afghanistan.

We have copies of all those speeches upstairs. The donors’ conference is continuing this afternoon in Berlin, with more than 60 delegations participating.

**Security Council

Here in New York, the Security Council received a briefing this morning by Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean Marie Guéhenno, on the Secretary-General’s latest report on the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

That report, he said, describes the increasing number of attacks on UN personnel in the province of Ituri and the shifting alliances of armed groups operating in that area.

Mr. Guéhenno noted that the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been undertaking extensive search operations to enforce the “Ituri without weapons” policy.

Mr. Guéhenno also expects to brief the Council members in this morning’s consultations on Côte d’Ivoire. Once consultations are over, he has agreed to come to the Council stakeout to talk to reporters.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has welcomed the establishment of a Government Commission of Inquiry to shed light on last weekend’s violent events in Kinshasa.

During its weekly overview of events in the DRC, the Mission also noted that as of today, 10,468 foreign ex-combatants and their dependents have left the country and returned to neighbouring Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi.

The Mission estimates that between 8,000 to 10,000 foreign ex-combatants remain on Congolese soil, most of them Rwandan. In November 2003, the Governments of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda agreed to resolve the issue of Rwandan militias within 12 months.

**Security Council - Month

Just on the Council again, today is the last day of the French presidency of the Security Council.

Starting tomorrow, 1 April, Germany assumes the Council presidency for the month.

Ambassador Gunter Pleuger of Germany is scheduled to brief you on the April programme following the first consultations under his presidency on Friday.

**Iraq

Following the closing of the accounts at the end of financial period 2003, the UN transferred $2 billion today from the Escrow Account to the Development Fund for Iraq. This makes a total of $7.6 billion that have been transferred since the adoption of resolution 1483.

**Kosovo - Standards

Turning to Kosovo, the Standards Implementation Plan for Kosovo was launched today.

The Plan is a detailed policy plan that sets specific goals in areas such as the building of democratic institutions, the enforcement of rights for minorities and the creation of a functioning economy.

At the launch ceremony –- attended by the Kosovo Prime Minister -– Harri Holkeri, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Kosovo, said the Plan isn’t a panacea, but it’s a start.

We have more on this upstairs.

**Kosovo/Riots Toll

On the subject of Kosovo, we have an update on casualties and damage from the March riots.

The UN Mission in Kosovo gave out the following estimates today, based on current information available.

Regarding deaths, there have been a total of 19. More than 900 people were injured. And we have a list of the other updates on casualties and damage upstairs for you.

**Guinea-Bissau

Turning to Guinea-Bissau, legislative elections took place in Guinea-Bissau on 28 March with 98 international observers deployed throughout the country.

Due to logistical difficulties, mostly in Bissau, the capital, 20 per cent of the polling stations were not able to open at all on Sunday. They reopened on Tuesday to allow some 30,000 people to vote.

The international observers declared that the elections were free, fair and transparent and called on all political actors to respect the results.

**Horn of Africa

We also have upstairs a press release saying that Martti Ahtisaari, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Humanitarian Crisis in the Horn of Africa, has started a two-day visit to Eritrea today.

**Côte d’Ivoire

And finally, on Côte d’Ivoire, we have an update saying that 30 military officers and five UN civilian police officers from Accra, Ghana, where they were on pre-deployment training, have arrived today in Abidjan. More UN peacekeepers will be joining the mission on 1 April and thereafter.

And that’s all I have for you. I am going to ask Stephen Lewis to come up here to brief you. I’ll take your questions if you have any.

If not, I’ll turn the floor over to Stephen Lewis.

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