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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

11 May 2004

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

Good afternoon.

**Statement Attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General

We’re going to start with a statement attributable to the Spokesman about events in Gaza.

“The Secretary-General is deeply disturbed by the alarming violence in GazaCity today. Among the dead are several Palestinians, including civilians and children, and at least six Israeli soldiers. The Secretary-General is particularly concerned by the heavy fighting in densely populated neighbourhoods, which is exposing more Palestinian civilians to death and injury.

“He urges both sides to desist from further violence and instead to heed the calls of the Quartet and the international community to resume negotiations to end the conflict.”

**Iraq -- Brahimi

We received the following report on Mr. Brahimi’s activities in Baghdad from his Spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi:

Lakhdar Brahimi, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, met Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, in Baghdad this morning, as well as his principal aide, Adel Abdel Mahdi.

They discussed Brahimi’s report to the Security Council and his proposals for the formation of a new government, and Ayatollah Hakim expressed his appreciation for Brahimi’s efforts. He said he had passed the report on to Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who was pleased with it and found it to be balanced and positive.

They spoke about various aspects of the transition, including the importance of the new government having the time to work out its relationship with the occupying Power, the armed forces on the ground and the United Nations. They also discussed ideas for the convening of a national conference.

Brahimi later met with a group of 15 newspaper editors representing the main Iraqi dailies. He then had a town-hall meeting with over 50 Iraqi men and women, representing a wide spectrum of society, from business leaders and academics to religious leaders.

**Iraq -- UNICEF

UNICEF, the UN Children’s Fund, says it is profoundly disturbed by news reports alleging that children might have been among those abused in detention centres and prisons in Iraq.

Although the news reports had not been independently substantiated, they are alarming nonetheless. Any mistreatment, sexual abuse, exploitation or torture of children in detention is a violation of international law.

UNICEF reiterates that the detention or imprisonment of a child must be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time. For their safety and protection, children should never be incarcerated with adults. UNICEF has a press release out with more details.

**Kosovo

The wave of violence that Kosovo experienced in mid-March was the most serious setback to the UN Mission’s work in that country in five years, and shook the Mission to its foundations, the head of the Mission, Harri Holkeri, told the Security Council today. Briefing the Council in an open meeting today, Holkeri said the Mission is doing all it can to bring to justice all those who provoked or engaged in the violence, with some 270 arrests made so far.

The violence has also forced the Mission to take a hard look at itself, and Holkeri said it is working to review how it operates in response to crises.

He added that some 4,100 people were displaced in just two days, and that the current security environment in Kosovo is not conducive to the return of members of minority communities to their homes. We have copies of his statement upstairs.

The Council’s open meeting on Kosovo is continuing now, with members expressing their views.

**Afghanistan

The UN Mission in Afghanistan reports that another vehicle, this one carrying four Afghan electoral workers, was hit by an explosive device as they were driving towards Assadabad, in the province of Kunar.

The four Afghans all suffered injuries, with the most serious received by the driver and a civic education officer, who both sustained head injuries and lower back trauma. Those two people were admitted to the JalalabadHospital, where they have been treated and are reported to be out of danger.

The Electoral Secretariat vehicle was totally destroyed.

**SG at Stakeout

The Secretary-General was asked a few questions by Associated Press as he came out of the Security Council chamber this morning on the subject of Bulgarian nurses who have been sentenced to death in Libya. He said that he intends to be in touch at a high level on this issue with the Libyan authorities, to see what can be done to help. We have a transcript of those brief comments available upstairs.

**Côte d’Ivoire

In Geneva, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said the report of the independent commission of inquiry on Côte d’Ivoire would be issued this Friday, 14 May.

On that day, the acting High Commissioner for Human Rights, Bertrand Ramcharan, would brief the Security Council on the human rights situation in Côte d’Ivoire.

Council members are expected to receive the report prior to those consultations.

**Sudan-Chad

The High Commissioner for Refugees said that although the UNHCR team in Chad was continuing to move tens of thousands of Sudanese refugees from the dangerous border area with Sudan’s Darfur region to safer camps further inland, it was extremely concerned about the ongoing challenges that the agency and its partners were facing in what was one of the most difficult humanitarian operations anywhere.

Those included a vast, insecure and remote area of operations, stretching along some 600 kilometres of borderland, severe logistical challenges, water shortages, a looming shortage of fuel and firewood, and slow funding. You can read more about this situation in today’s UNHCR briefing notes.

**UNICEF -- Ukraine

UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy warned today that Ukraine is on the threshold of a full-scale HIV/AIDS epidemic, with an estimated quarter of a million people living with the disease. In addition, a large proportion of Ukraine’s population faces a range of iodine deficiency disorders, UNICEF says. And we have copies of a press release on that upstairs.

**WHO World Report 2004

From WHO, the international community has a unique opportunity to change the course of history in relation to HIV/AIDS. That’s one of the key findings of the World Health Report 2004 –- which is being released today by the World Health Organization.

The report notes that we’re at a critical point with HIV/AIDS. While there’s more money, more political will and more attention being paid to the disease than ever before, more people than ever are dying of AIDS and becoming infected with HIV.

Almost 6 million people in developing countries will die in the near future if they don’t receive treatment –- but less than half a million of them were receiving it last year.

The World Health Report calls for a comprehensive strategy that links prevention, treatment, care and long-term support. Copies of the report are available at the documents counter upstairs.

**UNEP -- Bamboo Species

Turning to the environment now, the UN Environment Programme warns that urgent action is needed to protect one of the world’s most ancient life forms and the species that depend on it. A new study estimates that as many as half of the world’s 1,200 woody bamboo species may be in danger of extinction as a result of massive forest destruction.

Consequently, many vulnerable animal species such as giant pandas and mountain gorillas –- which depend almost entirely on bamboo for food and shelter -- faced an even-greater struggle for survival.

We have a press release with more on that.

**UNODC -- Rule of Law Conference

And finally, the thirteenth session of the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice starts in Vienna today. And the focus of the conference is the rule of law and development. And we have more information on that upstairs.

That’s all I have for you on a relatively slow news day. Mr. Abbadi?

Questions and Answers

Question: Fred, in view of what Ahmad Fawzi reported this morning and at this stage, despite continuing violence in Iraq, does the Secretary-General think that there is some degree of political progress achieved now in Iraq?

Spokesman: Does the Secretary-General believe what?

Question: That there is some political progress...

Spokesman: Some political progress. I think he would want to wait for Mr. Brahimi to report to him once he has completed his stay in Iraq before he makes a judgement. I think probably snap judgement, yes, these meetings are going well; there are positive indications that Iraqis are coming to grips with the challenges facing them as they try to figure out how to form a transitional government. So, all of those are positive signs but I think... (Interrupted).

Question: Fred, does Mr. Brahimi think that the government will be based on both technocrats and political figures or is he sticking to his original idea of forming a government out of technocrats solely?

Spokesman: His idea, I think, as I said yesterday, is first of all the people who form the interim government should not be planning to run for political office when there are elections next January. And second, that they should be competent and of great integrity. So, there has been some misreporting of his view, that he is putting forward some names in Baghdad. He says he has not put forward any names. The names are to come from the Iraqis. He is discussing the formula that he presented to the Council with Iraqis and, as you saw from today’s report, that formula is gaining support among Iraqi leaders. But the individuals will have to be decided in consultation with the Coalition Provisional Authority, the head of which is the U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer. So, Mr. Brahimi is not naming names. Yes?

Question: Fred, when will Mr. Annan appoint the executive director of the Counter-Terrorism Committee? Is it today or...?

Spokesman: A letter went out last night. The deadline was yesterday for the naming of that executive director and the Secretary-General sent out a letter to the Council last night saying he needed a few more days. So, in a couple of days I think he’ll announce his selection. Yes?

Question: Do you have dates on Brahimi’s return to New York?

Spokesman: We won’t be announcing that in advance for security reasons. But it won’t be in the next few days. I think he is planning to have an extended stay there this time. Mr. Abbadi?

Question: Will there be a transcript available some time this afternoon of Mr. Brahimi’s meeting with representatives of the press in Baghdad?

Spokesman: I don’t think they have the staff capacity to do that. They’re in meetings morning till night. I can send Mr. Fawzi an e-mail saying you’d like a transcript, but somehow I feel they won’t have the time to do that.

Thank you very much.

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