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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

12 May 2004

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

Good afternoon.

**Iraq -- Brahimi

The Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Lakhdar Brahimi, continued to meet a wide spectrum of Iraqi civil society today.

He met members of the Iraqi Democratic Current headed by Saad Saleh Jaber. And that was followed by a discussion with a new political party called “Iraq for the Iraqis”, which brings together University Professors, farmers, tribal leaders, journalists, students, judges and lawyers.

He also had meetings with Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani and Dawa Party chief Ibrahim Al-Jafri.

Finally, he met Sunni clerics and prominent religious and civic leaders from Fallujah. They welcomed Brahimi’s role and looked forward to cooperating with him with a view to finding solutions for the challenges facing Iraq today.

At the end of yesterday afternoon, Brahimi met the UK’s Ambassador to Iraq, David Richmond.

And then he was invited to a dinner hosted by Iraq’s newly-designated Minister of Human Rights, Bakhtiar Amin. The Minister invited nearly 100 other guests, including members of the Iraqi Governing Council and many other prominent Iraqi politicians.

**Iraq –- Continued

Continuing on Iraq, we received confirmation a few hours ago that the UN Electoral Assistance team has arrived in Baghdad. We hope to be able to update you on their work on a daily basis.

Also on Iraq, the Secretary-General’s acting Special Representative, Ross Mountain, told a group of Speakers of Parliament of the countries neighbouring Iraq that, after its experience of war and occupation, Iraq is in urgent need of international support in all aspects of its development, not least the re-establishment of political stability and internal security.

He told the parliamentarians that Iraq’s neighbours need to keep in touch with each other and the United Nations to seek ways of helping the country during this most difficult period of transition.

We have copies of the speech, which was delivered in Amman, Jordan at a meeting organized by the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

**Middle East

Yesterday, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East, Terje Roed-Larsen, met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus. He told reporters afterwards that they had had a good conversation about the difficult situation in the region, particularly the stalemate in the Middle East peace process.

Roed-Larsen added that he had conveyed to the President the Secretary-General’s opinion that lasting peace cannot be achieved without a comprehensive agreement. We put out yesterday afternoon copies of Larsen’s press encounter following that meeting.

**Sudan –- Humanitarian

In the Shilluk Kingdom area of southern Sudan, up to 100,000 people have been displaced since fighting between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and Government-backed militias intensified in early March, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a press conference in Geneva earlier today.

There have been reports of rapes and looting by armed groups. Villages have been burnt down, with schools and clinics destroyed in the process.

OCHA Sudan estimates that there are about 50,000 internally displaced persons in the city of Malakal alone, but most of the displaced are in areas inaccessible to the United Nations.

An assessment mission to the area will be organized once security conditions allow.

**DRC Trilateral Meeting in Washington

The trilateral meeting between the Foreign Ministers of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Uganda, scheduled to be held in Washington, D.C. tomorrow, is a welcome development, according to the UN Special Representative for the DRC, William Swing.

Swing hopes that this meeting will accelerate the normalization of relations between the three neighbouring countries and strengthen the peace processes in the Great Lakes region. News of this and other developments in the DRC is available in a press release.

**Sierra Leone

From Sierra Leone, the first trial of the Special Court for Sierra Leone will begin on 3 June, with a joint trial of three alleged leaders of the former Civil Defence Forces.

The three accused face eight counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and serious violations of international humanitarian law.

A second trial, of three alleged leaders of the Revolutionary United Front, is scheduled to begin on 5 July.

**World Hunger

James Morris, the Executive Director of the World Food Program (WFP), told the US Congress that the growing hunger problem around the world is exacerbated by the AIDS crisis.

Morris highlighted to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday the critical role that food aid plays in helping people living with HIV/AIDS to fight the disease.

Morris also appealed to Congress yesterday to put a greater priority on funds for people suffering from chronic hunger, rather than just on the victims of high-profile disasters and emergencies.

Every five seconds, he said, a child dies from hunger-related diseases, and malnutrition is still the number one public-health threat in the world.

**WHO/US Tobacco Treaty

The World Health Organization has welcomed the decision of the US Government to sign the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control –- which it did on Monday.

The Convention is the first legal instrument designed to reduce tobacco-related deaths and disease around the world. It outlines international minimum standards on tobacco-related issues such as advertising and labelling.

WHO says the signing shows the US Government’s commitment to maintaining standards of public health. It adds that the signing is the first step in the process, and hopes that the next step will be the ratification of the Convention. We have more on that upstairs.

**UNDP

And finally, for the first time in Afghanistan’s history, the basis for expanding political and social freedoms has been laid, according Mark Malloch Brown, the Administrator of the UN Development Programme.

Speaking today to a regional trade conference in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Malloch Brown said that it is clear that the destinies of the region’s countries are tied, for good or for ill.

Few parts of the world, he said, are as interdependent as the Central Asian region, he said, and added, “Regional cooperation is a necessity and not an option”.

That’s all I have for you. Edie?

Questions and Answers

Question: Fred, does the Secretary-General have any reaction to the beheading of Nick Berg, the American in Iraq?

Spokesman: Yes, I have something here. He was horrified by the gruesome murder of a civilian hostage yesterday in Iraq. And he was particularly disturbed by the use of this killing as a public spectacle. He extends his deepest condolences to the family of the victim and can only imagine how they must be feeling.

The Secretary-General condemns all killings of innocent civilians in Iraq as he condemns all abuse of prisoners and other violations of international humanitarian law. Now more than ever, he once again appeals to all parties to adhere strictly to the fundamental precepts of human rights and principles of international humanitarian law.

Very well. Thank you; see you tomorrow.

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