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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

13 May 2004

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

Good afternoon.

**Secretary-General Letter to Sudanese President

The Secretary-General has written to Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir regarding the situation in Darfur, Sudan.

In the letter, the Secretary-General asks the Sudanese President to follow up on a number of concerns raised by the most senior UN human rights and humanitarian officials at a Security Council meeting held last week upon their return from the region.

These include improved access for humanitarian workers so that the victims of the crisis can be assisted as quickly as possible, the maintenance of the humanitarian ceasefire, and the need to control and disarm the militia in the region and facilitate the early deployment of African Union observers throughout Darfur. He also emphasized the importance of negotiating a political settlement to the Darfur crisis.

**Sudan

Also on the Sudan, with the peace talks covering the decades-long conflict in the southern area of the country, these talks are languishing somewhere between breakthrough and breakdown. The UN refugee agency says it is pushing ahead –- cautiously –- with plans to repatriate people to the war-ravaged southern Sudan.

**Secretary-General on Iraq

Turning to Iraq, the Secretary-General was asked this morning upon entering the Building about the scandal concerning photographs of Iraqi prisoners and said there is no doubt that the mistreatment of the prisoners has caused real and deep damage.

He said that his Special Adviser, Lakhdar Brahimi, is in touch with a large group of Iraqis, and he hoped his team would be able to focus on the work ahead in establishing an interim government without being held back by the prison issue.

He also reiterated how horrible the image of the beheading of the US civilian had been. The Secretary-General urged everyone to respect the international norms and to treat prisoners decently, in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. And we have a transcript available upstairs.

**Brahimi

Brahimi continued his consultations today in Baghdad, meeting with Najib Taleb, the former Prime Minister who served in one of Iraq’s early governments.

Brahimi also met representatives of a group of Arab Nationalist parties. And he held a meeting with members of the network of Iraqi women, representing women active in civil society.

Lastly, he met with political and religious leaders from Fallujah.

**UNRWA

UNRWA, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, has issued a call to all the parties to the conflict in the occupied Palestinian territory to respect the integrity of its ambulance services and the neutrality and impartiality of its staff.

This follows an incident in GazaCity on 11 May in which armed Palestinian militants threatened the lives of an UNRWA ambulance team, comprised of a driver and a paramedic, and forced them to transport an injured gunman and two of his armed colleagues to a hospital in GazaCity.

UNRWA condemns this action in the strongest possible terms. While its ambulances do not make any distinction between injured fighters or non-combatants, at no time and under no circumstances should armed men enter any UNRWA vehicles.

**Holkeri/Hospital

Harri Holkeri, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Kosovo, was admitted to hospital in Strasbourg, France, last night for a check-up. He’s reportedly suffering from fatigue and, on medical advice, he’s expected to remain in hospital, under observation, for a few days.

Holkeri was in Strasbourg at the invitation of the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe to be a special guest at a “fireside chat”, an informal meeting where ministers of the member countries regularly meet.

**Security Council

Turning to the Security Council, there are no scheduled meetings or consultations for today.

As of now, tomorrow’s agenda is a formal meeting on Timor-Leste, as well as consultations on Côte d’Ivoire.

**Northern Uganda

Turning to northern Uganda, with daily rebel attacks continuing to leave huge numbers of people in fear for their lives in northern Uganda, the World Food Programme has warned it will soon be unable to cope with the escalating food needs of the displaced population, which now numbers 1.6 million.

**Children’s Rights

And representatives from more than 50 countries from across Europe and Central Asia have gathered in Sarajevo today for a conference to nail down commitments to children’s rights.

Carol Bellamy, the head of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), told the conference “The world has become a scary place for children.” She said that in Europe and Central Asia, “millions of children are falling through the cracks to be trafficked and traded, exploited and abused, excluded and alienated in ways that affront the intelligence, shame the conscience and break the heart”.

More information is available upstairs in a press release.

**Afghanistan

The UN Mission in Afghanistan says that the number of voter registration sites in the country have tripled since the beginning of the month, with 343 sites now up and running. And we have more details in today’s briefing notes from Kabul.

**Rwanda

And lastly, a Rwandan accused of being a leader of the Interahamwe militia today pleaded not guilty to the genocide charges brought against him at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

The suspect was arrested earlier this month in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and was transferred to the detention facility in Arusha, on 7 May.

That’s it from me. Do you have any questions? Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question: Hi. I was wondering, there is a letter from 10 May that the Permanent Representative of Lebanon wrote to the Secretary-General. It was there on the racks on Monday. Has there been any follow-up to that letter? And also, does the Secretary-General have any comments on the Gaza air strikes that the Israelis are doing right now and there are 11 Palestinians killed?

Spokesman: On the Lebanese letter, I am not aware of any response. On Gaza, we issued a statement two days ago in which the Secretary-General said he was particularly concerned by heavy fighting in densely populated neighbourhoods, and he continues to urge both sides to desist from further violence. And it said heed the calls of the Quartet and the international community to resume negotiations on the conflict.

Question: So, there’s no new ...

Spokesman: No, no. Yes?

Question: Stephane, does the Secretary-General believe that the abuses of Iraqi prisoners can be considered torture?

Spokesman: I have to get back to you on that. I mean, he has expressed his deep concern on that. But I’d have to get back to you on that issue. [The Spokesman later added that the UN would await the report, due by the end of the month, from the acting High Commissioner for Human Rights on the human rights situation in Iraq, which will include the treatment of detainees, before making any conclusion.]

Question: But he has been very cautious, mistreatment and mishandling
and ...

Spokesman: Well, we also don’t have any first hand account of what’s actually happened. But I’ll try and get back to you on that.

Question: But just by looking at the pictures I think he might be able to know whether that, in his own view, equals torture or not.

Spokesman: I’ll get back to you on that.

Question: Thank you.

Spokesman: Thank you.

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