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Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

27 July 2004

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

Good afternoon.

**Sudan: Update

Starting with Sudan: The security verification mission organized under the auspices of the Joint Implementation Mechanism -- comprised of UN officials, Sudanese Government officials and their partners -- visited two locations by helicopter in south Darfur today.

The mission visited a village that had been previously attacked and where former villagers had returned, according to the Government. It also visited a small urban area where the mission interacted with groups of internally displaced who had congregated, including women and community leaders. Tomorrow, the mission travels to west Darfur.

Humanitarian agencies remain very concerned about poor sanitation and access problems in west Darfur. Food airdrops are scheduled to begin there next week.

And here at UN Headquarters, the Security Council Presidency has just informed us that the draft resolution on Sudan is expected to be discussed under “other matters” in consultations this afternoon.

**Security Council

The Security Council held consultations this morning on the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), on which they received a briefing by Lisa Buttenheim, Director of the Asia and Middle East Division in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO).

In his latest report on that Force, the Secretary-General recommended that the Council renew UNIFIL’s mandate for six months, until January 15, 2005. He also noted that, while both Israel and Lebanon have proclaimed their aspirations to avoid destabilizing the area, only one month, in the past six, has gone by without a confrontation.

And this afternoon, at 3 p.m., the Security Council has scheduled consultations, to be followed by a formal meeting, on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The consultations and meeting are to consider a draft resolution, concerning the arms embargo in that country and the mandate of the panel of experts dealing with the implementation of those sanctions.

And, as I mentioned, they will now take up the draft resolution on Sudan under “other matters”.

**Haiti: New SRSG Visits President Alexandre

Turning to Haiti, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Haiti, and Head of the UN Mission there (MINUSTAH), Juan Gabriel Valdes, met the provisional President of Haiti, Boniface Alexandre, yesterday in Port-au-Prince. Prior to this meeting, he also met Prime Minister Gérard Latortue and Foreign Minister, Yvon Siméon.

Among the issues discussed in the meetings were security, humanitarian concerns, development needs, the electoral process and the national dialogue. Later in the day, the Special Representative met members of Haiti’s provisional electoral council. Further details are available in a press release from the UN Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).

**ICC Starts First Official Visit to Democratic Republic of Congo

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has started its first official visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

This step follows the decision, announced on 23 June by the Chief Prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, to open the first investigation of the ICC by looking into grave crimes allegedly committed on the territory of the DRC since 1 July 2002.

Officials of the Office of the Prosecutor and the Registry arrived in the DRC yesterday and will remain there until Friday, 30 July. They will hold closed meetings with representatives of the national authorities, civil society, and international organizations present in the country. According to a press release issued by the Court, the aim of the visit is to evaluate the possibilities for future cooperation.

**UN Relief Agencies Send Supplies to Quake Victims in Afghanistan

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that emergency assistance has been sent to areas in south-eastern and western Afghanistan, which were recently hit by earthquakes.

Relief agencies, in collaboration with the United Nations, are supplying food and water to people affected by the earthquake in the provinces of Herat and Paktia. Tents and bed sheets are being given to those left homeless by the disaster. Also, two assessment missions, including UN, Afghan government and non-governmental organization (NGO) representatives, are evaluating the situation on the ground.

**Bangladesh: Flood Relief Update

UN agencies are also stepping up their efforts to help Bangladesh deal with a worsening flood situation, and the United Nations, the World Bank and other bodies have set up a new coordination room to consolidate all assessments of the situation on the ground.

In addition, UN agencies are sending supplies, including food, water and medicine, to help the affected population. So far, more than 23 million people have been affected by the floods, and at least 275 have died, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

**UN Rights Experts Urge Iran to Observe Humanitarian Norms

Three UN human rights experts today called on the Government of Iran to comply with humanitarian norms, warning that failure to ensure due process sets the ground for similar abuses in the future. The call stems from the experts’ concern regarding the recent acquittal of an Iranian intelligence officer charged with the alleged killing of journalist Zahra Kazemi near Tehran earlier this month.

The experts fear that by failing to ensure an open trial and independent judiciary, the authorities are favouring a climate of impunity for law enforcement officials and setting the ground for the recurrence of similar human rights violations in the future. We have more on this in a press release upstairs.

**Desert Locusts Swarms Invading Mauritania, Senegal and Mali, FAO Reports

The Food and Agriculture Organizations (FAO) reports that the number of desert locust swarms invading cropping areas in Mauritania, Senegal and Mali from North-West Africa has increased in the past two weeks.

The FAO says no swarms have been reported in Chad or Darfur, Sudan, but the risk there remains high, and there’s also a potential danger that swarms could also reach Burkina Faso.

So far, $9 million of emergency assistance has been pledged. But several countries have appealed for more international help to supplement the major national efforts already made. We have more on this in an FAO press release upstairs.

**UNEP Launches ‘Earthdive’ Initiative

Snorkellers and scuba divers across the globe are being enlisted to help save the world's oceans and seas.

A new initiative, called “Earthdive” is being supported by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) through its World Conservation Monitoring Centre in Cambridge, England.

The scheme urges professional and amateur divers to note the health of the marine environment including coral reefs, mangrove swamps and coastal waters, and to record their findings on the Earthdive web site. By doing this, they will be contributing scientific data on key indicator species to build a Global Dive Log. Members also sign an international petition, demanding action to protect the oceans and donate 50 per cent of membership fees directly to marine conservation projects.

**Signing Ceremony: New Uniforms for Tour Guides at UN Headquarters

And a reminder: A signing ceremony will be held at 12.30 p.m., in the Dag Hammarskjold Library penthouse today, to mark the United Nations receiving a new donation of uniforms for its tour guides.

As we mentioned yesterday, over the next two years, the New York-based clothing company Le Monti is donating two full sets of uniforms for each of the 60 UN tour guides here at UN headquarters.

I’m sorry I don’t have any photographs of the uniforms, but we do have more on this upstairs.

That’s all I have for you.

**Questions and Answers

Question: A group of British parliamentarians has said that they have sent a letter to the Secretary-General asking him to refer the issue of the invasion of Iraq to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for an advisory opinion. Do you know anything about that?

Associate Spokesman: I believe we checked on this yesterday and we had not received such a letter, but I can check again and let you know.

[Shortly after the Briefing, the Associate Spokesman announced that the Secretary-General’s office had received a letter from a group of British Members of Parliament.]

Question: What would the referral process be? Would the request [calling for an advisory opinion] go to the General Assembly?

Associate Spokesman: First of all, I think we’d like to wait until we get a look at it to see what it says before we can answer that.

Question: On Sudan, [US Congressman, New Jersey] Donald Payne met with the Secretary-General yesterday. And after that meeting, he called for military action against the Khartoum Government. Has there been any change in the Secretary-General’s opinion on the situation?

Associate Spokesman: Not that I’m aware of. As you know, the Secretary-General had been working on many fronts to exert pressure on the Sudanese Government to live up to the commitments it had agreed to in the joint communiqué [between the United Nations and the Sudanese Government -- signed following the Secretary-General’s visit to the region earlier this month].

He is continuing to work on the matter. He has briefed the Security Council, as you know, and he has briefed you at press conferences, as well. And, as I mentioned, the Council is about to take up the resolution in consultations this afternoon. So, I think we’ll have to see in what direction the Council Members are going to take this.

Question: Preparations for Iraq’s National Conference are underway right now. Do we know whether the Conference will take place this month as scheduled? Is [United Nations Special Adviser] Ambassador Lakhdar Brahimi inside Iraq?

Associate Spokesman: On your latter question: Mr. Brahimi is not inside Iraq. As you know, he has not gone back since he last left. We have mentioned to you that the only presence we have inside Baghdad at the moment is a small team helping with the preparations for the National Conference.

As for the Conference itself, the Secretary-General strongly believes that a more inclusive and transparent National Conference will contribute to stability in Iraq, and would enhance the chances for a peaceful political transition. Creating the conditions for a successful outcome to the Conference is, therefore, more important than holding it on time. That is the SG’s position on the matter.

Have a good afternoon.

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