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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

28 July 2004

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

Good afternoon.

**Secretary-General Arrives in Ghana

The Secretary-General arrived in Accra, Ghana, last night and immediately conferred with his special representative for Côte d’Ivoire, Albert Tevoedjre, and other advisers regarding the summit on Côte d’Ivoire that begins in Accra tomorrow.

This morning, he met the Executive Secretary of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Mohamed Ibn Chambas. They discussed the strategy for tomorrow’s summit, which the Secretary-General called an attempt to salvage the [Linas-Marcoussis] peace agreement between the Government, the opposition and rebel groups.

This afternoon, he will meet the Ivorian Prime Minister, Seydou Diarra. He will then call on the President of Ghana, John Kufuor, who is co-hosting the summit with him.

He is scheduled to meet one-on-one this evening with the President of Côte d’Ivoire, Laurent Gbagbo. And later this evening, he is to meet with South African President Thabo Mbeki.

**Sudan Update: Security Council to Hold Consultations on Draft Resolutions

Here in New York, the Security Council has scheduled consultations at 3:30 p.m., today on Sudan to discuss a draft resolution introduced yesterday afternoon. Discussions on the draft at the expert level had been scheduled for the morning.

In the field, the joint verification mission organized under the auspices of the Joint Implementation Mechanism -- comprised of UN and Sudanese Government officials and their partners -- visited the main city in west Darfur and a camp housing internally displaced persons (IDPs), -- also in west Darfur -- today before returning to Khartoum.

The findings of the mission are expected to be discussed at the next meeting of the body set up to implement the Joint Communiqué signed between the United Nations and the Government of Sudan on 3 July.

Meanwhile, humanitarian agencies say they are still experiencing insecurity in north Darfur, with attacks on commercial trucking occurring on a daily basis in some areas.

Also in north Darfur, humanitarian agencies report that the Sudanese Government is intimidating and harassing IDPs, as it tries to get them to return to their villages. And IDPs in Abu Shouk and Zam Zam camps have reiterated that they are too afraid to return to their villages.

In west Darfur’s Mornei camp, one of the sites the joint verification mission visited today, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has been closely observing the situation, to ensure that the Government is not acting on plans to forcibly return the displaced people to their villages. Currently, the threatened forced returns have not been carried out.

Also in west Darfur, OCHA reports that the Janjaweed militia presence is reported to be increasing. At one camp, OCHA and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) interviewed women who were raped, some of whom had left the camp to collect firewood, and others who had temporarily returned to their villages to retrieve belongings. According to those interviews, over the past week at least 38 women and girls were raped, mainly by the Janjaweed. Many were raped by multiple men.

We have bullet points on these developments upstairs in the Spokesman’s Office.

**Afghanistan: UN Envoy ‘Strongly Condemns’ Deadly Attack on Polling Site

Turning to Afghanistan, the UN Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) expressed its outrage at the killing this morning of two Afghans, and the wounding of at least seven others, at a voter registration site in Ghazni. The two dead include one Afghan staff member of the Secretariat of the Joint Electoral Management Body, as well as another person who was believed to have been registering to vote.

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Jean Arnault, condemned the attack in the strongest terms. He conveyed his condolences to the families, friends and colleagues of the deceased, and wishes a swift recovery to the wounded. We have a statement from the Mission upstairs.

**Security Council

Just to recap, yesterday afternoon the Security Council adopted a resolution on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which extends the arms embargo in that country for another year. It also extends the expert panel dealing with those sanctions by another six months, and seeks a new report from that panel by this December 15 of this year.

**Funding Shortfall Hampers Food Aid Delivery in North Korea, OCHA Says

Turning to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea: the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports a shortfall in funds for the UN Consolidated Appeal for the country, which particularly affects the food sector. Only 23 per cent of what was requested in the appeal has been received so far.

The consequences of the shortfall in the food sector are serious, with the World Food Programme (WFP) needing approximately forty thousand tons of food per month between now and December. We have more on this upstairs.

**Burundi: Humanitarian Update

We also have a humanitarian update on Burundi, in which the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that UN agencies are helping improve health care in Burundi, in a bid to encourage refugees and other war victims to repatriate voluntarily and reintegrate into society there.

It’s estimated 1.5 million people in Burundi currently don’t have access to health care.

Again, we have bullet points on this and you can read more about it.

**WFP Steps up Food Delivery to Peru’s Andean Region

The World Food Programme (WFP) has begun giving emergency assistance to more than 17,000 people affected by severe food shortages in the Andean mountains of Peru. The aid comes after the people’s livestock were killed and crops wiped out by the worst recorded frost and snowstorms in 30 years. We have more on this upstairs.

**Netherlands Makes Four-Year, €20 Million Pledge to Support FAO’s Work

And finally, we have a press release on a donation by the Netherlands, which has pledged 20 million euros to support the work of the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Netherlands Partnership Programme over the next four years. The funds will help support FAO’s work in promoting development planning and policy-building in some of the world’s poorest countries. And you can read more about that in a press release upstairs.

That’s all I have for you. Do you have any questions for me?

**Questions and Answers

Question: How will the bombing in Afghanistan affect the UN’s efforts there?

Associate Spokesman: First of all, as Special Representative Jean Arnault points out today -- and he has done so in the past as well -- security on the ground throughout the country is extremely necessary to the UN’s efforts, together with those of the Afghan electoral officials, to get voters registered and ensure safe elections later this year. So, once again, the fact that two more Afghans have been killed in this exercise raises concerns about the holding of secure elections.

Question: Has your office received a letter from the North Korean Government to the Secretary-General regarding the pull-out of troops from that country?

Associate Spokesman: No. As far as I know, we have not received any letter from North Korea.

Question: Is there any update on the letter supposedly sent by a number of British parliamentarians on referring the invasion of Iraq to the International Court of Justice?

Associate Spokesman: Yes. Yesterday, after the noon briefing, I announced in response to a question here that indeed the Secretary-General had received a letter from a group of British “MP” seeking an International Court of Justice opinion on Iraq.

Question: Does he have any reaction to the letter?

Associate Spokesman: The Secretary-General is out of town and focused squarely on preparations for the Accra Summit on Côte d’Ivoire. This is a letter from a group of MP -- I have not seen it and don’t know who the MP are. I would advise you to look at the UN Charter -- I was just looking at it upstairs. If you come up, I can show the exact article that speaks to this. It says that the General Assembly or the Security Council can seek the opinion of the Court. That is the traditional route the procedure would take.

Question: Regarding the Secretary-General’s trip to West Africa, we have heard that Darfur may be on the agenda. Can you comment on that?

Associate Spokesman: As you know, one of the participants in the summit will be the Head of the African Union (AU), the Nigerian President. And you’ve seen press reports, as I have, about his intentions to raise the Darfur issue. There’s nothing more that I can say other than that we wouldn’t be surprised if Darfur came up in the margins of the Accra summit. But the Secretary-General has flown to Ghana with the intent of trying to push forward the Linas-Marcoussis peace agreement on Côte d’Ivoire.

Question: I wonder if the UN would have any response to the suggestion by Reverend Jesse Jackson and some members of the [U.S. Congressional] Black Caucus that the UN should send observers to monitor the upcoming U.S. Presidential elections.

Associate Spokesman: We have taken questions on this -- not from Reverend Jackson -- when that group of Congressmen wrote to the Secretary-General requesting either observers or monitors, I can’t remember the wording, for the U.S. elections. At the time, we did mention that general policy and practice has been that the United Nations responds to requests from national Governments and not from legislative bodies.

Question: If you received such a request, would the UN respond favourably?

Associate Spokesman: From what I understand from the Electoral Assistance Division, if the request comes from a government, that is something that in practice and policy has been taken as an “official” request. Now, [how they would move forward] it’s purely hypothetical in this case, but as you do know, the observing of an election requires a mandate from the General Assembly.

Question: here was a report today that the Secretary-General will make an urgent appeal for donors to come through with their pledges for assistance to Sudan. Is he going to make an official appeal? Is he speaking with world leaders about this?

Associate Spokesman: What I can tell about that is that among the various fronts the Secretary-General has been working on to address the Darfur crisis has been the improvement of the humanitarian situation on the ground. And for that, he needs urgent donor response to the appeal that humanitarian agencies have put out, which, as it stands, is about $350 million for both the situation in Darfur and assistance for refugees in Chad.

To date, the United Nations has received $158 million in response to that appeal. This means that close to $200 million -- $191 million to be exact -- is still required to allow the UN and its humanitarian partners to carry out its assistance programmes. To that end, The Secretary-General has been appealing to governments worldwide to support the appeal. And yes, I can confirm that he did send letters to the heads of a group of donor governments.

Question: The wider press continues to report that the UN is not cooperating with the United States on the “oil-for-food” investigation. Is the Secretary-General at all concerned about the damage this could do the UN’s reputation in the international community?

Associate Spokesman: I think the Secretary-General has responded to this particular point you’re making about the inquiry on several occasions. I also think that Mr. Paul Volcker [Chair of the Independent Inquiry Committee into the Iraq Oil-for-Food Programme (IIC)] has responded to that. So I have nothing further to add.

Are there any other questions? If not, have a good afternoon. Thank you.

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