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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

4 January 2005

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

Good afternoon and a Happy New Year to you all.

**Guest at Noon

Jan Egeland, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, will be joining us at 12:15 to provide us with an update on the assistance to countries and victims affected by the earthquake-induced tsunami. And as soon as he comes, we’ll turn the floor over to him, if that’s okay with you.

**SG Travels

The Secretary-General, as he mentioned to you yesterday, is on his way to Jakarta, Indonesia, where he will launch the emergency appeal for aid for the earthquake-induced tsunami victims this week. He is also scheduled to visit the worst-affected areas in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

And he also plans to attend the International Meeting for the 10-year review of the Barbados Programme of Action for the sustainable development of Small Island Developing States in Mauritius, before returning to New York.

**Tsunamis - Agencies

Mr. Egeland will be briefing you shortly on the tsunami situation. But just briefly, UNICEF has outlined four fundamental priorities for children, which it considers essential for the overall success of the relief effort. They are: keeping children alive; caring for those who have been separated from their families; protecting them from exploitation; and getting them back in school.

Meanwhile, the World Food Programme has managed to get enough food to Banda Aceh to feed 100,000 people for a week. It has also been able to feed almost 300,000 Sri Lankans.

There is still concern, however, over the situation in the Maldives, Myanmar and Somalia-- where tens of thousands of people are in need of food aid. And regarding emergency shelter materials, the UN refugee agency, the High Commissioner for Refugees, has begun flying them into Indonesia. And we have more information on these points upstairs and Mr. Egeland will have more for you.

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

We have a statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on the Middle East:

“The Secretary-General is gravely concerned over the killing of at least seven Palestinian civilians and the injury of others caused by Israeli Defence Force operations in the northern Gaza Strip conducted earlier today. He is particularly disturbed that at least five of the victims were under the age of 18.

“The Israeli military operations followed a marked increase in recent days of Qassam rocket attacks by Palestinian militants.

“The Secretary-General renews his call on both parties to follow their obligations under international law and, in particular, to ensure the protection of the civilian population. The Secretary-General underlines the vital importance of exercising maximum restraint and responsibility during this critical period before the 9 January Palestinian presidential elections.”

**Palestinian Elections

And on the preparations for those elections scheduled for 9 January, they have generated high interest in the international community with many countries sending observer delegations. More than 700 international observers are expected to be deployed on election day.

Further to the UN’s ongoing technical and logistical assistance programmes, the Palestinian Central Election Commission and Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs requested the United Nations to deploy a Liaison and Support Unit. This will provide an interface for international observer delegations attending the election. It is currently providing assistance to some 320 international observers from 51 delegations.

**Security Council

And here at UN Headquarters, Argentina has assumed the presidency of the Security Council for the month of January. Today, the Council President, Argentine Ambassador César Mayoral is holding bilateral meetings on this month’s programme.

And tomorrow, the Security Council Presidency has scheduled a briefing on the January programme following consultations to be chaired by Argentine Foreign Minister Rafael Bielsa. And we’ll tell you the more specific time for that briefing tomorrow as we’d like Mr. Egeland to give another briefing on the tsunami relief situation during the prime timeslot.

**Sudan – Polio Campaign Call

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sudan, Jan Pronk, meanwhile, is calling on the Sudanese Government, as well as armed groups in the country’s south and in Darfur, to refrain from any activity that could affect an upcoming polio vaccine campaign.

Sudan currently has the third-highest rate of polio cases in the world, and the United Nations is helping the Government there prevent the disease’s further spread with national immunization days, the first of which will be held in less than a week.

Meanwhile, the UN Mission in Sudan says insecurity continues in Darfur, with reports of a helicopter gunship attack yesterday on a rebel Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) stronghold in North Darfur, and acts of banditry, which include attacks on commercial trucks and buses. We have more on the polio campaign in the form of a press release upstairs and we have a transcript of Jan Pronk’s press conference in Khartoum, which was also held yesterday afternoon.

**Chief of Staff

And just to recap, the Secretary-General yesterday announced the appointment of Mark Malloch Brown, the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), as his new Chief of Staff, or Chef de cabinet, effective 19 January. In that capacity, the Secretary-General said, Malloch Brown would assist him in developing and implementing major initiatives to improve the performance and management of the United Nations.

The Secretary-General also paid tribute to retiring Chief of Staff Iqbal Riza, who, he said, had offered wise counsel and advice throughout, through thick and thin, and added, “I am sure that I will continue to count on his advice”.

Malloch Brown has served since 1999 as the UNDP Administrator, a position the Secretary-General said he will continue to hold until a new Administrator comes in. He previously also served as the Vice-President for External Affairs and for UN Affairs at the World Bank, and was the founder and editor of the Economist Development Report.

**DSG

And finally, we mentioned to you at our last briefing at the end of last year that the Deputy Secretary-General had planned an official visit to Mexico in early January. That visit has been postponed due to the Secretary-General’s previously unplanned visit to the tsunami-stricken region.

That’s all I have for you.

Do you have any questions for me while we wait for Mr. Egeland? Yes?

Questions and Answers

Question: The interim President in Iraq has said that the UN should investigate the legitimate... uh, whether or not the 30 January elections should go ahead. What is your response? Will you investigate the timing of the elections?

Associate Spokesperson: We saw the press reports, the wire service story as you had, this morning. We have not received any official request from the President. And as you know, and as we have said in the past, this is an Iraqi-owned and Iraqi-run process and any decision to change the election dates rests with the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq as clearly stated in the Transitional Administration Law.

And in the meantime in Baghdad, our staff continues to provide the Commission with the necessary technical support that they require. Yes?

Question: I just wonder for housekeeping purposes, when will the Secretary-General be back? And I guess it’s going to require a lot of changes in his schedule. How is it being re-jiggered to reflect his travels?

Associate Spokesperson: As I just mentioned, he left last night. He will, after the launch of the appeal on Thursday, visit some of the sites. Then he will go to Mauritius for a previously planned appearance in that conference there. And from there he should be back by the end of next week.

Question: End of next week?

Associate Spokesperson: That’s correct.

If there are no more questions, I am going to turn the floor over to Mr. Egeland for his daily briefing.

(To Mr. Egeland): Thank you so much for joining us.

(Issued separately.)

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