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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

20 January 2005

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

Good afternoon.

**Tsunami Update

Starting with an update on the UN’s work in relation to the tsunami and earthquake disaster. Even as relief distribution improves in Indonesia, a particularly heavy rainy season is worsening conditions in temporary settlements and hampering the delivery of supplies, especially by road.

In addition, a recent assessment shows that many of the health-care facilities north of Meulaboh are not functioning. Because of intensified concern over sanitation conditions for displaced persons in the area, soap and hygiene kits are now being distributed along with food. Also, four specialized water-processing units have now arrived in Meulaboh to provide clean water to hospitals and settlements.

Meanwhile, mental health experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) fear that psychological trauma among the tsunami victims is more widespread than initially believed. The WHO has, therefore, begun to coordinate the appropriate training of community workers.

The UN Human Settlements Programme, known as UN-HABITAT, has also launched a finance facility to accumulate funds for long-term reconstruction efforts in tsunami-hit countries. It has already donated $1 million to that fund.

And since the Muslim holy day of Eid al-Adha is tomorrow, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is distributing some 5,000 prayer shawls to Acehnese women affected by the tsunami.

On 13 January, we told you the UNDP had hired 300 locals in Aceh to remove debris while creating employment opportunities. The project will now be scaled up to employ up to 3,000 people over the next six months. The UNDP has also provided 17 units of heavy equipment and 60 crew members to clear debris and bodies from the worst-hit areas.

Since the tsunami struck in Indonesia, the World Food Programme (WFP) has delivered over 4,000 tons of food to 330,000 people in Banda Aceh. In addition, the WHO has provided 8 tons of medical supplies, UNAIDS has distributed information on HIV/AIDS in emergency settings, and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) has also delivered over 600 reproductive health kits. And we have more information on the work of the various agencies available upstairs.

**Kobe Conference Update

Turning now to the World Conference on Disaster Reduction, being held in Kobe, Japan, today.

It has been agreed that the UN will be responsible for coordinating the implementation of a tsunami early-warning system for the Indian Ocean.

Key countries across the globe have already committed technical assistance and national resources, estimated at $30 million, towards establishing the system. And we have a press release on that available upstairs.

**Security Council

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

**UNIFIL

Related to the Council, the Secretary-General’s latest report on the UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon is out today, in which he asks the Security Council to further extend the force’s mandate by six months, until 31 July, 2005.

In his report, the Secretary-General notes that while violent incidents across the Blue Line were considerably fewer than in the previous six months, the tensions between the parties did not appreciably diminish.

He also calls on the parties to abide by their obligation to fully respect the Blue Line in its entirety and exercise the utmost restraint.

**Secretary-General - Georgia Report

Also upstairs is the latest report on the situation in Abkhazia, Georgia. In his report, the Secretary-General writes that the recent political uncertainty in Abkhazia has limited the possibility of talks between the two sides.

He hopes the political situation there will stabilize, allowing talks to resume.

The Secretary-General also recommends that the mandate of the UN Mission in Georgia be extended for another six months.

**Liberia Panel of Experts

One more Security Council document. The Secretary-General, in response to a request by the Security Council, has named a five-member panel of experts concerning Liberia with a range of expertise in arms, timber, diamonds, finance, humanitarian and socio-economic issues. The names of those experts are contained in a letter to the Security Council, available on the racks.

**Costa Rica

An item from Costa Rica. UN agencies are assessing damage following recent flooding in Costa Rica, with agency officials visiting the town of Talamanca today and tomorrow. Experts from the World Health Organization, the Pan American Health Organization, the UNDP and UNICEF are in the area.

Talamanca is the most heavily affected area, with nearly 2,000 of its almost 30,000 people now living in 19 temporary shelters, following the flooding caused by heavy rains that began early in January. And we have a press release upstairs.

**General Assembly Special Session

Looking towards next week, the General Assembly is, as you know, holding a special session at 10 a.m. on Monday to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps.

The session will be attended by survivors of the camps – including Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, and UN Messenger of Peace, who’ll also speak at the event.

The Secretary-General and the President of the General Assembly will also attend. The provisional list of speakers for the event includes -- among many others -- the Foreign Ministers of Israel, Germany, France and Canada and is available upstairs. And we will have a full press release available shortly on the racks with all the details of the session, as well as the side events.

**No Briefing Friday

And as a reminder, there’ll be no Noon Briefing tomorrow as UN Headquarters will be closed to mark the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, or the “Feast of the Sacrifice”. We’ll be back up here on Monday.

**The Week Ahead at the United Nations

And, we also, obviously, have “The Week Ahead” available for you.

That’s it from me. Yes, Mark?

**Questions and Answers

Question: A couple of questions. First of all, there is increasing belligerent noises between the U.S. and Iran following articles written in The New Yorker, but basically Iran saying that, you know, Iran saying that it will resist any attack, you know, noises from Congress on what should be done about it. Now, does the Secretary-General believe that this situation is evolving into a threat to international peace and security?

My second question is, Condoleezza Rice recently characterized six countries as outposts of tyranny: Cuba, Belarus, Burma -- anyway, six countries. Does the Secretary-General think that this is a helpful characterization of the state of affairs in these countries?

Associate Spokesman: I don’t think I am going to comment on what Ms. Rice said in her confirmation hearings. And as to Iran, I’ll see if I can get some guidance for you on that.

Yes, Edie?

Question: Steph, the Secretary-General said that he planned to make an announcement on his new special representative for the tsunami-hit countries by the end of the week. By my reckoning, this is the end of the week. Can we expect an announcement later today?

Associate Spokesman: The week is slightly shorter than normal weeks. And I think you should probably wait for an announcement very early next week. Yes?

Question: The reports that Mr. Hansen of the UNRWA is not being reappointed by the Secretary-General under pressure from the United States and Israel, is this how the United Nations is going to function? Dictated by Israel and the United States?

Associate Spokesman: I don’t accept the premise of your question. Mr. Hansen, at the end of March, will have completed three terms as the Commissioner-General of UNRWA plus an extra month. He has done a very good job leading the dedicated staff of UNRWA and providing vital assistance, under very difficult circumstances, to Palestinian refugees in the occupied Palestinian territory, as well as throughout the region. The Secretary-General feels that after nine years it’s time for change and he is looking for candidates.

Question: Oh, somebody else is going to be appointed in his place?

Associate Spokesman: Yes, somebody will take the lead of this very important agency. Yes?

Question: Stéphane, does the Secretary-General have any comment on reports out there; Israel accepts the Palestinian police plan?

Associate Spokesman: I think the developments that we have seen of deployment of Palestinian security forces in northern Gaza, I think, are very encouraging and we encourage both to continue on that path.

Question: Steph, there have been some confusing signals; is the United Nations itself looking into the comments made by Mr. Vincent in court, that he believes money went to a UN official on the oil-for-food, or is it completely hinging everything on Volcker? I know the Secretary-General yesterday said it was news to him. You read in the newspaper the story, but it would seem that there might be some urgency your people might be interested in investigating it in the building, one would say.

Associate Spokesman: Well, you know the whole issue of management and other related issues to oil-for-food; this investigation is in the hands of Mr. Volcker. This is obviously one of the issues he is looking into. And there is no sense in running a parallel investigation when he has all the documents and he has the full cooperation of all the UN staff in looking into the oil-for-food programme.

Question: He hasn’t been able to interview Mr. Vincent, he said.

Associate Spokesman: You’d have to ask Mr. Volcker. And I think, looking at public statements from the assistant district attorney two days ago, he said he was working with the Volcker panel.

Question: Is the Secretary-General watching the inauguration in Washington?

Associate Spokesman: I don’t know. I’d have to look at his schedule to see if he is in a meeting. But I believe, in fact, he is in a meeting with senior staff right now. Yes, Evelyn go ahead.

Question: On Mr. Hansen again, can you comment whether U.S. Congressman Lantos, when he was here in December on a variety of issues, told the Secretary-General that he was representing the administration and Congress and that Mr. Hansen had to go?

Associate Spokesman: No. I am not aware of that. Yes?

Question: I am just curious as to why the SG was meeting with Mr. Axworthy this morning? Is that just routine?

Associate Spokesman: Mr. Axworthy is in town and reporting back to the Secretary-General. But I can try to get you a read-out on that.

Question: A housekeeping matter. I’m sure some people in the building have a question. What is going on outside the building? There doesn’t appear to be much work on the fence as everybody bundles through the cold and snakes around and in gulag fashion around to the...Is there any estimation of when...(Interrupted)?

Associate Spokesman: This is one gulag you are able to walk in and out of everyday.

[Laughter]

Question: ...the flags are not up, and...

Associate Spokesman: I will ask. Work is starting at the northern end of the perimeters. So, maybe you want to have a look there to see if, in fact, the fence is moving in the right direction. But we can ask.

Question: Is there any way we can get Ms. Pirelli or someone involved with the Iraqi elections?

Associate Spokesman: We are, as I have told a number of your colleagues, trying very hard to arrange such a briefing and, as soon as we are able to announce it, we will.

Thank you very much.

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