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DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL AND THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT

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

27 January 2005

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

Associate Spokesperson

Good afternoon. Our noon briefing guests are already here, so I’d like to get the briefing under way. Today, we have Rosario Manalo, current Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, and Committee member Maria Regina Tavares da Silva. They are here to brief you on the Committee’s latest session, as well as on the report on its inquiry under the Optional Protocol to the Convention. We also have the Spokesman for the President of the General Assembly, who will brief you on General Assembly affairs following the guests’ briefing.

**Security Council Briefed on Africa by OCHA Chief

Today, Jan Egeland, the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, briefed the Security Council on humanitarian challenges in Africa.

He said that, in Darfur, the high level of insecurity is severely limiting the humanitarian community’s ability to reach hundreds of thousands of people who depend on assistance to survive. And he noted that in January, the World Food Programme (WFP) has only reached about 900,000 people so far, or 50 per cent of its target.

He also highlighted the plight of 6 million people in six countries in southern Africa who will be unable to meet their food needs this year, primarily because of the “triple threat” of food insecurity, HIV/AIDS and weakened capacity for governance. We have copies of his statement to the Council in our Office, and Mr. Egeland will be going to the Security Council’s stakeout microphone after consultations are over.

**Sudan

On Sudan, we are continuing to receive reports of tension, fighting and attacks on villages in Darfur, which have resulted in dozens of civilians killed and thousands displaced. Due to the reported attacks, some areas of Darfur have been identified as “no-go” areas for UN agencies trying to provide relief.

In South Darfur, UN human rights monitors are particularly concerned that victims of human rights violations are continuing to pay fees in order to receive treatment at the Nyala hospital, despite representations from the World Health Organization (WHO) and other agencies. UN agencies are also concerned about health conditions in Kalma camp for the displaced. Contaminated water, chest infections, exhaustion and diarrhoea are believed to be the main causes of death.

Turning to southern Sudan, the UNICEF is stockpiling tents and classroom materials, training teachers, building schools, and assisting education officials to enrol students for the first academic year of the post-war period. Anticipating the return of thousands of children to the region -- following this month’s peace agreement between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) -- education authorities are planning to reopen schools at the end of March. We have a press release on that upstairs.

**UN Mission Denounces Militia Activity in Eastern DRC

The UN Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) has denounced destabilization attempts in Ituri, in the country’s east, provoked by elements of the militias known as the “Union of Congolese Patriots” and the “Front of the Nationalists for Integration”.

The Mission is calling on the leaders of these armed groups -– who are about to become integrated into the national army of the Democratic Republic of the Congo as senior officers –- to assume their responsibilities and instruct their militia members to hand in their weapons within the framework of the disarmament and reintegration programme for Ituri.

The Mission says that its disarmament and reintegration process in Ituri has been slowed down for a few weeks because of destabilization attempts, and because of threats made against militia members who want to give up their arms. In addition, the UN Mission has been distributing humanitarian aid in some towns alongside the Congo River, in the country’s east, and UN peacekeepers have been distributing drinking water -– in collaboration with Doctors without Borders -– in Kimbanséké, which is a poor district of Kinshasa, where a typhoid epidemic has broken out.

**DRC Arms Embargo Report

The report to the Security Council by the Group of Experts on the arms embargo on Democratic Republic of the Congo was released today. In it, the experts recommend that the target of the embargo be revisited so as to clarify its terms and exemptions. They also recommend that the arms embargo be extended to cover all of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as for the supply of non-lethal material and certain forms of training. The report is still being considered by the DRC Sanctions Committee in advance its consideration by the Security Council. The report is on the racks.

**Afghanistan

The UN Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) welcomed the inauguration of that country’s Independent Electoral Commission, calling its establishment “a major step in the implementation of the new Afghan Constitution”.

The start of the Commission, the UN Mission added, marked the formal beginning of the process leading to upcoming parliamentary and local elections. The UN Mission is committed to providing all possible support to that process. We have more details in today’s briefing notes from Kabul, which also provide details of scheduled visits by United Nations Human Rights High Commissioner Louise Arbour and the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa.

**WHO Warns of Possible Spike in Mosquito-born Diseases

across Tsunami Zone

The World Health Organization (WHO) warns that there is an increased risk of vector-borne diseases, such as malaria and dengue fever, across tsunami-affected areas in South-East Asia. The danger has been brought on by stagnant water, combined with the onset of Indonesia and Sri Lanka’s rainy seasons. To prevent an epidemic, WHO is providing insecticide-treated bed-nets, chemicals to kill larvae, and other vector-control supplies. There’s more information on this upstairs in a press release.

**$202 Million Needed to Cover Food Shortages in North Korea, WFP Says

The World Food Programme (WFP) has announced that, for 2005, it needs 500,000 tons of commodities, valued at more than $200 million, to assist
6.5 million North Koreans. And there is a press release with more details on that.

**Secretary-General Heads to Abuja for African Union Summit

Finally, an announcement on the Secretary-General’s travels: He will depart tomorrow for Abuja, Nigeria, where he will attend the African Union summit. He is scheduled to return to New York on Tuesday.

That’s all I have for you.

**Questions and Answers

Question: On the statement you put out last night about [Director of the United Nations Electoral Assistance Division] Carina Perelli misspeaking in her remarks to the press yesterday, are you saying that she misspoke by saying that U.S. military were engaged in providing election materials to Iraqis and that the United Nations now supports the notion that the U.S. military is distributing these materials? Did the United States complain to the United Nations about her remarks and ask for sort of retraction?

Associate Spokesperson: The answer to your last question is no. And the answer to your first question is in that statement, which speaks for itself, and I’d like to leave it at that.

Question: But the statement is incomprehensible. It doesn’t at all address the substance of Ms. Perelli’s comments, so it doesn’t make any sense. Are you saying that [the UN] disagrees with her remarks about the U.S. involvement in distributing election leaflets, and what is the UN policy on the U.S. military’s participation in the elections? Are they allowed to do this sort of thing?

Associate Spokesperson: The role of the U.S. military in Iraq for security during the elections, we think, is, of course, essential to the elections. As for Ms. Perelli’s remarks, and what we said in the statement, was simply that she was here to brief you on the technical preparations for the elections and that she did not intend to criticize the U.S. military’s profile. That was the basic message of the fairly simple statement that went out.

We all know that it is sensitive time ahead of the elections. We don’t want anything we say to be misinterpreted, distract from the main focus and become a divisive issue. Everyone agrees that they want the Iraqi elections to succeed.

Question: So is it now UN policy that even when one of your most credible and respected officials makes a statement that is seen in any way to be sensitive in the United States, that the United Nations will disown those comments even though they are straightforward and [supportable]?

Associate Spokesperson: I’d like to repeat what I just said: it is a very sensitive time before these elections, and we just don’t want anything we say to be misinterpreted and become a divisive issue.

Question: Is this a message to UN staff that they should not call a spade a spade if it will upset the United States?

Associate Spokesperson: I have nothing further to say.

Question: If the United States did not complain, why did you feel obliged to come out and correct the statement on the record? How far is this Organization willing to go to satisfy one MemberState?

Associate Spokesperson: I think that I have said as much as I can on this subject.

Question: Did the United States ask the Spokesman’s Office not to comment more on this issue?

Associate Spokesperson: No.

Question: Then why are you not willing to talk about and clarify your Office’s statement. This is getting ridiculous. Nobody can speak anymore in this place.

Associate Spokesperson: But she did speak to you, and we are clarifying that she did not intend to criticize the U.S. military’s profile. As I just mentioned, we just don’t want anything that the United Nations says right now to detract form the main focus, which is the elections coming up this weekend.

Question: Do you believe, in general, that the United States puts a lot of pressure on the Spokesman’s Office?

Associate Spokesperson: No.

Question: Do you have any more information about what she did after [her briefing]? She said that she would be making some phone calls to discuss the matter. In her comments, I think she said she would be “screaming on the phone” a few minutes after the briefing was over. With the elections so close, has the United Nations put in any new requests for the U.S. to stay of the way regarding getting out the vote? Has the Organization tried to re-emphasize that it believes that the election is an Iraqi process and that it can’t be tainted by the impression that the United States is involved?

Associate Spokesperson: I’m not familiar with what she was going to do after the briefing, so I’ll have to follow up on that for you.

Question: Can you give a sense of what the UN policy is on U.S. military giving out voting materials to Iraqis?

Associate Spokesperson: As I said, we feel that the role of the U.S. military in Iraq for the security of elections is essential for the elections. We mentioned that in the statement, as well.

Question: But that doesn’t answer the question. Security could be interpreted in many ways. Is this seen as proper? Some could argue that encouraging people to go out and vote would enhance the country’s security.

Associate Spokesperson: The statement says clearly that the U.S. military is playing a crucial role in providing security for Iraqi citizens who will be voting.

Question: That still doesn’t answer the question about what the UN policy is regarding the United States participating in efforts to get out the vote.

Associate Spokesperson: I have nothing further to say than the statement.

Question: On the “oil-for-food” investigation, do you think that there is a conflict of interest surrounding some of [Paul] Volcker’s his past associations, including BNP Paribas? If so, should he resign? Why was he selected by the Secretary-General to head up the investigation?

Associate Spokesperson: As you know, Mr. Volcker’s preliminary report is expected in a matter of days and we are not commenting on any aspect of the investigation until it is released. As for the appointment of Mr. Volcker, we can provide you with background information. I have nothing further, other than to add that Mr. Volcker is a highly respected individual leading a very important investigation.

Question: If a conflict of interest was revealed, do you think that the decision that led to Mr. Volcker’s appointment would be re-examined?

Associate Spokesperson: I don’t think that is something that we would be commenting on while the investigation is under way.

Question: Is the Secretary-General going to meet with anyone from the Volcker Commission before he leaves for Nigeria, or has he in the last day or so?

Associate Spokesperson: I’m not aware of any appointments, and as you know, he is leaving for Nigeria tomorrow.

Question: When is he coming back?

Associate Spokesperson: Tuesday.

Question: I googled the word “misspoke” and discovered that it was a very famous word from the 1970s associated with the [U.S. President Richard] Nixon era that has since come to be synonymous with “lied”. Was it in that sense that the UN used the word “misspoke” regarding Ms. Perelli’s comments?

Associate Spokesperson: No.

Question: On {Under Secretary-General for Internal Oversight] Dileep Nair, I know he was scheduled to step down in April, but we’re hearing reports that he may resign early. I’m also hearing that [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] Ruud Lubbers may also resign early. Do you have any information on either of those reports?

Associate Spokesperson: I have seen those same reports, but I have nothing to add.

Question: Can you give us any information on when the report of the Commission of Inquiry on human rights violations in Sudan will be presented to the Secretary-General and the Security Council?

Associate Spokesperson: The Commission completed its work on 25 January. The report was sent yesterday from Geneva, where the Commission is based. The understanding is that it will go to the Sudanese Government for three days, after which it will be transmitted to the Council in English. At that point, it should be made available to you. As for the time frame, we still think it will be early next week, but I’ll just have to stay in touch with you on it.

Question: Will it go to the Sudanese Government before it goes to the Council?

Associate Spokesperson: Yes. [Shortly after the briefing, the Spokesman’s Office announced that the Commission’s report arrived at the Secretariat today.]

Question: Is there a chance that we can talk to Ms. Perelli again so that she can clarify what it was that she wanted to say on the record and on camera?

Associate Spokesperson: I’ll put in that request.

Spokesman for General Assembly President

Good Afternoon. In opening this morning the forth informal meeting of the 59th session of the General Assembly to continue an exchange of views on the recommendations contained in the report of the High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, Assembly President Jean Ping (Gabon) told delegates that he hoped they would be in a position to provide substantive comments, indicating as clearly as possible their country’s positions on the issues raised in the report. And that would allow for better structuring of the discussions.

He noted that since the first informal session on 8 and 9 December 2004, Member States have had the opportunity to review the report in detail, in particular the recommendations –- and the report contains 111 recommendations -– that Member States have also had the chance to consult their capitals, and that they have had the chance to harmonize their positions within their respective regional groups.

Sixty countries are registered to speak at today’s meeting, which is a significant number for an informal gathering. The Assembly President noted that this indicated the importance afforded to the topic by Member States. Today’s session will take up discussions of a general nature, while not excluding the articulation of specific positions on specific issues from the report.

President Jean Ping also offered delegates the chance to hold additional meetings for a closer look at the report and offered a calendar that will be submitted for such meetings in the near future.

Ten Ambassadors will act as facilitators helping the President in the preparatory process. They are the Permanent Representatives of: Australia, Bangladesh, Barbados, Ghana, Panama, Netherlands, Slovenia, Thailand, Tunisia and Ukraine. The facilitators are expected to consult Member States on behalf of the President and will solicit suggestions and concerns during the run-up to the high-level plenary meeting set for September 2005. The Permanent Representatives of Nicaragua and Norway will continue to follow the question of the organization of that meeting on the President’s behalf. Member States will also be informed next week as to when the Working Group on Security Council reform will resume its meetings.

Today’s informal meeting is expected to provide a road map and timetable that will serve as important steps towards the issuance of the Secretary-General’s report in March and for the high-level meeting in September.

Under the rubric of other meetings, I would like to draw your attention to a briefing by the Under-Secretary-General and Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Olara Otunnu. That briefing will be on the topic: “Child Protection Advisors: Perspectives from the field, at the Expert Level”. It will be held today from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., in Conference room 6. Child Protection Advisors from the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) and the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) will also provide briefings on their work on the ground.

That’s all I have for you.

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