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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

17 February 2005

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

Good afternoon.

**Guest at Noon

Joining us today will be Johan Schölvinck, the Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs. And he’ll be briefing you on the outcome of the Commission on Social Development’s special session on the tenth year review of the World Summit on Social Development. Better known as “Copenhagen+10”, which concludes tomorrow.

**Iraq

As you know, earlier today, the Independent Electoral Commission for Iraq announced the final electoral results.

Speaking at a press conference where the announcement was made by Iraqi officials, the UN’s Chief electoral officer in Iraq, Carlos Valenzuela, said that the Iraqi people have shown the world that they were really up to the occasion and that made this process an immense success. We congratulate them for it, he said.

**Lebanon

Some of you had asked yesterday about Lakhdar Brahimi’s activities in Beirut. As you know, he represented the Secretary-General at the funeral of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Today, he paid courtesy calls on President Emile Lahoud, Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Omar Karame, and Foreign Minister Mahmoud Hammoud.

He also had the opportunity to sit down with Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and Sheikh Mohamed Hussein Fadlallah, a senior Shi’ite cleric.

Later tonight he will meet with the Hariri family. And tomorrow he is expected to meet with other senior political figures.

**Security Council – Small Arms

Nobuyasu Abe, the Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, told the Security Council this morning, that the increasingly vigorous actions taken by the Council to implement sanctions and arms embargoes are particularly encouraging.

Introducing the Secretary-General’s report on small arms during an open debate on that topic, Abe also commended the Council’s greater attention to the specific needs of women and children in the context of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programmes.

He said negotiators were far from a consensus on an international instrument on identifying and tracing illicit small arms and light weapons. But he hoped that Member States would muster enough political will to move forward.

He also noted the demobilization of thousands of child soldiers in Afghanistan, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

**Security Council - Sudan

The Secretary-General, in a statement to the Security Council yesterday afternoon, described the suffering by the people in Darfur, Sudan as “little short of hell on earth” and spoke forcefully of the need for urgent action.

He urged that those accountable for the atrocities committed be held accountable and called on the international community to find a way to halt the killing and protect the vulnerable.

High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour then presented to the Security Council the findings of the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur.

She said, “What is most urgently needed now are concrete measures to bring the current violence to an end and restore security and dignity to the people of Darfur.”

She added, “The Commission, in my view, eloquently and powerfully argues that referral to the International Criminal Court is the best means by which to halt ongoing violations and prevent future ones.”

The Council then had held consultations on the Commission’s report.

**Sharm El-Sheikh

Yesterday evening, following those consultations, the Security Council welcomed last week’s summit between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, in a presidential statement read out by Ambassador Joel Adechi of Benin.

The Council also welcomed the United Kingdom’s initiative in convening a meeting in London on 1 March to support Palestinian efforts to prepare the ground for a viable Palestinian state. The Quartet will convene in the margins of that London meeting.

**Georgia

The UN’s Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, just wrapped up a three-day visit to Georgia, where he found both the Georgian and Abkhaz sides open to resuming the peace process.

Guéhenno noted that, although differences on substantive issues remain, both sides are now willing to address them in a practical and pragmatic way.

The two sides will meet at a high-level Group of Friends meeting, to be held in Geneva this spring. And we have a press release with more information on that.

**Suez Canal Tax for DPKO

The following statement is attributable to the Spokesman:

“The United Nations welcomes Egypt’s recent decision to waive a new 25 per cent surcharge for all ships carrying military equipment through the Suez Canal destined for UN peacekeeping operations.

“Egypt currently deploys uniformed personnel serving in eight UN peacekeeping operations in Africa, the Caribbean and Asia.

“The UN welcomes Egypt’s continuing support of UN peacekeeping efforts.”

**Tsunami Update

An update now on the tsunami. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), updated damage assessments are shedding new light on the scope of material losses suffered by fishermen in southern Asia.

So far, the agency has fielded 22 fisheries specialists to the affected countries, and 11 more will soon be dispatched to join them. The teams include master fishermen, naval architects, boat builders, marine biologists, aqua culturists and fisheries planners.

FAO has also purchased plastic materials to repair over 300 boats, and is distributing ropes and nets.

**Afghanistan

UN agencies have stepped up deliveries of supplies to parts of Afghanistan that have been hit with unusually cold temperatures and heavy snowfalls over the past three weeks.

The UN Children’s Fund has provided nearly $200,000 worth of supplies to the provinces of Zabul, Helmand and Uruzgan in the south, including blankets, emergency medication, wood-burning heaters, tarps and plastic sheeting.

And the UN Office for Project Services is working with Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Works to carry out a snow clearance programme throughout the country. We have more details in today’s briefing notes from Kabul.

**UNESCO

The Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura, has condemned the murder of Bangladeshi journalist Sheikh Belaluddin Ahmed. Ahmed was the victim of a targeted bomb attack in the town of Khulna in south-western Bangladesh.

Matsuura said in a statement: “I hope that the authorities’ investigation will result in bringing the cowards who carried out this latest attack on a Khulna journalist to justice.” “As long as such crimes go unpunished”, he said, “it will be impossible to re-establish a climate conducive to liberty of expression.”

We have more on that in a press release upstairs.

**Guest at Noon Tomorrow

And finally, our guest at tomorrow’s noon briefing will be Jan Egeland, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and also the Emergency Relief Coordinator. And he will be here to talk about the humanitarian situation in Darfur, Sudan.

That’s all I have for you.

Yes?

Questions and Answers

Question: I was wondering if you can revisit what the SG said in Munich about NATO and Sudan. What is the official position of the UN now? Should NATO play a role in Darfur?

Spokesman: No. What he was talking about was the African Union’s various needs in their deployments in Darfur. Logistical support, primarily, but also some financial support. And he said to the NATO and EU ministers present, “Please, help”. So, it wasn’t to take over for the African Union; it was to support the African Union in their role.

Question: But there is no envisaged role as such, for NATO in ending the violations there, in Darfur?

Spokesman: No, the monitoring responsibilities have been given by the Security Council to the African Union. And the Secretary-General has been saying for a long time the African Union needs help. Our own Peacekeeping Department has sent some technical advisers to the African Union to help them structure and then plan the deployment of their monitors, but they could use more help still.

Question: On Lebanon, Fred. Yesterday the SG said that, with regard to his report on the assassination of Hariri, he is expecting to produce something on that within the week. Do you know what exactly he was referring to?

Spokesman: Well, the Security Council has asked the Secretary-General to conduct an investigation. And he is looking now for a leader of that investigation. He wants to move quickly, because the evidence goes cold quickly. So, you might expect an announcement very soon. On the other hand, he wants a senior and a high-level person, and those people very often have commitments and it’s difficult to shake them loose from their current engagements.

But he’s doing his best to get a senior, responsible person to take on this assignment right away.

Question: And when you say “soon”, is it before the end of the current week or sometime next week?

Spokesman: Well, the end of the current week will be tomorrow. I can’t safely predict he’ll have an announcement by tomorrow. But he’s going flat out on this.

Okay, no more questions? I’ll ask Mr. Schölvinck to come... (Interrupted)

Question: Fred, just one thing: Has the Secretary-General any comments on Negroponte’s new appointment?

Spokesman: Nothing formal. Of course, he worked very closely with Ambassador Negroponte when he was here at the UN. And he wishes him luck with his new assignment.

Mr. Schölvinck?

(Issued separately)

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