DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
3 March 2005
Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
**Guests at Noon
Anticipating that you will have questions on events recently in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), we have as our guests at the briefing today Margaret Carey, who is Principal Officer in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations’ Africa Division, and Francois Dureau, the Chief of the Peacekeeping Operations’ Situation Centre.
Francois will be giving essentially a military briefing, and Meg will take any political questions you might have.
**Secretary-General’s Press Encounter
The Secretary-General was asked on his way into the building today about Tuesday’s violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Ituri region, in which some 50 people were killed.
The Secretary-General said he did not think that there was a deliberate show of force by United Nations troops. Rather, he said, “It was really an attempt to defend themselves, and a determination to fulfil their mandate as effectively as they can.”
He said the DRC operation is complex, and the number of troops the United Nations has may not be adequate given the country’s size, but he added, “We are doing the best with what we’ve got.” Over time, he said, he hopes that the Security Council will provide support and that the United Nations forces will be strengthened.
The Secretary-General was also asked about Lebanon, and said that he will send his Special Envoy, Terje Roed-Larsen, back to the region to discuss the withdrawal of foreign troops from Lebanon. He said he hopes to be able to report progress when he submits his next report on that issue in April, and added that the Syrians have indicated that they are planning to withdraw their troops from Lebanon.
We have the transcript of that press encounter in my office.
Yesterday, you asked for an update on the activities of the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Ashraf Qazi.
During this week, he’s held a number of meetings with Iraqi officials and representatives of various political and social trends. These meetings included ones with the Interim President Ghazi Yawer, Interim Vice-President and nominee for Transitional Prime Minister Ibrahim Ja’fari, and Interim Finance Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi.
He also met with head of the Islamic Sunni Waqf Organization Adnan Dleimi, as well as Iraqi activists, academicians and members elect of the Transitional National Assembly.
The message he’s been delivering is the need for all Iraqis to contribute to the shaping of the future of their country through engaging in an all-inclusive political process that would build on the outcome of the national elections, which represent a landmark development in efforts to restore peace and stability to Iraq.
The United Nations will continue to assist the Iraqis through the transitional process in the implementation of its mandate under Security Council resolution 1546.
**Deputy Secretary-General in Sierra Leone
We mentioned to you yesterday that the Deputy Secretary-General had begun, in Sierra Leone, the second leg of a mission to personally deliver the Secretary-General’s zero-tolerance policy regarding sexual exploitation and abuse.
In her meetings with Mission staff, she stressed that the Secretary-General’s zero-tolerance policy must be respected by everyone. She said, “It is an obligation on the part of every United Nations employee to observe the code of conduct. Our code is very specific.”
She noted that strong leadership is the key to eliminating sexual exploitation and abuse.
Acknowledging the dangerous and complex environments in which peacekeeping operations functioned, she stated that because of the vulnerability to exploitation of the local population, there was a need to “accept a degree of restriction on ... personnel behaviour”.
Later, during a meeting with Sierra Leone’s President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, the Deputy Secretary-General discussed the way forward for the Mission and the future of Sierra Leone, including the need for strengthening the security forces. She also emphasized that rules for behaviour, codes, directives and standard operating procedures must be enforced by contingents through national disciplinary law.
We have a complete note on her meetings upstairs, and tomorrow she travels to Côte D’Ivoire.
The Security Council President, in a letter to the Secretary-General, has taken note of the appointment of Pierre Schori of Sweden as the new Special Representative for Côte d’Ivoire.
Meanwhile, the United Nations refugee agency is limiting staff movements in western and northern Côte d'Ivoire following clashes on Monday between pro-government militia and rebels in a western village. The outbreak of fighting is causing some disruption to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in their census of Liberian refugees, which began in the rebel-controlled north last month.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sudan, Jan Pronk, made a field visit to camps housing displaced persons around the capital, Khartoum. The camps and neighbouring squatter areas around Khartoum have been subject to a government policy of demolition and re-zoning, whereby many of these marginalized communities have been resettled in far away desert areas.
Jan Pronk was briefed on the complete lack of assistance to these communities, and he spoke with several families.
The number of displaced persons in and around Khartoum is estimated to exceed 1 million, according to the United Nations mission in Sudan.
Can we turn off all phones, please?
**Sudan - Egeland
Meanwhile, the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, Jan Egeland, is arriving in Sudan today for a five-day visit.
He plans to visit south Sudan, where hundreds of thousands of people displaced during the war are poised to return to communities where few of the resources required to support their return are in place. This lack of resources could result in returning internally displaced persons and refugees finding nothing to assist their resettlement, and could possibly undermine efforts to bring a lasting peace to Sudan.
Egeland will travel to various locations in South Darfur, where he will meet with authorities, aid workers, and representatives of the African Union. He will also hold independent discussions with civilians.
We also have a press release from the United Nations Operation in Burundi on the results of the constitutional referendum held earlier this week in that country.
The United Nations Operation in Burundi, which had worked alongside Burundians in the organization of the referendum by providing technical and logistical support, reiterates its support to Burundians in the steps ahead in the peace process.
**United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)/World Health Organization - Measles
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today announced at a press briefing in Geneva that the world is on target to halve measles-related deaths by the end of the year.
That decline has been brought about by international commitment to the WHO/UNICEF strategy, which promotes both routine and supplementary immunizations.
Globally, measles-related deaths have plummeted by nearly 40 per cent -- from 873,000 in 1999 to some 530,000 in 2003.
There are no meetings or consultations of the Security Council scheduled for today.
On Afghanistan, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative there, Jean Arnault, has appointed four international electoral experts to sit on a nine-member Afghan Independent Electoral Commission. That Commission will organize the legislative and local elections to take place in that country this spring.
The four international experts are: Alison Radford of Canada, Julian Type of Australia, Noor Mohammad of India, and Ray Kennedy of the United States.
We have more information on these four in the briefing notes from Kabul in my office.
**WHO/Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) – Cancer Warning
A contaminant -- which causes cancer in animals, and which forms in the high-temperature preparation of such foods as potato chips, coffee, pastries and breads -- may be a public health concern.
That’s what the Food and Agricultural Organization and the World Health Organization said today.
The contaminant, called acrylamide, is formed when certain foods, particularly plant-based foods rich in carbohydrates and low in protein, are cooked at temperatures higher than 120 degrees Celsius.
The FAO and WHO called for better food preparation technologies that significantly lower the level of the contaminant.
Finally, a press conference this afternoon scheduled at 3:30 –- the 1992 Nobel Peace Laureate, Rogoberta Menchu, and others will be here to brief on the increasingly dangerous circumstances that indigenous people face, especially indigenous women and girls.
That’s all I have for you.
Questions and Answers
Question: When is the Secretary-General going to meet with Mr. Swing, and during Mr. Swing’s visit here to the United Nations, when will he be available to meet with us?
Spokesman: I believe the Secretary-General will see Mr. Swing tomorrow, and we’ll have to ask him if he would be willing to talk to you. And we’ll do that.
Question: Do you have an update on the Staff Union letter outlining specific complaints against Mr. Nair? We heard management was going to review that and see if it merited further investigation.
Spokesman: That’s a good question. I don’t have anything on that, but let me find out. I think last week the head of the Personnel Department, Rosemary McCreery, reviewed the submission by the Staff Council in the presence of a Staff Council representative. The next step was to have been that that would then be reviewed by the Chief of Staff, Mark Malloch Brown, to decide whether to reopen the case or not. So let me check with the Chief of Staff’s office and find out where that is. [He later announced that the Chief of Staff met with Dileep Nair yesterday and presented him with the allegations of the Staff Committee for his response.]
Question: Do you have an update on Fitzgerald and his team, and do we have any calendar on when they will come back and present their report to the Secretary-General?
Spokesman: I’ll have to check. I think their intention is to work quietly and without interim briefings to the press on how things are going. I believe they are asking for some additional technical experts to help them in their work. I thought there was a deadline of a month, but let me double-check that. I think they do have a deadline for reporting back. [He later said there is no hard deadline, but the expectation is it will take about a month.]
Question: Are they receiving full cooperation from the authorities?
Spokesman: I can only speak from my last guidance from a couple of days ago, when they were receiving full cooperation from the Lebanese authorities.
Question: Besides the three Pakistanis injured in the Congo, do you have an update on any killed or any more injured?
Spokesman: We’re going to have a complete briefing on the DRC in just a few minutes, so please hold your questions until we bring our peacekeeping experts up here to talk to you about it.
Question: The people you mentioned, that are coming next week, the Iraqis. Are they the same people who are meeting with the Security Council on the sixteenth, and what’s their purpose?
Spokesman: I’m sorry, who’s coming, when?
Question: On the sixteenth of this month, a group of Iraqis are meeting with the Security Council, and I wonder if those are the same people who are coming next week, or different.
Spokesman: I’ll have to find out for you. I don’t know.
Question: What is Mr. Roed-Larsen’s itinerary? When is he leaving, who is he going to be seeing, and so forth?
Spokesman: I don’t have the itinerary, but I understand that he intends to go in the next few days.
Question: Which countries –- Lebanon, Syria?
Spokesman: I don’t have those details either, but we’ll see if we can get more for you. We had from the Secretary-General, when he came in this morning, the news that he would be sending Mr. Larsen to the region. We subsequently learned that that would happen in the next few days. That’s all the information we have right now. We’ll try to get some more.
Okay, Meg, Francois, and also Steve.
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