DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
12 May 2005
Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Marie Okabe, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
**NPT Review Conference
After intensive negotiations, the Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) adopted its agenda last night.
Following the adoption of the agenda, the President of the Conference, Ambassador Sergio de Queiroz Duarte of Brazil, made a statement, in connection with item 16 of the agenda. He said, “It is understood that the review will be conducted in the light of the decisions and the resolution of previous Conferences, and allow for discussion of any issue raised by State Parties.”
Ambassador Duarte will talk to the press here, in this room, 226, at 3:30 this afternoon to discuss the NPT Review Conference.
And here, at Headquarters, this morning, the Security Council is holding a meeting and consultations on Sudan. They’re taking up two reports. The first report is the one that came out on Monday on the UN assistance to the African Union mission in Darfur. The second report is the monthly update on Darfur, which is available today as a document.
Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hedi Annabi briefed the Security Council in an open meeting. In that briefing, which is available to you upstairs, he notes that organized violence in Darfur continued throughout the region last month, and attacks on civilians, rape, kidnapping and banditry actually increased from the previous month. The report notes that militia attacks are by far the greatest cause of terror and suffering for civilians.
And in the Council briefing, Annabi noted that there had been no tangible progress in the Abuja peace talks and that, in view of these circumstances, he emphasized the critical importance of the African Union mission and the need to strengthen that. And in that connection, we have a statement attributable to the Spokesman, which I will read right after this item.
The Council is in consultations now on Darfur, Sudan, and they’re expected to discuss a draft presidential statement during those consultations.
And under other matters, the Council is expected to get an update on the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
**Statement Attributable to Spokesman
And the statement, to which I just referred, is that the Secretary-General understands that Prime Minister Paul Martin of Canada is today announcing a substantial military support initiative to the African Union for Darfur. The Secretary-General warmly welcomes this, as an important contribution to helping deal with the crisis.
Meanwhile at a refugee camp in Chad, for refugees from Darfur, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that clashes took place yesterday over the entitlement of refugees to sell plastic sheeting, which, as you know, is provided as a relief item by the refugee agency.
Chadian gendarmes responsible for guarding the 12 refugee camps in eastern Chad sought to prevent such sales, arresting three refugees. And in protest at the arrests, a group of refugees burned down a community centre, provoking further clashes with the local authorities.
UNHCR was advised that one Chadian gendarme was killed as a result, two Sudanese refugees were injured, and two humanitarian aid workers and one gendarme were injured as well. And there is a press release with more information on that incident upstairs.
**Statement Attributable to Spokesman
We have a statement attributable to the Spokesman on Lebanon:
“The Secretary-General was gravely concerned over the firing of a Katyusha rocket from Lebanon into the village of Shlomi in northern Israel last night. The rocket caused damage to property but, fortunately, no casualties.
“The Secretary-General emphasizes once again the fragility of the situation in Lebanon and the wider region. He reiterates his call on the Government of Lebanon to extend its control to all of its territory, to exert its monopoly on the use of force, and to put an end to all such attacks. The Secretary-General urges all parties to fully respect the Blue Line and reminds them that one violation of the Blue Line cannot justify another.”
And also on Lebanon, the UN team verifying Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon is travelling to New York for consultations. The team has collected a substantial amount of data during its time on the ground in Lebanon, and intends to review and assess that data in New York.
And turning to Iraq, the UN Development Programme in Iraq, as well as that country’s Ministry of Planning and Development Cooperation, today launched a survey of living conditions in Iraq over the past year, which finds high levels of malnutrition, rising illiteracy and significant unemployment.
According to the report, almost a quarter of Iraqi children between six months and five years of age suffer from chronic malnutrition. The young are reported to be more illiterate than preceding generations. Meanwhile, unemployment among young men with secondary or higher education stands at 37 per cent.
The Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Iraq, Staffan de Mistura, said at today’s launch that many aspects of living conditions in Iraq in 2004 were dismal. But he added that the findings “reflect the courage, endurance and determination of the Iraqi people to overcome the hurdles they are facing”. And we have a press release with more details upstairs.
**Iraq - Drugs
And also on Iraq, the International Narcotics Control Board, an independent UN body monitoring global drug proliferation, has expressed concern that the country is emerging as a transit point for drugs originating in Afghanistan.
Board President, Hamid Ghodse of Iran, said that the pattern was similar to what the Board had observed in post-conflict situations elsewhere. And he urged the international community and the Iraqi Government to make a strong commitment towards countering the drug problem before it escalated. We have more information on that upstairs.
And then we have just gotten an update from our peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and they say that seven peacekeepers were injured in an ambush by armed elements.
During the ambush, which took place 55 kilometres south-east of Bunia, a UN jeep was overturned. Four peacekeepers were injured in that accident and another three were injured by gunfire. Of these seven, one is critically wounded.
All 40 peacekeepers in the convoy have been evacuated to Bunia, and the three who were injured by gunfire will be evacuated to South Africa.
And on Afghanistan, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Afghanistan, Jean Arnault, strongly condemned the episodes of violence in Jalalabad, which we reported to you yesterday. In a statement, Arnault deplored the brutal attacks perpetrated against the UN Mission’s premises, as well as governmental, non-governmental and private organizations.
These attacks will in no way deter the commitment of UN agencies to assist the Government and the people of Afghanistan in rebuilding their country. Neither will they interrupt the ongoing preparations for parliamentary and provincial council elections, he said.
Arnault commended the Afghan national security forces for their courage and also called on local authorities and international forces to do everything in their power to prevent further episodes of violence in Jalalabad and elsewhere in the country. We have that statement upstairs, as well as details in today’s briefing notes from Kabul about a road engineer for UN Office for Project Services who was killed in a bombing last week.
And finally, Supichai Panitchpakdi, the Director-General of the World Trade Organization, expressed his deep appreciation to the Secretary-General and to the General Assembly, which yesterday confirmed his appointment to lead the UN Conference on Trade and Development.
Supichai said he was “profoundly honoured” that the Secretary-General had shown such confidence in him and assured all Member States that he will do anything in his power to ensure that trade becomes an ever more vital tool for development. We have a press release upstairs with more details.
**NPT Briefing Today
And just to remind you, at 3:30 there will be a briefing on the NPT here, in this room.
**Sudan - Developments
And since Mohammad is here, you asked me yesterday about the estimated completion of the 10,000 UN peacekeepers in Sudan, and the answer is 240 days from the start of the mandate, 24 March. But the Department of Peacekeeping tells us that the majority should be in roughly 180 days, which is about six months.
And of course, all of this will depend on the cooperation of the parties and the weather, which I understand can get pretty difficult during the rainy season for deployment.
That’s all I have for you today.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Marie, I have a question on Lebanon. When is the UN verification team expected to be in New York?
Associate Spokesperson: I mentioned in the briefing that it’s travelling to New York. It’s on its way to New York for consultations. Yes?
Question: When is the report expected to be released? The report of the findings.
Associate Spokesperson: My understanding is that they are coming to New York for consultations; that their work is not yet finished and that, depending on the consultations, they may decide to go back to Lebanon. So, we don’t have a date for the final report yet.
Question: Any date on the UN electoral team?
Associate Spokesperson: We mentioned that Ms. Perelli would be coming back, I mentioned, 18 May. And that’s next week and she will be leaving behind a small team to continue the work.
Question: How many persons in the small team?
Associate Spokesperson: The team she’s with now, I think, is a two-person team. And I understand the small team that will be left there, or augmented once she leaves will be a three-person team.
Question: Do you have anything on the international commission of the assassination of Rafic Hariri?
Associate Spokesperson: My understanding is that we’re pretty close to announcing...(Interrupted).
Question: How close?
Associate Spokesperson: I was told within days. I’ll try to get firmer information on that. Massoud, then Nick.
Question: As regards the Iraq situation, and the Iraq support, the situation in Iraq is getting very, very horrendous and bad. It seems that the United Nations has lost all moral authority to challenge the coalition forces over there to bring about either control of the situation or find out what the reason is. What ...(Inaudible) over there in Iraq?
Associate Spokesperson: Well, as you know, the United Nations is doing what it can, given the security circumstances. And we’re all very, very concerned about the escalation of violence. But, this is nothing that the Secretary-General can control. We want to get back in there. We want to assist the Iraqis in this development and reconstruction process. And, as today’s survey indicates, we’re planning ahead. This survey was meant in order for us to better target our future work in Iraq, as soon as we can get back.
Question: Oh no, I agree that the Secretary-General has no authority or control. But the thing is the United Nations; you’ve been challenging the Lebanese Government over there, and the Syrians over there. Nobody seems to be challenging coalition authorities in Iraq. What the hell is happening over here? I mean, it’s just horrendous what’s happening at this point in time in Iraq. Killings after killings, I mean, that’s what I am saying.
Associate Spokesperson: We take note of your point. Yes, Nick?
Question: Do you have any more detail on the Congo ambush? Was the jeep overturned? How was that overturned? And the person who is in critical condition, was that person injured in the overturning of the jeep or the shooting afterwards?
Associate Spokesperson: This is information that; I just took this call from Bunia, as I was coming downstairs. So, what I gave is really all we have for the moment. But, I am sure since it’s a breaking story, we can go upstairs and call together and get some more details. [It was later announced that an updated received from the Mission reported 1 dead, 5 wounded in the attack.]
Any other questions? If not, have a great afternoon.
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