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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

18 May 2005

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

Good afternoon.

**Statement Attributable to Spokesman for Secretary-General

Starting off with a statement from the Secretary-General:

“It is with real regret that the Secretary-General announces the retirement of Kieran Prendergast, who has been Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs since March 1997. He wishes to thank Sir Kieran for his outstanding service in that post over the past eight years, during which he has given invaluable advice on many of the most difficult issues that the United Nations has to confront, as well as conducting many sensitive diplomatic missions and managing one of the Organization’s most important departments.

“Sir Kieran will leave Department of Political Affairs at the end of June, but will remain on staff until the end of the year. After taking accumulated leave owed, at the Secretary-General’s request, Sir Kieran will spend the fall semester as a Goodman Fellow at Harvard University, where he will write a report drawing on his experience at DPA and recommending how the United Nations can best fulfil its responsibilities in the areas of mediation support and conflict resolution.

“Meanwhile, the Secretary-General is reviewing possible replacements for Sir Kieran at the head of DPA. Since his own mandate will only run for a further eighteen months after Sir Kieran’s departure, the Secretary-General’s priority is to find someone already thoroughly familiar with the work of the United Nations, who can ensure full continuity in the leadership of the Department. And he expects to make an announcement shortly on that post.”

**Security Council

Turning to the Security Council, Sir Kieran in fact, briefed Council members on the situation in the Middle East. He said recent events in the Middle East should be seen over time as “a new start on the road towards peace” rather than a “slide back into conflict and violent confrontation”.

In an open meeting, Prendergast expressed the hope that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority will resume in the near future the dialogue they began in Sharm el-Sheik in February. “The doubts and suspicions on both sides may be understandable”, Prendergast said, “but they need to be addressed through constructive engagement and sustained bilateral contacts”.

Israeli disengagement from Gaza should be seen as a “highly significant step”, Prendergast said, but he added, “we are concerned by reports of a slow but steady increase in violent incidents” that have damaged the trust between the parties.

Further delays by Israel in handing over the remaining three Palestinian cities and in releasing prisoners threaten seriously to undermine President Abbas, and the United Nations remains extremely concerned about the continued construction of Israel’s barrier in the West Bank.

Prendergast added that the situation in Lebanon remains fragile despite some recent hopeful signs.

He confirmed that Detlev Mehlis, the Commissioner of the International Independent Investigation Commission into the assassination of Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, will travel to Lebanon shortly, and that his staff will be deployed on a rolling basis in the coming weeks to enable the work of the Commission to proceed as quickly as possible.

He also expressed serious concern about the escalating tensions along the Blue Line in recent days, saying that “while last week’s firing incidents were ultimately contained, the risk was great that events could spiral out of control.” And we have copies of the briefing upstairs.

And Council members are now in closed consultations to continue their discussions on the Middle East.

**James Morris

Turning to Southern Africa, James Morris, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Humanitarian Needs in Southern Africa, will start his fifth trip to the region on Sunday, as southern Africa moves into yet another year of immense humanitarian need.

During his eleven-day mission, Mr. Morris plans to visit four countries -- Zambia, Malawi, Botswana and Zimbabwe -- all four are affected by the “triple threat” of food insecurity, weakened capacity for governance and AIDS. And we have a press release upstairs.

**West Africa

From West Africa, some 6 million people across West Africa’s semi-arid Sahel region face famine after last year’s plague of locusts and drought, which destroyed their crops and grazing land, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) office in Senegal.

The office adds that subsistence farmers across the region have started selling their livestock and eating the seed corn which they were planning to plant this June.

UN agencies have recorded an alarming rise in child malnutrition in Niger, Mali and Mauritania. And we have more information from the Food and Agriculture Organization upstairs.

**Sudan

Turning to Sudan, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno and Jan Pronk, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sudan, are in the Nuba mountains today where they are scheduled to meet with the Commander of the Joint Military Commission.

Meanwhile, the UN mission says it received reports, currently under investigation, that police and security forces surrounded a squatter area outside Khartoum in an attempt to prevent internally displaced persons from leaving the area with the intent of relocating them.

The UN Mission says it is deeply concern at the situation and that that the process by which demolitions, relocations and plot allocations are being carried out constitute human rights violations, including forced return.

And we have more information from the mission available upstairs.

**Iraq

Turning to Iraq, the UN Mission in Iraq, as well as the UN Humanitarian Coordinator’s office for that country, have been working to bring assistance to an estimated 2,000 families that fled the fighting in the Iraqi city of Al Qa’im.

Agencies are delivering initial assistance and assessing needs while monitoring returns to Al Qa’im now that the fighting in the area appears to have ended. Agencies are also pre-positioning food and other items in the region, to expedite distribution to the city, once access is more reliable.

The shortage of ambulances to evacuate severe cases from the city remains a concern, as the hospital’s surgery facilities are reported not to be functioning properly. And we have more details upstairs.

**Lebanon

From Lebanon, the head of the UN’s Electoral Assistance Division, Carina Perelli, announced today that she would extend her stay in Lebanon for an additional week to continue her work.

She and her team, as you will recall, arrived in Beirut on 6 May, and have been conducting an extensive series of meetings with Government officials and political figures regarding the upcoming elections and the provision of technical electoral assistance in the post-election period. And we have more details upstairs on that.

**ICTY

A couple of more items. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia decided yesterday to refer the case against one suspect, Radovan Stankovic, to Bosnia and Herzegovina. This is the first time that the Tribunal has referred one of its indictments to a national jurisdiction. The parties have 15 days to file an appeal. And we have a press release upstairs on that.

**ESCAP

The sixty-first session of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, known as ESCAP ended in Bangkok today.

Among its achievements was the adoption of a landmark resolution to establish a new Regional Training Centre for Information and Communications Technology for Development.

The Centre is expected to open in 2006 in the Republic of Korea. And we have a press release on that upstairs.

**General Assembly

Regarding the General Assembly, we’re told that the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions, known as the ACABQ, will be considering this afternoon the Secretary-General’s report on the Capital Master Plan. The ACABQ will then present its recommendations to the Fifth Committee on Friday morning. The Fifth Committee will have informal consultations on the Capital Master Plan Friday afternoon.

**Background Note on Peacekeeping Operations

And lastly, a new background note on UN peacekeeping operations and political missions is now available upstairs in our office, as well as on the UN website. Among other basic facts, the note points out that there are currently 17 peacekeeping operations. Some 103 countries are currently contributing troops to these operations and we have almost 67,000 military and civilian police personnel. In addition, there are over 13,000 international and local civilian personnel, as well as 1,800 UN Volunteers serving in these 17 operations.

And I think that’s it from me. Any questions? Yes, sir?

**Questions and Answers

Question: There were some speculations that Mr. Secretary-General will send Mr. Prendergast as Special Envoy to Cyprus to have talks with Turkish and Cyprus sides. Can you confirm this information?

Associate Spokesman: As we’ve said, I think in the past, it’s likely that may happen. But, as you know, there are discussions going on right now in New York with the delegation that came from Cyprus. And there was a preliminary exchange of views on substance yesterday afternoon, and the talks are going to be continuing today.

Question: Is there any specific date?

Associate Spokesman: No. I don’t have any. As soon as I have something, we’ll be able to announce it.

Yes, Laura?

Question: About Kieran Prendergast’s replacement, you said that you’ll be announcing something soon. If so, it’s an internal appointment? Are you going to be announcing the candidates or are you just...(interrupted)?

Associate Spokesman: No. The short lists that we had been announcing were only for heads of agencies. It doesn’t cover senior appointments in the Secretariat.

Thank you very much.

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