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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

24 June 2005

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

Good afternoon. I’m sorry I’m a little late.

Immediately following the briefing today, we will have a background briefing by a senior UN official on a letter of the Secretary-General to the heads of State and government of the Group of Eight. As you know, the G-8 summit will be taking place early next month in Gleneagles.

**Security Council – Afghanistan

Recent months in Afghanistan have been marked by negative developments in the security situation, including violent attacks by extremists, Jean Arnault, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for that country, told the Security Council today.

He drew the Council’s attention to the consequences a climate of violence would have on the country’s political transition and the legislative elections to be held this September.

Arnault also noted progress on the electoral front, including a generally calm process of nominations for candidates last month.

Antonio María Costa, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, also spoke to the Council, saying that his Office estimates that opium cultivation in Afghanistan will decline this year. But that drop has been uneven nationwide, he added.

We have both of those statements upstairs.

The Council followed its open meeting on Afghanistan with consultations on the same topic.

**Security Council - Other

The Security Council began its programme this morning by unanimously adopting a resolution extending the mandate of the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire and the French forces in that country by seven months, until 24 January.

The Council also authorized an increase in the UN Mission’s military component of up to 850 additional personnel, as well as an increase of up to 725 civilian police and additional civilian personnel.

The Security Council also accepted a proposal, made earlier this week in a letter from the Secretary-General, to free up from the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission’s escrow account more than $220 million. Of that amount, $200 million is to go to the Development Fund for Iraq, and more than $20 million is to be used by Iraq to pay its arrears to the United Nations.

**Secretary-General’s Meeting with President Gbagbo

Also regarding Côte d’Ivoire, the Secretary-General, on his schedule as you know, will be meeting with President Laurent Gbagbo at 3:30 p.m. today. President Gbagbo is expected to meet with the press afterwards, at the stakeout position on the second floor. We will squawk before he goes down for that stakeout opportunity.

**Kyrgyzstan

Turning to Kyrgyzstan, Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees Kamel Morjane is scheduled to leave tomorrow -- that’s Saturday -- for Kyrgyzstan to seek a suitable solution for some 450 Uzbek asylum seekers whose fate remains very uncertain.

This week, the UN refugee agency says it has had to redouble efforts to prevent their forcible return. We are especially concerned for 29 of the asylum seekers who are being kept in detention in Osh, away from the rest of the group, and who are under imminent threat of being sent back to Uzbekistan.

Morjane is expected to remain in Kyrgyzstan for three days and will meet with Kyrgyz officials to find an acceptable solution for this worrisome situation.

As you will recall, the Secretary-General issued a statement two days ago, on Wednesday, appealing to the Government of Kyrgyzstan to strictly abide by its international obligations in the treatment of asylum seekers, and urging the Government of Uzbekistan to refrain from any action aimed at ensuring forcible return of Uzbek asylum seekers to their country.

**Statement Attributable to the Spokesman on Death of Sissel Ekaas

We have a statement attributable to the Spokesman on the death of a former senior UN official:

“The Secretary-General was deeply saddened to learn of the death of Ms. Sissel Ekaas, former Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE). Ms. Ekaas passed away in her home country of Norway as a result of serious illness.

“Before her laudable service with UNMEE, Ms. Ekaas had a distinguished career in the Food and Agriculture Organization and the United Nations Development Programme, as well as her country’s Government. The Secretary-General extends his profound condolences to Ms. Sissel Ekaas’ family. She is warmly remembered by colleagues in the UN family, and she will be deeply missed.”

**Sudan

Turning to Sudan, as a follow-up to his visit to Sudan, the Secretary-General today is sending a letter to the Security Council calling their attention to the urgent need for additional donor support for Sudan. The outstanding needs for the remainder of the year, he will tell them in that letter, are expected to exceed $1 billion, and unless the gaps are covered quickly, he is very concerned that grave humanitarian consequences will follow and the long awaited peace in Sudan may be threatened.

**Liberia

On Liberia, the Secretary-General’s most recent report is out. He says that Liberia has made encouraging progress over the past three months, including its successful voter registration exercise and gains in strengthening the police force. But there are still significant challenges that need to be addressed urgently, including dealing with disruptions by ex-combatants who are resorting to violence.

He says that the remaining six months of the transition period are most important for laying the foundations for a peaceful and democratic Liberia. Any efforts to disrupt the electoral process should be expeditiously addressed.

He also recommends that the Security Council give favourable consideration to the authorization of an additional formed police unit of 120 officers for an interim period of six months.

The Council is scheduled to take up Liberia in consultations on Monday.

**Nigeria-Cameroon

Now turning to Nigeria and Cameroon, the Chairman of the Cameroon–Nigeria Mixed Commission, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, issued a statement today, in which he condemned the recent incidents in the Bakassi peninsula, which resulted in the death of one Cameroonian soldier and the wounding of another.

Urging an immediate return to calm, he said he trusted that Nigeria would conduct an investigation into the matter. He also announced that he would visit the Nigerian and Cameroonian capitals over the weekend to find out more about what happened.

There’s a full statement from Mr. Ould-Abdallah’s office upstairs in the Spokesman’s Office.

**Zimbabwe

Turning to Zimbabwe, the UN Children’s Fund, or UNICEF, has urgently appealed for nearly $3 million, to continue its assistance to the children and women affected by “Operation Restore Order”. Saying that it is “virtually impossible” to reach everyone involved, the agency has also expressed concern that large numbers of children are now out of school.

Currently, UNICEF is providing more than 25,000 litres of water each day to the displaced. It has also handed out blankets, cooking pots, plastic sheeting and toys. In addition, the agency has been working to improve sanitation facilities, provide psychosocial support, and reunite displaced children with their families.

We have a press release on that.

We also have a press release on unusually high rates of malnutrition among Sudanese refugees in two camps in western Ethiopia.

**Head of Office of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

The new UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, will be in New York from Monday to Wednesday on his first visit to the Secretary-General since his recent appointment.

In addition to briefing the Secretary-General on his recent visit to Uganda, he will address the opening session of the high-level Economic and Social Council meeting on Wednesday.

Guterres will also meet with other senior UN officials. We have asked him to come and talk to you as well, and we’ll let you know when that will happen. [She later announced that Mr. Guterres would be speaking to the press on Monday.]

**Panama

UNHCR has today called on the Panamanian Government to grant refugee status to more than 800 Colombians who have been living in the country under a precarious temporary status for six years. Refugee status will enable them to integrate in legal and economic terms.

There’s more on that in a press release upstairs.

**Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operation - Haiti

We also learned that Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno will finish his trip to Haiti over the weekend.

During his visit, Mr. Guéhenno met with government officials including the President and Prime Minister of the Transitional National Government, as well as with members of civil society, including key religious and NGO leaders.

**General Assembly – Secretary-General’s Speech to Informal Hearings

Just to flag this afternoon, the Secretary-General intends to speak this afternoon before the General Assembly’s informal hearings with civil society, and to tell them his hope that the hearings that have taken place yesterday and today herald a more open interaction between Member States and non-State actors.

He is expected to talk about the broad range of themes that have been brought forward by non-governmental organizations.

I just mentioned that the General Assembly’s informal interactive hearings are continuing today, and will conclude this afternoon after statements by both the Secretary-General and the General Assembly President. A press briefing will be given here in a little over an hour, at 1:30, by four NGO representatives serving as rapporteurs for the hearings.

**General Assembly – Financing for Development

Then, next week, the General Assembly will hold a High-Level Dialogue on Financing for Development. The event offers an opportunity for governments to build momentum for the development package that is being assembled internationally in support of the Millennium Development Goals.

We mentioned that General Assembly President Ping and the Secretary-General will deliver opening statements at 10 a.m. Monday in the General Assembly Hall. They will be followed by national ministers, and 27 have confirmed so far.

A series of round table discussions scheduled for Tuesday as part of the High-Level Dialogue were originally designated as closed meetings, but we are pleased to announce that, taking into account the concerns expressed by some of you yesterday, the round tables will now be open to the press.

The press kits for the High-Level Dialogue are being distributed right now, and should be available in the Spokesman’s Office.

**Press Conferences

Just to recap, at 1:30, there will be a press briefing here by civil society spokespersons to discuss the General Assembly hearings of the 23 and 24 June, followed by a 2:15 briefing on the informal, interactive hearings of the General Assembly with NGOs and the private sector.

[An updated press conference programme was later announced as follows: There is an update of the press conferences for Monday 27 June. The new High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres will be a guest at the noon briefing. At 2:00 p.m. Hilary Benn, the United Kingdom Secretary of State for International Development, will discuss Financing for Development. Then at 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. we are expecting a briefing by French Finance Minister Thierry Breton. We will let you know as soon as the exact time is confirmed.]

**Access to GuantánamoBay

Finally, we were asked yesterday for a reaction to the question of access to GuantánamoBay and other areas for human rights experts. As you know, this is an initiative taken by the independent experts. The Secretary-General is concerned that human rights be applied universally and uniformly and he hopes that this matter can be resolved to allow the experts full access to wherever they need to go.

That’s all I have for you. We have the “Week Ahead” for your planning purposes.

Before we get to the background briefing on the Secretary-General’s letter to the G-8, do you have any questions for me?

**Questions and Answers

Question: On the issue of Guantánamo, how much practical support is the Secretary-General giving to the UN investigators on their request to visit Guantánamo?

Associate Spokesperson: I don’t have anything further than this right now. The four experts yesterday issued a fairly lengthy press release, and we were asked for the Secretary-General’s reaction to their reaction. He has just returned from mission, and this is a first reaction we’re getting from him. I’m sure he is learning more about what has happened, you know.

Question: Just a second one, if I may, on an issue that Edith Lederer raised yesterday on the selection of the new provider of telecommunication services at the UN. We’ve heard there are going to be job cuts. Do you have any idea how that is going to affect us, members of the press corps, who are working in radio and television?

Associate Spokesperson: The short answer is that the Department of Public Information has assured us that there will be no change whatsoever in any UN televisions services. As for the contractor you are referring to, just by way of background, the contractor was switched as a result of competitive bidding.

In response to the question Edie had raised, it is not up to the Secretary-General to retain the current workers, since they are not UN staff members. They are staff hired by this contractor. The matter is now between the new contractor and a local labour union.

Question: The Secretary-General is supposed to meet with Mr. [Chinmaya] Gharekhan today at 2:45. Just a quick question for you. Why was the meeting cancelled, and do you know when Mr. Gharekhan was appointed to his post or any other background information on him? Will they be meeting again?

Associate Spokesperson: I’ll find out for you. [The Associate Spokesperson later said that Mr. Gharekhan was an envoy of India -- not the UN. Thus, any questions about this appointment should be directed to the Indian Mission. As to why the appointment was now not taking place, the Associate Spokesperson said that Mr. Gharekhan had cancelled because he was not feeling well.]

Question: Mr. Guéhenno is visiting Haiti at a time when there are questions about the effectiveness of the troops there. Are we going to have a chance to see Mr. Guéhenno and talk to him on his return?

Associate Spokesperson: We’ll ask him.

Question: I don’t know what Edie’s question was, but there have been some questions brought to the Final Call [publication] in reference to the engineers. Out of the 68 engineers under the private contractor, five of them were black. I was told, and the words that were used were that the UN had put out a hit list. Two of those blacks are being let go, so the question that the Final Call has to answer is what’s going on?

Is the Secretary-General … I know that’s outside of his purview, but it would seem kind of weird if out of the 68, you’ve only got five [blacks] to begin with. What’s going on? Why would the UN put out a hit list? You just said it’s something that’s outside the purview of the SG, but that’s not what I’m being told.

Associate Spokesperson: You just answered the question. I mean, it is outside the purview of the United Nations. They are not UN workers, and it really is a matter between the contractor … and their staff. They are going through interviews, I am told, of all the staff, and it’s their call.

Question: On the same thing, you say it’s between the contractor and the staff, but the contractor is acting on behalf of the United Nations. The staff members have UN passes, which expire on June 30. So you can’t quite say that the UN is “hands off” on this because whatever is done between the two parties affects the UN. That’s the first question. How can you say this is not your business?

Second of all, how can they ensure that there’s no interruption in service if the contract and their passes expire on the same day. What happens Friday morning when they don’t have passes to get in?

Associate Spokesperson: The Department of Public Information has assured me that they expect a smooth transition and they expect no interruption of service. As for your point about passes, that’s probably a technicality. They probably need to get into the building. But as far as legal status is concerned, they are not UN staff members, and that’s why my previous statement holds. I don’t have anything beyond this.

Question: But it’s not a technicality. If your pass expires, you don’t get into the building. If they don’t get into the building, they don’t work. You think that there’s going to be an uninterrupted flow of services if somebody has to do those services and those people don’t have valid passes? That means that someone else has to have valid passes, which has to be done faster than when I was …

Associate Spokesperson: I’m sure you can raise this with the head of DPI’s services that deals with this issue for those kinds of details. But they have assured me and everyone else that there will be no interruption and that there will be a smooth transition, and that they’re happy with the new contractor.

There are no other questions? We’ll have a brief pause before the senior official can sit up here and not be seen by us, only heard. Okay?

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