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Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

29 August 2005

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

Good afternoon. I’ve just been told that there’s a cell phone on in this room, so if you can turn it off, we’d be grateful. Thank you.

**General Assembly

Here at UN Headquarters, the General Assembly office tells us that the “core group” established by General Assembly President Jean Ping to advance the work on the draft outcome document for next month’s summit on UN reform will hold its first meeting at 3:30 this afternoon. The meeting is closed. We will make the list of the members of the group available to you later this afternoon.

**SG on Iraqi Constitution

Over the weekend, the Secretary-General issued a statement welcoming the completion of the new draft constitution of Iraq.

In a statement Sunday, he also urged all Iraqi communities and political entities to continue to work together in a spirit of national reconciliation, through a fully inclusive and transparent political process in the period leading up to the national referendum on the new constitution.

We have copies of the statement upstairs and you’ll also find it on the Spokesman’s website.

**Afghan Opium Cultivation

And turning to Afghanistan, today in Kabul, Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released new statistics for Afghanistan’s opium cultivation, production and eradication.

According to the report, opium cultivation in Afghanistan has decreased by 21 per cent, thanks to the Afghan Government’s success in persuading farmers to refrain from poppy cultivation and current market conditions in the country, among other things. At the same time, however, Afghanistan remains the largest supplier of opium to the world.

For its part, UNODC is channelling funds to promote rural development in Afghanistan, as a deterrent to drug cultivation. And Costa has stated that democracy may never come of age in Afghanistan as long as half of the national income is generated by opium.

We have upstairs a press release, as well as additional materials on the subject by the UNODC.

**Security Council – Timor-Leste

Here at Headquarters, the Security Council held an open meeting and then consultations on Timor-Leste today. The Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Timor-Leste, Sukehiro Hasegawa, briefed the members of the Council on the work of the UN office there since its establishment in May of this year.

Among other things, he reported on successful local elections. He said there was a growing momentum for parliamentary and presidential elections in 18 months.

The Council discussed the report of the Secretary-General, in which he places a special emphasis on setting up a framework for sustainable development assistance before the UN office’s mandate expires in May of next year.

We have Mr. Hasegawa’s statement upstairs and the Secretary-General’s report is out on the racks as a document.

**OCHA – Zimbabwe

Turning to Zimbabwe, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that the UN country team met with Zimbabwean Government officials today to discuss the way forward with respect to the flash humanitarian appeal to assist those in need.

The two sides, according to OCHA, reached agreement to establish a joint committee at the working level, which is scheduled to work over the next few days to develop a new draft of the appeal.

We expect to have news towards the end of the week on the outcome of this process.

** Ethiopia

Martti Ahtisaari, former President of Finland and the Secretary General’s Special Envoy for the Humanitarian Crisis in the Horn of Africa, yesterday wrapped up his one-week mission to Eritrea and Ethiopia.

Speaking in Addis Ababa, he said that reaching all those in need of assistance must remain the basic aim of the Ethiopian Government and its partners as the country moves through a transition period.

He also said he was pleased that Ethiopia is working to increase its self-reliance in food security through various long-term programmes.

We have a press release on Mr. Ahtisaari’s visit upstairs.

** Sudan

On Sudan, the UN Mission there reports a series of incidents over the last few days in South Darfur, including various lootings of commercial trucks and unconfirmed attacks on several villages.

The Mission notes that attacks on trucks, including UN contracted ones, banditry and looting are regularly reported in all three states of Darfur.


On Kosovo, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Søren Jessen-Petersen, has strongly condemned Saturday’s shooting incident in Kosovo, in which two Kosovo Serb men were murdered and two others injured. Saying he was shocked and appalled by the senseless and tragic crime, Jessen-Petersen also urged restraint and said that it was now up to the police to act.

There’s a press release upstairs on that subject.

Also on the subject of the Kosovo police, the Mission reports that its police and the Kosovo Police Service have arrested two international police officers. The pair is accused of smuggling people illegally into Kosovo. Four foreign nationals were also arrested, and they were charged with possession of falsified documents and entering Kosovo illegally.

** Beijing Conference Anniversary

The Secretary-General has called for a redoubling of efforts to make into reality the commitments pledged in the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action. The two items deal with recognizing gender equality and the empowerment of women as a key to development, peace and human rights.

His comments were part of a message delivered in Beijing today by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, on his behalf to the tenth anniversary commemoration of the Fourth World Conference on Women.

We have copies upstairs of that statement, as well as another statement delivered at the same event by UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman.

**Polio Immunization

The UN Children’s Fund and the World Health Organization report today that some 24 million children in Indonesia will be immunized against polio tomorrow and Wednesday. Some 225 children in Indonesia have been paralysed by the disease since March.

Indonesia had been declared polio-free in 1995 but an infant boy came down with the disease in March. Since then polio has spread to at least four provinces. Some 750,000 health workers will administer the vaccinations starting tomorrow.

According to UN statistics, 18 countries that were previously polio-free countries have now been re-infected.

A press release is available on this subject upstairs as well.

**SG Letter on DRC

One additional item -- out on the racks today is a letter from the Secretary-General to the President of the Security Council regarding the provision of logistical support for elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In it, the Secretary-General says that it is his intention to begin immediately to provide this support pending Council approval of a recommendation he made in this respect in a special report of the 26th of May.

And that’s all I have for you today. Any questions for me?

**Questions and Answers

Question: I just wanted to ask you about Mr. Ahtisaari’s visit to the Horn of Africa. In his statement, did he say anything about the Government of Eritrea requesting that USAID leave the country?

Deputy Spokesman: He did not directly comment on the development, but I do have something from the Humanitarian Affairs Office, OCHA, on that. OCHA is concerned that the withdrawal of USAID could have a negative impact on humanitarian assistance in Eritrea, as it could discourage greater contributions from other traditional donors and would also affect development programmes.

Despite the fact that the United States will continue to provide food aid, OCHA will closely monitor the situation in order to avoid any gaps in the provision of assistance to Eritrea’s vulnerable populations.

You may want to follow up with OCHA for more information on that.

Question: I just want to put on the record that Reuters in Iraq now has Iraqi journalists, one killed, one injured, one jailed, all in the last week. There are now more journalists killed in Iraq than in the 20 years in Viet Nam, in the two and a half years in Iraq. This is, in our case, due to the US military. I realize there’s no response from the UN yet, but eventually it will become your problem. I just want to put that on the record.

Deputy Spokesman: We have put your question to the appropriate places for response, and on the killing of the journalist though, I would like to put on the record that the Secretary-General does condemn the killing of journalists trying to do their work.

And in response to another question I think Edie had last week, just to let you know that we are trying to organize a briefing on security and logistical arrangements by security and from media accreditation. We’re trying to do this on Thursday, but I have to double-check and confirm. But this is to flag to you that we’re trying to plan something later this week.

Question: Just on the security thing... during the whatchamacallit, the drill last week, I wandered off to 38th Street like everyone else, so I met Farhan, who mentioned that there was meant to be this procedure where journalists gathered across the street, and it was meant to be this emergency journalists centre in UNDP.

So I went back to just go and have a look and see the place where I was meant to assemble. I was on the corner of that street, on the south-east corner of First Avenue and 42nd, trying to cross the street and a guard stopped me and said, “No, you can’t go there, you have to go back to 38th.” And I said, “Well, I’ve been told there’s a journalists gathering point over there.” He said, “Well, you’re not going.” So I said, “Oh, well, then I’ll just cross here.”

So I moved to cross, he ran up to me, grabbed me by the scuff of my neck, grabbed this [points to his ID], and then started shouting at me for non-cooperation and taking my number and all the rest of it. Now I can’t even get into some stupid guard’s actions, but it’s kind of weird that the place that under the security evacuation system that I am meant to go to, some guard is practically bashing me up for trying to go there.

And I’m wondering, do you actually have a plan or not for what happens to journalists because the other simple fact is, in a security situation journalists also need to report. And there’s always a tension between the security issue and the reporting issue. But journalists have the right to report, that’s our job. We don’t want to be bundled into 38th Street on some bus by some overzealous, aggressive, under-trained, idiotic guard.

So what I’m wondering is, do you guys ... what is the system, are you going to have an emergency centre there ‘cause it’s going to be quite relevant...

Deputy Spokesman: Our understanding is that there is a journalists’ meeting point and generally we do have somebody from our Office assigned to it. I understand that this did not happen during the last drill. I did not know in such detail your plight and I’m sorry for that. But we have raised that matter with the head of security and those planning it. Yes, they should be made aware...

Question: Where are we meant to assemble and can someone make this clear?

Deputy Spokesman: We will try to get that in writing and sent out to you so that next time, we have a much clearer picture of where everybody should be.

Question: And just one other question on the evacuation. Is there any move to address what looks like a potentially very dangerous bottleneck with people streaming out the front door here and out the side entrance there, all clashing at that gate, which created a huge crowd of people that couldn’t move very much? Is there a plan to address that?

Deputy Spokesman: I think that was noted. And, of course, one of the things that drills are for is to look at what did and what did not work. So I think that was definitely noted.

Question: In fact, that was such a small exit and entrance. You had a hundred security guards around, nobody there to tell people... there was not enough space for people to move out.

Can you tell us about Mr. Christopher Burnham? When is he going to come and tell us about his management reform plans?

Deputy Spokesman: I believe Mr. Burnham is on leave until tomorrow. We have asked him to come. He has promised to do a briefing in early September. He wanted to do it after the arrival of the new head of the Capital Master Plan. So I will definitely follow up when he returns tomorrow.

Question: On the newly established group working on the draft outcome document, do you know what procedure was followed in the selection of the members? Was it through geographical groups or some other procedure?

Deputy Spokesman: As I mentioned to you, this is something that is being done as we speak. The General Assembly group will be meeting this afternoon and our hope is that we can get somebody from the General Assembly involved in this process to be able to explain to you further down the line. But let’s wait until this process starts this afternoon.

There are no further questions? Have a good afternoon. Thank you.

* *** *
For information media • not an official record

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