28/11/2005
Spokesman's Noon Briefing

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

DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICES OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL


AND THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT


Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Pragati Pascale, Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.


Good afternoon and welcome back from, hopefully, what was a restful Thanksgiving break.  I’ll start off with a statement on the situation in Myanmar and the continued detention of Daw Aung San Sui Kyi.


Briefing by Spokesman for Secretary-General


**Secretary-General/ Myanmar


The Secretary-General is deeply disappointed that Myanmar’s authorities have extended the detention, under house arrest, of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, General Secretary of the National League for Democracy (NLD), for another six months.  The Secretary-General reiterates his belief, shared by ASEAN and much of the international community, that her continued detention is not in the interest of Myanmar’s processes of national reconciliation and democratization.  The Secretary-General continues to make his good offices available in helping to address the many challenges faced by Myanmar.  And that statement is available upstairs.


**Security Council


Following a meeting with the countries contributing troops to the UN Operation in Burundi, the Security Council began consultations on Burundi, with a briefing by the head of that mission, Carolyn McAskie.  Miss McAskie discussed the Secretary-General’s recent report, in which he provided his recommendations for possible adjustments to the Burundi Mission’s mandate and force strength, in accordance to progress made on the ground.  Council members were also to discuss recent developments in Côte d’Ivoire during today’s consultations.  Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Hédi Annabi will brief on that topic.


** Darfur


The UN Mission in the Sudan, led by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Jan Pronk, has been devoting its energy to trying to get the two factions of the rebel SLM movement to work together and to negotiate with the Government of the Sudan.  The Abuja peace talks are officially scheduled to begin tomorrow.  Jan Pronk has delivered a message to both SLM factions that Abuja is the only game in town.  The message has gone out to both faction leaders that the United Nations does not play sides.  And that message is:  You have to come together to negotiate for the sake of your people.  And Mr. Pronk is in Abuja as an observer to those talks.


** Iraq


Turning to Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, over the past few days has held talks with a number of Iraqi leaders, including President Jalal Talabani, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafari and former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, to discuss the latest political developments.  During those discussions, he reiterated the United Nations’ commitment to facilitating Iraq’s electoral process to ensure fairness, inclusiveness and transparency.  He also discussed the recent meetings in Cairo to prepare for an Iraqi National Accord Conference early next year.  In his meetings over the weekend with the President and the Prime Minister, Qazi also raised the UN’s concerns over alleged human rights abuses in the Government’s detention centres.  He was told that measures are being taken to rectify that situation.


**Kosovo


Turning to Kosovo, Martti Ahtisaari yesterday wrapped up his first visit to the Balkans since his appointment as Special Envoy for Kosovo’s future status talks.  The week-long visit included stops in Pristina and Belgrade, as well as Montenegro, Albania and The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.  Saying that there was no timeframe or deadline for his mission, Ahtisaari stressed that he did not want to prolong the process a single day longer than necessary.  Ahtisaari will now travel to other capitals for further consultations before he pays another visit to the region early next year.  And we have a press release for those of you who are interested with more details upstairs.


** Liberia


The Secretary-General has sent a letter to the Security Council expressing his intention to appoint Lieutenant General Obiakor of Nigeria as the new Force Commander for the UN Mission in Liberia.  If accepted by the Council, General Obiakor would replace General Owonibi, also of Nigeria, who has served as the force commander since January of this year.  General Obiakor would assume his command on the first of January of 2006.  We have, I think, a bio of him available upstairs.


Keeping on Liberia, we have just been informed by the UN Mission in Liberia that a member of the peacekeeping force there has been accused of rape.  In accordance with the UN zero-tolerance policy for any kind of sexual exploitation and abuse, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Liberia, Alan Doss, has ordered an immediate investigation.  That investigation is being conducted in cooperation with Liberian authorities.


** Alliance of Civilizations


And in Spain over the weekend, the High-Level Group on the Alliance of Civilizations began its first meetings in Mallorca yesterday, and the Secretary-General welcomed the start of its work, in a message delivered by his Special Adviser, Iqbal Riza.  In the message, the Secretary-General says we are experiencing a period of sharply increasing intolerance, extremism and violence, which the High-Level Group is to assess and propose ways to respond.  He says the Group’s overriding goal is that “our common humanity must triumph over perceived differences”.  We have copies of his statements upstairs.


**Secretary-General/Messages


Also upstairs, a couple of other messages from the Secretary-General.  In his remarks to a landmine meeting in Zagreb, excuse me, in remarks sent to a meeting in Zagreb, the Secretary-General said that anti-personnel mines continue to kill and maim civilians, and deny communities the opportunity to rebuild long after conflicts are over.  He urged all nations to join the Mine Ban Convention.  And in a message to the World Tourism Organization meeting in Dakar, Senegal, he said that tourism can be very beneficial to poor and underdeveloped countries.  He calls for efforts to promote truly responsible and sustainable tourism.  And we have a full test of that message upstairs.


** Middle East


And just as a reminder, late Friday we put out a statement expressing the Secretary-General’s satisfaction at the official opening of the Gaza-Egypt border crossing in Rafah, in southern Gaza.  And also on the counter today, we have embargoed copies of the statement the Secretary-General will give at tomorrow morning’s meeting on the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.


**Press Conference


And at 1 p.m. tomorrow, the Permanent Observer of Palestine will hold a press conference here on the subject of promoting the Palestinian cause through dance and cultural events.


That is it for me.  Any questions?  Yes.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Reports are saying that Mr. Mehlis has given guarantees to ... that Syrian officials that were going to be interrogated were not going to be arrested.  Can you confirm this for us?


Spokesman:  No.  The only thing I can tell you about the interviews that Mr. Mehlis will conduct is that they will take place in Vienna.  All other information would come, if it does come, from Mr. Mehlis’ team himself.


Question:  Anything on the reaction of the false witness who made a press conference in Damascus yesterday?  What he said to Mehlis is completely wrong.  That makes two witnesses.  They lied to Mehlis.  What is the outcome?


Spokesman:  The Mehlis Commission issued a press release a short while ago, which we have upstairs, in which they noted that the one witness, Hussam Hussam, had signed a statement on September 1.  He said he had given his testimony voluntarily, without being threatened and without receiving any promises or incentives.  And the Commission asserted that it does not offer, has never offered nor provided any compensation in exchange for information.


Question:  I asked last week about the human rights abuses in Iraq and that Ms. Arbour had also said that there should be an investigation.  And then, of course, I asked about this Special Rapporteur’s visit to China.  What the heck was this thing?  I was informed by my office that no, he would not be going to Iraq.  Why is that?


Spokesman:  The Special Rapporteur is independent and does his own ... sets his own programme.  And I think we’ve, as I just read, Mr. Qazi expressed his concern with about these developments in his meetings with Iraqi officials.


Question:  Ms. Arbour has (inaudible) about international investigations and that has not moved the United Nations to do anything.


Spokesman:  We’ll have to follow up and see what follow-up there is to Ms. Arbour’s call.


Question:  Has the Secretary-General been in touch with Ms. Arbour after she called for an international probe?


Spokesman:  I’m not aware, but I can check on that.


Question:  I was interested in what you said about the Sudan because the talks among rebels and the Government don’t seem to be where the problem is.  The rapes are going on.  The Janjaweed hasn’t been stopped.  Do you foresee another Rwanda with the UN and international community being blamed for mass killing there?  And secondly, the Sudan takes over the presidency of the African Union in January; it’s, as you know, the African Union has a force.  Some of the blue soldiers can’t get supplies in, because of the Government of the Sudan.  Do you see any improvement in the situation, or what does the Secretary-General see as the outlook on this?  It looks rather dim.


Spokesman:  I think I would agree with you it is rather dim.  It’s a multiple-prong approach.  I think we need to support, obviously, the political talks and the political process going on in Abuja.  The Secretary-General, in terms of what has been going on, on the ground, has been pressuring repeatedly the Syrians, excuse me.  I’ll take a Mulligan on that one.  (Laughter.)  He’s been repeatedly pressuring the Sudanese authorities to control the activities of the para-military forces and the Janjaweed on the ground.  He’s also been doing what he can to raise the level of support that he’s given to the African Union forces in terms of the desperately needed tactical airlift capacity that they need.  And he drew the attention to the international community, I think, in his most recent report, to the looming and increasing threat of lawlessness and increased anarchy in parts of Darfur.


Question:  Obviously, that hasn’t worked.  Is he doing anything else?  Or is he just going ... it’s like the Ethiopia report.  Kenzo Oshima made this bold call for continued dialogue between Ethiopians and Eritreans.  Is the Secretary-General going to make another call for renewed dialogue?


Spokesman:  The Secretary-General is following the situation very closely.  It is one he cares very much about.  And I think he’s demonstrated that in the past and no doubt he will be raising his voice, I think, in the near future.


Question:  On the earthquake, OCHA and the UN had been saying for some time that this next wave of disasters, of deaths, would come as winter sets in.  It now looks like the first people are starting to die in Pakistan from the cold.  Does the UN have any response to these first deaths and do you have numbers on how many people are in danger or remain under threat because of the inclement weather?


Spokesman:  No, I don’t have anything with me.  We were trying to get an update from OCHA for the briefing.  We were not able to get one.  We will try to get something for you as soon as possible.


[The Spokesman later said that the UN is concerned by any and all such deaths.  Moreover, these deaths underscore the need to not forget about immediate relief efforts while plans for long-term rehabilitation are ongoing.]


Question:  Which country ...


Spokesman:  You have the right to ask a question.  I’ll be right with you.


Question:  I want to ask.  Which country’s troops did resort to rape in Liberia?


Spokesman:  We don’t have that ... the nationality of the peacekeeper who was accused of rape.  But when we have it, we’ll give that to you.  Yes, Mark, please.


Question: I just wanted to ... have you got any news on the follow-up to the oil-for-food and what’s going to be set up and how it’s going to be managed again?


Spokesman:  No, I don’t have an update for you on that.  Though we will probably have an update for you later this week on the comprehensive survey that we had asked Deloitte and Touche to do of the procurement department as a result of the oil-for food report.  And we hope to have something for you later ... by the end of this week.


Question:  I’m just on some things that were going to be done.  What about this briefing by the IAMB.  Just to understand actually, on the IAMB, why is it that that the UN continues to use Mr. Halbwachs, a guy who’s never around, who’s retired, to be the sort of chair of the group that’s monitoring the spending of oil money in Iraq?  Because a man who never gives any briefings, who never explains what’s going on.  Is this considered ... why is he considered the person who should be heading this rather ...


Spokesman:  Mr. Halbwachs is continuing, as you stated, left his full-time position and he is involved in the IAMB and in the work of all its meetings.  And the drafting of its reports.  We are trying to get them to brief you.  We know ... we are very aware of the lack of the press briefing and we are trying to solve that.  Let me go to Richard.


Question:  A couple of questions.  On Sudan, I mean, you said the Secretary-General intends to raise his voice again.  I mean, I asked him last week, should Sudan be the head of the AU and he said I think it’s up to them.  But at a certain point, when does he bring his moral clout to a story, as The New York Times reports and many others, such violence continues and nobody seems to do anything about it.  Here in the UN, you’re in the international arena.


Spokesman:  I think you could also ask that question of the Member States.  He has been speaking out repeatedly on this issue for a number of months, if not years now.


Question:  Why not a special speech?  Is he going to have a year-end press conference?


Spokesman:  Yes, we’re trying to schedule something for the beginning of, towards around the 19th or 20th of December.  Let me go to someone who hasn’t asked a question.


Question:  I just wanted to ask Steph about a follow-up to Massood’squestion.  So Qazi was told that measures are being taken about the Iraqi prisoner abuse.  Does that mean ... was he satisfied with that answer?  And is Louise Arbour going to be working independent of Qazi?  Or is he going to be working with her to.


Spokesman:  I think you would have to check with Ms. Arbour’s ... what the plan is.  We do have, as part of Mr. Qazi’s team, a number of human rights monitors and they will continue to take a look at this issue and follow-up on what the Iraqi authorities are doing.


Question:  Are they permanent there?


Spokesman:  Yes, as part of his staff there of human rights experts.


Question:  Stéphane, in his message to the meeting on the High-Level Group on the Alliance for Civilizations, the Secretary-General says that the members’ work is not only about the Alliance for Civilizations, but for the global civilization of all members of all societies.  Does he imply or believe that the world is moving towards a global civilization?


Spokesman:  That is a question that is way too philosophical for my pay grade.


Question:  He says himself that global civilization is the work of the alliance.


Spokesman:  I don’t think the Secretary-General would want to see one culture or one civilization.  I think he cherishes the diversity of cultures and civilizations and underscores the need for all of them to work together for our common good.


Question:  What does he mean, then, by global civilization?


Spokesman:  I, you know what, I will get back to you on that one.  Yes?


Question:  On the other crisis, the budget crisis looming now at this point.  Has the Secretary-General had any talks with the Americans or the other Member States on how to overcome the crisis which is impending at this point in time?  It’s not come to a crisis situation, but it will become a crisis ...


Spokesman:  Contacts, I think, have been going on at all levels.  But this is ... we are ... I think the Secretary-General made his position known to you last week ... on the budget.  And for us not to have a budget by the end of the year would be of great concern to us.  Yes, ma’am.


Question:  Anything on the extension of Mr. Mehlis’ mandate.


Spokesman:  Obviously, that would require a new, a change in the Security Council resolution and I think we need to get past his next report before we start discussing that.  Yes, all the way in the back.  Which one wants to speak first.


Question:  I will.  First, on Mehlis.  The meetings ... the interviews in Vienna, is that going to be tomorrow or later this week?


Spokesman:  The only think we know, the only thing we’ve been told by the Mehlis group is that they will take place in Vienna.


Question:  Okay.  And secondly, this might be old news and I apologize, but is there any update on the investigation into Dileep Nair, the former OIOS head?


Spokesman:  No, it’s not old news.  And you need to hold my feet to the fire so I can give you an answer by the end of today.


Question:  I want an answer by the end of today.


[The Spokesman later added that the investigator in that case, Jerome Ackerman, is continuing with his work.  He is currently reviewing written documentation.  At this point, he is not in a position to provide us with a projected end-date for his work.  When more details are available, we will pass them on.]


Spokesman:  Good.  Louis.


Question:  Does Mr. Mehlis plan to meet the SG before December 15, anywhere ... whether here in New York or somewhere else?


Spokesman:  No, I’m not aware of any plans for them to meet before the 15th.


Question:  And Mr. Mehlis is not scheduled to be here in New York before the 15th, is he?


Spokesman:  Not that I’m aware of, no.  Yes?


Question:  Tension is again mounting on the borders of Eritrea-Ethiopia.  What are the latest measures that the United Nations is ...


Spokesman:  I’ll try to give you an update after the briefing.  Thank you very much.


Spokesperson for General Assembly President


The Assembly is meeting in plenary this morning to consider two draft resolutions:  one on oceans and law of the sea, introduced by Brazil, and one on sustainable fisheries, introduced by the United States.  Both are expected to be adopted this afternoon.  The fisheries resolution urges regional fisheries management organizations to take into account biodiversity considerations and incorporate the precautionary approach in their decision-making.


This afternoon, the plenary will begin discussion of the situation in Afghanistan, which will carry over to tomorrow morning, when a draft resolution on that subject is expected to be adopted.  And also, tomorrow we expect action on a draft resolution on public health, to be introduced by China.


On the Human Rights Council, following consultations last week in Geneva by the President and his co-Chairs, today a new compilation paper will be circulated setting out comments received from Governments on the options paper.  Intensive negotiations will begin on Wednesday, to continue on Friday.  Consultations of the plenary on that issue will be held every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the next few weeks in this phase.


Tomorrow morning, the Assembly President will speak at an observance for the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, as Stéphane mentioned, to be held in the Trusteeship Council Chamber.  And in the afternoon, the Assembly will take up in plenary the question of Palestine and the situation in the Middle East.


Question:  How are these resolutions going this year?  All in one day, or are we going to have two weeks of them?  How many Middle East, Palestine resolutions are there?  All of which say the same thing.


Spokesperson:  I think it’s expected to carry over to Wednesday.


Question:  How many resolutions?  Because each President, each year, has tried to combine them and streamline them -– the Middle East and the Palestinian resolutions because they’re one and the same quite often.


Spokesperson:  Okay, I’ll have to check on how many there are.


Question:  Is the resolution to be introduced by China about the pandemic Avian flu?


Spokesperson:  It’s quite a wide-ranging resolution.  It covers some issues having to do with the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals on health, and it also mentions some disease-oriented actions, including on the pandemic.


Question:  On the Human Rights Council’s options paper.  When will you be circulating that?


Spokesperson:  Because it’s a negotiations paper, and it sets out Member States’ viewpoints, the Member States have asked that we not circulate it.


Question:  So, it’s not going to be distributed?


Spokesperson:  No, but I’m mentioning it so that you can perhaps try to get a copy yourself.


Question:  Also, on the budget negotiations, is there news, updates?


Spokesperson:  It’s in the Fifth Committee, and the ACABQ.  You’d have to ask a more particular question, I think.


Question:  Could we have more regular briefings from you or the Secretariat about what is going on, how this is working, what the various meetings are?  Because this is becoming potentially, if things transpire as they could, the worst crisis the UN has been in for a very long time.  A more regular dialogue between you and us, as to what’s happening, who’s talking about what, how the meeting is being managed, would be very helpful.


Spokesperson:  In the Fifth Committee?


Question:  In the Fifth Committee, and whatever else.  Maybe, it’s my fault, but for example, the G77 meeting the other day took me a little bit unaware.  This is going to be a big running story now, as we go towards the end of the year.  There’s going to be lots of questions, lots of interest, and so if you could try and step up press relations on that, that would be great.


Spokesperson:  Okay, and also on management reform.  It’s all part of the same question.


Question:  And they will be useless if we don’t know what bloc of countries says what.  If it’s just the usual obfuscation between positions.


Question:  Would it be possible to have a briefing by the Chairman of the Fifth Committee?


Spokesperson:  I will ask him if he can do that.


Question:  Is the President heading towards -- on the Human Rights Council -– a second draft illuminating some of the options within this week or any particular time?


Spokesperson:  I think this first paper was necessary to represent everyone’s point of view.  And, of course, the next goal is to start narrowing the options.  And they’ll try to do that in the next week or two.


Question:  So no set timetable, in other words, a general goal?


Spokesperson:  I’ll check and see if they have a more specific timetable.


Question:  What’s the latest on the scheduled vote of the Peacebuilding Commission resolution?


Spokesperson:  They’re hoping to have a draft resolution.


Question:  They have a draft resolution.


Spokesperson:  Yes, they have a first version of it, and they’re hoping to have an official version of it, because that one was not officially tabled.  I think they’re aiming to have an agreement by mid-December, and then there would be a week needed to take up the budgetary implications of it.


Question:  The President said that one of the key things in the discussion of the Peacebuilding Commission would be to take examples of countries and how this might apply, and what we’re talking about in real terms, rather than a philosophical UN-level discussion about its nature.  Have there been any papers prepared, or presentations or thoughts, or whatever, talking about what this Peacebuilding Commission might actually do with regard to actual real-world situations?


Spokesperson:  One of the first meetings they had of the consultation group, they included by videoconference -- and some in the room also -- some of the special representatives of the Secretary-General and the heads of some of the peacekeeping missions.  That input was fed into the process, but I have raised this very question with senior officials and with the President’s office, to see if we can get some input from some of the heads of the missions, as to how the Peacebuilding Commission would work so it would be more concrete.


Question:  If we had something saying a Peacebuilding Commission would react like that in a case like this, it would be very helpful.  Is there any input from the General Assembly Secretariat on this?  Are you relying on Member States to provide this?  What about the people in the Secretariat here who are beginning to be identified as possible members of this Peacebuilding secretariat?  Let’s make this real somehow.


Spokesperson:  Yes, I take your point, and I’ll push that.


Question:  Has the President of General Assembly concluded his discussions on reforms of the Security Council or is he continuing behind the scenes?


Spokesperson:  He always says that he’s in listening mode and he understands it’s an urgent issue and he’s continuing to discuss it with Member States behind the scenes.  But we’re not expecting to take any further action on it this year.  Sometime in the next year it will come up again.


Thanks.


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