23/01/2006
Spokesman's Noon Briefing

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

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


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


Good afternoon. As we mentioned to you earlier, Christopher Burnham, the Under-Secretary-General for Management, will be here to provide an update on United Nations procurement issues.


**Democratic Republic of Congo


I have a number of statements. First off, on the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC):


“The Secretary-General is deeply saddened at and condemns the killing earlier today of eight Guatemalan peacekeepers serving with the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) and the wounding of five others, which occurred in the Garamba National Park, about 70 kilometres from the border with Sudan in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The peacekeepers were involved in an operation against suspected elements of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), reported to be present in the park, that have contributed to displace thousands of innocent civilians.


“Following the incident, MONUC immediately launched a search and rescue operation, which has been successfully completed. The Secretary-General expresses deep condolences to the Government of Guatemala, to the families of the deceased soldiers, and to all victims of these tragic developments.


Now just a few more details from the field on this operation: the Guatemalan peacekeepers had been engaged in reconnaissance activities in the Garamba Park in search of Ugandan armed elements of the Lord's Resistance Army, or LRA. They came into contact with armed elements earlier today, and in the ensuing firefight -- which lasted four hours -- they called for the support from the UN Mission’s combat helicopters.


Peacekeepers from the Mission’s Nepalese contingent were airlifted by helicopter into the scene of the fighting to cordon and search the area. The wounded peacekeepers were evacuated to a UN Mission hospital in Bunia, in the country’s north-east.


Separately, Indian peacekeepers serving in the North Kivus came under fire by armed insurgents while on reconnaissance and heading to the city of Rawindi.


They also returned fire in self-defence, and in the firefight that followed, four of the rebels were killed and three were captured. The peacekeepers also captured 20 weapons as well as ammunition and communication equipment.


The peacekeepers had deployed to the area following armed confrontations between soldiers from the DRC’s national army and former soldiers who had refused to take part in the new army integration process.


The UN Mission is sending a humanitarian team to the area to assess the needs of thousands of people who were displaced by the fighting.

** Cyprus


I now have a statement on Cyprus:


“The Secretary-General welcomes the initiative of the British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, to undertake a mission to Cyprus, Greece and Turkey this week.  He remains deeply committed to the search for a comprehensive solution to the Cyprus issue and is confident that Mr. Straw’s mission will complement the active engagement of the United Nations.”


That statement is available upstairs.


**Slovak Air Accident


Also, I have a statement on the death late last week of a number of Slovak soldiers who had been serving in Kosovo:


The Secretary-General was saddened to learn that 42 Slovak soldiers and civilians, serving with NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR), were killed following the crash of a military plane last Thursday in north-eastern Hungary. The Secretary-General extends his profound condolences to the Slovak Government and to the bereaved families and wishes a speedy recovery to the sole survivor of that crash.


** Kosovo


As you know, Kosovo's President Ibrahim Rugova passed away over the weekend. The Secretary-General issued a statement expressing his sadness and noting that Rugova’s death came at a crucial moment of final preparations for the talks on Kosovo's future status.


The Secretary General added that he trusted in the maturity of Kosovo’s institutions and believed that the loss of Mr. Rugova would not disrupt the status process.


We have the full statement available upstairs as well as similar messages from the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Kosovo, Søren Jessen-Petersen, and the Special Envoy for the status process, Martti Ahtisaari, who has decided to delay the decentralization talks that were previously scheduled to take place in Vienna on 25 January, out of respect for the late President.


**Special Representative on Migration and Development


The Secretary-General is delighted to announce that Mr. Peter Sutherland has agreed to act as his Special Representative to assist in the preparation of the high-level dialogue on international migration and development, to be held by the General Assembly in September.


Mr. Sutherland -- a former Attorney General of Ireland, former European Union (EU) Commissioner and former Director-General of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and the World Trade Organization -- is currently Chairman of BP plc.  He has indicated that he wishes his new assignment to be on a pro bono basis. We have a full statement on the appointment, along with Mr. Sutherland’s bio upstairs.


**Palestinian Elections


Over the weekend, the Secretary-General issued a message to the Palestinian people as they approach the legislative election on 25 January, telling them, “This will be an important milestone in your long and difficult history.” He said voting is not just a right but a responsibility, and encouraged all Palestinians to vote this Wednesday.


He said that the Palestinians deserve a free, fair and peaceful election, and that, whether they live in the Gaza Strip or the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, they must be able to exercise their democratic rights. We have that statement upstairs and it is also available on the Web.


**Secretary-General in Geneva


The Secretary-General is in Geneva today, at the start of a trip to Switzerland that will include attendance at the World Economic Forum in Davos later this week.


Today, the Secretary-General received an update on the situation in Côte d’Ivoire from his Special Representative to that country, Pierre Schori, who had stopped in Geneva on his way to New York.


**Security Council


Here in the Security Council, Sukehiro Hasegawa, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Timor-Leste, today briefed the Council on the work of the UN in that country over the past five months.


Hasegawa said that although the Timorese had made progress in all aspects of institution-building, the Council should authorize continued assistance in judicial, prosecutorial and financial levels.


We have Hasegawa’s remarks available upstairs, plus copies of the remarks made by Timor-Leste’s President, Xanana Gusmão.


** Lebanon


Serge Brammertz, the head of the investigation into Rafik Hariri’s assassination, over the last few days has been paying courtesy calls on senior Lebanese officials, following his arrival in Beirut last Thursday.


Mr. Brammertz has also invited his predecessor, Detlev Mehlis, to come to Lebanon, for a formal handover of responsibilities.


** Georgia


Out on the racks is the Secretary-General’s latest report on the situation in Abkhazia, Georgia. In it, the Secretary-General calls “encouraging” the fact that the Georgian and Abkhaz sides have exchanged joint draft documents on the non-resumption of hostilities and the return of refugees and internally displaced persons. The Secretary-General hopes that these exchanges will lead to a meeting between the sides at the highest level.


**African Union Summit


In a message to today’s African Union (AU) Summit Meeting in Khartoum, Sudan, the Secretary-General says that this year brings huge challenges, with the situation between Ethiopia and Eritrea causing acute concern, the conflict in Northern Uganda leading to one of the worst humanitarian tragedies in the world, and violent disturbances in Cote d'Ivoire endangering the fragile peace process there.


Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) has issued its own message to the gathering, calling on African leaders and international donors to boost their support for the fight against hunger in Africa.  Nearly $2 billion in food aid will be required in 2006 to stave off widespread hunger and starvation, according to WFP.


**UN Humanitarian Appeals


In other appeals today, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has asked for $805 million to assist children and women in 29 humanitarian emergencies worldwide, and -- separately -- the UN country team in Ethiopia has joined in an emergency request for non-food aid for that country. We have more information on those two appeals available upstairs.


**Holocaust Remembrance


AS you know, the International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust will be observed this Friday. This whole week, the Department of Public Information (DPI) will be holding events to mark the occasion, including an art exhibit, a movie screening and a candlelight vigil. For more details, please see the Week Ahead and the Note to Correspondents.


**Press Conferences


At 11:15 a.m. tomorrow, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, José Antonio Ocampo, will launch the UN flagship economic report:  World Economic Situation Prospects 2006.


At noon, António Manuel de Oliveira Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) will be here following his briefing to the Security Council.


That is it for me. Are there any questions?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Is there a team from the legal department preparing to go to Lebanon to assist Mr. Brammertz?


Spokesman:  Yes.  We are making preparations to send a legal team to Beirut to work with the authorities in compliance with the latest resolution, which calls for the UN to help the Lebanese in working out the international character of any tribunal that would try the suspects in Mr. [Rafik] Hariri’s killing. We do expect an announcement in that at some point during the week.


Question:  And the head of that team?


Spokesman:  As I said, we will announce that at some point during the week.


Question:  What is the status of the oil-for-food documents?


Spokesman:  The mandate of the Office of the Independent Inquiry Committee (IIC) has been extended through the end of March, if I’m not mistaken, which allows the national judicial authorities who are interested in pursuing any investigations to have full access to them. Meanwhile, in parallel, we are continuing our talks with the IIC on the handling of those documents in the best possible way after that. 


Question:  What about press access to those documents?


Spokesman:  Well, as of now, if you want to access the documents, you would have to go through Mr. [Paul] Volcker’s office. We will try to find a way to make the documents as accessible as possible, keeping in mind the confidential nature of some of the government documents that are within Mr. Volcker’s possession. But as I said, those discussions are ongoing, and I don’t want to preclude or prejudge the outcome.


Question:  The UN documents you’ll be happy to release, right?


Spokesman:  I do not want to prejudge or preclude the outcome of those discussions.


Question:  In the courtesy calls by Brammertz in Lebanon, did he meet with any politician representing Hizbollah?


Spokesman:  My understanding is that he met with the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the House and the President of Lebanon. Those were the three calls. So I guess the answer is no.


Question:  What is the status of [Jerome] Ackerman’s inquiry into [former Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services] Dileep Nair that began in July?


Spokesman:  Nothing from the last update I gave you, which is that Mr. Ackerman is going about his work and he is not in a position to give us an end date to that effort.


Question:  Is this an open-ended inquiry?


Spokesman:  He is the master of his investigation and he is not, at this point, in a position to give us an end date.


Question:  Couple of quick questions. The President of Syria over the weekend was talking about cooperating with the UN investigation. At this moment, does the UN team have any word on whether President Assad will agree to an interview?


Spokesman:  I think you would have to ask that question of them.


Question:  And what is the reason the Congo Major General [Patrick Cammaert] could not be here today while this is happening? I realize he is still getting info, but this would have been a good news day.


Spokesman:  From your mouth to God’s ear.


Question:  What is happening with UN peacekeeping, whether in Haiti, Ivory Coast or DRC? Once again, are these missions not properly staffed to deal with local combat in areas that are still not at peace?


Spokesman:  I think all of those missions are very different. The UN peacekeepers in the eastern Congo operate in a very hostile environment and were actively trying to find elements of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).  Unfortunately, it is the nature of their work that poses great risk to peacekeepers.


Question:  Has the OIOS procurement peacekeeping report been handed over to the Member States yet?


Spokesman:  It is available to the Member States, and Mr. Burnham will be able to address that for you.


Question:  I just talked to Kojo Annan’s lawyers again today and still don’t have an answer as to where the Mercedes is, so I’d just like to renew my appeal to the Secretary-General, as the owner of the car, to tell us where the “Volcker report Mercedes” is.


Spokesman:  I have nothing to add to what we’ve already said about that.


Question:  I’d also like to know a little bit more about the circumstances under which Cotecna won the 1992 Oil-for-Food inspection contract. You’ve said from this podium, that Kofi Annan -- who was Controller at the time -- had nothing to do with it.  But in the Volcker report, it says that Cotecna actually sent their application to Kofi Annan and he forwarded it to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which was giving out the contracts. Is that a breach of procedure for a UN official to forward an application for a contract on a company’s behalf? Wouldn’t that be showing partiality to a contractor? Why did he not just tell them that he was the wrong person to ask and that they should just apply to the right person?


Spokesman:  Again, I have nothing to add to the volumes and pages of the Volcker investigation.


Question:  Was Cotecna the only company Kofi Annan helped to get a contract in 1992?


Spokesman:  James, I have absolutely nothing to add.


Any other questions?  Thank you.


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For information media • not an official record