14/02/2006
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.


We hope to have as our guest today the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Kosovo, Søren Jessen-Petersen.  He has finished briefing the Security Council a short while ago, but there is a chance he might not be here in time before the end of the briefing, in which case he will speak to you outside at the Security Council stakeout area.


** Haiti


The UN Mission in Haiti says the situation on the ground in Port-au-Prince is calmer today, with fewer reports of demonstrations.  Around 92 per cent of the tally sheets have been brought to the tabulation centre in the capital – Port-au-Prince -- although the demonstrations have affected the counting.  The UN Mission is calling on demonstrators to keep in mind that their activities are affecting the tabulation of the results, as tabulation centre employees have been reluctant to come to work given the protests.


**Security Council


The Security Council this morning received a briefing in its closed consultations on the developments in Haiti from Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hédi Annabi.  The Council later unanimously extended the mandate of the peacekeeping mission in that country until 15 August.  Council members also supported in its resolution the Secretary-General’s recommendations in his recent report on Haiti and requested that the Secretary-General report to the Council on whether to restructure the UN Mission’s mandate after the new Government takes office.


US Ambassador John Bolton, in his capacity as President of the Security Council for this month, also read out a statement to the press on Haiti, in which Council members commended the Haitian people for their commitment to democracy and encouraged all parties to remain calm as the final results of the elections are certified.  They strongly urge all parties to respect the results of the elections and refrain from violence.


The Council, as I have mentioned to you, also heard a briefing from Søren Jessen-Petersen on the recent developments in Kosovo. The Special Representative told Council members that the pace of implementation of standards, including those on minority rights, has slowed in recent months.  He also urged all parties in Kosovo to work together on decentralization.


Earlier today, the Council also heard a briefing in its closed consultations on Iraq from Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Angela Kane.  After that, the Council adopted a presidential statement welcoming the announcement of the certified election results for the Iraqi Council of Representatives.  The Security Council members stressed the importance of inclusiveness, national dialogue and unity as Iraq’s political development moves forward.


**Secretary-General in Washington


And as you know, the Secretary-General was in Washington yesterday. After a private lunch with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary-General went to the White House for a meeting with US President George W. Bush.  During the meeting, which lasted close to an hour, the Secretary-General and the President discussed a wide range of issues, including UN reform, the Middle East, Iraq and Sudan.


Before returning to New York, the Secretary-General met with Senator Richard Lugar, who, as many of you know, is the Chairman of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee.


** Darfur


Regarding Darfur, the Secretary-General told reporters at the White House, after he met with the President, that he and President Bush had agreed that the next force in the war-torn region needs to have mobility both in the air and on the ground.  He said, “the President and I agree that we should work together with the international community to make sure this happens.”


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sudan, Jan Pronk, spent the day in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for consultations with the African Union on planning scenarios relating to the decision of the African Union Peace and Security Council on the transition of the AU Mission in Sudan to a UN operation in Darfur.  Meanwhile, contingency planning for the possible transition to a UN force is also under way here at the UN Headquarters.


And as the Secretary-General said, once we define the requirements, then we will approach the Governments to see specifically what each of them will do in terms of troops, equipment, communications material and other force multipliers.


**Secretary-General at Princeton


This afternoon and tomorrow, the Secretary-General will be at Princeton University, where he will participate in the Global Colloquium of University Presidents.  This will be the second time that the Secretary-General has met with university presidents from around the world as part of his effort to increase the exchange of ideas between the United Nations and academia.  He will tell university leaders that one of his long-standing concerns has been to encourage the exchange of ideas between parts of the world and to encourage institutions in the global South to play their part.


He will make remarks to the university presidents this evening about the reform process under way here at the UN and efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.  And we will put out embargoed copies of his remarks in our Office a bit later this afternoon.


The Secretary-General will also take part in panels about social benefits and global public goods tomorrow.  And the keynote at tomorrow’s event in Princeton will be the head of the United Nations Development Programme, Kemal Dervis.


**UNHCR


Meanwhile from Burundi, the UN refugee agency today reports that a growing number of Burundians have been crossing the border into Tanzania over the past few days.  Some 3,500 Burundians have fled their country since the start of the year and the number keeps growing at an average rate of 100 new arrivals a day, the agency said.  The living conditions in some of the way stations are not good, according to the UNHCR.  The refugee agency says the Burundians are being driven out by a lack of food and growing insecurity in their home country.  They are arriving showing signs of malnutrition.  And they say one infant, in fact, died last week.  UNHCR is already assisting some 350,000 refugees in Tanzania, and 195,000 of them are Burundians.


We have more from the Geneva briefing notes upstairs.


And a couple of other mentions:


The United Nations Children’s Fund today appealed to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to cease the recruitment of children and to release all children within their ranks.  And we have more upstairs on that.


And the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime today called for sustained international support for former opium farmers in Laos to ensure that poverty does not force them to re-start cultivation of the drug.


And that is actually it for me.  And I’ll take some of your questions now.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  I’d like to know your reaction to this New York Times story that the United States and Israel are planning to starve out the Palestinian Authority in order to force them to have another election, in order to undermine Hamas.


Spokesman:  No, we will not comment on unsourced stories.  The Secretary-General has made his viewpoint on the situation in the Palestinian territories clear in previous statements.


Question:  Can you tell us if President Bush questioned the Secretary-General yesterday about the new report on human rights in Guantanamo, and if so, what was the Secretary-General’s comment?


Spokesman:  Secretary-General’s comments ... the issue did come up and the Secretary-General’s comments were exactly those he gave to the press, in which he said that he had not yet read the report, which is scheduled to come out later this week.  And it is one done by independent rapporteurs.


Question:  While Mr. Annan was in Washington and met with President Bush, did he speak specifically about the assassination of Rafic Hariri -- the first anniversary and the outcome of what’s happening with the relations between the United States and Syria?


Spokesman:  They did discuss the issue of Lebanon, and the President thanked the Secretary-General for the work the UN was doing in Lebanon.


Question:  Back on the Guantanamo, could you respond to the US criticism that says that the report is not credible because its writers did not visit the prison?


Spokesman:  We have nothing to add as the report is not yet out.


Question:  Do you have any further information or clarification regarding the arrest of the UN workers in Eritrea?  And would Mr. Valdes be prepared to brief the press on the elections in Haiti?


Spokesman:  Mr. Valdes is unfortunately not here.  He is in Haiti due to the situation on the ground -- he did stay there, but when he does come, we will make sure to bring him out here.


As far as we’ve been told, the total number of affected national UNMEE (United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea) staff is 43, which includes 13 arrested and detained, and 30 in hiding for fear of being arrested by local authorities.  And that ... while we have protested this, the Government of Eritrea still has not given us any official reason for these detentions.


Question:  So let me understand this ... because the headlines to the story on Guantanamo were “UN criticizes or calls for [inaudible] Guantanamo” and now you are saying this guy is independent.  How removed, how independent institutionally is the rapporteur and how far removed is he?


Spokesman:  Benny, first of all, I don’t write the headlines -- you write the headlines.


Question:  I don’t.


Spokesman:  Or your headline writers do -- exactly.  First of all, this report is not yet out -- these things were leaked on a draft.  As you know, rapporteurs are appointed by the Commission on Human Rights -- not by the High Commissioner and not by the Secretary-General.  And they report to neither the High Commissioner nor to the Secretary-General in their work.  They are independent.


Question:  They report to the Human Rights Commission?


Spokesman:  That is correct.


Question:  Which we are calling to abolish.


Spokesman:  Which we are calling to be replaced by a much more credible and effective Human Rights Council, and those discussions are ongoing.


Question:  Do you have any comment on these 11 people from either procurement or peacekeeping [inaudible] ... and they are undergoing interrogation and some of them have sought help from the US ... from the United Nations Legal Counsel, or in the case of French people, the French Government?


Spokesman:  This is really nothing very new.  I think we told you back last year that as part of the look into UN procurement, it would be possible that the US authorities would want to ask some questions of some UN officials.  These are only inquiries at this stage and not part of any official judicial proceedings.  And as we’ve said, these ... we have always said we would cooperate with US judicial authorities or any other judicial authorities, which would investigate, which are currently investigating the Procurement Department.


Question:  They have such legal counsel?


Spokesman:  I think everyone is entitled to legal counsel.


Question:  And Stéph, I know you made a statement on Friday about the Hariri assassination, but today half a million people marched in Beirut to commemorate his anniversary.  Do you have anything new to say, or does the SG have anything new to say on this occasion?


Spokesman:  I think I’ll say that on the first anniversary since the terrorist attack took the life of Rafic Hariri and 22 other people, the United Nations reaffirms its commitment to help Lebanon to uncover the truth and bring to justice the perpetrators of this despicable act.  On this sad occasion, the Secretary-General reiterates his sympathies with the families of all the victims.  Mr. Hariri’s death was an immense loss for Lebanon, the region and the international community.  He will always be remembered for his dedication to the people of Lebanon and for his success as a statesman, for his achievement in the reconstruction of Lebanon and for his courage and directness in public and in private.  Since his death, the Lebanese people have shown determination to reaffirm the national unity and sovereignty.  The United Nations stands with them in this endeavour and in the search for justice for Mr. Hariri’s killers -- a critical step in rebuilding a sovereign and democratic Lebanon.


Question:  Regarding Haiti, there is a report that Mr. Valdes, as well as Mr. [inaudible] are on their way right now to New York, where they are going to meet with the Security Council and also, according to several political analysts in Haiti, the Minister is a failure there.


Spokesman:  Well, I will leave that to those political commentators.  They are free to comment.  I think you’ve just seen the Security Council renew the mandate of the peacekeeping mission, so I think that speaks for itself.  As for Mr. Valdes, I don’t have anything on his travel plans, but I will give you an update as soon as the briefing is over.


Question:  Part of the question was already answered, but there are reports that major shipments of armaments are crossing the border from Syria into Lebanon.  The explanation of that is that it is going to the resistance, meaning Hezbollah, and there are fears that they are stopped in certain camps for the Palestinians.  Is that the opinion of the Secretary-General that the crossing of armaments from Syria into Lebanon is a violation of the resolutions of the United Nations?  And does he have something to say to Syria on that?


Spokesman:  I think the message is that one should respect the sovereignty of Lebanon.  As to those specific reports, I don’t have anything on them.  If I have something -- I will check after the briefing -- we can offer a comment.


Question:  Secretary-General Annan became of the first people to see Vice President Cheney since he shot a man.  Was there anything strange?  Did he ask about him?  Was he concerned about his safety?  Any discussion from that meeting?  How did the Vice President appear?


Spokesman:  There is no UN angle to this story.  The only thing I would say is that Mr. Cheney, along with the Secretary of State, Ambassador Bolton and a number of other senior officials were in the meeting as the Secretary-General was accompanied by his delegation. But that’s where I will leave these comments.


Question:  ... Did it come up at all?


Spokesman:  There is no UN angle to this story.


Question:  When you describe -- this is just a matter of clarification -- a terrorist attack against Mr. Hariri.  If something is found to have been an action by a State and a State apparatus, can that qualify as terrorism under the way the UN understands the terms?


Spokesman:  I am not going to engage in a hypothetical legal analysis here.  The aim of the UN with Mr. Brammertz is trying to find the culprits of the crime and to make sure that they do face justice. ... Sorry, hold on -- let Mark finish.


Question:  That was just a clarification, because I had understood that terrorism was in discussions reserved for actions by non-State actors, but anyway -- when are we going to get a proposal on the management review and all that?  I mean, it was due this month.  What happens over the next few weeks?


Spokesman:  We are working out the details of exactly the specific date that it will be unveiled, but it will ...  If it is not out by the end of this month, it will be very close to the beginning of the next month, and hopefully I will have some concrete dates to offer you quickly.


Question:  I want to have another shot at my question about the arms shipments across the border.  You just said basically respect sovereignty of Lebanon.  Is this not a violation of the resolutions?


Spokesman:  I understand, but I have no specific information about these issues -- I will try to get you something after the briefing.


Question:  Demonstrations are still continuing following the publications of caricatures of Prophet Mohammed.  Is the Alliance for Civilization contemplating any meeting on this issue?


Spokesman:  The creators of the Alliance, Prime Minister Zapatero and Prime Minister Erdogan,have been speaking out.  I don’t know at this point of any concrete plans at the Alliance office, which is getting under way, has put together.


Question:  Did the report on Guantanamo also come up during the Secretary-General’s lunch with Secretary of State Rice and later with Senator Lugar?


Spokesman:  The lunch with the Secretary of State was a private lunch, just tête-à-tête, and I do not believe it came up in the meeting with Senator Lugar.


Question:  Has the Secretary-General any comment on the footage that has been released of British soldiers beating teenagers in Iraq?


Spokesman:  All these types of footage are extremely disturbing, and I think it is very much a positive thing that the British Government seems to be investigating this issue thoroughly.


Question:  Are the rapporteurs to be kept on same style with a newly revamped human rights panel?


Spokesman:  I think those are the issues that are being looked at by the ... as the Council takes form.


Question:  The report on Guantanamo Bay -- is the UN human rights [inaudible] looking at those reports of force-feeding of prisoners?


Spokesman:  I think you would have to ask them.  And they are to release the report in Geneva later this week.


Thank you.


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