15/02/2006
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.


**Security Council


The Security Council this morning heard a daily briefing by the Secretariat on the situations in Haiti and Côte d’Ivoire.  That was in closed consultations.  The briefer was Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hédi Annabi.  Council members were then briefed by Ambassador Oswaldo de Rivero of Peru in his capacity as the Chairman of the Sanctions Committee on the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  And following consultations, the Council adopted a resolution on Afghanistan endorsing the “Afghanistan Compact”, which provides the framework for partnership between the Afghan Government and the international community.  As you’ll recall, that plan was launched in London two weeks ago.


The Security Council President for the month of February, Ambassador John Bolton of the United States, then read out a Council press statement on Haiti, urging the Haitian people to refrain from violence as the results of the elections are tabulated and reviewed.


** Côte d’Ivoire


Turning to Côte d’Ivoire, Jan Egeland, the head of the UN’s humanitarian operations, is in Côte d’Ivoire today meeting with officials from the Government and non-governmental organizations.  He stressed that aid organizations there are engaged in impartial, neutral and apolitical humanitarian work, to assist people confronting great needs, and that they need to continue their work.  He also said that recent attacks on UN agencies in Guiglo were deeply regrettable.  He said the Government has assured him that such violence will not happen again.  He also noted that the UN will have regular meetings with the Government to discuss measures to protect civilians and the neutrality of work by aid workers.


A press release on that visit is available upstairs.


**Secretary-General


The Secretary-General is at Princeton University today where he is chairing a Global Colloquium of University Presidents.  The event has brought together more than 50 academic experts from 25 universities around the world, as part of the Secretary-General's effort to further an exchange of ideas between the UN and academia, both in the developed world and the global south.


Last night, the Secretary-General addressed a private dinner of the university presidents, and talked to them about UN reforms and the challenges that the UN faces.  Today, he’ll deliver closing remarks, following a keynote speech by UN Development Programme Administrator Kemal Dervis.


**FAO


Meanwhile, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says that farmers and herders in drought-stricken south-eastern Ethiopia are facing severe food shortages with pre-famine conditions, including wide-spread human and livestock migration.  The UN agency is asking for $18.5 million to help mitigate the effects of the drought and save pastoral livelihoods.  And we have more on this in the press release upstairs.


**Tokelau Update


And lastly, an update on our favourite referendum on self-government from Tokelau.  The referendum on self-government in free association with New Zealand is continuing.  The results are expected to be announced later today local time, which will be early tomorrow in New York.  And as I mentioned to you last week, we have a team of electoral experts there assisting that process.  And after the second leg of the referendum was successfully completed in Atafu on Monday, the team has now moved to another atoll in this chain, which has a name, which I will not even try to pronounce -- excuse me.  The polls there were completed as scheduled, and the team is scheduled to move onto a third atoll, which has a name that I still will not pronounce, where the final votes will be cast.


And on that note, I will start with you, Mark.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  If the vote goes in favour of self-determination, presumably Tokelau then becomes a Member of the United Nations ...


Spokesman:  No, it does not, because they are voting on self ... to be self-governing within New Zealand -- my understanding, it’s self-government in free association with New Zealand, so we will not move to 192.


Question:  About Haiti -- is the UN going to seek to step in to help officiate these contested elections?


Spokesman:  Well, you know the Haitian Government has created a commission to look at the results of the elections.  We are very much hoping that the Haitians will find a speedy political solution to this crisis.  Our team on the ground, led by Ambassador Valdes, is working in cooperation with not only the Haitian Government, but interested ambassadors on the ground to try to help the Haitians find a solution to this.  In the meantime, we do very much appeal for calm as the results continue to be tabulated.


Question:  Will the UN be able to help investigate what happened yesterday in Haiti -- finding all these ballots in the garbage?


Spokesman:  The UN will assist in every way it can, but it is important that people who do have complaints about the elections address them to the electoral commission.


Question:  Does the Secretary-General have any position on Lebanese army’s transfer of weapons to Hezbollah?


Spokesman:  We have been following these reports -- these statements about these arms shipments, including those by the Lebanese army.  I think if these violations were to be confirmed, this would be an alarming development in relation to resolution 1559.  Mr. Roed-Larsen, who, as you know, is the SG’s envoy on 1559, has been having discussions with Lebanese officials over the last couple of days to look further into these reports.


Question:  Just to follow up:  if the Lebanese army -- as it says it has done -- has helped transfer weapons to Hezbollah, is the Lebanese army in contravention, in your opinion, of resolution 1559?


Spokesman:  I think, the first ... 1559 calls for the disarmament of Lebanese militias.  The first and obvious step in the disarmament process would be to stop the flow of arms.  Again, I don’t want to go too much into hypotheticals, but if these shipments are confirmed, this would be a violation of 1559.


Question:  On the issue of Guantanamo Bay [inaudible] -- does the United Nations or the rapporteurs intend to revisit the issue of ascertaining Guantanamo Bay again [inaudible]?


Spokesman:  I think the report is scheduled now to be released tomorrow, and I would encourage you to address that question to the rapporteurs.  We have just received the contact numbers for all four or five of them, who are the authors of this report, and we can put you in touch with them.


Question:  The question is, will there be an effort to revisit the ....


Spokesman:  I think that question needs to be addressed to the rapporteurs.  The question is whether or not these rapporteurs will go -- it needs to be addressed to them.


Question: How is that report going to be released? Is it just gonna be ...


Spokesman:  It will be released in Geneva.  I will check after the briefing -- I assume it will be released in hard copy in Geneva and made available on the web.  But we’ll put you in touch with them.


Question:  Will there be anybody on this end, here in New York?


Spokesman:  No, the rapporteurs ... I don’t believe the rapporteurs -- from what I have been told, from the press operation in Geneva, I do not believe the rapporteurs are briefing the press, but as I said, we have their contact information.  We can put you in touch with them.


Question:  There is a Daily Telegraph article today about Eurest Support Services that looks at how the problem was actually wider than was earlier believed and more people have been let go and what not.  And the investigation continues.  But in the same article, it’s mentioned that Eurest is still supplying a very lucrative contract in Eritrea and that all this talk about suspension -- that the UN was going to suspend them and then consider other contracts and push Eurest out of the way -- has not happened.  What’s going on, really?


Spokesman:  I will have to get details on that.  My general understanding is that some of these -- these are not contracts that can be easily stopped and replaced from one day to the next.  Some of them have to continue, because the main objective is to obviously supply the troops and the peacekeepers, but I will get you some exact language on the status of ESS.


Question:  OK -- you are saying that it needs to sort of work through the system in the supply under the current obligations and that you don’t want to stymie the mission and not feed it -- I understand that.  But when does it stop?  I mean, when do you really suspend ...?


Spokesman:  I will get you ... My understanding is that they are not able to bid on any new contracts, but as I said, I will get you some language right after the briefing on what the situation is.


Question:  And just one other follow-up:  there are 200 contracts that are being investigated by the OIOS.  What sort of cases are coming out of that?  Are there more Eurest Support Services type cases?  Anybody being suspended?


Spokesman:  When OIOS is ready to give you an update, or the Department of Management is ready to give you an update on this ongoing investigation of procurement, they will, but I don’t have anything new on that.


Question:  A wire service report that I just saw said Brazil, which is leading the peacekeeping mission in Haiti, is proposing that the best way to avoid violence would be to simply declare Preval the winner.  If he falls a little short, could the Secretary-General countenance such a solution?


Spokesman:  I think it is not up to the Secretary-General to decide who the winner of the Haitian elections is going to be.  There is a Haitian-led election commission and we do very much hope that the Haitian people will find a political solution that is acceptable.  But again, we are not the ones to crown the winners of any election.


Question:  Does the Secretary-General believe that the policy on Lebanon so far, which stretched one part of 1559 and another resolution, namely the investigations into the assassination [inaudible] and neglecting the disarmament of militias, has contributed to the situation where now arms are being ...


Spokesman:  I don’t think we have been neglecting those aspects.  Part of the implementation of 1559 will have to be a Lebanese process, which we will facilitate as much as we can, and we have Mr. Roed-Larsen, who continues to work on resolution 1559 and is expected to report back to the Council.


Question:  Is there any lesson here as to any other situation, in which armed militias are part of the process and [inaudible] by the Quartet in the case of the Hamas there were demands that they should disarm -- should we now be more forceful on the disarming of the militias before [inaudible]?


Spokesman:  I think I will let you draw those lessons.


Question:  I was just wondering if there is any update on the fate of UNMEE employees who were arrested and jailed in Eritrea?


Spokesman:  We continue to ... We’ve been told now it’s down to 11 local staff, which is obviously 11 too many.  The Mission has been protesting to the Eritrean Government, and we’ve had contacts here, as well, in New York, and we do very much hope the situation is resolved rapidly, which puts our national staff in an unacceptable position.


Question:  Obviously, negotiations continue, but the message has been sent that you can grab UN people and the UN won’t come to grab them back.  So is that basically -- is there a broad policy on what happens when UN people get grabbed?  In missions by national countries when individuals get grabbed, you go and get them out, by any means.  But, obviously, that’s not the way the UN works.  I mean, what is the policy?  What are the standards?


Spokesman:  There is a much greater and wider problem here, which is currently being examined, which is the fate of the Mission, of UNMEE, notably in the face of restrictions that continue to be imposed on us by the Eritrean Government, which makes it very difficult for us to do our work.  And the Security Council is currently discussing that and we do expect some movement on that within the next month, but we are working actively on the ground and trying to get explanations from the Government why it has detained its own nationals and we are trying to get them out as quickly as possible.


Question:  How do you monitor the fact that these guys aren’t being hurt?


Spokesman:  Again, these are ... these people have been detained by the local authorities.  I will check with the Mission, but I have no doubt they are trying to get access to them, but we are continuing to push the Eritrean Government to not only release them, but also to give us an explanation as to why they are doing this.


Question:  I understand you’ve received no explanation, but what understanding do you have about the detentions?


Spokesman:  We have very little understanding about what the Eritrean Government is doing in terms of the restrictions it has imposed on our Mission as a whole, whether it’s the banning of helicopter flights, especially when we are trying to med-evac peacekeepers, making it hard for us to do our work, and obviously including the detention of these national staff.


Question:  Is this a first-time incident or is it something that has happened in the past?  Is there a history of this?


Spokesman:  Well, there is a history of Eritrea making it difficult for us to do our job over the past few months, yeah.


Question:  Recently, the Group of 77 has written a letter to the President of the General Assembly to go and clarify the position of the Security Council, because it expressed fear that the power of the UNGA has been usurped by the Security Council.  The issues that were supposed to be discussed in the GA are now being discussed in the Security Council.  Is there a position that is being taken on the issue by the Secretary-General or should we ask the President of the GA to respond to that?


Spokesman:  The second part.  No, I think the letter was addressed to the President of the General Assembly and I would let him answer that.


Question:  What is the UN position on the latest pictures released on Abu Ghraib?


Spokesman:  All these pictures, like the ones we’ve seen in the British press, are deeply disturbing and we would hope they are investigated as soon as possible.


Thank you.


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