14 March 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.


**Statement on Violence in West Bank and Gaza Strip


I’ll start off with a statement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.


“The Secretary-General is deeply concerned at today’s violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in which several people, including Palestinian police officers, have been killed, and a number of international personnel have been kidnapped.  He calls for an immediate end to the violence, respect for civilian lives, and urgent steps to restore calm.  The Secretary-General also calls for the immediate release of those who have been kidnapped and full respect of the safety of international personnel on the ground.”


That statement is available upstairs.


**Secretary-General in South Africa


Earlier today, the Secretary-General addressed a joint session of the South African parliament, and said there that the kind of things South Africa is doing at home, and promoting on the wider African scene, may show the best way for developing countries to respond to today's world.   South Africa, he said, has shown that a nation need not be imprisoned by its history.


He told the parliament that no country today can be unaffected by events in its neighbourhood, and it is the responsibility of those stronger countries in each neighbourhood to lend a hand to the weaker, without seeking to impose their domination.  We have copies of that speech available upstairs.


Earlier today, the Secretary-General met with President Thabo Mbeki.  In a joint press encounter that followed, the Secretary-General said he had thanked the President for the wonderful contribution and leadership that South Africa has shown, not just in terms of UN reform, but in efforts to resolve conflicts, from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to Côte d’Ivoire, to Burundi and Darfur.  And the transcript of the press encounter is upstairs.


** Iraq


Ashraf Qazi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, condemned the continued targeting of Iraqi journalists by unknown assailants. He called on the Iraqi security authorities to investigate these killings fully, and bring the perpetrators before the law.  “Journalists should be granted security and freedom of speech, so they can perform their duties,” he said.


Iraq has become the most dangerous place in the world for journalists.  More than 70 reporters have been killed on duty in Iraq, since the war began three years ago.  And we have more details in a press release upstairs.


**Afghanistan/Security Council


Tom Koenigs, the Secretary-General’s new Special Representative for Afghanistan, today briefed the Security Council in an open meeting on the Secretary-General’s latest report on that country [and that report is out on the racks today].


In his briefing, Mr. Koenigs said that Afghan institutions on all levels must be strengthened, in order to deliver basic services.  He also said security continues to be a serious concern, with a rise in insurgent and terrorist attacks and more sophisticated tactics.  And we have his statement upstairs.


Currently, the Council is holding an open debate on Afghanistan, with more than 30 speakers inscribed on the list.  Mr. Koenigs did tell us he intends to be available to take your questions at the stakeout microphone after the meeting is done.


Meanwhile, the Security Council began its work this morning, by adopting a resolution to extend the mandate of the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) by one month.


** Sudan


Also out today, is the Secretary-General’s latest monthly report on Darfur.  In it, the Secretary-General says that contingency planning for a possible transition to a UN operation in Darfur will be guided by objectives such as creating an environment that is conducive to national reconciliation.


He notes that the determining factor for the military component of this kind of operation may be the status of the ceasefire agreements in Darfur.  Without an effective ceasefire in place, any international security presence there will have to be mandated to take robust action to protect civilians at risk.


The Secretary-General adds that, given the escalation of violence on the ground, it is essential for the international community to keep supporting the African Union Mission in Sudan, pending a possible transition to the UN.


** Lebanon


From the Middle East, Terje Roed-Larsen, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the implementation of resolution 1559, met, in Brussels today, with European Common Foreign and Security Policy High Representative Javier Solana, as well as with the EU Middle East Special Envoy Marc Otte, and said that the coming weeks are a crucial period for the Middle East.  He said, “My hope, of course, is that we will make further headway in Lebanon, which will send important signals across the region.”


Roed-Larsen particularly welcomed the news, announced by Lebanese Speaker Nabih Berri, that political parties in Lebanon had reached agreement to disarm Palestinian militias, and to establish formal diplomatic ties with Syria, as called for repeatedly by the Secretary-General.


And we do have a longer note available on Roed-Larsen’s activities upstairs.


** Cambodia


The United Nations and Cambodia’s Government today signed two agreements that put in place the legal foundations for the administrative setup and operations of the Extraordinary Chambers to try Khmer Rouge leaders.


One of the agreements signed today concerns supplementary arrangements on the facilities, utilities and services the Cambodian Government would provide for the premises of those Chambers; the other one deals with safety and security arrangements for the Chambers.  Today’s signing puts in place the last legal instruments needed on the logistics and administrative side, before the trials can take place.


**Deputy-Secretary-General


Meanwhile, here in the building, Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette addressed the International Women’s Forum earlier today.  In her remarks, which are available upstairs, she said that a challenge before the UN is recruiting, retaining and rewarding the next generation of younger women needed to build critical mass within the Organization.


She also said that the staff of the UN is the Organization’s greatest asset, and they are often poorly served by inadequate management systems inside the Organization.  She added that the Organization is in the midst of a management reform effort, which she hopes will give staff the improved leadership and systems they deserve.


**World Food Programme


And lastly, the World Food Programme (WFP) says that a lack of funds has forced the WFP to reduce food aid to some 230,000 Somali and Sudanese refugees living in two remote camps in north-eastern Kenya.


The 20 per cent ration cut comes as WFP also struggles to raise $170 million to feed 3.5 million Kenyans affected by severe drought.  And we do have a press release on it available upstairs.


That’s it.  Any questions?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  With respect to the kidnapped people in the Gaza district, including Korean journalists, as of now, what kind of effort is being made by the UN?


Spokesman:  The Secretary-General’s main message, and our main message, is to call on whoever is holding these journalists to release them and anyone else they may be holding at this time, including international aid workers.


Question:  Does the UN have any official channel to deal with this problem with the Palestinian Government?


Spokesman:  No, we are not directly involved in the security situation, but we would again urge those who are holding them to release them.


Question:  What kind of UN activity is taking place, as of now, in the Gaza district?


Spokesman:  We are obviously watching and monitoring the situation very closely and taking any appropriate measures to protect the staff of the UN in the West Bank and Gaza.


Question:  The Secretary-General, in his speech to the South African parliament, has highly praised the role of the country in peacemaking and the resolution of conflict, and has also described its leading role in other fields.  He also said that it had formed an alliance with giants like India, Brazil and China.  Is the Secretary-General, by implication, preparing the country for a permanent seat in the Security Council, and did he discuss that subject with President Mbeki?


Spokesman:  I think that you know, as well as I do, that it is not up to the Secretary-General to either name, or prepare for that matter, any country for any membership in the Council.  That is a matter for Member States themselves to decide.  I will find out for you if the issue of Security Council reform came up in discussions.


Question:  Two or three weeks ago, Mr. Qazi and the Secretary-General have issued statement after statement on the situation in Iraq.  Every day, mayhem and murder continue.  Is there anything, apart from giving out statements?  It is okay to keep on issuing statements, but they are basically the same, they are repetitions.  Is there anything that can be done?


Spokesman:  In parallel to the public statements that have been issued, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Mr. Qazi, has been engaged with political leaders at various levels in Iraq, as well as with religious leaders, and the message is the same:  it is an encouragement of reconciliation and of leaders to actually take leadership roles and help bring the violence down.  One of the main ways to do that is through reconciliation.  So there is political activity on the ground and there are statements at the same time.


Question:  But are they engaged on that?  If you keep saying this and you have no muscle down there, it is going to be totally redundant.  By muscle I don’t mean guns and tanks and so, but political muscle.


Spokesman:  The UN, as I said, is fully engaged with wide ranging political actors in Iraq.  When the Secretary-General was in Iraq, when he met with people, both in Government and in the opposition, they all welcomed the UN’s engagement, specifically on the issue of reconciliation.  Whether those efforts will bear fruit overnight, you and I know that is not the case.  It is a long-term project and we keep working at it.


Question:  Has the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) pulled out of the area?  That is my first question.  And the second one is, do you know if the Quartet has had any conversation about this, and if they are going to give out any statement on the strong-arm tactics of Israel?  We know that there is an election at the end of the month and to use all this firepower to go into a prison, where people are locked up, seems extremely excessive.


Spokesman:  The Secretary-General has been in touch with Secretary Rice and Foreign Minister Lavrov, and I will let you know if there are any calls for a Quartet conference call or for anything on that front.


As for UNRWA, we have to ask UNRWA.  As you know, the vast majority of UNRWA staff are local hires.  But UNRWA, like all UN organizations, is taking whatever measures they need to take, to ensure the safety of their staff.


[The Spokesman later said that UNRWA had confirmed that its international staff had been withdrawn from Gaza.]


Question:  Could you tell us if the Secretary-General spoke with the Prime Minister of Turkey?


Spokesman:  I checked the logs for you.  I have not been made aware of any conversation with the Prime Minister since the return from Paris.  The Secretary-General, however, did speak with Foreign Minister Gül on Sunday, which I believe was 5 March, in the afternoon.


Question:  What did they discuss?


Spokesman:  They discussed the Paris meetings.


Question:  Are they going to start the (inaudible)talks?


Spokesman:  That is all I have for the time being.


Question:  Does the Secretary-General have any plans, before the end of his mandate, to go to the region of the former Yugoslavia, especially to Kosovo?


Spokesman:  I do not have any information on that, but I will check for you.


[The Spokesman later informed the correspondent that there were currently no plans for such a trip.]


Question:  Some of the Member States of third world countries have taken exception to Mark Malloch Brown’s BBC TV interview, in which he seems to suggest that workers from the third world countries are less competent than workers from the first world.  Let me give you a quote: “We have not really found the very best people of the smaller developing countries, so the people that we do get can tend not to rise to the top of their jobs.”  And then, of course, he reinforces it by saying that the so–called tax-free salary is the only incentive.  The Member States said that this was a high-handed statement of Mr. [Malloch] Brown.


Spokesman:  You know, I can’t check the veracity of that quote.  I will say to you that we have put forward a strategic vision for management reform, which obviously will affect the staff.  As I have said repeatedly, we are in the process of engaging the staff in various ways and means, both through Staff Union representatives and through the heads of the Departments, who have begun to have town hall meetings and are talking closely to the staff.  I think that dialogue is best served between management and staff, and not through this briefing.


Question:  Is there any indication that Jan Egeland has asked for something like one and a half billion dollars for Darfur and the north-south problem in Sudan.  Are those figures correct?


Spokesman:  I do not know, and someone will check for you after the briefing.


[The Spokesman later confirmed that a humanitarian work plan for Sudan for $1.7 billion had been launched recently.]


Question:  Also on Darfur.  Last week you announced that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees would reduce their presence, due to the security situation.  I wonder if, after the meeting on Friday, there has been any change in that or an update on that?


Spokesman:  We have not been advised of any change by UNHCR on that.


Question:  Did the Secretary-General talk to Condoleezza Rice about the differences on the Human Rights Council and what seems to be still a US “no” for tomorrow?


Spokesman:  I will try to get you a readout of what was actually said in the conversation, but the human rights discussions are ongoing, and the Secretary-General has made his position clear on that and on the need to go forward with this text.


[The Spokesman later said that the focus of the phone call was the situation in Jericho.]


Question:  Would he be unhappy if the US voted no?


Spokesman:  I will not be baited.


Question:  How often do you talk to the Secretary-General when he is on this trip to Africa, and what is the priority when you talk to him?  Is it the Human Rights Council?  How do you advise each other to address this issue


Spokesman: Advise each other?


Question:  I mean, what does he say to you?


Spokesman:  [laughing] Whatever contacts I have with the Secretary-General are between me and him.  I am not sure I really understand your question.


Question:  Can you share with us what you talk about on this Human Rights Council issue, since the people are very obviously interested in the issue of clearing the house of the United Nations?  And what are his latest concerns on the issue, besides what we know from yesterday?


Spokesman:  I think he has expressed his concern on the Human Rights Council to you.  His position, very clearly, and that one has not changed, is that the membership should go forward with this text.  And that has not changed.  I think he spoke to you on it last week, before he left.


Question:  Do you touch base on him regarding the Human Rights Council when you talk to him?


Spokesman:  You know, the conversations between myself and the Secretary-General have to do with guidance and what goes on in the media, and we’ll leave it at that.


Question:  Is there any possibility that the kidnapped people will be released immediately, as the Secretary-General said?


Spokesman:  We would wish nothing more than for them to be released as soon as possible.


Thank you very much.


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For information media • not an official record