16 May 2006
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 PRESIDENT OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY


The 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.


Briefing by the Spokesman for the Secretary-General


Good afternoon.


**Guest at Noon


Jan Vandemoortele, who is the UN’s Resident Coordinator and the Head of UNDP’s office in Pakistan, will be here to discuss the new report on the state of relief, recovery and reconstruction operations in Pakistan, following last year’s earthquake.


**Statement on Myanmar


I now have a statement concerning the visit by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari to Myanmar.


“Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari will be leaving New York today for Myanmar, where he will begin a three-day visit, starting on Thursday.  The programme includes meetings with senior officials of the Government, members of civil society and representatives of political parties, including the National League for Democracy.


“The United Nations has not been able to engage to this extent with the Myanmar Government and people on the vital issues of democracy and human rights for more than two years.  The Secretary-General views this visit, therefore, as an overdue and potentially important opportunity to assess developments in the country firsthand, and to see what more can be done, including by the United Nations, to help Myanmar move in the direction of all-inclusive democracy, sustainable development and true national reconciliation.  During his visit, Under-Secretary-General Gambari will convey a clear message that Myanmar’s prospects for improved relations with the international community will depend on tangible progress in restoring democratic freedoms and full respect for human rights.”


And that statement is available upstairs.


**Security Council


The Security Council this morning, after brief consultations, held a formal meeting, in which it unanimously approved a resolution calling for the implementation, without delay, of the Darfur Peace Agreement.


The Council called on all parties to the Darfur Peace Agreement to help in accelerating the transition to a UN operation.  It called for the deployment of a joint African Union-UN technical assessment mission, within one week of today’s adoption.


Acting under Chapter VII of the Charter, the Council urged the parties that had not yet signed the Agreement to do so, without delay.


The Council then resumed consultations to hear a briefing on the situation between Chad and Sudan.  That briefing is being provided by Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Tuliameni Kalomoh.


** Sudan


Also, on the subject of Sudan, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sudan, Jan Pronk, will leave tomorrow for Darfur, to continue his efforts to widen the circle of support for the Darfur Peace Agreement.


The Mission in Sudan says that, during his three-day visit to Darfur, Pronk will meet commanders of the African Union Mission in Sudan, as well as the Wali, or Governor, of West Darfur and local representatives of civil society and international non-governmental organizations.


Pronk returned today to Khartoum from Addis Ababa, where he took part in a meeting of the African Union’s Peace and Security Council, on Sudan.


In his speech to the Council, he said that, while the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement was a major achievement, implementing it and improving the situation on the ground for the people of Darfur may prove to be even harder.


And we have a copy of his speech available upstairs.


**Secretary-General’s Travels


Meanwhile, the Secretary-General wrapped up his visit to the Republic of Korea today, meeting with President Roh Moo-hyun.  During the meeting, they discussed a range of topics, including North Korea’s nuclear programme, as well as relations with Japan -– both of which, you will recall, the Secretary-General commented on in his press encounter, which was held yesterday, which we made available to you.


The Secretary-General and his wife Nane also attended a luncheon hosted by the President and First Lady of Korea, before departing for Japan.


They are now in Tokyo, where, tomorrow, the Secretary-General will meet with Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi, among other senior officials.  He’s expected to hold a press encounter following his meeting with the Prime Minister.  And, as usual, we will make that transcript available to you.


**Peacebuilding Appointment


The Secretary-General today has decided to appoint Carolyn McAskie as Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support.


As you will recall, Ms. McAskie was previously the head of the UN Peacekeeping Mission in Burundi.  And, the head of the Peacebuilding Support Office, as its name implies, will support the new Peacebuilding Commission.


And we have a biography of Ms. McAskie available upstairs.


** Haiti Appointment


The Secretary-General has also written to the Security Council to inform Council members of his intention to appoint Edmond Mulet of Guatemala as his new Special Representative in Haiti and head of the UN Peacekeeping Mission there.


Mr. Mulet has served as Guatemala’s ambassador to the European Union, Belgium and Luxembourg, and he will be taking the place of Juan Gabriel Valdés, whose term expires at the end of the month.


We have upstairs copies of his biography and, if you have any questions on the latest developments in Haiti, Mr. Valdés will be our guest at the briefing here tomorrow.


**UNHCR


A couple of other things to flag for you.  UNHCR today reports that the number of Afghan refugees returning home this year from Pakistan under its repatriation programme is about to pass the 50,000 mark.


This means that some 3 million Afghans will have returned from Pakistan since the programme started in 2002, more than 90 per cent of them with UNHCR assistance.


And we have the briefing notes from the agency upstairs, if you want more information.


** Guinea-Bissau


From Guinea-Bissau, the UN has launched a flash appeal to help approximately 20,000 people in Guinea-Bissau, who have been made vulnerable by more than two months of fighting between Guinea-Bissau’s army and a separatist group from Senegal’s Casamance region.


The appeal was launched today in Geneva, and is for the total amount of $3.6 million.


** Sahel


And. from the Sahel region of West Africa, as the annual “lean season” gets under way, the World Food Programme is working to feed more than 3 million people –- the great majority of them young children –- in Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.


The cost of the programme is $54 million, but, to date, only $16.5 million has been received.


**FAO


And the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today announced it has joined with the World Bank, the African Union and the World Wildlife Fund in a new effort to reduce poverty in African fishing communities and restore depleted fisheries.


The $240 million fund will be used to assist countries’ efforts to better manage their marine fisheries and improve the living conditions of fishing communities, the agency said.


And we have a press release on that upstairs.


** Myanmar - Human Rights


Also from Geneva, six UN human rights experts today issued a joint statement, calling on the Government of Myanmar to take urgent measures to end the counter-insurgency military operations targeting civilians in the areas of Northern Karen and Eastern Pegu, where thousands of ethnic-minority villagers have been displaced.


The experts deplored the violence against unarmed civilians by the Myanmar military and called for action to ensure that no further excessive use of force is employed.


**UNICEF


And, lastly, UNICEF and the organizers of this year’s World Cup, which gets under way very soon, today kicked off a partnership designed to spotlight the power of soccer in promoting values of peace and tolerance within communities and at the international level.


The programme, called “Unite for Children, Unite for Peace”, will include a public service announcement, featuring some of world’s top players, including David Beckham; an interactive website; video profiles of children who has overcome situations of violence; and a manual for football players and coaches, designed to combat violence and discrimination, particularly against girls.


And we do have a press release on that upstairs.


Before we turn to Pragati and then our guests, Edie.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  A couple of questions, Steph.  First, could you tell us whether the Secretary-General has gotten any positive response yet on sending a technical assistance mission?


Spokesman:  We have been, for a few days now, in discussions with the Government of Sudan, both in Khartoum and with their Permanent Mission here, regarding the quick deployment of the assessment team to Darfur.  The team has basically been identified.  It will be led by a senior UN official, and we will announce that as soon as we can confirm the name.  But, those discussions are continuing with Sudanese authorities.


Question:  But that doesn’t answer it, do you have a green light yet to go?


Spokesman:  As I said, the discussions are continuing at various levels.


Question:  Okay.  I’m not finished yet.  Sorry.  On the Secretary-General’s appointment of Carolyn McAskie, could you elaborate a little on exactly what she’s going to be doing?


Spokesman:  Well, it will basically be the secretariat for the Peacebuilding Commission, which, as you know, was a big part of the reform proposal put forward by the Secretary-General.  The Peacebuilding Office will be there to help the members of the Peacebuilding Commission identify areas of concern, and work with the Member States and the members of the Commission to make the work of the Peacebuilding Commission as effective as possible.


Question:  And, on Under-Secretary-General Gambari’s visit to Myanmar, is he going to make an attempt, or has he asked, to see Aung San Suu Kyi?


Spokesman:  Yes, we have asked for Mr. Gambari to see Aung San Suu Kyi.  As you’ll recall, the Secretary-General’s position on that has been very clear, where he has consistently urged for her release from detention, and Mr. Gambari will certainly reinforce that message in his discussions.


Question:  Back to the assessment team, what are the major sticking points still with Khartoum over that?


Spokesman:  Well, as I’ve said, those discussions are continuing.  We’re looking for… now that the Security Council has clearly spoken with one voice… the AU, as well, yesterday… we are working as quickly as possible on the planning process.  Obviously, as we’ve always said, the sending of the team is a key part of that planning process, as is the cooperation of the National Unity Government of Sudan.  So, our discussions with them are continuing.


But, meanwhile, we’ve also had a number of meetings with AU officials on the planning process, both in Khartoum, in Addis and in El-Fasher.


Question:  Is the visa issue the only issue, or are there multiple issues?


Spokesman:  As I said, the discussions are continuing.  The cooperation of the Government of Sudan for the planning of this trip is essential.


Question:  I just wanted to ask about, the Western Sahara, the human rights mission that’s going on right now.  Thank you for the answers I received yesterday.  But, I just wanted to know, what, who is going to be accompanying the three-person team?  They’re going to El Aaiun (Laayoune), Tindouf and Algiers.  El Aaiun is in Western Sahara.  Are they going to be accompanied by Moroccans or members of the Frente POLISARIO?


Spokesman:  I don’t have that level of detailed information with me here, but, again, we can get you those answers afterwards.


Question:  Back to Myanmar and Mr. Gambari’s trip.  There have been reports, in the past week, of quite a lot of unrest with some of the minority tribes.  Is he going to take up that issue, as well, and also, is he just going to Myanmar, or is he going to go to some other countries?  That’s an awful long way to go for three days.


Spokesman:  Well, it’s an important mission.  He’s based here, he’s got to travel -– that’s part of his job.  He will transit out… at least I know he will transit out through Bangkok, but I don’t know of any other stops.  You know, part of the issues that he will raise with the authorities is the general situation of human rights and the restoration of democracy throughout the country.


Question:  At the UN, this is a very disturbing lull before the storm, because, as far as Iran is concerned, is the Secretary-General still involved in the Iranian situation, and does he expect the Member States to come up with some sort of mechanism to ease the crisis?


Spokesman:  The Secretary-General has been speaking out on his feelings for the need for a diplomatic solution supporting the process in place.  He has not been involved, if you mean in terms of providing his good offices, or actively involved in any of the negotiations.  That’s not the case.  He has been following it very closely, and I think the Europeans are putting together a package for the Iranians, and I think the Secretary-General has the hope that everyone will consider this package with an open mind.


Question:  The Iranians have rejected that package and they’re saying that it was… I mean… until you accept the fact that “it is our right to have nuclear power”.


Spokesman:  I’m not going to elaborate anymore on what… the Secretary-General has spoken, I think pretty extensively, even on his recent trip to Korea, and so, I would refer you to what he’s already said.  Matthew?


Question:  On Somalia, there are increasing reports of United States choosing sides.  Or it goes back to the Security Council’s Monitoring Group, saying there’s a clandestine nation violating the arms embargo.  What would be the Secretary-General’s position if a major Power were to act with particular “warlords” or the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counterterrorism in Somalia?


Spokesman:  I’m not going to get into hypotheticals.  The Secretary-General’s position, as elaborated through his Special Envoy, has been clear, and that is for support for the transitional institutions in Somalia.


Question:  On the Special Envoy, I think last week I asked about what his position would be on Puntland, the part of Somalia selling oil and mineral rights, which is reported to be in Puntland, so I was told to contact Ian Steele, his Spokesman in Nairobi, but I haven’t heard anything.  I want to ask for your good offices…


Spokesman:  I will be happy to go upstairs and dial the phone with you and make sure he gets on the phone.


Correspondent:  Thank you.  I can’t make him speak, but it would seem that he should say something.


Spokesman:  I can make him speak.  [laughter]


Question:  Speaking of dialling phones, has the Secretary-General gotten any response from President Omar el-Bashir to his request about entering…


Spokesman:  I addressed that before you came in.  Contacts have been going on with the Sudanese Government at various levels, both in Khartoum and through the Mission here.


Question:  But no phone call was mentioned [inaudible]?


Spokesman:  I said the discussions are continuing.


Question:  Just to follow up on that.  The assessment team, we actually [inaudible] because we’ve had conflicting messages coming out of Khartoum, as to whether now the peace agreement is signed, whether they would actually sign on to the UN mission as a whole.  I think, last week, we were asking what feeling you’re getting from Khartoum, as to whether they are now in a position to accept that, or is it a case of step by step with them, assessment team first, then they’ll consider.


Spokesman:  I don’t want to speak for the Governemnt in Khartoum.  We are actively discussing with them the next steps in the planning process, which need to get under way quickly.  In parallel, we are working with AMIS to see exactly what kind of support they need for the interim, before the UN force gets in.  And the Secretary-General appeals, every time he does speak out on Darfur, which is often, on the need for the international community to support AMIS in the interim.


Question:  The original position was that they don’t want a UN blue helmet force.  Has the Secretary-General, or any of those under him, talked to theSudanese about any change in that position?  Is there any more acceptance now?


Spokesman:  The stumbling block was the agreement.  It was reached in Abuja, and now we continue to expect that the Sudanese Government will cooperate with us in the planning of the transition force.


Question:  The stumbling block before Khartoum was never the Abuja talks.  It was way before the Abuja talks were even on the horizon that they said that they don’t want the UN force.


Spokesman:  We are working, and we will need to work, in close cooperation with the Sudanese Government to get this planning team out there as quickly as possible, so we can get the transition process further along.


Question:  How long will it take before a UN mission can be there?  Do you have an assessment at all, after the assessment is done?


Spokesman:  You know, we are working on this as quickly as possible and the Security Council timetable… the Security Council resolution does lay out a timetable for our work, so we are trying to meet that as quickly as possible.


Question:  Ambassador Bolton said that six to nine months of [planning before a UN force is on the ground] was a little too long.  Is that the view of the Secretary-General?


Spokesman:  I don’t want to get in… in terms of guessing how long it will take this… we will need to get this force together.  Obviously the planning team, the assessment team on the ground, is key.  What will also be key is how quickly Member States then pledge forces, logistical support and funds for the UN force.  And also keeping in mind that they will need to continue to support and strengthen the support for the AMIS force in the meantime.


Question:  Does DPKO have any feelings one way or the other about the involvement of NATO in that force? 


Spokesman:  The transition, the UN force, I think, will have to have an overwhelming African character to it, but, obviously, the international community and all those who have the financial and the logistical and the military means will need to pitch in.


We will go to Pragati, and then we will go to our guests.


Briefing by General Assembly President Spokesperson


Good afternoon.


General Assembly President Jan Eliasson is returning to Headquarters today, after a brief trip.  Over the weekend, he gave a commencement speech and received an honorary doctorate from California Lutheran University, and, yesterday, he was in Brussels for the European Union meeting of foreign ministers.


This afternoon, at 4 p.m., the Assembly will meet in plenary to elect seven members of the Organizational Committee of the Peacebuilding Commission, which, as Steph mentioned, was established last December as mandated by the 2005 World Summit.


There are 10 candidates for the 7 seats to be elected by the Assembly today, and this is the final stage in the process of constituting the Organizational Committee.  The other categories of members have already been selected, or elected, from the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the top 10 troop-contributing countries and the top 10 financial contributors.  We will make available upstairs the list of countries that are candidates in today’s election, as well as those already selected, or elected, in other categories.


It is expected that the Organizational Committee will hold its first meeting in early June, to begin the process of getting the Commission up and running and selecting what countries it will focus on.


Also this afternoon, the plenary is expected to take a decision on the timing of the high-level meeting on least developed countries, by which the event will be held all day Monday, 18 September, and will continue on the morning of Tuesday, 19 September from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.   The general debate will then begin at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 19 September.  We will have available upstairs the updated calendar for the September high-level meetings, since some of you have been asking, for planning purposes.


Any questions?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  I just wanted to ask you about the Peacebuilding Commission.  So, they haven’t picked the countries they are going to focus on yet?


Spokesperson:  No, it’s part of the work of the Organizational Committee.


Question:  So, they’ll have to wait until they’re elected?  But, the fact that Carloyn McAskie was hired on, and she was the former Special Envoy for Burundi… I mean, Burundi is one of the ones that was talked about…


Spokesperson:  There have been several countries that have been talked about as possible cases for the Commission to work on.


Okay.  Thanks very much.


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For information media • not an official record