30 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 GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT


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


Good afternoon.


**Secretary-General’s Statement on Myanmar


I will start off with an official statement on Myanmar.


“The Secretary-General was deeply disappointed to learn that the Myanmar authorities have extended the detention under house arrest of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the General Secretary of the National League for Democracy (NLD).  He believes Myanmar’s leadership has missed a significant opportunity to confirm, through concrete actions, its expressed commitment to move towards true national reconciliation and all-inclusive democracy, as well as improved relations with the international community.


“Despite this setback, the international community cannot abandon the search for improvements in the difficult situation in Myanmar.  The Secretary-General will continue to make every effort to secure not only the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other political detainees, but also to urge Myanmar’s authorities to take other steps they discussed with the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Ibrahim Gambari, during his recent visit to the country.  These include improved safety and access for humanitarian assistance, restraint in military operations that have affected civilians, and -- ultimately -- the possibility of internal dialogue that could lead to national reconciliation.”


And that statement is out upstairs.


**Democratic Republic of Congo


The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) is currently searching for seven Nepalese peacekeepers who went missing during a firefight between armed militias and soldiers from the Congolese national army in the Ituri district in the country’s north-east.


The clash also left one Nepalese peacekeeper dead and three wounded.  The peacekeepers were part of a group of 20 who had been providing support to national army troops in the area of Tsupu, 100 kilometres from Bunia, the capital of Ituri district, during a firefight with armed elements believed to be part of the militia run by the warlord Peter Karim and known by the French name, which I will translate into English, “National front of Integrationists”.


The UN Mission says militiamen claim to have captured the seven peacekeepers but have failed to provide any evidence to back up their claims.


Speaking to the press earlier today, the Secretary-General said the UN has been in contact with Karim’s militia and had demanded their release.  He added that Karim and any other militia leaders involved in these activities must understand that they will be held individually accountable.


The UN Mission extends its deepest condolences to the family of the fallen peacekeeper.  And death brings to 12 the number of UN peacekeepers who have died in the line of duty since the beginning of this year in the DRC, and to 74 the total number of peacekeepers who have lost their lives since the inception of the UN Mission in the DRC.


** Afghanistan


Turning now to the situation in Afghanistan, the UN Mission in Afghanistan says calm has returned to the streets of Kabul, following violence there that was believed to have been sparked by a road accident.  Several UN offices and guesthouses where UN staff have been staying were damaged during the violence.  The Mission says it will keep a close eye on the situation but it expects UN offices to return to normal operations tomorrow.


A few minutes ago, when the Secretary-General spoke about Afghanistan, he said he was saddened by the loss of life, and that he has been in contact with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice about measures that could be taken to bring the situation under control.  He added that the UN would keep working with the Afghan Government to strengthen its institutions.  And we do expect to have a transcript of the SG’s remarks available to you shortly.


**Timor-Leste


Also, from Timor-Leste, the UN Office there reports that the Special Envoy, Ian Martin, has arrived in Dili to assess the situation and has begun his work.  The UN in Dili says that, although violence has decreased, some looting has continued and camps holding internally displaced persons have been attacked.


UN agencies have resumed temporarily disrupted food distribution to the camps, but conditions in them are worsening because of overcrowding and rain.  According to an assessment completed today by the UN agencies and NGO staff, some 100,000 persons are being sheltered in IDP camps, including 65,000 in the Dili area.  And the total population of Dili, to give some idea, is 150,000.


And the World Food Programme meanwhile says it has rushed to Timor-Leste five-days-worth of rationing for some 95,000 people, but more help is needed, not only with food but with shelter, sanitation, and health care.  The UN says the numbers of displaced persons are swelling because of continued lack of security.  OCHA says it is sending in extra manpower to work on the humanitarian relief with its NGO partners.


**Security Council


Meanwhile, here, the Security Council is meeting this morning on threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts, and getting briefed by the chairs of:  the Counter-Terrorism Committee; the 1267 Committee, which deals with Al-Qaida and the Taliban; and the 1540 Committee, on weapons of mass destruction.


This afternoon in consultations, the Council will be briefed by Jean-Marie Guéhenno, the head of the Peacekeeping Department on the situations in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Timor-Leste.  They will also get a briefing by Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Tuliameni Kalomoh on Somalia, before turning to other matters.  And the Secretary-General is expected to attend those consultations.


** Indonesia


Turning now to the situation in Indonesia following the earthquake, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that increasing international assistance is arriving in Yogayakarta, following the earthquake.  OCHA has released emergency cash grants, and a UN Assessment and Coordination team is now on the ground.


Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has sent medicines, emergency health kits and communications equipment to the quake-hit area.  And UNICEF has set up child centre tents and provided water storage units and hygiene and recreational kits, as well as other items.


For its part, the World Food Programme has sent high-energy biscuits and noodles to hard-hit areas.  To make up for a lack of storage space, WFP is flying in 10 mobile warehouses.  But it needs more non-governmental organizations to help with food distributions.  We do have more information on this upstairs.


And also, over the weekend, we did issue a statement on behalf of the Secretary-General expressing his deep sadness at the loss of life, injuries and destruction following the quake.


** Lebanon


Also over the weekend, we issued a statement on Lebanon, expressing the Secretary-General’s concern at the serious clashes across the “Blue Line” that took place over the weekend.


The Secretary-General continues to follow the situation closely, and calls on all parties to exercise maximum restraint and fully respect the Blue Line.  He particularly urges the Government of Lebanon to make every effort to exercise its control over the use of force from its territory.  And the UN peacekeeping mission, UNIFIL, reports this afternoon that the situation remains calm.


** Somalia


From Somalia, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia appeals to warring factions in Mogadishu to act with humanity.  The Coordinator, Eric Laroche, also expressed his shock at the targeting of hospitals, which is in blatant violation of the basic rules of international humanitarian law.  We do have a press release upstairs with more details.


**Secretary-General’s Statement to Non-Aligned Movement


In a message to the Non-Aligned Movement Coordinating Bureau Ministerial Meeting held in Malaysia, the Secretary-General said he counted on the Movement’s support for UN reform, including changes in working practices in the Secretariat.  And we do have that statement available upstairs.


**World Health Organization Announcement


From Geneva, WHO says that its Executive Board has decided on a November timetable for electing a new Director-General for the organization.  That decision, of course, follows the sudden death of Dr. Lee Jong-wook last week.


**Press Conferences


A couple of press conferences tomorrow.  At 11:15 a.m., the former President of Portugal, Jorge Sampaio, who is the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy to Stop Tuberculosis, will be here to brief you on leading the battle against that epidemic.


At 12:45 p.m., Peter Piot, the Executive Director of UNAIDS, and Richard Feachum, the Executive Director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, will brief you on the 2006 High-Level Meting on AIDS, which starts tomorrow.


And at 1:30 p.m., DPI is sponsoring a press conference on the continuing impact of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda on women in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.


And finally, at 3 p.m., UNAIDS is sponsoring a press conference by the Global Business Coalition.


That is it for me, any questions?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Steph, on Myanmar, after a senior UN official went to Myanmar, and the Secretary-General himself appealed for the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the regime essentially just thumbed its nose at you guys.  What can be done now, aside from issuing statements that include the words “disappointed”, “concerned”, “called upon”, “recommended”, “urged”, “cannot abandon”, things like that?  What can the Secretary-General do now that they’ve basically thumbed their noses at you?


Spokesman:  I think, as the Secretary-General indicated in his statement, his efforts to continue to secure the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, and see some movement in Myanmar, will continue.  Obviously lines of communication have been opened with Yangon following Mr. Gambari’s visit and we hope to exploit those lines to move the process forward.


Question:  But what does that mean exactly when she’s been in prison for 17 years?  So, talk about effort to secure her release “continuing”...I mean what effort can be taken and what would be communicated in those now open lines of communication?


Spokesman:  I think Mr. Gambari said he would have to fully brief the Secretary-General on messages he received from the Senior General -- as he explained to you -- and from Aung San Suu Kyi, and he will do so.  And the way we work is through diplomatic contacts and we will continue those contacts and put every effort to move the process forward.


Question:  Last question.  But is the Secretary-General at all concerned about what this does to the image of the UN, that a Member State essentially just ignores the wishes of two of its most senior officials and imprisons someone whose only crime seems to be to advocate democracy?


Spokesman:  I think, from where we stand, we can’t give up and we have to keep trying.


Question:  Can I follow up on that?  Is there any sort of analysis of what might have gone wrong because Mr. Gambari came back saying that the stars were in alignment, that there were regional pressures, including some big Security Council countries, who had been talking to the Myanmar Government?  Is there a sense that those regional powers didn’t come through?  Didn’t put in sufficient pressure?  Is there any fear that Mr. Annan’s public statements might have put the regime in a place were it felt it couldn’t be seen to be bowing to his pressure?  What’s the analysis of all this?


Spokesman:  I think maybe it’s maybe a little too early to do such an in-depth post-game analysis.  As I said, Mr. Gambari will fully brief and discuss the situation in Myanmar with the Secretary-General, and I think as we move forward, we will analyse it and see what happened.


Question:  This was not my question, but I have one more thing on that.  Does Gambari’s briefing of the Secretary-General, and eventually, the Security Council change now because of the change in the situation on the ground?  I mean, he did sound pretty “rosy” when he came to brief us...


Spokesman:  He will brief the Secretary-General fully, and as to what afterwards, I have no indication.


Question:  Now let me ask my question.  On Lebanon, the one thing that was missing from the Secretary-General’s statement was the fact that one of the sides that he was referring to -- in fact the side that initiated the hostilities -– is on record on the Security Council’s books as a side that should be disarmed.  Isn’t it time for the Secretary-General to include that in a statement -- the fact that the Security Council asked Hizbollah to disarm?


Spokesman:  I think what the Security Council has said publicly, everyone is aware of.  The Secretary-General has in the past said that the issue of disarming militias is something that he encourages, and he encourages that to be done through national dialogue in Lebanon.


Question:  Let me follow up on that.  I noticed that in this context in his press conference he was talking about what is perceived by some to be cause for Hizbollah to remain armed.  I mean that is what Hizbollah says and that is the Shabaa Farms.  This incident had nothing to do with Shabaa Farms.  It was instigated by Hizbollah and Hizbollah needs to be disarmed.  I mean, this is something that should be worked on as opposed to some pretext about Shabaa Farms.  I mean, why isn’t it even in the statement?


Spokesman:  On Shabaa, the question put to the Secretary-General was on Shabaa.  That’s what he answered.  The Secretary-General’s position on Shabaa is clear, and is indicated in all his previous reports.  There’s really nothing to add at this point.


Question:  On the peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  There is a Reuters piece quoting an “unnamed UN source” that ransom is being demanded -- $20,000 per peacekeeper.  I don’t know if you can...or if that is the case, what’s the UN’s position is on that type of demand?


Spokesman:  No.  We do not pay ransom for UN staff taken hostage.  We are trying to obtain their release as quickly as possible.  And I think the Secretary-General was pretty clear when he said that the people responsible would be held personally accountable.


Question:  There is a recent MONUC report about human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo that says that most of the rapes being committed are actually by the Government soldiers.  I think MONUC’s own report says that, but there’s been no accountability.  There is essentially impunity.  I guess what I want to say is that is the idea to wait until after the elections and then encourage “punity” or accountability?


Spokesman:  No.  On the issue of human rights abuses by the Congolese army, by certain units of the army, MONUC has been working very hard with the army in terms of human rights training for troops, which is obviously very important as the populations need to have confidence in its own armed forces.  But no one is talking about impunity for those who committed crimes.


Question:  Just a housekeeping question.  For tomorrow’s four press conferences, I was wondering if there’s any way we can get on the record a request that maybe at least one or two of those...  I mean, you know, obviously it’s a big day with the opening of the AIDS conference; the Rwanda press conference sounds very interesting but it’s tough to imagine how that’s going to get any coverage at all...


Spokesman:  We often flag these things to the people who schedule them, but we will go back, we will go back to them.


Question:  Apparently the Nepalese Government, at least according to some press reports, has invited the UN to mediate.  Is that correct?  What’s the plan?  What’s going on with that?


Spokesman:  The UN has been actively involved in Nepal and we would help in any way we can and we are currently studying with the Nepalese Government in what areas we would best be helpful.


Question:  I mean have you got some mediator you can send to talk to the...


Spokesman:  No.  No one is talking about mediation yet.  We did send a senior UN official, Tamrat Samuel, to Nepal recently, and he is still talking to the Nepalese authorities to see where we would best help in terms of national reconciliation.


Question:  Either housekeeping or logistics, do you know if Mr. Guéhenno is going to take questions at the stakeout?


Spokesman:  We’ve asked that he does, but we haven’t heard back yet.


Question: I guess I’ll say...I just...he was on a show called “Foreign Exchange” and he made some off-handed comment like there aren’t really many people getting killed in the Congo.  I’m just letting you know.  So I think that may be something he may want to clarify.


Spokesman:  Thank you.


Question:  Also housekeeping:  do you know when Hédi Annabi is going to brief the Security Council on Brahimi’s Sudan visit (inaudible)?


Spokesman:  No, not yet.  But it’s something I should be able to get you an answer for quickly.


Question:  Follow-up on Sudan.  Apparently there’ve been some wire reports about mixed messages from different parts of the Government saying different things.  So I’m left a bit confused.  Has that Government given the green light for this new mission or not?


Spokesman:  As far as we have, yes, they have.  The agreement reached with Mr. Brahimi is that the team would first go to Khartoum, have consultations, then go on to Darfur to (a) see for themselves and plan for an eventual takeover to a UN team and (b) assess what the AU force needs now, and then go back to Khartoum.  I know there were some mixed messages while Mr. Brahimi was in town.  There was subsequently a press statement issued by either the Presidency or the Foreign Ministry clearly laying out that they were on the same wavelength as Mr. Brahimi.  And I can share that with you if you want.  Thank you.  Housekeeping?


Question:  No, a follow-up on Mark’s question.  Brahimi said that the team could come, but he said that there is no agreement yet for a UN force to replace the AU force.  So what’s the team doing there?


Spokesman:  The team, as we’ve said repeatedly, is planning for an eventual takeover from the AU to a UN force.


Question:  But there’s no agreement to that on the ground?


Spokesman:  Obviously a number of decisions would have to be made by the AU, the Security Council and the Government of National Unity in Sudan.  But our priority right now is planning for the eventual takeover to a UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur.


On that note, Pragati, all yours.


Briefing by General Assembly President Spokesperson


Good afternoon.


General Assembly President Jan Eliasson has returned to Headquarters, where preparations are in high gear for the General Assembly High-Level Meeting on AIDS, which opens tomorrow.


This morning, the Assembly met briefly in plenary to take a procedural decision on speakers for the meeting.

Starting at noon, going on right now, UNAIDS has organized a “human red ribbon”, where UN officials will gather a number of UN staff members in the North Lawn area to form a red AIDS ribbon with red umbrellas.  UNAIDS Special Representatives Naomi Watts and Mary Fisher will be participating.  The official photo and TV footage will be available to the press.


This afternoon, informal consultations are being held on the draft political declaration for the High-Level Meeting on AIDS, based on a revised co-Chairs’ text that was sent to delegates on Friday afternoon.


This evening at 6, the General Assembly President will speak at an Interfaith Prayer Service for the High-Level Meeting on AIDS, to take place at Saint Bartholomew’s Church ( Park Avenue at 51st Street).  We have a press release about that event upstairs.


Tomorrow, the Assembly will open the High-Level Meeting on AIDS at 9 in the morning.  Opening statements will be made by the President; the Secretary-General; the Executive Director of UNAIDS, Peter Piot; and a representative of civil society, Maura Mea of Igat Hope, a network for people living with HIV in Papua New Guinea.


The President and the Secretary-General will then speak to the press together at the General Assembly stakeout at approximately 9:45 a.m.


From 10 to 1 tomorrow, the President will chair the civil society hearings for the High-Level Meeting on AIDS.  The President will make opening remarks, as well as the Secretary-General.  Over 1,000 civil society representatives and NGOs are expected at Headquarters this week to attend the High-Level Meeting, and the hearings are expected to be an important contribution to that process.


Tomorrow afternoon, the Assembly will hold be a number of round tables, as well as several panel discussions on a range of AIDS-related issues.


Also, the President is today beginning a round of bilateral consultations on UN reform issues.  As he remarked to delegates at the plenary meeting this morning, he expects that over the next five to six weeks there will be intense consultations and discussions on these issues, but he hopes to finish the process before a number of delegations leave for the annual ECOSOC session in Geneva.  He told the delegates:  “Get ready for hard work -- no surprise for this Assembly session.”


No questions?  Oh, Matthew, yes?


**Question and Answer


Question:  In a press conference earlier today about the UNAIDS Progress Report on different countries, the issue arose that many countries have not responded to the agency’s request for information about AIDS in their countries.  Dr. Piot expressed some frustration and said that perhaps during this conference, the Member States that haven’t reported can be kind of encouraged to do so.  I guess I’m wondering what either the General Assembly or the General Assembly President can do?  With all the interest in this issue, the report says that only 126 of 191 countries responded in any way to the UNAIDS survey.  I don’t know if you’re aware of this issue.  Does it seem like the type of thing that he could use his Office to try and bring some improvement with Member States in getting them to participate?


Spokesperson:  The President’s Office has been very engaged in organizing this meeting and it’s an issue that he’s very concerned about.  I’m not sure that he was aware of the process by which Member States were asked to submit their input to the report.  It’s primarily the UNAIDS Secretariat that compiles that report, but I’ll bring the matter to his attention.


Comment:  I mean, from this podium, right where you’re sitting, actually, a half an hour ago or so, Dr. Piot expressed frustration that only 120 of 191 countries participated.  One of the questions that came up was about the Middle East/Asia, i.e., Central Asia.  I know Uzbekistan didn’t file.  I guess, perhaps understandably, Afghanistan didn’t file.  So, it seemed I thought I should ask you.


Spokesman:  Ok.  I’ll bring that matter to his attention.


Comment:  And if there’s a response, that would be great.


Any other questions?  Thank you very much.


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For information media • not an official record