29 June 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 SPOKESPERSON FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT


Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Pragati Pascale, Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.


Briefing by Deputy Spokesman for Secretary-General


Good afternoon.


**Timor-Leste Commission


The Secretary-General has appointed three people -- Paulo Sergio Pinheiro of Brazil, Zelda Holtzman of South Africa and Ralph Zacklin of the United Kingdom -- to the Independent Special Commission of Inquiry for Timor-Leste.  That commission is tasked with establishing the facts and circumstances relevant to the violent incidents that took place in the country on 28-29 of April and 23-25 of May.


The mandate of the Commission includes clarifying the responsibility for the events and recommending measures to ensure accountability for crimes and serious violations of human rights allegedly committed during the period.


Mr. Pinheiro will chair the Commission of Inquiry, which is to begin its work next month, and report its findings to the Secretary-General within three months.  The panel will be based in Dili.


The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, set up the Commission of Inquiry at the Secretary-General’s request earlier this month.  The Secretary-General has informed the Security Council of the appointments in a letter addressed to them yesterday.


**Timor-Leste Update


The United Nations Office in Timor-Leste says that some 3,000 demonstrators, riding in about 150 trucks, descended on Dili Thursday to show support for former Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, following his resignation on Monday.


Speaking with political leaders today, the head of the UN Office, Sukehiro Hasegawa, reminded them that they must ensure that their supporters restrain themselves from any behaviour that might result in violence.


Meanwhile, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Ian Martin, held a series of high-level meetings with Government leaders in his dual roles of planning the next stages of United Nations assistance to Timor-Leste and offering his good offices to assist in the resolution of the present crisis.


Martin held a working meeting with a group of Government ministers.  In a separate meeting with President Xanana Gusmão, he and United Nations police advisor Mark Kroeker exchanged concrete ideas on the role of an expanded United Nations police force in Timor-Leste.


Martin also briefed the diplomatic corps on his work, and sought their opinions on the political situation.  


** Middle East


We are expecting a statement sometime this afternoon about the recent developments in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  This probably will be issued in London, where the Secretary-General has arrived on his way to the African Union Summit in Banjul, Gambia.


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has been assessing the situation in the Gaza Strip, where it says that nearly half the population is currently without electricity, and this situation could persist for up to nine months.  The reduced capacity is affecting the provision of water, with daily access for families being cut by up to 50 per cent in some parts of the Gaza Strip.


The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has stepped up its activities in pre-positioning food and other supplies in parts of Gaza, so that it can offer assistance to people in need.  The World Food Programme and the Food and Agricultural Organization have also been increasing food aid.


The Secretary-General, when he was here yesterday, told reporters that he had been in touch with the leaders in the Middle East, including the Prime Minister of Israel and the Palestinian and Syrian Presidents, to try to calm the situation.


**Bakassi Agreement


The Secretary-General, on 28 June, wrote to the President of the Security Council, informing Council members that the first meeting of the follow-up committee on the implementation of the Greentree Agreement between Cameroon and Nigeria on the modalities of withdrawal and transfer of authority in the Bakassi peninsula, will take place in Geneva during the first week of July.


The United Nations will be represented by Kieran Prendergast, the former head of Political Affairs, who will serve as the committee’s chairman, and by General Seth Kofi Obeng.  Cameroon is represented by Maurice Kanto, a Minister Delegate at the Ministry of Justice, and Joseph Dion-Ngute, a Minister Delegate at the Ministry of External affairs, in charge of the Commonwealth.  Nigeria is represented by Chief Bayo Ojo, Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, and Sunday Ehindero, the Inspector General of the Nigerian Police.  There’s more information on this upstairs for you.


**Security Council


After brief consultations, the Security Council adopted a presidential statement, in which it said it was appalled by the horrific death of members of the Russian diplomatic mission in Iraq who had been kidnapped by a terrorist group.


The Security Council condemned the crime in the strongest possible terms and urged all States to cooperate actively in finding and bringing to justice its perpetrators, organizers and sponsors.


Following that meeting, the Security Council began a second open meeting, in which it discussed the Council’s mission earlier this month to Sudan and Chad.  British Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry, who headed the mission, and French Ambassador Jean Marc de la Sabliére, who headed the one to the DRC ( Democratic Republic of the Congo), briefed Council members.


**Security Council Yesterday


Yesterday afternoon, the Security Council held an open meeting, and heard a briefing by Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland on the protection of civilians in armed conflict.


In his remarks, Egeland said that peacekeeping missions must be equipped with better, more comprehensive mandates and the means to fulfil them.  Peacekeepers had to be given tools, guidance and support, if they were to be able to flexibly respond to emerging threats and provide better protection, he added. That text is available upstairs.


** Liberia


Available today, is a letter from the Secretary-General to the Security Council, in which the Secretary-General informed Council members of the reappointment, for a period of six months ending 21 December 2006, of members of the Panel of Experts on Liberia, as requested by Security Council resolution 1689 (2006). That letter is on the racks.


**Ethiopia/Eritrea


We have an update on the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea, saying it was informed today that Eritrean authorities released one of the Mission’s detained national staff members.


There are now a total of nine Eritrean national staff detained, and the Mission continues to protest against their detention.  There’s today’s press briefing notes upstairs.


**Human Rights Council


We just received this note from the Human Rights Council in Geneva, saying they adopted two landmark documents.


First, it adopted by consensus the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance.


It then adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, which was the result of 11 years of negotiations.  That was adopted by a vote of 30 in favor to 2 against with 12 abstentions.  I’m sure we can get more information from Geneva following the briefing on this.


**United Nations Development Programme


Finally, the United Development Programme will be honouring two Red Sox and one New York Mets players, as well as the Red Sox Foundation and that team’s fans, at a ceremony today in Boston, ahead of the first pitch of the final game of the Red Sox-Mets series.


The event is being held to honour their financial contributions to rebuild the town of Jimaní in the Dominican Republic, following catastrophic floods in May 2004 that left hundreds dead and many homes destroyed.  There’s a media advisory from UNDP on this upstairs.


**Press Conferences


And, just to flag to you, tomorrow morning, we have Rob Voss, Director for Policy and Analysis in the Department for Economic and Social Affairs, who will brief you on the world economic and social survey.  Our guest at noon will be Patricia Lewis, Director of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research, who will present a new report on the United Nations Programme of Action on small arms.  That’s what I have for you. Any questions?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  I just have two questions.  First, you said the WFP and the FAO are increasing food aid.  Is there any information if they’re able to get around the roadblocks, or if they’ve been talking to the Israeli Government to allow them access, because I know that was one of the problems.  And the second thing, is the United Nations doing any sort of investigating into the children who are detained, which started this whole thing?  They said that there are women and children detained by the Israeli Government.  Has there been any sort of work with United Nations Relief and Works Agency, or other United Nations agencies to find out what this is about?


Deputy Spokesman:  We’ll have to check with the agencies on the ground if they are in direct contact.  As you know, for humanitarian assistance and access to victims, humanitarian agencies do talk to all parties as a general principle, in order to try and get to the victims.  On this particular case we’ll again check with the agencies and follow up on that.


Question:  Do we know what kind of progress the Human Rights Council is making in deciding which of the various projects left over from the Commission they will take up?


Deputy Spokesman:  As of now, I’m not sure they’ve gotten through the whole agenda, but we’ll look into that, where they are with that.  There are many issues that need to be taken up and looked into, before they come up with their programme.


[The Deputy Spokesman later added that, tomorrow, the final day of the Human Rights Council’s session, the Council would be taking action on the mandates, mechanisms, functions and responsibilities inherited from the Human Rights Commission.]


Question:  Yesterday, at the stakeout, the Secretary-General said, in a one word answer, that he will be meeting with Robert Mugabe, while at the African Union meeting.  I know he said that he’ll meet with the President of Sudan and that seems to be well thought out.  Does he think he’ll run into him there?  Or does he actually plan to speak to him?  And what’s the status of the previously discussed visit to Zimbabwe by the Secretary-General.


Deputy Spokesman:  On your first question about his meetings, he has said publicly that he will meet both with the President of Sudan and the President of Zimbabwe, during participation in the African Union Summit.  Always when he attends these summits he has a number of bilateral meetings with the leaders who gather there, and we’ll keep you updated on when those things happen.  I have nothing further on a proposed visit to Zimbabwe, beyond what he said publicly.  And, I think the last time he spoke on that publicly was when he was in South Africa, in the region.


[The Deputy Spokesman later told the reporter that the Secretary-General also mentioned the Zimbabwe trip in his 15 June Press Conference.]


Question:  Could I ask one more?  And, I’m sorry to ask this, but, yesterday, I asked, and I’m going to ask it again.  It has now been reported in the New Vision in Uganda, and now by the Associated Press, that UNDP has suspended its operations in eastern Uganda, and the letters said “in the light of killings, harassment and beatings”.  Presumably by the Government of Uganda?  I know yesterday I asked, there was no Secretariat statement, nor upstairs.  The idea being that, somehow, it was still in play.  If UNDP is making statements here about Fenway Park and stuff, is there going to be some statement from this podium about the status of that, the lessons learned from that?  And if not, can the head of UNDP come for a briefing?


Deputy Spokesman:  I think you’ve probably been in quite extensive discussions with UNDP by now, but I can tell you what they have given us regarding this story that was played today in the Associated Press etc.  The UNDP says it has halted the Eastern Uganda Voluntary Disarmament Programme because UNDP field officers found that Government troops were abusing the rights of civilians in the region targeted by the project.  The project was designed to provide people in the Karamoja region of Uganda, who had agreed to disarm, with food, building materials or cash, in exchange for their weapons.  And, to date, UNDP has spent about a third of the $1 million at its disposal for this project, and that this programme originated in response to international concerns about earlier reports of abuses within the local Ugandan disarmament programmes.  And, just to update on that, we have learned that, today, in a meeting with the local donor technical working group on the ground, the Deputy Representative said that they raised the issue of forced disarmament and its repercussions for development in the region with the Government.  And that’s what I have for you on this.


Question:  I know this is kind of off United Nations business, but do you have any reports on possible resolution of the Government crisis in East Timor?  And do they have a Prime Minister yet?  Basically, they don’t have Mr. Alkatiri anymore. But have they appointed someone to succeed him?


Deputy Spokesman:  No, that process has not happened yet, and from this podium we have been reporting to you daily the appeals from the Special Representative, the Secretary-General, and now Ian Martin, who’s the Special Envoy looking into what more the United Nations can do to try to bring about a swift solution to this crisis, and for the people to act with the view to bringing calm and stability to the country.  But, we will be hearing back from Ian Martin with specific, concrete proposals on what the United Nations can do to bring this process forward.


Question:  Do you have a date of the September session of the Human Rights Council?  That will be held of course in Geneva.  And how long will it last?


Deputy Spokesman:  We’ll have to ask the Human Right’s Council representatives for you on that. We’ll ask for you.  I’m going to now turn it over to Pragati Pascale.


[The Deputy Spokesman later added that those dates were expected to be determined tomorrow.]


Briefing by Spokesperson for General Assembly President


Good Afternoon.


Yesterday afternoon, the Fifth Committee adopted by consensus a draft decision authorizing expenditure of the remaining funds appropriated in the biennial budget.  Three countries -- Australia, Japan and the United States -- disassociated themselves from the consensus.  This decision is expected to be acted on by the plenary late on Friday.


Just prior to the Fifth Committee action lifting the spending cap, as a contribution to the process, the General Assembly President issued a letter summarizing the reforms achieved thus far, as well as the elements of a draft resolution on management reform, on which he understands Member States generally agree.  He said that he expects that this draft resolution will be agreed on Friday, by the Fifth Committee and the Plenary.


The President also noted that Member States may wish to defer the comprehensive review of governance, oversight and accountability to the sixty-first Assembly session.


And finally, on the mandate review process, based on an interim report received from the co-Chairs, he outlined the way forward, which he also hoped and expected to be agreed in a draft resolution.  It is expected that the working group will conclude the review of unrenewed mandates older than five years, preferably before the end of July.  For other details, I suggest you see the letter, which was made available to you last night.


On development issues, the President, along with the co-Chairs for that issue, presented a revised text of a draft resolution to the informal consultations this morning.  The President said that he expects that this text, in which delegations have invested so much time and energy, is now ripe for a decision, and that he intends to present the resolution for adoption by the plenary tomorrow afternoon.  Copies of his remarks are available upstairs.


Some additional discussions are expected to take place informally today, to work out some adjustments on the placement of certain paragraphs.  Once the text has been agreed informally, we are hoping to arrange a background briefing for you later today or early tomorrow, to highlight what is significant in the draft resolution, which has been months in the making.  That resolution is also expected to be adopted by the plenary on Friday afternoon. Any questions?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  On Friday, is it anticipated that it’s just going to be a pro forma vote, or do you think other items can or will be discussed?  Some missions have predicted fireworks.  I just want to ask you to react to that.  What do you think is going to happen Friday?  Just a little colour, a little amplification.


Spokesperson:  I think it may go quite late, just because so much has to happen in one day.  The Plenary is scheduled to start at 4.  It will start with a development resolution, which they say will take about an hour with statements, then it will take up the management reform resolution.  I can’t say that we’re expecting fireworks, but there’s a lot to go through.  And then, Fifth Committee and plenary, so I expect it will be a late night.  It’s the Friday before a holiday weekend.  I’m not sure how many of you will be sticking it out to cover it, but just to give you some advance notice.


Question:  Is the development resolution related to the budget resolution?


Spokesperson:  Formally, there’s no linkage.  And the G-77 was quite insistent in various statements that the budget, the lifting of the spending cap is technically not linked to any of the issues.  But, politically, I think we all are aware that there are many concerns that all kind of come together at the same time.


Question: Why are they starting at 4 on Friday?


Spokesperson:  Because they anticipate that the documentation will not be ready before then.  Thanks.


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