|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 Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General is on his way back to New York, ending his nearly three-week trip to Europe and Africa. Tomorrow morning, the Secretary-General expects to discuss with the Security Council the talks he has had in recent days concerning concrete ways to resolve the crisis in Lebanon.
The team headed by his Special Adviser, Vijay Nambiar, is on its way back to New York as well, and it expects to be on hand for tomorrow’s Security Council briefing. The Secretary-General expects to brief the Council on that mission’s findings.
The Secretary-General left Brussels this morning after meeting with the European Union Trade Commissioner, Peter Mandelson. The Secretary-General had co-chaired the pledging conference in Brussels yesterday for the African Union mission in Darfur, which came up with $225 million in pledges for that mission.
In Lebanon, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has reported a number of incidents of firing close to UN positions in southern Lebanon, with Hizbollah continuing to fire rockets in the south, and intensified shelling and aerial bombing by the Israeli Defense Forces. UNIFIL reported that, within the last few hours, its compound in Bint Jubayl in the central sector was hit by two artillery shells, and the compound sustained substantial damage, although there were no casualties. The mission says that its headquarters in Naqoura was also hit with an artillery shell, again causing no casualties. The mission also reports on other exchanges of fire, as well as the humanitarian work that the peacekeepers have been doing in coordination with the Lebanese authorities, in a press release that we have upstairs.
**Humanitarian situation in Lebanon
Also on the humanitarian front, UN agencies are currently on the ground in Lebanon, working to meet the needs of the internally displaced and conflict-affected people. The World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF, for example, in coordination with the Lebanese Ministry of Health, are providing medicines required for chronic illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, both of which are highly prevalent in Lebanon. The agencies are also handing out chlorine tablets, in order to ensure safe drinking water and prevent water-borne diseases.
To maintain proper child and maternal health, WHO and UNICEF are ensuring the distribution of fortified nutritional packs, micronutrients and oral rehydration solutions. In addition, WHO is conducting health assessments to identify the most urgent health needs and gaps, and UNICEF is helping to pre-position generators and fuel in key health facilities throughout southern Lebanon, so that the facilities can continue functioning.
The agencies report that hundreds of thousands of people are internally displaced, with more than 30,000 of them finding refuge in schools and public gardens in and outside Beirut. And we have more on that upstairs.
In terms of the Security Council, today the Council was briefed in consultations this morning by the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Timor-Leste, Ian Martin, following his recent assessment mission there. Martin told Council members of the need for long-term engagement with Timor-Leste.
Speaking to the press afterwards, he said that, while Timor-Leste’s immediate crisis has been resolved, this only gains more time to address the grievances that led to it in the first place. He also spoke of the need for sustained international commitment to Timor-Leste, and the importance of helping prepare for presidential and parliamentary elections early next year.
The Council also took up the issue of Côte d’Ivoire, and then, they moved on to a formal meeting just now, in order to adopt a presidential statement on that. In that statement, Council members said they’re fully prepared to impose targeted sanctions against those who block the implementation of the peace process in Côte d’Ivoire.
On Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, today called the escalating trend of violence in many Iraqi cities the greatest danger to that country, as it threatens to erode the Government’s authority to enforce security and the rule of law. The emerging phenomenon of Iraqis killing Iraqis on a daily basis, he said, is nothing less than a catastrophe and a national tragedy. Accordingly, Qazi called upon Iraq’s citizens to cooperate with the legal authorities to ensure the removal of armed groups from the streets and to significantly reduce current crime levels. Qazi stressed the equal importance of necessary restraint in the conduct of security operations by the Multinational Force and Iraqi Security Forces, in order to avoid civilian casualties. And we have a press release upstairs on that.
** Democratic Republic of the Congo
Speaking today at a press briefing in the Congolese capital of Kinshasa, Fernando Castañon, the Director of the Human Rights Division of the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, condemned recent human rights violations in the country, and called on the Congolese authorities to respect the provisions of the new constitution. Citing incidents of police brutality against demonstrators and a recent spate of attacks on the press, the Mission official stressed that such actions undermine the freedom of expression of the Congolese people. He urged all political parties to respect “the code of good conduct”.
On Kosovo, the Office of the UN Special Envoy for the Kosovo Future Status Process, Martti Ahtisaari, reports that delegations from Pristina and Belgrade are today holding a round of direct talks in Vienna on decentralization. The delegations also met yesterday for negotiations on the protection of religious and cultural heritage in Kosovo. And, as you know, this Monday, Ahtisaari’s office will host a high-level meeting in Vienna on the province’s future status.
The Spokesperson for the General Assembly President wanted me to inform you that the General Assembly will hold a plenary meeting tomorrow morning and tomorrow afternoon to hear statements on the question of the Security Council reform. About 30 speakers are scheduled, and the list of speakers will be circulated by the Assembly Spokesperson when it is available.
And the Peacebuilding Commission began informal briefings on the situation in Burundi and in Sierra Leone today. The briefings began at 10 a.m. in the Economic and Social Council Chamber, and will continue at 3 p.m.
Lastly, tomorrow there will be some press conferences for you. At 11 a.m., the UN Conference on Trade and Development will be launching the “Least Developed Countries Report 2006”. Charles Gore, the author of the report, will be here to brief you. And then, at 3:30 p.m., members of the Redesign Panel, which is made up of external and independent experts appointed by the Secretary-General to consider the redesign of the UN system of administration of justice, will be here to brief you on the Panel’s report.
And lastly, I am sure you will be interested to know that Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown has agreed to come down to the Security Council stakeout at 1 o’clock this afternoon, just about 50 minutes from now, to talk to you there. So if you are interested, he’ll be available, again, at 1, at the Security Council stakeout.
Do you have any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: What does the Secretary-General make of the fact that Syria refused to accept one of his emissaries and, therefore, the team did not go to Damascus?
Associate Spokesman: As we informed you yesterday, the team had already expected to fly back today, in order to participate in these briefings concerning the Security Council and they will be on hand, as I mentioned just now, to brief on their work.
Question: That was not my question.
Associate Spokesman: In terms of visiting Syria, it is not excluded that there will be further visits to the region in the future, and I expect the Secretary-General might have something more to say on this when he briefs the Security Council on the team’s work tomorrow.
Question: Can the President in Damascus dictate to the Secretary-General who will be his emissaries?
Associate Spokesman: Like I said, the Secretary-General might have something more to say about this when he briefs the Security Council tomorrow.
Question: Does the Secretary-General have an opinion on this latest report in the New York Times that the United States and Israel have agreed to continue bombing Lebanon for the next 10 days or so? Why should the people of Lebanon suffer and, does the Secretary-General have an opinion?
Associate Spokesman: What the Secretary-General has made clear is the urgent need for a cessation of hostilities. He has called for all sides to stop their activities -- for Hizbollah to stop their rocket fire, for the Israeli soldiers who are held captive to be released, and for Israel to halt its actions -- and we are certainly hoping for all of these things to happen, as soon as possible, to spare any more civilian lives. He has been very concerned about that and, of course, our concern remains, especially, that all attacks by all sides on civilians and civilian infrastructures cease at once. So, that is certainly what we are calling for. I wouldn’t have any comment about the media reports, one way or the other.
Question: Also, on UNIFIL, how many times have the Israelis attacked UNIFIL in Lebanon?
Associate Spokesman: We have a press release with some information. I don’t know if you were here when I mentioned this, but there were two recent incidents, just within the last few hours, in which UNIFIL compounds were hit. What has been happening is that armed elements, such as Hizbollah, have been firing near UNIFIL positions, and sometimes UNIFIL has been hit as Israel responds to the Hizbollah actions with aerial bombardment. But certainly, UNIFIL has made known the number of times that its own facilities have been hit. Like I said, in the two recent incidents in the last few hours, there were no casualties.
Question: But about five years ago, UNIFIL headquarters were hit by Israel, when they were sheltering women and children.
Associate Spokesman: You are talking about the incident in Qana. I don’t know whether it was five years ago or a bit longer than that. I believe it was a bit longer than that. One of the things we have tried to mention to people in Lebanon is that it may be safer for them to stay in villages that are away from areas where the exchange of fire is occurring, rather than going to UNIFIL compounds. But UNIFIL has been sheltering people and, in fact, they have been sheltering people even in one of the compounds –- in Bint Jubayl –- that was hit within the past few hours.
Question: Following on Masood’s question, will the United Nations tolerate another 10 days of bombing without doing anything?
Associate Spokesman: We are asking for an immediate cessation of hostilities. We have been doing that for some time and, as you know, the Secretary-General and his team on the ground, who are now returning, have been in touch with a wide range of actors, trying to do what they can to resolve this crisis as quickly as possible, to spare civilian lives as much as we possibly can.
Question: What is the objective of this General Assembly debate on the expansion of the Security Council? Is there any resolution before the Assembly?
Associate Spokesman: I think you’d have to check with the General Assembly Spokesperson, but this is part of the discussion on the Security Council reform that has been ongoing and, as I said, it will take place tomorrow. For further details, please talk to Pragati Pascale.
[The correspondent was later informed that the meeting was called for by Member States and is a continuation of the General Assembly’s consideration of Security Council reform.]
Question: Has there been any attempt by this team to be in contact with someone from Iran?
Associate Spokesman: By the team? The team has not visited Iran. The Secretary-General, of course, has had contacts and UN officials have had contacts with a wide variety of officials from different countries, including from there.
Question: From Iran, who has the Secretary-General been in touch with?
Associate Spokesman: I would need to check that.
[The Spokesman later informed the correspondent that the last contact between the Secretary-General and Iran happened more than a week ago.]
Question: You touched on this briefly at the beginning. In Kinshasa, in the DRC, 300 journalists were demonstrating yesterday in the streets, protesting the killing of two journalists and the [inaudible] of several of their colleagues, and they have asked the UN to protect them. In view of the fact that we are only two weeks away from the elections, what is the UN prepared to do to resolve the situation?
Associate Spokesman: You might have missed this, but…
Question: No, I didn’t miss this, but, now, the representative of the human rights has made an appeal…
Associate Spokesman: And so, what we have done is we have made a call on the Congolese authorities to respect the Constitution’s provisions, and we’ve stressed that these actions undermine the freedom of expression of the Congolese people. And so, what we are urging the Congolese authorities to do is to carry out the provisions of the Constitution, and we’ll see how they abide by that as we approach the elections.
Question: Is the UN concerned that those journalists, the 300 of them, will not cover the elections?
Associate Spokesman: We are concerned at any actions that would impede the freedom of expression in the DRC.
Question: Is the UN confirming, in fact, that the team, or members of the team, were not allowed to enter Syria, and that they, therefore, returned to the… we know they are coming back, but they are coming back slightly earlier?
Associate Spokesman: I don’t have anything to say about that right now. As I believe I said earlier, the Secretary-General will be briefing the Security Council tomorrow about the team’s work, and he might have something to say about this at that point.
Question: That’s tomorrow. You know, today’s today, and this happened today. Can we get an answer today?
Associate Spokesman: I will see whether there is anything further to say about this today, but I would also urge you to pay attention to what the Secretary-General has to say about this.
Question: On the North Korea missiles, the Secretary-General had nothing to say, he said, while the Security Council was considering this. Now that they passed a resolution Saturday, and North Korea has said what it said in response, now does the Secretary-General have anything to say on the topic?
Associate Spokesman: He hasn’t said very much on North Korea. He did welcome the resolution that was passed by the Security Council over the weekend and, of course, he continues to urge North Korea and, indeed, all the parties, to resume the six-party talks, as soon as possible.
Question: Has he spoken with anyone with the North Korean Government?
Associate Spokesman: I don’t believe he has had any discussions with North Korea since the resolution was passed, no.
Question: I may have missed it –- what was the reason for Mark Malloch Brown to come to the stakeout?
Associate Spokesman: Well, you have been asking a number of questions, in particular involving the situation in Lebanon, and he will be prepared to take questions from you there.
Question: Another Mark Malloch Brown question. It was earlier this week on his schedule –- he met with Revenue Watch. Do you know what that was about? Which of the various revenue watches it was, and what it was about?
Associate Spokesman: I don’t know. I’d have to check on that.
Correspondent: I mean, I’ll try to ask at the stakeout, but if not, I’d like to know.
Question: Another question. The team is on its way to New York today. Has it gone to Syria?
Associate Spokesman: No, the team did not go to Syria. This morning, the team went to Madrid. That was a stopover on its way back and, while in Madrid, they met with Foreign Minister of Spain, Miguel Angel Moratinos. And now they are heading back to New York.
Question: So, they went directly from Israel to Madrid?
Associate Spokesman: As far as I am aware. I don’t have their flight schedule, but yes. Their only stopover was Madrid.
And if there are no further questions, have a good afternoon.
* *** *For information media • not an official record