25 July 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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon.


**Secretary-General in Rome


The Secretary-General is in Rome today to attend an international conference on Lebanon tomorrow.  And, he told you before his departure that he hoped that a package would emerge from the discussions that would allow for concrete measures to resolve the Lebanon crisis.


**Secretary-General Statement on Côte d’Ivoire


I have a statement attributable to the Spokesman on Côte d’Ivoire:


“The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about the recent inflammatory statements by the leadership of the Front Populaire Ivoirien, which have incited the Young Patriots to resort to acts of violence aimed at disrupting the ongoing identification process in Côte d’Ivoire.  The violence resulted in the loss of human lives and an attack by Young Patriots on the vehicle of the High Representative for Elections, Gérard Stoudmann.


“The Secretary-General strongly condemns these acts, which are in breach of the agreements reached among Ivorian parties, including during the high-level meeting he convened in Yamoussoukro on 5 July.  He urges all Ivorian parties to extend their full cooperation to the Prime Minister as the Government presses ahead with the simultaneous implementation of the identification and disarmament processes.”


And we have that statement upstairs for you.


**Security Council


At United Nations Headquarters, the Security Council began its work this morning by meeting with the countries that contribute troops to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).  The Council, then, went right on to consultations on that Force, with a briefing by Lisa Buttenheim, Director of the Asia and Middle East division of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations on the recent developments, including the Secretary-General’s latest report on that Mission, which we reported to you yesterday.


And in that, the Secretary-General recommended that the Council extend the mandate of UNIFIL by one month to provide the time for the Council to consider all possible options for future arrangements in south Lebanon.  In the current environment, he said in that report, circumstances conducive to United Nations peacekeeping do not exist.


And the mission itself -– the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon -– reports today that there are a number of civilians who are still stranded in southern Lebanese towns, where intensive fighting between Israeli forces and Hizbollah is taking place.  The mission says that four members of the Ghanaian UNIFIL battalion were slightly injured yesterday evening, when a tank, round from the Israeli side, impacted inside their position.


Meanwhile, this morning, Hizbollah opened small arms fire at a UNIFIL convoy consisting of two armoured personnel carriers (APCs), causing some damage to the APCs, but no casualties.


The mission also reports that a number of positions were resupplied yesterday, with additional resupply convoys planned for today.  We have more details in a press release from the Mission, upstairs.


**Lebanon/Humanitarian


Turning to the humanitarian side, the World Food Programme (WFP) said today that it expects to have three convoys this week in Lebanon, which will be transporting both WFP food supplies and relief from other organizations.  The first convoy was expected to depart tomorrow for Tyre, carrying 125 tons of wheat-flour.  The first supply of WFP food aid –- 25 tons of fortified biscuits that had arrived from Italy over the weekend –- is now being distributed to those that had been displaced in and around Beirut.  The agency hopes that other humanitarian convoys would leave this week.


Meanwhile, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) reports that all of its services are functioning through some 600 health-care professionals working around the clock to provide health assistance to Palestinian and Lebanese refugees.  UNRWA has been able to provide shelter in schools and camps in southern Lebanon for 4,000 Lebanese.  We have more details in today’s briefing notes from Geneva.


**Gaza/Humanitarian


And, turning to Jan Egeland’s mission, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator toured the Gaza Strip this morning, following his arrival last night in Israel.  He toured two UNRWA schools and a health clinic that were damaged by Israeli incursions last week.


Egeland then visited the Gaza power station, which was destroyed by an air strike on 28 June, leaving the Gaza Strip without 45 per cent of its prior electricity supply.


Egeland later travelled to Gaza City, where he met with the UNRWA Commissioner General and, held a town hall meeting with local community members.  After his return from Gaza, Egeland met with Palestinian Authority leader, Mahmoud Abbas, in Ramallah.  And, tomorrow, Mr. Egeland plans to travel to Haifa to view the destruction and human suffering that has been wrought there by rockets launched into Israel by Hizbollah.


** Somalia

And, on Somalia, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, François Lonseny Fall, is in Somalia today on a mission to ease tensions between leaders of the Transitional Federal Government and the Supreme Council of the Islamic Courts.  Fall is scheduled to hold meetings with the president of the Transitional Federal Government in Baidoa and with the Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Courts in the capital Mogadishu.


Before leaving for Somalia, Fall said in a press release issued by his office that the goal of his mission is to encourage the parties to enter into a genuine and meaningful dialogue.  And, there is a press release on this upstairs, and we are expecting an update from his office shortly on this mission.


** Haiti


And, turning to Haiti, the Secretary-General welcomes the holding of an international donors’ conference for Haiti.  The fact that this is being organized in Port-au-Prince for the first time illustrates the firm commitment of the Haitian authorities to shape their country’s own destiny.


The support of the international community has been essential to the success of Haiti’s electoral process, and the work to stabilize the country.  It will remain vital as Haiti works to reform its rule of law institutions, rebuild economic life and restore dignity and hope to the daily lives of its people.


The Secretary-General encourages donors to pledge generously in support of national priorities, including direct budgetary support.  He appeals to the international community to work closely with the United Nations Mission in mandate-related areas, and with the United Nations Country Team on other activities.  And, he wishes the Haitian people every success on the road to building a stable, inclusive and prosperous nation.


** Sudan


And, on Sudan, we do have a statement issued by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative there, Jan Pronk, in which he condemns the killing of three Sudanese Government officials in West Darfur last week at an internally displaced persons (IDPs) camp there.  The three officials were members of the Government State Water Corporation, and were testing water in the camp when they were beaten to death by IDPs.  There’s more information on that upstairs.


** Democratic Republic of the Congo


And, in a press release published today on the DRC, the UN World Food Programme warns that, due to violence and the displacement of tens of thousands of people, its food stocks are now stretched to the breaking point.


The situation is particularly dire in the eastern Ituri province, where the tense security situation is disrupting humanitarian relief work.  The agency has launched an appeal for more than $250,000 to feed some 1.7 million people in that region.


And also on the DRC, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) reports that an assessment mission conducted this month in the eastern Katanga Province, also in the east, found that more than 2,000 families of IDPs had spontaneously returned to their villages of origin in recent weeks.  Overall, an estimated 170,000 people are displaced within Katanga province.


And, I mentioned yesterday that we were trying to arrange a briefing for those of you who are interested in the elections.  There is a background briefing being planned.  If you are interested, please contact Yves Sorokobi in the Spokesman’s Office upstairs.


**HIV/AIDS


The Secretary-General –- this is just a recap from yesterday -- made a statement yesterday evening, following the AIDS-related meeting with the top executives of nine of the world’s leading research-based and generic pharmaceutical and diagnostic companies. 


And he noted that, among other things, the companies committed themselves to reviewing their prices, especially for children, to make them more affordable, accessible and appropriate for use in middle- and low-income countries.  The companies will also give greater priority to research and development of paediatric formulations of HIV medications.


And the United Nations, for its part, agreed to devise, promote and update guidelines on diagnosis, treatment and product quality for adults and children.  The companies also agreed to meet with UNAIDS and the UN Secretariat at a high level once a year to review progress and identify further measures.  That full statement was issued last night, and is available upstairs.


**Children and Armed Conflict


And the Security Council, also yesterday, late in the afternoon, adopted a presidential statement at the end of the day on a meeting on children and armed conflict.  In it, the Security Council underscored the importance of sustained investment in health, education and skills training, to secure the successful reintegration of children into their communities and prevent re-recruitment.  The specific situation of girls exploited by armed forces and groups must be recognized and adequately addressed, the statement said.


** Sri Lanka


And just to flag that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, begins a three-day mission to Sri Lanka today to meet displaced people in the north and east of the country.  It will be the first mission by the head of UNHCR to Sri Lanka, where the agency has been working with [conflict displaced persons] since 1987.  That’s according to UNHCR.


** Afghanistan


And, on Afghanistan, the United Nations, together with the Government of Afghanistan, today launched a six-month humanitarian appeal.  Amounting to over $76 million, the appeal aims to meet the urgent needs of more than 2.5 million Afghans suffering from drought and food insecurity.  There is a press release on that upstairs.


That’s all I have for you, today.  Anything for me? Yes?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Marie, yesterday, the World Trade Organization failed in its Doha round, and there are indications that the negotiations may not resume until 2009.  Is the Secretary-General disappointed, and does he have any reaction?


Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the Secretary-General has been in touch with Pascal Lamy, head of the World Trade Organization, and yes, he is disappointed with the outcome.  But, he urges the parties to exert their efforts and not walk away and keep working so that there can be an agreement that benefits the developing countries of the world that need genuine market access opportunities.  And, this is something that the Secretary-General has repeated over and over again in his speeches and public statements over the last several months.


Question:  Marie, I just want to ask you about the meeting that you mentioned that Annan had yesterday with the pharmaceutical companies.  Was there anything discussed about, I think it’s called [inaudible], was the French initiative, or the airline tickets.  They launched it here, right before the World Cup at the beginning of June.  Apparently, that failed, and I was trying to find out if there’s been any follow-up.  Did he mention that at all when he was speaking to these pharmaceutical companies?


Deputy Spokesman:  In the statement that was issued following the meeting, there was no reference to what you mentioned.  But, we can certainly… come to my office, and we can look into it with the organizers and those who participated, if that issue came up.


[The correspondent was later informed that the Secretary-General had indeed mentioned the International Drug Purchase Facility, which is to be funded by the French airline solidarity tax, in his opening remarks.  He said that such initiatives were helping to save millions of lives.]


Question:  I’m sorry.  I got in late, so if you touched on this, I apologize.  But, I understand that Kofi Annan is calling for an extension of the UNIFIL mandate for another month.  Can you explain what the rationale is behind that?


Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  Yesterday, the Secretary-General’s report on UNIFIL came out, and he has recommended that one month extension at that time, while the Security Council and the international community look at the shape of the Mission in southern Lebanon because clearly, right now it is not able to execute what its mandated to do, given the current conditions on the ground.


Question:  But, the rationale for doing that is what exactly?


Deputy Spokesman:  I just explained the rationale, so that…


Question:  …to allow time, just this period to figure that out?


Deputy Spokesman:  Exactly.


Question:  Do you have any new information on the Rome conference?


Deputy Spokesman:  In what sense?


Question:  I mean any new developments there?


Deputy Spokesman:  The Secretary-General, I think, flagged for you yesterday, before he left for the conference.  The conference is being organized -– the UN is not organizing it -- so my understanding is that it’s the United States and Italy that are organizing it.  The Contact Group of Lebanon, of which the United Nations is a member, is invited, as are a number of other participants, who have been invited by the organizers.  If you want to go over the list, it’s not ours, but I can share what I have.


Question:  I just wanted to know if you have any information, any result coming out of the…


Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the meeting is tomorrow.


Question: [inaudible].


Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, today he has arrived, and he’s getting ready for the meeting tomorrow.


Question:  And beyond the meeting, is he then going on to one of the capitals in the region, in the Middle East that is, to…


Deputy Spokesman:  As of now, he’s scheduled to be back here on Thursday.


Question:  So, it’s just straight to Rome and back?


Deputy Spokesman:  That’s the current plan. Yes?


Question:  Sure.  On the Congo –- and I definitely will look forward to that briefing -– earlier today, you know, there were big rallies in Kinshasa and tear gas was fired at people calling for the election to be put off, due to the irregularities, they say.  This William Lacy Swing –- is he still in Ituri? Has he… as of yesterday, he said he was not overly anxious about violence in the east, but, does he have anything to say about violence in the capital?


Deputy Spokesman:  I don’t have anything directly from him today.  But, I think I just flagged to you a number of press releases issued by various UN entities on the ground that are shedding light on the state of play on the ground.  Mr. Swing’s activities today –- I’ll have to look into it for you.


Question:  I actually, yesterday outside the pharmaceutical meeting, I managed to, whatever, I gave the Secretary-General this Reuters article that concerned Peter Karim, the one who took the UN peacekeepers hostage and is now in the Congolese army.  So, he said he was thinking about the pharmaceutical companies.  But, I’m wondering -– somehow I doubt that you’ve gotten a response from him, but I’m wondering if you could try –- the Secretary-General, himself, I’m wondering if he has anything to say about the individual who kidnapped the peacekeepers now being in the army.  Because, I went back and looked, on 30 May, at the stakeout, he said there’d be personal accountability for Peter Karim, by name, and no impunity.  So, I just wanted, it’s not a I tried to do what I can to get the wheels in motion to have some answer to that, whether this constitutes accountability or impunity.


Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I’m sure that, if he said what he said, he believes in what he said, but we’ll get…  Okay, but I think his position probably has not changed.

Question:  Just wondering about the OIOS –- have they gotten back to you when they might be coming into this room to brief the press about their activities and reform of their organization?


Deputy Spokesman:  Well, OIOS, as you know, is independent, so, I suggest, and I recommended earlier, that if you want them to come, please make the request to them.


Question:  They’ve always referred back to your office, so I’m just wondering if there’s been any…


Deputy Spokesman:  They’re aware that there is a request.  But, I’m not sure there’s much more that we can do from our position, but, I’ll certainly flag it again.


Question:  Thank you.


Question:  What are the Secretary-General’s expectations for the meeting tomorrow?


Deputy Spokesman:  I think he laid them out yesterday at the stakeout.  There is nothing further than that today.


Question:  On Somalia, you’d said there’s a report that Mr. Lonseny Fall’s call for the Islamic Courts to meet with the Transitional Government has been rejected by the Islamic Courts.  They say because Ethiopia has troops inside Somalia.  So, I don’t know, are you able, is the UN able to confirm that Ethiopia is in Somalia, that the troops are in Somalia, or not?


Deputy Spokesman:  I mentioned to you last Friday that we were not.  However, because Mr. Fall has been to Somalia today, we hope to get some more information on that, later.  And, we’ll certainly update you when we do.


Question:  Just wondering about UN forces in that area, in Somalia and Ethiopia -– what sort of strength is there on the ground in terms of presence, should something erupt in a serious way down there?


Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the UN mission, right now, is a political mission.


Question:  So, there are no peacekeepers of any sort, no infrastructure?


Deputy Spokesman:  No.  There are no more questions? Have a good afternoon.


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