31 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, and Ahmad Fawzi, Director, News and Media Division, Department of Public Information (DPI), and United Nations Spokesman on the Middle East.


Good afternoon.  We have a three-part briefing today.  We will have as our guest Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, who will brief us on yesterday’s elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  And we have Ahmad Fawzi, Director, News and Media Division, Department of Public Information, who will brief you and take questions on the Middle East.


**Secretary-General’s Statement on the Democratic Republic of the Congo


I will start with a statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on the Democratic Republic of the Congo:


“The Secretary-General welcomes the successful holding of the presidential and national legislative elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on 30 July.  This historic event is a milestone in the country’s peace process.


“The Secretary-General congratulates the Congolese people for their broad participation and for the peaceful conduct of the elections, and commends the Congolese Independent Electoral Commission for organizing the polling.  He notes that the elections were held in a generally calm environment, with only isolated incidents, and calls for calm as the results are tabulated.  Voting continues today at the few polling stations that could not open yesterday.  The Secretary-General looks forward to the announcement of the results by the Independent Electoral Commission, and appeals to all of the Congolese parties and candidates to respect the outcome in a spirit of peace and reconciliation.


“The Congolese people continue to face major challenges, including political and economic reforms, national reconciliation, good governance, and reconstruction and development.  The United Nations remains deeply committed to supporting them in their efforts to build lasting peace and democracy.”


**Democratic Republic of Congo Elections Update


The ballot counting is now under way, as I just mentioned, in the DRC.  The UN Mission there reports that turnout was high and, voting proceeded in a generally orderly and peaceful fashion.


The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the DRC, William Lacy Swing, thanked the Congolese for their “discipline, wisdom and maturity” in participating massively in the landmark polls.  Swing congratulated the Independent Electoral Commission on discharging its colossal duty of overseeing the vote.  Swing also commended the Congolese police for maintaining public order and safety throughout the country.  He called regrettable the election-related incidents reported in the eastern Kasai Province and in the capital Kinshasa.


And we expect more information from the Mission of the elections in the coming days.  We are also planning a video teleconference with SRSG Swing for later this week.  And, as I mentioned, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, should be here shortly to brief you in detail about these historic elections.


**Security Council


Here at the Security Council this morning, it held a meeting, as you know, on non-proliferation.  By a vote of 14 to 1, with Qatar voting no, the Council adopted a resolution, demanding that Iran suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development.  The Council also requested by 31 August a report from the Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), primarily on whether Iran has established a full and sustained suspension of all such activities.


The Council went on to approve a one-month extension of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), until the end of August, and urged all concerned parties to abide scrupulously by their obligation to respect the safety of UNIFIL and other UN personnel.  It also adopted a resolution on the Democratic Republic of the Congo concerning sanctions.


The Council then went into consultations on Lebanon at the request of the Lebanese.  It decided to hold an open meeting this afternoon at 3 p.m. on Lebanon.  That meeting may be followed by consultations, also on the same subject.


** Sudan


Turning to Sudan, the UN Mission there says that the security situation in Darfur remains volatile, particularly in North and West Darfur, where fighting between Government forces and rebel groups, which haven’t signed the Darfur Peace Agreement, were reported over the last three days.


Ambushes on humanitarian convoys continue to be reported.  The latest ambush took place over the weekend, when a convoy of 29 World Food Programme (WFP) trucks were ambushed by six armed men in a place were they were returning to a base after delivering food to distribution points.  No injuries were reported.


** Somalia


And on Somalia, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General there, François Lonseny Fall, will attend a meeting of the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) tomorrow in Nairobi.  The meeting is being called by Kenya's Minister of Foreign Affairs to address the unfolding crisis in Somalia.


Participants, including representatives from Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda, will consider recent UN Security Council statements on Somalia, as well as an IGAD and African Union report on an Assessment and Reconnaissance Mission to Somalia that was completed earlier this month.  And we will update you on the conclusions of the meeting tomorrow.


**Cyprus


And finally, before we turn to the Middle East, on Cyprus, the principal aides to H.E. Mehmet Ali Talat and H.E. Tassos Papadopoulos, today, exchanged lists of issues of substance at the office of the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Cyprus, Michael Møller.


Work is continuing to ensure the speedy start of the technical committees on issues affecting the day-to-day life of people, as well as of the expert bicommunal working groups on substantive issues.


Møller and the aides expressed confidence that the start of this process was imminent.


And that’s all I have for you.  Now Ahmad will brief on the Middle East.


Mr. Fawzi:  Unless you have any questions for Marie…non-Middle East type questions? DRC or any of the statements Marie made.  Yes, would you like to take a question, or do you want me to…


Deputy Spokesperson: Sure.


Question:  In Somalia, the Prime Minister has said openly that Egypt, Libya and Iran are illegally providing support and arms to the Islamic Courts Union, so I wonder if Mr. Fall is doing anything, given the unfolding events?  Can you confirm or deny the presence of Ethiopian troops in the country?


Deputy Spokesperson:  We have mentioned to you that the UN is not in a position to confirm the presence of Ethiopian troops.  On the other matters that you referred to, we will look into it for you after the briefing.  As for what he is doing today, we will get a readout of his meeting.  In terms of his reactions to daily news events, he may not be reacting publicly to everything that you are reading, but I guarantee you that he is working very hard.


[The Deputy Spokesman later added that the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia, François Lonseny Fall, has no comment on the Somali Prime Minister's claim that Egypt, Libya, and Iran are arming the Supreme Council of Islamic Courts in Mogadishu.  While such statements are noted for what they are worth and, if necessary, their veracity is probed within the larger context of the mandate of the United Nations Political Office for Somalia, the Special Representative is not in a position to comment on each and every allegation made by the parties or their representatives on a daily basis.  Meanwhile, though, the Security Council-mandated Monitoring Group on Somalia has provided useful hints on possible sources of arms flow into Somalia in the Group's most recent report to the Security Council.]


Briefing by Middle East Spokesman


Thank you very much, Marie.


**Security Council Emergency Session


You’re all aware, of course, of the Security Council meeting in an emergency session yesterday called for by the Secretary-General.  He made a very strong speech in the Council, condemning the attack on Qana that killed dozens of civilians -- many of them children.  I would urge you to read his speech again and again.  He, as I said, condemned the action in the strongest possible terms.  He asked the Council to do the same.  He said that the tragedy had, “rightly, provoked moral outrage throughout the world”.


While no one disputes Israel's right to defend itself, the Secretary-General said, its manner of doing so has caused, and is causing, death and suffering on a wholly unacceptable scale.


He referred in his speech to the High Commissioner for Human Rights reminding all parties that they may be held accountable for any breaches of international humanitarian law.  He repeated that the most urgent need is to bring the fighting to a halt without delay.


In fact, his appeal was so impassioned, he said “I beg you to put your differences aside” and come together on this most urgent point, and urged them to act, and act now, saying that the Council had its “authority and standing at stake,” as people have “noticed its failure to act firmly and quickly” during this crisis.


You’ve all seen the speech, but I thought that was worth highlighting.  And of course, more copies are available in the Spokesman’s Office.


The Security Council, in the evening, did adopt a presidential statement -- again, which you’ve all seen -- in which members of the Council expressed “extreme shock and distress” at the shelling by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in Qana.


The Council strongly deplored this loss of innocent lives and the killing of civilians in the present conflict, and in fact, the situation reports from the Government of Lebanon’s Higher Relief Council stated that 620 people had been killed, and that 3,225 had been injured.  This is as of 29 July.  And the UN estimates that some 700,000 people had been displaced so far, the majority of them in Beirut, Tyre, Sidon and the Chouf Mountains, and the Alea region.


Secretary-General’s Letter on Lebanon


Over the weekend, the Secretary-General wrote to the President of the Security Council, informing the Council that he understands that Israel will carry out its own investigation into the events that led to the deaths of four unarmed UNTSO military observers at the patrol base in Khiam, southern Lebanon.  Again, you must know that there was a memorial service for them yesterday, Sunday, in Jerusalem and we have the text of the Secretary-General’s message, which was delivered on his behalf by Alvaro de Soto, his Personal Representative for the Middle East peace process to the Palestinian Authority and Special Coordinator.


In his letter to the Security Council, the Secretary-General said that he had made it clear to Israeli Prime Minister Olmert that he would have preferred a joint investigation by the United Nations and Israel.  He said in his letter to the Council that he has urged Israel’s investigation to be comprehensive and for its results to be made public.


He also noted that, in view of the ongoing hostilities in southern Lebanon, that the UN Force Commander there, General Pellegrini, has been delegated full authority regarding additional relocations of personnel under his command, if it becomes necessary to better ensure the safety of UN personnel.


The letter from the Secretary-General to the Security Council is on the racks so please get your copy.


Also, we put out over the weekend -– the Spokesman’s Office did -- a message I referred to earlier that was read out in Jerusalem at the memorial for the fallen unarmed observers of UNTSO.


I’m not going to go into the details of UNIFIL’s activities today, as we have the pleasure of welcoming Jean-Marie Guéhenno to the briefing, and he may or may not agree to take some questions on the subject.  So, let me stop there and take any questions that you may have, of course bearing in mind that the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping is with us and, we want to give him as much time as possible in this briefing.


Question:  What was the Secretary-General’s reason for postponing the Troop Contributors’ meeting that was scheduled for today?


Mr. Fawzi:  Marie has already answered that question, I think publicly on the wires, and of course, this is part and parcel of what the Department of Peacekeeping Operations is dealing with.  And the answer is that they needed time to get the details right for a force of that nature.  It’s just a question of time and logistics.


Question:  We had two conflicting accounts downstairs:  (United States) Ambassador Bolton seemed to go along with that idea –- that is was a matter of timing and schedules and things like that, whereas the French Ambassador (Jean-Marc de La Sablière) explicitly said that France had objections to a meeting now because it wants a political framework in place.  I’m trying to square those two seemingly contradictory statements.


Mr. Fawzi:  Well, you seem to have more information than I do, so let’s just leave it at that.  Certainly Member States differ and will discuss for a time before they meet to hammer out the details of such a force.  It’s not going to be an easy operation to put together such a force, and as you know, there are a lot of questions surrounding it.  And, we need to give Member States time to get all their ducks in order before they sit down and talk.


Question:  Let me first follow-up on that question.  On the multinational force, I believe that nations are reluctant to get on board, including (British) Prime Minister Blair, who actually suggested when he was at the White House last week that the Norwegians had refused to join the force.  And there are several other nations like Australia who have said they are not going to contribute, so obviously that has to be resolved.  I’m assuming that’s the case.


Now, my question has to do with the Secretary-General making a valiant effort yesterday, calling this meeting, and obviously he was unsuccessful in getting the Council to vote for a ceasefire.  How many more Qanas is it going to take…


Mr. Fawzi:  How many what?


Question: How many incidents like the one in Qana is it going to take before the Secretary-General can persuade the Security Council to take some action?


Mr. Fawzi:  Well, I’m glad you’re adding your voice to that of the Secretary-General.  That’s precisely the question he’s been asking:  How many more civilians have to die before we call for a cessation of hostilities?


Question: Talking about a political settlement, the French Ambassador just now said something, which I consider very important and I want to ask about it.  He said the agreement would be between Israel and Lebanon, and within Lebanon, because Hizbollah is a part of the Government, there would be a different agreement.


So, my question really is whether the Secretary-General also sees that the conflict is between Israel and Lebanon because Hizbollah is part of the Lebanon Government, and then the secondary conflict within the Lebanon Government.  The objective is to bring back the rule of Lebanon to all of its territory.  I’m simply bringing it to you because the French Ambassador said it, and I’m wondering if the Secretary-General would accept that point.


Mr. Fawzi:  The Secretary-General is very concerned that the authority of the Government of Lebanon not be affected by events on the ground over the past 19 days.  He believes very firmly that we must help… that we must help the Lebanese Government, as much as possible, retain authority over its territory.  You are quite right in saying that Hizbollah is part of the Government:  they have ministers in the Cabinet and they have Parliamentarians in the Parliament. Therefore, we count on the Government of Lebanon to talk to the party of Hizbollah, if necessary and when necessary to comply with United Nations resolution and, to comply with a cessation of hostilities, as soon as possible.


I think I’ll leave it at that because we are getting into an area where I think Under-Secretary-General Guéhenno may want to make further comments.


Question:  I have a question.  The Syrian Ambassador to the UN said last week that his country would be willing to discuss a comprehensive solution to the Middle East with United Nations officials, namely the Secretary-General, and that the Secretary-General is welcome to come to Damascus if he wants.  Do you have any reaction on that?


Mr. Fawzi:  The Secretary-General has been having his own contacts with all the parties concerned and involved in this crisis.  I think the question of negotiating -- that is precisely why he is saying let us have a cessation of hostilities, as quickly as possible, so that we can get into the details of negotiating a more formal ceasefire down the road, in order to give space for the humanitarians and for the politicians to do their work.  That is part of what the Secretary-General is doing and calling for, but I’ll just leave it at that for the moment, because for a specific reaction to what you said, I would have to look at what was said out of Damascus and perhaps we can talk afterwards.


Question:  On Somalia, you said that you had been unable to find out whether there were Ethiopian troops in that country.  I wonder why it’s turning out to be so hard for you to confirm the existence or not of Ethiopian troops, and whether the UN has sent a team specifically for the task of finding that out?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I‘m not aware of a specific team going to the region.  As you know, the UN does not have a peacekeeping operation in Somalia.  So, we do have Mr. Fall, who is, as I mentioned, very engaged.  We do not have eyes and ears on the ground to confirm the presence of those troops.  However, the Secretary-General has called on Somalia’s neighbours to respect the sovereignty and integrity of Somalia.


Question:  Is the meeting in Kenya supposed to achieve, because you’ve said it was supposed to address the situation, what areas of the situation is it supposed to address?  Is it humanitarian?  Is it supposed to discuss issues like sending in troops?  What exactly is that meeting trying to achieve?


Deputy Spokesperson: Let’s try to find the agenda for that meeting.  As I mentioned, it’s not a UN-sponsored meeting.


Mr. Fawzi:  I think its time to invite Under-Secretary-General Guéhenno to the podium.  Sir?


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For information media • not an official record