|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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
**Secretary-General on Lebanon
In a statement released this morning, the Secretary-General said that, he is relieved to note that the cessation of hostilities in Lebanon called for by the Security Council appears to be generally holding.
The Secretary-General again urged the parties to make every effort, in the interest of the civilian population on both sides, to continue and consolidate the cessation of hostilities. He also urged them to move swiftly to convert it into a lasting ceasefire, in cooperation with the UN forces in Lebanon, through the measures prescribed in resolution 1701.
The Secretary-General added that the UN is now actively carrying out its part of those measures; he strongly urged all parties to do likewise, including especially those Member States who can contribute to an enhanced UN force.
Millions around the world have pinned their hopes for peace on the implementation of this agreement, the Secretary-General said. He added that neither side should have any reason to disappoint those hopes and, if either were to do so, it would pay a heavy price in terms of world public opinion.
And that statement was released both on paper and in video this morning.
Meanwhile from the ground, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, known as UNIFIL, tell us that the situation on the ground is calm but tense, and that while there have been a number of sporadic clashes, in general both sides seem to be exercising restraint.
UNIFIL sent out a number of patrols throughout its area of operation this morning to assess the situation on the ground and to monitor the cessation of hostilities. There were no reports of incidents or breaches of the agreement in the area of operations as of 1300 hours today local time.
Earlier in the day, the UNIFIL Force Commander, General Alain Pellegrini of France, met with senior officers of the Lebanese and Israeli armies, inside the UNIFIL position at the border crossing between Lebanon and Israel at Ras Naqoura, to discuss the implementation of and compliance with the agreement.
They also discussed the withdrawal of the Israeli army and the deployment of the Lebanese armed forces in south Lebanon.
UNIFIL said the meeting was open and productive; and, has welcomed it as a positive and encouraging development; and, a follow-up meeting is planned for later this week.
UNIFIL adds that in the 24-hour period prior to the cessation of hostilities coming into effect, exchanges of fire continued with the same intensity throughout the UNIFIL’s area of operation.
**United Nations Humanitarian
And on the humanitarian side, our colleagues in Beirut, told us a short while ago that the 24-truck convoy, which left the Lebanese capital earlier today, arrived in the southern city of Tyre, which had been cut off almost since the start of the hostilities. The trucks were carrying food, medical supplies, water and sanitary goods.
This is part of the UN’S humanitarian agencies effort to step up their activities to bring relief to the hundreds of thousands of civilians affected by the conflict, and, in particular to deliver supplies to the area south of the Litani River, which had borne the brunt of the fighting.
The UN is also setting up humanitarian hubs in key locations inside Lebanon to facilitate and speed up the distribution of aid. These hubs will be in the ports of Tyre, Sidon and Tripoli, where they can be supplied by land and sea, as well as the eastern town of Zahle, in the Beka’a valley.
Yesterday, a roll-on roll-off ferry docked in Beirut, bringing food and other relief supplies for UN agencies, as well as several non-governmental organizations. It is planned to use this vessel to bring further aid supplies to the south, with the first shipment going directly to Tyre a bit later this week.
The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) reports that one of its staff members at the Ein el Hilweh camp in south Lebanon was killed just an hour and a half before the cessation of hostilities came into effect during an Israeli air strike against the camp.
Meanwhile, displaced Lebanese and Palestinians who had taken refuge in UNRWA schools and in camp areas have started leaving this morning to return home.
UNRWA’s Lebanon Field Office reports that, it is facing a critical shortage of basic food commodities to meet the needs of both the IDP population being cared for by the Agency and UNRWA’s normal caseload.
** Sri Lanka Statement
I also have a statement on the situation in Sri Lanka.
“The Secretary-General is increasingly alarmed at the ongoing violence in Sri Lanka.
“He is profoundly concerned at the rising death toll, including the seven people killed in a bomb attack in Colombo today, and reports of dozens of students killed in a school as a result of air strikes in the north-east. He deplores the assassination over the weekend of Ketheshwaran Loganathan, the Deputy Secretary-General of the Government Peace Secretariat and veteran Tamil human rights advocate. The Secretary-General extends his sincere condolences to the bereaved families and to the Government of Sri Lanka.
“The Secretary-General calls on both parties to allow humanitarian agencies free and unimpeded access to the affected population. He draws attention to the appeals by Sri Lanka’s humanitarian community for both sides to allow the civilian population to leave the contested areas.
“The Secretary-General stresses that a return to civil war will not resolve the issues involved. He joins the Sri Lanka Co-Chairs in calling on the parties to cease hostilities immediately and to return to the negotiating table.”
** Democratic Republic of the Congo
Meanwhile, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative there, William Lacy Swing, yesterday, Sunday, welcomed in Kinshasa the former Mozambican President, Joaquim Chissano, who is serving as Chairman of the International Committee of the Wise, a UN-backed advisory group for the Congolese elections.
In a statement issued soon after his arrival, Chissano and his fellow members of the Committee called on the Congolese to remain calm and patient, as ballot counting continued. Special Representative Swing welcomed the statement, said it sent a positive message against violence and threats of violence aimed at disrupting the electoral process.
Meanwhile, the Mission reports that some 90 per cent of ballots have been compiled so far, but, election officials are not in a position yet to issue formal provisional results, as they wait for the compilation of the remaining 10 per cent.
However, the Mission says that, complete results will be out and official on schedule on 20 August.
Also, from Western Africa, in the presence of Kieran Prendergast, the Chairman of the follow-up committee on the implementation of the Greentree Agreement between Nigeria and Cameroon on the transfer of authority in the Bakassi Peninsula, a formal ceremony was held earlier today in Archibong, the capital of northern Bakassi, to mark Nigeria’s withdrawal from, and handover of, the Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon.
At the event, Prendergast and the Chiefs of Defence of both countries signed a transfer of authority paper. Following that, the Nigerian flag was lowered and the flag of Cameroon was hoisted.
In his speech, Prendergast commended the Cameroonian and Nigerian Presidents for their determination to carry-out their engagements under the Greentree Agreement, saying that the peaceful resolution of the dispute over Bakassi was a powerful example of conflict prevention not just for Africa, but for the world over. Both Prendergast and the Nigerian and Cameroonian representatives commended the role of the Secretary-General in bringing about the agreement.
Also, I wanted to flag an appointment for you. The Secretary-General has informed the Security Council of his intention to appoint Ambassador Joachim Rücker of Germany as his new Special Representative and Head of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) as of 1 September 2006. As you will recall, Mr. Rücker replaces Mr. Søren Jessen-Petersen of Denmark who completed his assignment in July.
Mr. Rücker was the Deputy Special Representative and Head of Economic Reconstruction at UNMIK, and has held several positions in the German Foreign Ministry. We have his biography available upstairs.
And lastly, a two-week session beginning today, delegates and leaders of the global disability movement will seek to finalize the text of the first-ever draft convention on the rights of persons with disabilities.
The eighth session of the Ad Hoc Committee on a Comprehensive and Integral International Convention on Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities will focus on some still-unresolved issues, and revisit the language of the 33 articles in the working text.
And a press kit on the convention is available upstairs.
That is it for me. I will take some questions now.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Do you know if Alain Pellegrini will stay in… will remain in… who will head UNIFIL?
Spokesman: All right, there’s no plans that I’m aware of to replace General Pellegrini, who’s done an outstanding job, especially in the last few weeks.
Question: I have three or four questions around the same issue, which is about the creation and deployment of the enhanced UNIFIL forces, which I think all sides agree, has to be done swiftly, if it’s going to work. Is the UN driving that process? Is the Secretary-General, for instance, calling Prime Ministers of countries saying please contribute? Do you expect the Security Council to take that up? I understand that’s not exactly your responsibility…and what came out of the meeting on Saturday of the military advisers, and will there be other such meetings, and will there be other kinds of meetings at different levels around this issue?
Spokesman: We are under a very accelerated process to try to put together this enhanced UNIFIL to build on the forces that are already on the ground. We’ve had discussions with a wide group of troop contributors, as you mentioned, on Saturday at the technical level. You can expect some more over the coming days. Our hope is to convene a more formal political meeting in the near future. That would be convened by DPKO. The Secretary-General has been working the phones. He was on the phone a number of times, including this morning, with the High Representative of the European Union, Javier Solana. He’s been in touch with French officials, as well and others, throughout the world on this. And, as the Security Council resolution states, it’s important that the international community commit what it can to the United Nations in order to help us create this mobile and robust force that is needed in Lebanon. I mean, at this point, we have no formal commitments, specific commitments, from any troop contributors. But, obviously, we’re continuing those discussions.
Question: (inaudible) In other words, a country will commit to the United Nations –- is the United Nations organizing that?
Spokesman: That’s correct. That’s correct.
Question: Following up on what Warren said, normally, as we all know, it takes months to get UN peacekeepers on the ground anywhere. What kind of a timetable are you envisioning? And also, when the Secretary-General said in his statement this morning that the United Nations is actively carrying out its part of the measures, is there anything else that he’s working on, and, that the UN is working on in addition to trying to beef up UNIFIL?
Spokesman: Well, I think one of the key aspects is the development, is what happened this morning when General Pellegrini convened a meeting between the Israeli general and the Lebanese general to work on the timeline of the Israeli withdrawal and the deployment of the Lebanese armed forces in the south. So, we are working on that on the ground. In New York, both DPKO and the Secretary-General, personally, are working to drum up troops for this force. We’ll obviously need to be, at the core of this force, we’ll need to have a highly capable force, which will be able to carry out the mandate given to it by the Security Council. But, I think, as opposed to past situations, we do have one leg up here, is that there already is a UN force in south Lebanon. So, obviously, it will, it is a challenge and we’re working hard on trying to get these troops but, we don’t face the situation that we faced in some other countries where we go in and there is no UN infrastructure on the ground. We already have 2,000 troops there, we have a whole command structure, and we have General Pellegrini.
Question: That still doesn’t answer my question in terms of some kind of a timeframe. What are we talking about?
Spokesman: I think we would like to see this happen, as quickly as possible. It depends on the will of the troop contributors to step up to the plate and commit themselves, and, we are working hard on pushing them to do that.
Question: Following-up on Edie’s follow-up to Warren, in addition to the patrols that you talked about, the UNIFIL patrols going out to sort of assess the situation, to what extent do they have a plan, even before this expanded UNIFIL (inaudible) to really sort of … expand the redeploy throughout the territory from the border to the Litani River?
Spokesman: Well, you know, UNIFIL has kept its positions throughout the fighting. I think about 19 positions were in areas where fighting was going on. So, the UNIFIL is already there.
Spokesman: Well, they’re operating in the areas mandated by the Council. The cessation of hostilities allows us to become much more mobile again. But, obviously, these are early hours since the cessation of hostilities. General Pellegrini is looking at the situation on the ground and deploying his troops as best as he can.
Question: Will they be, in the next 48 to 72 hours for example, fanning out to cover the area, so that all parts of the area, at least that you have some influence or some representation in the area from the border to the Litani River?
Spokesman: They will be carrying out more and more patrols, as best as they can, with the equipment they have for the time being.
Question: As for the other job, the Secretary-General has in 1701, to develop, within 30 days, a proposal for implementing 1559 and for delineation of the border. He currently, has a Special Representative been charged with implementing 1559 -- is that job being rolled over or do we need another person to implement those proposals? Is the job of implementing 1559 -- Larsen’s job -- is this still valid? Do we have a new person?
Spokesman: No, I think the job of implementing 1559 is now more current than ever. As you rightly say, the Secretary-General has 30 days to report back to the Council on this. He’s already had a meeting over the weekend with senior staff, and, he’s continuing to be in discussions with his advisers here, and, he intends to report to the Council within those 30 days.
Question: The Secretary-General, back in June, says that he hopes that the new Human Rights Council will not deal with Israel and not anything else. We’re now three for three I believe -– three times they convened, three times they dealt with Israel and nothing else. Human Rights Watch is now saying that they have discredited themselves. Is the Secretary-General satisfied with the way this Human Rights Council is operating?
Spokesman: I think, in terms of the situation that the Human Rights Council looked at recently, I would urge you to read the statement by Louise Arbour, which the Secretary-General very much agrees with. And, his stated position on this has been that an examination of, in light of what has happened during the hostilities, it warrants an examination of violations of international law and international human rights law as it affected civilians on both sides.
Question: Are there any human rights violations anywhere in the world?
Spokesman: I think there are quite a few and the Secretary-General did say when the Council was approved, that the Council members, the hard work began now, and I think the members of the Council would have to work hard to live up to those ideals.
Question: There’s thousands of Lebanese who are returning home, the ones who have been displaced within Lebanon and also in Syria, and Israel is saying that they shouldn’t return yet because it’s still dangerous for them because there might be fighting… and I wanted to know if the UN backs that up? And secondly, I know that there are a lot of unexploded ordnance they call it and that DPKO has a special demining unit –- is that going to become a priority over the next few weeks because of all these people returning?
Spokesman: Yes, in fact it is. I think what you’re seeing in terms of the traffic jams in Lebanon is really just a popular movement of people wanting to get south and, see what is the state of their homes and what they’ve left behind. We were fortunate enough to have our convoys leave extremely early and make it out ahead of the traffic, and, if they hadn’t, they would not have been able to get to the south. One of our primary concerns with the movement that we’re seeing is exactly what you flagged – and, that is the issue of unexploded mines. A number of UN agencies, including the UN Mine Action Service is working with both international and local NGOs to try to raise awareness, and to try to help out where it can. But, the issue of unexploded mines is currently the biggest danger facing the civilian population as it heads south.
Question: Several questions but, they’re short. First, anything to report on potential troop-contributor countries, and has anybody perhaps suggested that the name of UNIFIL be changed, particularly, in view of the fact that several people at successive stakeouts all denigrated the fact that it is an interim force now, existing for 28 years? And, has anybody, by any chance, stepped forward and offered to help the Lebanese army replace some of what, I understand, are its museum-quality tanks of World War II vintage?
Spokesman: I am not aware of any efforts to either change the name or command of UNIFIL and, as I said earlier, we have yet to receive any specific commitments from any potential troop contributors in terms of the interim force. And, as for replacing Lebanese army equipment, I think that would be up for the Lebanese army in bilateral accords with other countries.
Question: I kept hearing something on Sunday about the Secretary-General concerned about Hizbollah disarming. We had heard behind closed doors they expressed reservations, they wanted to keep up the fight. What is the Secretary-General or the UN view on how the disarming is supposed to occur, just to have it here on the record, and is the SG concerned regarding Hizbollah’s wording of their reaction of the resolution? And, are the observers moving back to those outposts they abandoned after the attack on Khiyam?
Spokesman: On the Khiyam, I don’t have an update on what the situation is, but, I think, as I mentioned to Bill, the UNIFIL kept a presence in about 19 posts that were directly in the area of the fighting. As for resolution 1559, which calls for the disarming of the militias, the Secretary-General will report on that in a month, as I told your friend Benny. Getting back to the somewhat serious issue at hand, I think what is important here is that both the Government of Israel and the Government of Lebanon have agreed to this resolution. We have seen the first positive effects in the fact that the cessation of hostilities appears to be holding and that both Lebanese and Israeli officials have met under one roof at the UNIFIL border crossing.
Question: (inaudible) …troops without knowing yet the mechanism for disarming?
Spokesman: I think it is important that countries commit, as soon as possible, to the effort at hand, which needs to be shored up. We need the help of the international community, and we need a robust UN force in there.
Question: Two things. What form is the Secretary-General’s first report on Friday going to take?
Spokesman: I assume written, but, I don’t know that for sure yet.
Question: Is there no specific plan for him to address the Security Council on that?
Spokesman: No. I do not know.
Question: And secondly, as I recall, there were two fuel tankers waiting offshore. What is the status of those –- are they moving in to unload?
Spokesman: I was trying to get an update on the fuel tankers -– I do not have one. But, since the humanitarian ferries were able to get in, I assume those will be able to go in fairly quickly.
Question: Could you check on that?
Spokesman: I’d be happy to.
Question: There are two UN statements I’d like you to clarify -- neither deals with Lebanon. One is on representative in South Sudan of UNMIS James Elliry, quoted by Reuters over the weekend as saying there are no plans by UNMIS to even attempt to arrest Joseph Kony. So, it seemed, I guess, since I’ve heard from this podium a lot, the Secretary-General’s report says UNMIS and MONUC would like to take action ,but don’t have the resources. Is this a new position on the UN’s part or, what is Mr. Elliry saying?
Spokesman: I think the position of the United Nations is, as you said, we would like to see Mr. Kony brought to justice. The resources given to UNMIS and MONUC do not allow us to proactively go out and hunt him down.
Question: That’s not what he’s saying…
Spokesman: I think I’ve given to you the position.
Question: Well, I can wait on the other one.
Spokesman: Go ahead.
Question: From late last week you said, Louise Arbour said, that people who returned to Uzbekistan faced serious risk of torture. Over the weekend, UNDP’s representative to Uzbekistan said we are very, “the UNDP is very happy to be working with the Uzbek legislature on a variety of projects, such as the previous one about helping them collect taxes”. What is the UN’s position? Is the UN’s position that Uzbekistan is a State that tortures political opponents or, is the UN’s position that it is happy to work with the same Uzbek Government?
Spokesman: Look, I haven’t seen the UNDP statement. I can take a look at it after the briefing. As for the issue of the returning refugees that face the possibility of grave danger and of torture, the Secretary-General wholeheartedly agrees with what Louise Arbour said last week.
Question: Do you know the size of the robust new UNIFIL?
Spokesman: Well, obviously, you know the resolution calls for up to 15,000. But, we have 2,000 in now. We would be able to make a significant impact, as soon as we get sort of a robust core, but, I don’t really want to get into specific numbers at this point, especially since we have no firm commitments.
Question: So, we will have with the 15,000…
Spokesman: I think that the key language is up to 15,000.
Question: So, it could be 30,000…
Spokesman: I think it will be… we’ll have to see what is the final make-up of the UNIFIL, the enhanced UNIFIL. The mandate given to us by the Security Council says it can have up to 15,000 but, it is not clear at this point whether we will reach that number.
Question: Another question on Brammertz -- what is his whereabouts -– did he get back from Cyprus to Lebanon?
Spokesman: I do not know and I think that our policy, though we haven’t spoken about him for quite a while, is not to deal with his specific whereabouts.
Question: Over the weekend the Lebanese Government postponed its decision on deploying 15,000 troops in the south. I understand that, that was one of the major push that changed the whole thinking about this resolution and turned this resolution into something completely (inaudible). Does the Secretary-General have any…?
Spokesman: We understand the Lebanese government will be meeting later this week. It was a technical postponement of the Cabinet meeting. I think what we’re focusing on is the very positive atmosphere of the meeting that took place today between the IDF and the Lebanese armed forces and UNIFIL and they’ve committed to meeting again later this week.
Spokesman: The whole discussion was about the deployment of the Lebanese armies to the south, and we very much hope we will see that very quickly.
Question: Do you think UNIFIL will be able to monitor the Syrian-Lebanese border?
Spokesman: The language in the resolution is fairly clear. UNIFIL will work in assistance to the Lebanese Government.
Question: This is a style thing, for this moment of history, how was it decided that the Secretary-General would do the two videotaped messages? Was it felt that it would carry more weight? Do you have any idea –- is it seen there at all on Saturday’s announcement –- and, was the timing moved up because we thought he might be there on Sunday…?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General was working the phones all day Saturday talking to both the Prime Minister of Israel, the Prime Minister of Lebanon and other concerned leaders. He taped the announcement as soon as he could. That’s why it was done on Saturday.
* *** *For information media • not an official record