16 August 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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon.


** Middle East Trip


A couple of announcements to make.  The Secretary-General has decided to dispatch to Lebanon and Israel a high-level mission to talk to the parties involved to secure the full implementation of resolution 1701.


The mission will be comprised of Vijay Nambiar, the Secretary-General’s Special Advisor, and Terje Roed-Larsen, whom you all know well.


They are expected to depart tomorrow and will likely return to New York later next week.


** Lebanon –- Troop-Contributing Countries


Also, as you know and as you’ve heard from this podium a number of times, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) has been working hard on trying to secure commitments for the formation of an enhanced UN force for Lebanon.


And tomorrow afternoon, in the ECOSOC chamber, a meeting organized by the DPKO and chaired by the Deputy Secretary-General, Mark Malloch Brown, will bring together potential troop-contributing countries to discuss that force.


And for those of you in the visual media, there will be a photo-op at the start of that meeting.


** Lebanon -- Peacekeeping


Meanwhile, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, also known as UNIFIL, says the situation on the ground has been calm overall with the cessation of hostilities generally maintained in the past 24 hours, except for three incidents the mission has reported.


UN peacekeepers continued intensive patrolling overnight and this morning throughout the UNIFIL area of operation to assess the situation on the ground and to monitor the cessation of hostilities.  It also resumed air patrols over the area along the Blue Line.


UNIFIL continued its contacts with both the Lebanese Army and the Israeli Defense Forces with a view to facilitating an early withdrawal of the Israeli Army and the deployment of the Lebanese Armed Forces to the south.


UNIFIL’s Force Commander, General Alain Pellegrini, met with senior counterparts from the two armies this morning, inside the UNIFIL position, at the border crossing at Ras Naqoura.  We’re told the meeting was work-oriented and productive.


** Lebanon -- Humanitarian


On the humanitarian situation, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that two convoys departed Beirut this morning.  One is headed to Tyre.  The other, sent by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) is headed to Wavel Camp in Baalbek Valley carrying food for some 5,000 residents.


A UN-chartered ship also left Beirut for Tyre this morning, carrying food, medical supplies, drinking water and fuel.  Part of that fuel will be used to supply hospitals.  Meanwhile, a plane, chartered by a UN refugee agency, arrived in Beirut from Amman today with tents, mattresses and other relief supplies.


For their part, UNIFIL and OCHA have begun assessing damage to roads and bridges in the area of Tyre.  UNIFIL has also been providing medical assistance, water and food to a number of villages in its area of operations.


Regarding the UN’s $165 million Flash Appeal, it is still less than 50 per cent funded.  The World Food Programme (WFP) today warned that the lack of funds could sharply reduce its aid deliveries.  Among other things, WFP has been providing bread and biscuits to the thousands of people heading over the Syrian border back into Lebanon.


And, we have a much fuller press release on the humanitarian update available upstairs.


** Lebanon -- Demining


On a related note, in response to the threat of unexploded ordnance and landmines to returnees in south Lebanon, the UN Mine Action Service reports that, in addition to supporting a mass-risk awareness programme, it is also planning to offer landmine and unexploded ordnance safety training to humanitarian workers.  For its part, UNIFIL’s demining team, which comes from China, is continuing to clear unexploded ordnance from the area.


** Lebanon -– Oil Spill


And, a number of you had been asking me about the oil spill.  In response to those questions, I can tell you that an International Assistance Plan has now been drawn up.  That plan is being drawn up by experts under the supervision of the Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Response Centre for the Mediterranean Sea -– which is partly administered by the UN Environment Programme and the International Maritime Organization.


A high-level meeting to finalize the Action Plan will take place in Athens tomorrow, and there will also be a press conference there to detail those results.  And, we’ll try to get you the highlights of that press conference, and, we have more on that upstairs for those of you who have been interested in this issue.


** Israel Foreign Minister


And lastly, on the state in the region and here for that matter, Tzipi Livni, the Foreign Minister for the State of Israel, is currently meeting the Secretary-General, and she will be here in this room in 226 at 1 p.m. to speak to you.


** Sudan -– United Nations Mission


Turning to a number of other issues now, the UN Mission in Sudan has received alarming reports about the forced relocation and demolition of large areas of internally displaced people outside Khartoum, which began this morning.


According to a UN team that visited the area, thousands of heavily armed policemen and several tanks surrounded Dar Assalam, an area about 40 kilometres outside of Khartoum, early this morning, and at 8 a.m., a bulldozer started demolishing hundreds of houses randomly with less than five minutes notice to families.  The UN team also heard a number of gunshots before it was told to leave the area.


The UN is urging the Government of Sudan authorities to immediately stop the forced relocation and demolition in this area.  And, we will, of course, keep you updated with more information from the Mission as it comes in.


** Sudan -- WFP


The World Food Programme (WFP), meanwhile, says that almost half a million people in Darfur are now cut-off from emergency food aid because of fighting and attacks in the region.


WFP also warns that food aid rations for six million people in Sudan might have to be scaled down as early as October because food stocks are running short.


WFP needs around $350 million to avoid another round of ration cuts and cover Sudan’s food aid requirements for the first three months of 2007.  As it takes up to six months for donations to be converted into food and transported, WFP says the money is needed now.


** Liberia


Turning now to the situation in Liberia, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Liberia, Alan Doss, yesterday attended the official ceremony marking the restoration to the Liberian Government of the Guthrie Rubber Plantation.  This is part of a UN-backed effort to restore the rule of law and Liberian State authority on illegally-occupied rubber plantations.


In his statement, Mr. Doss noted that the repossession of the Guthrie Rubber Plantation by the Liberian Government is the result of good cooperation between the UN and local authorities, who he commended for choosing non-violent means of solving this contentious issue.


**AIDS


And up in Toronto at the International AIDS Conference today, the World Health Organization’s HIV/AIDS Director reported that the number of people receiving HIV antiretroviral therapy in sub-Saharan Africa has surpassed 1 million for the first time –- a tenfold increase since December 2003.


At the same time, however, he emphasized that there is much work to be done to meet the goal of providing universal access to HIV prevention programmes, treatment, care and support by 2010.  And, we have a press release upstairs.


**Security Council


And back here, the Security Council earlier today heard a briefing by François Lonseny Fall, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, who updated Security Council members on recent developments in that country.


In his briefing, Fall appealed to Security Council members to continue to ensure the effectiveness of the arms embargo on Somalia, and to press upon the Somali parties the urgency to avoid any further deterioration of the situation, and to encourage all sides to resume dialogue.


And of course, as you know, Mr. Fall is our guest today and he will be joining us in just a few minutes.


** Baghdad Commemoration


And lastly, a ceremony marking the third anniversary of the 19 August bombing of the UN compound in Baghdad, which as you know killed 22 of our colleagues, will be observed this Friday from 10:15 a.m. in the lobby of the General Assembly Building.


The programme will consist of a musical programme as well as a statement on behalf of the Secretary-General, and that will be followed by a minute of silence.


Before we turn to our guest, I will take any questions you may have.  Yes, Masood.


**Questions, Answers


Question:  Stéphane, can you update us on this peacekeeping thing about France, whether they have finally come to some sort of agreement to bring in some 3,500 troops that they had promised?


Spokesman:  I think that currently…


Question:  I think the French had made an agreement on that.


Spokesman:  I have nothing concrete to announce.  As I said, there will be a much more formal troop contributors meeting tomorrow.  I think today the action seems to rest in Beirut where you have a number of foreign ministers talking to the Lebanese Government.  But, we have no firm commitments to announce today, though we remain in contact with the French authorities.  Yes, Ma’am.


Question:  Can you tell me what the UN troops are going actually to do?  What is their job exactly at the Israeli-Lebanese border?


Spokesman:  I think that their mandate, is fully outlined in the resolution.  Yes, Benny and then we’ll go to Debbie.


Question:  On the Nambiar-Larsen team, can you tell us who they’re going to meet.  Whether they are going to meet with any representatives of Hizbollah, Syria, Iran, Israel I assume, and the Government of Lebanon I assume?


Spokesman:  I have not much more detail than I said.  The trip, they will go to Lebanon, they will go to Israel.  They will meet with the authorities there and the trip is part of the Secretary-General’s responsibility to report back on the implementation of the resolution, and, to help and assist the parties as outlined in the resolution.  But, their full programme of meetings, and so forth, has not yet been set.


Question:  Just a follow-up on that question that was asked just now.  Yesterday, we were told by a DPKO official that part of the Mission will be to create a demilitarized zone between the Litani and the Blue Line where there will be no weapons in sight.  There are reports from the region that the Lebanese army or the Lebanese Government has come to an agreement with Hizbollah where the only weapons they’ll allow will be underground.  Is that the understanding of DPKO or…


Spokesman:  DPKO’s understanding is -- their instructions are in the resolution, which is quite clear.  As reports on what may or may not have been agreed within the Lebanese Government, I’m not going to comment on it.  And, as you know, the Lebanese Cabinet is currently meeting, and obviously, we’ll have to see what comes out of that meeting.


Question:  So, inside didn’t mean…


Spokesman:  I think that the resolution is clear as to what the responsibilities of the Lebanese Government are, and are UN’s role in assisting the Lebanese government in asserting its full authority over the south.  Debbie.


Question:  Will the Secretary-General be meeting with Mr. Larsen and Mr. Nambiar before he sends them off on their mission?


Spokesman:  The Secretary-General has been in touch, he meets with his internal advisors on a regular basis, either in person or by phone.  So, he’s obviously in close contact with them and will give them their marching orders before they fly off.


Question:  Is Mark Malloch Brown the point person for the UNIFIL troops, and if not, which UN official is?


Spokesman:  The Secretary-General is in charge of the Lebanese file.  He is in charge, he has his responsibilities as outlined in the resolution.  Mr. Mark Malloch Brown, as Deputy Secretary-General is supporting the Secretary-General’s effort in coordinating the work of the various UN departments and agencies, as he does on a number of other issues and as his predecessor, Madame Fréchette, did in that role.  That is the job of the Deputy Secretary-General.


Question:  But surely, there must be one person who needs to be on this at every one moment, every day.


Spokesman:  The Secretary-General is in charge of the Lebanon file, and he is being assisted by a wide number of senior officials, and as I said, Mark Malloch Brown’s role is one to coordinate the work of the various UN departments and agencies.  Yes, Mr. Pincas?


Question:  On the environment question, are now UNEP, IUCN, the Rome-based agricultural offices like FAO and others, ready to have a look at the havoc done to all growth forests?  And to agriculture because of the incendiary bombs?  Is anybody at the UN looking at that?  Not a word.  I’ve asked that question a couple of times before and I have not received any indication that anybody thinks of that.


Spokesman:  I don’t know if you heard what I just said, but obviously, the UN Environment Programme is working with what affected, well, in my mind, goes under the rubric of environment.  Obviously, as we move from a humanitarian relief phase to a reconstruction phase, environmental issues will be looked at and looked at carefully at the request of the Government of Lebanon or at the request of the Government of Israel.


Question:  Could you find out for us some information on this?


Spokesman:  I don’t think I can give you more information than I’ve just given you, but obviously, we are not yet in the reconstruction phase.  We are in the humanitarian relief phase, and as in most conflicts, once you move to a reconstruction phase and the immediate humanitarian needs have been met, obviously environmental issues are looked at very carefully.  Erol and then we’ll move to Mr. Abbadi.


Question:  Mr. Spokesman, in regard of an answered question, I would like to turn your attention to another part of the world.  A couple of days ago, I asked whether the United Nations had given or assigned any three-code letter to Montenegro.  It seems to me, since I didn’t have a satisfactory answer that I had to leave.


Spokesman:  In terms of phone exchanges?


Question:  Phone exchanges, Internet, postal codes, anything?


Spokesman:  Internet, that is not being done by the UN but I believe by ICANN.  On the phone issue, we will have to check, or we can check with you with the International Telecommunications Union, which if I know my UN system well, is in charge of assigning these codes.  And, there’s also the Universal Postal Union, which deals with contacts between different postal authorities.  It is not the responsibility of the Secretariat or of the Secretary-General, but we can put you in touch with the right UN agencies.


Question:  Is that procedure for any new Member State?


Spokesman:  That is my understanding but, I am not a philatelist, and I am not a complete telephone expert, but that would be my answer off of the top of my head.


Question:  But, it is not only a question of philately or stamps…


Spokesman:  No, I don’t mean to make light but I think these issues, in terms of postal issues, are dealt with the Universal Postal Union, phone issues are dealt with by the International Telecommunications Union.


Question:  You have assigned any three-code letter to Serbia?


Spokesman:  We don’t assign.  We, the United Nations Secretariat, in terms of the Secretary-General, that is not something, that is not within in his realm of authority or responsibility.  So, you and I will go upstairs and we’ll find out exactly who is responsible.  That would be under the authority of a number of UN specialized agencies.  Mr. Abbadi.


Question:  Stéphane, I wonder why isn’t the Secretary-General himself reading his statement on Monday on the occasion on the commemoration of the bombing of the UN compound in Baghdad?


Spokesman:  First of all, the ceremony is on Friday.  It is not clear yet whether he himself will do it or whether someone else will do it in his stead.  We’ll go to people who haven’t asked questions yet.  Yes, go ahead Ma’am.


Question:  I just wanted to know what the Secretary-General’s reaction is to the open fighting and the recent weeks in Sri Lanka between the Government and the Tamil Tigers?


Spokesman:  We’ve had a couple of statements from him in the last few days.  He’s obviously deeply alarmed by the violence and by the toll it has taken, notably on children, and he very much urges both the Government and the Tamil Tigers to return to the Norwegian-led peace process.


Question:  Has he had any contact with either of those groups?


Spokesman:  Not that I’m aware of but, we can check.  Mr. Kabbaj, and then we’ll go in the back.


Question:  The pledge for the reinforcement of UNIFL is actually 4,000 soldiers.  How the Secretary-General can have 15,000 to the end of the month?


Spokesman:  What is clear is that, we are trying to get, as quickly as possible, very firm commitments so we can deploy as quickly as possible.  DPKO explained to you yesterday that we would need and we would very much like about 3,500 soldiers within the next two weeks to be able to reinforce the work we’re already doing on the ground; and we would like to get more soldiers as quickly as possible.  And, that’s what the meeting tomorrow is about.  In the back.


Question:  Several small questions.  I may have just missed this –- when are Misters Nambiar and Larsen leaving?


Spokesman:  Tomorrow.


Question:  Okay.  Thursday.  Do I take it from your reference to UNIFIL flights that the airport in Beirut and/or some other airports are open to them or is it just these (inaudible) helicopters?


Spokesman:  Yes, but they are unrelated.  The airport in Beirut is open to certain types of aircraft.  We’ve had C-130’s -- transport planes -- able to land there for humanitarian goods, because they require, they don’t need a longer runway, which is not operational.  The UN, UNIFIL flights are helicopter flights which operate out of UNIFIL bases in the South.


Question:  So, with reference to those four successive media alerts that I got yesterday over the course of the evening –- what was the purpose or programme of the Secretary-General’s proposed meeting with Mr. Weisel, and for what reason was it cancelled?


Spokesman:  It was not cancelled.  He met with Mr. Weisel earlier this morning.  Mr. Weisel is a dear, dear friend of the Secretary-General and he sees him on a regular basis.


Question:  It was in the media alert and then…


Spokesman:  We’ll focus on reality.  It happened.  It happened this morning at 11:30 a.m.  The Secretary-General sees Mr. Weisel often -– he considers him a very close and dear friend.  Yes, Ma’am, and then we’ll go back.


Question:  I have two questions.  One, has there been a civil announcement regarding Assad, when he actually supported Hamas, that they have defeated the Israeli army?  Has the Secretary-General anything to say about that? And, my second question is about the soldiers, the 3,000 soldiers, when will they be in Lebanon and do you have names of the countries?


Spokesman:  No, as I said, we do not have firm commitments.  We would like to see them within the next 10 days or so.  This is what the meeting tomorrow is about.  As for the comments made by Mr. Assad, I think I addressed that yesterday.  The Secretary-General spoke to Mr. Assad over the weekend to stress the fact that there had been an agreement by the international community on the situation in Lebanon and all those that could assert an influence should do so positively.  Yes, sir.


Question:  The Lebanon file, which the Secretary-General is in charge of along with Mark Malloch Brown…


Spokesman:  The Secretary-General is…


Question:  Who else is there involved in that?  Are there two or three other officials or just these two people?


Spokesman:  It’s pretty self-evident.  The Secretary-General is at the top of this organization.  This is a very important issue he is leading.  Mr. Mark Malloch Brown is the Deputy Secretary-General.  He is assisting the Secretary-General in whatever way he needs.  He is coordinating.  The people involved are obvious:  the Department of Political Affairs, Department of Peacekeeping Operation, Department of Humanitarian Affairs, and the Legal Department -- the usual suspects, and others, which I am probably forgetting and I apologize to them.  In the back.


Question:  What time is tomorrow’s meeting and where will it be held?


Spokesman:  It will be held, I think, about 3 p.m. in either ECOSOC or Trusteeship.  One of those two.


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