17 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.


** Lebanon


Starting off, with the situation on the ground in Lebanon, UNIFIL reports today that the withdrawal of the Israeli Army from the area of Lebanon in which it had been in, has been under way since yesterday, while Lebanese forces this morning began their deployment south of the Litani River, including in areas vacated by the Israel Defense Forces.  Both sides are conducting these operations in close coordination with UNIFIL.


The UN force also says that significant numbers of Lebanese troops arrived this morning in Tyre, with around 500 already deployed in the area of Tibnin, with some 800 in the general area of Marjayoun.  The Israeli withdrawal and Lebanese deployment are expected to continue in the coming days in accordance with the agreement forged at a trilateral meeting between UNIFIL Force Commander and senior Israeli and Lebanese Army generals.


Meanwhile, the UNIFIL Chinese demining team continued to clear unexploded ordnance today, and yesterday, provided assistance to two civilians injured by unexploded ordnance.  UN troops also distributed food and water to residents in a number of villages in its area earlier today, and provided fuel to the village of Rmeich to power the local water supply pump.


** Lebanon -- Humanitarian


And, in other humanitarian news from the area, the UN’s preliminary assessment of the southern suburbs of Beirut shows that there is an urgent need for clean drinking water, food, medicine, mattresses and blankets for the hundreds of thousands of people who have returned there.


Regarding the UN’s humanitarian convoys, three were dispatched today and they are headed to Marjayoun, Sidon and Tyre.  In addition, a World Health Organization (WHO) fuel tanker left Tyre for Bint Jbeil today.  And, I’m sorry if I’m mispronouncing these names.


WHO also reports that it is sending more than 120 trauma kits and six doctor’s kits with equipment for some 12,000 operations to the hospitals in Marjayoun.  And, the World Food Programme says that, since the beginning of the current crisis, it has distributed more than 1,300 tons of food to over 262,000 Lebanese.


** Lebanon –- Oil Spill


And on the oil spill issue, which a number of you been asking about, the Action Plan to help the Lebanese authorities clean-up the spill and prevent any damage to neighbouring countries was agreed on today at an international meeting in Athens.


The Action Plan recommends that immediate, helicopter-based aerial surveys with a trained independent observer be conducted as well as the establishment of a “permanent, on-site advisory force” of up to three pollution response specialists, who would help with site surveys and act as an advisory team to the Lebanese Ministry of the Environment.  And, we have more on that upstairs.


**Troop-Contributing Countries’ Meeting


And, a reminder that there will be a meeting with potential troop-contributing countries for the expanded UNIFIL in the afternoon at the ECOSOC chamber at 3:30 p.m. today.


The Deputy Secretary-General will be chairing the meeting.  And, we hope to have his opening remarks available for you as soon as possible.  And those will be under embargo until he delivers them.


There will also be a photo opportunity at the start of the meeting, though the meeting itself will be closed.  And, there will be a press stakeout for those of you who want to stakeout the meeting afterwards.


**Security Council


Meanwhile, back in the Security Council, the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hédi Annabi, briefed the Security Council this morning on the Secretary-General’s latest report on Darfur, and also provided an update on the situation on the ground.


Annabi said the security situation in Darfur had worsened since the last briefing on Darfur in late June, with violence between signatories and non-signatories to the Darfur Peace Agreement, as well as an unprecedented level of attacks against humanitarian workers –- so much so, that some NGOs have indicated that they may be forced to withdraw completely from north Darfur.


Annabi said the Peace Agreement’s implementation isn’t going well, with both signatories and non-signatories violating it.


He also voiced concern about the build-up of Sudanese Armed Forces in Darfur, noting that the plan of the Sudanese Government to bring stability to Darfur appears to show a determination to pursue a major military offensive in the region.


Annabi also pointed out that Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir has reiterated his rejection of a UN operation in Darfur and warned that the Sudanese army would fight any UN forces sent to Darfur.


Given the urgency of the situation on the ground, Annabi, excuse me, urged the Council, to consider re-engaging the Government of Sudan directly for a final discussion on this matter.


And also on Sudan, the Mission there says it is demanding the Sudanese Government to stop the forced eviction of some 12,000 long-term internally displaced people in a community south of Khartoum.


The UN is calling for immediate access to the area in order to assess the humanitarian situation and the assistance needed for those affected.  And, we do have more on that upstairs.


**Democratic Republic of Congo


From the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General there, William Lacy Swing, says that he is deeply concerned about hate messages in the local media, which are inciting Congolese to target and take revenge on “white people and foreigners”.


In response to the hate messages, the Congolese High Authority on Media yesterday suspended for 24 hours two local television stations, and one of them, CCTV, which is owned by presidential candidate and current Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba.  The official Congolese Broadcasting Corporation television station was also suspended for 24 hours on similar grounds.


The UN Mission, meanwhile, reports that some 97 per cent of the votes cast in the presidential election, and some 50 per cent of those cast in the parliamentary poll, have so far been compiled.  The Mission says election organizers are confident that official provisional results for the presidential poll will be available this Saturday, one day ahead of schedule, despite the logistical difficulties.


And, the Mission is actively working on helping transport a number of outstanding ballots from deep inside the DRC to Kinshasa.


** Democratic Republic of the Congo -– Child Prostitution


Also from the DRC, the Mission says it is shocked and appalled by allegations of the existence of a vast child prostitution ring involving UN and Congolese troops in the north-eastern province of South-Kivu.


The Mission says that, while most reported patrons are reported to be Congolese soldiers, early victim testimonies suggest that the suspected ringleaders cited the presence of UN troops in the region and their perceived financial resources to incite impressionable young girls to engage in prostitution.


The Mission says it is taking these allegations extremely seriously and that the UN Office of Internal Oversight has launched an investigation.  The Mission will uphold its staff to a policy of zero tolerance for sexual misconduct and, should the allegations against UN peacekeepers prove well founded, it will take all necessary disciplinary measures without delay.  And, we do have a press release available on that.


**AIDS


Turning to the AIDS conference in Toronto, last evening, five local community organizations from around the world were receiving the newly created Red Ribbon Awards for their outstanding contribution to the frontline response to HIV/AIDS.


The recipients include the Girl Child Network of Zimbabwe, the Thai Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS of Thailand, the Durjoy Nari Shongo of Bangladesh, the Mboole Rural Development of Zambia as well as the All Ukrainian Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS.


The awards were given out on the recommendation of an international jury including Norwegian Crown Princess, actress Naomi Watts, and former Irish President Mary Robinson.  And, we do have more on that upstairs.


** Ethiopia


From OCHA, they report that it is helping to coordinate the flood relief effort and working with the Ethiopian Government to strengthen its early warning mechanisms.  UNICEF and the WFP are also working with the Government to respond to the immediate needs of flood survivors.


OCHA says it is concerned about a diarrhoea outbreak, which has hit Addis Ababa and an area of Ethiopia near the Kenyan border.  OCHA is planning to release some $400,000 to help with that response.


** Somalia


And for those of you interested in Somalia, the UN Political Office today says it has launched its website, www.un-somalia.org.  For you, Matthew.


**Alpha Codes


And lastly, I think in response to a question that Erol brought up yesterday, I may have been a bit flippant about the assignment of three-letter codes to Member States.  The answer is that the UN only assigns numerical codes to countries, in order to facilitate the gathering and organizing of international statistics.


And regarding letter codes, or alpha codes as they are called, the UN does not assign those.  They are assigned by the International Organization for Standardization, which is not a UN agency and is an NGO.  We learn something everyday.  Warren.


** Questions, Answers


Question:  Stéphane, the report in Le Monde today.  I have three questions about it.  The first is, has the Secretary-General spoken with Jacques Chirac or does he intend to on that subject?  The second is, has the UN been informed that France intends to deliver the small number of troops that Le Monde says it does?  And the third one is, peacekeeping officials have briefed us saying that they were hoping that France as the lead nation would contribute a large number as a way of encouraging other countries.  So, does that mean that the UN believes that if France contributes a small number, that will discourage other countries from joining?


Spokesman:  First of all, the Secretary-General is scheduled [to speak to] and may have already spoken to President Chirac.  That may even be happening right now.  This is part of ongoing contacts we’ve had with French officials at various levels.  Our military people have spoken to their representatives.  So, the situation is obviously fluid.  But we do not have a final answer from the French.  As you know, this afternoon, we will be meeting with a large number of potential troop contributors.  I think about 49.  We will brief them on the concept of operations, the rules of engagement.  This will be a chance for them to ask questions of us.  So, we are moving ahead.  We are doing our best to answer all the questions troop contributors may have.  And I think, in reference to your lead nation, this will be a UN operation, not one led by one Member State, and you can very well have peacekeeping operations with a number of countries providing the main pillars.  But, I think we have to realize these are ongoing discussions at this point.  Yes, Benny.


Question:  I don’t remember whether it was Annabi or a senior DPKO official who briefed us, who used the word “backbone” for France.  Is the concept changing now as far as the “backbone”?


Spokesman:  As I said, the discussions are going on with the French as they are with a number of other countries at high levels.  We’ll be meeting with the [troop-contributing countries] TCCs this afternoon.  We will of course adapt to whatever countries provide us and give us firm offers on.  So, we will adapt to what is given to us but, we are especially ready, to this afternoon, to answer any questions that the Member States may have on how this force will work.  Yes.


Question:  According to the Le Monde story, or maybe I read it somewhere else, one of the reservations of the French is that they don’t want to be part of the UN force.  The question is would it be more wise then, you know, to now call it a multinational force and (inaudible)?


Spokesman:  I think the mandate of the enhanced UNIFIL, as given to us by the Security Council, as voted unanimously by Security Council, is clearly for a UN force.  As to their reservations, you’d have to ask them but, I’ll repeat that we have had intensive discussions with them, we continue to have intensive discussions with the French, and we are answering their questions in as much detail as possible as to what the force would do.  Richard.


Question:  I don’t want to beat a dead cavallo.  You say fluid, but is the Secretary-General disappointed that France has not stepped forward, and, was there an understanding in the formation of the resolution and the initial discussions that France would provide a large number of troops, if not lead?


Spokesman:  The discussions are fluid because no decision has been made.  So I can’t, I won’t kill off that horse just yet.  The discussions are continuing at a number of different levels, including at the Secretary-General’s level and peacekeeping operations and the military levels.  Yes, Sylviane.


Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Can you give us a figure?  How many nations until now committed?


Spokesman:  We have no firm commitments.  And you know, the meeting this afternoon, as I said, will provide the 49 countries, which we expect to show up, a chance for them to be briefed on the concept of operations and rules of engagement.  They will have questions, we’ll answer them.  We may very well have another meeting next week to firm up these offers.  It’s understandable, these countries have a lot of questions to ask and we will be there to provide them with the answers.


Question:  But, we have some countries like Turkey or (inaudible)…


Spokesman:  There are a lot of intentions.  People have called us saying they would be interested in doing this or that but, we have no firm commitments as of yet.  But, we are continuing our discussions with a number of countries.  Yes, and then we’ll go back to this side.


Question:  Yes, you said you were going to have the opening remarks of the Deputy Secretary-General available before the meeting and you’re embargoing it right?


Spokesman:  Yes, that’s correct.


Question:  Now, is there any reason since they’re going to shoot it as a photo-op at the beginning that they couldn’t have UNTV shoot his opening remarks and then leave?  That would be helpful for broadcasting.


Spokesman:  I understand that, I understand that.  That is something that’s under discussion but, I can’t promise you.  But, the Deputy Secretary-General will likely stop at the stake-out afterwards.


Question:  As…(inaudible) though?


Spokesman:  I understand exactly what you want.


Question:  (inaudible)


Spokesman:  I understand clearly what you’re looking at.  It is being discussed and I do understand.  Yes, I know.  Masood.


Question:  Follow-up on (inaudible) question.  Did the French at least give a figure as to how much they’re going to contribute?  When you say “adapt”, you mean, if the contribution that is being made by Member States is less then 15,000, you’d say okay? Or, is that 15,000 is the threshold?


Spokesman:  No, 15,000 is the mandated force, is the mandated number of troops given to us by the Security Council.  We are actively looking for countries to step up to the plate and provide the troops, provide the equipment, the logistical equipment, and I think as the General mentioned, also naval and air assets.  Those discussions are going on.


Question:  My first question.  How many troops have the French promised?


Spokesman:  The discussions are still going on.  Yes, Nick and then we’ll go…


Question:  Question about who is going to head the expanded UNIFIL force or does the current commander still stand?


Spokesman:  Well, General Pellegrini is the leader and he continues in that post.


Question:  (inaudible)… when his mandate expires?


Spokesman:  I’d have to check exactly when his mandate expires.


[The Spokesman later added that Gen. Pellegrini’s mandate expired in February 2007.]


Question:  I’m a bit flabbergasted at the French new position.  Please refresh our memory.  Is it not the French that actually wrote the text of the resolution?  How did the resolution come about?  Because I remember there was a French resolution and an American-French resolution and a French resolution.  That was there all the time.


Spokesman:  The resolution was co-sponsored by a number of countries including France and the US.  But, I think you would have to address your question to the French.  Thank you.  Yes, go ahead, behind Warren.


Question:  I think, first of all, can we get a list of the 49 countries that are contributing?


Spokesman:  Yes, I think we can do that.  No, these are the 49 that are attending.  Okay.


Question:  Do you have confirmation that…


Spokesman:  Let me put it this way, 49 countries have been invited.  We very much hope that all will RSVP and show up.


Question:  (inaudible)…we can get a list of these?


Spokesman:  Yes, we’ll see what we can do after the briefing.  In the back and we’ll go back to those who have already asked questions.


Question:  I may have just missed this in your previous account -- when does this meeting in the ECOSOC chamber begin?  And, do you have any ballpark idea as to when it’s going to be finished and when the stake-out, thereafter, will be held?


Spokesman:  3:30 p.m.  Don’t know when it will be finished.  Yes.


Question:  Stéphane, when the UN was trying to establish a force for Darfur, the Sudanese Government said that they wouldn’t want Western troops to go in there.  They would want Muslim troops or friendly troops.  Yesterday, the Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, had a brief press conference here, and said that, or that she would hope, she said that she didn’t want troops for the UNIFIL force to be enemies of Israel, or probably countries who didn’t have any sort of diplomatic ties to Israel.  Does the Secretary-General have any response to that?


Spokesman:  I think we would expect the UN force to be deployed, to be exactly that -– a UN force, which is broadly representative of the world we live in, which would include Muslim and non-Muslim troops.  But, let’s form that force first.  Yes, Warren.


Question:  The senior peacekeeping official who briefed us last week said that, he hoped this meeting today might produce commitments.  You sound like you’re expecting much less than that by the way you describe it as telling them about, you know, concepts of organization, rules of engagement.  Is that the case that you’re no longer expecting actual numbers, commitments today?


Spokesman:  Well, I think that we’ll have to see.  But, it’s obvious that this is our first formal meeting with them.  We’ll be presenting to them the concept of operations.  They may have more questions, so, we may have to hold another meeting early next week.  But, obviously, let’s wait to see how this first meeting goes.  Yes, Matthew.


Question:  A follow-up to Laura’s question on Darfur.  The President of Sudan is quoted by State media there as saying that they would fight any UN force, if it arrives.  So, I’m wondering, I asked on Tuesday, if the Secretary-General has any position on this request, that’s been made to Security Council by Human Rights Watch, that sanctions be imposed on high officials of Sudan.  Is there any response?


Spokesman:  This issue about fighting a UN force, it is clear that the Government of Sudan is not ready to accept a UN Force and that’s why the Secretary-General through his briefing today has asked that members of the Council re-engage with the Government of Sudan on this issue.  But, I don’t have anything particular on…


Question:  You said in your opening of this Congo, MONUC investigation of sexual abuse, sexual prostitution allegations -– you said OIOS is involved.  And I’m sorry to ask this, there was this investigation.  Maybe this is while you were away.  There was this allegation of MONUC troops being involved in burning down a village or standing by, but there was no, but it never said any OIOS was involved in investigating that.  And, the investigation was released in a very haphazard manner.


Spokesman:  OIOS investigates all issues relating to sexual conduct and misconduct.  The other thing you were referring to had more to do with military operations, so, that would be the responsibility of the Mission.


Question:  I’m very, very confused, let’s not even talk about the (inaudible) story in Le Monde but, the announcement yesterday by the French Defense Minister questioned the mandate, which France wrote in the resolution, questioned the rules of engagement while it’s sitting there trying to work them out with UN Peacekeeping and questioned the force being under UNIFIL, which France insisted after the US wanted an MNF and Lebanon said “no”, we will only take (inaudible) UNIFIL.  Are you getting a clearer picture of those objectives?


Spokesman:  As I said, we are talking to the French on every level.  Our generals spoke to their generals early this morning, and yesterday, went over the concept of operations again, rules of engagement.  We are trying to answer as many of the questions as they have.  And, as I said, the Secretary-General is speaking to the President today so hopefully, by the end of the day, we’ll have little more clarity.


Question:  But, (inaudible) mandate which France wrote…


Spokesman:  You’d have to ask.  You know, despite my nationality, I can’t answer for them.  Yes, Benny.


Question:  Despite my nationality, let me follow-up on Laura’s question, about those Israel may or may not agree to.  Isn’t it in the resolution, that Israel and Lebanon will be consulted as far as the force?


Spokesman:  You know, we will deploy forces in mind of the realities on the ground.  But, it is up to the UN to put the force together.  We would want to put a force together that both countries can obviously work with.


Question:  …said that we don’t expect them to come in with guns blazing and force themselves on…


Spokesman:  I’m not going to go any further on that.  Yes, Nate.


Question:  On Sudan, what’s the SG think of the new draft resolution, considering it’s only asking for 15,000 troops and that’s at the low end of his band?  And secondly, given the intransigence of Khartoum over Chapter 7, will he encourage the Security Council to perhaps consider other ways, and other rules of engagement for any potential force?  And sorry, just on Lebanon when did this idea of a second meeting get raised?


Spokesman:  It flows from the fact that, if they have a lot of questions, which we will answer, they may not be able to provide the commitments.  So, may, we may have to have a second troop contributors meeting.  But, I think we really have to go and see what happens by the end of today.


Question:  In the Lebanon meeting upstairs...was that...?


Spokesman:  You know, I think I’ve answered the question.  OnSudan, the resolution was obviously just distributed, so, I’m not going to comment in detail on it, but obviously, any resolution that is passed that would call for peacekeeping operation, we would hope that the Member States are willing to provide those troops as well.  Yes, Masood.  I’m sorry, my apologies.


Question:  Accepted.  Today’s meeting, are they going to discuss about the vanguard force of 3,000 or the real eventual 35?


Spokesman:  This meeting will be about UNIFIL, the enhanced UNIFIL as a whole, the vanguard force, which I think you’ve been briefed about, the some 3,500 and the force as a whole.  This will be about Member States hopefully giving us some commitments, firm commitments, and also us being able to answer their questions.  Yes, Masood, and then, we’ll go to Richard.


Question:  I just wanted an update on this oil spill, which is now being talked about.


Spokesman:  I think I provided that in my opening remarks.  There’s a press release available upstairs.


Question:  The other question that I have about the Palestinian power plant, which was blown up by Israel and later Jan Egeland was promised that it would be repaired, but there is no update on that as to when that would take place.


Spokesman:  I’ll see if I can get you something on that.  Richard.


Question:  I know it may be late information.  But how many child UN peacekeeping incidents in Congo does this make?  We’ve had reports before when Swing was brought back here -– can you just update on -– is this new –- what happened to the zero tolerance?


Spokesman:  The zero tolerance is in place, and that is about when we uncover incidents of sexual exploitation or prohibited behaviour, we investigate and prosecute.  That’s what zero tolerance is, and also, about putting preventive measures in place, about educating the troops and educating our civilian staff.  As for a total number, I would have to find that out for you.  Yes, sir.


[The Spokesman’s Office later announced that there are a total of 256 open allegations of misconduct by United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo staff currently under investigation.  Of these, 144 are allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse.  There are 201completed investigations of sexual exploitations and abuse resulting in the repatriation from the Democratic Republic of the Congo of 102 military and 11 police personnel, and the reprimand of three civilians and the suspension of six civilians to date.]


Question:  Is the UN follow-up committee aware of reports that Nigeria hasn’t transferred ownership to Cameroon -– that Nigerian (inaudible) complained of harassment by Cameroonian (inaudible) against the agreement that was signed on 12 June.  Is the UN aware of such reports?


Spokesman:  I am not, but we will check for you.  Yes, Matthew.


Question:  Is it possible to get an (inaudible) on another one of these video things, maybe in connection with the elections results on the 20 August?


Spokesman:  Maybe we could do something for Monday.


Question:  I have one question on East Timor.  Australia has said it opposes transforming the force in East Timor to a UN force and, it prefers to remain in control.  And, the quote from the Foreign Minister is that “it’s better to not operate out of New York all of the time and get into arguments about the rules of engagement with the UN and so on”.  So, is there some, does the Secretary-General have, feel strongly that it should be a UN force?


Spokesman:  The Secretary-General’s recommendations for Timor were put to the Council in terms of the rollover.  And, we very much hope the Council will act soon on that.  I haven’t seen the Australian quote.


Question:  (inaudible) reporting numbers on the child incident?


Spokesman:  I did not, but we have a full press release upstairs.


Question:  And, I would support what Frank mentioned.


Spokesman:  I understand.  Thank you.  Yes, sir.


Question:  I am wondering.  Today in The New York Times, there is a report.  The Foreign Minister of Iran announced Iran would resume its negotiations with Europe and China.  What was the comment from the Secretary-General?


Spokesman:  The Secretary-General’s position on Iran and the nuclear issue has been clear from the start.  It’s that he’s urging and pushing all the parties to continue on the diplomatic discussions and very much hopes to get a positive response from Iran later this month.  Thank you very much.


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