|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.
**Democratic Republic of Congo
Starting off with the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) reports that relative calm has now been restored in the capital Kinshasa, after violent incidents between supporters of President Joseph Kabila and Vice–President Jean-Pierre Bemba, the two leading candidates in the presidential poll. And, you know, those two will face in a run-off planned for 29 October.
DPKO says that yesterday afternoon, a group of President Kabila’s presidential guards opened fire on Vice-President Bemba’s compound in Kinshasa, in an attempt to forcibly disarm Mr. Bemba’s bodyguards. The presidential guards fired with light and heavy weapons on the compound, where the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General, William Lacy Swing, and a dozen foreign diplomats, all members of the Committee in Support of the Transition, were meeting with Mr. Bemba.
As the shooting continued, Mr. Swing spoke on the telephone from Mr. Bemba’s residence with President Kabila and demanded that Mr. Kabila immediately bring the situation under control. The shooting, however, continued for another two hours. Meanwhile, the Secretary-General also reached President Kabila by phone, as well as Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba, and demanded an immediate restoration of calm and safe evacuation of Mr. Swing and other foreign diplomats, as well as civilian personnel, from the residence. The Secretary-General urged both Mr. Kabila and Mr. Bemba to meet immediately to resolve the situation in a peaceful manner.
Some 150 United Nations peacekeepers in armoured personnel carriers were then dispatched to the Vice-President’s compound to restore order and extract Swing and other foreign dignitaries. United Nations and European Union peacekeepers later deployed around the residence and in other strategic parts of Kinshasa to ensure public order and safety, and there were no immediate reports of casualties. The Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo says that additional United Nations peacekeepers were, this morning, airlifted to Kinshasa from other parts of the country, as a number of looting incidents broke out in the capital, and gangs of street youths ransacked businesses and homes of real or perceived Kabila supporters.
Additional European Union forces also arrived in Kinshasa from Gabon and are now working with United Nations forces to restore order. Meanwhile, Mr. Swing continued his efforts to broker peaceful talks between the parties as military chiefs from the United Nations Mission, the European force, Mr. Bemba’s security detail and the Congolese Army met separately to secure an agreement to stop the shooting.
As we get more information, we will share it with you.
Turning to Lebanon, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) reports that, the cessation of hostilities was generally maintained in the course of the last 24 hours. However, Israeli airplanes twice flew over Lebanese territory and a violent clash was reported between the Israeli Defense Forces and Hizbollah members east of the town of Shamaha. The Secretary-General has also written to the Security Council to advise them that he will, from now on, issue to the Council a daily incident report on the situation across the Blue Line.
Meanwhile, the Lebanese Army deployed further inside areas vacated by the withdrawing Israeli troops, in accordance with resolution 1701 and the timeline agreed over the weekend between the Israeli and Lebanese Armies. To date, the Lebanese Army has deployed in more than 50 per cent of the territory south of the Litani River, including some of the areas recently vacated by the Israel Defense Forces. UNIFIL also reports that a team from the Mine Action Coordination Centre carried out the controlled demolition of a number of unexploded ordnance. United Nations peacekeepers also distributed 45,000 litres of drinking water to three villages in the south of Lebanon.
Meanwhile, the United Nations delegation sent by the Secretary-General to the Middle East to follow up on the implementation of Security Council resolution 1701 met today with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem to discuss all matters related to that resolution. Among other issues, they discussed the abducted soldiers, the blockade of Lebanon, the arms embargo and contributions of troops for the United Nations peacekeeping force. Delegation member Terje Roed-Larsen said the discussions were frank and conducted in a good spirit. The delegation earlier had met with Ofer Dekel, the head of the Israeli task force dealing with the issue of the abducted Israeli soldiers. The team’s two senior members, Vijay Nambiar and Terje Roed-Larsen, are expected to brief the press in Tel Aviv later today.
We will try to provide you a transcript of that encounter.
**Humanitarian Situation in Lebanon
On the humanitarian side, four United Nations convoys were dispatched from Beirut today. For its part, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reports that returnees’ shelter needs remain high. The Agency has, therefore, been providing plastic sheets, hammers, nails, wood, and other such materials for people returning to their homes. Meanwhile, the UN Development Programme (UNDP), with the support of the World Bank, has donated $500,000 to Lebanon for emergency relief. UNDP has also established a political advisory group within the Lebanese Prime Minister's Office, concentrating on support to the recovery and reconstruction effort, with an initial funding of $800,000.
Meanwhile, back here, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Ibrahim Gambari, began an open meeting of the Security Council on the Middle East this morning by telling Council members that we have seen the vision of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security, slip further away during the past year. Among other problems over that year, Gambari noted the differences between the parties, the degradation of the Palestinian Authority, and the suffering, destruction and death on both sides from violence.
He noted that, in the past year, a total of 41 Israelis have been killed, and nearly 480 injured, by Palestinian violence. In the same period, some 450 Palestinians have been killed and over 2,500 injured, by Israeli violence. He added that no progress has been made in securing the release of Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit, despite calls for his unconditional release.
Mr. Gambari asserted that the stalled state of the peace process should be regarded as unacceptable both on its own merits, and because of its broader regional implications. He reiterated the Secretary-General’s call earlier this month for a renewal of international effort to address the region’s crises comprehensively.
That open debate is continuing, and Mr. Gambari has told us he would take your questions at the stakeout afterwards.
Turning now to Sudan, the Secretary-General, in a report that is out on the racks today, details the abuse of children during the armed conflicts that have been taking place in Sudan, and strongly urges the leaders of the Government of National Unity and the Government of Southern Sudan to end child recruitment. That report also details the recruiting, killing and rape of children by various parties in the region, ranging from the Janjaweed militias to rebel groups in Darfur to Chadian opposition forces and the Lord’s Resistance Army.
The Secretary-General says he is deeply concerned about the increase in sexual violence against girls and women, particularly in Darfur, as well about reports of the systematic abduction and kidnapping of children there. He also expresses his deep concern over the continued lack of access in many areas of Sudan for child protection activities, particularly in the east.
Also, available today is a press release from the United Nations Mission in Sudan concerning the successful completion of a community-driven voluntary disarmament exercise in the State of Jonglei.
**Flooding in Ethiopia
And lastly, the World Food Programme (WFP) reports that, together with its partners, it has provided food aid and basic supplies to four locations where flood survivors are temporarily being sheltered, in Ethiopia. WFP warns that the number of people affected by the floods, now at 118,000, could rise further. We do have a press release available on that upstairs.
That is it for me. I will take your questions.
**Questions and Answers
Question: On the second resolution, do you have anything to add from yesterday?
Spokesman: No, nothing to add. Obviously, the possibility of another resolution is addressed in one of the later paragraphs of the current resolution that would really seek the implementation of a permanent ceasefire and long-term solution. I think, again, that’s a question best addressed to Council members.
Question: The Qatari Emir is in Lebanon, visiting. He said he’s bringing an official invitation from Syria to Prime Minister Siniora to visit Damascus. Do you have any reaction on that?
Spokesman: That would be an issue for, obviously, the Lebanese Government to decide on. But, the call for the establishment of normal diplomatic relations between Syria and Lebanon is one the Secretary-General has made a number of times.
Question: Could you clarify the date that the 3,500 additional troops are needed in South Lebanon? I’m saying this because Mark Malloch Brown said “10 days”, and that would come up to 28 August. There seem to be some people saying that it’s 2 September. Could you clarify this?
Spokesman: We would obviously like to see them in, as soon as possible. We remain confident that we could see a bulkhead of a force in southern Lebanon by the very end of this month or the beginning of the next. But, it’s a general expression of “10 days”. Obviously, we would like to see the force in there, as soon as possible.
Question: Left over from the rules of engagement -- who decides on things like when to evacuate peacekeepers in case a situation arises? Is that a decision that is made here, on the ground, in Naqoura? Who makes that decision?
Spokesman: It’s hypothetical. The decision to evacuate United Nations staff and peacekeepers ultimately rests with the Secretary-General. Obviously, depending on the situation, decisions can be taken on the ground or by the Force Commander. But, those decisions rest with the Secretary-General.
Question: Can we have an update, first, on troop contributor meetings? There had been talk of one this afternoon, but, I guess that’s probably going to be delayed. Can you also update us on the Secretary-General’s travel schedule? Is he intending to go to Brussels on Friday? What are his plans?
Spokesman: I have nothing to announce on the Secretary-General’s travel. The troop contributor meeting -- there is no formal one today, but the Department of Peacekeeping Operations had a number of meetings, bilateral meetings, with a number of possible troop contributors. I think those meetings have gone well. They’ve talked about details of the deployment, strategic airlift, the kind of equipment that people would bring. So, the discussions are moving ahead and in a fairly detailed form.
Question: I believe it was Massimo D’Alema today, in Rome, who said that Italy would not be sending troops unless the Israelis stopped firing. I wanted to know, first of all, if the Secretary-General has had any contact with D’Alema or Prodi today? Also, is he going to be involved in the meeting, even at a distance, that Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is having with D’Alema and Prodi, on Thursday, in Rome?
Spokesman: No, I do not believe we will be involved in that meeting. The Secretary-General has not spoken with Mr. Prodi today. But, he has spoken to him a number of times within the last three or four days. Obviously, the cessation of hostilities has been holding. It’s fragile, so having troops in there as quickly as possible would help strengthen that cessation of hostilities.
Question: Does the Secretary-General have any sense of what the Iranian response is to the incentive package, or does he have any comment on it?
Spokesman: We’re obviously waiting to see the details of that response before we actually have a comment on it.
Question: Ambassadors in Tehran received the responses. Has anybody at the United Nations similarly received the responses?
Spokesman: No, the responses were given to those that made the offer, which is the EU 3 + 3.
Question: So, how will you get the…
Spokesman: We expect to be briefed by those who receive the offer.
Question: The Secretary-General believes that it’s never too late to talk. The Iranian word is that they want to have serious negotiations. Does he feel there should be a firm deadline regarding the move to sanctions, or that maybe there’s room for manoeuvring and negotiations?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary-General has always believed in dialogue. As to the specific offer made today, I think we’re going to wait until we see it before we make any further comment.
Question: Has there been any movement by the Department of Political Affairs to engineer the recognition of Israel by those countries that do not have recognition or diplomatic ties, so as to facilitate the deployment of their troops in Lebanon?
Spokesman: The issue of diplomatic ties between Member States is exactly the affair of those Member States. We are, as far as force composition is concerned, continuing to talk to all sorts of Member States. It is likely that, you’ll see a force that is both European and non-European, Muslim and non-Muslim.
Question: On the Department of Political Affairs, yesterday I had asked about Somalia and Ethiopia -- who in the United Nations had done anything. I hadn’t heard back yet. There are now reports of clashes between Islamic Courts and Ethiopian troops in Puntland. I don’t know if you can somehow expedite their…
Spokesman: I’ll try.
Question: In light of the fact that the troop-contributing meeting was postponed -- and that, at the last one they had last Thursday, various countries came forward and pledged some troops -- who has pledged since then?
Spokesman: I can’t go into naming names and details at this point, from here. But, the fact that there has not been a formal troop-contributing meeting does not mean that things are not going well. In fact, as I said before you came into the room, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations had quite a number of meetings with potential donors, both European and non-Europeans.
Question: You have nothing to announce?
Spokesman: I have nothing to announce.
Question: Not even on the Italians?
Spokesman: I have no firm commitments to announce, but as I said, the discussions are going on at all levels very actively.
Question: But, the fact that you said that 50 percent of the troops had left, the Israeli troops -- is that encouraging to you, even though there are no peacekeepers going, more than a week after the conflict ended?
Spokesman: It’s encouraging that the cessation of hostilities, the withdrawal of the Israeli Defense Force and the expansion of Lebanese forces are going ahead. But, this is all very fragile. This is being done with the 2,000 or so UNIFIL troops that have been on the ground since the beginning. We need a bulkhead very quickly to shore up what has already been achieved.
Question: Has the Secretary-General… Or, maybe you can brief us on what United Nations efforts there have been in establishing or having a dialogue with Syrian and Iranian leadership -- any imminent discussions?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General, as I’ve said from here, has been in touch, I think, last week with both the Iranian and Syrian leadership, encouraging them to play a positive role in the implementation of resolution 1701.
Question: What sort of feedback has he had from them, and does he have any planned discussions for today, tomorrow, the coming days?
Spokesman: I can’t go into what may be planned. But, we very much hope that those countries that do have an influence in the region and in Lebanon exercise that influence positively.
Question: I just want to clarify. Is it possible that Indonesia, Malaysia and these other countries that don’t have diplomatic relations, could still be part of this force, for the enhanced UNIFIL?
Spokesman: It is clear that we will see Muslim nations in this force? We want to see a force that is politically legitimate, and that is militarily legitimate, in the eyes of all the parties involved.
Question: Two questions. Firstly, the figure of 3,500 troops that you want on the ground by the 28th, does that refer to the total troops or additional troops? In which latter case that would mean, I believe, 5,500. There were 2,000 there already.
Spokesman: It is additional to the 2,000 already on the ground.
Question: So, there would be 5,500 total?
Spokesman: That’s correct.
Question: Also, you mentioned the Secretary-General will be reporting daily to the Council on events over the Blue Line. Does that mean only clashes that take place across the border or any clashes that take place anywhere in Lebanon?
Spokesman: No, it would be -- and I should thank you for correcting me -- it would also, obviously, be incidents within southern Lebanon. It would be a daily report of -- incident reports relating to -- the cessation of hostilities.
Question: Everything to do with 1701, basically?
Question: Just to clarify, because you keep repeating that there should be Muslim States in there -- the issue, as it was framed yesterday by Ambassador Bolton and others, is whether the countries that participate in the force will have diplomatic relations with Lebanon and Israel; the question is not whether they’re Islamic. The countries where there are no relations with Lebanon or Israel -- are they acceptable as contributors?
Spokesman: We want to see a force that is legitimate politically, that is truly an international force. I think our first step is to assemble the troop contributors and that’s what we’re doing.
Question: This may have been asked earlier. Would the United Nations take upon itself to encourage any Muslim nation or other nation that doesn’t recognize Israel or, let’s say, Lebanon, to go through the formality of recognizing those States before contributing?
Spokesman: The issue of establishing diplomatic relations can be quite lengthy. It is clear that you could see, in the force, countries that may not have formal ties with either of these two countries. The point is to have a force that works, that doesn’t create more problems, and that is legitimate politically.
Question: Assuming that Indonesia and Malaysia were acceptable to both parties, could they go in immediately or do they have to wait until other countries deploy?
Spokesman: We’re talking to all sorts of troop contributors about how quickly they can deploy. Obviously, some of them are self-deployable, if that’s a term. Others would need strategic airlift assistance. Those are the kinds of questions that are being raised.
Question: They can go in individually and integrate?
Spokesman: They would go in, obviously, in a way that is coordinated by UNIFIL. But, we’re working on timelines with those countries.
Question: So, there’s no staging area where…
Spokesman: We’re getting ahead of ourselves. Obviously, it would depend on what contributions they have, whether or not they deploy themselves by ship, whether we use some of the rear bases in Cyprus. Those are detailed questions that will be addressed. As they commit, there will be a phased, coordinated deployment by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.
Question: Across First Avenue today, there’s this kind of silent protest against Agent Orange. I don’t know if you saw this. Having seen, here, Mark Malloch Brown holding a luncheon for Dow Chemicals last month, which is the maker of Agent Orange, it made me wonder. Maybe you can comment on it, and maybe Mr. Malloch Brown can explain, what goes into deciding who to, sort of, laud in the Delegates’ Lounge. Dow Chemicals, they’re being sued by Amnesty International, et cetera… It led me to believe that the protest outside, and this luncheon… Can you explain how the United Nations decides when to invite corporations in, and on what basis?
Spokesman: I don’t have any details of the lunch or the protest you’re referring to. But, it is clear that the Secretary-General has made it part of his effort to reach out to different constituencies, whether it’s non-governmental organizations or civil society, and to reach out to corporations -- transnational corporations -- who have a role to play in the world that we live in. You see that through the Global Compact, and in other areas where he’s worked closely with pharmaceutical companies in helping to distribute AIDS treatment that is cheaper and more affordable in the developing world. We reach out to corporations regularly, as we do to non-governmental organizations and civil society.
Question: Does he use the bully pulpit to ask them about issues that are…
Spokesman: I think that is the whole point of the Global Compact -- to ensure that corporations abide by standards of international law.
Question: Would it be possible, this afternoon, to get some explanation? Because Mr. Malloch Brown spoke, as did Amir Dossal of the United Nations Fund for International Partnerships. I mean, I’ll try myself, but your Office may have better luck. Just some explanation from them.
Spokesman: Okay. [The Spokesman later added that the CEO of the Dow Chemical Company had come to the United Nations Headquarters on 25 July 2006 to commit his company’s resources to developing new technologies and solutions for creating safer, more sustainable water supplies for communities around the world.]
Question: Terje Roed-Larsen is saying in interviews today that it could be two to three months before the Mission is “up to strength” or whatever. Mark Malloch Brown, on Friday, I wasn’t here, but I heard him desperately appealing to Europe. Though, he didn’t use the word desperate. What is the rate of satisfaction upstairs with the level of troops right now?
Spokesman: We would have loved to have been further down the line than we actually are. The talks are all proceeding; they’re proceeding well. We’ve gone over this issue of the rules of engagement; that’s really more of last week’s issue than this week. We do expect more clarity towards the end of the week, with the European Union meeting. But, we’re also, as I said, talking to a lot of non-European countries.
Question: Can you talk about the delayed meeting of the European Union?
Spokesman: I don’t want to speak for them, but my understanding is there are two meetings. There’s a political directors’ meeting on Wednesday and a foreign ministers’ meeting on Friday, in Brussels.
Question: Has UNIFIL reported seeing any Hizbollah weapons displayed in public? Is that something they would report on?
Spokesman: That is not something they have reported on, for the time being.
Thank you very much.
* *** *For information media • not an official record