28 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.


**Guest at Noon


Joining us today will be Don MacKay, Chairman of the General Assembly’s Ad Hoc Committee which, last Friday, finalized the first convention on the rights of persons with disabilities.  Mr. MacKay will give an assessment of the new convention and its expected impact.


**Disabilities Convention


On that convention, I have a statement from the Secretary-General:


“The Secretary-General hails the agreement reached by a committee of the General Assembly last Friday night on a new treaty on the rights of persons with disabilities, to be adopted by the Assembly during its coming session, as a historic achievement for the 650 million people with disabilities around the world.  He notes that people with disabilities have hitherto lacked adequate protection, and hopes that this long overdue Convention will mark the beginning of a new era in which they will have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.  He urges all Member States to ratify the Convention and ensure its rapid implementation.”


And that statement is upstairs.


**Secretary-General in Middle East


Turning to Beirut, where the Secretary-General has just wrapped up a meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora and his full cabinet.  Following the meeting, the Secretary-General took part in a joint press conference with the Prime Minister, in which he called for the lifting of the Israeli blockade and the return of the Israeli soldiers.  He also stressed the importance of having “one law, one authority and one gun” in Lebanon.  We hope to have a full transcript of that press encounter shortly.


Earlier in the day, the Secretary-General was greeted at Beirut’s airport by Lebanese Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh.  Upon arrival, the Secretary-General told reporters that this is a very critical time for Lebanon, and he said, “I think it is important that I come here myself to discuss with the Lebanese authorities the aftermath of the war and the measures being taken to implement UN resolutions and also to underscore international solidarity.”


The Secretary-General, also today, had separate meetings with the Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament Nabih Berri, and he is also scheduled to meet this evening with Serge Brammertz, head of the International Independent Investigation Commission into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.  He is also scheduled to attend a working dinner hosted by Prime Minister Siniora.  And attending that dinner with him, among other UN officials, will be Alain Pelligrini, the Head of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).


** Lebanon


The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) reports that its Force Commander met earlier today with the senior commanders of both the Lebanese and the Israeli Armies inside the UNIFIL crossing-point at Ras Naqoura.  The commanders discussed how to further coordinate the continued Israeli withdrawal and Lebanese deployment in southern Lebanon.


UNIFIL says the meeting was productive and will be followed with other meetings in the near future.


On the humanitarian side:  our colleagues in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) report that nine UN convoys left Beirut today and over the weekend, carrying food, water and medical supplies.


The World Food Programme reports that, since 23 July, it has delivered some 4,000 tons of food to approximately 547,000 people in Lebanon.  Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has also helped the Lebanese Ministry of Health to launch a campaign to disinfect debris and rubble in destroyed buildings in the southern suburbs of Beirut.


Regarding mine clearance, as of today, more than 1,600 cluster bomb units and 11 other items of unexploded ordnance have been destroyed by UN teams.


**Security Council


The Security Council is holding behind closed doors a meeting on Sudan in the Council chamber.


Jan Egeland, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, told Council members that the entire humanitarian operation in Darfur is at risk and appealed for immediate action on the political front.


If that operation -- the only lifeline for more than 3 million people in Darfur –- were to collapse, Egeland said the lives of hundreds of thousands could be needlessly lost.


Mr. Egeland has told us he will speak to you at the stakeout microphone after his appearance in the Council.


** Uganda


Turning now to Uganda, Mr. Egeland has welcomed the signing on Saturday of an official cessation of hostilities between the Government of Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army.


According to a press release from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which we have upstairs, Mr. Egeland urges both parties to continue the positive momentum.


Egeland is expected to visit northern Uganda himself, as well as the ongoing peace talks in Juba, Sudan, as part of his forthcoming mission to Africa.  The eight-day mission will also include the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  And he is scheduled to leave on 5 September.


**Democratic Republic of Congo


The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) says the past weekend in Kinshasa was calm and peaceful, with people going about their normal business as usual.


The Head of the Mission, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, William Lacey Swing, is encouraging President Kabila and Vice-President Bemba to meet face to face.  Those two will meet in an electoral setting at the end of October.


Swing says that Kabila and Bemba have to continue the process in line with the engagement they undertook with the inauguration of the transitional Government, and he promised to keep in close contact with the pair.


On the electoral side, the Independent Electoral Commission published this weekend the first partial results of the legislative elections for 35 of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s 169 districts.


**Kosovo


The UN Secretary-General’s Acting Special Representative in Kosovo, Steve Schook, condemned a grenade attack in North Mitrovica which injured nine civilians over the weekend.  He expressed his sympathy to the victims and their families.


** Somalia


The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia, François Lonseny Fall, is expected to brief members of the International Contact Group on Somalia tomorrow in Stockholm.  Fall will report on the current situation in Somalia, and there will be a press release on that afterwards, and we’ll see if we can get you his remarks.


**International Criminal Court


The Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) reports that Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, a former leader of a militia group at war in the north-eastern Ituri district of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has been formally charged by the ICC Prosecutor with enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15 and using them to participate actively in hostilities.


A confirmation hearing has been set for 28 September.  If the charges are confirmed, Mr. Lubanga’s case will mark the first time that an individual is brought before an international court solely on the basis of these types of crimes.


We have a press release upstairs.


**Guest Tomorrow


And lastly, our guest tomorrow will be Kingsley Amaning, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Chad.  He will be here to answer your questions about the situation in that country.


That is it for me.  Any questions?


Questions and Answers


Question:  There are some indications that three Arab countries -- Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan -- will present a comprehensive peace plan to the Security Council in September.  Do you have any indication of that?


Spokesman:  I have not heard anything to that effect, but we can check.


Question:  There are some UN reports that some UN officials are receiving housing subsidies.  Can you comment on that?  Is that violating any staff rules?


Spokesman:  Those are issues that are being dealt with through the filling out of the personal financial disclosure forms and these are the issues that the Ethics Office will deal with.


Question:  In those forms, has anybody declared housing subsidies from their Government?


Spokesman:  Those are issues that will be dealt with between the Ethics Office and these people.


Question:  Does it violate staff rules prior to the establishment of the Ethics Office?


Spokesman:  I would have to check the staff rules on that for you.


Question:  Senator Charles Schumer says the building is a fire trap.  Is there a formal response?


Spokesman:  Well, maybe to put it in more diplomatic terms:  we agree with a lot of what Senator Schumer is saying.  This building is not up to code.  It is a hazard not only to those of us –- that includes you and I, Richard –- who work in this building, but also to the first responders of the City of New York who would respond to any major emergency in this building.  That is one of the many reasons the Secretary-General has pushed for the Capital Master Plan for this building to be brought up to the safety standards that it should have in the twenty-first century.


Question:  The plan to move the UN –- there was to be a ground-breaking ceremony in October – is that on schedule?


Spokesman:  The Secretary-General’s progress report on the Capital Master Plan, which contains an update on the design work for the swing space and the funding proposals for the renovation, is being finalized now and we should have it out, I understand, within a few weeks.  The design work on the swing space is on-going and the GA is scheduled to take up the issue during its sixty-first session.


Question:  Is there a date when we will be expected to move from here?


Spokesman:  No, not yet.


Question:  There was an op-ed article by Ruth Pearl in this morning’s Wall Street Journal that highlights an important but apparently forgotten detail of resolution 1701, which is, what is happening to the two Israeli hostages, and the third hostage taken in Gaza, Corporal Shalit.  Can the Secretary-General or someone speak on this and establish that it is a priority about which the UN cares?


Spokesman:  I think your characterization as “forgotten” is grossly misleading.  In fact, the Secretary-General mentioned it in his opening remarks in a press conference about 45 minutes ago.  It is something that UN officials, not only him but also Mr. Roed-Larsen and Mr. Nambiar, have raised during their stops in Beirut and Israel.  It is something the Secretary-General would very much like to see progress on as a first step, possibly the handing over of the detained soldiers to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) or to the Lebanese Government.  It is one of the items that is very high on his agenda.


Question:  The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has just released a human development report in Nigeria that was funded by Shell.  Environmental groups have said it is a highly compromised report, given the issues that have surrounded Shell in Nigeria.  What standards does the UN have in terms of funding from corporations to fund something like a human development report?


Spokesman:  I’ll have to check for you with UNDP.  I haven’t seen the report, but I can check with UNDP.


Question:  Is the Secretary-General’s wife a beneficiary of any affiliate of the Wallenberg Trust, which purchased companies from Compass Group, which is embroiled in a UN scandal?


Spokesman:  I have no indication one way or another.


Question:  Has the Secretary-General filed his personal financial disclosure?


Spokesman:  As soon as I have an update on that, I will share that with you.


Question:  Is anyone from the UN involved in negotiations to win the release of the Israeli soldiers?


Spokesman:  The Secretary-General made it clear that that was something he has discussed with his Lebanese counterparts.  It is something he will discuss with the Israelis.  I think his exact words were that his services are available.


Question:  On the issue of the housing subsidies, you said to Benny that you’d have to check the staff rules.  You have been getting questions on this for a while, so it seems…


Spokesman:  I just haven’t gotten them in a while.


Question:  It seems funny to think that you wouldn’t know the staff rules by now.


Spokesman:  I will check as soon as this briefing is over.


Question:  Do we know what the staff rules are?


Spokesman:  I will give you an answer as soon as this briefing is over.


Question:  On the Wallenberg thing, you say you have no indication.  Did you actually ask?


Spokesman:  I have no indication.


Question:  But have you asked? That was the question.


Spokesman:  I have no indication.


Question:  So, you are not going to answer whether you asked…


Spokesman:  I have no indication.  If I had information, I would share it with you.  I have no information or indication.


Question:  Do we happen to know who Kofi Annan is going to meet specifically during his visits to Syria and Iran and how long those visits will last?


Spokesman:  Each visit will last about 24 hours or less.  We expect him to meet with the Presidents in both of those countries.


Question:  And the date for the Iranian leg?


Spokesman:  I don’t have an exact date, but it will be after 30 August, in the first days of September.  But I’ll get you the exact date as soon as I can.


Question:  There have been some reports saying that UNIFIL was disclosing so much information on its website that Hizbollah was able to glean from it where Israeli troop movements were taking place and other operations by the Israeli forces.  Do you have any comment on that?  Where does UNIFIL get its information?  Were they perhaps even disseminating information they had received from the Israel Defence Forces?


Spokesman:  UNIFIL was performing its observer role.  Throughout the fighting they had 19 observer posts that were out.  The press releases that came out included no items that could be construed as military intelligence.  Numbers of troops were not published.  UNIFIL reported names of areas occupied by Israeli forces inside Lebanon during the conflict and those vacated by Israel after resolution 1701 came into effect.  It has also consistently reported on the presence of Hizbollah fighters, whenever those fighters were positioned near UNIFIL positions.  To make it clear, UNIFIL has never received one complaint from the Israel Defence Forces for the press releases it issued.


Question:  Do you have a better sense of when the Secretary-General will be returning here?


Spokesman:  He will probably not be back here until the 8th or 9th of September, I assume.


Question:  Was the UN informed that Senator Schumer was going to speak to the press about the need to renovate the UN facilities?  And, in addition, is there anything you think he could do, since he is such a supporter of the renovation of the UN, to help expedite efforts to get it done?


Spokesman:  We would hope the Senator would use his influence, whether in the Senate or in New York State politics, to help us get the necessary funding and, of course, we would hope that the United States, like other Member States, approves the funding that we need to put the programme into operation.


Question:  Does the UN’s support for the peace talks in Uganda indicate a softening by the UN on the ICC indictments against the rebel leaders?


Spokesman:  No, there is no softening to be had by the UN on the ICC indictments, which stand and obviously need to be honoured.  I think Mr. Egeland has said at the stakeout that there is a humanitarian dimension to what is going on in northern Uganda and he is obviously addressing that as well.


Question:  On the Sudan, do you know what the interests are of the Security Council members who are not willing for the UN to send forces to the Sudan?


Spokesman:  That is a very good question, which I would not attempt to answer here.  You should ask those countries what their motivations are.


Question:  Is there any meeting for troop-contributing countries [regarding Lebanon] scheduled, and is there any progress?


Spokesman:  There will be a troop contributors meeting this afternoon.  It is a technical meeting at the military advisers’ level.  As a result of that meeting, we very much hope we will get some firmed-up details of offers, especially with timelines on deployment.  We remain very confident that we can see the first elements of the vanguard force deploy within the next few days in southern Lebanon.  Obviously, the meeting this afternoon will give more clarity.  It will include European countries, those countries that last Friday expressed interest in participating in the force, and it will include a number of non-European countries as well.


Question:  Can you be more specific on “a few days”?


Spokesman:  I would not tempt fate by giving a hard date, but we do expect that the first elements will deploy within the next few days.  We may have a little bit more clarity this afternoon.


Question:  Would it be only in the south, not on the Syrian border?


Spokesman:  The primary deployment and its area of operation will be in the south.  The issue of the borders is something that will be looked at with the Lebanese Government to see how we can help with those issues.


Question:  Speaking about UNIFIL and the way it reported on Hizbollah deployments near its positions, can you tell us anything more –- we’ve been sitting on this for a while -- about that there was no Hizbollah presence within five kilometres of the Qana position?


Spokesman:  The board of inquiry put together by DPKO is about to go to the region, if it has not already done so.  While that is going on, I have nothing to add to what already has been said.


Question:  Over the weekend, four Palestinians were killed by the IDF [Israel Defence Forces].  Does the UN have any reaction on that?  And also, the demands that the Palestinian politicians arrested by Israel over the last month or so should be released, do you have any reaction to that?


Spokesman:  We have already commented on the issue of the Palestinian legislators who have been abducted.  The Secretary-General is concerned at the situation and does not believe it helps build the future of a two-State solution by going on with these types of operations.  As to that particular incident you refer to, I don’t have any detail to comment on.


Question:  As a follow-up to Uganda.  Part of the agreement involves Joseph Koni, Vincent Otti and at least two others going into disarmament camps in Sudan within three weeks.  Given the Secretary-General’s report saying that UNMIS (United Nations Mission in the Sudan) would like to enforce the indictment but doesn’t have the resources, what would be the guidance that the Secretary-General would give to either the government of South Sudan or to UNMIS in terms of enforcement of the indictment?


Spokesman:  All countries have a responsibility to help the ICC.  These indictments stand.  The Secretary-General believes that these people should face justice.  As we’ve said with UNMIS and MONUC, the lack of resources does not enable the UN mission to actually proactively go out and seek these people.  We would work with the local authorities as we have done in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.


Question:  Is the Secretary-General encouraged by the discussions with the various leaders he has had so far?


Spokesman:  I think so far he is.  In Brussels he had a very good meeting.  We will have to wait what the results are.  His mission to Lebanon is not yet concluded, but I think it was very important for him to go there and see the situation for himself and have discussions with the Lebanese authorities and see how the UN can best support the Lebanese Government.


Question:  Do you have any reaction on Hizbollah’s leader Nasrallah saying that if he had known the result of the war, the abduction would not…


Spokesman:  Our focus is on the implementation and on moving forward.  I have no specific comment on that.


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