|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
**Secretary-General in Middle East
Starting off with the Secretary-General who is continuing his travels in the Middle East: earlier today, the Secretary-General was in Damascus where he met with Syrian President Bashir al-Assad. The President and the Secretary-General first met with their respective delegations and then in a tête-à-tête meeting for close to an hour.
Speaking to the press afterwards, the Secretary-General said the international community was looking to Syria to play a constructive role in this crucial period. He said President Assad had told him that he would assist the UN in implementing resolution 1701. To that regard, President Assad committed Syria to taking all necessary measures to implement the parts of 1701 that deal specifically with the arms embargo and rearmament of militias.
The measures include increasing patrols along the border and, when possible, establishing joint checkpoints with the Lebanese army. Regarding Syria’s relations with its neighbour, the Secretary-General told reporters that President Assad was prepared to meet with Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora and that Syria was prepared to go ahead with delineation of the border between the two countries.
In his discussions, the Secretary-General also raised a number of humanitarian issues, including the Israeli blockade of Lebanon and the issue of the three abducted Israeli soldiers.
The Secretary-General is now in Qatar. Tomorrow, he will travel on to Iran, where he is expected to meet that same day, that is, tomorrow, with the Iranian Foreign Minister. There will be a joint press conference following that encounter.
On Sunday, he is expected to meet with President Ahmadinejad before returning to Qatar by the end of Sunday. He is also expected to meet a number of other Iranian officials. We will be able to confirm those meetings once they have occurred.
I now have a statement on the plane crash that occurred in Iran earlier today:
“The Secretary-General was deeply saddened to learn of the deaths of passengers in a plane crash in Mashhad, Iran.
“On the eve of his visit to that country, the Secretary-General’s thoughts are with the families of the victims of this tragedy. He extends his sincere condolences to them and to the Government of Iran.”
The UN Interim Force in southern Lebanon says that the Lebanese Armed Forces this morning began deploying in the eastern sector of the Blue Line, in an area previously vacated by the Israel Defense Forces. This is the first time since the inception of UNIFIL, that the Lebanese Army has deployed this far south on Lebanese territory and right along the Blue Line.
The UN Force also reports the first contingent of Italian troops will arrive in Lebanon tomorrow. This will include close to 900 officers and soldiers and some 158 vehicles. The UN Mission notes that this is the largest single deployment of additional troops to UNIFIL since the adoption of resolution 1701. Upon arrival in Tyre, the new Italian UN peacekeepers will proceed to a staging camp in the area of Jabal Marun to be briefed on their mission before effectively deploying to the UNIFIL area of operations. In a statement earlier today, Major-General Alain Pelligrini, who heads the peacekeeping Force, said UNIFIL soldiers would be honoured to serve along with their new Italian colleagues.
** Palestinian Territories
Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland today addressed a donors’ conference in Stockholm on the Occupied Palestinian Territory. In his remarks, he said he had been travelling to the Middle East for 22 years. But he had never felt such a sense of disillusionment, despair and hatred as on his last mission to the region in July.
He said the situation in Gaza was severe, and that what was needed was a cessation of hostilities and the release of the captured Israeli soldiers. Also, he said the humanitarian community needed to have better access to Gaza, especially since the “hermetically sealed” Karni crossing made people feel like they were living in a cage.
**Human Rights Council/Lebanon
The President of the Human Rights Council, Ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba, today announced in Geneva the new members of the High-Level Commission of Inquiry into the situation in Lebanon. They are: João Clemente Baena Soares of Brazil; Mohamed Chande Othman of the United Republic of Tanzania; and Stelios Perrakis of Greece. And this is the result of a resolution passed by the Human Rights Council a few weeks ago.
Greece has assumed the presidency of the Security Council for the month of September. Today, the Council President, Ambassador Vassilakis of Greece, is holding bilateral meetings.
He is scheduled to brief you on the month’s programme of work on Tuesday following closed consultations in the morning.
**United Nations/African Union
A high-level UN inter-agency team will hold discussions with African Union (AU) officials beginning Monday in Addis Ababa. The aim of the talks is to forge stronger UN-AU cooperation -- including the establishment of a 10-year plan to strengthen AU capacity.
Member States declared their support for such a plan in 2005. Proposals to be discussed at next week’s meeting relate to possible assistance in areas including political and electoral matters, peacekeeping, human rights, humanitarian response, recovery, and food security.
The UN team will be headed by Ibrahim Gambari, the head of the Political Affairs Department; Abdoulie Janneh, the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission on Africa; and Legwaila Joseph Legwaila, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Africa. The UN team will meet with African Union Chairperson Alpha Konare and other high-ranking officials of the AU during their meeting.
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia, François Lonseny Fall, is in Khartoum today to attend negotiations between the Somali Transitional Federal Authorities and the Supreme Council of Islamic Courts. And Fall is expected to issue a statement on those talks tomorrow from Khartoum and we will make that available to you by e-mail.
Meanwhile, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization says that 1.8 million people in Somalia remain in need of urgent humanitarian assistance and that an escalation of the political crisis could have grave humanitarian consequences.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says it is very concerned about the recent escalation of violence in Dili -– in and around some displacement sites themselves, as well as within communities.
It says that burning and stoning of houses in the capital has increased in recent days, as the city has returned to a higher level of violence, and there appears to be attempts by some elements to polarize communities according to their place of origin.
The agency today handed over some 1,500 family-sized tents and other supplies to the Government of Timor-Leste to help families, whose houses have been destroyed in the recent violence, to return to their homes and rebuild.
One thing I wanted to bring to your attention before the end of this briefing: I was asked a couple of questions this morning on the situation of the Procurement Task Force and the investigations going on here at the UN.
What I can tell you is that the Procurement Task Force, created under the aegis of the Office for Internal Oversight Services, has now completed five fact-finding investigations into allegations of procurement irregularities. These cases are complex and difficult. Every effort is being made to ensure that due process is followed. The Organization placed eight staff members on special leave with full pay as of 16 January 2006, as we’ve previously told you. Of the five cases now completed, two staff members have been fully exonerated of any alleged irregularities and are now back at work, and those two are Ian Divers and Walter Cabrera. Another two are also back at work but have been asked to respond to allegations of mismanagement.
The fifth staff member has been charged with misconduct and has been suspended from duty without pay due to the seriousness of the charges. He is now being given an opportunity to respond, which is an essential element in the UN’s system of internal justice.
Evidence in this case has also been shared with the prosecutorial authorities of the host country.
Three other staff members remain on special leave with pay, pending completion of the ongoing investigations and decisions on appropriate action.
Today is Friday and the eve of a three-day weekend, so I will wish you a good weekend. Just so you know, the office will be closed on Monday, but we will have people on duty by phone, should you need to reach us. We will make available to you on the usual lid-list the press encounters the Secretary-General will have on Saturday, and if he has one on Sunday and Monday as well. So, you will be getting those.
We have the Week Ahead for you. A couple of things to flag:
One, as I said, Ambassador Adamantios Vassilakis at 1 on Tuesday.
And also, Tuesday and Wednesday, the High-Level Group of the Alliance of Civilizations will be holding a working meeting here at UN Headquarters, and Shamil Idriss, the Deputy Director of the Office is in the back and is available to you after the briefing to answer any questions.
That is, thankfully, it for me.
Questions and Answers
Question: What is the return date of the Secretary-General?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General is expected back in the States towards the end of next week. I don’t know exactly what day he will be physically back in the building.
Question: Do you have an official count of the new expanded UNIFIL, with the newly arrived Italian soldiers? I believe that Annan said in Amman yesterday, that when it gets up to 5,000, then the Israelis will be asked to leave southern Lebanon permanently.
Spokesman: We will be closer to that figure towards the middle of September. We have the Italians coming, we also expect a French battalion to be on its way very shortly, in fact, to be deployed towards the end of next week, if not a bit later. We are also in touch with the Indonesians, to get them into theatre as soon as possible. As you may know, the Spanish authorities are also going through their own internal Constitutional process before being able to deploy. We have already about 2,400 troops on the ground now. Those numbers are going up fairly quickly. If you step back and look when the resolution was adopted and the numbers at which we are now, we are in very good shape.
Question: But you don’t have solid deployment times?
Spokesman: Those tend to vary. I don’t want to be boxed in to any times at this point, but we’ll see if we can get you a little more precise figures from DPKO. But the countries we are talking about, especially the French and Italians, are self-deploying. We are obviously working with them on the exact dates and we are working with the Indonesians to get them there as fast as possible.
Question: The DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations) person has already been identified by the New York Times. When the charges will be shared with the District Attorney…
Spokesman: I would refer you to the statement. I know the name of the gentleman has been published in the media. Due to our effort to respect due process in our internal justice system, I cannot confirm that name and I would just refer you to my statement.
Question: I am not asking you for the name. That is already out there. But after the charges are shared with the District Attorney, will he hold an investigation of his own?
Spokesman: That is a question you need to address to them.
Question: You announced the UN/AU (African Union) meeting in Addis Ababa with Gambari and you mentioned peacekeeping. Is part of this meeting going to be getting the Sudanese on board with the African Union Mission in the Sudan to the United Nations Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS)?
Spokesman: This meeting is something that has been long scheduled and is part of an ongoing strategy of the UN to assist the African Union in building its capacity. Peacekeeping is one of those areas. This is a long-term meeting. But we can see with what is going on currently with AMIS and the need to strengthen AMIS, that it is very important that the UN and the international community do what it can to increase the capacity and structure of the AU to deploy and support its own peacekeepers. There are parallel meetings going on, more at the working level, between the UN and the AU focused on the support of AMIS.
Question: The Secretary-General has released an addendum on Darfur and said that the expanded UNMIS mission would cost more than $1 billion. Bolton just said at the stakeout that he and the British Ambassador plan to make a big push to get UN Member States to contribute. In the report, it says that the Secretary-General is going to ask the General Assembly. Is he going to be doing anything on the side, especially during the Summit, to…
Spokesman: It is routine that the budget requirements go to the General Assembly. That is the routine way in which the peacekeeping operations are budgeted. But, obviously, as always during the General Assembly, the Secretary-General has a chance to hold a large number of bilateral meetings, and I am sure Sudan will be at the top of the agenda in a number of those meetings.
Question: There are reports that, in Ituri, Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Médecins Sans Frontières has pulled out of a whole region, leaving a refugee camp with no medical… They say that the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) is not even in the area. I am wondering, between the first and the second phase of the election, is MONUC continuing to patrol and why aren’t they in the hardest hit areas?
Spokesman: Obviously, MONUC is continuing to patrol and, in fact, the in-between elections period is that more sensitive and volatile, as we have seen. There is no question of MONUC lessening its patrols. As to the specific area you are talking about: I don’t know. I haven’t seen the report, so I can’t speak to the operational issue having to do with that specific area. But you can follow that up in my office.
Question: From this podium, you give these MONUC announcements about disarmament and such. It is nice to hear good news but, in this case, the attack is by a group that MONUC announced previously had been disarmed. I am wondering, does MONUC send you all news, or do they just send you good news?
Spokesman: You have been a spectator in this room, if you want to call it that, for quite a while. You know that we have reported good news and we have reported bad news, such as sexual abuse and deaths of peacekeepers, or kidnappings. So, we do report the good news and the bad news.
Question: UNDP has just announced that they are doing a free and open-source software programme with the Government of Uzbekistan. Since that Government blocks almost all outside news websites, is UNDP using its involvement to encourage greater freedom of flow of information, or is it just providing open-source software to a closed society?
Spokesman: I have to look at the details of the programme.
Question: Will the Secretary-General during his visit in Tehran raise the nuclear issue, or will he wait to see if it is raised by the Iranians?
Spokesman: As we have said here, 1701 is the focus. Obviously, other issues will likely arise and will be addressed during those meetings. But I don’t want to preview those discussions until they have happened.
Question: I wonder about the technicality of dealing between the Israelis and the Indonesians. Does the UN have experience in having monitors from countries that don’t have relations with one of the sides? How is information actually being exchanged? Does an Indonesian officer have to go to an Italian officer to ask him, you talk to the Israelis because they do not want to talk with me? How does the UN handle…?
Spokesman: Indonesia has been a member of UN peacekeeping operations in the Middle East before. Once these countries deploy their troops, they put on blue helmets, and they are UN peacekeepers. Whether it is the Israelis, the Lebanese, the Congolese army, wherever we have UN peacekeepers, they are dealt with not as citizens of country X, Y or Z, but they are dealt with as an officer in UN peacekeeping.
Question: But they still display their flags. I have seen the Ghanaian flag; I have seen the Indian flag…
Spokesman: Yes, but all those flags fly under a UN flag and they all have blue helmets and blue berets.
Question: If a guy comes over with his UN helmet…
Spokesman: You are talking about hypotheticals. I am giving you a policy answer which is: These people come in. They are provided to us by their home countries. Once they serve, they serve under the leadership and the responsibility of the Secretary-General of the United Nations. And they are treated as such by all Member States.
Question: Do you have in the past a meeting where an Indonesian and an Israeli officer sat in the same room and exchanged words?
Spokesman: If they are at the UN side, they are registered as UN officers. They serve as UN officers and you can do some historical research. You can look at the countries that have served in the Middle East in various peacekeeping operations, and you will see that not all of them had diplomatic relations with Israel.
Question: But did they participate…
Spokesman: I have run out of answers for you. Sorry.
Question: Following up on that question, if I may ask, is there a standard set of instructions issued to Indonesians and Malaysians, whatever, putting on blue helmets, that says to them essentially: hey, you, Indonesian, Malaysian Blue Helmet, you are now under our command and, therefore, you are required to deal with Israelis or Lebanese or whomever with whom…?
Spokesman: I think the full stop comes after “you are under UN command”. Full stop. That is the modus operandi of peacekeeping operations. They are provided to the United Nations and once they are provided to the United Nations they serve under the command and the leadership of the Secretary-General of this Organization.
Question: The situation vis-à-vis the proposed UN force in Darfur in the Sudan, the situation is such that Mr. Bashir is stubbornly entrenched and insists he will not allow a UN force, and Ambassador Bolton and any number of others are very hopeful. May I ask, are any other countries, African countries, perhaps, or whoever, supporting Mr. Bashir’s particular position on this?
Spokesman: It is not a question I can answer on behalf of the UN what other countries’ positions are. What our position is, is that the Secretary-General will continue to work with the Sudanese authorities to move them to a political position where they accept the transition from the AU to the UN, and the Secretary-General would like to see other Member States who have an influence with the Sudanese Government -– whether they are members of the Security Council or not members of the Security Council -– to use their influence to move the position of the Sudanese Government.
Thank you very much. Enjoy your weekend.
* *** *For information media • not an official record