8 September 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


and spokesperson for the general assembly president

 


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Pragati Pascale, spokesperson for the General Assembly President.


**Briefing by the Secretary-General’s Spokesman


Good afternoon.


**Guest at Noon


Our guest at noon today will be José Manoel Bertolote, from the World Health Organization’s Coordination for the Management of Mental and Brain Disorders, and Brian Mishara, President of the International Association for Suicide Prevention.  They will be joining us after my briefing and after Pragati briefs you as well.


** Lebanon


Major-General Alain Pellegrini, Force Commander of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), says the interim naval task force is now operational, as of one o’clock this afternoon local time.  Major-General Pellegrini says it is his understanding that Israel’s naval blockade has now been lifted.


The Force Commander held discussions on this matter with the Lebanese and Israeli authorities and with the Italian Navy Commander, Rear Admiral Giuseppe De Giorgi, who will lead this interim naval task force.  The task force is under Italian command, but is coordinating its activities with the UNIFIL, and the UN has set up a naval operations centre in Naqoura to coordinate all these operational issues.


Officers from UNIFIL yesterday also met with Israeli army and navy officials to map out the plans for patrolling the waters off Lebanon at the end of the Israeli blockade.


In response to a request from the Government of Lebanon, an expert assessment team, comprising of police, border and military security experts, will be deployed to UNIFIL as of tomorrow, to evaluate the conditions at Beirut International Airport, coastal entry points and land border, and to identify areas in which the UN might provide assistance.


There are more than 3,200 UNIFIL personnel in Lebanon as of now, and some 200 French personnel -- involved in logistics -- are expected to arrive over the weekend.


** Lebanon -– Michel Visit


Nicolas Michel, the Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, left Beirut today, after meetings yesterday with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and Justice Minister Charles Rizk.  In those meetings, Mr. Michel discussed the draft statute and main issues around the establishment of a tribunal of an international character dealing with the murder of the late Prime Minister, Rafiq Hariri, and 22 others.


Before his departure, Michel told reporters that he had very constructive and fruitful meetings, and that much has been achieved so far.  He made it clear that the tribunal would need to be agreed to by the United Nations and the Lebanese Government.


**Secretary-General


The Secretary-General has now returned from his marathon trip to the Middle East and Europe.  He returned last night.  He will be at Headquarters this afternoon to attend the General Assembly plenary meeting slated to open at 3 p.m. -– and Pragati will give you more details on that meeting.  He is then scheduled to address the DPI-NGO conference at 5:15 p.m. in Conference Room 4.


We have made arrangements for him to speak to you at a stakeout outside of the General Assembly Hall.  We will try to give you a better idea as to the exact time that he will be going to the stakeout, but it will likely be between 3 and 4:30 p.m. this afternoon.  We’ll obviously be in touch with you with more details.


**Security Council


There are no meetings or consultations of the Security Council scheduled for today.


On Monday, however, a debate open to the public on Sudan is scheduled to take place, and the Secretary-General will attend and address that meeting as well.


** Sudan


Also on Sudan, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres warns today in a statement that the worsening situation in Darfur threatens to spark another round of massive displacement that could destabilize the entire region.


And, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights says that reports from UN human rights monitors confirmed the assessment of a worsening situation in Darfur.  Civilians in Darfur, in particular those living in rebel controlled areas, continue to be exposed to abuses either as a result of indiscriminate attacks or, as a result of getting caught in the middle of clashes between warring parties.


Of particular concern is that the climate of impunity in relation to human rights abuses meant that those carrying out such attacks could almost always count on not being held to account.


**Democratic Republic of Congo


The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) says that the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Independent Electoral Commission announced last night the provisional results of the country’s recent parliamentary elections.


The presidential alliance, known by its French acronym AMP, did not obtain an absolute majority and won 224 seats out of 500, while RENACO -– the party that supports Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba –- won 100 seats.


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative there, William Swing, welcomed the results, saying that they will enable the DRC to have a stable Government based on a strong parliamentary majority that will also face a strong opposition.


Regarding security in Kinshasa, the UN Mission says it is been continuing its confidence- and security-building efforts ahead of the second round of presidential elections.  Joint patrols have been sent to verify various allegations, including the alleged deployment of mortars in Bemba’s office complex.


As well, the Mission says that over the coming days, its own efforts to resolve differences between Kabila and Bemba will receive an additional diplomatic boost with various high-level officials coming to Kinshasa to help where possible; these include the President of the Congo, President Sassou Nguesso, who is the current Chair of the African Union, as well as Javier Solana, the European’s foreign policy chief.  And we also expect the visits of the Defense Ministers of South Africa and Belgium.


** Burundi


I have a statement now on Burundi:


“The Secretary-General welcomes the signing of a Ceasefire Agreement between the Government of Burundi and the PALIPEHUTU-Forces nationales de libération (FNL) in Dar es Salaam, United Republic of Tanzania, on 7 September.  He expresses his appreciation for the efforts of the Regional Initiative for Peace in Burundi and the South African Facilitation, to help achieve this Agreement, which, it is hoped, will bring to an end 13 years of armed conflict in the country.


“The Secretary-General calls on the Government and FNL to implement the Agreement expeditiously and in good faith.  Its successful implementation is vital for the consolidation of peace in Burundi and the overall stability of the Great Lakes region.  The Secretary-General urges both parties to continue working together in a spirit of cooperation to resolve all outstanding issues.


“The United Nations stands ready to assist the parties in implementing the Agreement, in collaboration with other partners, and to continue to support all efforts to enhance good governance, including through the respect of human rights and establishment of the rule of law.”


** C ôte d’Ivoire


At the request of the Government of Côte d’Ivoire, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), is investigating whether the toxic wastes recently dumped in Abidjan are linked to illegal exports from Europe.


Meanwhile, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that an inter-agency task force has been established in Côte d'Ivoire to coordinate and assist with the UN’s response as well as the Government's request for assistance.


And, also on the subject of Côte d’Ivoire, the Security Council has written back to the Secretary-General, taking note of his intention to appoint Major-General Fernand Marcel Amoussou of Benin as the Force Commander of the UN Operation in that country.  Major-General Amoussou will replace Major-General Abdoulaye Fall, who left the Mission in April.  You can find the exchange of letters out on the racks upstairs.


**Polio Vaccination in Horn of Africa


The largest-ever synchronized polio vaccination campaign in the Horn of Africa starts tomorrow and lasts until 12 September, with support from the World Health Organization and UNICEF.  Millions of children under the age of five will be simultaneously vaccinated in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya.


**Deputy Secretary-General -– Iraq Compact


The Deputy Secretary-General, Mark Malloch Brown, will be heading out to Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, where, on Sunday, he will attend a meeting of the Preparatory Group of the International Compact for Iraq.  The meeting will be held under the auspices of the Government of Iraq and the United Nations, which jointly co-chair the Compact.  Its purpose will be to assess preparatory work vis-à-vis the Compact.


The event will be attended by representatives of a number of countries, as well as officials from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Islamic Development Bank and the Arab Development Fund.


**Literacy Day


Today is also International Literacy Day.  The theme this year is “Literacy Sustains Development”.  In a message to mark the occasion, the Secretary-General says that higher literacy rates are essential to economic growth, poverty eradication, social participation and environmental protection.


According to a related report from the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), some 780 million adults live without basic literacy skills.  We have the full text upstairs.


**Water –- Jay-Z


The partnership between the UN, MTV and Jay-Z, which was announced by the Secretary-General on 9 August, is launching its Water for Life campaign today.  You have more information on their website www.un.org/works, which is linked from the UN website.


**Press Conferences and Briefings


This afternoon, at one o’clock in this room, the NGO known as UN Watch will be giving a briefing, and the briefing will be done by the Executive Director of United Nations Watch, Hillel Neuer.


On Monday at 11:00 a.m. UN Security, together with Media Accreditation, will be briefing you on the ever-important media arrangements and security arrangements for the sixty-first General Assembly.  I would urge you to attend that briefing at 11 o’clock on Monday.


That is it for me.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  The Israelis’ lifting of the naval blockade suggests a partial lifting of the blockade.  What areas are still occupied?


Spokesman:  The air blockade was lifted yesterday, and the naval blockade was lifted today, and what we continue to work on with the Israeli and Lebanese armed forces is the continuing withdrawal of the Israeli army from southern Lebanon, which is proceeding at a good pace.


Question:  Where does the exchange of prisoners between Israel, the Palestinians and the Hizbollah stand?


Spokesman:  I have nothing further to add to what the Secretary-General himself said on the facilitator.  I have absolutely nothing on that.


Question:  Could you give us a better idea of the Deputy Secretary-General’s trip to Abu Dhabi?  Is it to assess preparatory work on Iraq?


Spokesman:  It is a follow-up to the initial meeting of the Compact for Iraq, which is chaired by the UN and the Iraqi Government to help the long-term development of Iraq. It is just one in a series of meetings that the Compact is having and the Deputy Secretary-General has been tasked by the Secretary-General to lead that effort.


Question:  There had been a big meeting scheduled about the Compact and it was postponed because of the Lebanon situation.  Is this that meeting or is this a low-level meeting?


Spokesman:  Not low-level, but let me check if this is the meeting that had been postponed.


[The spokesman later added that this was indeed the meeting that had been postponed.]


Question:  Does the Secretary-General have any comments on the Israelis’ new plan to expand settlements in the West Bank?


Spokesman:  This is obviously something that the Secretary-General has always found of concern.  The construction of new housing settlements contradicts Israel’s obligations under the Roadmap, which calls for a freeze of all settlement activity.  We have repeatedly expressed our concern that settlement activity could undermine a future Palestinian State and is not conducive to the peace process.


Question:  Does the Secretary-General have any comment on the draft counter-terrorism strategy?  There has been some criticism of it; for example it promises such things as to implement GA resolutions that have already been agreed to continue to do a lot of things.  There is a lot of weak language here, you know:  acknowledge that the creating an international centre to fight terrorism could be considered, which is probably about as weak as you can get.


Spokesman:  Until the final outcome had been adopted, we will not comment on the text itself, but the Secretary-General very much hopes that it will be the adoption of this counter-terrorism strategy this afternoon.  He looks forward to that.  There are a number of items in there that are very positive and that will help Member States to re-focus on the task at hand.  But, I am not going into the details of the text itself at this point.


Question:  You just said a number of positive things.  What is positive?


Spokesman:  As a whole, it is a recommitment by the Member States on the importance of fighting terrorism in all its forms.  But, as I said, I am not going into the details of the text at this point.


Question:  There is a sentence in here that says it will use the Internet as a tool for countering the spread of terrorism.  What does that mean?


Spokesman:  I am not going into the details of the text.  It is still being debated by the GA and the Secretary-General will speak to it once it has been approved.


Question:  The literacy issue, you said that statement was from the Secretary-General.  Who actually writes those statements, and does the Secretary-General…  I mean he has obviously been busy with some other stuff.  Who writes those statements?


Spokesman:  There is a very fine speech-writing unit, which drafts his statements that go out with his approval.  There are messages that regularly go out on issues that are fairly important, including the issue of literacy.


Question:  And does he sign off?  Does he read them?


Spokesman:  They are all done in his name and he accepts those statements.


Question:  Does he read them and then…


Spokesman:  These statements all go out with his full knowledge.


Question:  I don’t remember it well, but UNMOVIC was created under the oil-for-food programme, right?


Spokesman:  No, it was created as part of the sanctions regime on Iraq, partly funded by the oil-for-food revenues.  It still has some money in the bank, not an inconsequential amount of money.


Question:  So, they are still paid by Iraq?


Spokesman:  If you’ll recall, a few months ago, if I’m not mistaken, some money from the UNMOVIC fund was in fact transferred to the Iraqi Development Fund, but UNMOVIC operates under the mandate and authority of the Security Council, and it would be up to the Security Council to change its mandate or change UNMOVIC.


Question:  What are they doing now?


Spokesman:  They report quarterly.  Mr. Perricos was briefing the Council.  You have their reports.  One came out a few days ago.  One of them is a compendium of chemical and biological weapons.  Their reports are all public, and you can see for yourself what they are doing.


Question:  On Ivory Coast, in the wake of this toxic dumping, the former President and the former Foreign Minister have written a letter to the Secretary-General, asking him to bring about that President Gbagbo not make decisions affecting the country’s future.  This in the light of changing the electoral calendar.  Has the Secretary-General received it and responded to it?


Spokesman:  I am not aware that the letter has been received.  The issue of the electoral calendar is done under the authority of the Independent Electoral Commission in Côte d’Ivoire.  Those issues, as I have said, would also be looked at and an assessment would be made in meetings in the sidelines of the GA in the next couple of weeks.  And, if you recall, what I said yesterday, the UN very much hopes that during this time of change of Cabinet, all political parties will work with the Prime Minister to help him facilitate the creation of a new Government.


Question:  I have asked you and the DPKO a number of questions about this incident in Kazana simple, factual things, and I wonder when there will be a response to that.


Spokesman:  We have put in a request to MONUC and we are waiting for an answer.


Question:  The financial disclosure form says clearly that housing subsidies by Governments to UN employees are prohibited unless expressly authorized by the Secretary-General.  Has he…


Spokesman:  I have nothing on that item.  I’ll work on some language for you later.


Question:  What can the Sudan meeting on Monday realistically achieve?  What message does the Secretary-General have for the Security Council?  Does he have any strategy to unlock the deadlock on Sudan?


Spokesman:  What we hope is a message for the international community to the Government of Sudan, encouraging them to support the transition to the UN, to reconsider their position.  Our focus on this point is also on strengthening of AMIS, of the African Union force.  We hope the international community will support us in that effort, and we do hope that they will stay in place in time for us to complete the transition.


Question:  If you can’t get consent, are there any other options or plans?


Spokesman:  The resolution lays out what the Council does and what the international community is looking for.  As I said, we very much hope that all those who have influence with the Government of Sudan will use that influence in a way to move them in their position.


Question:  On Burundi, a Human Rights Watch report is saying that a lot of patients are illegally detained for months or years in very poor conditions in hospitals in Burundi because they are unable to pay their bills.  I am wondering what the UN is doing or trying to do to actually use the funds for debt relief for Burundi to have better access to health care for the people of Burundi as part of the poverty reduction strategy.


Spokesman:  It is a valid question.  I’ll check with our Mission in Burundi, if they have anything on that.


Question:  With the bombings and the sense of imminent attack in Darfur by Government forces and complete lack of movement in the political process in the near future, are there any contingency plans that the UN is putting in place to protect civilians at this stage?


Spokesman:  The protection of civilians… you asked me this question yesterday, or two days ago, I really don’t have anything new to add.  The protection of civilians is an issue of extreme concern not only to the Secretary-General, but also to the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  We hear from [the High Commissioner for Refugees] Mr. Guterres as well.  The Government of Sudan has a responsibility to protect its own citizens.  If it is not willing to do that, we need to support the African Union Mission and we all need to push very hard to see, at some point, a transition to the UN force.


Question:  There has been a call to strengthen the AU Mission.  What specifically, if anything, is being done to support the African Union Mission’s capacity to protect civilians?


Spokesman:  The UN has police experts and other logistical experts and other people on the ground to help them increase their technical capability.  Obviously, they need not only money, but they need assets in order to travel farther and to communicate better. That is something that we are working on with the Member States to try to get.


Question:  So, you are saying they are not being provided yet?


Spokesman:  No, it is a continuing process.  They had been provided, a few months ago, if I am not mistaken, with some Canadian assets and we are working with the Member States to see what else can be done.


Question:  There is even talk of a Government offensive in Darfur.  The Government, as well as most of the rebel groups, are signatories to the Abuja Agreement.  Wouldn’t even the threat of such an offensive be a violation of that Agreement?


Spokesman:  We agree with you.  The Secretary-General flagged this a number of times, that there have been continuing violations of the Agreement by both signatories and non-signatories, and that the presence and deployment of a large number of Sudanese troops in Darfur is a violation of the letter and the spirit of that Agreement.


Question:  Is the UN expected to extend Gbagbo as President for one year?

Spokesman:  It is not up to the Secretary-General to extend the term of a President.  The situation in Côte d’Ivoire, as I said, will be looked at as a whole, with all the Ivorian parties and the UN.  In the next ten days or so, there will be a meeting on the sidelines of the General Assembly.


Question:  The President of Iran has thrown the gauntlet that he wants to debate President Bush.  Is there a precedent in the General Assembly that two Heads of State have debated back and forth?


Spokesman:  It is their hall.  There are rules of procedure that, I am sure, Pragati can talk about.  But, I am not getting into the middle of those two.


Question:  On UNMOVIC, does the IIC, the Independent Inquiry Committee on the oil-for-food programme, still exist?


Spokesman:  Oh yes, the Volcker Committee structure, as a repository of the documents, continues to exist until the end of December, and they are working with our Legal Department to find some way to transfer those documents so that they remain available to investigators who might need to have access to them.


Question:  On Darfur, given that world leaders passed their responsibility to protect it last year, is the Secretary-General willing to make any sort of assessment whether they are willing to meet their responsibility that they agreed to last year in the case of Darfur…


Spokesman:  He referred to that question during a press encounter in Cairo, and I will refer you to his answer.


Question:  Could you please check on Cote d’Ivoire, because I do remember last year that Kofi Annan [inaudible] and kept President Gbagbo in place for one year, until the election.


Spokesman:  I am happy to check and be proven wrong.


On that note, we will go to Pragati, and then we will come back with our guests from the World Health Organization.


One thing I did want to tell you is that the Secretary-General’s press conference will be on Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. in this room, and that will be his traditional pre-GA press conference.


Briefing by the Spokesperson of the GA President


Good afternoon.


The General Assembly will meet in plenary at 3 o’clock today to take action on a draft resolution on the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.  After the action, Assembly President Jan Eliasson will speak to the press at the stakeout outside the GA Hall.  We estimate that would be between 4 and 4:30 pm.  Also on the agenda for action this afternoon are draft resolutions on revitalization of the Assembly and on the arrangements for the Peacebuilding Fund.


Just to remind you, the Assembly will hold the closing meeting of its sixtieth session on Monday, at 10 o’clock in the morning.  President Eliasson will make a concluding statement, and will hand over the ceremonial gavel to the incoming President Sheika Haya Al Khalifa.


President Eliasson will then give a press briefing here at 1:30 p.m., a wrap-up on the session.  And then he will be leaving to return to Sweden that afternoon.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  You said that the Assembly will take action on the counter-terrorism draft.  Does that mean that they will accept it or not?


Spokesperson:  The President is hopeful that it will be adopted by consensus; he is aiming for consensus.  It is a very contentious issue in this house.  There is a lot of last-minute diplomacy going on.  The President is holding intensive consultations with phone calls and hoping that we can get an adoption this afternoon of what he considers to be a very crucial issue.


Question:  Is it possible that this could go to a vote, or that it would be continued for another period of time?


Spokesperson:  Anything is possible.


Question:  Yesterday you mentioned that somebody could brief the press on this counter-terrorism issue.  Is that going to happen?


Spokesperson:  Yes, we did try to arrange that, but it wasn’t possible.  There is still a lot of last-minute diplomacy going on and the Co-Chairs are quite occupied with that.


Question:  Is the President of the GA concerned that, in an effort to find a text that could be agreed upon by everyone, that the resulting document will essentially be so watered down as to be essentially ineffective?


Spokesperson:  No, I think he is happy with the text that he presented yesterday.  I understand that, first of all, it is significant that it would be adopted by the Assembly, by the whole membership, which expands the nature of cooperation beyond the Security Council Committees and the legal agreements that are in place on terrorism.  It also brings together in one place the provisions of a number of existing agreements.


You may call that repetition, but it is important to bring it all together in one framework.  There are also a number of quite concrete measures, some of which go beyond existing agreements, I have been told by experts.  The database on biological incidents, measures on assistance to victims, the language on the use of the Internet for terrorism, those are all new areas.  And, I think the President may say something on that this afternoon also, after the action.


Question:  Did you ask when the new members of the Security Council will be elected?


Spokesperson:  Yes, we did ask about that.  I believe it was 16 October.  That is a tentative date, it can always change.


Question:  In view of the fact that the sixty-first session convenes on 12 September, and the first Heads of States will speak a week later, can you give us a quick, vague rundown on what the business of the session will be from Tuesday to the following Monday?


Spokesperson:  Well, my job actually ends on Monday.  But, I can tell you in general that on the twelfth, at the opening of the session, the President gives an opening statement, and then there will be procedural actions on the adoption of the agenda and of work plans, etcetera.  But, I don’t know the details beyond that.


[The Assembly will hold a High-level Dialogue on International Migration and Development on 14 to 15 September.  On 18 to 19 September, there will be a High-level meeting of the Assembly on midterm review of the Programme of Action for Least Developed Countries.]


Question:  Is there a set list of Member States under Article 19? Is everybody off it?


Spokesperson:  I have to check, I am not sure.


Great, thank you very much.


* *** *


For information media • not an official record