12 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


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


Our guest today will be Nicolas Michel, the Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and the UN’s Legal Counsel.  He will be joining us shortly to brief on the treaty event on the sideline of this year’s General Assembly meeting, which is on the theme, “Focus 2006:  Crossing Borders”.


** Lebanon


The Force Commander of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), Major-General Alain Pellegrini, met today with Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and expressed his hope that Israel’s withdrawal would be completed soon and that the Lebanese Armed Forces would then be able to deploy throughout the south.


UNIFIL reports that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) are today in the process of withdrawing from several towns in the central part of southern Lebanon, including At Tayyabah and the areas west of the town Hula.


UNIFIL’s Indian Battalion set up a number of checkpoints and is carrying out intensive patrolling in the area to confirm the IDF withdrawal.  The Indian troops will coordinate the deployment of Lebanese Armed Forces into that same area tomorrow.


Speaking after his meeting with the Prime Minister, Alain Pellegrini said that he informed the Prime Minister on the expected arrivals of the French and Spanish contingents in the next few days, thus ensuring that UNIFIL will reach 5,000 officers and soldiers very soon.


** Lebanon -– Humanitarian


Also on Lebanon, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that, since the lifting of the Israeli blockade, air traffic is quickly resuming to pre-conflict levels.  The lifting of the sea blockade has allowed commercial vessels to return as well; eight ships have now been docked in Beirut’s port, carrying wheat, cars, and raw products for manufacturing.  Import and export activity is not expected to return to normal, however, for another three to four months.


Meanwhile, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says it will conduct a damage and needs assessment mission in the agriculture, forestry and fishery sectors this month.  And we have more upstairs from the FAO and OCHA.


**Jan Egeland’s Mission


Meanwhile the head of OCHA, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Jan Egeland, this morning, concluded an eight-day mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Uganda and southern Sudan as he held a press conference in Nairobi.


Calling the situation in the DRC and northern Uganda one of the worst humanitarian tragedies of our generation, Egeland said that he was optimistic about the emerging opportunities to end some of the conflicts in the region.


Egeland arrived in Nairobi from a visit to Juba, in southern Sudan, where he met with Salva Kiir, the President of south Sudan, as well as his first Vice-President, who is mediating peace negotiations between the Government of Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army.  Egeland met with both Ugandan Government and LRA officials in a bid to obtain the release by the LRA of women and children abducted during the conflict in northern Uganda.  On the Juba talks, Egeland said that it was an opportunity to end one of the worst nightmares in modern history, a conflict during which some 20,000 children had been abducted and scores of innocent civilians were mutilated.


Egeland, who spent the night in a local refugee camp, said that he was hopeful that UN efforts to obtain the release of the LRA abductees would soon yield results.


**Security Council


Meanwhile, the Security Council held consultations this morning on Côte d’Ivoire.  Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hédi Annabi briefed Council members on the meeting last week of the international working group dealing with Côte d’Ivoire.


A draft resolution on the panel of experts for Côte d’Ivoire was also circulated.


After that, Council members discussed a draft resolution concerning an extension of the mandate of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.  They intend to vote on that after consultations end.


The Council will today also hold its monthly luncheon with the Secretary-General.


**Kosovo


The Secretary-General’s latest report on Kosovo is now out on the racks today.  In it, he says that he is pleased that the political process to determine the future status of Kosovo is proceeding with the active and high-level participation of both sides.  At the same time, however, he is disappointed that little common ground has been identified between the positions of the Serbian and Kosovo delegations and calls on both sides to engage in these talks in a spirit of compromise.


The Secretary-General adds that, despite the generally stable security situation, he remains concerned by incidents of violence targeting people and religious sites, and he strongly condemns them, particularly those that are inter-ethnic.  Those responsible must be brought swiftly to justice, he says in the report.


**Democratic Republic of Congo


The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo reports today that the situation in Kinshasa remains calm as it continues its activities aimed at reconciling the positions of President Joseph Kabila and his Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba.


As part of these efforts, South African President Thabo Mbeki as well as European Union Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana held meetings in Kinshasa with Congolese leaders in a bid to boost national unity and restore confidence ahead of the run-off presidential election planned for 29 October.


The Mission notes that the mediators have reported that both Kabila and Bemba agreed to meet unconditionally, and as a confidence-building measure, the Congolese Government this morning restored the broadcasting signals of two television stations owned by Jean-Pierre Bemba.


**UNHCR/Sudanese Refugees


The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) will help some 400 Sudanese refugees currently in the north-eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) return home to south Sudan tomorrow.  And you have more on that in the UNHCR briefing notes.


** Afghanistan –- Opium


Meanwhile, the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Antonio Maria Costa, today called for robust military action by NATO forces to destroy the opium industry in southern Afghanistan.


Presenting the 2006 Annual Opium Survey in Brussels, he said that counter-insurgency and counter-narcotics efforts must reinforce each other in Afghanistan’s turbulent southern region, so as to stop the vicious circle of drugs funding terrorists and terrorists protecting drug traffickers.


Costa invited coalition countries to give NATO the required mandate and resources for this task.


**World Religions


And a couple more items for you.  In a message to the Second Congress of World and Traditional Religions that took place in Kazakhstan, today, the Secretary-General says relations between adherents of major world religions have been particularly affected by increasing intolerance, extremism and violence.  He hopes the Congress will encourage all members to spread the message of dialogue and peaceful coexistence to all communities.


**General Assembly


And lastly, the Presidency of the General Assembly, has asked me to alert you to the fact that the President of the sixty-first session of the Assembly, Sheikha Haya Al Khalifa, opened the session this morning.  A moment of silence was observed by the Assembly in memory of the King of Tonga who recently passed away and tributes were paid to his life.  And, as you well know, the President of the General Assembly will be here at 1:30 p.m. for her introductory press conference.  Before we go to Mr. Michel, I’ll take some of your questions.


Questions and Answers


Question:  Do you know when the Secretary-General’s report on resolution 1701 will be released?


Spokesman:  We expect it to go to Security Council members today.


Question:  Another question.  Hizbollah demanded that the Siniora Government step down because they are allying themselves with Israel.  Is it a breach of resolution 1701?


Spokesman:  I don’t think we’re going to comment from here on the internal dynamics of the current Lebanese Government, of which Hizbollah is a member.


Question:  Could you please confirm whether or not the Secretary-General is going to Cuba for the Non-Aligned Summit?  And what are the details of that trip?


Spokesman:  I don’t have an official announcement as of yet, but I do expect to have some information for you very early this afternoon.


Question:  Mr. Bolton seemed to have revived the talk about cutting funds to the UN, if the reforms did not go ahead.  Any comments from the Secretary-General?


Spokesman:  I think we’ve seen those comments.  I think it is clear from his comments also that he says the onus for a lot of the reforms is on the Member States, and the Secretary-General would definitely agree with that.  We have gone through with the reforms that the Secretary-General can make unilaterally but, there’s a lot that needs to be done in this session of the General Assembly, notably on management reform.


Question:  CBC News visited a refugee camp in Afghanistan called Zhari Dascht.  There are about 1,000 families there.  They said that they haven’t seen anyone from the UN in about five months; that they’re suffering.  And we’re hearing that UN officials are sitting in their offices.  What’s your explanation?


Spokesman:  Our colleagues at UNHCR have told us that, in fact, there have been about 200 families arriving in that camp recently.  UNHCR has been pre-positioning relief supplies in support of the Afghan Government for these new arrivals.  There is a situation regarding security, and the high level of insecurity facing aid workers and international aid workers at this point in that camp is preventing UNHCR from delivering these supplies or going physically to the camp.  Last year, in the same area, a local NGO was attacked and five aid workers were killed.  In regard to the support for the original residents, UNHCR is providing services and assistance through its local NGO partners in the areas of health care, education, and a number of income-generating activities.


Question:  What’s the equation you make in terms of safety versus providing aid to people who need it?


Spokesman:  I think it’s always a very delicate balance.  We obviously have to take into account the safety of our staff, whether international or national, and the needs of the people on the ground.  If we can’t operate directly, we sometimes operate through local partners, but it is a situation that is assessed locally by the UN Security Team on the ground.  But, it is always a difficult choice to make.


Question:  (inaudible) made this choice…


Spokesman:  I can’t comment on the particular security situation in that town as I don’t have all the details.  But, obviously, the UN security staff on the ground felt that it was not safe for UN staffers to go so they are not permitted to go.


Question:  On Somalia, heard back from the UN political office on Somalia that UNDP and Somalia met with these US-based private military contractors about confronting the Islamic courts in Somalia in June of this year.  They haven’t really explained, I guess I want to ask you, what direction is the Secretariat giving to its far-flung affiliates and agencies on meeting with shadowy private military contractors about intervening in sovereign countries?


Spokesman:  I don’t have any more details on what was provided to you.  We would obviously expect UN staff to adhere to UN regulations during those meetings.  But, I really don’t have anything further to say on that particular point.


Question:  Mr. Fall and yourself have said that the UN Political Office on Somalia has no monitoring mandate in Somalia, can’t confirm whether there’s any troops in Somalia.  It turns out that they met with somebody, a guy who’s called a Senior Military Attaché of the UN for Somalia.  So, what does such a person do if he can’t say anything was happening in Somalia?


Spokesman:  Again, I really have nothing further than the information we were provided by the political office.  If I can find you something more, I will.


Question:  Housing subsidies by Governments.  Have you responded to the June inquiry and how many US…?


Spokesman:  Yes, a letter did go out to John Bolton in response to his original letter to the Secretary-General.  It has been the long-established practice by few Member States to provide some type of housing subsidies to their nationals who serve as senior UN officials.  The Secretary-General has, on an exceptional basis, approved these arrangements at the request of the Member States.  Currently, there’s one senior UN official at Headquarters who benefits from such an arrangement from his national Government, and as a result, receives none of the housing subsidy he would otherwise be entitled to from the United Nations.  Other than this one case, there are no senior UN officials at Headquarters receiving any form of housing subsidy, whether from a Government or a private entity.  There are few cases outside of Headquarters of senior officials serving in UN missions who receive housing from a host Government for operational or security reasons in the field.  Any senior UN official receiving a subsidy is required to declare it on their financial disclosure form.  And we, of course, continue to expect all staff members and Member States to abide by Article 100 of the Charter.


Question:  Can you name who the senior official is?


Spokesman:  No.


Question:  Given the possibility of it appearing to be a conflict (inaudible)…


Spokesman:  As I said, we continue to expect all staff members and Member States to abide by Article 100 of the Charter.


Question:  Can you give us the name please?


Spokesman:  No.  The facilitator has been named by the Secretary-General and we really have nothing further to say on the activities of that person.


Thank you.  We’ll now turn to our guest.


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For information media • not an official record