28 November 2006
Spokesman's Noon Briefing

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICEs OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL


And the spokeswoman 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 Gail Bindley-Taylor Sainte, Spokeswoman for the General Assembly President.


Briefing by the Spokesman for the Secretary-General


** Tonga Statement


Good afternoon. We’ll start off with a statement from the Secretary-General on the situation in Tonga.


“The Secretary-General is alarmed by the recent violence in the Kingdom of Tonga.  He urges the parties to persevere with inclusive national consultations to support the democratic reform process, and to overcome their disagreements through dialogue.


“The Secretary-General stands ready to support national and regional efforts aimed at facilitating a broad political consensus.”


**Democratic Republic of Congo Statement


“The Secretary-General welcomes the announcement by the Supreme Court of Justice on November 27 of the formal results of the presidential elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  He congratulates President Joseph Kabila on his election and salutes the Congolese people, whose determination enabled the first democratic elections to be held in that country in more than 40 years.  The Secretary-General also expresses his appreciation to the international community for the significant electoral and other support it provided for this process, and calls on donors to generously assist the newly-elected authorities.


“The Secretary-General calls on all opposition leaders and their supporters to peacefully accept the final results.  Neither the people of the DRC nor the international community, will tolerate the actions by those who may try to undermine the process.


“The Secretary-General emphasizes the key role that a political opposition can and must play in any democracy, and encourages the people and parties of the DRC to pursue an inclusive political process in addressing the many reconstruction and security challenges facing the country.


“The Secretary-General notes that the electoral process has not yet been completed and calls on the new Government to take all necessary action to ensure that the Congolese people can elect their local representatives in as short a time as possible.”

**Democratic Republic of Congo Statement


The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has welcomed the announcement by the Supreme Court of Justice of the DRC of the formal results of the presidential vote and congratulated incumbent Joseph Kabila on his election and the defeated candidate Jean-Pierre Bemba for his role in the good conduct of this historic transition to democratic rule.


The Mission also recalled the October 29th Declaration of Intent by the candidates and calls on them and their supporters to abide by that agreement in which they clearly agreed to respect the electoral results and not resort to violence.  That press release is available upstairs.


**Security Council


Turning back here to the Security Council, the Council members this morning began an open debate on the protection of children and armed conflict, chaired by the Foreign Minister of Peru, José Antonio García Belaunde.


The Secretary-General said that the past decade has seen important gains in the elaboration of international legal standards for the protection of children.  And yet, he warned, we have only begun to scratch the surface.  He expressed his hope that the Security Council will consolidate the gains that have been made, and will move forward to cover all situations of concern and grave violations.


Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, told the Security Council that there had been a number of successes on that front since last year.  She noted that the UN system in countries where there are situations of concern has increased the flow of timely, accurate, objective and reliable information to the Security Council.


And both her speech and of course, the Secretary-General’s, are available upstairs for you.  The Council debate is continuing with 42 speakers inscribed on the list of speakers. And the Council also is expected to adopt a Presidential Statement on the protection of children at the conclusion of today’s meetings.


**Human Rights Council


Regarding the Human Rights Council, the Secretary-General, just a few moments ago at the Security Council stakeout, answered a question raised by you on the work of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.  He noted that he had encouraged the Human Rights Council to have a broader view and remember the reasons why it had been set up in the first place.  Reiterating his suggestion that Council members should begin looking at their own human rights records before looking at others, he noted that the body had focused almost entirely on Israel, while being unable to say a word on other crisis situations.


Meanwhile, while the Human Rights Council just moments ago in Geneva, did adopt a decision on Darfur calling “on all parties to put an end on the ongoing violations of human rights and international humanitarian law”.  The decision gives special attention to the vulnerable groups to the conflict, including women and children and internally displaced persons, and calls on all parties to ensure unfettered access by UN human rights monitors and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance to those in need in Darfur.


And also tomorrow, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, will open the Human Rights Council third session, updating the body on her recent activities, including her recent trip to the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel.  The High Commissioner will also deliver a message on behalf of the Secretary-General and we expect to have embargoed copies of that message available to you later on this afternoon up in my office.


**the Sudan


Meanwhile, also on Darfur, the Secretary-General spoke on that situation at the stakeout.  He said he is expecting, tomorrow morning, a letter from the Sudanese President in response to a number of outstanding issues on the way forward on the peacekeeping situation in Darfur.


Meanwhile, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, is now on his way to attend the African Union Peace and Security Council Summit on Darfur tomorrow, which will take place in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.  There, Mr. Guéhenno will deliver a statement on behalf of the Secretary-General.  Among other items on the Summit agenda are the conclusions of the Addis Ababa High-Level Consultations on Darfur, held on 16 November, which was co-chaired by the Secretary-General as you will remember.


The officer-in-charge of the UN Mission in Sudan, Tayé-Brook Zerihoun, is also on his way to Abuja to attend that Summit.


And in the context of the follow-up to the Conclusions of the Addis Ababa meeting, specifically the ones on the need to re-energize the political process, Mr. Zerihoun met yesterday with Salim Ahmed Salim, the Special Envoy of the Chairperson of the African Union, Alpha Omar Konaré.  The two officials discussed and agreed on steps to be taken to prepare for a meeting with the signatories of the Darfur Peace Agreement, as well as non-signatories.  And that’s that.


** Bangladesh Statement


Meanwhile, for those of you who have missed it, we issued a statement attributable to the Spokesman on Bangladesh yesterday evening, which reads as follows:


“The Secretary-General has been following with concern, developments in Bangladesh ahead of the January 2007 elections.  He wishes to underscore the importance of a peaceful and transparent environment so that these important elections can enjoy the full confidence of the people of Bangladesh.


“To offer continued UN support to that process, Craig Jeness, Director of the UN’s Electoral Assistance Division, will be visiting Bangladesh on a mission between 29 November and 1 December on behalf of the Secretary-General.


“Mr. Jeness is expected to meet with the Head of the Caretaker Government and other senior officials, electoral officials as well as representatives of the country's political parties and non-governmental organizations.”


**Capital Master Plan


I also want to draw your attention to a couple of documents that are out on the Capital Master Plan for the renovation of the UN Headquarters building.


In the Secretary-General’s report to the General Assembly on the Plan’s implementation, he says it is now critical for the General Assembly to decide on a funding mechanism for the renovation.  Noting that the plan is important for the safety of all UN headquarters occupants, which includes obviously journalists, he recommends that the General Assembly approve the plan to be completed during the period 2006 to 2014, at a budget not to exceed $1.8 billion.  A decision by the General Assembly on the financing of the plan is required to ensure continuity of the activities and completion by 2014.


Meanwhile, also out as a document is the report by the ACABQ, which is as you well know, the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions, which recommends approval of the budget of $1.8 billion.  And that is expected to be taken up, as I understand, by the Fifth Committee later this week.


** Afghanistan


A couple more items for you, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the World Bank released a report today on Afghanistan, noting that efforts to combat opium production in that country have achieved only limited success, and have lacked sustainability and have been marred by corruption.  In fact, the drug trade is becoming more and more controlled by fewer powerful players with strong political connections, the report adds.  And we have that press release available upstairs.


**Tsunami


Also this Friday and Saturday, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who as you know is the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery, will be heading out to the region.  That will be obviously southern India, Thailand and Aceh, Indonesia.  And that will be his final visit to the region as Mr. Clinton’s mandate ends at the end of the year.


During his tour, President Clinton will review recovery progress over the last two years, visiting new permanent homes and schools.  He will also take stock of programmes that he has personally pushed for and coordinated, including those to promote equity, to empower communities to take charge of their own development, to restore livelihoods, and to promote disaster resilience and risk reduction. And we have a press release on that upstairs.


** Kenya


We also have more information upstairs on what UNHCR is doing to help the flood victims in Kenya.


**Secretary-General in Princeton


And as a reminder, this afternoon at 4:30, the Secretary-General will deliver an address at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School concerning the need for a common strategy to deal with the dangers posed by nuclear weapons.  And that speech has been made available to you upstairs.


And he will also participate in a question-and-answer session with Princeton students.


**ICT & Development


And also this afternoon, the UN’s Global Alliance for Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and Development is organizing an event called “Our Common Humanity in the Information Age: Principles and Values for Development.” And that will take place tomorrow from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in Conference Room 4.


Speakers will include the former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari; actress Julia Ormond; the BBC News correspondent Katty Kay; and UN Millennium Project Director Jeffrey Sachs, as well as Google.org Executive Director Larry Brilliant.  And we have a media advisory upstairs for you with more information.


**Press Conferences


At 1 o’clock this afternoon right here, in this room, after Gail briefs, Ambassador Kenzo Oshima of Japan and Shazia Rafi, the Secretary-General of Parliamentarians for Global Action, will be here to brief you on the annual forum of parliamentarians, to be held in Japan from 4 to 5 December.


And at 11 o’clock tomorrow, also in 226, the Canadian Mission will be sponsoring a press conference by David Malone, the former President of the International Peace Academy and author of the book, “The International Struggle Over Iraq:  Politics in the UN Security Council from 1980-2005”.  He will talk to you obviously about Iraq and the Security Council.


**Israel/Lebanon


And truly lastly, I was asked yesterday about the mines in southern Lebanon.  In follow-up to the question as to where these mines came from, I was given this information by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.  The area where the mine incidents took place in Deir Mimas has yet to be subjected to a full scale mine clearance.  Once this is completed, the exact scope of the minefield will be known.


During the operation to extract the casualties from the minefield, one No. 4 anti-personnel mine, which is manufactured in Israel, was located by the clearance team.  From the condition of the mine and the earth surrounding the mine, it is clear that the mine was laid recently.  Prior to the conflict, the area in question had been actively used by local villagers.


Once the results of the clearance activities are completed, as well as ongoing cooperative efforts with Israel to confirm details regarding the mine, further information will be provided.  And there is today a meeting scheduled between United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), the Lebanese Armed Forces, and the Israeli Defense Forces to discuss the issue of mines.  But I don’t yet have a read out of that meeting.


That is definitely it for me. I will now take some of your questions.


Questions and Answers


Question: Has the UN moved all essential personnel out of Chad because of the situation there?


Spokesman: The UN routinely takes whatever measures it needs to take to protect its people.  But I do not have any official word on what has been done.  And often those security precautions are not discussed in the press.  Yes, sir.


Question: ..from the arrests made by the Lebanese Army in the last two days, about nine Lebanese forces were training in Lebanon…inside Lebanon.  Some of them were using Israeli weapons.  Have there been any reports from Beirut that Israel is sending weapons into Lebanon to foment and [inaudible] civil war there?  Because they were involved in the past in a civil war and again there have been.  And is there any linkage between these arrests and the assassination of Pierre Gemayel, the Minister of Industry, recently?


Spokesman: The investigation into Mr. Gemayel’s assassination is being done by the Lebanese authorities.  We are providing, at their request, technical assistance, which is only technical assistance.  So only the Lebanese can speak, or even speculate, as to the authors of that crime.  As far as weapons are concerned, I have nothing to say on that issue.  We have no reports related to the question that you raised.


Question: On Fiji, it’s reported that the Secretary-General called the Prime Minister about the turmoil there.  Is that the case?


Spokesman: I can confirm that the Secretary-General did call the Prime Minister and I am awaiting, probably shortly, for an official statement from our part, which will characterize that conversation.


Question: Do you know if he said that they couldn’t serve as peacekeepers if there is a coup there?


Spokesman: As I said, we expect a statement shortly on Fiji, in which we will mention the phone call and be able to characterize the phone call.


Question: Regarding the dispatch of UN senior officials to Bangladesh, is it an initiative by the Secretary-General or the Government of Bangladesh that has sought UN assistance in connection with the unrest in Bangladesh?  And what exactly is his mission?


Spokesman: Mr. Jeness is there to help the Bangladeshi Government in any way we can.  We have obviously quite a lot to bring to the table when it comes to electoral assistance.  He will see in which way we can best help.  He will meet with electoral officials, political leaders and non-governmental organizations and obviously this is being done in cooperation with the Government of Bangladesh.  The UN cannot interfere in elections without -- assist rather is a better word -- assist in elections without the cooperation of the local Government.


Question: Is he on a mediation mission?


Spokesman: No, it’s not a mediation mission.  It’s really to see how the UN can best help.


Question: This minefield in Deir Mimas in South Lebanon, did the Israelis provide any maps? Are they willing to provide any maps?


Spokesman: There’ve been several meetings with the Israelis since their almost complete withdrawal from Southern Lebanon on the issue of mines.  I understand they have provided us with some maps.  We’re obviously going to talk with them about this particular mine.  The mine was manufactured in Israel, but as we all know, weapons, mines flow across borders the world over.  So just the manufacturer of the mine doesn’t always clearly indicate who may have laid that mine.  But obviously there are more meetings going on today between the Israel Defense Forces and the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and the Lebanese armed forces.  So if we get more, I will let you know.


Question: Deir Mimasin particular was occupied by the Israelis in August and it was handed over to the UNIFL by the Israelis months later.  That means there were no other parties that would have laid mines…


Spokesman: The final word from us, as least as far as we know, as to who laid that mine, is not there yet.  We do not have a confirmation.  There obviously can be a lot of theories out there. We can only go on what we know.  What we do know is that the mine was manufactured in Israel, that is, was recently laid. Who actually put the mine there in this area we are not able to opine on.


Question: Stéphane, I’m a little confused about the Secretary-General’s optimism this morning on Sudan.  Given the strong comments that the President made yesterday saying that there was no way the joint mission, or what he called the joint mission, and the fact that he’s put off this letter to the Secretary-General, can you explain? Are there some semantics going on there?


Spokesman: I think President Bashir gave quite an extended press briefing yesterday.  A lot can be read into it.  There were some positive signals in there.  There were probably some less positive signals in there as well.  The Secretary-General has a commitment from the President that he will answer the concerns that were raised in Addis.  And we look forward to seeing that letter.  But we are not going to spend too much time reading the tea leaves.  But the Secretary-General very much expects to receive the letter.  And we very much hope there will be a positive answer.


Question: Small detail with regard to the DRC.  Have they elected someone whose name we have not heard mentioned to be their vice president? Or does Mr. Bemba remain in office à la the United States before the 12th amendment, that is, the guy who comes in second gets to be vice president?


Spokesman: I understand.  It’s an extremely valid question.  And the answer to which, I do not know.  But I’m happy to check after the briefing.


[Later in the day, the Spokesman’s Office announced that the position of vice president in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is not an elected position.  The President chooses the VP.]


Question: In the situation related to Iran…that Kofi Annan was mentioning yesterday [inaudible], what kind of assessment does he have…facts..figures?  And following up on this, previously Kofi Annan was trying to talk with the President of Iran and see if any kind of dialogue could be…peace negotiations.  Can you tell us what’s going on with this?


Spokesman: On Iraq, what the Secretary-General said yesterday about being near a civil war, I think, was extremely clear.  It obviously was based on his analysis of the situation, on the reports that we’re all getting.  You’ll see the latest report from the Human Rights Office in Baghdad with the strife, which is costing the lives of thousands of civilians a month.  That is his assessment and clearly based on the situation as it stands.  He has been saying for quite some time now that Iraq’s neighbours have a positive role to play that the stability of Iraq is in the best interests of all its neighbours.  And he has encouraged not only Tehran, but also Damascus and all its other neighbours to play a positive role in the situation in Iraq and encouraged all the parties concerned to talk, especially with the neighbours, and to see how they can all work together and bring some stability to that country.


Question: I just wanted to find out…Human Rights Watch in a statement said that all these refugees are going from Iraq into Jordan, are being forced…incarcerated in Jordan and then forced back to Iraq.  And it has asked..even called upon Mr. Bush…to help…to counsel Jordan not to do that because it is again jeopardizing these people who are fleeing the same situation that they fled.  Does the Secretary-General have any comment on this particular…?


Spokesman: I have not seen this particular comment by Human Rights Watch, but I will be happy to look into it and see if UNHCR has taken up that issue.


Question: Since I came in late, I just want to find out on Somalia.  Did you talk about those Somalis that suddenly appeared in Lebanon, according to a UN report?


Spokesman: It’s according to this report by the experts for the Security Council Committee on Sanctions on Somalia.  And I have really nothing to add to what’s not been said before.


Question: Just one thing on that…are they ever going to be coming to give a press briefing?


Spokesman: We asked and obviously the answer was no.


Question: Tomorrow, Somalia is on the Council agenda.  Are they a part of that?


Spokesman: My understanding is that the experts themselves have left New York.  We can check with the Council Presidency exactly what issue regarding Somalia is on the agenda for tomorrow.


Question: In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, do you have any update on the fighting in Eastern Congo that you spoke of yesterday…and the use of gunships…the whole [inaudible]?


Spokesman: The last update I received, which is still in my head, is that in fact the Congolese Armed Forces, with the help of the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), were now in control of the town of Sake.


Question: I read this Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs press release about this in French which said that MONUC was involved in negotiating between the two, between Nkunda and the Congolese Army.  Is that true?


Spokesman: It’s very possible. It is often something that MONUC does to bring some halt to the fighting.


Question: Is MONUC and the UN system in favour of bringing these particular brigades into the Congolese Army?


Spokesman: That’s something for the Congolese Army, the Congolese Government, to decide.  What we are working toward is ceasing the hostilities as quickly as possible and for our humanitarian colleagues to bring some solace and help to the thousands of civilians that have been displaced.


On that note, thank you all.  Gail, it’s all yours.


Briefing by the General Assembly President’s Spokeswoman


Good afternoon. Forgive my voice; I have the flu very badly.


The President of the General Assembly, Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa,  wrapping up the first informal debate on “Partnership for achieving the Millennium Development Goals:  taking stock, moving forward,” on Monday evening stressed that she remained convinced that the development goals of Member States will only be achieved if the private sector, civil society and governments are fully engaged.


She said this is why the UN must continue to play a critical role in fostering global and local partnerships.  She announced that Qatar has offered to host a follow-up meeting to the thematic debate on development during the first half of 2007; and that the African/Arab civil society and private sector groups are also planning to hold a follow-up meeting, as a sign of further commitment to implementing the Millennium Development Goals.


She noted one of the many messages from the meeting was the need to move beyond the traditional donor and recipient relationship, if the global community is to achieve its shared goals.  She also highlighted another message from the meeting, that if the world community were to meet its development goals, it would contribute to a safer, more stable and prosperous place for all.  However, she noted, to achieve this, “We will need an integrated global partnership for development —- a true global compact.”


Turning to what is happening today:  The General Assembly this morning will hear some 19 speakers address the situation in Afghanistan.  As they consider this item, the Assembly will have before it a report of the Secretary-General on this issue, as well as a draft resolution sponsored by some 104 Member States.  The resolution, among other things, invites intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations providing assistance to Afghanistan to focus on institution building in a coordinated manner, and encourages the international community, including all donor nations, to assist the Government of Afghanistan in making capacity-building and human resources development a cross cutting priority.  It also urges the international community, in accordance with the Afghanistan Compact, to increase the proportion of donor assistance channelled directly to the core budget.  It further requests the Secretary-General to report every six months on developments in Afghanistan.


The other issues before the Assembly today are the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, operational activities for development, and the report of the Fifth Committee on the programme budget for the biennium 2006 to 2007.


The Fourth Committee today hopes to conclude its work after considering four resolutions on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and six resolutions on Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and other Arabs of the occupied territories.  Meanwhile, the Third Committee is expected to take action on draft resolutions on Human Rights questions, the report of the Human Rights Council, and Revitalization of the work of the General Assembly.


The Fifth Committee continues to hold informal consultations on a number of reports on programme planning as well as financial reports and audited financial statements.  It is also expected to informally discuss the scale of assessments for the apportionment of the expenses of the UN.  The Second Committee is also holding a number of ‘informal’ consultations on many of the issues before it for most of this week.  That is my report for today.


Question and Answers


Question:  Stéphane said earlier there was a report from the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions as well, and I was wondering when that would be taken up in the Fifth Committee, would that be an open meeting?


Spokesperson:  I’m not sure whether it’s an open meeting, but it is on the agenda of the Fifth for Thursday.  I can check as to whether the meeting is open or closed.


Question:  The Islamic Development Bank and the United Nations Development Programme, obviously I guess, nobody was allowed to attend the signing of their memorandum of understanding.  But is the MOU now available?


Spokesperson:  That I will check for you.  But I think what he [referring to the Vice President of the Islamic Development Bank] said to you is that they were going to sign it yesterday so it would be available after yesterday.  The Vice-President’s communications person is still here so I will check with him and see whether it is available and get it for you.


Anything else?  Well, thank you very much.


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For information media • not an official record