29 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.


Spokesman for Secretary-General


** Sudan


The UN Mission in the Sudan reports that a heavy exchange of fire erupted yesterday evening between the Sudan People's Liberation Army and the Sudan Armed Forces in and around the town of Malakal in Southern Sudan.  These hostilities constitute a serious violation of the security arrangements of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.


Exchanges of fire have also been reported this morning.  No casualty figures were immediately available.  The UN Mission has been in constant contact with the parties, urging them to act swiftly to reinstate calm and order in Malakal.  The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about these latest developments in Southern Sudan and we are expecting a formal statement from the Secretary-General shortly.


Meanwhile, the Humanitarian Coordinator for the UN system in the Sudan has expressed grave concern at the expulsion of the Norwegian Refugee Council from Darfur and his disappointment at the lack of clear justification for this expulsion.  We do have more information from the Mission in the Sudan available upstairs.


**Security Council


Back here, the Security Council this morning heard a briefing on sanctions in Somalia from the Chairman of the Sanctions Committee for that country, the Ambassador of Qatar.  Council members discussed the recently issued report of the Monitoring Group for Somalia.


After consultations adjourn, Council members expect to hold a formal meeting to consider a resolution extending the Monitoring Group’s mandate.


Also, under other matters in today’s consultations, the Security Council expects to hear about Nepal from the Secretary-General’s Personal Representative for Nepal, Ian Martin.  If consultations end in time, we expect Mr. Martin to speak to you in this room as the guest at the briefing; otherwise, he’ll speak to you at the stakeout microphone, once he’s done briefing the Council ambassadors.


Yesterday afternoon, the Council ended its open debate on children and armed conflict by approving a presidential statement, which, among other things, commended the work carried out by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict.


The Council also extended the mandate of the multinational force in Iraq until the end of 2007.


**Human Rights Council


In a message to the Human Rights Council this morning in Geneva, the Secretary-General said that there were “other situations, besides the one in the Middle East, which would merit scrutiny by a special session of the Council” and that Darfur was a “glaring case in point”.  He added that, if the Human Rights Council was to fulfil its vocation and take its place as one of the UN’s paramount bodies, its work must be marked by a strong sense of purpose.


That message was delivered by High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, who later, in her own presentation, briefed the Human Rights Council on her recent visits to Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories and Haiti.  She also updated the Council on the human rights situations in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Iraq and Darfur.  On Darfur, Arbour called on the Government of the Sudan to “provide convincing answers regarding its well-documented links with the militias, as well as the possible criminal culpability of its officials in aiding or abetting acts committed by militias on the Government’s behalf”.


We have copies of both her statement, as well as the Secretary-General’s statement.  We also have copies of the statement read out by Juan E. Méndez, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, to that Council meeting in Geneva.


**Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People


The Secretary-General today observed the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, saying at an event to mark the occasion this morning that he feels “profound dismay” that a peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains so elusive.


He said that, with the announcement of a ceasefire in Gaza, there has been a glimmer of hope over the past few days that the latest hostilities might give way to a period of calm.  He called on both sides to adhere to this commitment, to avoid any action that could jeopardize further progress and to extend the ceasefire to the West Bank.  We have copies of those remarks and a related message, available upstairs.


** Lebanon


The strength of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) is continuing to rise, with the deployment of additional troops from Indonesia, Portugal and Italy.  The current total is around 11,500 troops from 21 countries, of which 9,800 are ground troops and 1,700 are at sea. 


Over the past week, UNIFIL deminers from various national contingents destroyed over 300 separate explosive devices, including rockets, grenades and cluster bombs.  UNIFIL peacekeepers also continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the local population, including medical, dental and veterinary aid.  We have more details upstairs in a press release from UNIFIL.


** Fiji


The Secretary-General is alarmed by the continued possibility of a military coup d’état against the legitimate Government of the Republic of Fiji Islands.  He encourages the parties to continue their search for a peaceful reconciliation of their differences within the constitutional framework.


The Secretary-General also wishes to stress that further prolongation of the crisis may damage Fiji’s international standing, which it has built carefully over the years, as an important contributor to UN peacekeeping operations and more recently as a member of the Peacebuilding Commission.  The Secretary-General stands ready to complement national and regional efforts aimed at overcoming the crisis through dialogue.


**Secretary-General at Princeton


Yesterday afternoon, speaking at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School, the Secretary-General warned that efforts to deal with the threat of nuclear weapons, perhaps the greatest danger of all, is one area where there is a total lack of any common global strategy.


He said that those who emphasize the need for disarmament to take place first and those who support non-proliferation before disarmament continue to wait for each other to move.  The result, the Secretary-General argued, is that “mutually assured destruction” has been replaced by mutually assured paralysis.


We have copies of his speech upstairs.


** Haiti


A couple of updates from the missions.  The UN Mission in Haiti says that it will assist the Haitian authorities to ensure the peaceful run of municipal and local elections on Sunday, 3 December, when Haitians go to the polls to elect more than 9,000 representatives and finish a number of legislative run-off elections.


The Mission’s principal tasks on this occasion are to provide security and logistics throughout the country, including distributing electoral material to some 9,200 polling places.  A joint security plan is being worried out with the Haitian police, which involves some 6,500 plus troops and 1,700 UN police, which will be out in force on Election Day.


**Kosovo


The UN Mission in Kosovo reports that a protest in Pristina turned violent yesterday when pro-independence protesters pulled down a concrete barricade and tried to pull down two more, to gain entry to the UN compound.  The protesters also threw an incendiary device at police officers located inside the compound and broke over 20 windows.


Using tear gas, the police quickly gained control of the situation.  There were no reports of injuries to protesters or police and no arrests were made.  A criminal investigation is underway.


** Afghanistan


The World Food Programme (WFP) is racing to complete food deliveries to impoverished Afghans living in communities that will be cut off once the bitter cold arrives and heavy snows set in.  WFP has already delivered some 16,000 tons of food to a number of provinces in Afghanistan.


**Jan Egeland


Jan Egeland held his last press conference this morning in Geneva in his capacity as Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs. 


He said that, although the international community had solemnly sworn a responsibility to protect, it was not living up to that oath in Darfur or other areas such as Iraq.  He also warned that Gaza was going to explode very soon unless there was progress on the new political process that had started between Palestinian leaders and Israelis.


Mr. Egeland will be our guest tomorrow to talk about “Humanitarian Appeal 2007”, which consists of 13 consolidated appeals for specific crises to meet the urgent humanitarian needs of 27 million people in 29 countries.  That’s tomorrow.


**UNODC Event


Our colleagues in the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) would like to flag a public forum that will take place tomorrow night at the New York University’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts on issues of human trafficking in the New York region.  The expected speakers include Executive Director of UNODC Antonio Maria Costa, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and actress Julia Ormond, who you may recall is a special Goodwill Ambassador for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  The Secretary-General said yesterday he expected an answer from President Omar al-Bashir today.  Does he have the answer?  If he does, what does it say?  And if he doesn’t, what does that say about his expectations for now getting an answer from the Sudanese Government?


Spokesman:  No, we have not gotten an answer.  As of about a half-hour or 45 minutes ago, when I last checked, we still had not received a letter.  We still expect to receive a letter soon, hopefully today.  Obviously, one would note the Abuja meetings, which had been scheduled to start today, the African Union Peace and Security Summit has now been delayed by 24 hours, so that will take place tomorrow.  That may be linked to the fact that we have not yet received a letter, but we fervently hope and continue to expect that we will receive a letter.  Benny?


Question:  Any response to the letter President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad sent to the American people through the facilities of the UN?


Spokesman:  I don’t believe it was sent through the facilities of the UN.  The letter has not been addressed to the Secretary-General.  We haven’t read it or analyzed it, so we have no response.  Masood?


Question:  The situation in Iraq is now being termed by most major newspapers as being a civil war.  Has the Secretary-General reviewed his position that the United Nations in any way will not get involved in the situation in order to stabilize Iraq or is he still holding that it will continue to stay out?


Spokesman:  Masood, the United Nations has been involved in Iraq since the change of regime at different times, in different capacities.  We continue to be deeply involved in human rights issues, in development, in helping on constitutional issues.  We are not involved in the security phase and on security issues.  We are not in the lead and the UN has no plans to take the lead in the security of Iraq.  Any change in the mandate of the UN Mission would have to be given by the Security Council.  What the Secretary-General has urged and suggested is the involvement not only of neighbours, but of meetings of the different political factions, and we will do whatever we can to encourage that sort of reconciliation.  Mr. Abbadi?


Question:  Are there any new developments regarding the transition team?


Spokesman:  It’s happening.  The transition is ongoing.  Kofi Annan’s team is working very closely with Ban Ki-moon’s team in helping them in whatever way we can.  The swearing in, I think, is scheduled for the 14th.  I expect the Secretary-General-designate may very well hold a press conference after that.  But from our end, we’re just going about our work.  George?


Question:  You mentioned something about Mr. Egeland’s last press conference.  Is he one of those who is leaving at some particular date in the reasonably near future and if so, are there any details or any plans about a potential successor?


Spokesman:  Yes, he is leaving and he has said he is leaving from his current post, I think, early next month.  Obviously, a successor would not be named by Kofi Annan.  There will be an officer in charge for the two or three weeks where Mr. Egeland is not in office.  It will then be up to the incoming administration to name a successor.  Matthew?


Question:  Ivory Coast and Fiji.  In the Ivory Coast, President [Laurent] Gbagbo has fired people from state-owned TV stations, closed down newspapers and said that Charles Banny, the Prime Minister, has engaged in sedition by saying that the people in charge of the ports when the toxic waste came should be fired.  Has [Gérard] Stoudmann or [ Pierre] Schori or the Secretary-General had anything to say about this most recent development?


Spokesman:  We are not saying anything publicly through official statements, but our mission is involved in making contacts with all political actors in Côte d’Ivoire to make sure that everyone does what they’re supposed to do in implementing the resolution, and to make sure that the situation remains as calm as possible.


Question:  On the Fiji statement from yesterday, I guess I wanted to ask you where it says that any prolongation of the crisis might damage its standing and contribution to peacekeeping operations.  First, was this conveyed by phone by the Secretary-General to both sides?  Or, to which side in Fiji was it conveyed?  And what does it mean?  Would peacekeepers be sent home from current missions?  Would the Secretary-General ask DPKO not to accept them?  Would it be the Council?  What does it mean?


Spokesman:  The Secretary-General did speak to the Prime Minister yesterday.  The Secretary-General’s position is clear in that statement.  Obviously, it is clear that soldiers who may take part in unlawful seizure of power would most likely not be welcome in peacekeeping missions.  The overall message is that Fiji has been an important contributor to peacekeeping missions and we would like it to continue to do that.


Question:  It came up once in Nepal, the issue came up of whether they would…and I forget who…if it was Mr. Guéhenno or yourself, or who it was who said it from where you’re sitting.  But somebody said well, no, they would look at the records of individual soldiers…


Spokesman:  That’s exactly…


Question:  So, how is it consistent with this?


Spokesman:  Well, I think it is consistent; in theory, if there was a military coup it would obviously have an effect on the troops that would be welcomed into peacekeeping operations.


Question:  What this means is that soldiers that took part in a coup couldn’t participate in peacekeeping…


Spokesman:  We’re not ready to go into that much detail, but I think the statement is clear on the negative impact any coup would have on the standing of Fiji on the international scene.


Question:  Can you give us maybe details on how many Fijian troops serve in DPKO and what percentage that is of the Fijian military?


Spokesman:  You’re right.  If I had been a good spokesman, I would have come prepared with those numbers.  They’re all publicly available.  I’ll be happy to point you in the right direction, but I should have had them.  Mr. Abbadi?  [He later said there were 275 Fijian troops working in UN operations.]


Question:  The Secretary-General is receiving [Ahmedou] Ould-Abdallah, the Special Representative to West Africa.  Will he be prepared to give a press briefing on the latest developments in the region?


Spokesman:  I would be happy to ask him.  Thank you much.  I will now leave you in Gail’s good hands.


Briefing by the General Assembly President’s Spokeswoman


Good afternoon everyone.  The General Assembly, on Tuesday, at its morning session, adopted a consensus resolution on Afghanistan, recognizing the need to tackle ongoing challenges in that country, including “resurgent extremist violence and terrorist attack, the growing drug trade and rampant corruption.”  It also endorsed key principles outlined in the Afghanistan Compact as providing the framework for partnership between the Afghan Government and the international community to help boost the war-torn country’s security, economy and counter-narcotics efforts.


In the afternoon, the Assembly also adopted, without a vote, an historic decision unanimously declaring 26 March 2007 a day for the worldwide commemoration of the two-hundredth anniversary of the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.  It also decided to hold a plenary meeting on the International Day to “honour the memory of those who died as a result of slavery, including through exposure to the horrors of the Middle Passage and in revolt against and resistance to enslavement”.


Acting on the recommendation of its Second Committee (Economic and Financial), the Assembly also congratulated the United Nations Children’s Fund on its sixtieth anniversary and has decided to convene, in December, a special commemorative meeting devoted to celebrating the Fund’s substantial and significant achievements and contributions in promoting the survival, development and protection of children.


The Assembly also approved the renovation of the United Nations Secretary-General’s residence and authorized the spending of close to $4.5 million [4,490,400] under the programme budget for the 2006-2007 biennium for this project.


The Assembly will meet this afternoon, at 3 p.m., to begin debate on the question of Palestine and the situation in the Middle East.


The Fourth Committee has completed the main part of its work for the current session by taking action on nine draft resolutions, approving four texts related to the work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and five on Israeli practices in Arab Territories occupied since 1967.  The tenth resolution on Israeli aggression in the Gaza Strip was withdrawn by the Permanent Observer of Palestine.


Meanwhile, the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) adopted an amended draft resolution that would ask the General Assembly to defer consideration and action on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples with the aim of concluding consideration of the Declaration before the end of its current sixty-first session.


Prior to the vote, the representative of Peru, the main sponsor of the revised draft, recalling that it had taken 24 years for the Declaration to be hammered out, said the original draft had been revised to address the concerns of many delegations, particularly regarding the principle of self-determination of peoples and respect for national sovereignty.  However, his counterpart from Namibia, explaining the proposed amendments, said that some provisions ran counter to the national constitutions of a number of African countries and that the Declaration was of such critical importance that it was only fair and reasonable to defer its adoption by the Assembly to allow for more consultations.


The Committee, which has almost completed its work, also adopted a draft resolution on the right to development that would have the Assembly call on the Human Rights Council to ensure that its agenda promotes sustainable development and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.  The resolution would also remind developed countries of their commitment to meet the target of 0.7 per cent of gross national product for official development assistance; and call for implementation of a desirable pace of meaningful trade liberalization.


This morning, the Presidentof the Assembly, Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa, addressed a forum organized by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) on the theme “Our Common Humanity in the Information Age:  Principles and Values for Development”.  In her address, the President stated:  “We now have the tools to realize our shared goals.  Information and communication technology has an important role to play.  It can reach across borders, generations and populations, raise awareness, and have practical benefits on the ground, provide a voice for marginalized groups, and create global human networks for development.”  The President also reiterated her conviction that the development goals of Member States would only be achieved if the private sector, civil society and Governments are fully engaged.  The United Nations, she emphasized, must therefore continue to play a critical role in fostering global and local partnerships.


The Assembly President also addressed the annual meeting in observance of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, convened by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.  Sheikha Haya Al Khalifa, on this occasion, invited Israeli and Palestinian authoritiesto redouble their efforts in order to find conducive conditions that would lead to a dialogue which is imperative to reaching a comprehensive, just and permanent solution for the present conflict.  She acknowledged that this would require the support of the international community for both parties; and expressed the view that the Road Map put forward by the Quartet still remains “the best and most valid solution” to this problem.  She affirmed:  “Our moral duty makes it imperative for us to find a comprehensive, just and permanent solution to this conflict that has continued for more than half a century.”


That is my report for today, and now I’ll take any questions, if you have any.


Questions and Answers


Question:  The twenty-ninth of November is annually commemorated here because, I assume, of the 29 November 1947 resolution that partitioned Palestine into an Arab and Jewish State.  My question is, in that case, why do we only have solidarity with the Palestinian people on that day?  Do you know?  Did you have any ideas?


Spokeswoman:  I could give you my own take on that, but I won’t.  What I will do instead is find out for you and give you an answer to your specific question.


Question:  On the draft declaration on the rights of the indigenous in the Third Committee yesterday, did the General Assembly President try to talk to the African group and the proponents of the Declaration, or was she surprised?  Did she have any reaction to what was widely seen as something that was going to pass and sort of peteredout?


Spokeswoman:  She has been kept abreast of all the developments on this particular declaration and the resolution, so she was well aware of what was happening.  I think the idea now is, and the hope is, that it will go before the Assembly and there will be wider consultations, because this has been the complaint, that the consultation process was not broad enough to take everybody’s views into account, and the hope is that this will now happen and I certainly think she has had discussions with those involved, yes.


Question:  And to play a role in influencing the outcome?


Spokeswoman:  And in that sense she has played a role in facilitating discussion.


Question:  Some delegations yesterday were saying we will just wait until September and then they will have the same vote (inaudible) the same.  Is she gonna…


Spokeswoman:  Well, I think that’s the cynical view, but I think the hope is, knowing that many people are waiting on this, particularly NGOs and of course indigenous peoples themselves, and I think everybody is aware of the importance people have placed on this [issue] after 24 years.  So I think, she certainly will do her best to make sure that, as the resolution says, that consideration of the Declaration will be completed by the end of this session.  But of course, it depends on Member States and the will of Member States to make sure that this resolution passes.


Question:  That MOU, that came up on Monday at the GA press conference between UNDP and the Islamic Development Bank, is there any…


Spokeswoman:  I did send an e-mail to the Bank, but the other thing I thought of was that we could ask UNDP for a copy, since they are just across the street.


Question:  Has the Assembly completed its work on reforms to the Security Council and are there any discussions or contacts by the President, at this stage, or has it been shelved, this issue?


Spokeswoman:  Has it completed its work on?  I didn’t get…


Question:  Security Council reform.


Spokeswoman:  No.  It hasn’t.  It hasn’t come up as yet.  They are waiting on the report and it will be considered at that time, with the report.


Question:  Do you have any idea when it will be considered?


Spokeswoman:  This morning I heard one date, which has not been confirmed, which is around 11 December, but I will await confirmation of that.


Anything else?  Thank you.


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For information media • not an official record