15 December 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 Secretary-General’s Spokesman


**Guest at Noon


Our guest today will be Ad Melkert, Associate Administrator for the UN Development Programme (UNDP).  He’ll be here to brief on UNDP’s work in early crisis prevention and recovery.


Meanwhile, Kemal Derviş, the UNDP Administrator, will be here next Thursday at 1, to talk to you about the UN’s role in development.


I have two statements, the first one on the Middle East.


** Middle East Statement


“The Secretary-General is deeply concerned over the recent deterioration in the security situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the increase of intra-Palestinian violence.


“The Secretary-General calls for respect by all parties for the rule of law, and for Palestinians to resume dialogue in order to resolve differences peacefully and seek national unity.”


That statement is upstairs.


** Bangladesh Statement


“The Secretary-General continues to be concerned about the situation in Bangladesh in the lead-up to next month’s elections.  He hopes that all parties will make the necessary compromises to ensure a peaceful and transparent electoral environment.


“He calls upon the non-party Caretaker Government to ensure a level playing field for the elections, particularly through the restoration of confidence in the Bangladesh Election Commission.  And he encourages the main political parties to work to overcome their differences in the interest of democracy.


“The Secretary-General appreciates the efforts by political parties to refrain from the use of violence in their programmes and he urges continued restraint.  He also hopes the Army will continue to play a neutral role, thereby creating an environment conducive to peaceful elections.”


And that statement is available upstairs.


**Secretary-General in Washington


The Secretary-General travelled to Washington, D.C., this morning, where he will shortly be attending a farewell luncheon held in his honour, by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.  And that is a private lunch.


The Secretary-General is accompanied by the Head of the Peacekeeping and Political Affairs departments, Jean-Marie Guéhenno and Ibrahim Gambari, as well as the Head of his Office of Strategic Planning, Robert Orr.  The Secretary-General will be back here in the building this afternoon.


**Security Council


Carla Del Ponte, the Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, told the Security Council in an open meeting that the Council needs to send a strong message to fugitive suspects Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, that they can be tried in The Hague at any time until 2010, or a mechanism to try them in that city will be set up after that date.  She warned that victims should not be given further reason to believe that the United Nations and the Council did not do everything they could to ensure that the most responsible accused are brought to justice.


Earlier, the Security Council extended the mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission in Côte d’Ivoire by three weeks, until 10 January 2007.  It also extended the mandate of the group of experts dealing with the sanctions in Côte d’Ivoire by six months.  And the mandate of the UN peacekeeping force in Cyprus was extended by another six months, until the middle of next June.


At 3 this afternoon, the Council will hold consultations on Guinea-Bissau.


** Guinea-Bissau


On that very subject, out on the racks is a letter from the Secretary-General to the Security Council President on the UN Peacebuilding Support Office in Guinea-Bissau.


The letter recommends extending that Office’s mandate through the end of next year, with a focus on promoting dialogue and reconciliation in order to prevent a relapse into conflict.


**ICC-Sudan


Yesterday afternoon, in the Security Council, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, told the Security Council that he has nearly completed an investigation into some of the worst crimes committed in Darfur.  He is preparing to submit evidence to the ICC judges no later than February 2007, and is putting measures in place to protect victims and witnesses.


His first case focuses on a series of incidents in 2003 and 2004, when the most serious crimes occurred in large numbers.  Perhaps most significant, the evidence reveals an underlying operational system that enabled the commission of massive crimes.


In November, the Sudanese Government had told Moreno-Ocampo that 14 individuals had been arrested for violating international humanitarian law and human rights abuses.  The Prosecutor responded that he would request the cooperation of the Government of the Sudan to facilitate a visit by his Office to Sudan next month, to interview the individuals in custody.  And we have copies of his statement upstairs.


**Democratic Republic of Congo


The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo reports that the last three remaining militia groups in the eastern province of Ituri have agreed to join the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process, which will affect some 8,000 combatants.


This is a general agreement signed with the Congolese army, UNDP and the UN peacekeeping force.  Negotiations between Congolese authorities and the militia groups were facilitated and witnessed by the UN peacekeeping force.  The agreement is now in its implementation phase according to the Mission.


** Lebanon


The strength of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has surpassed the 11,000 mark with the full deployment of an infantry battalion from Indonesia and an engineering unit from Portugal.


The current total, of more than 11,000 from 23 countries, is made up of more than 9,000 peacekeepers on the ground and some 1,700 at sea.


UNIFIL peacekeepers continued to provide humanitarian assistance to the local population, with 552 instances where UNIFIL peacekeepers provided medical assistance over the past week.  Meanwhile, in the last week, UNIFIL deminers from various national contingents destroyed a total of 1,305 separate explosive devices, including rockets, grenades and cluster bombs.  And we have more information in a press release upstairs.


** Liberia


The Secretary-General’s latest report on Liberia is now out on the racks.


In the report, he notes that President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has continued to make encouraging progress in consolidating peace, promoting national reconciliation and stimulating economic recovery.


But he does note there are a number of serious challenges that must be addressed in the time ahead.  First and foremost, the government needs to take steps, the Secretary-General says, that will allow Liberian security agencies to sustain the stability currently ensured by United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).


** Chad - Central African Republic


The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says it has started transferring some 6,000 refugees from the Central African Republic, who had been living temporarily on the extension of an existing refugee camp in Chad, to a new site, which is close to Goré, the main town in southern Chad.


So far, more than 1,500 refugees have been transferred, and the rest are expected in the next few days, to a new camp which can host up to 10,000 people and in which there is also space for each family to cultivate land.


** Philippines


Regarding the recent devastating typhoons in the Philippines, the UN today appealed for $46 million to meet the urgent relief and early recovery needs of the most vulnerable survivors.


Some initial emergency relief has already been made possible through a grant of $2.6 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund.


**Deputy Secretary-General


I know a number of you are fairly curious about the post-UN activities of a number of senior officials.


Today, I can tell you that Mark Malloch Brown, the Deputy Secretary-General, whose contract with the UN ends on 31 December, will be joining the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization as a Distinguished Visiting Fellow for the spring of 2007.


The Fellowship will provide him an opportunity to focus on research and writing, in addition to interacting with the faculty and students of Yale University.  He plans to concentrate on writing a book that will focus on changing leadership in a globalized world, where old models of organization no longer prevail.


**Week Ahead


And today being Friday, we have The Week Ahead for you.  Just to flag a couple of items, on Monday, the Prime Ministers of Spain and Turkey will be in New York to join the Secretary-General in presenting the report of the High-Level Group of the Alliance of Civilizations to the General Assembly.  That will take place in the Trusteeship Council Chamber at 3:40 p.m.


Also in connection with that event, there will be a press conference by the Prime Minister of Turkey at 10:00 a.m., and one by the Prime Minister of Spain at 5:15 p.m.  And there will be a concert in the General Assembly Hall at 7 p.m., featuring the West Eastern Divan Orchestra led by Daniel Barenboim, in honour of the Secretary-General and the Alliance.


Then on Tuesday, the Secretary-General will hold his final press conference at 10:30 a.m., probably here in room 226.  As per normal practice when the Secretary-General has a press conference, we will not have a briefing.


**DDR Standards


Also on Monday, there will be a special event to launch the new UN Standards for Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration of former combatants.


That will be attended by the Deputy Secretary-General, as well as senior officials from DPKO and UNDP.


There will be a press release in my office which you are all welcome to have if you are interested.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  At the Darfur briefing this morning, we were told that Egypt and China would like Mr. Annan to become some kind of peace envoy to Darfur, or to appoint one.  I would like to know what Mr. Annan would think about that?  Also, if you could give us a read out of the meeting this morning.


Spokesman:  From the meeting this morning, the Secretary-General listened very closely to what Mr. Clooney and his delegation had to say.  He very much encouraged them to continue with their efforts to raise awareness for Darfur, which is in line with his efforts to reach out to the NGO communities and non-traditional players, to continue raising the importance of the need for a solution to Darfur.  As for the Secretary-General’s future plans, as he’s said a number of times, he plans to go underground for a few months as soon as he leaves office on 1 January.  And then once he re-emerges, he will decide what his priorities are and what he wants to do.


Question:  Follow-up; there was also concern expressed about the transition.  When Mr. Annan leaves, the impetus behind getting a solution in Darfur.  Any comments on how the UN will continue?


Spokesman:  Without wanting to speak for the next Secretary-General, I think the main issues on the agenda of the UN will not disappear on 31 December.  The Secretary-General has briefed his successor on those issues, obviously including Darfur, and I think the Secretary-General-designate spoke to you about his priorities for next year.  But we very much hope that there will be continued engagement on that front.


Question:  On Somalia, the Security Council recently passed a resolution authorizing the IGAD force.  Is the UN playing any role, either formally or informally, in providing advice to the IGAD on this?  Any expectation as to how soon it would take to get a force up and running?


Spokesman:  The resolution is fairly clear in terms of what the Secretariat’s responsibility is and that is basically only to report on the deployment of the force.  We have no formal role in the formation of the IGAD force.  It doesn’t give us a mandate on the deployment or the establishment of the force.  On unofficial support, I’d have to check if we’ve been asked for any support by the countries concerned.


Question:  You said that you would report on deployment.  I guess you’re not ready to do that yet.  Can you give us any indication of how long you think this might take?  And also, more generally, are you concerned that the passage of that resolution may trigger a move by the Islamic Courts to start pushing ahead on their offensive?


Spokesman:  It’s hard for us, since we’re not involved in the technical aspects of the deployment, to predict when it will go.  Obviously, from your experiences here, the putting together of these kinds of forces sometimes does take a bit of time.  As far as the Secretary-General’s reaction to the resolution, he obviously hopes that the passage of the resolution will help in stabilizing Somalia and contribute to the restoration of peace.  What he has said a number of times, and said clearly, is that he very much hopes that the countries who make up that force will make it clear to all the Somali parties that they are not there to wage war against one party, or another, but that they are there to help the situation as a whole, and to help Somalia.  For his part, he will continue to support an internal Somali political process and encourage both the Islamic Courts and the Transitional Federal Government to return to the Khartoum talks.


Question:  Let me not monopolize, but one last thing.  You guys have people doing an assessment of the political situation there.  Are you concerned that it’s sort of headed towards military conflict in short order?


Spokesman:  Obviously the situation on the ground is extremely worrisome.  And we do hope very much that any of these new initiatives will contribute to peace and not destabilize the country further.


Question:  With regard to news reports that Mugabe wants to extend his rule until, I don’t know when.  Has the Secretary-General basically given up on the Zimbabwe issue?


Spokesman:  I’m sorry, what was the question?


Question:  Well, the extension of the rule of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe and the continuation of various accusations…


Spokesman:  The UN continues to work actively on the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe.  And on the political front, the Secretary-General has made his position clear on…I’m sorry, if you’d just let the words come out of my mouth, and then you can ask me a further question.  He has made his position clear on the fact that leaders in power should not use constitutional or extra-constitutional means to extend their time.


Question:  It’s just that often we get this line that the Secretary-General has made his position clear on positions that really aren’t clear and specific.


Spokesman:  I think they are clear, Mark.


Question:  On this one, is there a clear position that Kofi Annan has regarding the extension of Robert Mugabe’s rule in Zimbabwe?


Spokesman:  He has made his position clear on any attempts for leaders in power to extend their term through extra-constitutional means.


Question:  One last try.


Spokesman:  Mark, I’ve answered your question.


Question:  Also, on the George Clooney team.  My impression of what was said in the press conference was that he didn’t go there as an NGO, but he went as a group of interested people who were trying to show how much, for the Chinese, it would be important to do something before the Olympics.  He also pointed out that Egypt was a ruling power in Sudan in the past.  So he, in effect, went to talk to two Governments who have the strongest power over Sudan.  So is there anything in that direction, not just as an NGO involvement, but something that opens the way to a political involvement that the Secretary-General picked up from his meeting with Clooney and his team?


Spokesman:  All I can tell you is that the Secretary-General encouraged Mr. Clooney to go on with his efforts.  And if you look at the statement the Secretary-General made about two weeks ago at the Human Rights Watch event, he was very clear, in that those countries with strong political and economic ties with Khartoum should use their influence in a positive way.


Question:  Since Kofi Annan said he deferred to Ben Mkapa as Robert Mugabe’s mediator, Mr. Mkapa has since been quoted as saying he’s not a mediator at all.  Has Mr. Annan had anything to say directly on revisiting either being a mediator, or about having said that he would defer to a mediator who was in fact not the mediator.


Spokesman:  I have nothing further on that.


Question:  There’s an OCHA report that the fighting in eastern Congo has displaced something like 50,000 civilians.  What’s being done?  Is the fighting still going on?


Spokesman:  I don’t have an update on that with me.  So I can see what we can get from…


Question:…we had a request in here that if the fighting goes on, maybe that Peacekeeping could come in with charts.  Finally, maybe you’ll have a comment on this one.  The European Parliament passed some human rights resolutions, one of which was about sexual abuse in UN peacekeeping missions.  They used the language -- this is what I’d ask you to respond to -- they expressed concern, they praised the UN for some of the steps taken, but they expressed “serious concern over reports of a culture of silence in some UN missions stemming from the fear of punishment and retaliation. And therefore calls on the UN to take all necessary steps”. Etcetera.  Is there, I mean, what’s…?


Spokesman:  A lot of the preventive measures we’ve tried to put in place, we’ve tried to break this culture, whether it’s the whistleblowing policy to try to give protection to people who do blow the whistle and to put stronger preventive measures in place.  We’re trying to do whatever we can to break, to bring an end to these abhorrent practices by a very small number of peacekeepers.


Question:  One segue to what may come after is -- the UN’s whistleblower protection policy -- does it apply throughout the UN system, including to funds, programmes and agencies, or is it limited to the Secretariat?


Spokesman:  It’s a very good question.  I don’t want to answer off the top of my head.


Question:  The lunch meeting with the Secretary-General in Washington.  And you said also attending the meeting is the Head of DPKO, DPA and Special Adviser Bob Orr.  Seems a specially chosen group, something more than just a social gathering -- would it be characterized as a working lunch?


Spokesman:  It’s a private farewell lunch hosted by the Secretary of State.  The Secretary-General has brought three very close advisers that obviously have had a lot of dealings with the Secretary of State, and the State Department as a whole.  I wouldn’t read much into who’s there or not there.


Question:  A question on UNIFIL:  there are 700 seaborne personnel…


Spokesman:  No, it was something like 1,700.


Question:  1,700 personnel.  Earlier there was a dispute with DPKO and some donor nations concerning how to reimburse, or compensate, some naval equipment and it could more or less astronomically raise…


Spokesman:  We’re trying to work out with Member States the reimbursement and payment of naval units.  These are obviously uncharted waters, if you’ll excuse the expression, for us to have such a large naval component and with very high cost.  So we’re trying to find a way with those countries that are providing us the naval unit -– some sort of financial arrangements that would make sense to us.


Question:  Are they just taking on the cost then?


Spokesman:  No, that arrangement’s still being worked out.  But I’ll double check.


Question:  Do you know if Mr. Brammertz will be briefing the Council on Monday?


Spokesman:  Yes, he will be briefing the Council on Monday afternoon.


Question:  A very pedestrian question.  The past few days, a Khuldun exhibit is being organized in the basement.  When will this be open?


Spokesman:  I don’t know, Sir.  We can try and find out.


Before I leave the floor to Gail, there are a limited number of tickets available to Monday’s concert in the Media Liaison Office.


Question:  There was the General Assembly resolution which called for information for a fact-finding mission, asking the Secretary-General to make a fact-find mission on the Beit Hanoun killings, and I was wondering whether there was any update on that?


Spokesman:  No, I don’t have anything with me here, but I can check.


Question:  Brammertz -– do you know when he’s wrapping up?  How long he’s going to be working for the UN?


Spokesman:  No, I do not have that information with me, but I can check.


Question:  Do you think that this will be a matter that’s resolved before the Secretary-General Annan finishes his term?


Spokesman:  It’s hard to predict.


Briefing by the Spokeswoman for the General Assembly President


The General Assembly is this morning holding a resumed tenth emergency special session on the illegal Israeli actions in Occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  As it considers this item it will have a report from the UN Secretary-General and a draft resolution [A/ES-10/L.20] on this matter and a report of the Fifth Committee on budgetary implications of the resolution.  The Assembly will also hear statements by Member States in explanation of their votes following the vote on Thursday on draft resolutions regarding strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian and disaster relief assistance, and assistance to the Palestinian people.


Opening the tenth emergency special session this morning, the President of the Assembly, Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa, appealed to the international community not to turn a blind eye to the deteriorating economic and humanitarian conditions that affect the Palestinian people in the occupied territories.  “They require us to take a cooperative stance and provide assistance,” she urged.  Such assistance, she told her audience, was vital to meeting the ever increasing difficulties of day to day life.  She also stressed that it was imperative to accelerate steps towards arriving at solutions to this problem based on “objective and practical ideas.”  The first step she noted toward a solution involved building confidence and ridding oneself of fear, which she suggested drove both sides to acts of violence and counter violence.  Further, she stressed that if dialogue between both parties was a main objective, then the best approach to peaceful solutions was clearly not in creating barriers, which “neither dispel fears, nor remove material and psychological obstacles.”


The Assembly on Thursday adopted 24 resolutions and two decisions as it took action on the report of its Fourth Committee on a wide range of items on its agenda including decolonization questions; information matters; the peaceful uses of outer space; the effects of atomic radiation; peacekeeping operations; the University of Peace; the work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), and Israeli practices in the occupied Arab territories.  Contrary to last year, however, no consensus could be reached on a text regarding the question of Western Sahara.  This year, the resolution was adopted by a recorded vote of 70 in favour to none against, with 91 abstentions.  [Details on the votes in the Fourth Committee can be found in Press Release GA/10559.]


The President of the Assembly, Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa, also addressed a meeting organized by the Economic and Social Council to observe the first International Human Solidarity Day which began at 11.00 a.m. this morning.  The event seeks to raise awareness of the importance of solidarity for advancing the international development agenda and raising global understanding of the value of human solidarity.  The General Assembly, at its sixtieth session, proclaimed the International Human Solidarity Day to be observed each year on 20 December as an initiative in the fight against poverty.  In her statement to mark the Day, the Assembly President noted that, as the international community gathered to mark the day, it should recognize that international solidarity is the fundamental value that unites the community in its common effort to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and eradicate extreme poverty.  Recalling the recent thematic debate organized by the Assembly in cooperation with ECOSOC, she noted one of the key messages that had emerged was that achieving the Millennium Development Goals, by working together, would be “the single greatest service to mankind.”  She ended with this appeal:  “The burden of responsibility is on our shoulders to lift up the poor and enable them to take charge of their own destiny so that they can enjoy their right of happiness.”


The Fifth Committee continues to meet today considering financing of the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the Former Yugoslavia.  It will also continue to hold informal consultations on the two Tribunals as well as financing of the UN peacekeeping forces in the Middle East -— the interim force in Lebanon -- and enhancing the subregional offices of the Economic Commission for Africa, in the context of the review of the efficiency of the administrative and financial functioning of the UN.


That’s my report for today.  Thank you very much.


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