17 January 2007
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing

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

DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesman for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon.


First off, I’d like to let you all know that we expect the Secretary-General to speak to the press as he enters the building this afternoon, and we’ll inform you via the intercom precisely when that will happen. For now, we expect him to appear at the entrance some time between 2:15 and 2:45.


**Secretary-General Wraps Up Washington Visit


The Secretary-General is wrapping up his visit to Washington. D.C., which this morning included a breakfast meeting with the members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, hosted by Committee Chairman Tom Lantos and ranking Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.


The Secretary-General met yesterday afternoon with US President George W. Bush, and he spoke to reporters afterward, telling them that it was a useful meeting in which he had stressed the importance of a strong partnership between the United Nations and the United States. He said that they discussed the Middle East, Iran, Iraq, Darfur, Somalia and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.


**Secretary-General to Address Economic and Social Council


The Secretary-General will speak at the organizational session for the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) at 3:00 this afternoon, in which ECOSOC elects its President and Bureau. In his remarks, the Secretary-General is expected to urge the Council to engage in a broad-based dialogue on policy issues affecting development cooperation, and to take a leading role in promoting coherence and coordination of global efforts to deliver on the development agenda.


And tomorrow, the ECOSOC President-elect will be our guest at the noon briefing.


** Sudan :   Darfur Humanitarian Update


Concerning Darfur, in a statement issued in Khartoum, UN humanitarian organizations, agencies, funds and programmes operating in Sudan warned that the humanitarian community cannot indefinitely assure the survival of the population in Darfur if insecurity continues.


The statement says that access to people in need in December 2006 was the worst since April 2004 and more than 250,000 people have been displaced as a result of the fighting. The statement also denounces as “unacceptable” the violence increasingly directed against humanitarian workers, as more relief workers have been killed in the past six months than in the previous two years combined. In fact, since July, 12 relief workers have been killed.


In the last six months, 30 NGO and UN compounds were directly attacked by armed groups. In addition, more than 400 humanitarian workers have been forced to relocate 31 times from different locations throughout the three Darfur states. Assets have been looted and staff seriously threatened and physically harassed. And we have more on that in a statement upstairs.


**Secretary-General on Situation in Darfur


The Secretary-General, in his speech to the Center for Strategic and International Studies last night in Washington D.C., cited the crisis in Darfur as a “story of broken hope,” and said he would coordinate closely with leaders in Africa and beyond.


He said, “Life-saving humanitarian work must be allowed to resume, and civil society in Darfur must have a voice in the peace process. And we must persuade non-signatories to join, while building consensus for a UN-African Union (AU) force on the ground.”  He added that Darfur will be at the top of the agenda at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa.


**Security Council


The Security Council adopted a Presidential Statement yesterday afternoon, in which it requested the Secretary-General to deploy as soon as possible an advance mission to Chad and the Central African Republic, in consultation with their Governments, to accelerate preparations for an early decision on the possible deployment of a multidimensional UN presence.


The Council requested the Secretary-General to submit, by the middle of February, updated and finalized recommendations on the size, structure and mandate of a UN multidimensional presence.


** Iraq


Concerning Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for that country, today condemned in the strongest terms the bombing outside the gate of the Mustansiriya University, which took place yesterday.


Qazi described the bombing, which caused the death and injury of dozens of civilians, as a shocking and heinous crime. He said that the targeting of centres of higher education by violent groups not only exacerbates sectarian tensions but also targets Iraq's future professionals.


He again called on the Iraqi authorities to pursue and apprehend the perpetrators of these crimes and appealed to Iraqi political, religious and civil society leaders to uphold the sanctity of educational institutions in the country.


** Nepal


In Nepal, an important stage in UN support to the peace process began today with the commencement of UN registration and storage of the weapons of Maoist combatants. 


According to the Office of the Secretary-General’s Personal Representative in Nepal, the process is now underway at two of the seven designated cantonment sites around the country. UN arms monitors are present at both sites, where they are supervising the registration and storage of weapons in containers.  Registration at the other five sites should begin early next week. 


**UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) today hosted in Geneva an event to support the Humanitarian Appeal 2007, which was launched last November. Donors had the opportunity to share feedback and indicate their priorities for humanitarian action, including funding, in the current year.


In other humanitarian news, the UN and the Government of Timor-Leste have appealed for nearly $17 million to support the return, resettlement and reintegration of an estimated 100,000 displaced persons in Timor-Leste during the first six months of 2007.


And turning to Somalia, Eric Laroche, the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for that country, today said that the international aid community must take immediate advantage of the window of opportunity that now exists in Somalia by substantially re-engaging in Mogadishu. And that statement comes in light of the two high-level UN missions that went to Mogadishu in the last week.


**International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia


Dragan Zelenovic, a former Bosnian Serb soldier and de facto military policeman in the town of Foča, today pleaded guilty to seven counts of torture and rape committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack on Bosnian Muslims in the eastern Bosnian municipality.


According to the indictment and the plea agreement, Zelenovic was involved in a July 1992 attack on Foča and its surroundings and in the arrest of civilians, among whom was a 15-old girl whom Zelenovic acknowledged to have raped and tortured.  And we have more on this upstairs.


Last, some news about a photo exhibition. At 5 this afternoon, a photo exhibition highlighting the achievements of the UN Operation in Burundi will open in the South Gallery of the General Assembly Visitors’ Lobby.


Jean-Marie Guéhenno, the head of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Joseph Ntakirutimana, Permanent Representative of Burundi at the UN, and Carolyn McAskie, the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support, will address the audience at this event, which is entitled “ Burundi:  From Conflict to Peacebuilding.” And you’re all welcome to attend.


And that’s it for me. Anything from you?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  On the Security Council’s call for the quick deployment of a mission to Chad and the Central African Republic, when is the mission going to leave?


Associate Spokesperson:  There are two different missions that would be involved. One is a technical assessment mission, which would assess the logistical conditions in the region, ahead of the advance party deployment that the Security Council mandated. So this technical assessment mission, led by François Durreau,will be leaving New York this weekend for the region. That mission is expected to last for two weeks. But again, that is separate from the deployment of the advance party the Council mentioned in its Presidential Statement.


Question:  Does that mean that the advance party would not be leaving until the technical assessment team returns?


Associate Spokesperson:  Well, this technical mission is going first, and, like I said, it will assess the logistical conditions in the region, ahead of the sending of an advance party.


Question: What is the function of the advance party?


Associate Spokesperson:  Yesterday, in its Presidential Statement, the Security Council requested the deployment by the Secretary-General of an advance mission that would accelerate preparations for an early decision on the possible deployment of a multidimensional UN presence. That is its goal.


Question:  I have a second question if that’s ok: The New York City Finance Department apparently has reported that the city is still owed $18 million by, presumably, UN diplomats for unpaid parking tickets. They say it comes from 177 different countries, and the $18 million includes $1.9 million owed by Egypt alone. I’m wondering if Ban Ki-moon plans to get involved in that or launch a new initiative to try to encourage diplomats to pay, since he told the New York Business Group that he wants to help make New York City more appreciative of the UN’s presence here.


Associate Spokesperson: Well, the Secretary-General certainly encourages all Member States to comply with local laws. Of course, it’s up to each Member State as to how it goes about its dealings with the Host Country. But Ban Ki-moon himself, as you might be aware, has eased the pedestrian situation by often walking to work rather than taking the car. So maybe some people can follow his example.


Question:  I just wanted to follow up on what Irwin was asking:  The technical assessment mission – the one that’s going this weekend – is that a humanitarian mission then? Is that what the difference is, because I’m still confused?


Associate Spokesperson:  No.  If you look at the Security Council’s recent action, we actually had a technical assessment mission that had gone to the Central African Republic and to Chad, basically doing preliminary work. They had to cut short some of their work on the ground because of the insecurity there. One of the things the Security Council requested yesterday was for that technical assessment mission to go back and resume its work as part of the Secretary-General’s efforts to report back by mid-February on finalized recommendations. So, it’s not a humanitarian mission; these are people who are assessing on the ground conditions there.


Question:  But is that a part of the mission. I thought…


Associate Spokesperson:  Of the advance party? No, the advance party, like I said, is a separate thing. It was requested by the Security Council yesterday in its Presidential Statement. The technical assessment mission will go first and they will assess the logistical conditions in the region. They will do that ahead of the advance party.


Question:  So there’s no humanitarian component?


Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t know whether there is a humanitarian component. We can check. I believe that this is mostly people from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.


[Shortly after the briefing, the Spokesman’s Office announced that the technical assessment mission would include a humanitarian component, but would largely be made up of relevant experts from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.]


Question:  How close is the Secretary-General to making any announcements about the appointments of new Under-Secretaries-General or other department heads in the Secretariat?


Associate Spokesperson:  Okay.  Before I get to that, I have a correction. The photo exhibit I announced will not open today – it will open tomorrow. So, go to the Visitor’s Lobby tomorrow at 5 pm.


In terms of how close the Secretary-General is to making announcements, as soon as he makes them, we will certainly put them out. But, at this stage, there are quite a number of posts that he is reviewing. As you know, there are about 60 Under-Secretary-General (USG) and Assistant Secretary-General (ASG) –level posts that are being looked at. And meanwhile, he is also looking at restructuring various departments to make them more efficient. So, we’ll have to see how that whole process plays out. Certainly, there’s nothing to announce today.


Question:  Follow-up on that: I understand that the 60 or so USG’s and ASG’s who resigned…their resignation takes effect today, or took effect on the 15th?


Associate Spokesperson:  I believe it’s a question of whether or not the resignations will be accepted. They’ve turned them in, and he has them in hand. That gives him the flexibility to determine how those posts should be filled. Those resignations only become effective once they are accepted though.


Question: So, wait a second. They become effective only when a decision is taken so that means this could last months…?


Associate Spokesperson:  We don’t expect this to take months. The entire point of asking that many senior level officials to turn in their resignations this early was to give the Secretary-General the needed flexibility to make a number of decisions very quickly.


Question: So is this going to effectively accelerate the decision-making process on the 38th floor regarding appointments? 


Associate Spokesperson:  Well, certainly it should make the process a bit easier.


Question: Has every one of the 60-odd officials that this letter was requested of handed it in?


Associate Spokesperson: I don’t know. Like I said, this was a voluntary request. I haven’t checked to see whether or not all of them have turned them in. Certainly, it was up to them, whether to do that. I might add that because most of the contracts of senior appointments go through, I believe, the end of February, it’s not a major difference one way or another how long they would be at their posts.


Question: So is there a deadline for the end of this process? 


Associate Spokesperson:  For the appointment process? The Secretary-General is trying to get this done as quickly as possible.


Question:  I understand that yesterday that Mr. [Geir O.] Pedersen met yesterday with Mr. [Nabih] Berri.  What was that meeting about? Has there been any revision of the UN’s stance on Lebanon?


Associate Spokesperson:  This is part of Mr. Pedersen’s continuing meetings with all the relevant political leaders on all sides, in an effort to bring together all Lebanon’s political factions at this rather delicate time.


Question: Is there anything new about the five Iranian diplomats? Today [Abdel Aziz] al-Hakim condemned the Americans’ action regarding the abduction of the five in Erbil.


Associate Spokesperson:  We have nothing to say at this stage. Our involvement has not been requested.


Question: A quick follow-up question and maybe Pedersen is part of it. Is there any movement towards applying the same rules that apply to USG’s and ASG’s to their corresponding people in the field?


Associate Spokesperson:  Not at this point. That may be for later, but not at this stage.


Question:  So how does this process affect Special Representatives of the Secretary-General? Are their posts also being reviewed?

Associate Spokesperson:  As you know, a lot of the Special Representatives have mandates that exist as a result of an exchange of letters between the Secretary-General and the President of the Security Council. So, those mandates are dealt with between the Secretary-General and the Security Council.


Question:  The Secretary-General has mentioned that his priorities are Africa and the Middle East. The other day, I had the opportunity to ask him a question about Iraq, but our talk was interrupted. I was wondering if there was anything he can do minimize the bloodshed in Iraq, that doesn’t look like its going to end anytime soon.


Associate Spokesperson:  If you look at the transcripts which are available upstairs, you will see the Secretary-General did comment about the problems in Iraq during his press encounters yesterday. So I would just refer you to what he said there. My colleagues can make available the transcripts of those press encounters.

Question: Going back to the restructuring ideas, Interpress Service today had an article today about the ongoing controversy surrounding the idea of merging Disarmament Affairs and the Department of Political Affairs. Is that still under consideration, or has the Secretary-General decided to keep those as two separate departments?  


Associate Spokesperson:  At this stage, the status of the entire restructuring effort is that the Secretary-General is discussing his plans with the Member States, who after all will be the ones who have to agree on any restructuring on UN departments. That dialogue is continuing and I don’t have anything specific to say while it is proceeding.


Question:  Did the subject of climate change come up between the Secretary-General and the US President?


Associate Spokesperson:  I do believe that that was one of the topics that the Secretary-General mentioned in his discussion yesterday. But it was not one that he mentioned in the press encounter immediately afterward, but he did bring up climate change at a number of stops while he was in Washington.


Question:  There’s been an increase in the body count following clashes between UN peacekeepers and gangs in Haiti. Does the UN believe that there has been indiscriminate shooting during those encounters?


Associate Spokesperson:  UN officials here at Headquarters continue to follow up with the mission in Haiti about all the incidents and to try to get all the details. We certainly trust that the forces that we have in Haiti are acting appropriately and within their authority. Obviously, we’ll continue to follow up with the mission as appropriate.


Question:  The Washington Post said President Bush asked Mr. Ban during their meeting about the possibility of the UN doing more in Iraq and I’m wondering if you can shed any light on what might have been asked and what might have been offered?


Associate Spokesperson:  Well, one of the things the Secretary-General has been making clear is that we do intend to do what we can for the people of Iraq. However, the main constraint on us is the security conditions on the ground, and that has often been a key factor in terms of how many people we can actually have on the ground in Iraq. That continues to be the case. But as you know, on a number of levels – whether we’re talking about our human rights work such as the reports we provided just yesterday, whether we’re talking about the International Compact for Iraq, where we are trying to bring in a considerable amount of outside assistance to help the stabilization process in Iraq -- we’re continuing with our efforts.


Question:  In Somalia, the Speaker of Parliament who had been reaching out to the Islamic Courts has been ousted and many people are saying this is reflects a less inclusive Government there now. I don’t know if Mr. Fall or the Secretariat has any comment on this?


Associate Spokesperson:  We’ll check for you with Mr. Fall’s office whether they have any reaction to this latest development.


Question:  One more question.  There is a report that the European Union has offered Serbia renewed status talks in March between Serbia and Kosovo, including Martti Attasari.  This seems to imply that Mr. Ahtisaari will not release his report right after the elections. Is he still on track to release that report?


Associate Spokesperson:  As far as I’m aware, Mr. Ahtisaari, in his role as Special Envoy for the status talks, intends to present his proposals shortly after the Serbian Parliamentary elections, which I believe are [later] this month.


Question:  I’m interested in getting an update on the Human Rights Council and what they actually accomplished in 2006, and the agenda items that will be presented at its March-April 2006/2007 session. I have to say, having attended many session of the Commission on Human Rights, that so far, there are big question marks about what the Council is doing. There is a good Web site and I know there is some good work being done, but I’d like to see somebody here update us on the latest in human rights issues and the current work of the Council.


Associate Spokesperson:  We certainly can try to put you in touch with our colleagues at the Human Rights Office in Geneva who would have considerably more information than we do. We have been informing the press corps here about what the Human Rights Council has been doing as it comes up. And afterwards, I can refer you to a colleague up in our office with more details who can help you on that.


Question:  Farhan, as a follow-up to Matthew’s question on Somalia, since the Transitional Government is UN-backed, I wonder whether the UN was pushing for some kind of an investigation as to why some independent radio stations there have been shut down? To many on the outside this appears to be quite a crackdown on freedom of the press, which had basically not that long ago been restored.


Associate Spokesperson:  Yes. The head of our Somalia office, François Lonseny Fall, did actually take up with the national Transitional Government his concerns about this crackdown. I believe that over the course of the past day, the effort to ban certain media outlets has been reversed or eased. But he did indicate our concerns against any crackdown prior to any moves to reverse the ban.


Question:  Regarding the security in Iraq, do you think sending more American troops will be conducive to peace there? And do you think the occupation is the reason for the violence, or at least part of the reason?


Associate Spokesperson:  The United Nations has been working with a large number of nations -- following the occupation that began in 2003 – on how to bring about a restoration of the full sovereignty of Iraq, and on how to bring all sides together in terms of restoring stability to the country. That is what our main concern is. As for military forces, we have stressed the need to go beyond any military efforts, and to emphasize diplomatic efforts and reconstruction efforts as the key to helping resolve the problems in Iraq.


Question:  Just to inform you, I just came from Iraq, and it is not the people who are doing this. It is the thieves who were released from the prisons by the first US Ambassador. They are creating groups and [abducting] people and carrying out all these killings…


Associate Spokesperson:  Certainly, while you are free to make comments, do you have a question?


Question:  I mean, the United Nations needs to have some policy on Iraq to catch these thieves, who are in Baghdad, in Kirkuk, in Basra and many other places. They are [abducting] people and demanding ransom…


Associate Spokesperson:  The United Nations has been trying to work with Iraqi Government to deal with problems involving human rights and problems involving crime and terrorism in the country. And of course, we have tried to work with neighbouring countries to help crack down on those activities.


Question:  Does the Secretariat know the identities of the 10 countries that allegedly refused…were less than cooperative with (Serge) Brammertz [head of the International Independent Investigation Commission (IIIC)]? Does it have an opinion on whether those names should be revealed?


Associate Spokesperson:  What Mr. Brammertz has said – and he has told you this -- is that he is dealing with those 10 countries. He told you last month that he believed the problem was not one of wilful non-cooperation, so much as one of dealing with domestic legal systems. So what he said is that he would try to work with those countries and that if he encounters further problems, then he may revert to the Secretary-General. And therefore, at that point, the Secretariat might have a role. At this stage, it’s really between Mr. Brammertz and the countries involved.


Question:  Well, according to some Security Council members, it’s also between the Security Council and those countries…


Associate Spokesperson:  Then we would await a decision by the Security Council, if they come up with one.


Question:  Again, just to put a find point on this: Does the Secretariat know their identity?


Associate Spokesperson:  Like I said, at this stage, it’s between Mr. Brammertz and these 10 countries. He has actually said that he would revert to the Secretary-General if the problems continue.


Question:  You mentioned the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia? A person convicted by the Tribunal, former Bosnian Serb President [Biljana] Plavsic, who’s in jail in Sweden, has asked for a pardon and to be released from prison. Bosnia’s Ambassador to the UN has actually supported the request. So I’m wondering that at the Secretariat level, in terms of justice, is there a sense that these sentences should be served out or should pardons be granted?


Associate Spokesperson:  The question of pardons is one left to the appropriate judicial authorities, in this case, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, to decide…

Question:  I’m asking that, since this person is being held in Sweden, if there’s some way she could conceivably be released by Swedish authorities? Is there any comment on that?


Associate Spokesperson:  The comment would not be for us to make. It would really be for the appropriate judicial authorities.


Question: If I might follow up on Benny’s question: SO I take you don’t support the Russian proposal for a letter asking Brammertz to reveal the names of the 10 countries?  


Associate Spokesperson:  No.  That’s not the case. We’re not expressing any view, while the Council is still discussing the issue. Whatever decision the Council comes up with, we will certainly abide by.


Question:  Do you consider that the holding by France of a key witness, Zuhair Siddique, for so long is a technical matter?


Associate Spokesperson:  That’s a question best asked to Mr. Brammertz.  It’s up to him how to conduct that investigation.


Question:  Farhan, in his discussions with Member States regarding the restructuring of the Department of Political Affairs and offices dealing with peace and security, is the Secretary-General considering the possibility of dividing the political department into two parts, as was the case under Boutros Boutros-Ghali?


Associate Spokesperson:  I think that, if you look back at the comments he made to you in his press encounter last Thursday, he did talk about potential changes, including changes in Peacekeeping. In terms of specifics, that has to await the result of discussions between the Secretary-General and the Member States.


Question:  There have been reports that Mr. [Detlev] Mehlis, the previous investigator, is withholding information from Mr. Brammertz. Have you heard anything about this?


Associate Spokesperson:  I’m not aware of any such thing…


Question:  Are some things not being made available to Mr. Brammertz?


Associate Spokesperson:  I’m not aware of any such thing. When Mr. Brammertz took over from Mr. Mehlis, there was a transitional period in which all of the information collected by Mr. Mehlis was transferred over to Mr. Brammertz.  It’s the same team.


Question: But he has said in the press that he would not give certain information to Mr. Brammertz because he was afraid Mr. Brammertz would reveal this information which has been kept secret…


Associate Spokesperson:  Again, for follow-up on the course of the investigation, I would suggest you talk to Mr. Brammertz’s office.


Question:  Yes. Just a couple of outstanding requests by reporters to have people come and brief us. The first is the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), which Stephane said was going to come after the end of the General Assembly. So, I’m wondering when that’s going to happen? And the other is when does Mr. [John] Holmes start with OCHA and I’m wondering if he could come and brief us?


Associate Spokesperson:  Yes.  In fact I think that once the new officials take up their duties, they would be willing to talk to you. We will follow up with the various people to find out. And I’ll renew the request to OIOS to find out. It may have been forgotten during the transition to a new year, but we will certainly renew that request.


And with that, have a good afternoon everyone.


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