8 February 2007
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing

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

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


AND THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT

 


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Frehiwot Bekele, Special Assistant to the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.


Spokesperson for Secretary-General


Good afternoon.


**Guest


Our guest today is the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, who will brief you on her recent mission to Sudan and on the Paris conference “Free Children from War”.


** Lebanon


The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about the exchange of fire between the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) across the Blue Line last night in the general area of Maroun Al Ras.


The exchange of fire, which was initiated by the LAF after an IDF bulldozer crossed the technical fence in an apparent attempt to clear the area between the technical fence and the Blue Line of mines, constitutes a breach of the cessation of hostilities as laid out in Security Council resolution 1701 (2006).


The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) deployed to the area immediately and was in contact with both sides urging them to cease hostilities.  UNIFIL is currently ascertaining all the facts concerning the incident.


The Secretary-General encourages the parties to make use of the tripartite coordination mechanism in order to avoid similar incidents in the future.  All such violations of Security Council resolution 1701 (2006) endanger the fragile calm that prevails in southern Lebanon.  The Secretary-General calls on all parties to exercise maximum restraint, avoid provocative actions and display responsibility in implementing resolution 1701 (2006).


The UNIFIL Force Commander, Major General Claude Graziano, was in contact with both sides, urging them to cease hostilities immediately.  At around 23:30 hours, both sides ceased firing.  UNIFIL troops have been deployed in the area and are ascertaining the facts concerning the incident.


** Iraq


On Iraq, High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, today filed a legal brief with the Iraqi High Tribunal asserting that international law prohibits the imposition of the death penalty in the case of Taha Yassin Ramadan.  Arbour’s intervention was submitted in connection with the Court’s reconsideration of the sentence of Ramadan, a co-defendant alongside Saddam Hussein, Awad Bandar and Barzan Hassan in proceedings concerning events at Dujail.


In the brief, Arbour argues that the Court’s imposition of the death sentence on Taha Yassin Ramadan would violate Iraq’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  The Covenant, which Iraq has ratified, provides that a death sentence may only be imposed following proceedings conducted in strict adherence to due process requirements, and guarantees the right to seek a commutation or pardon.  In these circumstances, Arbour says, the Court should refrain from imposing the death sentence.


**Security Council


The Security Council is currently holding consultations on Sudan.  Council members heard a briefing by Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, about the Secretary-General’s recent report on the UN Mission in Sudan and on the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between northern and southern Sudan.


In that report, the Secretary-General warned that both parties must cease using militias as proxy forces and make the integration of other armed groups a top priority.  He added that a swift, peaceful resolution to the Darfur conflict could go a long way towards restoring trust between the parties to the Agreement.


** Sudan


On the Sudan, the UN Mission in the Sudan reports a number of incidents in Darfur, including an assault on a group of women from the Kalma Camp housing displaced persons, who were on their way to collect firewood. The assailants attempted to abduct one of the women but failed, the Mission said.


Meanwhile, the Darfur Peace Agreement Joint Commission met in North Darfur yesterday and issued a statement that deplored and strongly condemned the increase in assaults and attacks on the African Union force in Darfur, as well as aid agencies and organizations’ personnel and properties, including killings, abduction, stealing and snatching of vehicles.


The meeting was chaired by the African Union and was attended by the signatories of the Darfur Peace Agreement and the Declaration of Commitment, the United Nations, the European Union and the United States as members, and Canada, France, the League of Arab States, the Netherlands, Egypt and the United Kingdom as observers.  More information is in today’s bulletin prepared by the Mission, and you have access to it upstairs in my Office.


**UNRWA


On UNRWA, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has restored its humanitarian operations in Gaza, which had been interrupted during recent factional fighting, to full operation. 


In a meeting with head teachers from the worst-affected schools in Gaza City, UNRWA’s Director of Operations in Gaza, John Ging, expressed the Agency’s commitment to continue with the delivery of humanitarian services, in spite of the new and dangerous challenges it faces.  He added, “We are all hoping that the political leaders meeting in Mecca will have the courage and wisdom to find solutions to avoid a return to the violence of the past days.”  We have a press release upstairs with more information.


**Timor-Leste


On Timor-Leste, the UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste reports that the situation in Dili remains volatile with some 24 reported instances of fighting and stone-throwing.  Ten houses were torched and three UN vehicles were damaged overnight.  Meanwhile yesterday’s influx of Movement of National Unity of the Republic supporters from Liquica District into Dili continued.


**Democratic Republic of Congo


On the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the UN Mission in the DRC has put at 134 the number of civilians killed in the recent violence in the Bas-Congo province.  The Mission says that human rights officers attached to the multidisciplinary teams now investigating the aftermath of the violence will also conduct a survey in four of the province’s towns worst affected by the fighting.


And, while the World Food Programme continues food delivery to the wounded now in treatment at the Kikanda general hospital, a Mission helicopter yesterday flew a team from OCHA to South Kivu to assess humanitarian conditions there, that took place a few days after UN peacekeepers deployed a mobile operations unit to help maintain public order in the region.


**Bird Flu


On bird flu, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is warning today that cats can become infected with the bird flu virus, but currently there is no scientific evidence to suggest that there has been sustained transmission from cat to cat or from cat to human.


As a precautionary measure, FAO recommends that, in areas where the virus has been found in poultry or wild birds, cats should be separated from infected birds until the danger has passed. On commercial poultry premises, cats should even be kept indoors.


We have a press release on that.  On a related note, David Nabarro, the Senior UN System Coordinator for Avian and Human Influenza, will be here to brief you tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. on where we stand in the fight against bird flu.


** Indonesia


Yesterday, we flagged to you that the World Food Programme was feeding Indonesian flood survivors in Jakarta, following Indonesia’s request for international assistance. Other UN agencies are now involved in that relief effort as well.


UNICEF, for example, is preparing water bladders and purification tablets and will provide zinc supplements to children to treat diarrhoea. For its part, the UN Population Fund will distribute hygiene kits and reproductive health packages.


And the World Health Organization has already helped to establish 15 mobile health units across Jakarta and is carefully monitoring cases of a number of diseases.  We have more information on that in my Office.


**Press Conferences


The press conferences for tomorrow:  at 11:15, there will be a press briefing with Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, Jomo Kwame Sundaran, and expert Jacques Baudot, who will present their new book on economic liberalization, globalization, poverty and inequality.


At 12:45, the former President of Lebanon, His Excellency Mr. Amine Gemayel, will be here to brief you.


Then, at 3 p.m., Mr. Pierre Schori, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Côte d’Ivoire, will brief on the situation in that country, the peace process and his final impressions after close to two years as the United Nations’ top representative there.  Mr. Schori will be finishing his tenure on February 15th.


This is all I have for you.  Any questions?  Yes?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Michèle, regarding the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, did she make a similar move for Saddam Hussein and two of the co-defendants and, if she did not, why is she doing it for this individual?


Spokesperson:  Well, she did issue a statement, and she had made an appeal.  The formal, I can check for you whether she had made a formal judicial appeal, but I do know… [talkover]…


Question:  You’re saying…


Spokesperson:  …a legal step [talkover], yes.  I’m not aware that she did it in the first two cases, and we can have more information for you later, directly from the High Commissioner.  Yes


[The Spokesperson later clarified that Ms. Arbour had, indeed, made appeals to the Iraqi authorities concerning the other executions but had not filed legal briefs.  This time she was filing a brief because she felt she needed to use all tools at her disposal to draw attention to this matter.]


Question:  Why did UNIFIL stand by watching the Israelis while they sent bulldozers into Lebanese territories to clear what they said were mines? Isn’t UNIFIL supposed to prevent such incursions from happening to Lebanon?


Spokesperson:  You have the statement on what happened and what UNIFIL did.  I don’t have any additional comment to make [talkover]…


Question:  …from the statement, I have it, there was a bulldozer, which was approaching, and it was not stopped by UNIFIL, so the Lebanese Army had to send some warnings to them or shoot at them.


Spokesperson:  Well, what we have is that, right now, we have the report on the situation right now.  The UNIFIL has been ascertaining the facts of yesterday’s incident, and the findings will be communicated to both parties.  And, UNIFIL troops, in coordination with the Lebanese Army, have also placed a sign to visibly mark the Blue Line in this area.  The Force Commander, Major General Graziano has been in contact with the parties and has called for a tripartite meeting with the senior representatives of the Lebanese Army and the Israel Defense Forces early next week, but I don’t have any more on that.


Question:  Last night, after the incident, the Israelis continued to clear the area inside Lebanon, in a depth of 15 meters all night, and UNIFIL stood by.  There was no representation made to them.  Why is this – I mean, is the UNIFIL not supposed to prevent such skirmishes and incursions from happening?


Spokesperson:  I’m sorry, I don’t have that information, that you gave.  Yes, Benny?


Question:  Was there an earlier meeting before the incident started, between the Israeli and the Lebanese Army [inaudible]?


Spokesperson:  We can check.


Question:  The Israelis last night said they would send more overflights over Lebanon and intensify it.  What’s your reaction to that?


Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t have a reaction on announcements.  Whenever the flights are carried, then [talkover]…


Question:  … the overflights have been going on for many months, and [inaudible] only just made statements saying that they are discounting these overflights.  And, we haven’t seen any action.  Why hasn’t the Secretary-General, for example, made any statement on this?


Spokesperson:  Well this is really UNIFIL’s purview and UNIFIL’s responsibility.


Question:  I still, Ghajar is still occupied after six, seven months of cessation of hostilities?


Spokesperson:  Yes, I hear your views, but, you know, we don’t have any more on this. Yes, Matthew?


Question:  There’s a report of quote hundreds of protestors in front of the UN DPKO in Haiti.  So, I’m wondering, I don’t know, there have been reports of this and we haven’t seen any statement by MINUSTAH. One, is that the case, and two, if so, the report quotes a protestor saying the UN is part of the cause of the violence.  So, obviously, are you aware of that, and can you comment on it?


Spokesperson:  Yes, we are aware of it, but we cannot comment on it at this point.  There have been demonstrations over and over again for quite a few weeks now.  It’s nothing new, and nothing particularly that the Mission is reacting to.


Question:  You were here when Mr. Mulet said that everyone wants the UN in Haiti.  Obviously, it’s not everyone, but what percentage is it?  Does the UN see the protest as representing an important part of Haitian public opinion or not?


Spokesperson:  Well, we have no way to assess that.  The Mission has not informed us of percentages.


Question:  Well, I was wondering if you are willing to… what do you think?


Spokesperson:  I have absolutely no personal opinion… my personal opinion will stay with me, if you don’t mind.


Question:  I guess, just to follow it up.  If they do say something, maybe you could give me what they said here, or highlight it in some way, if MINUSTAH has some response to these protests?


Spokesperson:  Definitely, Matthew, I will.  As soon as we get an answer from them, we’ll inform you.


Question:  And, on the Secretary-General’s schedule, Josette Sheeran is becoming head of WFP.  Is she still in the building?  Is there some way to get an opportunity, either at the stakeout or some other way, to ask her some questions?


Spokesperson:  We tried to have her, but, unfortunately, her schedule did not allow her to come, so that’s why.  We did try this morning.


Question:  When was she, has there been a change in her start date at WFP?


Spokesperson:  No, nothing has been changed.  Still the same.  Yes, Mark?


Question:  Are there going to be any appointments announced tomorrow?


Spokesperson:  We are hoping there will be an announcement tomorrow, yes.


Question:  And, what’s going to be announced tomorrow?


Spokesperson:  Senior appointments, I don’t have any more details on that.


Question:  Which ones?


Spokesperson:  I don’t know how many, at this point. But, tomorrow, we are hoping we’ll have the announcements.


Question:  So, it is accurate now to say that appointments come before restructuring?


Spokesperson:  Yes.  Well, they come, at least some of the appointments, will come before restructuring.  Yes?


Question:  Michèle, the Secretary-General, when he took office, said one of his priorities would be also combating AIDS. The President of the Gambia has claimed over the past month that he can heal AIDS; he has mystical powers.  Does the Secretary-General have any comment on that?


Spokesperson:  No.  None at this point.  Yes?


Question:  Have you had a chance to talk with the SG about Mr. Al Gore’s film, and whether he’s going to meet with Mr. Al Gore?


Spokesperson:  No, I’m afraid we didn’t get a chance to talk about that, but I have noted your concern, and I will express that to him and ask him the question when I get the chance.  As you can see, he has a number of things on his mind at this point.  Yes?


[The Spokesperson later said that the Secretary-General had seen the film last year.  No meetings with Mr. Gore are scheduled at this time.]


Question:  I want to make sure I understand -- in this Lebanon/Israel border incident -- I understand what the facts were on the ground as they existed before, as well as the incident itself.  Do I understand correctly that the Blue Line is in fact the agreed upon Israel-Lebanon political border and there is a small buffer zone which may be mined or something, and the Israelis entered with a bulldozer into that buffer zone for purposes of mine clearance, and therefore, the incident happened and was reported, and UNIFIL contacted both sides? Do I understand that correctly?


Spokesperson:  You can have all the information upstairs.  As I said, we have details from UNIFIL about the incident.  This you can have upstairs.


Question:  Michele, I have two questions.  Number one – the Secretary-General is receiving at the moment Ambassador Cordovez, the Special Representative of Latin America.  What is the subject of discussion?  And, in Mecca, the Palestinian parties -- the Hamas and Fatah -- have reached an agreement on formation of a unity government. Does the Secretary-General have any words of encouragement to that effect?


Spokesperson:  Well, we are expecting to have a statement later today on that.  And, your first question, it is about restructuring.  They are meeting at noontime. 


Question:  Is Ambassador Cordovez being, is he being consulted about the possibility of a post?


Spokesperson:  I don’t know.  I don’t know about the post.  I do know they are consulting about restructuring and the proposal of the Secretary-General on that issue.  Any other questions?


Question:  Do I understand you correctly that UNIFIL’s only role is to mediate between Lebanon and Israel when there is an incident [talkover]…


Spokesperson:  But you know the conditions in which UNIFIL was deployed. It was a resolution by the Security Council.  You have the text of the resolution.


Correspondent:  Their mandate is just to stop these things and to play a role, a defensive role, against this or that, whatever moves in, but now UNIFIL is just observer troops -- we have 20,000 soldiers there plus 15,000 Lebanese and most of them are observers -- not to stop any Israeli incursion or aggression, and the Israelis have been intensifying violence there [talkover].


Question: … if we could stop making speeches in a press conference?


Spokesperson:  Yes, we want a direct question.


Question:  Yes, they do change the mandate.  Are the UNIFIL observers only?


Spokesperson:  You asked me the question whether we changed the mandate, and my answer was, we did not change the mandate.  The mandate is the one that you know about, which is quite clear.  Thank you very much.


I would like to first invite Freh to answer your own questions about the General Assembly.


Briefing by Special Assistant to Spokesperson for General Assembly President


Good afternoon.


**Security Council Reform


As announced yesterday, Assembly President Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa is chairing this morning an informal meeting of the Assembly’s Open-Ended Working Group on Security Council reform.


Citing the interest expressed by Member States at the General Assembly debates on 11 and 12 December 2006 in pursuing creative approaches to the question of reform of the Council, the President announced that she has appointed five facilitators to assist her in carrying out consultations as follows: Ambassador Ali Hachani, Permanent Representative of Tunisia, will lead the consultations on categories of membership of the Council; Ambassador Andreas D. Mavroyiannis, Permanent Representative of Cyprus, on the question of the veto; Ambassador Mirjana Mladineo, Permanent Representative of Croatia, on the question of regional representation; Ambassador Heraldo Muñoz, Permanent Representative of Chile, on the size of an enlarged Security Council; and Ambassador Frank Majoor, Permanent Representative of Netherlands, on the working methods of the Security Council and the relationship between the Security Council and the General Assembly.


The President has asked the facilitators to report back to her on the outcome of their consultations by the end of March 2007.  At that point, Member States will have before them a consolidated report allowing the entire membership to have an informed follow-up discussion on the way forward.


The President stressed that, while the process of consultations would begin by focusing on these key issues, this thematic approach does not preclude any delegation from raising additional matters of significance in the context of the Council’s reform.


She also underlined that she would continue to be open to the views of all Member States.  And finally, she appealed to delegations to work together in a constructive manner, in order to ensure the integrity of this process as they strive to achieve a comprehensive Security Council reform with the broadest possible agreement.


Following the President’s statement, many speakers welcomed and expressed their support for this new approach to deliberations on the reform of the Council.


And I can give you copies of the President’s statement afterwards.


Any questions? Yes, Errol?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Yes, Freh.  These facilitators, they were appointed by the President of the Assembly.  What would be, in terms of time, their mandate -- only by the end of the month?


Special Assistant:  By the end of March, they have to report to her, where consultations stand -- the results of their discussions.


Question:  And, if you could give us how they really work?


Special Assistant:  They can follow any format.  Their meetings are supposed to be open to all Member States, and each facilitator is supposed to concentrate on their assigned theme.


Question:  These efforts -- is it in any way a contribution to the former initiative of the “G-4” on enlarging the Council or viewed in that way?


Special Assistant:  All the various earlier proposals probably will be taken up in these consultations.  What they did was -- the President had consultations with Ambassadors, and after consultations with them, it was agreed that these key themes are the ones that they should focus on, and it should be helpful to have separate tracks of discussions on them.  And then, afterwards, they would have a comprehensive report, and the membership at large will decide how to proceed from that point on.


Question:  What comes after these facilitators submit their reports?


Special Assistant:  There will be a consolidated report presented to the Member States, and the whole Assembly will have to decide how to proceed forward after that.


Question:  In the General Assembly?


Special Assistant:  Yes.  All of these are General Assembly mechanisms. Yes?


Question:  While the five ambassadors are doing their work and preparing their report for the end of March, I understand, what will happen to work of the open-ended working group?


Special Assistant:  The exact relationship between the working group and these new specific tracks of consultation has not been explicitly defined; it can go any way that the Member States want it to go.  The working group could meet in parallel, if Member States wish it to.


Question:  You indicated that there were expressions of support for these five ambassadors.


Special Assistant:  And also for the focus on the specific themes.


Question:  Right.  Were there any reservations expressed at the same time?


Special Assistant:  No.  I mean, I wasn’t there for the entire meeting, but I didn’t hear any expression of reservations.


Question:  And, how does the Secretary-General view on these things at the Security, at the General Assembly?


Spokesperson:  It’s in the hands of the General Assembly at this point.


Question:  He doesn’t have any opinion on that?


Spokesperson:  I think he will not intervene in the legislative process.


Question:  How were the ambassadors chosen?


Special Assistant:  Through consultation, most likely.  I’m not exactly sure of how the President arrived at the appointments.  But I know that regional representation was taken into account.  I will give you copies of her statement.  Each facilitator represents one of the regional groups in the Assembly.  Yes?


Question:  I noted that none of the ambassadors come from a country with the right of veto.  Is that deliberate?


Special Assistant:  Possibly, but I don’t know.  That’s not surprising, I would think. 


Spokesperson:  I would like to invite the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict to join us.


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For information media • not an official record