21 February 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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon.  We are going to have a guest at 12:30 sharp, so I will try to go quickly through the briefing.


**Secretary-General


The Secretary-General is in Berlin today, where he will be meeting shortly with the other principal members of the Quartet for the Middle East.  In fact, that meeting is under way.  It was to start at 6 p.m. in Berlin.  The Quartet principals will hold a press conference at the end of that meeting, and we will provide you with a transcript once we get it.  As usual, the Secretary-General will be reading out the Quartet statement.  And we will make that available initially, before we get the transcript.


Earlier today, the Secretary-General held a press conference after a meeting with the German Foreign Minister, in which he said he was encouraged by the recent diplomatic initiatives, including the most recent Mecca deal, as well as the trilateral meeting among the United States, Palestinian Authority and Israel.  He said it is important for the international community to encourage the ongoing diplomatic initiative in the Middle East.


The Secretary-General was also asked about Iran’s nuclear programme, and he said: “I would strongly urge the Iranian authorities to comply, first of all, fully with the Security Council resolution, and continue to negotiate with the international community.”  And that transcript is available upstairs in the Spokesperson’s Office.


The Secretary-General also met today in Berlin with Iraq’s Foreign Minister, as well as with Germany’s Minister for Economic Development and the President of the German Bundestag.  Tomorrow, he is expected to travel to Vienna to meet with Austrian officials there and UN staff.


**Kosovo


Regarding the status of Kosovo, the first round of discussions between Belgrade and Pristina started today in Vienna on all aspects of Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari’s draft proposal.  That draft proposal, as you’ll recall, was presented to the parties in Belgrade and Pristina on 2 February.


The purpose of this round of discussions is to give both sides the chance to comment on the entire draft, issue by issue.  The round is scheduled to last until 2 March.  Mr. Ahtisaari did give a press conference in Vienna earlier today, in which he called today’s talks a good beginning.  And the audio has already been posted on the website -– this is Mr. Ahtisaari’s website –- and a transcript should also be available shortly on that site.  And you can get that upstairs, again in the Spokesperson’s Office.


And also on Kosovo, the UN Mission there tells us that it has established a special task force to investigate the injuries and two deaths that resulted from the violent protests that took place in Pristina on 10 February.


The task force is multinational and includes investigators from Kosovo’s local police service.  It is headed by an independent special prosecutor from the United States.  In all, 24 investigators have been assigned to the case.  We will keep you posted on the investigation’s findings as soon as they become available.


** Sudan


And turning to Sudan, we have the daily Mission update from the UN Mission there.  And today they report on the sixth meeting of the Tripartite Mechanism, which is made up of representatives of the African Union Mission in Sudan -- this is the African force in Darfur -- the UN Mission and the Government of Sudan.  And that was held in Khartoum and the subject was on an update on the UN light support package to the AU force in Darfur.


And in that same report from Khartoum, the UN Mission reports that, on Monday, about 300 militia men attacked a village in South Darfur, with unconfirmed reports indicating that seven people were killed and four others injured.  And you can read more about that in the bulletin available upstairs.


**Security Council


There are no consultations or meetings of the Security Council scheduled here today.


But, yesterday afternoon, the Security Council wrapped up its open meeting on security sector reform, adopting a presidential statement that, among other things, stressed the important UN role in providing “comprehensive, coherent and coordinated international support to nationally owned security sector reform programmes”.


The Security Council also unanimously adopted a resolution authorizing the member States of the African Union to establish for a period of six months a mission in Somalia.  The resolution requests the Secretary-General to send a technical assessment mission to the African Union (AU) headquarters and Somalia as soon as possible, to report on the political and security situation and the possibility of a UN peacekeeping operation following the AU’s deployment.


And after that, the Council President, Ambassador Peter Burian of Slovakia, read out a press statement condemning the terrorist bombing of the Delhi-Lahore “Friendship Express”, and noted that Council members welcomed the commitment to the peace process expressed by the leaders of India and Pakistan after that terrorist attack.


** Haiti


And from Haiti we have a press release that arrived just a short while ago.


With some 700 troops deployed yesterday during the latest operation in the Cite-Soleil neighbourhood of Port-au-Prince, the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti says that 17 presumed gang members were arrested yesterday and a number of illegal weapons were seized.


The operation was planned and executed in collaboration with the Haiti National Police; it marks an intensification of recent efforts to stabilize and secure the crime-ridden parts of the Haitian capital, the Mission reports.


And, as I said, there are more details in a press release that just arrived a short while ago.


** Lebanon


And from Lebanon, we have the UN Interim Force (UNIFIL) there reporting that the Lebanese Army fired a round of anti-aircraft weapons earlier today.  During the same period, UNIFIL also reported a number of Israeli air violations over its area of operation.  UNIFIL continues to monitor the situation in its area of operation and will release more details of this and other reported incidents as they become available.  And this was in response to questions that we had.


** Democratic Republic of the Congo


On the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in its latest human rights report, published yesterday, the UN Mission in that country says that the Congolese Army and police forces continue to commit serious abuses of civilians’ rights, including a surge in reported rape cases in the north-eastern Ituri province.  The Mission also singled out the various armed groups operating in the country as having contributed to the overall decline in human rights standards.  And you can read more about that in the report, which is available upstairs.


**Timor-Leste


And now, turning to Timor-Leste, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Timor-Leste, Atul Khare, in a statement urged the Timorese people, to give support to the United Nations and local police officers, as well as international security forces, who are working hard to improve and stabilize the situation there.


The Special Representative also said UN police will continue to take strong actions against all those engaged in violence or act contrary to the laws of Timor-Leste.  In response to growing violence in recent weeks, UN police and the ISF, the international security forces, have increased security in the streets of Dili over the past 24 hours.


** Afghanistan


And turning to Afghanistan, the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Margareta Wahlström, completed a visit to Kabul and Kandahar in Afghanistan and, in a press conference in Kabul, said that she is quite impressed by the progress that is visible, saying that she saw improvements in the country, including in the south.


But, she added that, to sustain progress, we also need to become much better at covering all parts of Afghanistan with assistance.  Wahlström said: “Our concern for the south and other areas that are difficult to access is really to ensure that this lack of access does not undermine progress and the relative stability we have in the rest of the country.”  We have the transcript of that press conference upstairs.


**Press Conference


And, as I mentioned, in 10 minutes, we will have the Foreign Minister of the Slovak Republic, Ján Kubiš, and he will brief you on the security sector reform debate, which I just mentioned to you took place yesterday in the Security Council.  As you know, he represents the current presidency of the Security Council.


And that’s what I have for you.  Let’s go from the back to the front.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Marie, forgive me if I’m showing my ignorance.  But would somebody just give me a quick definition of the difference between security sector reform and Security Council reform?  To what does the phrase “security sector reform” refer?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, this was the debate that was actually going on all day yesterday, so I’d like you to refer to the statements made by the various Security Council members, as well as the Secretary-General.


Question:  [Inaudible]


Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, this is about improving security in-country in post-conflict situations.  So, it has nothing to do with Security Council reform; it has to do with improving security conditions on the ground.


Question:  So it would be applied or practiced in tandem with the peacebuilding function?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I’ll read you exactly what it is.  The Security Council President, in wrapping up, stressed the important UN role in providing comprehensive, coherent and coordinated international support to nationally owned security sector programmes.  In other words, these are law enforcement, police, that kind of thing, on the ground in these countries that the Security Council is looking at.


Correspondent:  Thank you very much.


Question:  The Lebanese Government asked the UN to extend the mandate of Brammertz for a year.  Do you have any comment on that?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing on that.


Question:  Nothing?  About another… there are reports of the Secretary-General’s trip to Lebanon in mid-March.  Can you confirm it?  If it is confirmed, is it possible to know when the report on [resolution] 1701 would be due?


Deputy Spokesperson:  On his travel plans I have nothing.  But, as you know, the Spokesperson’s Office will always alert correspondents in advance on the Secretary-General’s trips and, if we are taking correspondents with us, we will give more time than usual.


Question:  On 1701, when is it due?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have that information, but that I can look up.


[The Deputy Spokesperson later added that the report was due in mid-March.]


Question:  Speaking of policing on the ground, is the UN concerned about the appearance of loss of objectivity between Fatah and Hamas as a result of a UNOPS operation to train Fatah police in crossing Gaza, in the Karni crossing, that so far has been [inaudible]?  It was reported yesterday by one of the newspapers and apparently is raising a lot of concerns inside Gaza that the UN is siding with Fatah.


Deputy Spokesperson:  The media report to which you refer has just been brought to our attention.  So, if I get anything on that, I will get back to you.


[The Deputy Spokesperson later added that training of the Palestinian border guards is being carried out in the context of the November 2005 Access of Movement Agreement.  As such, it is an attempt to make sure that Palestinian exports can be delivered and the Palestinian economy can be maintained.  It deals strictly with the non-lethal training of border guards.]


Question:  Two questions.  One is on Zimbabwe.  There’s been a report that the Robert Mugabe Government has banned protests in the capital for the next three months.  So, I’m wondering, it used to be that Kofi Annan had said he was going to try to mediate, then he didn’t do that.  Does Ban Ki-moon have anything to say or have any position on events in Zimbabwe?


Deputy Spokesperson:  As you know, Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General, has placed Africa as a priority.  And he took his first overseas trip to Africa, and attended the African Union Summit, met with over 20 leaders and discussed a range of subjects.  Zimbabwe, as of now, I don’t think it is a subject that has come up, but we can certainly find out from our office on the ground where we stand with the current reports that you were referring to.


Question:  Secondarily, the Staff Council passed a resolution, I think, to explore litigation against the United Nations, the Secretary-General, for outsourcing of the Pension Fund.  This took place last week; they passed this resolution.  I wanted to know if the Secretariat either has any response, or if the Under-Secretary-General for Management has responded in any way, and if she might come to a briefing on this and other topics.


Deputy Spokesperson:  OK.  The Under-Secretary-General for Management briefing request is still up there, and we’re pressing to get that.


On the issue of the Pension Fund, I believe we have mentioned from this podium about a letter or a notice that went out to all staff members from Warren Sach regarding the reasons for seeking an outside firm on the Pension Fund issue.  I don’t have the exact letter with me now, but I can share what was on the website, and I think that will answer most of your questions about the reasons behind the move.


Question:  So just to clarify, the Secretary-General has no position on Zimbabwe, then?


Deputy Spokesperson:  At the moment, I have no new guidance.


Question:  Now, with regard to Darfur: Ban Ki-moon sent this letter at the end of January and then waited for a reply and so on.  Where are we with regards to that reply?


Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General is still hoping for a positive response to the letter of 24 January, in which he goes into the details of the heavy package support to the African Union force.  Jan Eliasson, who just completed his mission to Sudan, who was there with his African Union counterpart, met with President Bashir over the weekend.  He again pressed for the letter, and I’m told that he was informed that that letter was being finalized.


The Secretary-General subsequently spoke with Mr. Konare, got an update from Mr. Eliasson.  And the movement on this front that is tangible, I suppose, is that the African Union will be sending a mission to UN Headquarters to discuss further the way ahead on the peacekeeping front, because the political initiatives is still ongoing with the AU-UN…


Question:  I understand that there had been, let me get this right, Bashir had told Eliasson that he was going to send a letter, that it was expected either Monday this week or something like that.  So that has still not transpired?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I think what he was told was that he was finalizing a letter.  Yes.  And we are waiting for the response.


Question:  OK.  But you haven’t got one.  So how long do you wait?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as I said, the next step is that the Secretary-General has spoken to Mr. Konare, the Chairperson of the African Union [Commission].  He will be sending the African Union Peace and Security Commissioner, Mr. Djinnit, and he will be here next week, and they will be discussing ways to try to move ahead.


Question:  See, what I’m a bit confused about is, last year, this was agreed.  So then Ban sent a letter and now it’s unagreed.  So, by sending the letter, Ban actually went backwards in terms of the process of getting ahead the support package.


Deputy Spokesperson:  No, what were agreed upon were the broad outlines of the way ahead -– those were discussed in the meeting in Addis Ababa by the previous Secretary-General, the African Union and the Government of Sudan.  This is the next step in the process, which was the UN and the AU agreeing on the very detailed terms of this heavy package, that was outlined, that was sent to the Government of Sudan.  At the end of the day, it requires the Government of Sudan’s positive response in order to be able to move ahead.  And that would include…


Question:  [Inaudible] the Government of Sudan is like, you know, a blinking light.  And you have no idea whether the light is on or off in any one day.  Now, some people have a strategy that, if you had the light on and said: “Let’s go ahead,” you go ahead.  But what happens now?  Do you give a new letter every week to the Government of Sudan to check whether this week they’re on or off?  I don’t really know, because they did give a go-ahead.  But now, is it assumed that there’s no go-ahead, despite the previous go-ahead?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I think that the go-ahead was still pending the details that needed to be worked out.  So that is what we are waiting for and he’s still hoping for a positive response.  In the meantime, as I just responded, the AU and the UN will continue to work on ways to make that happen.


Question:  The last thing then, is the Secretary-General in any way disappointed with the lack of this go-ahead?  Does he condemn the lack of this go-ahead, considering the number of deaths per day that this costs?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I think that he thinks that the situation on the ground is unacceptable, and he is doing whatever he can in his power to try to move along the political and the peacekeeping front that is needed to bring an end to the suffering on the ground.


Question:  Some time ago, we were told that the contracts of the senior officials in the Secretariat would be ending end of this month.  That would be next week.  Would they all depart?  Will there be some remaining for special assignment?  Will there be no announcement for appointments next week?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, the Chief of Staff was here just a short while ago and made an announcement on a number of key positions.  And I think the other appointments will follow as they are made and as contracts are expiring.


Question:  Do you have any reports from UNIFIL in south Lebanon that Hizbollah has deployed missiles south of the Litani River?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I just had a brief update on Lebanon, but that was regarding the Lebanese Army’s firing of a round of anti-aircraft weapons.  That’s all…


Question:  Do you have any comment to make on the Israeli Ambassador’s letter today to the Secretary-General?


Deputy Spokesperson:  The letter has been circulated to members of the Security Council.


Question:  He’s making these allegations that there were rockets.  I mean, UNIFIL is on the ground.  They should probably be able to verify whether this is right or wrong.


Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing further than what I was given by UNIFIL today.  But we can certainly look into it upstairs.


Question:  What were the [inaudible] of the rounds that were shot?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Only that they reported, they confirmed, that the Lebanese Army had fired a round from an anti-aircraft weapon earlier today.  And that…


Question:  Fired on what?


Deputy Spokesperson:  That’s all I have.  This was in response to a question that we had.


Anyway, as I mentioned earlier, we have the Foreign Minister of the Slovak Republic, so I will move over and escort him in here.


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For information media • not an official record