|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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon all.
As Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hédi Annabi mentioned to reporters yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General has written to the Sudanese President on the framework for the hybrid operation agreed between the African Union and the United Nations. The letter is in line with our agreement to proceed in transparency and share with the Sudanese Government the joint AU-UN planning on a strengthened peacekeeping presence in Darfur.
As Mr. Annabi reported yesterday, the AU and the UN have concluded that between 19,000 to 20,000 troops, together with some 3,700 police officers and 19 formed police units will be required under the present situation on the ground in Darfur. Based on these conclusions, the United Nations and the African Union will now proceed to develop detailed operational plans. The Chairperson of the AU Commission is also expected to send the Sudanese President an identical letter.
The United Nations in Sudan, in a press release issued today, condemns the killing of two soldiers from the AU force in Darfur (AMIS) and the injuring of one other in the town of Gereida, in South Darfur.
The UN Mission in Sudan expresses deep concern at the repeated attacks targeting those who are assisting the people of Darfur, in particular AMIS and humanitarian workers.
It calls on all parties to the Darfur conflict to respect the neutral and impartial status of AMIS and recalls that any attack against the African Union personnel deployed in Darfur is a serious violation of international law and relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council.
Turning now to Indonesia, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that local search and rescue efforts were going on this morning in earthquake-hit areas of Indonesia’s Sumatra island as the first UN inter-agency assessment team arrived.
To help quake survivors, UNICEF will deliver school tents, water bladders, hygiene kits, cooking sets, water purification tablets, and jerry cans. The World Health Organization, meanwhile, is monitoring the health situation and has placed emergency trauma kits and health professionals on standby.
OCHA notes that four separate disasters have struck Indonesia in the past week: flooding and landslides in eastern Indonesia; yesterday’s earthquake in West Sumatra; yesterday’s plane crash in Yogyakarta; and today’s earthquake in northern Sumatra.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that flood relief work is still continuing in Mozambique. The World Food Programme (WFP), for example, has provided an airplane to help transport food to flood survivors. For its part, UNICEF is providing learning materials to accommodation centres and school tents to areas without schools.
On the funding front, nearly 10 million dollars has been made available from the Central Emergency Response Fund so far. We have a press release on that upstairs.
The United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) reports that UN police and International Security Forces (ISF) continued search operations today in the southern city of Same for Major Alfredo Reinado and his supporters.
UNMIT also reports that former Minister of Interior Rogerio Lobato was convicted today by the Dili District Court. He was sentenced to 7 and a half years of imprisonment on 4 counts of manslaughter and use of firearms.
Meanwhile, the situation in the capital Dili remains tense, and so far, more than 5,000 new internally displaced persons have joined existing camps there. With the recent deterioration of the security situation, humanitarian access throughout the country has been significantly reduced.
The Security Council held consultations this morning on the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and other matters. The Commission’s Acting Executive Chairman, Demetrius Perricos, gave his periodic briefing to Council members.
Following those consultations, the Council held an open meeting on women and peace and security. It adopted a presidential statement, by which it urged Member States to ensure increased representation of women at all decision-making levels that dealt with the prevention, management and resolution of conflict.
Out on the racks today is the latest report of the Secretary-General on the situation in Somalia. Noting the demise of the Islamist administration and the adoption of Security Council resolution 1725, which modified the arms embargo and allowed for the deployment of African Union peacekeepers, the Secretary-General says that the situation now represents the best opportunity Somalia has had in years to put in place a functioning and effective State.
But despite these relatively improved circumstances, the Secretary-General warns that the need is urgent to stabilize the country and help create the conditions conducive for true dialogue and reconciliation and for the withdrawal of Ethiopian forces, which helped topple the Islamist regime.
**Democratic Republic of Congo
The UN Human Rights Integrated Office in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) today has released its latest report on human rights practices in the DRC covering the period of July to December 2006.
In it, UN rights monitors describe a volatile environment in which State actors and others abuse with impunity the rights of civilians. Government soldiers and police are singled out for widespread arbitrary arrests and abuses of women’s rights, including rape. If placed under arrest, perpetrators, the report says, routinely escape from dilapidated detention facilities.
Among its recommendations, the report calls on the DRC Government and Parliament to practice a zero-tolerance policy for arbitrary arrests, torture and sexual violence committed by the security forces.
The Brazilian Government, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), UNIFEM and UNICEF are today launching a pioneering anti-HIV plan. The initiative, the first of its kind in Latin America, is designed to raise HIV awareness specifically among women and help women become less vulnerable to HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. According to UNFPA, HIV infection rates among Brazilian women increased by 44 per cent between 1996 and 2005. We have a press release on that in my office.
And just a quick note from our colleagues at the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO):
You’re all invited tomorrow to a conference hosted by UNESCO and Nestle, called: “The Crisis in Water: Problems and Solutions”.
It will be held in the ballroom of the Millennium UN Plaza Hotel from one to three in the afternoon.
This is all I have for you. Any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Does the Secretary-General have any comment on Washington’s decision not to seek a seat on the Human Rights Council?
Spokesperson: I think the Secretary-General respects any decision by a Member State and hopes that the United States will continue to play a prominent role on human rights issues, including those considered by the Human Rights Council.
Question: So, he’s not berating them for not joining?
Spokesperson: You heard what I said.
Question: On Sudan rather, yesterday we heard Mr. Jan Eliasson saying that there is no military solution for Sudan and then he was talking about the grave situation down there after he returned. Does the Secretary-General have concrete steps; I mean plans, in several steps or so, how to address that? And speed up the political process based on the grave political reality down there?
Spokesperson: I have to say that this is an area of grave concern to him. He has been multiplying phone calls to different political actors in Africa to try to move the process ahead and I will have more on this, probably tomorrow. We are hoping that we’ll go one step forward soon.
Question: Two questions. First, is there a readout from this morning’s meeting? I got here a little bit late, so you may have mentioned it. Yes, with Christopher Hill and the Secretary-General.
Spokesperson: The Secretary-General met the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Christopher Hill, who briefed him on the status of the six-party talks on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. That was the subject of their meeting, and the Secretary-General hopes and expects the parties to move ahead with the process. And the UN will do its best to support that process.
Question: Can you confirm that the Secretary-General has given three names for Mr. Konaré to choose, as to potential next steps, a Special Representative of the Secretary-General to Sudan? And further, that there had been a previous number of names that the Secretary-General had given, Mr. Konaré had basically rejected all of them -- this is why it’s taken so long?
Spokesperson: Well, what I know is that there were names and they have come to an agreement on a name. Yes, they have agreed and we will get it once the different people who are involved are informed. You will know about it.
Question: What’s the name?
Spokesperson: I don’t have it yet.
Question: I want to raise an issue that I’m really upset about. The Secretary-General has a 4 p.m. meeting with Peter van Walsum, the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Western Sahara. And this is a very crucial time because there is going to be an autonomy plan introduced. And I would really like to interview him and I know a number of my colleagues would. I’ve been asking for this interview for over a year. I know what he looks like, but I mean, he doesn’t want to talk to the press and I really think that he needs to either give a press conference or be accessible to journalists.
Spokesperson: Okay, well, we have talked to him and you have the answer. He doesn’t want to talk about what he’s (inaudible). We tried today after you spoke to the people in my office, we tried. Mr. van Walsum has informed us that he doesn’t want to give any interviews. But as you know, the Moroccans have not officially presented us with their plan. We have only seen media reports, and as you know, we don’t comment on press reports. The meeting between the Secretary-General and van Walsum today will be on Western Sahara, and really I have nothing more to say on this.
Question: Can I get a readout after the meeting?
Spokesperson: Yes, we’ll try to get you something.
Question: Just a follow-up on that. Does the Secretary-General have the authority to tell a Special Representative of the Secretary-General to speak to the press?
Spokesperson: No. He will not.
Question: So, the Secretary-General does not have the authority to tell a Special Representative of the Secretary-General to do something?
Spokesperson: Not to do something, but he respects --
Question: So they’re independent actors?
Spokesperson: He respects the fact that he doesn’t want to give interviews. I don’t think the Secretary-General would get involved with this. We can do our best to get the Special Representative of the Secretary-General to give an interview, but this is the best we can do.
Question: (Inaudible) at the UN, if it’s a senior official, who is charged with a very sensitive and important area is not even willing to face the press, let alone…
Spokesperson: But it might have to do…
Question: …say something substantive. I mean, if he comes in and says something that’s totally unsubstantive, fine. If he avoids us altogether, that’s outrageous.
Spokesperson: No, it does happen at times that -- there are times when negotiations are at a critical point and someone might not want to speak at a specific time -- so that’s probably what it is, Laura. We are hoping so.
Question: She said that she’s been trying for a year -- that’s a long time to be sensitive, I mean…
Spokesperson: Well, I’ll transmit your concerns. That’s all I can do.
Question: On Sudan, can we assume that the letter from President Al-Bashir has not yet arrived? The slow boat has yet to arrive in port? And when you talked about perhaps, something to speed things up, can you give us any hint about what that might be?
Spokesperson: I think I already gave a hint. We might have some names to give you tomorrow.
Question: That’s what it was about? Okay.
Question: On East Timor, you said that the security situation’s getting worse. Humanitarian access is being reduced as more IDPs are coming. It seems like it’s kind of slowly unravelling. Is anyone in the UN system, the Secretary-General, DPKO, or people in East Timor suggesting calling on the Security Council to authorize an increase of force deployment there or asking for more troops or asking Australia maybe to send more people on the ground to help out?
Spokesperson: Well, I’m not aware of any such requests, but there is a lot of concern about the situation.
Question: What’s the latest in regard to the level of, or the amount of, UN participation in the upcoming conference in Baghdad?
Spokesperson: I can get more for you on this, but I don’t know who exactly is going to, how many people will be going there. I know Mr. Gambari will be going there, but I don’t know who else will be there. I’ll let you know.
[The Spokesperson’s Office later announced that the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, and not Special Adviser Ibrahim Gambari, would be representing the Secretary-General at the upcoming Conference.]
Question: Any news regarding the SG’s travel schedule to the Middle East?
Spokesperson: No, we don’t know yet. The only thing that we know for sure is that he will attend the Islamic Conference meeting.
Question: To get back to this interesting van Walsum situation again, do I not recall your mentioning that the Secretary-General had enunciated specifically a policy that all UN personnel, executive SRSGs, et cetera, should make themselves open and available to the media? And if so, if I recall that correctly, could he not reiterate that, so that if he does not have the authority or the right to specifically request Mr. van Walsum to speak to the media, perhaps he can make a generic statement that will, shall we say, shame him into it?
Spokesperson: The Secretary-General, as you rightly mentioned, has made such a statement. He has asked all his senior advisers and people in charge of different departments and missions to be as open as possible to the press and to talk to the press. I think he has said so and in this specific case, I don’t know what the reasons are and I can only convey your concern.
Comment: Perhaps you can convey the suggestion that that very noble policy would require occasional judicious reiteration.
Spokesperson: I will do so. Thank you, George.
Question: According to your headlines, the three unrecognized republics around Georgia, in the post-Soviet space, are seeking UN approval for the continued deployment of the Russian peacekeepers in Abkhazia. What is the UN saying about it at this point?
Spokesperson: Well, these are not our headlines. Those are headlines from the press, okay?
Question: Has the UN shown any reaction, because they’re seeking UN approval?
Spokesperson: Not yet.
Question: And also, in regards to the Abkhaz elections, are they considered valid according to the United Nations, or again, no comment?
Spokesperson: No comment at this point. I’ll get more for you.
[The Spokesperson later added that the United Nations had not been involved in these elections, and that this was an internal matter of Georgia.]
Question: Two questions, the DPKO and DPRK. Try to get that one straight. On DPKO, there’s a report from Pakistan that Jean-Marie Guéhenno’s visit there is both a visit to visit a troop-contributing country but also to brief and discuss the proposal to split the DPKO in two? So, I’m wondering if one, you can give us a status report on where that stands, but also whether DPKO is in fact lobbying -- who’s doing either the lobbying or the persuasion effort on Member States for the reform or splitting of DPKO?
Spokesperson: Well, as you know, there are, if you listened two days ago to the briefing by the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, there are two facilitators working right now on this. And a lot of the effort is being done right here in New York. And you can get more information, the President of the General Assembly now has the lead on this whole issue and they should come up eventually, in the next few days, with a framework resolution.
Question: I guess what I was most interested in was any effort in terms of out in the field, reaching out to capitals? I didn’t know that Mr. Guéhenno’s visit to Pakistan involved discussing…?
Spokesperson: Well, I cannot confirm that. I do know that he went there to meet with one, as he’s meeting others, to meet a troop-contributing country.
Question: Okay. On DPRK, yesterday I heard from UNICEF. They confirmed that they’re continuing their operation in North Korea. They’ve also said previously that they paid in hard currency and have seconded staff accepted by the North Korean Government. So, it’s still not clear to me on what grounds UNDP is suspending. Are other UN agencies operating there going to continue? If they don’t meet the conditions, do they continue there? And who exactly is being audited? You may have answered this and I’ve seen press accounts saying … is this first round of audits, does it include UNICEF and WFP or not?
Spokesperson: Not yet. It started with UNDP, as you know. And so far, the progress is going on, and as you know, we are dealing with autonomous agencies here. Each one has their own set of rules, and even though they do agree that this is going to go on, the investigation, not all of this is going to be done at the same time. And all of the agencies are not going to be going through the process of auditing right now.
Question: Sorry, since the UNDP’s been the payment agent, they’ve been the one actually paying funds for the other agents. Although they’re saying they’re suspending their operations, are they going to continue to pay for other agencies and are there trust funds that they administer that, in fact, hand money to these other agencies? Are they being suspended? Or are they continuing?
Spokesperson: Well, Matthew, I would suggest you direct your question directly to UNDP, okay?
Question: I did so yesterday.
Question: Just a follow-up on that. A couple of days ago, Monday, David Morrison was saying that nobody from their agency has been moved out of the country yet. Is that still the case? And when does the suspension begin?
Spokesperson: Well, actually I would refer you, as I did right now, to David Morrison. I cannot answer for them.
Question: Mr. Dervis would be great, unless he’s like Mr.… the Western Sahara guy, it would be tremendous to have him in this room. That would be great. I’m not trying to trade one off to the other, but I think it would be a very timely press conference.
Spokesperson: Any other questions? Thank you very much.
Question: I’m sorry, is it fair to say that Mr. Ban’s decided not to hold a summit on the environment?
Spokesperson: There has been no such decision taken. There has been no decision taken yet on the level at which there will be any form of meeting on the environment.
Question: Because I was given the impression there had been essentially… the decision that there would be no summit this year.
Spokesperson: No, there has been no decision of that sort.
Question: Are you saying that it’s still possible there will be a summit this year?
Spokesperson: Of course. The options are open.
Question: Just a follow-up on that. Is Mr. Ban Ki-moon going to attend that G-8 meeting which is going to be dedicated to that topic?
Spokesperson: He’s hoping to. Thank you very much.
* *** *For information media • not an official record