21 March 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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


**Guest at Noon Today


Yes.  Good afternoon.  Our guest at the briefing today is Antonio Maria Costa, the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.  I’ll try to shorten my briefing so he can get a chance to talk to you and you can ask him as many questions as you want.  So, we have a group of visiting students from San Joaquin Delta Community College in California attending the briefing today, and we would like to welcome them.


**Security Council


The Security Council, in a formal meeting earlier today on the situation in the Middle East, heard a progress report by Serge Brammertz, the head of the UN International Independent Investigation Commission, on the inquiry into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 22 others.


Brammertz said that the Commission has made significant progress in several areas by further developing crime scene leads and expanding evidence on the perpetrators.  He said that allegations of crime scene tampering remain under scrutiny and efforts to identify the geographic origin of the suspected bomber are also advancing well.


Brammertz said that the Commission continued to assist the Lebanese government in the inquiry into 16 other cases, including the recent killing of Minister Pierre Gemayel and the February bombing of two buses near Beirut.  He said that cooperation with Syria was generally satisfactory.


We have copies of his remarks upstairs, and Brammertz also just took questions from correspondents at the Security Council stakeout microphone.  This is why we are late today.


Also speaking at the Council’s open meeting was Caroline Ziade, the Chargé d’Affaires of the Mission of Lebanon to the UN.  After that meeting, the Council members moved into closed consultations on the situation in the Middle East, including the Brammertz report, and other matters.


And this afternoon at 3, Council members will hold a closed meeting on non proliferation, which we understand will focus on Iran, and other matters.


** Lebanon


The UN Interim Force in Lebanon says that its Force Commander, Major-General Claudio Graziano, and senior officials from the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the Israel Defense Forces today reached agreement on coordination arrangements with the LAF and the IDF respectively.  UNIFIL says that the agreement, which resulted from a meeting held earlier today at the UN Position at the border crossing at Ras Al Naqoura, will improve its ability to enhance security in its area of operations and to respond to potential incidents.


The parties also discussed the implementation of Security Council resolution 1701 and took up issues related to the Blue Line.  They reviewed the situation in the northern part of the village of Ghajar, with the aim of expediting the withdrawal of Israeli troops from that area.  And we have a press release from UNIFIL upstairs.


Still Lebanon:  out today as a document is the Secretary-General’s latest report on the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1701.  In it, the Secretary-General notes that the process continue to face heavy criticism in Israel; he recommends confidence-building measures to strengthen the Lebanese-Syrian border regime and says that he is encouraged by the Lebanese Government’s commitment to full cooperation with the UN team of border police experts and bilateral assistance programmes.  


This is the 3rd substantive quarterly report on 1701.  Some positive elements in that report: the cessation of hostilities between Israel and Lebanon has been largely respected and for the first time in 40 years, the Lebanese army (15,000 soldiers) has been deployed in the area.  The report underlines, however, a number of violations of the arms embargo and the Israeli overflights.  Three thousand cluster bombs have been cleared. Israelis have provided a map of the landmines.


** Sudan


Two senior UN officials are about to begin missions in connection with the Darfur crisis.  Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, has landed in Khartoum, where he is expected to meet with senior officials of the Sudanese Government and the United Nations, representatives of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), civil society and donor Governments.


During his two-week mission, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs plans to travel to the Sudan, Chad and the Central African Republic.  The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Darfur, Jan Eliasson, meanwhile, is scheduled to arrive in Asmara, Eritrea to discuss how to best coordinate Eritrean mediation efforts with those of the African Union and United Nations to reenergize the Darfur political process.


** Central African Republic


A UN team has gained access to the main town in north-eastern Central African Republic for the first time since fighting between Government forces and militants resumed earlier this month and reports that it saw a place emptied of its population.


UN Humanitarian Coordinator Toby Lanzer, who led the mission to Birao expressed his shock at the scene:  “Never before has the UN seen a town in Central African Republic where 70 per cent of houses have been torched.  The impact of this on people's lives cannot be exaggerated.”


Prior to the recent fighting, some 14,000 people lived in Birao, located on the Central African border with Sudan’s Darfur region.  There is a press release on that upstairs.


**UNMEE


We just received a press release from our mission in Eritrea and Ethiopia (UNMEE) saying that it has received a communication from the Eritrean authorities informing the Mission of the Government’s decision to request Mr. David Bax, Programme Manager of  UNMEE-Mine Action Coordination Centre (MACC), to leave the country “for good” before 20 March 2007.


In their communication, the Eritrean authorities made reference to “repeated violations of Eritrean laws and regulations by UNMEE-MACC management”.  UNMEE does not agree with this decision or the rationale given, but has complied with the expulsion order and Mr. Bax has already left Eritrea.


In addition to the helicopter ban in place since October 2005, the expulsion in December 2005 of over 180 UNMEE staff on the basis of their nationality and the restrictions on the freedom of movement of UNMEE patrols, this latest action of the Eritrean authorities will further affect the Mission’s capacity to perform its functions as mandated by the Security Council.


I’m going to interrupt my briefing just for a few minutes to welcome our guest today, Antonio Maria Costa, who unfortunately has to leave us at 1 p.m.  Then, I will pick up the briefing after that.


[Break]


I know a lot of you were expecting this briefing because it was supposed to be held a few weeks ago.  As you know, it was cancelled because Mr. Costa could not travel from Vienna.  Okay, back to our briefing.  We were at the Human Rights Council.


**Human Rights Council


The Human Rights Council is currently discussing thematic reports from human rights mandate holders on the use of mercenaries; the effects of economic reform policies and foreign debt; the right to education; and enforced or involuntary disappearances. 


Earlier in the day, the Human Rights Council concluded its interactive discussion on Internally Displaced Persons, violence against women and the sale of children.  More information is available in the press release we have for you upstairs. 


**Secretary-General -- Call to Stop TB


This morning the Secretary-General signed the “Call to Stop Tuberculosis”, as part of a series of events at Headquarters to mark World TB Day (which is Saturday).


Tomorrow morning at 10:30, here in Room 226, the World Health Organization will launch its 2007 Global TB Control Report.  Upstairs, we have an embargoed press release on the report, as well as a release from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria on efforts to combat the deadly disease.


Also, tomorrow night, the Deputy Secretary-General will open a photography exhibit on “A World Free of TB” in the Visitors Lobby.  There will be a special preview for the press at 10 a.m.


**Elimination of Racial Discrimination Day


Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.  In a statement to mark the occasion, the Secretary-General said that, despite significant strides in recent decades, much remained to be done to combat this scourge.  He also highlighted the theme of this year’s observance –- that racism and discrimination hurt not only their immediate victims, but also entire societies, by hindering development.


The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in a statement issued in Geneva, said that “A society that tolerates discrimination holds itself back, forgoing the contribution of whole parts of its population, and potentially sowing the seeds of violent conflict.”  We have copies of both those statements upstairs.


** Thailand -- Attacks on School Children


The United Nations in Thailand called for an end to violence against children in southern Thailand, following a string of attacks on students in and around schools.  Adding that such attacks against innocent children are completely unacceptable, UN agencies working in that country say education is the key to present and future development in southern Thailand, and all schools should and must be treated as ‘zones of peace’.


In recent weeks, three students were killed and seven others injured when assailants attacked a boarding school; five primary school students were injured when gunmen fired on their bus; and two teenage girls were killed while on their way to final exams. 


It is estimated that the conflict in southern Thailand has taken over 2,000 lives in the past three years, including 60 teachers.  Over 100 schools have been burned down.


**UNMIT –- IDP/Locusts/Security


In Timor-Leste, the latest informal studies show that, since January, the number of internally displaced persons (IDPS) in Dili has increased by 8,000.  The total number of IDPs now in the capital is estimated at some 37,000.


The United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) says the sharp increase of internally displaced people has caused some immediate concern regarding food shortages, rice in particular, and anticipation of supply, both of which continue to aggravate the IDP situation.


Meanwhile, UNMIT says the reported outbreak of locusts in Bobonaro and Ermera Districts has affected more than 4,500 hectares of cropland.  The locust infestation will most likely impact an already precarious food security situation.  UNMIT also reports that the past week in Dili has seen the fewest violent incidents in two months time.


**Guest at Noon Tomorrow


In response to your request, tomorrow we will have a briefing on procurement with Mr. Paul Buades, Chief of the UN Procurement Service and Mr. Robert Appleton, Chairman-Designate of the Procurement Task force.  They will be the guests at tomorrow’s noon briefing.  So, that was a request that you had.  This is all I have for you.  Thank you.


**Questions and Answers


Spokesperson:  Yes, George.


Question:  With reference to these attacks on students and teachers in southern Thailand, I realize I may be asking a difficult question, but does anybody know why they’re particularly going after students and teachers?  Are these anti-education rebels?  What are we talking about here?


Spokesperson:  There is a trend that we have noticed about the attacks on school children and the country team in the country is very concerned about this.  I don’t think they have been able to assess the cause of this and whether it is a trend against education. But we can try to have more from them on that subject.  Yes?


[The Spokesperson later added that the UN country team, which is extremely worried about this situation, is at pains to make sense of this pattern and does not know whether this should be perceived as an assault on education.]


Question:  Michèle, the Iranian President is obviously planning to come here.  Has he asked for an appointment with Mr. Secretary-General in advance?


Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General will not be in New York, as you know.


Question:  Because it’s not definite when Mr. Ahmadinejad will be here, have they asked for appointments in advance, you know.


Spokesperson:  Not that I know of.  And as you know, the Secretary-General will be away until the second of April.  Yes, Masood?


[The Spokesperson later added that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was departing United Nations Headquarters tomorrow for the Middle East.  She added that the Security Council had not scheduled a vote on the draft resolution and, if speculation proved true that the vote might take place this week or next, then Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon would not be able to meet with the Iranian Head of State, as he would be on the Middle East tour until 2 April.]


Question:  Has the Secretary-General decided to appoint the top officials not as yet, or not?  Is he still in the process of making decisions?


Spokesperson:  We’re still in the process of making decisions.  As I told you before in other briefings, he is planning to do it as we go along.  There will not be any massive announcements.  As we go along, there will be, after consultations on each case, the appointments will be announced.


[The Spokesperson later added that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon would appoint senior officials as the contracts of the incumbents run out.  She said there would not be an announcement of several appointments at once.  She added that the Chief of Staff and his Deputy were appointed at the Under-Secretary-General level and the Assistant Secretary-General level, respectively.]


Question:  (inaudible) the next few days, or he is come back and do it?


Spokesperson:  I don’t think there will be any announcements in the next few days, no, I don’t.


Question:  Also, who is this Mr. Kim they are talking about in the Secretary-General’s office, that he is somebody to know in order to get an appointment with the Secretary-General?  I’m not saying that I will be using it.  I’m just saying, who is Mr. Kim?


Spokesperson:  Mr. Kim is the Deputy Chef de Cabinet in Mr. Ban’s office.


Question:  Okay, thank you so much.


Spokesperson:  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  I have a couple of questions.  I just want to ask one follow-up to Masood.  Is Mr. Kim an ASG level?  Was he appointed an ASG?


Spokesperson:  I don’t know at what level he is.  I can tell you that he is Deputy Chef de Cabinet.


Question:  I guess…I think there were some that were thinking if somebody’s appointed ASG or USG that somehow that would be announced.  You know what I mean?


Spokesperson:  Yes, well…


Question:  Can we find out if he’s an ASG or not? Just as a factual…


Spokesperson:  Sure.


Question:  You mentioned this thing of the Central African Republic, Birao and…but somehow in the report it didn’t say who does the United Nations system, or Mr. Lanzer…who burned the town down?  Was it from Darfur? Was it the Government?


Spokesperson:  Well, they haven’t identified who did it.


Question:  But they are trying to find the…okay.  And finally, I also…I noticed that Mr. Chissano now is coming.  He’s speaking with the DSG today.  I got a statement from your office saying the United Nations is not really involved in the talks with the LRA, to ask the Mission in Sudan.  What I’m wondering, is that really the…what, then is…can you…can we, either today or tomorrow before he does his briefing and I hope does a stakeout, can we get some statement on what the Secretary thinks his mandate is? Is he involved in the talks? Is he mediating?


Spokesperson:  Well, I think you should talk to Mr. Chissano because he’ll be available to the press after, at the stakeout.


Question:  Excellent.  Thank you.


Spokesperson:  Yes?  Yes, George?


Question:  In the event that you determine that this Mr. Kim is in fact an ASG, would that not automatically make Mr. Nambiar a USG?


Spokesperson:  I don’t know those details.  I can try to find out for you at what level.


Question:  Thank you.


Spokesperson:  Okay, thank you very much.


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For information media • not an official record