|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.
The Secretary-General this morning is meeting with Alpha Oumar Konaré, the Chairman of the African Union, to discuss, among other matters, ways to move forward with the AU-UN partnership on Darfur.
Even as that meeting began, the Security Council today received a letter from the Sudanese Government about the heavy support package for Darfur, indicating Sudan’s approval of the helicopters component of that plan. Earlier, the Secretary-General had said of the reported acceptance of the heavy support package by the Sudanese Government: “It is a good sign.”
The Secretary-General told Konaré that the humanitarian and security situation in Darfur remains difficult, with reports of tribal inter-ethnic fighting in South Darfur and the resumption of the Sudanese Government’s aerial campaign in North Darfur.
The Secretary-General, Konaré, and their respective envoys for Darfur -- Jan Eliasson and Salim Ahmed Salim -- then discussed ways to move forward on the hybrid force and other ways to protect the people of Darfur.
They will all continue that discussion at 3 this afternoon in Conference Room 8, where they will meet informally with the members of the Security Council.
The Secretary-General has agreed to talk to the press once that informal meeting has concluded, and we are trying to make sure that the other key participants will also stop by the stakeout there.
The United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) strongly condemns the killing of an officer of the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) on 14 April, near the AMIS camp in El Fasher, by unknown armed men.
The UN Mission is deeply concerned about the repeated attacks against AMIS personnel that resulted in 10 deaths since the beginning of the year, as well as several carjackings. The UN Mission calls on all parties to stop forthwith attacks against AMIS personnel and assets, and to respect fully the agreements they have signed to improve the security situation in Darfur. We have a full press release from the Mission upstairs.
A statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the peace process in Northern Uganda:
The Secretary-General welcomes the agreement reached over the weekend between the Government of Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) to extend the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement until the end of June, and to resume peace talks in Juba on 26 April under the mediation of the Vice-President of the Government of Southern Sudan. The Secretary-General expresses his appreciation to his Special Envoy, Joaquim Chissano, for the role he played in facilitating the discussions.
The Secretary-General commends the parties for their expressed commitment to the peace process. He hopes that the negotiations in Juba will create momentum towards a comprehensive settlement to this conflict, which has brought immense suffering to the people of northern Uganda. The Secretary-General expresses his gratitude to all of the international and regional actors who have been assisting the peace process and calls on them to continue their support.
The Secretary-General this morning addressed a special meeting of the UN Economic and Social Council with the Bretton Woods institutions, the World Trade Organization and the UN Conference on Trade and Development.
He said reports show that the recent, unprecedented period of sustained and widespread economic growth continues, particularly in the developing world. But those same reports also warn us that the risks are increasing, as global imbalances and the volatility of some financial markets worsen.
The Secretary-General also said that, if international economic institutions are to strengthen their own legitimacy and credibility -- and better serve the world’s peoples -- they must engage more deeply in reforms that reflect today’s economic realities. We have his full remarks upstairs.
Ashraf Qazi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, denounced in the strongest terms the bombings in Karbala, and Al-Jaderyia Bridge in Baghdad on Saturday and in the Al-Ottaeefia neighbourhood on Sunday, which caused the death and injury of more than 200 innocent civilians.
Qazi warned, “Only by coming together, opting for national dialogue and reconciliation, and collectively renouncing all forms of violence, could the Iraqi people overcome the scourge of the unbridled violence that threatens their very existence.”
He called on all authorities to vigorously pursue the perpetrators of these criminal acts and bring them to justice, and urged all political, religious, tribal and civil society leaders to mobilize all means to bring down the level of violence. We have a press release from the UN Mission in Iraq upstairs.
The Security Council this morning held consultations on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, to hear an update on the implementation of sanctions there by the Chairman of the Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Marcello Spatafora of Italy.
The Secretary-General told reporters last Friday that he had informed the Security Council of his intention to send Legal Counsel Nicolas Michel to visit Lebanon this week. The purpose of Michel’s visit, the Secretary-General said, is to offer his legal assistance to the Lebanese Government and political leaders, to help their constitutional procedures concerning a tribunal to deal with the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Michel told journalists that he intended to help the Lebanese parties find common ground, to promote the process to ratify the agreement on the tribunal. He stressed that he is working in the spirit of assistance, of national dialogue, of reconciliation, and of mutual understanding towards the establishment of the tribunal.
A UNESCO team, recently returned from a mission to the Galapagos National Park and Marine Preserve in Ecuador, confirms that the islands are facing serious threats to their physical integrity. UNESCO says that the failure of various institutions and agencies to deal with threats from invasive species, increasing human immigration, and uncontrolled tourism development are endangering the World Heritage Site. The team will report its full findings to the World Heritage Committee at the Committee’s next meeting in June.
This is all I have for you today.
**Questions and Answers
Question: On the question of the helicopters for Darfur, apparently in the Saudi press agency report, it says that the way [Sudanese President] Bashir described the deal to the Saudi King was that the Sudanese would reserve the right to name who would be the helicopter pilots. Is that at all accepted by the UN side, that the Sudanese have a veto over who could be the helicopter pilots?
Spokesperson: Well, in the letter that the Secretary-General received this morning, there was no such mention of restrictions. What it says is that: “I am pleased upon instruction from my Government to convey to your Excellency Sudan’s approval of the helicopters component.” We don’t have any more details on that.
Question: Was there any understanding reached in the talks in Addis Ababa that … given that it’s a Chapter VI operation and operates with the Government’s consent -- the Government would be able to veto who would be the helicopter pilots?
Spokesperson: I don’t think so but I will enquire for you.
Question: Let me just try to understand, what happens next on this?
Spokesperson: What happens next? You will know this afternoon when you ask… Right now they are meeting, Mr. Konaré and the Secretary-General, and they will be speaking to the press this afternoon.
Question: I’m slightly curious when news of this kind of importance is announced from Saudi Arabia before we get details at the UN. Would it not be possible when there’s something this important to have somebody answering the phones or somebody talking about what the details of the deal are?
Spokesperson: Well the Secretary-General received the letter a few minutes ago… about an hour ago.
Question: Can I just do a follow-up on that? What’s the agreement that does detail the understanding? There was a paper on the heavy support package in January, which laid out in great detail what the nature of the peacekeeping operation was going to be. Is there a new agreement? Is there any new additional language, any formal/informal understanding? There’s a good reason for us to want to see the details of this because there have been several instances where we thought we thought we had agreement in the past and we didn’t have it. And there have always been questions about the details. So is there any other formal/informal understanding between the two over the nature of the peacekeeping operation?
Spokesperson: We’ll have more details definitely later on today. As far as I know, there were just clarifications on the initial package, and what was discussed in Addis, where the Sudanese were reluctant to accept the helicopter part of the package. And that was, as far as I know, cleared up. But you will find out more about it later today.
Question: But there’s no paper or document which spells out the clarifications?
Spokesperson: I think you had a statement last week from Mr. Guéhenno. Didn’t you have a briefing by Mr. Guéhenno on this? I’m sorry, I was absent so I don’t know whether you did.
Question: The part on the helicopters was just announced today, so what I’m trying to find out is whether there’s any paper or document that spells out the clarifications.
Spokesperson: We’ll find out for you.
Question: Back to these copters again. Forgive me… I want to make sure I understand this. Who in the UN granted to Mr. Bashir the right to approve specific, individual items of hybrid force equipment? If they have requested, and he has now arranged to approve the helicopters, will he next have to approve a bunch of armoured personnel carriers and approve a convoy of trucks and my god where does it end?
Spokesperson: Well it was initially, as you know… the reluctance of the Sudanese Government rested with the helicopter package. This is simply that they have clarified that they have approved the whole package, including the helicopter parts of it.
Question: I know that you can only speak for the UN and not for the AU part of the hybrid force. Does the UN not realize that if they grant, however reluctantly, the right to the host country Head of State to approve individual items of equipment, the net result is going to be every little request for approval of items of equipment is going to delay the humanitarian mission and more people will die? Thousands more people will die. Has that not occurred to somebody in the UN or in the command of the UN force?
Spokesperson: This is exactly what they are discussing today. Mr. Konaré is meeting the Secretary-General today, as well as Mr. Eliasson and Mr. Salim Ahmed Salim. They are meeting right now as I speak.
Question: Let me just verify, this meeting in CR 8 is at 3 o’clock, is it?
Spokesperson: With the Security Council?
Question: The meeting with the Security Council and the SG and Mr. Eliasson, etc. So roughly around 4, 4:30 there might be something with the press?
Spokesperson: Yes, we hope before that.
Question: In phase II, there are 3,000 more peacekeepers coming. Can you confirm that they are going to be new “blue helmets” or are they going to be AU soldiers?
Spokesperson: We should clarify that this afternoon. I will ask Mr. Guéhenno if he could come and speak to you again about the details of the two plans. I know there was already a briefing on that, but we can have more on it.
[The Spokesperson later said they would largely be African Union troops, with support from the United Nations.]
Question: Concerning Iraq, a group of people had appealed to the United Nations some time ago to interfere into this, because there is no stop to the killing. Do you think the United Nations Secretary-General will be able to send a fact-finding group or whatever to stop these atrocities against the people of Baghdad and other places in Iraq?
Spokesperson: I think it would be the Security Council that would be taking such a decision. But we’ll find out if there is going to be a new mission. There is a UN Mission there now working on humanitarian issues.
Question: According to Jeffrey Nice, who is the former prosecutor of Mr. Milosevic at the Hague Tribunal, Carla del Ponte did, in fact, strike a deal with the Serbian authorities not to show documents that would apparently help to confirm participation of the Serbian military in the Srebrenica genocide. My question is whether anybody at the United Nations Secretariat, including the UN Secretary-General, thinks that Carla del Ponte did something wrong from a moral or legal point of view?
Spokesperson: We have this morning clarification from the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. It is a statement rejecting in the strongest terms media allegations that he made a deal with the Serbian authorities to conceal documents from the International Court of Justice in the case between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia and Montenegro. This is the statement of the Office of the Prosecutor. In that statement, the Office notes that the Tribunal and the International Court of Justice are entirely separate legal institutions, and that the Tribunal’s Office of the Prosecutor has no involvement in proceedings before the Court. It further notes that under the Tribunal’s rules of procedure, only judges -- not the Prosecutor -- can decide on protective measures to keep materials from the public. This is what I got this morning for you.
Question: This is a quick follow-up. This calls it media allegations or whatever. But actually there is an original letter sent by the Chief Prosecutor in the Milosevic case to one Croatian daily. So is there any opinion on that or position at the United Nations Secretary-General level?
Spokesperson: Well, at this point, no, we don’t have any statement on it. I’m sure the Secretary-General is aware of it and we’ll see if we have anything further on this.
Question: Mr. Møller, who is responsible for Cyprus, is here in the building. Do you know if he’s meeting with the SG or someone else?
Spokesperson: I can check for you if he’s meeting with the SG.
[The Spokesperson later confirmed that Michael Møller had met with several senior UN officials, including the Secretary-General, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe and Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno.]
Question: A couple of questions. First, on the violent clashes in Moscow and St. Petersburg, the pro-democracy rallies, is the Secretary-General going to make any statements or comments, even if they’re informal, on this issue, as it is rather important? But I haven’t read anything about it apart from the headlines. And the second question is regarding the UNCA briefing last Friday with the Secretary-General. Is it still off the record or are the journalists allowed to use any of the quotes from the meeting with the Secretary-General?
Spokesperson: It is still off the record. And the other question about the… we don’t have anything on that yet.
Question: [inaudible] the Somalia Peace and Reconciliation Commission meeting was supposed to be today. It was already postponed once and now it’s set to be postponed to June 14th. Has [United Nations Special Representative for Somalia, François Lonseny] Fall or the UN system heard that that’s now the date? When will this take place?
Spokesperson: I can get in touch with Mr. Fall and find out for you.
[The Spokesperson later added that the United Nations was awaiting word from the Reconciliation Committee on when the talks would resume. There was no timeline as of yet.]
Question: We’ve heard that UNDP people -- Kemal Derviş and Ad Melkert -- are away. If so, we’d like to know where and who runs UNDP in their absence?
Spokesperson: Why don’t you talk to UNDP’s public information people?
Question: You know why? Because last week while you were away I was referred to them on a very simple question about Mr. Melkert’s hiring of a Dutch Labour Party official and they never sent me any response at all. That’s why I’m asking you if you could just get an answer. If the two are away, and if so, who’s running UNDP this week?
Spokesperson: I would suggest you talk to them again. You call them again.
Thank you very much.
* *** *For information media • not an official record