17 April 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.


**United Nations and African Union -- Darfur


On 16 to 17 April 2007, the Secretary-General and the African Union Commission Chairperson, Alpha Oumar Konaré, met at United Nations Headquarters for high-level consultations on Darfur.  The Secretary-General and Chairperson Konaré believe that the situation in and around Darfur is at a crossroads.  They expressed serious concern at the prevailing dire security and humanitarian situation on the ground, and continued attacks against civilians and the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) peacekeepers, as well as inter-tribal fighting and incidents of aerial bombardments.  They called for an immediate cessation of hostilities in order to alleviate humanitarian suffering in Darfur and create an environment conducive to political negotiations.


The Secretary-General and Chairperson Konaré reiterated the determination of the United Nations and the African Union to jointly lead efforts to advance the political process, and to finalize plans for a strong peacekeeping operation, which would be capable of implementing the security aspects of the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) and providing protection for the civilian population.


The Secretary-General and Chairperson Konaré welcomed the broad support of the Security Council for the work of the African Union and United Nations Envoys for Darfur and called for a roadmap to be elaborated by the Special Envoys, as well as continued international support for their efforts to move forward towards substantive negotiations.  They urged all movements to join the process in earnest, under the joint African Union-United Nations leadership.  They also welcomed the agreement of the Government of Sudan with regard to the United Nations heavy support package for AMIS and reiterated the determination of the United Nations and the African Union to proceed expeditiously with the implementation of the heavy support package and finalization of planning for the hybrid operation.


We have the full statement upstairs.


** Sudan


The United Nations Mission in Sudan says that a fire broke out yesterday in the market place at the Abu Shouk internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in North Darfur.  The fire destroyed around 100 shops, but no human casualties were reported, and local police say the fire was started accidentally.  Meanwhile, in West Darfur, four children were reportedly killed by unexploded ordnance over the weekend, and the African Union Mission in Sudan will investigate the incident.


The United Nations Mission in Sudan has more details on these incidents, as well as on recent hijackings of United Nations and other vehicles, in today’s briefing note.


**Secretary-General -- Sudan


As I mentioned, the Secretary-General recently wrapped up his two-day meeting with African Union Chairman Alpha Oumar Konaré on Darfur, and he spoke to the press afterward to say that, although he is encouraged by the positive signs from the Sudanese Government, the important thing now is to implement these agreements into action.  He said that the African Union and the United Nations have agreed to move towards deploying a hybrid operation in Darfur and to intensify their political process.  They have also instructed their special envoys, Salim Ahmed Salim and Jan Eliasson, to come up with a more detailed and workable road map for the political process.  We have the agreed conclusions of their consultations upstairs -- the statement I read earlier.


**Secretary-General’s Travels


Later today, the Secretary-General leaves for Italy, Switzerland, Qatar and Syria.  He will return from the Middle East by the middle of next week.


** Afghanistan


The Secretary-General was deeply distressed to learn of the fatal incident which occurred earlier this morning, when a United Nations convoy was hit by a remote-controlled explosive device in Kandahar city, resulting in the death of an Afghan driver and four Nepalese contractors working with the United Nations Office for Project Services.  The Secretary-General has also learned with sadness of an explosion which took place at a school in Herat this morning, in which at least four children were killed and four others wounded. He is deeply concerned at the security situation throughout Afghanistan, which results in increasing numbers of civilian casualties.  The Secretary-General strongly condemns such despicable acts of violence against civilians and sends his profound condolences to the bereaved families and respective governments of the victims of today’s incidents.


We also have a statement from the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan, which says that intentional attacks on civilians are a clear violation of international humanitarian law, and the United Nations will be pursuing full accountability for those who are behind this.


** United States -- Virginia Polytechnic Institute Shooting


Earlier today, the Secretary-General was also asked about the killings yesterday at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute, and he said that the rampant killing of innocent civilians is unacceptable, and he condemns it in the strongest terms.  The Secretary-General is deeply saddened by the killings in Virginia.  This tragic incident underscores the common bonds of all humanity.  “We all grieve with the survivors,” he said, “and the families of all victims.”  The Secretary-General hopes for a profound healing process for the many individuals and communities affected.


**Security Council


The Secretary-General this morning addressed the Security Council’s open debate on energy, security and climate.  He noted that the planet’s warming is unequivocal, its impact is clearly noticeable and it is beyond doubt that human activities have been contributing considerably to it.  The Secretary-General stressed that the issues of energy and climate change can have implications for peace and security.  Specifically, he said that when resources are scarce -- whether energy, water or arable land -- our fragile ecosystems become strained, as do the coping mechanisms of groups and individuals.  This can lead to a breakdown of established codes of conduct and even outright conflict, he added.


Another possible consequence of climate change was increased migration, he added, which could deepen tensions and conflicts, particularly in regions with large numbers of internally displaced persons and refugees.  Calling for early action vis-à-vis climate change, the Secretary-General said the resources of civil society and the private sector must be brought in and that the Security Council has a role to play.  We have his full remarks upstairs.


**Security Council –- Consultations


And while on the subject of the Security Council, we have just been told that the Council will most likely hold consultations on Lebanon, specifically on resolution 1701, following today’s open debate.


** Iraq


The Secretary-General delivered a video message to the international conference on Iraq’s refugees and internally displaced persons that began today in Geneva, telling the conference that for many fleeing Iraqis, resources are dwindling.  Many will become destitute.  The Secretary-General urged neighbouring countries to keep their borders open and uphold the principle of no forced return, and he asked Iraq to work to create the conditions for the safe return of Iraqis.


Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes and High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres laid out the challenges being faced by the two million Iraqis who have left their country, with as many as two million more internally displaced.  Holmes said that the key point of the crisis, and of future humanitarian response, is the protection of civilians.  He said that we must find ways to operate inside Iraq despite the terrible insecurity which dominates significant parts of the country. 


We have the Secretary-General’s video message upstairs, and we also have a press release from the World Health Organization, which says that the escalating violence and widespread insecurity are putting severe pressures on the health of Iraqis.  It notes that, on average, 100 people were killed daily in 2006.


** Lebanon


United Nations Legal Counsel Nicolas Michel arrived in Beirut today, and told reporters at the airport that he has come to Lebanon with an open mind and an open heart, and is ready to engage in a substantial dialogue as he assists the Lebanese on their way towards the ratification of the agreement on the establishment of a tribunal of an international character.  He said he would meet with the whole spectrum of the main interlocutors involved, including the President, the Prime Minister, and the Speaker of the Parliament.


Mr. Michel underscored that the tribunal was requested by the legitimate Lebanese authorities, and its creation was unanimously supported by the first meeting of the country’s national dialogue. Although it will take at least one year after the adoption of its legal basis for the tribunal to become operational, he said, now is the time for the adoption of that legal basis.


**Kosovo


Turning now to Kosovo, International Prosecutor Robert Dean today presented to the United Nations Mission his interim report regarding the deaths and serious wounding of protestors during last February’s demonstration in Pristina.  The interim report states that there is a substantial basis on which to conclude that Romanian gunners attached to the Romanian Formed Police Unit were indeed responsible for the four woundings -- two of which were fatal.  But there is not enough evidence pointing to which specific Romanian gunners were responsible for firing the wounding shots, and the evidence does not show at this time that the entire group of Romanian gunners acted unlawfully.  The interim report does add, however, that there is a reasonable suspicion that three of the shootings constitute crimes under Kosovo law. 


In light of the above, the report says that the United Nations Mission, the United Nations, and the Government of Romania may consider initiating appropriate procedures for compensation for the surviving family members of those fatally shot and for those seriously wounded.  Again, this report is not final.  The investigation is continuing, and we have more information on that upstairs.


** C ôte d’Ivoire


In response to your questions about the dismantling of the demilitarised zone dividing Côte d'Ivoire, we have been told by the United Nations Mission in that country that it supports this dismantling, as it is in line with the Ouagadougou Agreement.  The United Nations Mission also says it is ready to assist in this process, upon request from the parties.


This is all I have for you.  Thank you.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Michèle, I want to know, in this deal with Sudan on Darfur, did China play any role in order to facilitate this agreement?  Do you have any information about that?  Do you have any comment on that -- on China?


Spokesperson:  Not that I know of.  As far as I know, the discussion took place between the parties -- the African Union and the United Nations.  And the agreement was reached after three meetings between those parties.


Question:  The other thing I wanted to know about was: in Afghanistan, you’re talking about these Nepalese who were killed, right? 


Spokesperson:  Yes.


Question:  Were there facilities in which they are working, over there?

Spokesperson:  They were contractors, from what I gather.


Question:  Contractors?  The Nepali Government has contractors?  And these were Nepalese who were killed?


Spokesperson:  Nepalese were killed, and they were contractors for the United Nations. 


Question:  For the United Nations?


Spokesperson:  Yes.


Question:  Any plans for Nicolas Michel to go to Syria while the Secretary-General is in Damascus?


Spokesperson:  At this point, I don’t know.  I do know that he arrived and he’s focused on his duties there, in Lebanon, to meet the different parties.


Question:  Another question:  the report on resolution 1559 will be released as scheduled on 19 April?  Can you confirm it?


Spokesperson:  As far as I know, yes.


Question:  I’m not sure if it’s a very appropriate question, but I would like to ask:  is there any reaction of the Secretary-General when the nationality of the shooter at Virginia Tech was disclosed this morning?


Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General does not have any reaction on the specific nationality of the shooter.  I think he condemns what happened regardless of the nationality of the person involved.


Question:  First of all, are there going to be any surprises with the Secretary-General travelling to the Middle East?  My question is: can he, anyhow, go to Tehran, for example, this time?


Spokesperson:  He was asked that question today at the stakeout and he said no.


Question:  My second question is regarding yesterday’s questions:  does the Secretary-General have full confidence in this chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, Carla del Ponte, after what has been released in the media, and after Ms. Carla del Ponte was accused by the former prosecutor in theMilosevictrial?


Spokesperson:  I said everything I could say about this and I would say about this yesterday.  My statement stands.  The statement I made stands.


Question:  The Secretary-General does have confidence in her?


Spokesperson:  Yes.


Question:  Are there any talks at the United Nations on who is going to replace her after her mandate legally expires in September this year?


Spokesperson:  I don’t know at this point.  I don’t have the information.


Question:  About the journalist, Alan Johnston, from the BBC:  the Secretary-General said last Tuesday that “I will do whatever I can in my capacity as Secretary-General to end this abduction”.  Any information about this effort so far?


Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything.  We don’t have anything concrete on that yet.


Question:  On the Secretary-General’s comments in the video conference:  while he called on Iraq’s neighbours to open their borders to the refugees, to the contrary, the neighbours are actually closing the borders.  The United States wants them to close.  And also, for example, for Turkey there is a terrorist infiltration problem from Iraq, and for Syria it’s the same thing.  How do you comment on that?  How do you see the United Nations position, and the neighbours’ position and the United States’ position?


Spokesperson:  I would suggest that you follow the work of the conference that is taking place in Geneva right now, where those issues are being raised.


Question:  Just with regards to the heavy support package:  do you have any details on the deal at the moment?


Spokesperson:  Well, at this point, Mr. [Jean-Marie] Guéhenno gave some information yesterday afternoon during the stakeout, and we’ll probably...  We’ll try to get more, additional, information for you if you need it.


Question:  I’m sorry.  Just to clarify, because I confess I missed yesterday.  Do you know what the nationality could be, or the colour of the uniforms, of the 3,000 troops?


Spokesperson:  I don’t have that information at this point but Mr. Guéhenno might have it for you.  I think this is still in discussion, so I don’t think we will have specific information on the uniform.


Question:  Do you have any details on this suggestion that Sudan retains veto power over the crews of the helicopters?


Spokesperson:  No.  I don’t know anything about this, and I think you should address these questions to Mr. Guéhenno.  And I will try to have him come and...[The correspondent was later informed that the primary UN concern regarding the helicopters was that the requirement for air support be met effectively.]


Question:  So is it fair to say that, at this moment, there is no deal on the heavy support package yet?


Spokesperson:  Well, there is a deal on the heavy support package.


Question:  Well, you say that there’s a deal, but these issues are not resolved.  So how can there be a deal when there are issues that are not resolved?  I’m confused.


Spokesperson:  Well, I mean, the whole…  The package itself is accepted.


Question:  What uniforms are they going to wear?


Spokesperson:  What they are discussing is how to carry them… how to make it, practically, a reality.  [She later added that it was expected that the troops would wear some form of UN insignia.]


Question:  Well then, it’s semantics.  Because it sounds to me like you’ve got a deal, but all the details have to be discussed.


Spokesperson:  Well, yes, there are some details still being discussed -- like the granting of land, like the granting of water rights for the troops.


Question:  That’s clearly logistics.  But more fundamental questions are: what colour uniforms are these people going to wear?  And whether you can send these people who might not be from Africa?  If you determine that you have specialist need for some Europeans, or some Indians, or whatever for that matter -- is that allowed or not?  It seems to me that there’s still disagreement on this issue.


Spokesperson:  I think on this issue there are a number… there are agreements.  And when Mr. Ban, the Secretary-General, and Mr. Konaré spoke to the press earlier today, they did mention that there was an agreement.


Question:  So what is the agreement?  Is there an agreement that you can have any nationality whatsoever amongst these 3,000?


Spokesperson:  Well, the priority would be given first -- that’s what Mr. Konaré said -- will be given first to African Union troops.


Question:  Sorry to keep on going on this, but it’s kind of important.  Have the Sudanese accepted that you can send non-African troops in this 3,000?


Spokesperson:  I suggest you address those specific questions to the people in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.  And we’ll have that information… they will, I’m sure, have that information available for you if all the details are worked out at this point.


Question:  You mention that there is a deal on that heavy support package and they are -- correct me if I’m wrong -- now discussing as to exactly how it is to be implemented.


Spokesperson:  Yes.


Question:  Is there any sort of timetable involved therein?  And do they have any sense of urgency?  Do they have a sense of sufficient urgency, such that -- crossroads though it may be -- if they don’t do something very quickly, the route out of the crossroads is going to lead to the world’s biggest cemetery?


Spokesperson:  Well, they are fully aware -- and this was expressed clearly during the meeting -- they are fully aware of the urgency of doing something about the situation.  And I think this was very clearly expressed.


Question:  One thing on Darfur:  Senegal a few days ago had said that it was thinking of pulling its troops out after five of them were killed in Darfur.  Do you have any update on whether they are, in fact, going to pull those troops out?


Spokesperson:  I think this information should come from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.  I don’t have the confirmation of it.


Question:  On what you read out about Kosovo, on this investigation of the Romanians:  I remember about less than a month ago, the United Nations expressed some displeasure that the Romanian troops actually left the country without the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo being in favour of it.  So, I’m wondering if you could say -- since they say a crime was committed, but they can’t figure out who did it -- whether it was helpful to this investigation that the Romanian troops and their supervisors weren’t in the country?  I mean, might they have been able to identify who did it, if they had been there?  What was done to figure out…?


Spokesperson:  What they said was they weren’t able to identify who exactly did it.  Whether they were present or not, there would have been the same conclusion.


Question:  But did they speak with them?  Did they interview them and say who fired the rubber bullets and did it?


Spokesperson:  I don’t really know the details of the investigation, but we can try to find out for you.


Question:  One last question.  There’s been a lot of controversy in the last few days about the first round of elections in Nigeria.  Human Rights Watch has said that it was filled with fraud and should be redone.  Is the United Nations in any way involved?  Has Mr. Ban made any calls?  Does the United Nations have any thoughts about this major election with, now, 50 deaths and a lot of irregularities, in Nigeria?


Spokesperson:  As you know, the United Nations is not, for the time being, involved in the electoral process.  The process is being taken care of by the electoral council there.  And…


Question:  Is there going to be…  Is the United Nations observing it?  Is it monitoring it?


Spokesperson:  No.  The United Nations is not officially monitoring it.  They have international observers, which are accredited with the national electoral commission.


And I’m sorry.  There’s one thing I forgot to say earlier:


Following the noon briefing today, there will be a press conference on the United Nations Economic and Social Survey for Asia and the Pacific, which will be launched tomorrow.  Mr. Robert Vos, Director of the Development Policy and Analysis Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, will be here to brief you on the survey.  Please be advised that this press conference is embargoed until tomorrow, 5:30 a.m., New York time.


And at 1:30 this afternoon, there will be a press conference with Ambassador Angus Friday, the Permanent Representative of Grenada to the United Nations, who will brief you on global warming, on behalf of the new bureau of the Alliance of Small Island States.


And tomorrow at 11:15 a.m. there will be a press conference sponsored by the Mission of Canada to the United Nations by the non-governmental organization “Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict”, who will brief on violations against children in Sudan.


Thank you very much.


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