|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.
By a vote of 10 in favour and five abstentions, the Security Council yesterday adopted a chapter VII resolution on the establishment of a special tribunal for Lebanon. The resolution will enter into force on 10 June unless the Lebanese Government notifies the Council of its entry into force prior to that date. It includes, among other things, a set of provisions on the choice of the tribunal’s location, its funding mechanisms and a request for the Secretary-General to deliver a progress report to the Council within 90 days.
The Council also yesterday adopted a presidential statement on Burundi and a press statement on Haiti. On Burundi, the Council welcomed the recent political developments and the Government’s corrective measures towards national reconciliation. In the statement on Haiti, Council members reiterated their strong support for the UN Mission’s and the Government’s efforts to maintain stability and achieve progress in the country.
And earlier today, in closed consultations, Council members heard a briefing by Dimitri Titov, the Africa director for DPKO, who reported on the latest assessment mission to Chad.
After that, still in closed consultations, Louise Arbour, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, briefed the Council on her recent tour of the Great Lakes region of Africa, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi. And Ms. Arbour will be giving a press conference shortly, after the briefing, right here in 226. The Council is then expected to take up other matters after the briefing by Arbour.
** Middle East Quartet
The Secretary-General is on his way to Headquarters after taking part yesterday in a meeting of the Middle East Quartet in Germany. At the conclusion of that meeting, the Secretary-General read out a statement on behalf of the Quartet, in which the Quartet principals expressed deep concern over recent factional violence in Gaza.
The Quartet called on the Palestinian Authority Government, in cooperation with President Abbas and regional actors, to do everything necessary to restore law and order, including the release of kidnapped BBC journalist Alan Johnston. It also urged Israel to exercise restraint to ensure that its security operations avoid civilian casualties or damage to civilian infrastructure. It also noted that the detention of elected members of the Palestinian Government and legislature raises particular concerns and called for them to be released.
The Quartet principals have agreed to meet again in June in the region. Tomorrow morning at around 11:30, the Secretary-General is expected to brief the Security Council in closed consultations on his trip to the meeting of the Quartet. We hope to have him take your questions at the stakeout microphone after he has briefed the Council.
The UN mission in Sudan reports a number of incidents in Darfur, including a break-in robbery of a compound occupied by an NGO, as well as the abduction of a driver and staff member of an NGO whose vehicle was stopped on return from a camp housing internally displaced persons. Both incidents took place in West Darfur.
Also on Darfur, the joint African Union–United Nations report on the hybrid peacekeeping operation for Darfur, which the Secretary-General submitted to the Security Council last week, is now out as an official Security Council document.
As you’ll recall, the Security Council last week noted that the agreement between the African Union and the United Nations on this joint report was an important development in the comprehensive approach to the peace process in Darfur, which also includes re-energizing the political process, strengthening the ceasefire and implementing the three-phase approach to peacekeeping, culminating in the joint AU-UN hybrid operation.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says UN agencies and humanitarian partners have provided aid to more than 90 per cent of the nearly 400,000 Somalis displaced by fighting in Mogadishu between February and earlier this month.
OCHA stresses that considerable needs remain, however. Of particular concern is the prevalence of acute watery diarrhoea, which has killed nearly a thousand people. The agency also notes continued insecurity, particularly in Mogadishu, which is preventing aid from reaching people who need it.
We have more in a press release upstairs.
** Africa Day
At an African Union-sponsored ceremony this afternoon marking Africa Day, the Secretary-General is expected to give an overview of the situation on the continent. He will reaffirm the support of the United Nations for the work of the African Union. And he will pledge the strong commitment of the UN to serve as Africa’s partner in efforts to “bring peace where there is war, prosperity where there is poverty, and hope where there is despair.”
We have advance copies of his remarks in my office. The ceremony will take place at 4 p.m. in the General Assembly Hall.
The Governor of the Afghan province of Herat has donated land now free of mines to 87 de-miners who were wounded during mine-clearing activities. The 87 de-miners had since returned to their homes, but most are unemployed and face challenging living conditions. The de-miners and their families will be able to use the land to build new homes and generate needed income through farming or raising livestock.
Mohammad Sediq, the Chief of Operations of the United Nations Mine Action Centre for Afghanistan (UNMACA), which oversees mine action on behalf of the Government of Afghanistan, said: “We hope this action will be followed by other Government authorities as a positive example throughout the country.”
**World No Tobacco Day
Today is also World No Tobacco Day. According to the World Health Organization, tobacco is the second leading cause of death worldwide. WHO says that half the people who smoke regularly today –- about 650 million people –- will eventually die from it. In addition, 200,000 workers die each year from exposure to second-hand smoke, WHO says. And almost half of the world's children breathe in tobacco smoke, especially at home.
The theme of this year's World No Tobacco Day is the promotion of 100 per cent smoke-free indoor environments as its only effective way to protect people from second-hand smoke.
**Guest at Noon
The guest at the noon briefing tomorrow will be Atul Khare, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Timor-Leste and Head of the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste.
That’s all I have for you. Your questions?
**Questions and Answers:
Question: I would like to follow up on the Secretary-General’s reaction to the resolution on Lebanon and whether Mr. Nicolas Michel is planning to go to Beirut to follow up on the implementation of the agreement.
Spokesperson: The Secretary-General’s reaction is that he respects the decision of the Security Council that the principle of ending impunity is upheld and he will prepare a report, as he is expected to do, for the Security Council. We still hope that the Lebanese parties can work out a consensus formula before 10 June. In terms of whether Mr. Nicolas Michel will go, I don’t know at this point and we don’t have that at this point. What we know is that the Secretary-General has been requested by the Security Council to undertake the steps and measures necessary to establish the tribunal and to report to the Council within 90 days. He will ask the Office of Legal Affairs, Mr. Michel’s office, to lead the Secretariat’s efforts to help to make the tribunal ready to be operational. A number of steps will need to be taken, including determining a location, raising funds and selecting judges, a prosecutor and staff. And, as Mr. Nicolas Michel told you when he was here, the process could take up to a year.
Question: When do you expect the UNFICYP [United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus] report to be released?
Spokesperson: We will find out for you when it will be released. We will let you know.
[The Spokesperson later added that the report was expected to be released in the coming days.]
Question: As the UN is practically the only spot in New York City where no smoking indoors is not enforced, does it intend to do this today specifically, as opposed to the rest of the year, because of the WHO?
Spokesperson: As you know, as I said before, there is a decision by the General Assembly that this is a no-smoking environment, but it is still not being respected. And there is nothing more that I can say about this.
Question: Do you plan to do anything for today, because it is a No Tobacco Day according to WHO?
Spokesperson: Well, I don’t have any specifics on this. We will have to go around the hallways and find out.
Question: Has Cuba agreed to the No Tobacco Day, as cigars are one of its major products?
Spokesperson: Well, Cuba is a Member State.
Question: What about the Americans? Philip Morris is American.
Question: Yesterday, the Vatican declared that it was in favour of the admission of Turkey in the European Union. Now, we have here the Dialogue among Civilizations, we have the Alliance of Civilizations trying to bring countries and peoples together. Does the Secretary-General oppose non-admission of a State to a geographical grouping on the basis of religion?
Spokesperson: Not at all. At any rate, it is not a question for the UN Secretariat to decide. But the Secretary-General is certainly not in favour of such things.
Question: Is there any news on the investigation of peacekeepers on the Sierra Leone-Liberia border that were charged with sexual misconduct?
Spokesperson: The investigation is going on right now from what I got this morning. We will give you more information about it as soon as we hear about this.
Question: Is it possible to get a list of all investigations that are going on in peacekeeping right now as opposed to go drib and drab every time someone makes a report and you release it
Spokesperson: Yes, sure.
Question: Speaking of investigations, is there anything further that you can say about the investigation into the diamond smuggling affair in Zimbabwe?
Spokesperson: I don’t have any more on that. What I said the other day still stands.
Question: When was the investigation of the UN launched?
Spokesperson: Of the diamond smuggling?
Spokesperson: Yes, it is being carried out right now.
Question: When do we expect any results?
Spokesperson: Well, this does not depend on the Secretariat, it depends on the OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services]. The inspectors have to decide when to release the report, when they feel that they have enough information on it.
Question: Also, on UNDP [United Nations Development Programme], there is a report of six UNDP staff being fired for corruption in Myanmar. I have asked UNDP to try to explain what it is, and I haven’t heard back from them. Is there some way that your office could get it, given that it is a public report of corruption. Also, there is this announcement by President Bush to speak with 15 countries about global warming. Does the Secretary-General have any comments? Some people say this may undermine the UN process to find a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol. Does he think it is a good thing, does he have a response to it?
Spokesperson: He does not have any response yet.
Question: Can I ask one more thing, also on peacekeepers? There is a report, I think made by Kofi Annan but I think it is carried over, that Fijian peacekeepers certainly would not be expanded after the coup that happened in December. There is a public report that there are actually 17 more peacekeepers more working for the UN than at the time of the coup. I don’t know if that is true, or if there is some change in thinking on Ban Ki-moon’s part...
Spokesperson: I can verify that fact for you. I do know that peacekeepers from Fiji have continued being used. About new ones being involved, I will check on that information for you.
Question: There is a report that the Ethiopians announced that they are going to stay after all in Somalia. Does the UN condemn that?
Spokesperson: Well, we don’t have anything on that at this point.
Question: So you have no position on the Ethiopians saying they are going to stay in Somalia.
Spokesperson: At this point, we are following the issue closely. That is all we can say.
Question: Where are we on an update on the UNDP-North Korea audit? W hen might we hear from someone, where does all this stand? And also, I was just wondering, has the Secretary-General had conversations, since Bush’s announcements of the sanctions, with Bashir and what was the nature of that conversation if you could share it? And also, has he spoken with President Assad since the Lebanese Tribunal vote yesterday?
Spokesperson: I don’t think so. He was travelling. And, as you know, yesterday all day, he was involved with the Quartet meeting that took place last night. As I said, at 11:30 he will be briefing the Security Council and after that he will be briefing you, so he will tell you whether there has been a conversation with either of the parties.
Question: And on UNDP, where are we now?
Spokesperson: Well actually, it is not yet out and it should be out very soon. The ACABQ will certainly… The Secretariat will get a copy, we hope in the next 3 to 4 days. Then we will definitely take the issue to you.
Question: In what form, do you know yet?
Spokesperson: We don’t know yet. Because the ACABQ [Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions] has not released the report to the Secretariat yet.
Question: I’d like to follow up on Darfur, because the Secretary-General has told us in the latest press encounter that he still needs more time before the sanctions, so I was wondering if he was in touch with the US administration, because the Americans are telling us they want to push for the resolution.
Spokesperson: He has definitely been in touch with the American administration, and after that, I don’t know, because he left shortly afterwards for his trip. He certainly met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice over there, so we should have an answer for you.
Question: One more thing that may be on the gap between you and the GA Spokesman, but is there any attempt by the Secretariat to ask for an extension of the Fifth Committee deliberations on DPKO?
Spokesperson: From what I gather, the Fifth Committee will continue next week.
Question: For how long?
Spokesperson: I don’t know how long, but I do know that they will be receiving the report on the reform, the UN proposal, the Secretariat proposal on DPKO, they will be receiving it next week, next Tuesday. It is going to be given to the Fifth Committee.
Question: Can we ask for it?
Spokesperson: As soon as they have that, sure. There is going to be a presentation, by the Secretariat, of the project to the Fifth Committee once the ACABQ has finished.
Question: Will be able to go and listen to that?
Spokesperson: Well, I can inquire for you.
Spokesperson: Well, he has not discussed the issue with Mr. Kouchner. However, the whole issue of Darfur and all aspects of it are still being discussed and what can be done as soon as possible to protect the civilian population. So, it is certainly being discussed.
Thank you very much.
* *** *For information media • not an official record