|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.
**Guest at Noon
At 12:30 p.m. today, Jacob Kellenberger, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, will brief you following his meeting with the Secretary-General.
**Secretary-General Statement on Gaza Violence
A statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the violence in Gaza:
“The Secretary-General is deeply concerned at the resurgence of violence in Gaza, which has reportedly left at least 20 people dead. The intensity of this latest round of fighting and the heightened public rhetoric marks a serious deterioration of the situation, placing the civilian population in Gaza in grave peril, jeopardizing the delivery of humanitarian assistance and threatening the future of the Palestinian Government and Authority.
The Secretary-General calls for the immediate cessation of all intra-Palestinian violence, including attacks against the Palestinian Authority and its institutions. At this extremely difficult moment for the Palestinian people and their cause, the Secretary-General calls for all parties to give their full support to the efforts of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to restore law and order.”
The Secretary-General this morning spoke to President Abbas to convey his concerns.
** Gaza Update
As violent clashes between Hamas and Fatah loyalists enter their sixth day in the Gaza Strip, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) expressed its alarm at the number of people killed and injured, and has warned that delivery of humanitarian assistance is in serious jeopardy.
Three of UNRWA’s five food distribution centres and seven of UNRWA’s 18 health clinics were forced to close as fighting raged in their immediate vicinity and, in some cases, spilled over into the premises today. John Ging, Director of UNRWA’s Operation in Gaza, said the Agency cannot deliver humanitarian aid in the crossfire, and said the Agency calls on all Palestinian leaders to use their influence to resolve their disputes through peaceful means.
On Darfur, a short while ago, we put out the conclusions of the high-level African Union (AU)-United Nations technical consultations with the Government of Sudan on the hybrid operation for Darfur:
“In view of the explanations and clarifications provided by the AU and the UN as contained in the presentation, the Government of Sudan accepted the joint proposals on the Hybrid Operation,” according to the conclusions.
The participants underlined the need for the resolutions or decisions authorizing this Operation to be adopted by the UN Security Council and the AU Peace and Security Council.
They also further agreed on the need for an immediate comprehensive ceasefire accompanied by an inclusive political process, and stressed the need for troop and police contributing countries, as well as donors, to facilitate the early and successful implementation of the hybrid operation.
**Secretary-General Statement on Darfur
The Secretary-General welcomes today’s positive conclusions of the high-level African Union-United Nations consultations with the Government of Sudan on the hybrid operation, and looks forward to expeditiously implementing the three-phase approach to peacekeeping in Darfur.
He also stresses the need for an immediate comprehensive ceasefire, accompanied by an inclusive political process, as essential steps toward a lasting solution to the crisis in Darfur.
**Secretary-General Statement on Bangladesh Flooding
We also have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the floods in Bangladesh:
“The Secretary-General is deeply saddened by the reported loss of over 100 lives, injuries of over 100 people, destruction and loss of livelihoods caused by the landslide and flooding that hit Chittagong City, the second-largest city in Bangladesh. He extends his deepest condolences to the families of those who have been killed or injured in the disaster.
The United Nations stands ready to assist as required.
** Lesotho Drought
Nearly one-fifth of the population of Lesotho is facing severe food shortages, following the most severe drought to strike the southern African country in the last 30 years.
That’s according to a new report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP). Several million more people in the region are also at risk, says the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ regional office for Southern Africa. It’s calling for the international community to provide food and other assistance. We have more information upstairs.
The Security Council is holding consultations today on the UN Disengagement Observer Force in the Golan Heights. It received a briefing on that mission by Lisa Buttenheim, Director of the Asia and Middle East Division of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.
After that, Council members received an update on the implementation of sanctions in Sudan by the Chairman of the 1591 Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Marcello Spatafora of Italy.
Terje Roed-Larsen, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the implementation of resolution 1559 (2004), which concerns Lebanon, yesterday afternoon, briefed the Security Council in its closed consultations.
Following his briefing, the Security Council adopted a presidential statement, in which it urged the Lebanese parties to re-launch their national dialogue, and condemned the ongoing criminal and terrorist attacks in Lebanon, including those perpetrated by Fatah al-Islam.
Council members also looked forward to the conclusions of the Lebanon Independent Border Assessment Team sent by the Secretary-General to examine the situation at the Lebanese-Syrian border.
** Central African Republic
Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes has strongly condemned the killing of a Médecins sans Frontières staff member in Northwest Central African Republic yesterday. The aid worker was killed while on an assessment mission on the border with Cameroon and Chad. The UN has suspended all movements in the region for the time being.
Mr. Holmes said he was very concerned by the recent deterioration of the security situation in the north-western part of the country. He called on the parties to the conflict to protect humanitarian workers and provide safe access to people in need. We have more information upstairs.
Also in the Central African Republic, the UN Refugee Agency, along with other UN agencies, is rushing supplies to some 2,500 newly arrived refugees from South Darfur. These refugees are in desperate condition in the east of the country and are quickly running out of food. In response, UN agencies including WFP [World for Food Programme], the Food and Agriculture Organization and UNICEF sent, among others, food, water purification sets and medical supplies, which should reach the refugees within a few days.
**International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia
The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, today, sentenced former Croatian Serb leader Milan Martic to 35 years in prison for crimes committed against Croats and other non-Serbs, including persecution, murder, torture, deportation and attacks on civilians.
Martic, who had presided over the self-proclaimed Republic of Serbia Krajina, was convicted, among other things, of ordering rocket attacks on downtown Zagreb in May 1995. We have further details from the tribunal available upstairs.
**International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda
Turning to Rwanda, the International Criminal Tribunal has –- for the first time in its history -- indicted a witness for giving false testimony.
The testimony was given during the trial of former Rwandan Minister for Higher Education, Jean de Dieu Kamuhanda, who was convicted of genocide and extermination during the country’s 1994 genocide. The witness who is facing the indictment has not been identified.
**Human Rights Council
From Geneva, the Human Rights Council today heard reports from experts on the situation of human rights in Belarus, Cuba, Cambodia, Somalia and Haiti. Before that, the Council concluded its dialogue with the rapporteurs on the right to food, the adverse effects of toxic wastes, adequate standards of living and human rights and extreme poverty.
As previously announced, tomorrow, the Council will hear reports resulting from its special sessions, including on Gaza and Darfur.
**World Day against Child Labour
Today is World Day against Child Labour. The International Labour Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Fund for Agriculture have launched a new partnership with three other international organizations to tackle child labour in agriculture. It aims –- among others-- at promoting child labour laws in agriculture and youth employment opportunities in agriculture.
According to the ILO, of the estimated 218 million children working worldwide, 70 per cent can be found in the agricultural sector.
Also on this occasion, the UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, is calling on the international community to stop the recruitment of child soldiers, saying it is one of the worst forms of child labour. We have press releases on that upstairs.
**Press Conference Tomorrow
On the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the Esquipulas II Peace Treaty, there will be a press conference by Oscar Arias, President of Costa Rica, and Vinicio Cerezo Arévalo, former President of Guatemala, tomorrow at 12:30 p.m.
This is all I have for you. Any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: The mandate of the prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, Carla del Ponte, is coming to an end in September. Is the Secretary-General, who is in charge of that, considering, in any case, prolonging that mandate through the end of the Tribunal, namely, 2008 or 2010, or is there somebody else on his mind?
Spokesperson: Right now, it is being discussed, as we speak.
Question: No hints about who it might be or from which country?
Spokesperson: No. Not yet.
Question: In Iraq, was the United Nations ever able to determine…remember there was a report in April where it was said that the United Nations had not been able to get figure as to how many Iraqis had been killed either by multinational forcesor otherwise. Were you able to get those figures?
Spokesperson: Well, those figures, as you know, have been traditionally obtained the last two years through the ministries, and we could not have access to those numbers the last time we had a report.
Question: And now that there is a move to get the United Nations more involved in Iraq than it was earlier. How does the Secretary-General see the United Nations getting more involved in Iraq? Meaning, thereby, what are the conditions that he sees are required for the UN to get involved, and what are the things he’d like to see in order to get a United Nations force in there?
Spokesperson: Well, actually, you know, the UN is involved in several ways, as you know. We have the Global Compact, which the Secretary-General chaired last month in Sharm-el-Sheikh. The Secretary-General, yesterday, during his press stakeout, did mention other ways -- the electoral process, the constitutional process –- other ways in which the UN is already helping the Iraqi process.
You’re talking about troops. I don’t think we’re talking about troops at this point. As you know, there is a security concern for UN personnel in Iraq that is not really solved yet.
Question: On the Sudanese agreement, are there any conditions that still need to be discussed, including the Sudanese President’s remarks yesterday to the French Foreign Minister that Sudan will only accept African troops for the hybrid force?
Spokesperson: Well, this has always been the effort that the UN has been trying for, in that hybrid force, to have the maximum of African troops. If we can get enough African troops it will be essentially African troops. It’s just a question of availability of troops, which is really the issue.
Question: The tension between Turkey and Northern Iraq had been on the increase and could lead to a situation which would endanger international peace and security. Is the Secretary-General, in the framework of article 99, contemplating taking any measures to defuse the situation in this region?
Spokesperson: At this point, except for calling for restraint on all sides, the Secretary-General is not taking any further initiative. If the situation were to worsen, the Secretary-General will probably consider other measures. As you know, in case there is a threat to international peace and security, it will be of course, the Security Council that will be involved.
Question: The Iraqi Foreign Minister is meeting with the Secretary-General now, is there any chance that we can get a readout after the meeting?
Spokesperson: Yes. I’ll try to get one for you.
[The spokesperson later added that the Secretary-General and the Iraqi Foreign Minister discussed the need for a national dialogue in Iraq. They also discussed, among other topics, the ways in which the UN role in Iraq could be expanded, including UN work in political facilitation, electoral support, constitutional law and humanitarian and reconstruction activity.]
Question: There was a meeting yesterday between the Secretary-General and the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) yesterday, I guess about the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. How did that come and where does that process stand?
Spokesperson: Well, from what I gather, most of the discussion was about the 2008-2009 budgets. It was a larger discussion. So, right now, it’s in the hands of the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary).
Question: About Somalia, is it possible to get a presentation, or, you know…just the numbers on the UN system’s support to the Transitional Federal Government POLICE FORCE, or any kind of military…the forces that have been in operation militarily, let’s say?
Spokesperson: Well, as you know, Mr. Pascoe [Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs] is coming back today from the region and is to brief the Council on the 14th. We are hoping that Mr. Pascoe will be able to brief the press on his trip to Somalia and he can give you that additional information.
Question: Is it the UN’s and the Peacekeeping Department’s understanding that the acceptance of the hybrid proposal is unconditional, or are there still details that need to be worked out? Are there some conditions about which there is disagreement?
Spokesperson: Okay. We just had that question before you came, Edie. One of the conditions evoked in the question earlier was about African troops. And we have consistently said that we will be trying to get as many African troops as we could possibly get. The problem is availability of troops. So, that’s one of the questions evoked during the discussion. There are other issues, which are not resolved, which are issues to do with practical steps in terms of land, water, deployment. There are a number of issues that still need to be worked out. But you have the text of the communiqué upstairs.
Question: Well, I read the communiqué and I did hear the earlier question. But the communiqué is quite vague on whether everything has been resolved or whether there need to be further talks, further meetings, further discussions, or are we going ahead right now with implementation?
Spokesperson: Well, I will try to see with the people who were involved in the talks over there with DPKO. I’ll try to get some precise information on what is left to be discussed.
[The spokesperson later added that her office is awaiting a full report from Addis Ababa, and the Security Council is expected to hear a briefing on the outcome of the talks tomorrow. For the moment, she can only refer to the language in the communiqué, which says that the Government of Sudan accepted the joint proposals on the hybrid operation.]
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesperson: You’re welcome.
Question: I realize I may be asking an unanswerable question, but has President Bashir specified at all just why he wants exclusively African troops? While I’m sure the Secretary-General doesn’t particularly object to this, if you allow, it seems to me, one Head of State to dictate whom the UN DPKO shall have in one of its forces…my God, where does it end?
Spokesperson: Well, I don’t see the question there. I can’t speak for Mr. Bashir. I can speak only for the Secretary-General in this respect. So I cannot answer your question. You’re right, it is an “unanswerable question”.
Question: I just thought you might have heard from the Secretary-General or through other sources some specific justification coming from Mr. Bashir in this case.
Spokesperson: Mr. Bashir has said publicly over and over again why he [prefers] African forces. I don’t have to say it for him, he has said it publicly.
Question: Just a follow-up on that legitimate question: Is this the first time that the composition of a force has been dictated?
Spokesperson: Well, right now we’re talking about African forces. Africa is a large continent. We’re not talking about specific countries. He’s not asking for troops coming from one specific country.
Question: Yes, that’s true. But at the same time, if you are excluding other potential troop contributors, and as you’ve said, in Africa those peacekeepers are stretched pretty thin, is this not setting a precedent that could be difficult later on?
Spokesperson: Well. It’s a legitimate question, yes. We can find out whether, for both you and George, whether this is a precedent and what it implies.
[The Spokesperson later added that it was the Secretary-General’s prerogative, but it would be difficult to deploy national contingents –- if they are not accepted to the host country.]
Correspondent: You said…let’s parse what happened here. People asked you if there was a condition of him saying ‘AU only’, and you said: “anyway, nobody else has given us troops, so we’ll take AU troops”…
Spokesperson: No. I didn’t say that.
Correspondent: Well, you said that there aren’t too many troop contributors…
Spokesperson: I didn’t say that. I said we will try -- and from the start, this is what DPKO has said -- we will try to get the maximum African forces we can have.
Question: Okay. And the question is: Do you accept the condition that other troop contributors will not be considered?
Spokesperson: Well, I didn’t say…
Question: Does the UN accept the condition?
Spokesperson: I didn’t say that and…
Question: The UN has accepted the conditions?
Question: When you say “land, water and deployment” as conditions of the agreement, could you be a little more specific?
Spokesperson: Well, you have had extensive briefings by DPKO on what it meant…I mean what deploying that hybrid force would mean. If you want, I can get you in touch with people in DPKO on the specifics of what is needed to deploy 23,000 troops on the ground.
Question: Not to belabour the point, but I will: Could you check with DPKO whether that was a condition from Sudan –- African troops only -- because that will be a deal-breaker in the Security Council.
Spokesperson: Sure. We can check on that.
Thank you very much. We are going to have our guest from the Red Cross coming to talk to you right now.
* *** *For information media • not an official record