DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICES OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL AND THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT

29 November 2005

DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICES OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL AND THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT

29/11/2005
Spokesman's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICES OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL

AND THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT

Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Pragati Pascale, Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.

Good afternoon.  We’re expecting shortly a statement from the Secretary-General on the start of the Abuja peace talks on Darfur.  The Secretary-General’s Special Representative in the Sudan, Jan Pronk, is attending those African Union-led talks as an observer, as you know.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Mission reports a new rebel attack on an AU patrol in West Darfur.  No details were immediately available.

**Security Council

No meetings or consultations of the Security Council were scheduled for today, although I’d like to flag a couple of documents for you.  Out on the racks is a letter to the Council President, concerning the committee set up in resolution 1636, which deals with possible sanctions against individuals designated to have been involved in the 14 February terrorist bombing in Lebanon, which killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

The Council has agreed that the committee will be chaired by Ambassador Kenzo Oshima of Japan, with Denmark and Romania as Vice-Chairs.

**Palestinians

Earlier today, the Secretary-General called on Israeli and Palestinian leaders to work together to fully implement the agreement that opened the Rafah crossing.  In his annual message for the International Day for Solidarity with the Palestinian People, delivered this morning in the Trusteeship Council, the Secretary-General said the Rafah agreement was a new opportunity to cooperate effectively and bring about tangible benefits in the lives of ordinary people who have suffered serious economic decline in recent years.

He urged both sides to move forward towards the shared goal of a sovereign, contiguous and democratic Palestine, living side by side in peace and security with Israel.

That statement is available upstairs.

** Eritrea and Ethiopia

The United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea reports that its peacekeepers have now vacated 17 of the 18 outlying posts in the remote areas that they were monitoring in the Temporary Security Zone, as a result of the ban on United Nations helicopters by the Eritrean Government.

United Nations peacekeepers are still patrolling on the ground an estimated 40 per cent of what it used to be able to monitor before the ban was imposed on October 5.

The Mission, meanwhile, says restrictions on freedom of movement on the peacekeepers have increased throughout the area they are still patrolling, making it difficult to monitor the tense 1,000 kilometre border, or be in a position to warn the international community of any outbreak of hostility.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Mission reports that a mine accident on the Ethiopian side of the border that occurred last week was caused by a newly laid anti-tank mine.  All organizations using the area are urged to exercise due care.

** Pakistan

I have an update on the aftermath of the earthquake in Pakistan.

The onset of winter conditions in quake-hit areas of Pakistan has severely hampered United Nations relief operations, with the grounding of some helicopters and the cancellation of some road deliveries.  The United Nations’ Operation Winter Race is, nevertheless, continuing to get thousands of people into urgently needed shelters.  So far, 19,000 shelter units have been built by the Pakistani military, with an additional 40,000 provided by the humanitarian community and civil society.

Meanwhile, the United Nations refugee agency, or UNHCR, is preparing for the many families that are moving down daily to lower elevations from mountainous areas.  UNHCR says that people are arriving at the camps in bad shape, many of them already weakened by pneumonia.  The agency has been working to winterize the camps by providing two plastic sheets per tent and three blankets per person.

The dire situation has led the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to remind the international community to focus on relief in order to save lives now, and to rebuild later.

We have more information on that upstairs in a press release from OCHA.

**Tsunami

Turning to the aftermath of the tsunami, former United States President Bill Clinton, who is, as you know, the United Nations Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery, returned to Sri Lanka today to review progress made since the tsunami hit almost one year ago.  He noted that, since the initial devastation, 90 per cent of children are back in school; epidemics have been prevented; and transitional shelter has been provided to almost all internally displaced people.

On the other hand, more needed to be done to protect shelters during the monsoon season, provide jobs to the hundreds of thousands who’ve lost their livelihoods, and build permanent shelter.

He also stressed that any recovery progress made this year would be quickly reversed if Sri Lanka returned to civil conflict.  Tomorrow, President Clinton will head to Aceh, Indonesia, and we’ll have information on that upstairs.

Meanwhile, the World Food Programme has extended its operations in Indonesia and Sri Lanka through 2007 for 1.5 million tsunami survivors, but will phase out of the Maldives and Somalia by the end of the year.

We have more information on that upstairs as well.

**Global Compact

Nearly 800 international business leaders and representatives of government and civil society will be attending a United Nations Global Compact Summit in Shanghai, China, starting tomorrow.

At the two-day event, which will be the largest corporate social responsibility event ever held in China, business leaders will demonstrate how they are following the Global Compact’s principles on the environment, labour standards, human rights and anti-corruption.

We have a press release available on that upstairs.

**FAO

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today announced that it had set up a website for farmers around the world to ask questions of FAO experts.

The new site includes answers to frequently asked questions, and an area where anyone can ask for advice on individual problems.

The agency also set up a separate “Best Practices” site, which will contain continually updated information on techniques that have been proven effective in several parts of the world.

**Cameroon-Nigeria

From West Africa, we have received a press release with comments from the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and the Chairman of the Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah.  This is regarding a meeting between President Obasanjo of Nigeria and Prime Minister Ephraim of Cameroon to discuss outstanding issues on the ways forward on the Bakassi Peninsula issue.

For those of you who are interested, we have a press release upstairs.

**Humanitarian Appeal 2006

Also, a couple of things I want to flag for you for tomorrow.  The Secretary-General will officially launch the Humanitarian Appeal 2006 in the Economic and Social Council Chamber tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m.  Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Jan Egeland, will host the event.

This year, the United Nations will be asking for a total of $4.7 billion to assist more than 31 million people in 26 nations.

In his remarks tomorrow, the Secretary-General is expected to point out that the appeals are not merely documents prepared at United Nations Headquarters, but, in fact, for the first time, they will also include projects by non-governmental organizations, as well as UN agencies.

Following the launch, Mr. Egeland will be here at 11:00 a.m. to brief you on the Humanitarian Appeal.

**Press Conferences

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Haiti, Ambassador Juan Gabriel Valdés, will be in the building for a series of meetings.  We’re trying to schedule a briefing but there’s a lot on the plate for tomorrow.  Any of you who are interested in speaking to Mr. Valdés can contact Bob Sullivan in my office.

Tomorrow at noon, the guest will be Ibrahim Gambari, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, who will be here to brief you on his recent trip to the Middle East, including Iraq.

Now that we have done tomorrow, we will go back to today.  At 1:00 p.m., the Permanent Observer of the Mission of Palestine will hold a press conference on the subject of promoting the Palestinian cause through dance and cultural events.  That will be right here.

I know a number of you have been asking for an update on the budget discussions and how the United Nations views the threat of not having a budget for next year.  The United Nations Controller, Warren Sach, will be here at 4:00 p.m. in this room today to discuss the budget.

**Statement Attributable to Spokesman on Darfur

Before I turn to questions, I was just given the statement I had mentioned earlier on Darfur.

“The Secretary-General welcomes the commencement today in Abuja, Nigeria, of the seventh round of the African Union (AU)-led inter-Sudanese peace talks on Darfur.

“The Secretary-General strongly appeals to the parties to the Abuja peace process –- the Government and the leadership of the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army and the Justice and Equality Movement -- to immediately stop all violence and atrocities on the ground.  He calls on the parties to negotiate a just and comprehensive peace agreement.  Individual leaders will be judged on their immediate action to stop the bloodshed in Darfur.

“The Secretary-General urges the parties to the conflict and all other armed groups in Darfur, to cooperate fully with the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) and with the United Nations Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS).

“The Secretary-General also appeals to donors to continue supporting both the crucial work of the African Union mission in this long suffering region and critical humanitarian assistance for millions of war-affected civilians in Darfur.”

That is it for me.  Any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  There’s a meeting today between Mr. Mehlis and five officials in Vienna.  Do you have anything on this?

Spokesman  On Mr. Mehlis, the what, who and when, that information will have to come out of Beirut, Mr. Mehlis’ office, if they are releasing any information.  The only thing I can tell you is that, as you know, these talks will be in Vienna.

Question:  What is the cost of this investigation until now, and who is paying the tab?

Spokesman:  The cost is being borne out of the United Nations budget.  I will get you a cost estimate, if there is one.

[He later told the correspondent that the investigation had been given an initial amount of $9 million.]

Question:  On Mehlis, I wanted to ask if you could tell us at the very least whether the questioning has actually begun in Vienna.  They won’t say a word.

Spokesman:  If they won’t say a word, I can’t say any more.

Question:  Could you give us a sense of whether Mr. Mehlis himself will be conducting the interviews?

Spokesman:  That will be up to him.

Question:  Now that Mehlis pretty much said that the confession on Syrian TV was a lie, could the Secretary-General -- since it was an attack on the integrity of the United Nations -- could the Secretary-General say something on the record regarding that confession?

Spokesman:  The Secretary-General has full confidence in Mr. Mehlis and the integrity of his investigation, and he backs up whatever Mr. Mehlis said on that issue.

Question:  On the situation in Iraq, it continues to deteriorate.  Has the Secretary-General taken note of it?  Is anything being done about it by the United Nations?

Spokesman:  The Secretary-General has not only taken note.  I think one of the things that has come out of his discussions in Bahgdad is the need to support the reconciliation process, because the elections will not address some of the underlying issues, which can only be addressed through a reconciliation process. 

On the ground our team there, led by Mr. Qazi, has brought up a number of times directly to Iraqi officials, including the Defence Minister and the Interior Minister, the issues of human rights violations that have been reported to take place in some detention centres.  Mr. Qazi has been advocating in his talks with the Defence Minister drastic structural changes in the Iraqi security system, which faces endemic problems of organization and discipline.  So this is an issue we are very much closely following.

Question:  I just wanted to ask a separate question about aid, as well as the collection of funds for Pakistan.  There are reports that, in the case of the tsunami, there’s an overabundance of aid at this point in time.  I’m just exploring whether that aid could be somehow transferred, or some of it could be used to alleviate the suffering in Pakistan.  Can that be done at all?  Has that been explored?

Spokesman:  I’m not sure that’s a practical solution.  There are different mechanisms that collected the money.  But I think you will find from the outcome of the donors’ conference that it was quite successful, in terms of the pledges received by the Government of Pakistan.

One of the things that we have been saying, and Mr. Egeland has been saying, is that, while donations are needed for rebuilding and reconstruction, one must not forget the immediate humanitarian needs.

Question:  One of the things that has come out of the donors’ conference is that $3.8 billion of the $5.9 billion committed are loans -- that the Pakistani Government will themselves have to pay the loans.  That is why I am raising this question.  Outright donations are more useful than that.

Spokesman:  Donations are always better than loans. 

Question:  On Ethiopia, you had mentioned that there was an accident with a newly laid mine.  Is there an indication that the Ethiopians are laying more mines along the border with Eritrea?

Spokesman:  Obviously, we didn’t know exactly who laid that mine, but we’ll try to get some more details on that for you right after the briefing.

Question:  Is there anything else that the Secretary-General or any Member State in the UN is going to do about the fact that peacekeepers have essentially been shut down there?  I mean, aside from calling for the peacekeepers to be allowed to go back.  Obviously, that hasn’t worked.  What new steps are being taken?

Spokesman:  Well, you know, the Security Council passed a resolution on this a short while ago calling on Eritrea to lift its ban.  It’s an issue that’s come up in discussions during his recent trip, whether with the Egyptian authorities or Djibouti authorities, in trying to find countries that can pressure and have influence over Eritrea to lift the ban.

Question:  Last week we had a press conference here on de-mining, and they said that peacekeepers would be going back and restarting their de-mining programme because they found an alternative land route.  Do you know if they had restarted that programme when this accident occurred?

Spokesman:  I don’t know.  I will check for you.

[The Spokesman later informed the journalist that according to the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea, Mine Action had indeed resumed operations on the Ethiopian side as of a week ago, since they were able to secure helicopter coverage for their operations on the Ethiopian side.]

Question:  Has the Secretary-General raised the accusations of these secret CIA torture centres with the United Nations administration?

Spokesman:  I’m not aware that he’s raised those issues directly with them.

Question:  On Ethiopia and Eritrea, it would be great if we could have another briefing at some stage on peacekeeping there.  It seems really bad.

Spokesman:  Yes.

Question:  I was away for a week, so maybe this question was answered while I was away.  Before I left, Marie told us there would be statement from Kojo regarding the whereabouts of the Mercedes.  Was there one, or should we still expect it?

Spokesman:  No, I think it was made clear that these issues should be referred to Kojo Annan’s lawyer.  So I have nothing else on that.

Question:  I asked a couple of times last week about having a briefing with Ms. Carina Perelli.  You’ve come back and told us that Mr. Gambari will be briefing us.  We’re very happy to see him here tomorrow, we have a number of questions for him, but I want to reiterate this request because, I and some of my colleagues, are keen to see her in her capacity as electoral commissioner.

Spokesman:  Mr. Gambari, as the focal point for elections and the senior most political officer, will be able to answer those questions for you.

Question:  But he wasn’t there as electoral commissioner.

Spokesman:  He was in Iraq.

Question:  Is there a reason why she should be able to give press conferences in Baghdad and not give the press corps at the United Nations any press conference or briefing?

Spokesman:  The story was also in Baghdad.  The election story was in Baghdad.

Question:  Now that we’re on the subject of requesting, could we request someone from the Global Compact to brief us on what exactly it is they do?  Some of us have a lot of questions about that.

Spokesman:  Sure.  I’m always happy to have other people brief.

Question:  In the case of Ms. Perelli, are you saying that she will be coming here to brief us?

Spokesman:  Mr. Gambari will brief on the Middle East, and also on the Iraq elections.

Question:  But what about Ms. Perelli herself?

Spokesman:  I have no information on a possible briefing by her.

Question:   On this Committee (inaudible), can you clarify exactly what its function is?

Spokesman:  I think I’ll refer you to Resolution 1636, which lays that out.

Question:  On Dileep Nair [former Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services], when the review on him was announced in June, we were told that Jerome Ackerman had been given 30 to 45 days to pursue it.  What’s the status of that?

Spokesman:  We put out something yesterday.  He’s going on with his work, he’s reviewing documents.  At this point, he is not able to give us an estimated end date to his investigation.  When we have an update, I’ll pass it on to you. 

Question:  Why is he … ? 

Spokesman:  It’s obviously taking him longer than he expected.

Question:  Is the Secretary-General upset about that?

Spokesman:  We would want this investigation to be completed.  But obviously, Mr. Ackerman will need to take the time he needs to take.

Question:  [Lebanese Prime Minister] Fouad Siniora met with [Syrian Foreign Minister] Farouk Al-Sharaa, yesterday in Barcelona and they agreed that Shabaa Farms were in Lebanon.  Could you comment on that?

Spokesman:  The Secretary-General’s position on the Shabaa Farms was clearly laid out in June 2000 and there’s been no change to it.

Question:  On Ms. Perelli again, could we expect her to accompany Mr. Gambari tomorrow and answer specific questions about her role in Iraq?  Could you relay that, or could you give us an official reason why she wouldn’t?

Spokesman:  I can relay that.

Thank you very much.  Pragati, all yours.

Spokesperson for General Assembly President

Good afternoon.

The General Assembly concluded its discussion in plenary this morning on oceans and law of the sea, adopting two draft resolutions.  It has begun discussion of the situation in Afghanistan, and will also take action on a draft resolution on public health.

This afternoon, the plenary will take up the question of Palestine -- for which there are four draft resolutions tabled -- and the situation in the Middle East -- for which there are two draft resolutions tabled.  There are over fifty speakers scheduled for these two items, so the debate is expected to run through tomorrow afternoon.  We have the list of speakers and the draft resolutions available upstairs.

This morning, at the observance for the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, Assembly President Jan Eliasson noted progress made this year and said that Palestinians and Israelis must now build on these achievements.  He stated, “Let us hope and be determined that with the full backing of the United Nations and the world community, the peace process will be re-activated so that we finally can see an end to decades of Palestinian-Israeli conflict… Let us all intensify our efforts to make this happen.”  We have the text of his statement available upstairs.

As I mentioned yesterday, tomorrow morning intensive negotiations will begin on the Human Rights Council, based on a new compilation paper that was circulated to Member States yesterday, setting out comments received from Governments on the options paper.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Does the General Assembly believe that these four draft resolutions and two more on the Middle East and a list of 50 speakers contribute to the public perception that the General Assembly is a largely anti-Israel body that favours the Palestinians, and is he doing anything to combat that perception?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have any comment from him on that question.  I think he’s made a very strong effort himself to walk both sides of the issue.

Question:  November 29 is the date that there was a General Assembly resolution to partition mandatory Palestine.  Since that day, all the Arab states, including the Palestinian leadership at the time summarily rejected that resolution.  Why is this date being used by the General Assembly for solidarity with the people who rejected the General Assembly’s resolution?

Spokesperson:  I’m not really familiar with the background of the Day, but I can look it up for you.

Question:  Why is this date being used by the General Assembly for that purpose?  I mean, I don’t get it.

Spokesperson:  Let me find out and get back to you.

Question:  Anything further on the [United Nations] budget?  Any luck on getting people to speak to us on that?

Spokesperson:  I did enquire about the Chair of the Fifth Committee.  He had to go back to his country on personal business just yesterday.

Question:  Who is that?

Spokesperson:  Ambassador John Ashe of Antigua and Barbuda.  But I hope that the briefing by Warren Sach will answer some of your questions in the meantime.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.