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

21 February 2006

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

21/02/2006
Spokesman's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

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

Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**Security Council

The Security Council held closed consultations this morning to hear its daily briefing from the Secretariat.  Hédi Annabi, the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, briefed on Haiti and the outcome of the International Working Group in Côte d’Ivoire.  A draft presidential statement on Côte d’Ivoire was also introduced.

Following consultations, the Security Council then went into a formal meeting to hear briefings by the Chairs of the Counter-Terrorism Committee, the “1267 Committee”, which deals with Al-Qaida and the Taliban, and the “1540 Committee”, which works on the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

The Chairs of those Committees, Danish Ambassador [Ellen Margrethe] Løj and Argentine Ambassador César Mayoral, as well as the Slovakian Ambassador, Peter Burian, briefed the Council, and they are also expected to speak to you at the stakeout following the meeting.

** Haiti

And just to advise you that the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Haiti, Juan Gabriel Valdes, will be here tomorrow to brief the Security Council.  Unfortunately, he will not be able to make it as our guest at noon, but he is expected to speak to you at the Security Council stakeout area at about 3:45 p.m. tomorrow.

And we’ll announce it, obviously, over the loud speaker once we have an exact time of when he will appear.

** C ôte d’Ivoire

And on Côte d’Ivoire, the United Nations Mission in that country reported today it is investigating the circulation of an anonymous letter warning of planned attacks on villages in the zone of confidence and in Government-controlled areas in the west of the country.

The Mission said it feared that the letter could generate fear among the different communities, which could lead to inter-ethnic clashes.  The Mission said if it confirms the threats, it will report them to the Government and remind the Government of its duty to protect civilians.

** Liberia

Meanwhile, from Liberia, the United Nations Mission in that country today announced that a Truth and Reconciliation Commission had begun work in Liberia.  The nine-member commission is supported by a $500,000 grant from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Liberia, Alan Doss, told an inauguration ceremony this morning, “For many countries emerging from prolonged periods of conflict and war, truth and reconciliation has proved to be one of the best ways to bind up the wounds of the past, to confront impunity, and to liberate the energies of the people to focus on the urgent business of national recovery”.  And we have a press release available on that upstairs.

** Iraq

Ashraf Qazi, who, as you know, is the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Iraq, travelled today to the city of Fallujah and met with the city’s Mayor and other members of the City Council.  Qazi discussed the current situation in Fallujah and listened to the Mayor’s concerns for the city’s inhabitants, particularly over compensation for the losses incurred as a result of the fighting.

Qazi reiterated the United Nations commitment to help all of the people of Iraq, and promised to engage actively with the Mayor in exploring means to address the needs of the people of Fallujah.  And we have a press release available upstairs with more details.

**Refugees in Africa

The heads of the three largest United Nations humanitarian agencies will be travelling to the Great Lakes region of Africa to highlight the plight of millions of African refugees, internally displaced persons and returnees.

The head of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), António Guterres, Jim Morris of the World Food Programme and Ann Veneman of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) will visit the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi from 25 February to 2 March.  And we have a press release available on that trip upstairs, as well.

** Sri Lanka

Also from the High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres said today that a recent decline in displacement in Sri Lanka, prior to the scheduled start of the peace talks for that country, reflects the desire of the Sri Lankan people to end the conflict.

The peace talks between the Sri Lankan Government and the Tamil Tigers are scheduled to begin in Geneva on Wednesday, and the United Nations refugee agency has seen a drop in new arrivals at its camps for displaced people in recent days.

**Tsunami

And the Deputy Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery, Eric Schwartz, is in Indonesia and India this week to assess the status of the recovery effort and to look at what's being done to provide shelter and to promote disaster reduction.

After his weeklong visit, he’ll head to Geneva to discuss human rights-related aspects of the recovery effort with the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour.

**ICTY

And from the ICTY in The Hague, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, today announced that Milan Lukic was brought into the custody of the Tribunal, after having been transferred from Argentina, where he was arrested in August of last year, after almost seven years on the run.

The Tribunal has indicted Lukic, a Bosnian Serb paramilitary leader, on charges of murdering, severely beating, unlawfully detaining and terrorizing Bosnian Muslim and other non-Serb civilians.  He is also charged with destroying and looting their homes and personal property.

**WHO

And lastly, the World Health Organization is sending a team of experts to the islands off the coast of South-Eastern Africa, following an extensive outbreak there of chikungunya, a viral disease that is passed from mosquitoes to people.

The team, which will visit the French island of Réunion, as well as Mauritius, Madagascar and the Seychelles, will assess the outbreak and work on developing epidemic alert, surveillance and response systems in the region.  And we have more in the briefing notes from Geneva on that.

**Press Conference

And truly lastly, this afternoon at 3 p.m., I hope you’ll be here to hear Ambassador Kumalo of South Africa, who will brief you, in his capacity as Chair of the Group of 77 developing nations and China, on G77 issues.

That is it for me.  Any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  There is a delegation of two permanent Lebanese judges who will be coming to New York on Thursday to meet with Nicolas Michel and other people, and they will discuss the new Lebanese proposal on the international criminal court.  Do you have something more to say?  How close are we to finding the Hariri suspect?

Spokesman:  Well, I think partly, there are two issues here.  On your first part, your announcement has taken the words almost out of my mouth.  Yes, we will have a delegation of Lebanese officials who will be coming to New York to discuss with Michel.  This is part of the consultations he had in Beirut.  It’s a continuation of those on the international character of the tribunal that will judge the people responsible for the death of Rafik Hariri and 22 others.

How close are we on the investigation?  I don’t know.  The investigation, as you know, is being led by Mr. [Serge] Brammertz, and he is continuing his work.

Question:  I have another question.  Mr. Brammertz went to the south.  He visited the south.  Is it in his prerogative to go to the south and to visit and to…?

Spokesman:  We’re not speaking here for Mr. Brammertz.  He’s leading his own investigation.  He will go wherever he needs to go within the mandate of the investigation, and he’ll do what he needs to do to pursue the investigation.

Question:  Is there any update on the Nablus incident?

Spokesman:  Involving UNRWA?

Correspondent:  Right.

Spokesman:  No, I have not received anything.  We’ll check with UNRWA after the briefing.

Question:  Follow-up on that.  There are extensive reports yesterday and today, especially in the Israeli press, this has apparently been a large undertaking by the IDF, to find terror suspects, and there were a lot of reports on exchange of fire during those operations, including one report that there was fire shot from those installations that you highlighted yesterday.  Could you verify that?  And I also have a follow-up.

Spokesman:  No, I do not, but we will check on UNRWA, as I said.

Question:  Let me follow up on another thing.  There was a letter recently by Karen AbuZayd to the workers, highlighting the fact that they’re not supposed to take part in political activity, I guess, representing organizations like Hamas.  I assume that the letter came as response to participation in such activity.  Can you verify that there was a lot of political activity from UNRWA before or after…?

Spokesman:  No, I have not seen the letter and I would not assume anything, as to what the motivation was sending the letter.  That rule goes for any United Nations employee.  But again, this --

Question:  Well, she addressed it –

Spokesman:  I understand.  We will check with UNRWA as to the letter.

[The Spokesman later announced the following:  The IDF had left the two UNRWA schools at the Balata camp as of two hours ago.  It had also allowed the health clinic to run normally as of this morning.  UNRWA categorically denies that any firing came from those facilities yesterday.  The letter from Karen AbuZayd was a standard reiteration of United Nations policy, regarding the neutrality of all staff, and it is normal for those announcements to go out before and after elections.]

Question:  Do you have any details on this Qatar meeting?  I mean, which European and Islamic leaders the Secretary-General is planning to meet?

Spokesman:  As I said, we hope there was, in addition to the meeting of the High-Level Group -- the Alliance of Civilizations -- we are expected to announce a side event.  We’re not yet ready to do that.  So, as soon we are, I will let you know.

Question:  Are there some opposition leaders from Islamic and European countries also attending this …?

Spokesman:  The meeting of the High-Level Group of the Alliance of Civilizations is all the members of that panel, and I can get you the list.  As for any other event, as I’ve said, we’re not yet ready to announce it.

Question:  I just want to put it on the record.  I don’t know if you have an answer.  There’s a report that Ratko Mladic has been arrested.  Do you have any comment or information on that?

Spokesman:  We, in fact, have been following up on this report.  We spoke to the Tribunal a short while ago.  They have received absolutely no information to that effect.

Question:  How significant or how would you characterize, in the annals of United Nations history, the pursuit of Mladic and what he represents to international justice and credibility for the United Nations System.

Spokesman:  His arrest, and also the one of Radovan Karadzic, would send a clear signal that impunity would not be tolerated.  It would be a historic -– it will be a historic moment when these two are arrested.

Question:  Given the trip to Doha this weekend, does the Secretary-General have a position on including a prohibition on blasphemy in the Human Rights Council formulation?

Spokesman:  Those issues, as to the Human Rights Council, are right now before the Member States.  We very much hope that they will come to a conclusion quickly on that.  But those issues are before the Member States.

Question:  With regard to the meeting in Qatar, can you be more specific?  What exactly is on the Secretary-General’s agenda with regard to defusing of the cartoon crisis?

Spokesman:  The Secretary-General has been clearly on the record recently as to an appeal for calm, to stop the violence and to use this opportunity to start a true dialogue, so that people of different faiths can come together and explain to each other ways to avert these types of crises, and also the need to depoliticize this issue, as it currently is.

Question:  Has he gotten any indications from the Muslim Governments that they’re kind of willing to engage themselves more in defusing this crisis?

Spokesman:  I think he already has -- a few weeks ago, we put out a statement jointly with the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which is a clear symbol of the seriousness with which this, predominant Islamic, organization takes the crisis.

Question:  With respect to the side event that you mentioned taking place in Qatar, would this be United Nations-sponsored or another organization sponsoring it, or joint sponsorship?

Spokesman:  It would be a joint event.  You probably know more about it than I do.  But, as soon as we’re ready to announce, you will be the second to know.

Question:  In the aftermath of the reports of Israelis cutting off funds to the Palestinian Authority, even the funds it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, duties and so forth, Jimmy Carter has appealed to both the United States and Israel not to cut off those funds.  What is the United Nations position on the funds being cut off by the Israelis?

Spokesman:  I went into this yesterday, following the Quartet meetings, the Quartet appeal for the continuation of support to the interim Palestinian Government.

Question:  I just want to find out about Mr. Qazi.  He’s been roaming around, but he’s not come to the United Nations in a very long time.  And I’ve not asked this question also in a very long time.

Spokesman:  I know you feel that, because he hasn’t come to brief you, personally he’s not …

Question:  He’s not been here for six months [inaudible] …

Spokesman:  Well, I will check.  As you say, he’s been running around Iraq, which is his job. 

Question:  [Inaudible].

Spokesman:  Exactly.  I wouldn’t take it personally, Masood.  He’s not avoiding you.  But, I will find when he’s next scheduled to come brief you.

Question:  Actually, two questions.  One is about the Ukraine’s deportation of 11 Uzbeks.  I think UNHCR said that it expressed concern and that they would try and follow-up on it.  I don’t know if you’ve been able to ascertain the status, or if Secretary-General or your office has more to say about that.

Spokesman:  I haven’t seen anything, but we can check after the briefing.

Question:  And the other one.  This is kind of a little off, is whether the Secretary-General or your office on this controversy around the running of ports here in New York, whether you have kind of guidance or view whatsoever?

Spokesman:  None.

Question:  Can you have any follow-up on that?  Can you have any opinion on the Government of the United Arab Emirates getting a half million dollar prize?

Spokesman:  Benny, I’m not taking the bait.

Question:  I have one more question.  Is Iqbal Riza involved in the organization of that Doha?

Spokesman:  Very much so.  The Secretary-General, as we’ve said repeatedly, has full confidence in Mr. Riza and he’s working closely with him on this event.

Question:  Two things.  A scheduling thing.  I know you don’t handle the Council schedule.  You mentioned the Haitian Special Rep, that he’s going to be here, but there’s also the big procurement thing tomorrow.  Do you have any timing on both?

Spokesman:  Negative.  I would rather not speak off the top of my head on this scheduling issue.  We will check right after the briefing.

Question:  And checking around.  You probably have discussed it over the last few weeks -– I apologize -- but did Louise Arbour ask two staffers, or appoint people, to look into the cartoon-human rights thing from the human rights organization, from her viewpoint, and do you know where that stands?  Was it looking at it just one way?  Was it all sides?

Spokesman:  I recall that she asked two Special Rapporteurs to look into the issue.  We can check, or you can check, with the human rights office, to see where that stands.

Question:  Two weeks ago, this group of people from India and Sri Lanka came over here, and they complained about the funds not being properly distributed among the survivors, and…

Spokesman:  Which, tsunami or earthquake?

Correspondent:  Tsunami.

Spokesman:  OK.

Question:  On the tsunami.  And, as far as India is concerned, on the Indian side, of course, the Indian side is having it.  The Sri Lanka side, I asked them, specifically, have you talked to President Clinton, and they said that they would be talking about that, because Sri Lanka [inaudible]…, and there were accusations in Sri Lanka that the aid is not being distributed properly, it is not going to the right people, especially women are discriminated against.  Do you have any…?

Spokesman:  It’s the first I’ve heard of it.  We can check with the Special Envoy’s Office.

Question:  [Inaudible].

Spokesman:  You’re asking me … It’s the first I’ve heard of it.  Thank you very much. 

[The Spokesman later informed the correspondent that the Sri Lankan speaker, to whom he was referring, had not contacted the United Nations Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery, former United States President Bill Clinton, directly.  However, President Clinton's Office was aware of equity concerns, and the Deputy Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery, Eric Schwartz, would be meeting with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva next week to discuss that issue, as well as other concerns.]

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