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

16 March 2006

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

16 March 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


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


I will start off with the Security Council.


**Security Council


Today, in an open meeting of the Security Council, Serge Brammertz introduced the third report of the United Nations Independent International Investigation Commission, which he chairs.  He told the Council that, using a more systematic approach, the Commission has made further progress in the investigation into the assassination of Rafik Hariri and 22 other persons.


He said it has advanced its understanding of the crime, its circumstances and modus operandi.  Brammertz asserted, “I am optimistic that this progress will provide critical links in identifying and holding accountable those responsible for the crime, at all levels of the chain of command.”


He added that improved and timely cooperation from Syria will be a critical factor in continuing successfully the work of the Commission.  The coming weeks, he said, will prove whether the Commission’s requirements will be fulfilled, and whether its cautious optimism was justified.


And, of course, the text of his opening briefing was made available.  Mr. Brammertz, for those of you who are watching by television, is expected at the stakeout right outside in about five minutes.


**Secretary-General in Madagascar


Early this morning, the Secretary-General, who as you know is in Madagascar, met with the Malagasy President at the Presidential Palace.  After that, the Secretary-General and his wife Nane Annan separately addressed some 2,000 women who had gathered there for a workshop on development.  They both emphasized the importance of empowering women through education and economic opportunities as key to development.


They then visited the President's showcase development project on the Palace grounds, and then a primary health centre in the capital, where they met with people living with HIV/AIDS, including the first person in Madagascar who was reported to have declared herself HIV-positive status.


In the afternoon, the Secretary-General had scheduled back-to-back meetings with the President of the Senate, the President of the National Assembly and Prime Minister Jacques Sylla.  He will also meet with representatives of the opposition parties.  This evening, the Secretary-General and his wife will attend a State dinner hosted by the President and First Lady of Madagascar.


**Climate Change Convention


As you may recall, the post of Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, known as UNFCCC, became vacant following the untimely death of Ms. Joke Waller-Hunter.  This was last year.


The Secretary-General on 16 November 2005 solicited nominations from Member States which were considered together with other nominations.  A thorough review of those nominations was undertaken by the Secretary-General and his senior advisers.


And the following shortlist of candidates has been invited for interview.  And they are:  Mr. John W. Ashe of Antigua and Barbuda, who is the current Permanent Representative to the UN of Antigua and Barbuda; Mr. Yvo de Boer of the Netherlands, who is the Director for International Affairs at the Ministry of Housing, Planning and Environment in the Netherlands; Mr. Luis Gomez Echeverri of Colombia, the Deputy Assistant Administrator and Deputy Director of the Bureau for Development Policy at UNDP; Mr. Miklós Persányi of Hungary, who is the Minister for the Environment and Water in Hungary; and, lastly, Mr. Simon Upton, the Chair of the OECD Round Table on Sustainable Development and a former Minister for the Environment in New Zealand.


As announced previously in connection with the post of Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, the Secretary-General might consider candidates from the shortlist drawn up in connection with the search for UNEP Executive Director.  At the conclusion of the process, the Secretary-General will select the candidate and will consult the Bureau of the Conference of Parties to the UNFCC Convention and the appointment of the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC will be made shortly thereafter.


** Sudan


Turning to Sudan, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the United Nations refugee agency, says that an international staff member and a local Sudanese guard were shot and wounded during an attack last night on its compound in Yei, in south Sudan.  A local guard was also killed during the attack, and the two wounded are now both in critical condition.


Details of the attack are still sketchy, but at 8:30 p.m. local time, the compound was attacked by unknown armed intruders.  One of them was killed during the attack and another was captured.  The UNHCR says it suspended a planned repatriation of south Sudanese refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the Yei region while it reviews the situation.


While on the topic of Sudan, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for that country, Jan Pronk, has expressed concern over an attack which took place last week on a convoy of former South Sudan Defence Forces soldiers, unarmed and with families and other people, on their way from Khartoum to the south.  The ambush left 32 people dead and more than 30 wounded.


And also out on the racks is the Secretary-General’s latest report on Sudan.


** Middle East


Turning to the Middle East, Alvaro de Soto, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, is in Brussels today, where he is leading a delegation of UN officials to discuss the question of assistance to the Palestinian Authority.


He is meeting at the working level with other officials from the Middle East Quartet, which, as you know, includes the United Nations, the United States, the Russian Federation and the European Union.


** Lebanon


Also on the Middle East, Terje Roed-Larsen, the Secretary-General's Special Envoy for resolution 1559, met with Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing today and other senior Chinese officials in Beijing.  This was the last stop of his tour to the capitals of all five permanent members of the Security Council.


Mr. Roed-Larsen said he had “exceedingly good talks” in Beijing today and added that following his visit to the five capitals, “I think we have the unanimous support of the permanent five members of the Council.  I am now leaving for the Middle East, where I will hold talks with relevant interlocutors.”  And he will start his talks in Saudi Arabia on Saturday.  We have a note to correspondents with more details.


** Guinea-Bissau


The Secretary-General’s latest report on the UN Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau is out on the racks today.  In it, he says a lack of constructive dialogue among the political actors in that country continues to undermine the authority of State institutions.  The Secretary-General says he is pleased to note that there appears to be an emerging political will to move forward on reconciliation and reintegration.


And as a heads up to correspondents, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Guinea-Bissau, João Honwana, will be in New York next week to formally present this report to the Security Council.  Those of you who might be interested in speaking to him or interviewing him should contact Bob Sullivan in my Office.


**Ethiopia-Eritrea


From Ethiopia and Eritrea, in a press briefing by the UN Mission there, it says that the military situation in the Temporary Security Zone and adjacent areas remains tense.  Routine troop movements have been noticed on both the Ethiopian and Eritrean sides.


Even as Eritrea’s helicopter ban on the UN Mission remains in place, along with restrictions on movements in certain areas, the Mission conducted 717 ground patrols throughout its area of responsibility last week.  And it also provided medical assistance to local population, and supplied water to the population.


** Afghanistan


From Afghanistan, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and our UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan are advising the Afghan Government on how to best control the bird flu virus in that country.


The virus’ presence in Afghanistan was confirmed following tests at the FAO lab in Italy.  The samples that were tested were collected from birds in various locations, including in Kabul and Jalalabad.  The UN is currently helping the Afghan Government to cull birds in affected areas, disinfect poultry markets, compensate poultry farmers, and increase public awareness of the disease.  So far, no human cases have been reported.


**World Water Forum


Under-Secretary-General Jose Antonio Ocampo today is leading a delegation of UN officials to the fourth World Water Forum in Mexico City.  In his speech today, he outlined the major efforts the UN is making to meet the water challenges of the future, particularly in view of the Millennium Development Goals.  And we do have copies of his speech upstairs.


A couple of other things to flag for you.


**UNEP


I’m told that this morning, acting on the recommendation of the Secretary-General, the General Assembly elected Achim Steiner as the new Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme for a term of four years beginning on 15 June.


**Press Conferences


At 11 a.m. tomorrow, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia will be holding a press conference in this room, following her meeting the Security Council, and that’s right here in 226.


And Stephen Lewis, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, will be joining us here at the briefing to talk about his recent visit to Lesotho and Swaziland.


And that is it for me.  Any questions?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  There is a report today that the Russian Duma, I assume its Parliament, they have requested for the ICTY, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, to be closed because of the cloud, as they say, over the death of Mr. Milosevic.  I wonder what would be your comment on that.


Spokesman:  I think we’re not going to comment on laws or bills that are before national legislatures.  But, that being said, the Secretary-General’s position on this is quite clear.  The term and the life span of the Tribunal are regulated by the Security Council and that is the wind-up strategy for the Tribunals is already being discussed for both the ICTY and the ICTR.


But the Secretary-General is very firm in his belief that people accused of war crimes and genocide as Slobodan Milosevic should answer for these crimes in open court.  And I would remind you there are a number of outstanding warrants for a number of people that still need to stand and face those charges at the ICTY, notably Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic.


Question:  Just one more, what is the concern of the United Nations really over those allegations from there –- from left, from right -– whatever, that somehow Milosevic died under suspicious circumstances.  Do you have any report on the guards that very day, how they did handle the situation, how the alcohol or unprescribed drug was smuggled in as the reports, some news reports, are suggesting?


Spokesman:  I think the Tribunal, the ICTY, is clearly in the lead along with the Dutch authorities on investigations following Mr. Milosevic’s death.  We are waiting for their report, and I would urge people not to prejudge the outcome of those investigations before they are completed.


Question:  These are a couple questions on Iraq that weren’t possible at the briefing by Mr. Qazi earlier.  It started a little late, and so I’m going to ask, I guess, you; he’s the Secretary-General’s Special Representative.


Spokesman:  I’ll see if I can answer.


Question:  Sure.  There’s been a report that the oil ministry in Iraq is warning a Canadian company called Western Oil Sands not to directly take oil from the Kurdistan region of the country.  So, this is what we wanted to ask again, is whether the International Advisory and Monitoring Board for the Development Fund for Iraq, which in this room in December said oil metering was going to be handed to an American company, whether in fact it is being metered?  And it seems like there should be an answer, as the UN is on that board.


Spokesman:  I will check with the IAMB, with the Board, what the answer is to that.  I believe they have made a request to the Iraqi authorities, which, of course, the oil resources belong to the Iraqi people.  But we will check with the IAMB what the status is of the metering.


Question:  The other one is, this is a more general one, is Mr. Qazi has spoken of the importance of free speech in Iraq?  And given, in the now trial of Saddam Hussein, it’s been suspended and audio was cut off.  And I wonder whether he, you or the Spokesman have any, without speaking to a trial in a particular country, have any statement on how the trial should be conducted.


Spokesman:  No, we are not involved in this trial which is an Iraqi affair, so I won’t comment on how it is proceeding.


Question:  Just about a couple of days ago, you put out a shortlist of candidates for the United Nations Environment Programme.


Spokesman:  UNEP, that’s correct.


Question:  Have you selected the person to head that?


Spokesman:  I’m truly sorry you were not at my briefing yesterday, when we announced who the Secretary-General had chosen.  And I’m even sorrier that you came very late to this briefing, because you would have heard me say that the General Assembly had, acting on the nomination of the Secretary-General, had elected Mr. Achim Steiner as the new Executive Director of UNEP.  But I’m happy to repeat that information for you.


Correspondent:  Thank you so much.


Spokesman:  Any time.  On that note, thank you.


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