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

24 March 2006

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

24 March 2006
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


The 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.


**Guest at Noon


My guest today will be the Special Representative for Liberia, Alan Doss, who will brief you on the situation in Liberia.


And we’ll also have Pragati, who will brief from the General Assembly President’s Office today.


**Secretary-General


The Secretary-General is on a stopover in Accra, Ghana, after a nearly two-week trip to Africa, and we expect him back in the office on Monday.


He flew to Accra, today, from the commercial city of Bata in Equatorial Guinea, where he met with President Teodoro Obiang.  The Secretary-General had met last night with President Omar Bongo in Libreville, Gabon.  He visited both leaders as part of his efforts to mediate a maritime territorial dispute between the two countries.


Following his meeting in Bata, he told reporters that discussions are continuing, and that experts would again be meeting in Geneva in May.  The Secretary-General said it was important that he and the two Presidents accelerate the process to finish the negotiations and have positive results between now and the end of the year.  And we have a transcript of those comments that were made in French available to you upstairs.


**Security Council - Today


The Security Council today is receiving a briefing from Alan Doss, as I mentioned, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Liberia.


Doss briefed the Council this morning on the Secretary-General’s latest report on the UN Mission in Liberia, in which the Secretary-General says that, following the installation of a democratically elected Government there, the Mission has completed many of its initial tasks.  Accordingly, he says, the Mission could be reduced by one battalion by the middle of the year, and by another battalion early next year.  That reduction could be complemented by the deployment of an additional formed police unit.


In addition to Liberia, the Security Council this morning also expects to hold consultations on a draft resolution on the mandate of the UN Mission in Sudan.


Then, at 3 p.m. this afternoon, the Council has scheduled consultations on the Democratic Republic of the Congo.


**Security Council -- Lebanon


Yesterday afternoon, the Security Council was briefed by Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Nicolas Michel on his preliminary talks with Lebanese officials on a possible tribunal of an international character to try the suspects in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 22 other people.


After those consultations ended, Michel told reporters that the Secretariat was prepared to act immediately upon decisions taken by the Security Council on such a tribunal.  He said that it was generally felt that the best outcome would be a mixed tribunal, with both international and Lebanese participation, as suggested by the Secretary-General’s recent report.  He added that it would be extremely difficult for the tribunal to be located on Lebanese territory, due to security concerns and other factors.


** Lebanon


Also on Lebanon, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Security Council resolution 1559, Terje Roed-Larsen, arrived in Beirut last night for consultations with Lebanese officials in preparations for the Secretary-General’s third report on the implementation of the resolution, which is due to the Council in mid-April.  Arriving in Beirut, Roed-Larsen lauded the ongoing National Dialogue in Lebanon, at which Lebanese political forces are discussing a variety of defining subjects.


There have been very positive results to date, with agreement reached among all Lebanese parties, Larsen said, including that formal diplomatic relations should be established and the border be demarcated between Lebanon and Syria, and that Palestinian militias outside the refugee camps to be disarmed within a period of six months.  We have more information in a note to correspondents available for you upstairs.


**Oil-for-Food


A number of you have been asking me about the future of the office of the Independent Inquiry Committee into the “oil-for-food” programme.  I can tell you that the Secretary-General has decided to extend the office’s mandate until 31 December of this year, 2006.


The office’s exclusive function is to work with national law enforcement authorities of Member States seeking to follow-up on the findings of the final IIC report, meaning that the office, as it now exists, no longer has any investigative role.  The related administrative and financial arrangements, which are currently under discussion, will be finalized shortly, and we will advise you once those are finalized.


** Somalia


Turning to Somalia, Francois Lonseny Fall, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, today appealed to the leaders of the warring parties in Mogadishu to end their hostilities and allow families caught in the crossfire to return safely to their homes.  He said the renewal and escalation of fighting this week is unacceptable.  And we have a statement available from him upstairs.


** Guinea-Bissau


Concerning Guinea-Bissau, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Jan Egeland, today expressed grave concern for 5,500 civilians who have fled recent clashes between rebels from Senegal’s Cassamance region and the national armed forces in northern Guinea-Bissau.


Responding to a request from the Government of Guinea-Bissau, the World Food Programme (WFP) has been distributing food to those who have fled.  And the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has handed out essential drugs and clean drinking water.  And we have a press release, for those of you interested, upstairs.


**Abkhazia


The Secretary-General’s latest report on Abkhazia, Georgia, is now available online.


In it, the Secretary-General says that the Georgian and Abkhaz sides must actively follow up on the understandings reached at the last Geneva meeting of the Group of Friends –- particularly in the areas of non-use of force and the return of internally displaced persons and refugees.  The Secretary-General also recommends that the UN Mission’s mandate be extended until 30 September 2006.


** Pakistan Quake


Turning now to the aftermath of the earthquake in Pakistan, the UN’s Special Envoy for the South Asia Earthquake, former US president George H. W. Bush, met today with Jan Egeland, the Head of the UN’s relief department, as well as the Administrator of the UN Development Programme, Kemal Derviş.  These meetings took place here in New York.


Their discussion focused on ways to move forward from relief to recovery in Pakistan's earthquake-hit areas.  They also highlighted the importance of ensuring continued support and funding during this critical transition period, in order to build upon the successes of the relief phase.  And we do have more information available for you on that upstairs.


**Tuberculosis


Today, the Secretary-General marked World TB Day with a message urging support for the Global Plan to Stop Tuberculosis.  In the message, he says the plan, which was launched in January, is aimed at treating 50 million people with the new drugs, and it’s saving at least 14 million lives in the next 10 years.  The forecast is ambitious, the Secretary-General says, but it is achievable.  And we have that message upstairs.


**Detained and Missing UN Staff


Also in a message issued today, the Secretary General is observing the International Day of Solidarity with Detained and Missing UN Staff Members.  He issued a statement aimed at raising global awareness of the risks faced by UN, NGO personnel, and members of the press.  He says violence, hostility and crime continue to plague the ability of the UN and others to do their jobs.


The number of UN personnel arrested, under detention or missing since the beginning of last year increased from 26 to 43.  And we have the message available upstairs.


**Press Conferences


And lastly, a couple of press conferences to flag for you.


On Monday, the Foreign Minister of Greece will brief you at 11:30 here on her visit to New York.  And at 12:30 p.m., the President-elect of Haiti, Mr. René Préval, will brief you on the developments in his country.


That is it for me. 


**Questions and Answers


Question:  On the oil-for-food extension, why was that decision made?


Spokesman:  First of all, there are still a number of national investigations going on.  We would want to facilitate their work as much as possible.  And we were also very much encouraged by the Iraqi authorities to extend the mandate of the office of the IIC.


Question:  So did it reflect larger lack of clarification about what’s going to happen to these documents essentially –-


Spokesman:  No, I think, it –-


Correspondent:  [Inaudible] these documents will all be returned to national authorities.


Spokesman:  No, the discussions between the UN and the IIC on the handling of the documents once the office closes are continuing and are progressing, I am told.  But obviously, for national law enforcement authorities it is much easier, at this point, for them to continue dealing with the IIC, as they are the ones who collected all the documents and they are the ones that have the historical knowledge of the investigation.  So, this is really to facilitate the work of these investigations.


Question:  How many, do you have a record of how many national authorities have come to the IIC…?


Spokesman:  You should check with them for that.


Question:  Yesterday, I asked you about Abdul Rahman and you pointed to the Covenant of Human Rights and you said that Tom Koenigs had made a statement.  And I’m glad that he did on behalf of the United Nations.  However, after I asked you that, a number of prominent Muslim clerics in Afghanistan made calls for this man, who had converted from Islam to Christianity, to be executed.


I want to ask you this.  Annan -- Mr. Secretary-General -- made two statements on the cartoon issue.  He also went to Qatar and he made a statement about -- he also found -- helped to found the Alliance on Civilizations, which is supposed to bridge the problems encountered by Western and Islamic societies.  And I don’t understand why he can’t make a statement now, because nobody knows who Tom Koenigs is.  I appreciate that he did make that statement, but to put that in an article is a bit of a –-


Spokesman:  I think Mr. Koenigs speaks -– is the Secretary-General’s Representative in Afghanistan.  He speaks for him in Afghanistan.  The Secretary-General, as a UN official, firmly believes that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is exactly that -- universal -- and applies to all, and specifically to this gentleman in Afghanistan, who should be free to choose his belief and change his beliefs, as he so wishes.


Question:  But I don’t understand why the Secretary-General cannot say that himself.  You know, this is what this whole building was founded on, and I’m just trying to understand that.


Spokesman:  OK.  I’m saying to you, when Mr. Koenigs speaks, he speaks as the Secretary-General’s Representative.  This is currently a local issue in Afghanistan, and when Mr. Koenig speaks, he speaks as the Representative of the Secretary-General.  So, it’s as if the Secretary-General had spoken.


Question:  But if this happens, then it sets a precedent.  This is the whole point.  This is the reason why the Secretary-General’s statement is so important on this.


Spokesman:  As I said, the Secretary-General is, would want the international Declaration of Human Rights to be respected by all, and he fully backs, of course, what Mr. Koenigs says, and it’s as if he had said it for the Afghan situation.


Question:  On the barriers downstairs outside -- coming into the building.  What’s going on with those barriers?


Spokesman:  I think a better term would be turnstile or gates, rather than barriers.


Question:  Then the turnstiles.  Whose decision was that?  Is it a security issue?  There are staff union concerns that these turnstiles would be able to track when people are coming and going out of the building, and could essentially be used to see if someone is taking a two-hour lunch


Spokesman:  These are purely security issues, to better ensure the security of all staff, of visitors, of journalists who work here in this building.  And that is the only reason they are there.  They are not some sort of nefarious way of people keeping track of who goes in, whether they are staff or journalists or diplomats.  It’s a security issue, and I think you see them in most buildings in this town, especially if you look around at the security advances that have been made since 11 September in New York.  I think it’s only natural that we would want to protect anyone who enters this building and who works in this building.


Question:  I wasn’t here 10 years ago, but I know that, at that point, they installed a similar system, but then removed them because lines were so long and people were trying to get into the building.


Spokesman:  I would hope that whatever problems that existed 10 years ago have now been solved.


Thank you very much.  Pragati.  You are on.  And when Mr. Doss comes, we will bring him here.


Spokesperson for the General Assembly President


Good afternoon.  Today at 12:30, General Assembly President Jan Eliasson will participate in a brief ceremony in his office, marking the International Day of Solidarity with Detained and Missing Staff Members.  The Day, usually observed on 25 March, marks the abduction, in Beirut, in 1985 of Alec Collett, a staff member on assignment with UNRWA, whose fate has never been determined.  The President will receive from Mr. Collett’s wife Elaine, the first of the lapel pins to be distributed, to highlight the importance of staff safety and security.


Following the milestone last week of the adoption of the resolution establishing the Human Rights Council, the President is today sending to all Member States, a letter setting out his plan of work for the coming months, on issues still awaiting action.  We hope to be able to circulate that to you by the end of the day.


On Monday afternoon, the General Assembly will meet in Plenary to consider the follow-up to the World Summit on the Information Society, the second phase of which was held in Tunis in November 2005.  The draft resolution will be introduced by Tunisia’s Minister of Communication Technologies, Mr. Montasser Ouaili.


President Eliasson will be travelling to Sweden this evening.  He says he has been summoned home by his wife and his Government, in that order.  He will be back at Headquarters on Tuesday afternoon.


Any questions?  Thank you very much.


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