|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.
**Secretary-General on Myanmar
Good afternoon. Starting off with the Secretary-General, earlier today he issued a statement on Myanmar from Bangkok, where he currently is. In the statement, the Secretary-General notes that his envoy, UN Chief of Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari, visited Myanmar and had the opportunity to meet with both General Than Shwe and Aung San Suu Kyi. The Secretary-General calls that a welcome development, as Gambari was the first foreigner in two years to see Aung San Suu Kyi, who, as you know, has spent 10 of the past 16 years in detention or under house arrest.
Noting that Myanmar’s Government will be reviewing her status within 24 hours, the Secretary-General appealed to Gen. Than Shwe and the Government to release her, as her release will facilitate a national dialogue in which the National League for Democracy could participate. Saying that her release would be in the interest of Myanmar, the region and the world at large, the Secretary-General says it would also allow the Government and the people not only to build the nation together, but to focus on the essential issue of economic and social development. For the democratic process and the reconciliation process to be truly successful, the Secretary-General said, it has to be inclusive. And Aung San Suu Kyi has a role to play. The Secretary-General, thus, adds that he is relying on Gen. Than Shwe to do the right thing. And that statement was made available to you earlier today.
**Secretary General in Asia
Earlier today in Thailand, the Secretary-General began the day as the keynote speaker at a high-level panel on human development in Thailand. In the late afternoon, he travelled to the Royal Palace in the seaside town of Hua Hin to present the first UN Development Programme “Human Development Lifetime Achievement Award” to the King of Thailand. Describing him as the world’s “Development King”, the Secretary-General said he’s made extraordinary contributions to human development, reaching out to Thailand’s poorest and most vulnerable people regardless of their status, ethnicity or religion. He listens to their problems, and empowers them to take their lives in their own hands. The Award was presented on the occasion of the King’s sixtieth anniversary of his accession to the throne. And during his visit to Bangkok, the Secretary-General also held a meeting with the Prime Minister. And we do expect the Secretary-General to be back in the office on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, from Timor-Leste, the UN Office in Timor-Leste says that at around noon local time today, it asked for assistance from Australian troops to ensure the security of UN staff within its compound as a number of armed civilians tried to set up positions at the nearest junction. Australian troops arrived, cleared the area and posted guards around the compound. This afternoon, automatic weapons fire was again heard from about 500 metres south-east of that compound. Australian soldiers responded with two helicopters and ground forces and the firing appears to have ceased and the area is now quiet.
The UN Office estimates that around 40,000 people have been displaced from Dili since the outbreak of the crisis on 28 April. And as of today, between 1,800 and 2,100 internally displaced persons are housed in a compound near the UN’s Office headquarters. Meanwhile, the Timorese police have continued to seek refuge in the UN compound. Following negotiations, they handed over their weapons to UN Security on the condition that they could join the other police officers who had already disarmed and remained under protection in the UN offices.
**Security Council on Timor Leste
Closer to home also on Timor-Leste, the Security Council last night passed a presidential statement supporting the bilateral deployments of troops to Timor-Leste. The Council also welcomed the Secretary-General’s appointment of a special envoy to that country to facilitate the political dialogue.
** Darfur Report
Turning now to Darfur, the Secretary-General’s latest report on Darfur, which covers the period of March and April, was issued today as a document. In it, he expresses his concern that there are rebel leaders who have not yet signed the Darfur Peace Agreement. The Secretary-General writes that the international community must work to convince these rebel leaders to choose peace over conflict and to immediately work towards strengthening the African Union presence in Darfur. Noting that a shortage of funding has led to a scaling down of humanitarian operations there, he also appeals to the international community to continue supporting the humanitarian effort in order to help prevent a catastrophic humanitarian crisis.
And on a related note, following yesterday’s agreement reached in Khartoum to have a UN/AU assessment mission travel to Khartoum and then on to Darfur, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hédi Annabi will be returning to New York to brief the Security Council. And he has told us that he would brief the press immediately after his appearance in the Council, which is not yet scheduled.
On a related note, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says it is very disturbed by reports of ongoing infiltration by armed Sudanese rebels in refugee camps in eastern Chad. The agency fears the further recruitment of refugees for military activities, an activity that it calls “totally unacceptable.” UNHCR notes that the responsibility for security in and around the camps rests with the Chadian Government. It is, therefore, working with the Chadian authorities on increasing their resources. The agency is also continuing its information campaign to dissuade refugees from joining political and military activities.
The Secretary-General’s latest report on Cyprus is also out on the racks today. In it, he notes that, over the past six months, both the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders have renewed their calls for a resumption of his good offices. However, there have been no real indicators of any change in their general positions. Saying that there is a need to match words with action, the Secretary-General reiterates his intention to send Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari to Cyprus, Greece and Turkey in the near future to assess the political situation and to assess the prospects of resuming his good offices.
He also refers to the efforts of his Special Representative in Cyprus, Michael Moller, to initiate bicommunal technical discussions between the sides as a way of fostering contacts. Although not intended as a substitute for negotiating a comprehensive settlement, the discussions are aimed at building trust, the Secretary-General says. And in the report, he also recommends that the Council extend the mandate of the UN Peacekeeping Mission for a further six months until 15 December this year.
On 16 March of this year, as you may recall, we announced the five short-listed candidates for the post of Executive Secretary for the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). We indicated that interviews of the candidates would be conducted by a panel of senior officials with the inclusion of outside experts. Since that announcement, two of the five candidates, John Ashe of Antigua and Barbuda and Luis Gomez Echeverri of Colombia, have withdrawn their candidatures. And as you may recall, the remaining candidates are Yvo de Boer of the Netherlands, Miklós Persányi of Hungary and Simon Upton of New Zealand. We have now added a number of other candidates to that short-list, and they are Sálvano J. Briceño of Venezuela, Luis Gylvan Meira of Brazil and Richard James Kinley of Canada, as well as Leela Ponappa of India. And we have more information on those people upstairs.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has published a guide for non-specialists on how to help reduce the spread of bird flu among animals and minimize the risk of transmission to humans. The 11-page pamphlet contains tips for small farmers, games-keepers, bird collectors and hunters. And the guide gives ideas on separating bird species and cleaning pet areas, among other suggestions. And the pamphlet is available on the FAO website for anyone who’s interested.
Couple of things to flag for you. The International Day for UN Peacekeepers will be observed around the world on Monday, 29 May. That’s the date the General Assembly chose to honour those serving in UN operations, especially the men and women who have lost their lives in the cause of peace. Since Monday is a holiday here and we will not be briefing and the office and the Building will be closed, the ceremony at UN Headquarters will be held on Wednesday. At 11 o’clock, the Secretary-General will address the main event in the Library Auditorium, where the Dag Hammarskjöld medals will be posthumously awarded to peacekeepers who have died over the past year. And we have more information on that upstairs.
Press conferences this afternoon. Immediately after I’m done, UNICEF’s Executive Director Ann Veneman and others will be here to launch the new report by the Global Movement for Children. Then at 1:30, David Balton, the Chair of the Review Conference on the Agreement Relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, will brief you. And at 3 o’clock, Ambassadors Emyr Jones Parry of the UK and Jean-Marc de La Sablière of France will hold a press briefing on the Council’s upcoming mission to Sudan and the DRC.
And on Tuesday at 11 a.m., UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot and Ann Veneman who will come back, as well as the Executive Director of the UN Population Fund, Thoraya Obaid, will be here to launch the 2006 report on the global AIDS epidemic, featuring the latest AIDS estimates and new trends on the epidemic’s evolution. And as you know, on Wednesday there’s the start of the high-level meeting on AIDS.
So that is it for me. Any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: AIDS is Wednesday, Thursday, Friday? I thought it was Tuesday.
Spokesman: Tuesday’s the report. Events kick off on Wednesday, and then Thursday and Friday.
Question: Two questions. First, is the assessment mission’s departure for Sudan going to wait until after Mr. Annabi briefs the Council, or are they planning to leave in the next few days?
Spokesman: The dates of their departure are still being worked out. We’re in close contact with the African Union to see who would join from their side so we hope to announce that sooner rather than later. And on the UN side, the mission will either be led by Jean-Marie Guéhenno or Hédi Annabi.
Question: As a follow-up, do we know when Ian Martin is due in Dili?
Spokesman: He’s expected over the next two days or so. I’ll try to get you an exact date.
Question: When is Pronk coming back and will he brief correspondents?
Spokesman: We expect him back at some point next week, and we’ll find out if he’ll be available to brief you.
Question: Can you also comment on this report that there’ a dispute between the Deputy Secretary-General, Mark Malloch Brown, and the Under-Secretary-General for Management, Mr. Burnham, over the investment of the Staff Union Fund, with Mr. Malloch Brown telling Mr. Burnham to hold on until the Secretary-General comes and mediates the dispute?
Spokesman: First, I should reiterate that the Deputy Secretary-General has made it clear on a number of occasions that there will be no privatization of the Fund and how the Fund is being run. For any disputes between Mark Malloch Brown and Chris Burnham, when senior officials are engaged in policy discussions, there’s a healthy debate. Sometimes they agree and sometimes they disagree, but it’s part of our own internal decision-making process. The Secretary-General does not have the power to unilaterally make decisions on how the Fund is run. For any decisions, the Secretary-General would have to consult the Pension Board and seek the advice of the Pension Board’s Investment Committee. So that’s where we are.
Question: Does the Secretary-General have any view on the Israeli Prime Minister’s plan to draw the border?
Spokesman: The referendum? It’s something we’re looking at. We don’t have a reaction as of now.
Question: On the assessment team to Darfur, do we have any idea how many will be going? The size?
Spokesman: Not at this point. These are things we’re looking at and talking to the AU about.
Question: Is this being meshed with the Security Council visit to Darfur? I mean, Pronk has got to be in Khartoum during this.
Spokesman: There’s a lot of balls in the air, a lot of scheduling that needs to be done and all these things are being looked at now.
Question: But Pronk is coming here before?
Spokesman: We expect Mr. Pronk next week.
Question: In the middle of the AIDS thing, he’s going to be briefing on Sudan?
Spokesman: We’ll see if he’s available to brief you, if anyone’s interested.
Question: On Timor-Leste, could you explain a little more on the function of the newly appointed Special Envoy as opposed to the Special Representative?
Spokesman: Mr. Martin has quite a lot of experience in Timor-Leste working with all the major political actors, and he will be there in an effort to try to calm the situation and to try to find some political agreement in the situation, but it in no way takes away from the authority of the Special Representative.
Question: On Lebanon and the international tribunal, do you have any update?
Spokesman: I do not. Those consultations are continuing in line with the Security Council’s instructions to Mr. Michel.
Question: Do you expect the prosecutors to be here next week?
Spokesman: I have not heard of that, but we’ll see if that’s the case.
Question: Two issues. One, I brought up earlier in the week and I can wait for a response. I asked how often people working in the field here at Headquarters have to take a physical exam. I’ve been told by several sources that the conservative estimate is that at least 25 per cent of the current security force could not pass an NYPD physical. It’s disconcerting because six years ago we had an incident where the force had to go into the General Assembly because of protesters and it took a long time. Seems that from that point to this, the issue still hasn’t been addressed. When you ask people how often they get the exams, you can’t get a straight answer. And there are serious accusations that people in charge of rapid response aren’t up to the demands. Seems obvious some of these guys are not five pounds overweight, but 100 pounds and nothing is being done to address this.
Second, on a second issue that revolved around a threat assessment report that was done by Chief Hen and Leo Powell around May or June 2003. The UN evacuated the Canal Hotel Compound in Baghdad in March under a level 5 emergency declared by the Secretary-General. After the CPA took over, a lot of pressure was put on the UN to bring the operation back as quick as possible. The level 5 emergency meant a threat assessment team had to be dispatched and that was headed by Hen and Powell. A report was made to the Deputy Secretary-General and the Iraq Action Group. There’s a lot of speculation about the content. However, it’s known the Deputy Secretary-General and the Secretary-General sent the report to various departments for feedback. When the Hotel was struck in August, either the Secretary-General or the Deputy Secretary-General asked for those reports to be returned. Nothing has been heard of the report since then. The mission didn’t see it nor the Security Council. About a month ago, a security officer told me he had a copy he picked up in the wreckage when he went on a search-and-rescue team in August of 2003. A commanding officer verified that this officer had the report as personal property for two years.
Spokesman: Let me stop you here and answer both your questions. One, I’ll see what the policy is on physical training and weight requirements for UN security guards. Two, the issue of security in the Canal Hotel was examined by two reports, the Ahtisaari report and the Volcker report, and I have nothing to add. I will just say the security of the staff in Baghdad is at the forefront of the Secretary-General’s mind when considering deployment or increase of UN presence. All the other issues you’ve raised, it’s the first I’ve heard of it and we can talk afterwards.
Question: But this guy had the UN report as personal property. People have been making inquiries.
Spokesman: I’m glad they have and you can keep bringing this up, but I know nothing about this and we can look into it afterwards.
Question: A UN peacekeeper in Eritrea has been detained. You may not have heard of it.
Spokesman: It’s something we mentioned in fact yesterday, an Eritrean local civilian working for the UN Mission was detained and I think he’s the eleventh Eritrean working for the UN who is being detained. We have made numerous protests to the Eritrean authorities and have so far gotten no answers to why these people are being detained, and we would like to see them all released as soon as possible.
Question: A second question concerns Somalia. The region of Puntland has again reiterated an oil-and-gas exploration agreement with an Australian company, Range Resource. I’ve asked you before if Mr. Fall had any statement and his spokesman said no. Who in the system would speak to breakaway regions entering into such agreements, whether it’s helpful to the peace process and what can be done?
Spokesman: Let’s see if we can get you an answer after the briefing.
Question: Also on Somalia, they tell us weapons are pouring into the country, but they don’t say which country. The report is useless to us.
Spokesman: It’s a report that was prepared by a panel of experts working for the Security Council.
Questions: Who appointed them?
Spokesman: They were appointed by the Secretary-General at the request of the Security Council and they report totally and wholly to the Security Council.
Question: But why don’t they do proper work?
Question: Tony Blair just gave a speech in which he called for reform of the Security Council, broader powers for the Secretary-General and for there to be only one UN office in every country. Do you have any reaction to that speech?
Spokesman: We heard the speech, we welcome these recommendations on reform. The Secretary-General’s been on record numerous times calling for Security Council reform, which is a decision to be made by Member States, as well as for greater management reform. On the last part of your question as to whether there should be one UN office or one humanitarian or development agency, those are the kinds of questions that are currently being examined by the panel on system-wide coherence, which is looking at how the UN system as a whole can operate in a more coherent fashion, and I would point out that Gordon Brown is in fact on that panel and will make the views of the Prime Minister known.
Question: A newspaper in Zanzibar reports that the UN is involved in Zanzibar’s suit to have the union between itself and Tanganyika declared illegal and to have Zanzibar’s seat in the United Nations restored. Can you address that?
Spokesman: First, I’ve heard of it. I can check. And thank you. On that note, we’ll give the seat to Ms. Veneman.
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