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

10 July 2006

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

10 July 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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.  Let me start with two statements attributable to the Spokesman.  The first one is on Timor-Leste.

Statement on Timor-Leste

“The Secretary-General welcomes the establishment of a new Government in Timor-Leste.  He congratulates Jose Ramos-Horta on his appointment as Prime Minister, and looks forward to the formation of the full Government, which he trusts will serve the needs of all Timorese.

“The Secretary-General calls on all parties in Timor-Leste to move forward in a spirit of dialogue, unity and reconciliation, as the country prepares for its first presidential and parliamentary elections since independence.

“He also looks forward to receiving the report of his Special Envoy, Ian Martin, on how the United Nations can best assist the Timorese people, as they build a democratic and peaceful future for their country; and he thanks Mr. Martin for successfully completing his important and sensitive mission.”

**Statement on Small Arms

The second statement I have is on the Small Arms Conference that ended on Friday.

“The Secretary-General is disappointed that the United Nations Conference to review the implementation of the Programme of Action on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons has ended without agreeing on an outcome document.

“He notes, however, that many States sent high-level representatives to the conference, and that many civil society groups contributed energetically to its discussions.  To that extent, the Conference did succeed in recalling the issue of small arms and light weapons to the attention of the international community, which clearly remains committed to the Programme of Action as the main framework for measures to curtail the illegal trade in these weapons.

“Delegates from all parts of the world reaffirmed that the most urgent task is to take firm steps to control illicit arms brokers.  This issue will be studied in depth by a United Nations intergovernmental expert group, which will hold its first session in November.

**Secretary-General in Germany

And then, the Secretary-General, as you know, is in Berlin today.  He met with the German President, with whom he discussed a number of issues related to development in Africa.

Later in the day, the Secretary-General travelled to the Henning von Treskow barracks, the location of the European Union Operations Headquarters, for a briefing on the force.  While at the barracks, the Secretary-General was the guest at a working lunch hosted by the Federal Defence Minister.

And, prior to that, the Secretary-General and the Defence Minister discussed issues relating to peacekeeping, including the European force being deployed to support the elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The Secretary-General thanked Germany for its leadership role in that mission.

This evening, the Secretary-General will speak at a forum organized jointly by the Bertelsmann Foundation and the UN Association for Germany.  In that speech, which is to be delivered shortly, he is to draw attention to the need for the Group of Eight nations to deal with energy security at their meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, and to warn that they cannot achieve energy security, unless we address the environmental consequences of energy consumption.

**Security Council

Here at UN Headquarters, the Security Council, as you know, postponed its consultations on Somalia and other matters, which were initially scheduled for 10 a.m. and now they’re scheduled for 3 this afternoon.

At that time, the Security Council will take up recent developments in Somalia, and will hear from the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, François Lonseny Fall.

And, because he is briefing the Council this afternoon, he will be our guest at the noon briefing tomorrow instead of today.

Correspondent:  He can brief us before the Council.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, he prefers to do it afterwards.  You can try to ask him questions after the consultations at the stakeout, if you like.

** Middle East

The UN humanitarian agencies working in the Occupied Palestinian Territory have expressed their alarm at developments on the ground there.  In a joint press release, issued over the weekend, they said that an already alarming situation in Gaza, with poverty rates at nearly 80 per cent and unemployment at nearly 40 per cent, is likely to deteriorate rapidly, unless immediate and urgent action is taken.

In a statement issued on Saturday, the Secretary-General appealed for urgent action to alleviate the desperate humanitarian situation of the civilian population in Gaza.  To address shortages of basic foodstuffs, and to maintain essential health and sanitation reserves, the Secretary-General called on the Government of Israel to restore and maintain the continuous and uninterrupted supply of fuel to Gaza, and to act expeditiously to replace the destroyed equipment at the Gaza power plant.

He also reiterated his appeal to all concerned to exercise maximum restraint and to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law.

As you know, we have those statements upstairs and posted on our website.

** Cyprus

Turning to Cyprus, on Saturday in Nicosia, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari chaired a meeting with Greek Cypriot leader Tassos Papadopoulos and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat.

Following that encounter, the two leaders committed to proceed by the end of July with technical talks on issues affecting the day-to-day life of people on both sides [and concurrently those that concern substantive issues, both of which will contribute to] a comprehensive settlement.

That set of principles includes commitment to the unification of Cyprus based on a bizonal, bicommunal federation and political equality, as set out in Security Council resolutions.  The principles also make clear that the status quo is unacceptable, and that its continuation would have negative consequences for both the Turkish and Greek Cypriots.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

And, also over the weekend, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the remaining five of a total of seven United Nations peacekeepers from Nepal, who had been taken captive by the Front des Nationalistes et des Intégrationistes (FNI) militia in the country’s northeast, more than a month ago, were released over the weekend.  And the five peacekeepers were unharmed and have now rejoined their contingent.  And we had a statement on that as well.

And today, the same Mission, the Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, condemned the murder of a Congolese independent journalist, who was shot dead at his home in Kinshasa on 8 July, reportedly by unidentified gunmen.

The Mission has asked Congolese authorities to investigate this and other attacks on the press, and reiterated its call for a safe media environment as the Congolese people prepare to cast their votes in the historic 30 July general elections.

And we have more on that upstairs.

**Bird Flu

And in Geneva earlier today, there was a press conference by the Senior United Nations System Coordinator for Avian and Human Influenza, David Nabarro, and the President of the Economic and Social Council.

Nabarro said that, despite considerable success in containing the spread of the disease and in improving preparedness, there were many countries, particularly in Africa, where there was still a lot of work to be done.

Pointing to a lack of resources, he urged donor nations to help out, since bird flu “knew no borders”.

In response to questions, Nabarro said that the scientific community at large was looking to find dangerous mutations that could lead to human-to-human transmission, but, so far, this had not yet been seen.  He added that they still did not know for sure why the H5N1 virus affects some humans and not others.  And there’s the transcript of that press conference upstairs.

**United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees -- Migration

And the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, today, called for Governments and regional, international and non-governmental organisations to work together to uphold the rights of refugees and migrants in “mixed migratory movements”.  That was contained in a ten-point action plan at the Euro-African Ministerial Conference on Migration and Development in Rabat, Morocco.  There is a press release on that upstairs.

**Press Conferences

And just to flag for you, tomorrow, there is a press conference here at 11:15 a.m. by Jan Egeland, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, who wants to brief you on humanitarian concerns.

And then, as I mentioned, our guest tomorrow will be the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia, who will join us tomorrow, instead of today.

And that’s what I have for you.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I just wondered, on the Nepalese peacekeepers, if you could give any more details of what was the story, how they got released, what conditions, what agreements, etc.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, in terms of agreements, I don’t think we would go into the details of that, but they were released over the weekend, on the 8th.  They were tired, but in excellent medical condition.  All peacekeepers were examined by a medical doctor and found to be well, and they are now under observation and receiving the assistance and the support that they need.

The soldiers were treated well throughout captivity, our UN Mission says.  And the Mission says they were allowed to send them items, such as food and medicine.

I have a list of questions and answers that probably could answer many of your questions, upstairs.  So, rather than my going through those…

[The Deputy Spokesman later added that the United Nations had established contacts with and conveyed its demands for the peacekeepers’ rapid, safe and unconditional release to FNI militia leader Peter Karim.  The United Nations received assistance from the local community and the Congolese Transitional Government.]

Question:  Just briefly on one of them, why were they held hostage and then why were they released?

Deputy Spokesman:  Those details, I believe, would not… I think, at the moment, the most important thing is that they were released unharmed.

Question:  Just to follow up on that.  The town of Tchei fell last week.  I mean, is the United Nations re-establishing control over that area, or what’s the latest?

Deputy Spokesman:  The latest I had on that, and I might have to get an update because… You know, let me get… this is from the day that the news reports had reported that it had been captured, recaptured by the rebels.  As you know, this is a very volatile area, in that part of the country.  You know, this is an area… there is a string of villages and towns.  It is not one big city, so I think there’s a lot of movement along that volatile area daily.  So, let me get you the latest on that before I get back to you.

Question:  What is the Special Representative for Iraq doing in Iran discussing regional issues?  And I have a follow-up on that.

Deputy Spokesman:  The only information I have is that he was attending a regional conference.  You know, Special Representatives do travel in the region when there are events and issues to be discussed that affect the country that they are mandated to serve in.  But, in that particular conference, let me see if there is anything more on that conference.

[The Deputy Spokesman later told the reporter that the meeting, the latest in a series, brought together the foreign ministers of Iraq and neighbouring countries to discuss regional cooperation.]

Question:  Does that include Palestine?

Deputy Spokesman:  His mandate, as you know, is Special Representative for Iraq.

Question:  Speaking of which, over a couple of months ago, we were told that Special Representative Ashraf Qazi would be exonerated in an OIOS investigation.  We asked OIOS to tell us if he has been exonerated.  So far, they haven’t.  Has he been exonerated?  And can we have OIOS brief us on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  The second part of your question you’ll probably have to pose to OIOS itself.  Yes, I do know we did issue a statement a while back on that.  Let me see where the state of that –- where that investigation is, and I’ll try to get back you as quickly as possible on that.

Question:  Is the Egeland briefing tomorrow going to be specifically on Gaza, or what exactly is he going to be speaking about?

Deputy Spokesman:  Mr. Egeland… I asked precisely the same thing.  But, because he is our top humanitarian official and he is our Humanitarian Relief Coordinator, I think he is willing to speak on any subject that you want to raise with him.

Question:  Couple of things.  One is, it’s sort of a longstanding request that we’ve had to speak with OIOS or for them to come down and brief us.  Ever since the appointment of the new chief, they don’t answer us.  So can we, yet again, reiterate our request?  It’s getting nowhere telling us to get in touch with them.  It does nothing for us, and there are lots of questions we’d be very happy to ask them and get some answers to.

I had questions about a couple of things, and I don’t know whether I missed something, but did Kofi Annan say anything about the eight-part resolution passed in the General Assembly last week, passing this, what do they call it -– “Investing in the United Nations” resolution.  I didn’t see any comments on that.  But, in reading the text, it seems like it falls very short of what Kofi Annan had initially proposed.  I think it was 23 reform proposals that he had put forward.  And, certainly, it looks very weak on the issue of OIOS and their independence.  And also, I didn’t see much in there -- in fact, it looked like it was postponed -- on procurement issues, which are two fundamental things that many people have spoken about the need of reform and that reform should start.  Has the Secretary-General said anything about this resolution?

Deputy Spokesman:  As you know, the Secretary-General has been on the road for a while, and it’s not an issue that has come up during his travels.  On Friday afternoon, I’m sorry that the General Assembly Spokesman is not here, but I think there was a statement and a letter that the General Assembly President had issued, outlining the areas in which progress was made, and the areas in which progress still needs to be made.

And, as far as the Secretary-General is concerned, I think he would say that he would be pleased that there was some movement by some countries, by the members on some of the issues, but there’s a great deal more ahead that needs to be done in many of the areas that he outlined in his reform proposal.

Question:  We’d like to hear at least a response from him.  This is, after all, for lack of a better word, his pet project -– reform.  So, obviously, it’s something very close to his heart, so it would be great to know what his impression is of this resolution.  Is he disappointed?  And some sort of reaction to it.  And I understand…

Deputy Spokesman:  The reaction, I’m saying he hasn’t had a direct reaction, because he hasn’t been asked, but I can tell you that, while he is pleased that there’s been some progress, he knows and encourages the Member States to move on the other issues that are still remaining, of which there are plenty of them.

Question:  But, if you could be so kind though, as to forward a question along that line, that we’d like to find out what his real impression is and what he specifically would like to see happen to be in line with what his initial proposals were.

On North Korea, any comments from the Secretary-General on that issue, which, of course, is getting very serious with Japan now saying that they are even considering taking some sort of pre-emptive moves to resolve the issue if need be.

Deputy Spokesman:  The Secretary-General is not commenting while the current Security Council deliberations and discussions are ongoing.  However, his position from the beginning, and throughout and currently, is that he hopes for the resumption of the six-party talks.

Question:  In Paris, the League of Human Rights Organizations have appealed to the Secretary-General and to the Security Council to look urgently to the Middle East on Israeli actions going on over there, which was sent to the Secretary-General.  Has the Secretary-General, despite the fact that he has issued so many statements, has the Secretary-General talked to the Prime Minister, has he asked them to temper the Israeli response at this point in time.  The situation has gone out of control.  UNRWA is reporting absolutely horrible conditions over there.  Has the Secretary-General taken time to bother to talk to the Prime Minister of Israel at all?

Deputy Spokesman:  As his statements reflect, I think he has both publicly and privately been in touch with all the parties.  And, in terms of his appeal to the Israeli authorities on the treatment of the people on the ground, I think he has been vocal both publicly and privately on that.

Question:  He has not talked to the Prime Minister of Israel yet, right?

Deputy Spokesman:  I can find out when the last time he spoke, but I do know he is constantly in touch with all the leaders in the region.  I can get you the date for the last conversation that he’s had.

Question:  Do you have any position on India firing off a long-range missile yesterday?

Deputy Spokesman:  No I don’t.

Question:  I guess I should have asked, does the Secretary-General have any position on India firing off a long-range missile?

Deputy Spokesman:  As his Deputy Spokesman, I don’t have anything on that.

Question:  Over the weekend, President Museveni’s offer of full amnesty to Joseph Kony was then accepted by Joseph Kony.  So, I’m wondering if the Secretary-General, I know he’s travelling, whether there’s any reaction to this open offer of amnesty, despite the International Criminal Court indictment, and also whether the Secretary-General’s report, which I guess is going to be made formal Wednesday, is that going to be updated?  It seems to have been superseded by events on the ground.

Deputy Spokesman:  His report has been written.  It’s already in the pipeline and that will stand as a document.  Again, because it’s not an official document, I cannot comment on it further, but I do believe it addresses the situation that you’re referring to.

Question:  But, I guess in the same spirit of Jonathan, is there some way to ask the Secretary-General?  It seems that it’s a big development in a hot spot, in which he’s had things to say in the past.  When is he coming back?

Deputy Spokesman:  He has, from this podium, I’ve announced that he has added on an official visit to Italy, and he will be going to the G-8 Summit in St. Petersburg.  There may be further additions to the trip that we may be in a position to announce.  So, the answer is not for a little while longer.

Question:  But, I guess the questions are raised here.  Can he be asked them?

Deputy Spokesman:  I mentioned to Fox News that I would follow up on that.  On your question, if there is anything further beyond the report that is coming out on Wednesday, I’ll let you know.

Question:  As you noted, the Secretary-General did not go into the question of what to do about North Korea without the Security Council, and let the Security Council decide whichever way it wants to go.  However, he made… he urged the Security Council to take up the question of Gaza, which, as you know, is contentious at the Security Council.  Some members think that the Security Council is not the right spot for it.  Why did he choose to interfere in the Security Council’s consultations on that and not on [inaudible]?

Deputy Spokesman:  First of all, I don’t think he’s interfering in the Security Council’s affairs.  The Security Council is currently seized with the matter of the North Korean missile test, which he is concerned with, but, because the Council is seized on it and his position has been very clear about the need to resume the six-party talks.  On the Middle East, his concerns he’s been voicing daily, and his statement was simply, his appeal to the Security Council to look into…

Question:  The Council is seized on the matter, there is a resolution proposal, I think even in blue.  I mean, I don’t see the difference.

Deputy Spokesman:  I will let his statement stand on its own.

Question:  On the peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, I know you said there is a Q&A, but there was a name Peter Karim, which was said a lot, as the person who held them hostage.  Can you confirm that he was the leader of the group that held them?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.

If there are no other questions, have a good afternoon.

* *** *

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