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

21 July 2006

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

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.

**Security Council

The Security Council, as you know, began an open meeting on the Middle East, which Vijay Nambiar, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, opened with a briefing on his three-member team’s visit to the region over the past week.  He noted that, as of yesterday evening, the conflict that began last Wednesday had claimed the lives of over 300 Lebanese and 34 Israelis, while injuring over 500 Lebanese and approximately 200 Israelis.

Nambiar said that, from the mission’s consultations, it became clear that there are serious obstacles to the achievement of a comprehensive ceasefire in the immediate future.  However, the mission sees two vital political goals for the international community in the days ahead.  The first goal is to secure, urgently, some form of cessation of hostilities.  The second is to develop quickly the elements of a political framework that would pave the way for a full and durable ceasefire.  We have his speech upstairs.

And then Jan Egeland, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, briefed the Security Council on the humanitarian situation in the region.  Mr. Egeland said he will travel to Lebanon today to assess the situation on the ground, and then launch a flash appeal for the country next Monday.  We expect that he will come to talk to you here in the next few minutes about his humanitarian concerns and his trip to the region.

Then, once the morning portion of the Council meeting ends, the three members of the high-level delegation -– Mr. Nambiar, as well as Alvaro de Soto and Terje Roed-Larsen –- will hold a press briefing in this room.  So that should be around 1:00.

The open debate will continue through this afternoon, with 46 speakers inscribed as of this morning.

** Lebanon

Heavy exchanges of fire continued along the length of the Blue Line in the last 24 hours, with somewhat reduced intensity in the eastern sector, according to the UN Interim Force in Lebanon.  The Mission reports that there were seven incidents of firing close to UN positions during the past 24 hours, with three positions suffering direct hits from the Israeli side.  There were no casualties reported in those incidents.

UNIFIL says it was able to re-supply a number of its positions yesterday, but all UN positions in the close proximity of the Blue Line are facing shortages of basic supplies, and the Mission’s ability to re-supply them is vital.  The re-supply of the forward positions along the Blue Line is planned for today.  We have more details in the press release issued by the Mission upstairs.

**Humanitarian Situation in Middle East

And the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict has expressed her concern regarding the deteriorating situation affecting children and their families in the Middle East.  Her full statement is upstairs.

And the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that the UN is reinforcing its staff on the ground in Lebanon.  Nevertheless, the World Food Programme, UNICEF and the World Health Organization are all concerned about the lack of access to vulnerable populations.

For its part, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has opened all its clinics in Damascus to Palestinian refugees who have fled from Lebanon into Syria.  And as you know, the UN will be launching a humanitarian appeal for Lebanon on Monday, here in New York.

**Unexploded Ordnance in Lebanon

And the UN Mine Action Service in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations says that unexploded ordnance from recent armed conflict in Lebanon will pose a direct threat to communities and internally displaced persons, hamper humanitarian relief, impede the movement of peacekeeping forces, and hinder the already difficult task of reconstructing houses and essential infrastructure in the area.  And there is a press release on this upstairs, as well.

** Somalia Statement

Just to flag for those of you who may have missed this, yesterday afternoon, we had a statement on Somalia, in which the Secretary-General expressed his concern about the reports of increased tensions and the potential outbreak of violence near Baidoa.  This statement is available for you upstairs.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

And then turning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with nine days to go in the preparations for the 30 July elections in that country, the Special Representative, William Lacy Swing, this morning met in Kinshasa with former President Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, who will be a member of a formal group of influential political leaders set up to advise UN and Congolese officials on the elections and whose full composition will be made public next week.

Also on the DRC, the UN Development Programme today issued a press release detailing the UN’s financial and logistical contribution to the effort.  And UNICEF says that the nearly decade-old conflict in that country has claimed more lives in every 6-month period than the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, placing the total death toll upward of 4 million fatalities.  That report entitled Child Alert: DRC describes the effects of the conflict on children and their families.  And that report will be released on Monday.  Press releases on this are also available upstairs.

** Sudan

And then on Darfur, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is extremely concerned about the security situation there, which is continuing to deteriorate.  The agency reports that yesterday, three water workers were beaten to death by a mob in a displaced persons camp in West Darfur.  All activities by international organizations are now on hold in the camps in that area.  Also, over the past two days, two non-governmental organizations in the same area were attacked by armed men.  We have more information on those incidents in the UNHCR briefing notes from Geneva.

**Statement on Ashraf Qazi

And then finally, I have a statement attributable to the Spokesman on the Special Representative in Iraq.

The Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) has completed its investigation into a number of allegations relating to the conduct of the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Iraq, Ashraf Qazi.  The allegations had been made by a former staff member of the UN Mission in Iraq.  Following a six-month review of all the allegations, including extensive interviews, review of relevant documents and visits to Baghdad, OIOS concluded that, with the minor exception of Mr. Qazi initially failing to repay personal telephone calls, there was no evidence to substantiate any of the allegations.

The Secretary-General welcomes the release of the final report.  He has consistently stated that he has full confidence in Mr. Qazi’s personal integrity and expresses his regret that Mr. Qazi has had to suffer unnecessary and unjustified distress as a result of the false allegations and subsequent investigation.  The Secretary-General very much regrets that a former UN employee should have chosen to attack Mr. Qazi in this groundless way.  A formal note will be placed in the former employee’s official file noting the OIOS findings and stating that he should not be employed by the Organization in the future.

**Week Ahead

And in addition, my last item is the week ahead –- that’s for your planning purposes for covering the United Nations next week.  And joining us Monday at the noon briefing, we will have Margareta Wahlström, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, who will brief on the flash appeal for Lebanon, which I just reported to you a short while ago.

As I said, we are expecting Jan Egeland here, I think, shortly, but if you have any questions for me…

**Questions and Answers

Question:  What’s the name of this gentleman on whose file the letter was placed that he should not be employed again?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don’t have the name.

Question:  It’s not the name – it’s who it is. That’s very important.

Deputy Spokesman: I don’t have the name of the individual.

Question:  Let me finish my question. I just wanted to ask you about the Secretary-General.  Is he going to come out to the stakeout at all?

Deputy Spokesman:  The Secretary-General will be attending the Security Council luncheon.  Currently, he is in the Security Council meeting room.  I am not sure he is going to have the time today, but I will double check and get back to you.  [It was later announced that the Secretary-General would not be speaking to the press following the luncheon.]

Question:  Could you just expand a little bit on the flash appeal for Lebanon?  What is expected?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, this is the exact topic of what Jan Egeland’s briefing to you will be, so I suggest that you don’t go too far.  He will come in here.  We have a map of Lebanon ready to go, so he will point out where he will be going and what his mission will undertake before that appeal is launched.

Question:  On Somalia, I saw the statement yesterday.  I think, since then it’s been reported that Ethiopia sent troops into Somalia.  Is that your understanding?  Is that what this statement was directed at?  Or what’s the reaction of the UN system if there has been an incursion by Ethiopia into Somalia?

Deputy Spokesman:  We have seen the press reports regarding the Ethiopian troops in Somalia, which you mentioned.  We are unable to confirm those reports.  However, the Secretary-General is concerned about this reported presence, and he urges all the neighbouring countries to respect the territorial integrity of Somalia and to refrain from any actions that could exacerbate the tense situation in Somalia.  In the meantime, the Special Representative there is following the developments very closely.

Question:  Does the Secretary-General intend to make some sort of Herculean effort -- to go to Washington, or something – to tell President Bush that he should change his mind about not calling on Israel to halt the hostilities in Lebanon, so that human lives can be saved?  It does not matter who is right and who is wrong, who did it first or not.  Will the Secretary-General make any effort like that?

Deputy Spokesman:  I think, we can say that the Secretary-General has been making a Herculean effort.  While he has been on the road, as you know -- that is, even while he has been focusing on the events in other parts of the world, like Darfur, while he has been trying to raise money for the African Union force there, he was very much focused on trying to find ways to find a solution to the situation in the Middle East.  He has been meeting with officials in Europe, as you know, he has been meeting with officials in Brussels.

Prior to that, he was at the G-8 meeting in St. Petersburg, where he had a number of opportunities to meet with President Bush and other G-8 leaders, many of whom are Security Council members.  He had a working session, a working luncheon, both of which devoted a considerable amount of time on the issue of the Middle East.  In the meantime, he has been talking to leaders in the region daily and with very senior US officials like Condoleezza Rice daily –- sometimes twice a day.  And yesterday, he spelled out his vision in a well-balanced statement.  So I think he is making a huge effort in trying to bring a quick solution to this crisis.

And now we have Jan Egeland, so I will ask him to come up, so he can brief. As you know, he is going away in just a few hours to the region.

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