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

15 August 2006

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

15 August 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.


Good afternoon.


** Lebanon


Starting with Lebanon, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) reports today that the situation on the ground is generally quiet.


UNIFIL carried out intensive patrolling during the night and this morning throughout its area of operation to assess the situation on the ground and to monitor the cessation of hostilities.  There were no reports of incidents or breaches of the agreement in the UNIFIL area of operations until about 1300 hours, 1 p.m. local time.


UNIFIL has continued contact with both the Lebanese army and the Israeli army with the aim of facilitating an early withdrawal of the Israeli army and the deployment of the Lebanese armed forces to the south.


The UN Force also made initial assessments of the damage to the civilian infrastructure in the eastern part of the central sector of its area of operation.  And we have more upstairs from UNIFIL.


Meanwhile, the Peacekeeping Department is inviting you to a background briefing on the troop generation for southern Lebanon, and that will be at 3 p.m. in 226.


** Lebanon – Humanitarian


Regarding the humanitarian front in Lebanon, the two UN humanitarian convoys dispatched to Tyre immediately after the cessation of hostilities yesterday have arrived.  Seven of the 24 trucks have already distributed food and water in Tyre and nearby villages, while 14 are proceeding to neighbouring villages today.


In addition to the trucks, two UN-chartered ships are off-loading supplies in Beirut today.  Also, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) tells us that 50,000 tents, 230,000 mattresses, as well as 172,000 blankets are currently en route to Lebanon.


Meanwhile, a World Health Organization (WHO) team is in southern Lebanon to evaluate damage caused to sanitation infrastructure.  WHO also reports that, together with UNICEF, it has transported 60 tons of fuel to south Lebanon for some 18 hospitals, to cover their operational needs for the next 10 days.


In response to the threat of unexploded ordnance and landmines to returnees, UNICEF has launched an information campaign to raise awareness of this danger.  For its part, a UNIFIL demining team has conducted controlled explosions of
36 unexploded ordnances.


Meanwhile, UNHCR reports that, with thousands of displaced Lebanese, both within Lebanon and from Syria, streaming back to their homes, it has teams monitoring these returns 24 hours a day at the four border points from Syria.  Inside Lebanon, UNHCR is also handing out plastic sheeting, mattresses, water and other supplies to returnees.  UNHCR is also prepared to assist up to 50,000 Lebanese who may delay their return from Syria.  The agency also reports that one of its charter planes landed today in Beirut from Jordan loaded with supplies, and two more flights are scheduled to arrive in Beirut today.


** Ethiopia Statement


Turning to other issues, I have a statement concerning a situation of floods in Ethiopia.


“The Secretary-General is deeply saddened over the loss of life and damage caused by the recent flooding in Dire Dawa and South Omo, Ethiopia, which has led to more than 350 deaths and displaced nearly 20,000 people.


“The Secretary-General extends his condolences to the families of the victims and to the survivors.  He commends the Government of Ethiopia on its rapid rescue operation of thousands of people marooned by the floods, and reaffirms that the United Nations humanitarian and development agencies will continue to assist the national response to this disaster.”


**Security Council


Meanwhile, back here, the Security Council is holding two open meetings this morning.  The first is on the Secretary-General’s latest report on Timor-Leste.


Briefing the Council on it is the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Timor-Leste, Ian Martin.  He said the request for the Council to mandate a larger UN mission in Timor-Leste shouldn’t be seen as a reversion to an earlier stage of UN engagement with Timor-Leste.


Martin pointed out that Timor-Leste is today a sovereign State, which struggled hard to fight for its right to self-determination and its independence.  He also noted that the international community’s support for Timor-Leste has achieved a great deal, and he urged the Council to support the Secretary-General’s recommendations.


The second meeting is on Haiti.  The Council is expected to adopt a resolution to extend the mandate of the UN Mission there.


**Timor-Leste


Meanwhile, from the ground in Timor-Leste, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Timor-Leste, Sukehiro Hasegawa, today visited two district capitals in the east of the country to check on conditions outside the capital.  We have more on his travels upstairs for those of you who are interested.


** Sri Lanka


Turning now to Sri Lanka, the bombing on Monday that reportedly killed dozens of girls and wounded many more is a shocking result of the rising violence in Sri Lanka, the Executive Director of UNICEF [Ann Veneman] said today.


Ann Veneman’s statement is available upstairs.


Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, also expressed her dismay, saying that: “The latest shocking developments show once more that children continue to bear the brunt of this conflict.”  She called on all parties in Sri Lanka to cease all hostilities and return to the negotiating table.


**UNHCR


Also from Sri Lanka, UNHCR says that it has joined other UN agencies in preparing an assessment mission to the northern part of [ Sri Lanka], to see exactly what people’s needs are, following recent unrest.  The agency stands ready to hand out emergency supplies if needed.


UNHCR also says that it is “greatly encouraged” by Kazakhstan’s decision today to release into the agency’s care an Uzbek refugee who was the subject of an extradition request by Uzbekistan.


Meanwhile, High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres today started a six-day mission to Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia.  And we have more upstairs from his briefing notes.


And from Somalia, the Special Representative for Somalia, François Lonseny Fall will be briefing the Security Council tomorrow on recent developments in Somalia.  And Fall will be our guest at the briefing tomorrow, for Matthew.


**Humanitarian Aid – Afghanistan/Ethiopia


And lastly, regarding humanitarian aid, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that it has allocated $11 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) for the drought-stricken parts of Afghanistan.


And on Ethiopia, the World Food Programme says that it has begun emergency food distribution that will reach 10,000 survivors of the flash floods, which I mentioned earlier.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  You said that some plane landed in Lebanon -- that means that the airport is open?


Spokesman:  For the last few days now, a number of aid planes, notably coming from Jordan, have been able to land.  Those have been mostly C130s, which can use very short runways.  But, the runway is still not operational for larger jets.  So we have been using smaller planes.


Question:  I have another question.  Do you have any update on the troops contributing to UNIFIL?


Spokesman:  We continue our working-level -- technical -- meetings with military advisers.  I think there were about 17 countries yesterday and some 28 on Saturday.  We hope to have a more formal meeting with the troop contributors on Thursday, in order to hopefully flesh out and firm up a number of offers.  We’ve had no formal offers so far, but a number of countries have continued to express their interest.


Question:  What’s the budget approximately for that kind of…?


Spokesman:  We don’t have a budget figure yet.  Yes, Evelyn.


Question:  Two questions.  First of all, there were only 17 attending yesterday?


Spokesman:  I believe it was 17.


Correspondent:  Some said 45.


Spokesman:  The combination.  It was not the same countries that attended Saturday and the ones that attended yesterday.  So it was 17 and 28.


Question:  You mean 28 on Saturday?


Spokesman: And 17 yesterday is what I understand.


Question:  I see.  Thank you. And secondly, one of the newspapers in your clip summary, one of the Arab newspapers, says a Goodwill Ambassador, several of them, had resigned from Arab countries to protest.  Do we know, are they local ones, do we know what agencies?


Spokesman:  I think that some of them that have left us are ambassadors of the local -- whether it’s UNICEF or UNHCR -- but we’ll check right after the briefing and get you a list.  Yes, Richard.


Question:  The briefing and background, for broadcast purposes, could you first comment on General Pellegrini’s comment that the force of UNIFIL won’t be up to speed, full speed, until years from now?  Or what he meant by that full speed? Also, just an update on the urgency, I mean, how fast will these troops really be on the ground, and is there a vacuum forming there?


Spokesman:  Well, I think we would like to get firm commitments of troops as quickly as possible.  Obviously, we haven’t received those commitments and, as soon as those firm commitments come in, we can offer a firmer timeline of when they deploy.  But we do not have a vacuum on the ground, we already have UNIFIL.  As we’ve been mentioning over the last couple of days, General Pellegrini met yesterday with the Israeli and Lebanese officers.  He plans to meet again with them tomorrow.  We are working hard at patrolling the sector.  Obviously, we would like to see an increase in UNIFIL come as quickly as possible and that is why we are having all these discussions with potential contributors.


Question:  Has the UN been told by the Lebanese authorities that they are prepared to disarm any militias or people who they feel, UNIFIL feels, should be disarmed?


Spokesman:  The resolution is quite clear, in that the implementation of 1559, which includes the disarming of militias, will be the responsibility of the Government of Lebanon with the strong support of UNIFIL.  And we will be there to provide that strong support, especially as soon as we get some more troops on the ground.  Yes, Benny.


Question:  Another role for the Lebanese army described in 1559 is to make sure that there are no weapons coming in through the borders, to rearm Hizbollah, I assume.  I assume also, in that role, that UNIFIL is supposed to help the Lebanese army, and my question is how does UNIFIL have a way to track the stream of internally displaced persons and refugees coming in from Syria, making sure that, in those convoys, you don’t have a lot of weapons and soldiers and whatever it is, combatants…


Spokesman:  As I said, the implementation of 1559, which hopefully will result in the Lebanese Government’s authority extending to the south, with one authority having one gun, and that is the Lebanese authority.  We will work with the Government of Lebanon.  UNIFIL will work with them and help them out as robustly as it can.  A lot of those operational details will have to be worked out as UNIFIL’s troop strength increases, and I think you can look to the Secretary-General to report back on that to the Council as soon as possible.


Question:  My question is on 1701, the paragraph that specifically talks about making sure that no weapons come in through the borders and, in this case right now, you have convoys of displaced persons and refugees, some of them waving the flag of Hizbollah, is there any role for UNIFIL to at least document whether those convoys do not include combatants?


Spokesman:  UNIFIL’s role is to support the authority of the Lebanese Government and we will be working with them to do that.  Joe.


Question:  For at least a week before the resolution was passed, there was discussion that there would be a UN force, there wouldn’t be a second resolution, and it’s now almost 96 hours since that resolution was passed.  Was the Secretary-General surprised and concerned that you haven’t gotten by now a formal commitment from anyone?


Spokesman:  The Secretary-General would like to see a formal commitment happen as soon as possible.  We are working hard in our discussions with the potential troop contributors to try to get that.  As I said, I think we do expect a more formal meeting on Thursday, at which point, hopefully, we will get those offers.


Question:  Yes, Masood.


Spokesman:  I just read in the New York Times that, in south Lebanon, UNIFIL has not been able to place the troops over there so that it can disengage between (inaudible) the Israeli troops and they can take over from there.  How long will it take for UNIFIL to place troops over there?  Do you have any idea?


Spokesman:  As I said, UNIFIL will, until it gets an increased force, work with the force that it has.  The details of the Israeli withdrawal and the concurrent Lebanese deployment are being worked out energetically on the ground and in discussions with General Pellegrini, and we’ll have a meeting tomorrow, at which point, hopefully, we’ll get more details.


Question:  UNIFIL, in this assessment, in the press release, has given the devastation that has been caused in the war.  When will the United Nations have enough commitments to start rebuilding these areas?


Spokesman:  I think that the first focus right now is helping the Lebanese Government cope with the influx of returning displaced people -- make sure they have the shelter, the food that they need -- and then you will begin the rebuilding phase, of which we will obviously support the Lebanese Government.  Yes, Evelyn.


Question:  Yes, two questions on what you just said and to follow-up on some of the other questions.  You said UNIFIL is already on the ground, it would be 2,000 that were there.  Does that mean the new mandate for some of UNIFIL applies to these 2,000 -- the more robust mandate?  And, secondly, we asked Lebanese and US and other people extensively last week on the disarmament of Hizbollah, and they all said UNIFIL would not do it, only Lebanon would do it.  You just said UNIFIL would support the Lebanese doing it because the disarmament is clearly not in the UNIFIL mandate in that resolution.


Spokesman:  The resolution calls for UNIFIL to support the Government of Lebanon in 1559.


Question:   (inaudible) seems to have been excluded, or Lebanon wouldn’t have gone for that.


Spokesman:  I can’t go beyond the fact that 1559, that UNIFIL will assist the Government of Lebanon.  The idea here is to help the Government of Lebanon restore its full authority over south Lebanon.


Question:  And on the mandate, does this apply?


Spokesman:  Yes, the new mandate is in place.


Question:  It applies to these 2,000 that are there now?


Spokesman:  Yes, that’s correct.


Question:  That went in on a different mandate?


Spokesman:  Yes, that’s correct.


Question:  To what extent are the problems, bringing the force together, caused by the fact that it’s not clear who’s going to lead the force, and when might that issue of leadership be resolved?


Spokesman:  It’s a chicken and egg situation, as it often is in our efforts to generate a force.  We’re dependent on the Member States to come up with firm offers.  And, at the risk of repeating myself, we’re in intensive discussions with them right now and hopefully we will flush out and get some firm commitments.  But, as to why we are not getting those firm commitments, I think you need to ask the Member States.


Question:  What about the leadership question?  Would that only be resolved once?


Spokesman:  Well, the leadership question, there already is a Force Commander.  Obviously, we envisage for this enhanced UNIFIL, a strong, you know, one country providing a strong military core to that.  And we’re waiting for a firm offer.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi.


Question:  Out of the 17 and 28 countries who have expressed interest in reinforcing UNIFIL, how many Arab countries have done so?  And which ones are they?


Spokesman:  I’m not going to go into a list of countries, but they do represent a cross-section of the UN membership, whether Arab, non-Arab, Muslim, non-Muslim.


Question:  The Israeli Foreign Minister is on her way here. I understand she’s meeting the Secretary-General tomorrow.  Whose initiative was that, and what’s the discussion going to be about?


Spokesman:  It’s at the Israeli Foreign Minister’s request, and I think I wouldn’t go out on a limb if the situation in Lebanon and Israel and the Palestinian Territory would be on the agenda.


Spokesman:  But is it specifically about the troops (inaudible)?


Spokesman:  I can’t go into more detail.  I think we’d have to wait for the meeting.  Yes, Masood.


Question:  Do you have a ballpark figure as to how much commitment, how many troops have been committed?


Spokesman:  With some luck, I think our background briefers will be able to provide you with a bit more detail.


Question:  (inaudible) oil leak that was moving towards the Syrian coast?


Spokesman:  I do not, but we can get one from UNEP.  Yes, Mr. Kabbaj.


Question:  Yes, do we expect the establishment of new peacekeeping forces to replace UNIFIL?  And also, a new resolution from the Security Council in one month?


Spokesman:  What we expect, what we want, is to get firm commitments from countries as soon as possible to build on the existing structure and the existing troops that already are in UNIFIL.  Yes, Joe.


Question:  This is a follow-up on Evelyn’s question.  It does seem to open up, I was under the same impression, that the resolution says nothing about UNIFIL disarming Hizbollah and now you’re saying they will assist the Lebanese in doing that.


Spokesman:  No, I said they will assist the Lebanese in extending its full authority over south Lebanon.


Question:  (inaudible) disarming Hizbollah… Could that be the kind of thing that’s holding up the commitments from countries -- they want to make sure they don’t have to do that?


Spokesman:  I think you’d have to ask the troop contributors what is holding up that issue.


Question:  Can I ask another one about a few days ago -- statistics on how many rockets were fired -- do you have that?  From Hizbollah into Israel?


Spokesman:  I think those have been reported by UNIFIL in its six monthly reports, and I think you’ll have to tabulate those reports.  Yes, Bill.


Question:  Excuse me for being too thick to understand this -- you had 28 in one meeting, 17 in another, for a total of 45.  How many different countries is that?  How much overlap was there?


Spokesman:  My understanding, and again, I think you’d probably get more details this afternoon, is that they were different countries.


Question:  45 different countries?


Spokesman:  Yes.


Question:  Are you saying that UNIFIL is going to support or assist the Lebanese Government to take the weapons -- is that one of the help that UNIFIL is going to do?


Spokesman:  I’m not going to go into that much detail.  The crux of the resolution is to help the Lebanese Government reassert its full authority over south Lebanon and the UN will help in that regard.


Question:  What do you mean by assisted then?


Spokesman:  Assist in whatever way it can and, obviously, those details will have to be worked out.


Question:  And one of them is actually to disarm…?


Spokesman:  I think you’d have, the resolution in that sense, speaks for itself.  Yes, Benny.


Question:  Seems to me like disarming Hizbollah has almost become something that is not in any resolution of the UN.  From what I understand, 1701 is backing 1559, which calls for the disarming of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias and so is that not now part of the mandate of 1701?


Spokesman:  It’s in the resolution.  I mean, read the resolution.


Question:  I’m asking, because I understood the resolution to have that…


Spokesman:  I will let you interpret the resolution.


Question:  Could you interpret the resolution?


Spokesman:  No, I will not interpret the resolution.


Question:   (inaudible) to name the potential troop-contributing countries been made at the request of the countries?


Spokesman: It’s an ongoing process.  No one wants to point fingers or push people out before they’ve made a commitment, but we would like to get those commitments.  Yes, sir.


Question:  As far as I can see, neither 1559 nor strengthening UNIFIL with the Lebanese forces are good enough to disarm Hizbollah.  I think that the key of the disarmament of Hizbollah is their leader Nasrallah.  Has the Secretary-General or some other parties ever thought of appealing to Nasrallah, with the support of Iran, asking their support, and Russia.  It would be much easier, otherwise almost it’s impossible.


Spokesman:  I think, in this context, in the contacts the Secretary-General has had with the neighbouring countries, he has pushed for all those countries that have an influence, to have a positive influence and help the Lebanese Government implement the resolution.


Question:  There are other conflicts from the ceasefire -- none of the sides will talk -- sometimes they break down and they fight again, like Pakistan and India.  Does the Secretary-General believe that Hizbollah and the Israelis should have some contact here?  Some negotiations to end this conflict once and for all?


Spokesman:  The contacts so far held under the auspices of the UN are through the Government, the Lebanese army and the Israel Defense Forces.  I think one of the overall lessons learnt from this particular conflict is that there needs to be a political settlement to this conflict.


Question:  Go to war against the Lebanese army?


Spokesman:  That’s as far as I’ll go.  Yes, Edie.


Question:  Reading the resolution upstairs, number 10 in the operative paragraphs requests the Secretary-General to develop proposals to implement 1559, including disarmament, and report back within 30 days.  And the only other reference that I see to disarmament in here calls for Israel and Lebanon to support a permanent ceasefire and long-lasting peace along the lines of 1559 and disarmament, but that obviously would be in the future.  I don’t see anything, it certainly talks about UNIFIL helping to extend authority, but it does not specifically mention disarmament there.  I just wanted to…


Question:  On Darfur, Human Rights Watch has written a letter to the Security Council and I believe the Secretary-General is saying that targeted sanctions should be implemented against individual leaders in Sudan for blocking UN access.  Does the Secretary-General have any preference or position on that?


Spokesman:  No, I have not seen the letter so I can’t really comment.  Yes, Sylviane.


Question:  You said that the Secretary-General is working on the phones, on contacts with the neighbouring countries to implement the resolution.  Could you be more specific -- like Iran?


Spokesman:  He’s spoken to the Iranian President, he’s spoken to President Assad, and his message to them was the same, is that the international community has come up with a plan to support the Lebanese Government and he hopes that all those who have an influence can assert that influence positively.  Yes, Bill.


Question:  What form will the Secretary-General’s report to the Security Council on Friday, regarding implementation of 1701, be taking?


Spokesman:  I don’t know yet.  Likely a written report, but I still don’t know yet.


Question:  (inaudible)


Spokesman:  I will get you the phone logs, they were recent.


Question:  The Syrian President said this morning that the Middle East is seeing a new Middle East emerging -- different from the one President Bush sees.  Does the Secretary-General continue to believe that Syria has an important role to play in the resolution of this conflict?


Spokesman:  I think the focus of all the neighbouring countries should be to exert their influence positively to help the Lebanese people.  Yes, Joe.


Question:  Has he had contact with Nasrallah?


Spokesman:  He has not had any direct contact with Nasrallah.


Question:  He doesn’t plan to?


Spokesman:  Not that I’m aware of.  Thank you.


* *** *

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