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

18 August 2006

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

18 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 -– Troop Contributors

The Deputy Secretary-General, Mark Malloch Brown, speaking to the press a bit earlier today, appealed today for Europe to harden up potential troop commitments so that the expanded UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), has the right balance of forces to deploy, to be legitimate and politically effective.

Speaking with the press this morning, he said that Finland, Italy and Germany had already given indications that they’d be in a position to contribute, although details in some cases had not yet been finalized.

He also appealed to Member States to provide “force enablers” to the expanded UNIFIL -– that is, units such as logistics, medical and engineering units –- which would help open up roads for the transport of humanitarian relief, as well as to allow for the deployment of UN troops to take up their posts.

In response to a question, the Deputy Secretary-General said there would be more meetings to follow up on possible troop commitments –- as is normal practice, as a follow-up to yesterday’s meeting.

He also said in responding to a question, that the Secretary-General’s seven-day report on resolution 1701 will be going to the Security Council at some point this afternoon.

And as usual, we have a full transcript of his comments available upstairs.

** Lebanon -- Peacekeeping

Meanwhile, from the ground, UNIFIL reports that the cessation of hostilities was generally maintained and there were no significant incidents or breaches of the agreement.

The Israeli Army continued to withdraw from Lebanese territory, and Lebanese troops deployed further south of the Litani River in areas vacated by the IDF units.  The UN Force, which controls the buffer zone to the south between the IDF and the Lebanese Army, is closely coordinating and monitoring these operations.

UNIFIL says these operations will continue along the plan and timeline adopted at a trilateral meeting of the Force Commanders with senior representatives of the Israeli Forces and the Lebanese Armies.

Meanwhile, the UNIFIL Chinese demining team carried out operations to clear unexploded ordnance in various areas south of the Litani River.  And, UNIFIL troops provided water and food to a number of returnees in their villages in the South.

** Lebanon -- Humanitarian

Also, on the humanitarian note, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that four UN humanitarian convoys were dispatched today with supplies from the World Food Programme (WFP), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Fund for Population (UNFPA), as well as the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees .  Two additional convoys –- which will carry urgently-needed bottled water from United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) –- are scheduled to leave on Saturday.

Meanwhile, a UN assessment mission, which visited 10 major population centres in the area of Tyre, found that, apart from two large bomb craters, roads are mainly intact.  Nevertheless, there is still an urgent need for fuel to be used for generators, and for water pumps.

The mission assessed the Sidon area and found that fuel and clean drinking water are urgently needed.  Electricity is still being rationed there, which is affecting the water supply.

**Security Council

Back here, the Security Council held consultations this morning on the situation in Lebanon, with Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Margareta Wahlström providing the briefing.

Following that, it held consultations on Timor-Leste and other matters, before moving into the formal chamber to approve a one-week technical rollover for the UN Office in Timor-Leste.

The Council also held a minute of silence for those who died in the bombing of the Baghdad UN Compound on 19 August 2003.  And, I’ll have more on that in a moment.

** Gaza -- Humanitarian

Regarding the humanitarian situation in Gaza, the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) reports that nearly 300 containers with emergency food for Gaza are stuck on ships in the port of Ashdod, Israel.  That backlog is connected to the large scale redirection of goods from Haifa to Ashdod, as a result of the Lebanon conflict.  Currently, some 830,000 people rely on UNRWA’s Gaza food distributions.

Meanwhile, the UNRWA School at Rafah is still providing shelter for 340 internally displaced Palestinians who fled shelling in southern Gaza.

For its part, UNICEF has secured vaccines for Palestinian children through 2007, as well as education supplies for its back-to-school campaign.

** Darfur

The Deputy Secretary-General in his comments to the press today also raised an issue, which unfortunately has been overshadowed by events in the Middle East –- and that is Darfur.

He said that the UN is extremely worried about the deterioration in the humanitarian and security situation in Darfur, and the lack of a clear political path for the deployment of a UN force there.  “Something very ugly is brewing there”, Mr. Malloch Brown said.

And a transcript is upstairs as well.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

From Congo, the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo reports that UN troops will be on high alert this weekend as the Independent Electoral Commission prepares to announce provisional results of the presidential elections.

Regarding the security arrangements, the Special Representative of the UN, William Lacy Swing, said the UN peacekeepers would be on maximum alert but, will be only minimally visible in Congolese towns and villages.  The Mission, meanwhile, says that as of last evening, 99 per cent of the ballots had been compiled in the presidential poll and, about some 60 per cent of ballots cast in the parliamentary elections have been processed so far.  The Mission says that, following the official announcement of the results, candidates will have three days to record their objections or grievances with the Supreme Court of Justice, which will then have five days to examine these objections and validate them or invalidate them.  It will then announce the certified, official results of the elections.

If no candidates garner a 51 per cent majority, a second round will be held between the two first front-runners on 29 October.

**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

And, the World Food Programme said today that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has agreed to accept assistance for flood survivors.  As you may know, some 13,000 North Koreans will be receiving 30-day rations of flour and vegetable oil following the devastating floods that occurred last June.

**Photo Exhibit

A couple more announcements.

Photographer Baku Saito will be in the exhibition area of the lobby in the General Assembly Building, from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. today.  He will discuss his photography, which documents over 200 faces of the Angkor temple of Cambodia over ten years.  This is the last day of the show and it will be followed by a closing ceremony.

**Third Anniversary of Baghdad Bombing

And lastly, as I mentioned, tomorrow will mark the third anniversary of one of the darkest days in the history of the United Nations, namely the 19 August 2003 bombing of the UN Baghdad Headquarters, which claimed the lives of some 22 UN staff members.  Earlier today, the UN Secretariat observed a minute of silence in the course of a formal ceremony held in the General Assembly building to honour the memory of our fallen colleagues.

In his message to the staff, delivered on his behalf by the Deputy Secretary-General, the Secretary-General said the tragic event of that day marked “the UN’s loss of innocence”.  He added, “Were they with us today, our murdered colleagues would be immensely proud that, despite the dangers, the difficulties, and the near unbearable grief, our work for peace continues, undeterred and undiminished, whether in Lebanon, in Darfur, in Timor-Leste, Haiti or Iraq.  This is our answer to their loss.  This is our living tribute to our fallen friends.”

And today being Friday, we do have the Week Ahead available for you.

And that’s it for me.  Yes, Sylviane.

**Questions, Answers

Question:  I have some questions.  The first one is:  can you confirm that Mr. Annan is heading to Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Iran next week?

Spokesman:  No, there may be, at some point, travel by the Secretary-General to the region, but we’re not yet ready to announce or confirm anything at this point.

Question:  I have another question.  There is a (inaudible) in The New York Times about Brahimi, wrote an article on, start talking to Hizbollah.  Do you think it’s time for the Secretary-General to start talking with Hizbollah?

Spokesman:  Mr. Brahimi’s op-ed is obviously his own views.  The UN’s political contacts in Lebanon are focused on the Government of Lebanon, of which Hizbollah is part.

Question:  Last one.  This is important.  After this meeting yesterday on the troops-contributing, do you have numbers of, can you give us, how many countries until now committed firmly?

Spokesman:  No, I have no hard numbers to share with you.  Those are still being worked out by the Peacekeeping Department.  There still needs to be a lot of bilateral contacts following up on yesterday’s meeting.  We do have firm commitments from Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh and Nepal.  We also have indications from Finland, Italy, Germany and the UK that they’re also in a position to contribute to the force, although some of those details have not yet been finalized.  So, that’s as far as we’re ready to go at this point.  But, I would refer you to the much more detailed answers the Secretary-General gave about half an hour ago.  Yes, Kabbaj?

Question:  I have a follow-up on another question –- how many troops the UN needs for UNIFIL exactly?  15,000?  Less?  5,000?  What exact number?

Spokesman:  The mandate is clear.  We would like to have the 15,000 forces that are mandated for us to do our job.  What is highly important is that we get about 3,500 boots on the ground within 10 days to make sure that the cessation of hostilities, which is, thank God, holding, continues to hold.  Yes.

Question:  Until now, you don’t have…

Spokesman:  I cannot give you hard numbers at this point.  Mr. Abbadi and then we’ll…

Question:  Stéphane, the humanitarian situation is obviously very critical.  The infrastructure has been destroyed -– is the Secretary-General concerned about the continuing air and sea blockade?

Spokesman:  Yes, of course, the blockade is of concern.  The humanitarian goods are coming in.  What is important, too, is that commercial goods be allowed to return, so, Lebanon’s economy can get back up and running.  We will also, as the resolution stipulates, work with the Lebanese Government to help them secure their ports and borders.  And in fact, we’ve had some offers, notably from the German Ambassador, I think, which you’ve heard, in that respect.  And, as far as the damage is concerned, our colleagues on the development side at UNDP are also working with the Lebanese Government for the long-term reconstruction of the country.  Yes, sir.

Question:  One recurrent question, with regards to the troop-contributing countries and so on and so forth, is if they are acceptable to Israel.  Is this (inaudible) by the Deputy Secretary-General is Israel’s approval preventative –- is this mandatory or what?

Spokesman:  Of course, first of all, what we will see and what we want to see for the military and political effectiveness of the deployment is a force that represents the United Nations.  That involves, European, non-European, Muslim, non-Muslim troops.  The final say as to who gets deployed belongs to the United Nations, as this is a UN force.  And this is a force that will be deployed on Lebanese territory.  But, we are of course in contact with the parties on this issue and we would want to deploy a force that can work.  But, you will see in the end, a force that is European, and Muslim, and of course, there is already an African contingent in UNIFIL.  Yes?

Question:  I just wanted to ask for a clarification on what you said about the 300 containers stuck on ships or re-directed from Haifa.  Are they en route?  Or are they stuck because there hasn’t been any sort of communication with Israel or what?

Spokesman:  I will try to get a bit more detail from UNRWA after the briefing on that.  Yes, Ma’am.  [The correspondent was later informed that, because of difficulties at the port in Haifa, connected to the Lebanon conflict, goods were being redirected to the port of Ashdod, thereby creating a backlog.]

Question:  This question is about Darfur.  So Mr. Annabi briefed the Council yesterday and there was the British draft resolution that was introduced.  But, the Sudanese Ambassador spoke to the press yesterday and essentially said that, his country does not want a UN force on the ground there, but rather to stick with the AU force.  What are the next steps?

Spokesman:  That, of course, remains an area of great concern to us, especially since it is clear that the African Union Force is running out of funds.  We are working with them on a transition.  We’re also working with the AU, the African Union force, on helping, on bolstering them while they remain there, both financially and with equipment.  The message from the Secretary-General through his officials yesterday, is that it is clear that Council Members need to re-engage with the Government of Sudan –- to work with them through the difficulties they perceive of having a UN Force on the ground in Darfur.  The humanitarian situation is critical, the security situation is critical as well.  But, one has to remember that UN peacekeepers are no strangers to Sudan.  We have a large contingent in the south.  We need to work with the Government of Sudan, and, we are.  And Member States, those who have an influence, also need to work with Sudan in that regard.  Yes, Matthew, and then we’ll go to Pincas?

Question:  One follow-up to that, which is that, this request made Monday by Human Rights Watch to Members of the Council and I believe, the Secretariat.  The recommendation that targeted sanctions against individuals in the Sudanese Government be considered for blocking the UN Force.  Yesterday, Jackie Sanders of the US Mission said that the US is supportive of that request.  What is the Secretary’s position on this?

Spokesman:  The issue of sanctions and targeted sanctions is one for the Council to take up.  Yes.

Question:  Also, in regard to the Brahimi article in the New York Times, it seems that France has backed a bit from its own written text that became 1701 because there is recognition that Lebanon may not be able to disarm Hizbollah.  With this in mind, and coming back to my previous question, which is, would the Secretary-General somehow (inaudible) in talking with Nasrallah in order to jump-start the process?  This could also translate perhaps to the Darfur situation.  Would the Secretary-General agree to talk to that resistance there, especially in view that the Sudanese Government itself does not want to recognize the UN’s involvement.  My question is really, can the UN really go beyond the present structure of the Nations’ organization to talk to the factors that are mostly involved in the…

Spokesman:  First of all, Sudan and Lebanon are two completely separate issues, so I think we need to make that clear.  On Sudan, we are in touch with all the parties that we need to be in touch with.  On Lebanon, I think I answered your question, which is similar to Sylviane’s, but, I think you have to remember in Lebanon, it is a political solution that is needed, and it is a political solution that the Lebanese need to work out themselves, for themselves.  That is the crux of it.  The United Nations, the international community, will be there to help the Lebanese people and support the Government in whatever we can, whether it’s politically and obviously with the peacekeepers, but, it is a Lebanese political solution that we need to the problem.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi and then we’ll go to…

Question:  The humanitarian people are busy trying to do what they can to help the people of Lebanon, especially in the south.  Hizbollah is doing the same thing.  Are there any efforts being coordinated?  And who’s doing the coordination?

Spokesman:  OCHA and our humanitarian staff is on the ground.  They are working with the Government and working mostly with UNIFIL in that regard.  Yes?

Question:  Is there any (inaudible) …exchange of prisoners between Israel and Lebanon?  The same question goes to Israel and the Palestinians.

Spokesman:  If I understand your question, I think these are two separate issues.  The Secretary-General has repeatedly called for the release of the detainees and for the International Red Cross to have access to them.  Sylviane.

Question:  I came in late, maybe you already stated it.  Do you know next week when the SG will present the report on resolution 1701?

Spokesman:  The report will be a written report going to the Council.  I don’t think the Secretary-General will present it.  And, I’ll let you know when it is presented in a briefing.

Question:  What (inaudible) … resolution?

Spokesman:  I think that is up to the Council to answer.  Yes, Matthew.

Question:  Yesterday, your office provided the numbers from DPKO about the sexual exploitation and abuse, numbers from MONUC.  So, I’m wondering if it’s going to be possible to get similar numbers for at least some of the other DPKO missions to put those numbers in context, like Liberia or other ones?

Spokesman:  I don’t see why we couldn’t do that for you.

Question:  Okay, and here’s a Middle East question.  Prime Minister Olmert has been quoted, or his Government has been quoted, as putting off previous plans to pull out of parts of the West Bank.  So, I don’t know if either the Secretary or his various envoys have any response to that?

Spokesman:  No.  Not at this point.  Thank you very much.

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