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

6 September 2006

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

6 September 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.

**Guests at Noon

Ibrahim Gambari, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, as well as David Hamburg, the Chair of the Advisory Group on Genocide Prevention, will be joining us today to brief on the Secretary-General’s report on conflict prevention.

**Statement on Eritrea

I have a statement on the situation in Eritrea.

“The Secretary-General is dismayed by the Eritrean Government’s decision to expel from Eritrea five United Nations security personnel.  He is also concerned about the recent arrest of a staff member of the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) by the Eritrean authorities, and their refusal to provide access to him and explain the reasons for this arrest.  These actions contravene Eritrea’s obligations under the United Nations Charter, the Convention on Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, and the model status-of-forces agreement, which applies to UNMEE’s operations in the country.

“The Secretary-General urges the Eritrean authorities to rescind their decision on the United Nations personnel, release the detained UNMEE staff member, and provide urgent clarification on their actions, while the United Nations investigates the unsubstantiated allegations.

“The Secretary-General expresses his deep concern about the pattern of hostility at the United Nations in Eritrea, and calls on the Government to end its public campaign against UNMEE, and fully cooperate with this important peacekeeping mission and other United Nations agencies operating in the country.”

**Secretary-General Travels

The Secretary-General was today in Ankara where he met with the Foreign Minister, Abdullah Gul, and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, as well as the President of Turkey, Mr. Sezer.

In his meetings with the Turkish leaders, he discussed the implementation of resolution 1701 (2006) and the deployment of Turkish troops to the expanded UN Interim Force in Lebanon.

In a press conference following his meeting with the Prime Minister, the Secretary-General praised Turkey’s decision to join the expanded UNIFIL, saying that its contribution was “a sign of international solidarity”.

We’ll try to provide you with a transcript of that briefing a bit later on this afternoon.

The Secretary-General is now on his way to Madrid, the last stop of his travels to move forward with the implementation of resolution 1701.  In Madrid, he plans to meet with Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, as well as other Spanish officials.

And the Secretary-General is expected back in New York late tomorrow.

** Lebanon

Also regarding Lebanon but on a different issue, Nicolas Michel, the Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and the UN’s Legal Counsel, will visit Beirut from today until 8 September.

This is part of his continuing ongoing discussions with the Lebanese authorities aimed at the establishment of a tribunal of an international character, pursuant to Security Council resolution 1664 (2006), to bring to justice those responsible for the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 22 others.

Also on Lebanon, the World Health Organization (WHO) has just released the findings of its recent assessment of health facilities in that country.

The results show that a quarter of the hospitals and clinics that were examined are not functioning due to physical damage, or lack of staff or accessibility.  WHO also says that water and fuel shortages remain a serious concern.

At the same time, demands on the health system are growing, given the number of people injured during the conflict and the fact that people returning to their communities require health care.

And we have a press release on that upstairs.

**Security Council

And as you know, there are no Security Council meetings going on today here.

** Sudan

Back to the field, the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) says that the African Union has reported that one of its patrols, made up of six vehicles, was fired on by armed men, near Kutum in Northern Darfur, two days ago.

The African Union says that, after an exchange of gunfire, the armed men fled when one of their five vehicles was hit, and the African Union patrol returned safely to the town.

In Nyala in South Darfur, some 10,000 demonstrators protested yesterday against the Security Council’s resolution 1706, and a large number of demonstrators also threw stones at UN offices, as well as NGO compounds and vehicles.

And we have more upstairs from the briefing notes from the Mission.

** Somalia

Yesterday afternoon, we did issue a statement on Somalia saying that the Secretary-General welcomed the outcome of the second round of talks held between Somalia’s Transitional Federal Institutions and the Islamic Courts in Khartoum.

During those talks, both signed an accord that commits them to honour previous agreements and to reconstitute the Somali national army and national police force and work towards reintegration of the forces of the Islamic Courts, the Transitional Federal Government and other armed militias in the country.

The Secretary-General commends the parties for having taken this positive step forward.  He encourages the parties to implement what has been agreed upon so far, and to do everything possible to ensure a conducive environment for the next round of talks, which will take up crucial political, power-sharing and security issues.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

The Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Jan Egeland, travelled today to Katanga, the southernmost province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where he visited a camp for the internally displaced and a demobilization site, and met with representatives of non-governmental organizations working in the area.  Egeland is expected to head tomorrow to Bukavu in South Kivu province, to visit a clinic that specializes in treating victims of sexual violence.

During a meeting yesterday evening in Kinshasa with President Kabila, Egeland stressed the need to expand humanitarian and development operations in the DRC.  He recalled that, so far, $38 million had been allocated to the country from the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund.

He also underscored the need to fight impunity, particularly with regard to the violence that has been inflicted upon the civilian population and the sexual abuse perpetrated against women and children.

**World Health Organization

The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a press release today listing the proposals for nominations for the post of Director-General of the agency.

In a special session on 9 November, WHO will consider the Board’s nomination and appoint a Director-General.

As you’ll recall, Dr. Lee Jong-wook died suddenly in May, two years before the end of his five-year term.

**Tuberculosis

And also from the WHO, they’ve expressed concern over the emergence of a virulent drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis (TB) and are calling for measures to be strengthened and implemented to prevent the global spread of the deadly strains.

Tomorrow, WHO will join other TB experts at a two-day meeting in South Africa to discuss the necessary responses to the new threat, particularly in Africa.

**Press Conference Today

And after we hear from Mr. Gambari and Mr. Hamburg, around 1 this afternoon, the Co-Chairs of the High-level Group of the Alliance of Civilizations, Federico Mayor and Mehmet Aydin, will be here to brief on the work of this Group.

**Guest at Noon Tomorrow

And tomorrow at noon, Karen AbuZayd, the Commissioner-General of UNRWA, will be here to take your questions.

That is it for me.  Yes, Edie?

Questions and Answers

Question:  I was wondering if the Secretary-General has any comment on the proposal by the Iranian President today that he debate President Bush during the General Assembly.

Spokesman:  No particular comment except to say that the Secretary-General has supported the ongoing dialogue between the EU3 and the other three Council members and the Iranians on the nuclear issue and believes in that process.  But no particular answer to that offer.

Question:  Just a quick follow-up.

Spokesman:  Yes, ma’am.

Question:  Is the General Assembly considered a place for any kind of debate between leaders of different countries?

Another Correspondent:  It’s called the general debate.

Spokesman:  It is.  It is.  I think that –- you know, I’m just not going to go down this road, I’ve decided.  Yes, Mark?

Question:  I just wondered with regards to the situation in Sri Lanka, whether the UN is going to get more involved, whether there’s any thought about [inaudible].  Sri Lanka is the question.

Spokesman:  Sri Lanka is the question.  Okay.  The answer would be that we continue to support the Norwegian efforts and encourage both parties to work with that effort on the humanitarian front.  Mr. Egeland has been very clear that, for the humanitarian work to continue, there needs to be security on the ground.  So, it’s obviously a situation that we’re watching.

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  At this point, as I said, our support continues to be to the Norwegian-led efforts.  Benny?

Question:  Two questions.  One, there are reports that, with the facilitation of Annan and Secretary of State Rice, agreement has been reached for the international force to come in and for Israel to remove the blockade.

Spokesman:  The Secretary-General is very hopeful that this will happen very soon.  As you’ve said, he has been working the phones during the last days on this.  It’s a work in progress and we very much hope to see some light on this within the next day or so.

Question:  And second question.  I don’t remember the name, but there was a report in a New York newspaper that competes with the New York Sun, I don’t remember the name, about the Lebanese security officer that was murdered yesterday and apparently was involved in the Hariri investigation [inaudible].  And when is the next Hariri investigation report due?

Spokesman:  The report, the next report from Mr. Brammertz, if my calendar is right, is due around 29 September to the Security Council.  We have seen the reports of the incident.  We’re still getting some further details from the Lebanese forces on this, but the UN remains committed to Lebanon’s stability and unity in these difficult times, and we strongly condemn any effort to undermine that security.

Question:  [Inaudible]

Spokesman:  We are awaiting more information from the Lebanese authorities.  Yes, Sylviane?

Question:  Any update on the UNIFIL troops?

Spokesman:  I think as I’ve said yesterday, it’s progressing, it’s progressing well.  I think we’re above the 3,500 mark.  We should be just above it now.  The Italians are deploying; the French also continue with their deployment.  We’re talking to the Indonesians about an airlift, about bringing them in.  We remain hopeful that we’ll reach the 5,000 mark by the middle of the month.

Question:  As a follow-up, how many international forces Israel wants before its withdrawal from south Lebanon?

Spokesman:  Well, I think it’s a question you’d have to ask them.  We’re trying to get as many forces on the ground as soon as possible.  Yes, Bill?  Sorry, and then we’ll go to you, Laura.

Question:  Has the Secretary-General been notified of Israel’s decision to lift the embargo tomorrow, and if so, does he have any reaction to it?

Spokesman:  Well, he’s, as I’ve said, currently on the plane, but he is extremely hopeful that that will be the case.  It is an effort –- something he’s been working on.

Question:  Well, they’ve announced it.  Have they informed him?

Spokesman:  As I’ve said, I have nothing further than what I’ve just said.

[The Spokesman later issued a statement saying the following:

“I am pleased that the Israeli Government has agreed to lift its blockade of Lebanon, effective 6 p.m. Beirut local time tomorrow, Thursday, 7 September 2006.

“The lifting of the blockade will enable Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and his Government to accelerate their economic recovery and reconstruction programme.

“I would like to thank the Governments which contributed to making this possible.

“I will continue to exert every effort to secure the full implementation of Security Council resolution 1701 (2006), enabling the Government of Lebanon to extend its authority over its territory and to exercise its full sovereignty.”]

Question:  I just wanted to ask you about what you said about the 10,000 demonstrators who were demonstrating against the Security Council resolution.  Is Jan Pronk in Sudan right now in Darfur?  And has there been any sort of UN control of –- I mean, what happened after that and are they talking to regional leaders?

Spokesman:  No, he is not; Mr. Pronk is not in Darfur.  But this is again another sign of the insecurity that we see in Darfur and the risk posed to humanitarian workers.

Question:  Is there anything going on where they are trying to speak to regional leaders about this?

Spokesman:  Soon after the peace agreement was signed in Abuja, Mr. Pronk launched on a -- went to Darfur in an effort to brief the various parties, the different chiefs there, on the importance of the agreement and on the importance of not only signing it, but abiding by it.  And that’s a continuing effort to try to promote and educate people as to what is in the agreement.  Yes, Matthew?

Question (to other correspondents):  Is there anything more on Jan Pronk?

Spokesman:  Thank you for moderating.  Yes, Mark?

Question:  I was wondering, is there a “plan B” for Sudan, because it seems that Bashir is now in a pretty entrenched position, isn’t going to allow in the troops.  You’ve got the prospect of a mighty catastrophe there.  You continue to talk about this myth of a possibility of sending in this mission, when it’s been very clear it’s not going to happen.  Is there anything else on the table that the UN could do to save the lives of potentially thousands of people, or are you going to continue down this route, that has been apparently closed for some time now anyway, to propagate the myth of this process?

Spokesman:  I mean, maybe a myth to you, but I think the Security Council has passed the resolution.  We are working with the Council members.  We expect others to help us implement it.  The Secretary-General, if you look at his comments from yesterday, was very clear of the responsibilities the Sudanese Government has vis-à-vis the protection of its own people and the questions it would have to answer to the international community.

Question:  Well, to follow up on that, given that that’s not happening, is there any suggestion that you might set up safe areas, for example, in Chad or anywhere else?

Spokesman:  Obviously, the security of the IDPs [internally displaced persons] in Chad is something we’re continuously looking at, but our focus at this point remains both on the operations in Chad and on helping AMIS and on working with the Sudanese Government.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Is there any update on the exchange of prisoners between Palestine and Israel and Lebanon -- I mean, Hizbollah -- and the Israelis?

Spokesman:  No.  I have nothing.

Question:  Nothing?

Spokesman:  I have nothing to report.  Yes?

Question:  On the facilitator, do you have anything to add?

Spokesman:  Nothing to add, retract, confirm or anything.

Question:  When will he be sent or start his work?

Spokesman:  I have absolutely nothing to share with you on that, unfortunately.  Yes, Benny?

Question:  On Sudan, when you say that the Secretary-General stressed Sudan’s responsibility for its own citizens, is that an indication that he might agree to the idea of Sudan [inaudible] of sending its own troops?

Spokesman:  No, I think he’s been very clear on expressing his extreme concern at that option.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  First of all, on Jan Pronk.  Just two questions.  Is he in south Sudan?  Or where is Mr. Pronk?  And what’s the status between Mr. Pronk and the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS)?  There had been this previous –- everything’s moving smoothly now?

Spokesman:  The roadblocks that had been there, the misunderstandings that have been there, have now been cleared up, and Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) is working -- is functioning normally within United Nations Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS).  As to his exact location, I can try to find out for you.

Question:  There’s been an item that the General Assembly was supposed to vote on yesterday, and today, and now it’s going to be tomorrow, about Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan and Armenia.  So, part of the dispute is this request that the Secretary-General do a report on the area.  Is the Secretariat involved in these discussions at all?

Spokesman:  It’s before the General Assembly.  Once they vote and instruct the Secretary-General, then we’ll follow that resolution.  But we’re not involved in those discussions.

Question:  Is it possible to describe the United Nations activities in Nagorno-Karabakh?  Which agencies are providing services?

Spokesman:  We can look on the humanitarian side.

[The Spokesman later added that the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) did not have a presence in Nagorno-Karabakh.  Nevertheless, it had recently worked with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to support efforts by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to control the forest fire situation there.]

Question:  And finally, one other thing, there’s a request to the Secretary-General by human rights groups, mostly in Nepal, about this General called Katuwal, that had been very involved in cracking down on the rebels, and I believe on demonstrators, now being head of the army in Nepal.  The groups say they’ve written to the Secretary-General, asking the UN to no longer use Nepalese soldiers as peacekeepers, and it’s described as a major stream of income for the Army.  So first, has the Secretary-General gotten the letter?  Does he have a response to the letter?  And if you can maybe say something about peacekeeping being a stream of income to militaries?

Spokesman:  I will check with our office in Nepal, which is headed by Ian Martin, to see if I can get you anything on that letter and it’s been received.

Question:  How about the stream of income thing?  Is that your understanding?

Spokesman:  You know, let me -– I’ll get some guidance on that.  I don’t want to go into it at this point.

[The Spokesman later added that the United Nations has received the letter in question and is currently studying it.]

On that note, I will invite Mr. Gambari and Mr. Hamburg.

* *** *

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