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

11 September 2006

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

11 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.  Happy Monday.

**Secretary-General on 11 September

The Secretary-General, in a statement we put out earlier this morning, said that the attacks of 11 September “cut us all to the core, for they were an attack on humanity itself”.  He said in the statement that our thoughts and prayers today are with the victims, and with all those who lost loved ones in that tragedy five years ago.

The Secretary-General said that last Friday’s adoption by the General Assembly of a UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy sends a clear message that terrorism is unacceptable, no matter who commits it, no matter what the reason.  He noted that it underlines the resolve of all Governments to take concrete actions to address the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism, to prevent and combat terrorism in all its forms, and strengthen the individual and collective capacity of Member States and the United Nations to do so -- all while ensuring the protection of human rights.

The Secretary-General, in a statement also issued on Friday, said he urged all Members to honour the victims of terrorism everywhere by taking swift action to implement all aspects of the strategy.

**Security Council

Turning now to the Security Council, the tragedy in Darfur has reached a critical moment, the Secretary-General told the Security Council in an open debate on Sudan today, and he urged the Council in the strongest possible terms to rise to the occasion.

The Secretary-General said that thousands of Sudanese Armed Forces troops have now been deployed in Darfur, in clear violation of the Darfur Peace Agreement, and added that the area has been subjected to renewed aerial bombings.  “I strongly condemn this escalation”, he told Council members, and he called on the Sudanese Government to stop its offensive immediately.  As access gets harder, the Secretary-General added, the humanitarian gains of the past two years are being rolled back and we face the prospect of having to drastically curtail an acutely needed humanitarian operation.  He asked, “Can we, in conscience, leave the people of Darfur to such a fate?”

This is no time, he argued, for the middle ground of half-measures or further debate.  The Secretary-General, once more, urged the Government of Sudan to embrace the spirit of resolution 1706, to give its consent to the transition to a UN force, and to pursue the political process with new energy and commitment.  But, he added, “my voice alone will not convince the Government” and he encouraged the Security Council and other Governments to use their influence with the Government in Khartoum.

And of course, we have copies of that statement upstairs, and the debate is continuing now.  The Security Council’s meeting began with a minute of silence in observance of the fifth anniversary of the attacks of September 11.

** Sudan

Meanwhile on the ground, the World Food Programme (WFP) says the situation is reaching critical stages in Darfur -- for 355,000 people in north Darfur -- because the area has experienced a sharp increase in tension since May, when the Darfur peace agreement was signed.  And we have upstairs a number of press releases from humanitarian agencies underscoring the dire situation on the ground.

** Uganda

Meanwhile, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland is continuing his eight-day, three-nation mission to Africa.  He is currently in Juba, south Sudan, to follow up on the peace talks between the Government of Uganda and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) now taking place there.  This morning, he met with the Ugandan Prime Minister.  Among other things, they discussed the situation in the north of his country, and Egeland raised some of the issues brought to him by the communities of internally displaced persons that he met with over the weekend.

Egeland is expected to be in Nairobi tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the Force Commander of the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is due to arrive tomorrow in Kampala, to discuss with Ugandan authorities the repatriation of LRA rebels hiding in the DRC, in connection with the peace agreement signed in south Sudan last week.

** Lebanon

Turning now to Lebanon, the UN Force Commander of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), Major-General Alain Pellegrini, met today with the senior representatives of the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Israeli Defense Forces at the border crossing at Ras Naqoura.  They discussed further Israeli withdrawals and Lebanese deployment, in conjunction with UNIFIL.

General Pellegrini said:  “The meeting was very fruitful and we discussed, in detail, the further withdrawal of IDF from Lebanon.”  General Pellegrini said he believed that this process is going well and that both sides understand the need to proceed accordingly without further delay.

In terms of troop generation, UNIFIL tells us it currently has some 3,500 troops on the ground, following the arrival over the weekend of 200 French troops -- on Saturday, in fact.  The French personnel were the advance party for the deployment of a French battalion in the coming days.  Also, a Spanish battalion, of about 1,000 troops, is expected to arrive in the coming week, so we could have up to 5,000 personnel in the next week or so.

As for ships in the interim naval task force, headed by Italy, that task force, as we said, is up and running.  It consists of four Italian ships, and one ship each from France, Greece and the United Kingdom.  Meanwhile, UN peacekeepers over the past three days, have delivered some 184,000 litres of water.  In addition, the Chinese battalion experts destroyed some 241 unexploded ordnance and cleared some 1,300 metres of roadway.

** Iraq

Turning now to Iraq.  The Secretary-General’s latest report updating the work of the UN Mission in Iraq is out on the racks.  The Secretary-General tells the Security Council that, despite significant achievements in the political transition process, improving the security and human rights situation remains a major challenge.   Iraq today, he warns, has become one of the most violent conflict areas in the world, with Iraqi Government figures showing civilians being killed at an average of about 100 people per day.  He says that the Iraqi Government must do everything possible to progressively foster an environment conducive to the demobilization, disarming and reintegration of militias.

The Secretary-General adds that he hopes that the 18 September meeting that he will convene on Iraq will provide an opportunity for participants to engage in a frank and forward-looking dialogue about the country’s future.  And that meeting will take place here in New York on the sidelines of the General Assembly.

Meanwhile, also on the topic of Iraq, Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown co-chaired a preparatory meeting on the International Compact with Iraq, which was hosted yesterday by the Government of the United Arab Emirates in Abu Dhabi.  The meeting, attended by 13 Governments, as well as regional organizations and international financial institutions, resulted in an agreement on the direction and process of the Iraqi Compact, as presented by the Iraqi Government.

And we do have a press release on the results of the Compact available to you upstairs.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

Turning now to the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The Mission says that 34 militia members surrendered themselves and their weapons during the past week at various locales throughout the Ituri district in the country’s north-east.  This brings the total number of combatants who have surrendered, since the beginning of June, to 4,816; during the same period, approximately 2,400 weapons of different types and over 350,000 units of ammunition were also recovered.

Meanwhile, on the political front, the Mission says that preparations for the second round of presidential elections, as well as for the provincial elections are going on. Ballot papers are being printed in South Africa, while electoral kits are being disseminated throughout the country, with the UN’s help.

** Côte d’Ivoire

And from Côte d’Ivoire, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that it has sent a UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination team there, to help the Government respond to the recent toxic waste contamination crisis.  Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF have contributed medicines, and the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) has sent a chemical expert.  In conjunction, the UN Mission has also helped to put in a programme to raise public awareness related to this toxic waste disaster.

**Committee on Rights of the Child

From Geneva, the Committee on the Rights of the Child began its forty-third session in Geneva today.  During its three-week session, the body -- which oversees implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child -- will consider a number of country reports.  And you can find additional information on the website of the human rights office.

**Press Conferences and Briefings

And a couple of items to flag for you.  At 1:30 p.m. this afternoon, Jan Eliasson, President of the sixtieth session of the General Assembly, will be here to give you his wrap-up press conference.

Tomorrow, we’ll have at 11 o’clock -– the UN University will hold a briefing in this room on the topic “International Migration and Development:  Patterns, Problems, and Policy Directions”, which is the theme of the University’s seminar taking place tomorrow afternoon at the Dag Hammarskjold Library.

And at 1:30 p.m., the incoming President of the sixty-first session of the General Assembly (GA), Sheika Haya Al-Khalifa, will be here to hold her first press conference as the GA President.

And lastly, Nicolas Michel, the Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and the UN’s Legal Counsel, will be here at noon as our guest to brief you on this year’s Treaty Event.  But, no doubt, you may have other questions for him, at noon here tomorrow.

Questions and Answers

Question:  I just wanted to ask you about the Sudanese meeting today.  Apparently, the Secretary-General said to the Security Council that it is time for additional voices to put pressure on Sudan.  Does the Secretary-General support Egypt’s call to mediate the talks?

Spokesman:  What the Secretary-General has said today and what he has been saying is that not only he has been raising his voice, but obviously, Council Members need to raise their voices; countries in the region, whether they are Arab countries or African countries, who have an influence with the Government of Khartoum, need to raise their voice.  And anyone who can help move the process in a positive manner that will help protect the people of Darfur would be welcome.

Question:  So, does he support…

Spokesman:  You know, I haven’t seen the details of that proposal, but, as I said, anyone who would help move the Government in Khartoum, I think that would be a welcome development.

Question:   Syria has denied agreeing to deploy UN forces along the Lebanese-Syrian border.  How much is the SG concerned on this specific issue?

Spokesman:  Well, I think, following his meeting with President Assad, the Secretary-General received a promise from the Government of Syria that it would deploy additional troops on its side of the border.  Obviously, resolution 1701 calls for the international community to assist, at the request of the Government of Lebanon, in ways that it can strengthen its side of the border, with technical assistance and other forms of help.  We are in touch with a number of countries to assist the Government of Lebanon on this issue, and I think a number of countries will be willing to provide bilateral help to the Government of Lebanon.

Question:  Can we have some more information on these countries?

Spokesman:  These are obviously ongoing discussions.  When things are formalized and we are ready to announce, we will do that.

Question:   Egypt is trying to mediate the question of Darfur and it’s expected that it will ask for a three-month extension of the African Union forces there.  Would the Secretary-General be able to see this as a transitional solution?

Spokesman:  I think all these proposals have to be studied in detail.  It is clear that we would very much like to see AMIS stay through the end of the year to give time for an eventual transition to the UN force.  It is clear that the African Union peacekeepers have been doing an excellent job with very limited means.  They need the support of the international community.  In fact, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations will be meeting next week with officials from the African Union to see what sort of a concrete technical package we can offer them.  We have also been organizing, following that, a meeting of troop contributing countries and police contributing countries who can help in that regard.

Question:  There are some positive developments in the Middle East:  the Hamas and Fatah are on the verge of agreeing on forming a unity Government; Prime Minister Olmert is going to meet with President Abbas.  Is the Secretary-General confident that the Quartet will resume its work during the remainder of its mandate?

Spokesman:  Yes, he is.  I think, as you said, these are very encouraging signs.  We hope more of these will come in the wake of the Secretary-General’s visit to the region.  When he was in Ramallah, the Secretary-General gave his strong support to President Abbas’ efforts to form a Government of national unity, and he very much supports those efforts.

Question:  Last week, the Human Rights Council sent a team to probe violations during the [inaudible] Israeli conflict.  What happened?

Spokesman:  There was a team of four independent experts, which went … currently on an ongoing visit to Lebanon and Israel.  They will do their work and then report back to the Human Rights Council.  But those four experts, as far as I know, are separate from the resolution passed by the Human Rights Council last month.  But, as soon as we have an update from their work, we will pass that on to you.

Question:  [Inaudible]

Spokesman:  Yes, both your memory and mine are obviously deleted from last week, but I think, I did announce from this podium that they were either arriving in Israel or Lebanon, but we can both check.

Question:  Anything on the facilitator?

Spokesman:  No.

Correspondent:  You promised.

Spokesman:  I never promised.  The only thing I promised is not to say anything.

Correspondent:  We are left in the dark then.

Spokesman:  That makes two of us.

Question:  There is a report in yesterday’s Observer of London that to counteract the Islamic courts in Somalia, the US working with …  There are various e-mails that got released.  One of them says that as of June 2006, the US military contractors were in touch with senior UN officials in terms of counteracting Islamic courts.  The story is out and it’s circulating, and I wonder if you can either confirm or deny that a UN official spoke to these military contractors and who they were.

Spokesman:  I can follow up on this story.  I don’t have anything at this point.

Question:  There was also a report recently… the UNDP, WHO and others went to Mogadishu to meet with the Islamic Courts.  We are sort of not getting any readout on that.

Spokesman:  We can check with those agencies.

Question:  Here is more.  It was said that Jan Egeland is in Juba.  There is a report that he spoke with this guy, Vincent Otti, who was indicted by the ICC -– at the same time that he is saying that there should be no impunity.  It is reported that Vincent Otti is in southern Sudan and Jan Egeland is speaking to him about releasing women and children.  What are the next steps in terms of the indictment?

Spokesman:  The issue of the indictments is clear:  they are to be acted upon and they have to stand.  We will see if I can confirm whether or not that conversation did take place.

Question:  Regarding Israel and Hamas, does the UN take a position on the torching yesterday of the Kalkilya YMCA by Hamas and the demand for all Christian organizations to leave?

Spokesman:  I haven’t seen …

Question:  It is from yesterday.

Spokesman:  I’m sure it is.  I haven’t seen that particular report, but it is clear that in any country, the Secretary-General would clearly call for Governments to respect all religions.

Thank you very much.

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