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

20 September 2006

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

20 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.

Briefing by the Spokesman for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon.  I assume most of you are here for the next act, but we’ll get through this briefing as soon as the doors close.  Thank you.

** Middle East Quartet

The Secretary-General will meet with other principal members of the Middle East Quartet –- which, as you know, brings together the European Union, the Russian Federation, the US and the United Nations -- in his conference room upstairs from about 12:30 to 2 p.m.

Then, at approximately 2 p.m., the Secretary-General and the other members of the Quartet will speak to you at a press conference in Conference Room 4 to discuss the work of the Quartet.

The other participants will be the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice; the Russian Federation Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov; the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Policy, Javier Solana; the European Commissioner for External Relations, Benita Ferrero-Waldner; and representing the presidency of the European Union, the Foreign Minister of Finland.

** Lebanon

Turning now to Lebanon, the troop strength of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has reached approximately 5,000 troops following the arrival of contingents from France, Italy and Spain in south Lebanon in recent days.  This concludes the first phase of the UNIFIL deployment, with additional contingents planning to join the UN Force within the next few weeks.

UNIFIL Force Commander Major-General Alain Pellegrini, said that he looks forward to inspecting all the new contingents as soon as they are ready to deal with the tasks ahead.

Meanwhile, a trilateral meeting was held yesterday between General Pellegrini and senior officers from the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), in which they discussed, among other things, further Israeli withdrawals and Lebanese troop deployment.

Afterwards General Pellegrini said:  “The meeting was positive.”  He said:  “We are making progress.  IDF withdrawals and Lebanese deployments are on track.”  We do have a press release upstairs with more information.

**Security Council

Meanwhile, back here, the Security Council is currently holding an open debate, at the ministerial level, on cooperation between the United Nations and regional organizations in maintaining peace and security.  The meeting is being chaired by the Foreign Minister of Greece, Dora Bakoyannis, and Greece has also submitted a non-paper, available as a document, on this subject.

In his address to the Council debate, the Secretary-General said the partnership between the United Nations and regional organizations is stronger today than in the early 1990s, with cooperation occurring in places from Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kosovo and Afghanistan.

He said:  “We have a better sense today of our respective strengths and advantages.”  He added that, as the demand for peacekeeping and other services grows, the time has come to take the regional-global partnership to a new level of clarity, practicality and seriousness.  We have his comments upstairs.

** Sudan

Prior to attending the Security Council meeting, the Secretary-General this morning took part in the African Union’s Peace and Security Council meeting on Darfur at the mission of the African Union, which is on forty-seventh Street.  That meeting is currently still going on.

On the sidelines of the meeting, the Secretary-General met with Heads of State of the 15-member Peace and Security Council.

Also on Darfur, we have learned from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations that a troop and police contributors’ meeting for Darfur is now scheduled to take place on Monday afternoon, with more than 140 countries having been invited to attend.

** Gambia

Also on Africa, in advance of the presidential elections to be held in the Gambia later this week, the Secretary-General has appointed General Abdulsalami Abubakar, the former Head of State of Nigeria, as his Special Envoy for the Gambia.  General Abubakar will be travelling immediately to the capital, Banjul.  He will work within the framework of the Secretary-General’s good offices, to promote dialogue between all concerned parties aimed at ensuring a smooth and peaceful electoral process in the Gambia.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

And from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the UN Mission in that country says that the countrywide campaigning for the runoff presidential elections will take place from the 13 to 27 October.  Campaigning for the provincial elections will run from the 28, the 20 of September to 27 October.

Meanwhile, the UN Special Representative in that country, William Lacy Swing, has commended Congolese police and UN peacekeepers for their prompt and salutary intervention to contain yesterday’s violent rally by supporters of Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba.

Bemba’s supporters were apparently angered that a fire destroyed the Kinshasa building housing two television stations owned by Mr. Bemba.

** Iraq

From Iraq, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) today expressed concern that human rights violations, particularly against the right to life and personal integrity, continue to occur at an alarming daily rate in that country.  In its latest human rights report, which is available upstairs, the UN Mission affirms that the numbers of civilians killed violently in the country were at an unprecedented 3,590 in July and 3,009 in August.  The report adds that hundreds of bodies have continued to appear throughout the country, bearing signs of severe torture and execution-style killing.  Displacement of population also continued to grow and affect all parts of Iraq.

The report also raises alarm at an increasing number of “honour crimes” affecting women in a disproportionate manner.  We have a press release and the report available for you upstairs.

** Liberia

Also available today is the Secretary-General’s latest progress report on Liberia.  In it, he says that security has remained generally stable in the wake of the transfer to The Hague of the former Liberian leader, Charles Taylor.  The report says that the authority of the Liberian State is being consolidated throughout the country, with the UN Mission facilitating the redeployment of State officials to their duty stations.  Meanwhile, some 19,000 former fighters are expected to be absorbed by UN-run projects as part of a disarmament and rehabilitation programme.

**Kosovo

A couple of more items here.  From Kosovo, the Secretary-General’s Principal Deputy Special Representative, Steven Schook, today expressed outrage at an attack in the western town of Klina in which four members of a Kosovo Serb family were wounded.  At the same time, Schook said he was encouraged to see the immediate reaction of the Kosovo authorities to the incident, including by the Prime Minister and the Mayor of Klina.

**ICTR

And a trial chamber for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda today unanimously acquitted André Rwamakuba, a former Rwandan Government Minister, of all charges brought against him.  He had been charged with complicity in genocide, extermination and murder, and crimes against humanity for his alleged involvement in specific incidents in April of 1994.

** Tajikistan

And from Tajikistan, UN agencies and their partners working in that country have appealed for $1 million to help the survivors of two earthquakes which struck a southern district last July.

**CTBT

And this morning a ministerial meeting on the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty was held here at UN Headquarters.  In a message to the gathering, delivered by the Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, Nobuaki Tanaka, the Secretary-General said that each additional signature of the Treaty would bring the world closer to achieving its longstanding goal of outlawing all nuclear tests, thereby advancing both nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.  We have the full text of that upstairs.

**International Day of Peace

And lastly, tomorrow is the International Day of Peace, and to mark the occasion, the Secretary-General will ring the Peace Bell at 9:30 a.m. in the West Court Garden on the front lawn.  Five Messengers of Peace will accompany him -– Vijay Amritraj, Anna Cataldi, Michael Douglas, Jane Goodall and Elie Wiesel.

The Secretary-General will also observe a minute of silence in the name of peace, and later, the Secretary-General, accompanied by his wife Nane, will lead a group of students to Conference Room 2 for an annual student conference.  At that conference, the more than 700 students from around the US will gather with the Messengers of Peace to discuss, by satellite, issues of peace with their counterparts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kosovo and Liberia.

And we have more information… oh, one last thing.  There is a Tripartite Forum on Interfaith Cooperation, comprising Governments, UN agencies and non-Governmental organizations.  They will also hold a High-level Conference on Interfaith Dialogue and Cooperation for Peace tomorrow in Conference Room 3, beginning at 10 a.m. – and, I assume that, if I’m telling you about it, that’s because you’re invited.

That’s it for me.  Any questions?

Questions and Answers

Question:  Yesterday, the French President, Jacques Chirac, made two important proposals before the Assembly.  One is to have the Quartet begin to prepare an international conference on the Middle East, and the other the establishment of a UN organization on the environment.  Does the Secretary-General have any reaction to those proposals?

Spokesman:  On the Quartet and the international conference, these are obviously issues that will be discussed during the Quartet meeting and probably also during the Security Council meeting on the Middle East that will take place later this week at the Security Council.  Obviously, on the issue of the environmental agency, it is an important proposal which, I think, needs to be studied and needs to be looked at by the Member States.

Question:  The President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, he’s slated to, I think, speak today at the GA.  I’m wondering, is the Secretary-General going to meet with him, going to speak with him, as a follow-up to his decision not to quote mediate?

Spokesman:  I’ll have to see if there is a bilateral scheduled and I’ll let you know.

[The Spokesman later added that no such bilateral was scheduled.]

Question:  Also, this is 20 September.  The Côte d’Ivoire, is that meeting taking place?

Spokesman:  I’m sorry.  Mea culpa for not mentioning it.  It is taking place downstairs in one of the conference rooms, near the Viennese Café.  We have set up a stakeout.  It starts at 3 p.m.  We have set up a stakeout outside for those of you who want to catch the participants going in or going out.

Question:  This is, I guess, an outside-of- New York question.  In Somalia, where there was this attempt to assassinate the President, it’s said that the Transitional Federal Government has asked for the world community’s help to find out who did the bomb.  The US is sending people from Djibouti to look into it, it’s reported.  Is the UN going to have any role in the investigation?  Is it responding to Somalia (inaudible) for help?

Spokesman:  I don’t know and I will check with the Office of the Personal Representative, Mr. Fall.

[The Spokesman later added that the United Nations, at this stage, had not received a formal request from the Somali authorities and, therefore, has no immediate plans to join the investigation.]

Question:  I wanted to ask if there was an official response on the part of the Secretary-General to the Bush Administration’s claim that the UN is moving too slowly in relation to Darfur.  And secondly, has a timeline been finalized for getting the full UN troop strength in Lebanon?

Spokesman:  We still expect to have close to full strength by 90 days from, about, from the beginning of this month, so, I’m pretty bad at maths so we’ll have…

Question:  (Inaudible) from 1 September?

Spokesman:  Exactly.  But, we’re on the right track.  We have close to 5,000 now.  I think we’re moving ahead very well on that front.  On Darfur, this was one of the main issues that was discussed between the President and the Secretary-General during their bilateral meeting yesterday.  I think the Secretary-General himself expressed frustration at the situation on a number of occasions.  He has clearly stated his position -- one that involves action, and strong action, on the political front by all the Member States of this Organization in order to try to help convince the Sudanese Government to accept a UN force.  For its part, I think the Secretariat has been extremely active on the humanitarian front, in the limited capacity and the shrinking capacity that we have now on the ground in Darfur.  But, it is time for the Member States to make some decisions and to push strongly on the Darfur issue.  We are on the verge of a man-made catastrophe in that part of Africa and we need to push hard in whatever way we can to find a political solution that will help us deploy UN troops in that part of the world.

Question:  Yesterday, the Sudanese President, when he was asked these questions as to why he’s reluctant to allow the UN force in there, one of the reasons that was cited was that because he believes that lots of other Western interests are behind all this, and there will be (inaudible), he will under no circumstance accept anybody other than the black face, I mean, African force completely, no other choice.  In that event, in all his reservations and concerns that he has cited, what does the United Nations Secretary-General do to persuade him?

Spokesman:  We heard the press briefing by the President yesterday.  The Secretary-General has worked hard on his part in trying to convince President Bashir to alter his position, and he will continue to work hard in all his contacts with President Bashir.  But, I think, as I said to the last questioner, it is also the responsibility of all the Member States to have an influence in Khartoum, whether they be Arab States, African States or others, to help find a solution -- and the end result of that solution needs to be the protection of the lives of the millions of people in Darfur who are currently suffering.  The African Union Peace and Security Committee is meeting currently, right now.  I think we will have to see, and President Bashir, I understand, was at that meeting.  We’ll have to see what comes out, what comes out of that meeting.  It’s a slow process and it’s a tragedy that this is taking so much time.  But, the Secretary-General and others are working hard to try to change the situation.

Question:  Is the Secretary-General also involved in the OIC, which is also going to be meeting today to ask, somehow?

Spokesman:  We have had contacts with everyone who can have an influence in this situation.

Question:  I believe the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was here.  Did the Secretary-General meet with him?

Spokesman:  I don’t believe there was a bilateral yet scheduled with him, but, we’ll have to check the schedule.  I’ll check the schedule.

[The Spokesman later added that the Secretary-General had not met with Abbas.]

Question:  On the President Al-Bashir press conference, one of the things he said was that all the demonstrations for Darfur are organized by Zionist organizations.  I guess I’m asking you whether, from this podium, the Secretariat finds the comment helpful or unhelpful.

Spokesman:  I think it’s in everyone’s interest, including the Sudanese Government, to help find a solution that will bring peace and stability, and bring relief to the suffering of the people of Darfur.  This is not just the cause of one group.  This is time for the Member States to live up to their pledge of the responsibility to protect which was taken last year.

Question:  To follow up on Matthew’s question, the specific issue is a Head of State standing here in front of us and accusing Zionists.  That reminds me of somebody similar to him, years ago, whose name –- I’m old enough to remember that –- whose name was Hitler.  Now, is the UN going to take a position on a statement like this made inside the UN building?

Spokesman:  I just answered that question…

Question:   There was no answer.

Spokesman:  I answered the question.

Question:  Will there be any comment on Venezuela’s appeal to have the UN moved to Venezuela that was just made?

Spokesman:  No.

Question:  I’d like to know if we have any later news from what happened yesterday in Thailand.  The Presidenthad to leave and he couldn’t do the speech yesterday because of the situation in his home.

Spokesman:  Yes.  We were informed, the General Assembly Secretariat was informed by the Mission of Thailand, yesterday afternoon, that they were giving up their speaking slot, and we were later informed that the Mission was rescinding the credentials [of Thaksin Shinawatra, who had earlier been scheduled to speak as Prime Minister.]

Question:  How about the candidate for the Secretary-General from Thailand.  Will that person still be in the running for that post?

Spokesman:  It’s a valid question.  That’s one that will have to be addressed by the Thai Government and by the Security Council itself.

Question:  One more.  About the DPRK.  Tomorrow morning there is a meeting planned by the United States Government.  Does the UN plan to send any kind of representative to that meeting, and are there any plans by the UN to push DPRK in terms of Security Council resolutions?

Spokesman:  I’ll check if we are sending someone to the meeting.

As a reminder:  12:45 p.m. here, the President of Venezuela; 2:45 p.m., the President of Pakistan; and 4 o’clock, the President of Bolivia.  Thank you.

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