26 September 2006


26 September 2006
Spokesman's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York




The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Gail Bindley-Taylor Sainte, Spokeswoman for the General Assembly President.

Briefing by the Spokesman for the Secretary-General

** Lebanon

Starting off with the situation on the ground in Lebanon, Major General Alain Pellegrini, who, as you know is the head of the UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, met today with senior officers from the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).  They discussed continued Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon and Lebanese Army deployment.  The intention of the discussions is to complete this process as soon as possible.

“We had a constructive meeting today,” General Pellegrini said afterwards.  “It is my belief that with the necessary cooperation by both parties, we should see the IDF leave south Lebanon by the end of this month.”

UNIFIL currently is fielding more than 5,000 troops on the ground, and the next batch of new personnel is expected in the next couple of weeks.  Next week, the first German ship of what is to become UNIFIL’s naval contingent is expected to arrive; the German contingent is to include two frigates, as well as some smaller patrol boats.

**Brammertz Report

Yesterday afternoon, the Security Council received the latest report from the International Independent Investigation Commission that details the progress of its work in investigating the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, as well as 22 other people.

In transmitting the report to the Council, the Secretary-General, in an accompanying cover letter, said that “it highlights the Commission’s steady advancement in its investigations, despite experiencing difficulties in accessing witnesses and information as a result of the conflict in Lebanon”.  The Commission’s Chairman, Serge Brammertz, will discuss the report with the Council in an open briefing, followed by consultations, this coming Friday.

** Darfur

Turning now to Darfur, following earlier informal discussions, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations yesterday afternoon chaired the first formal meeting of potential troop and police contributors for Darfur.  About 70 countries attended.  Invitees were current contributors to peacekeeping and countries that have expressed an interest in contributing to an eventual UN mission in Darfur.

The peacekeeping department officials briefed these countries on current planning and activities with regard to a potential future UN deployment pending consent from the Government of Sudan and began a dialogue on contributions.  Initial pledges were made and we do hope to receive many more pledges and commitments.  A follow-up meeting is anticipated but not yet scheduled.

Meanwhile, the Secretary-General and the Chairman of the African Union Commission, Alpha Oumar Konare, have written jointly to Sudanese President Bashir, to inform him of a support package to the AU force in Darfur that was agreed upon last week during a joint meeting of the UN and the African Union.  The package envisages the deployment of equipment and UN personnel dedicated exclusively to providing technical support to the current African Union Mission in Sudan.

[The Spokesman’s Office later announced that the number of troop-contributing countries was, in fact, 49 and not 70.]

**Security Council

Meanwhile, back here, the Security Council today is discussing the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) in its closed consultations.  Azouz Ennifar, the acting Special Representative dealing with UNMEE, briefed the Council on the Secretary-General’s latest report, which we flagged for you yesterday.

The Council earlier had met with the troop-contributing countries to that Mission.

** Eritrea

And also, on a related issue, in a statement issued yesterday, the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea appealed to the Eritrean authorities to grant it access to an international Mission staff member detained since late August for allegedly attempting to smuggle Eritrean nationals out of the country.  The Mission adds that it has yet to be formally notified of the case by Eritrean law enforcement agencies.

The Mission also says that it has begun its own investigation into the matter and calls on Eritrean authorities to cooperate with the UN.  We have the full statement upstairs.

**Deputy Secretary-General

The Deputy Secretary-General, Mark Malloch Brown, leaves tonight for the United Kingdom where he will, tomorrow, participate in a panel discussion on Africa and development with political and civil society leaders in Manchester at the Labour Party Conference.

He will remain in the UK for annual leave before travelling to Brussels on 1 October for two days of meetings with officials from the Government of Belgium and the European Commission.  He will also address the European Parliament’s Development and Foreign Affairs Committees and the Belgian Royal Institute of International Relations.  He will return to the United Kingdom on 4 October to participate in a panel on “The Global Poverty Debate” at the Conservative Party conference in Bournemouth and he will also address the Oxford Union on 5 October before returning to New York.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

Meanwhile, the Secretary-General’s latest report on the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) is out on the racks today.

In it, the Secretary-General encourages the presidential candidates Joseph Kabila and Jean-Pierre Bemba to reaffirm their commitment to the electoral calendar, which sets out 29 October as the date of the second round for the presidential vote.

He also recommends that MONUC’s mandate be extended for four-and-a-half months to allow for consultations with the Government on MONUC’s future role –- and he says that the post-electoral period, international help for the Congolese Government’s efforts to consolidate peace should be strengthened.

While on this topic, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the Congo, William Lacy Swing, will be available to speak with you tomorrow, once he’s done briefing the Security Council at the stakeout.

**Human Rights Council

The Human Rights Council in Geneva today concluded its discussion on the right to adequate housing, the right to education, human rights and transnational corporations, and human rights and counter-terrorism measures.

It then began considering country and regional-specific reports.  Council members heard presentations by experts and held interactive discussions on human rights situations in Somalia, Cuba, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Cambodia and Haiti.

**WFP -- Africa

The World Food Programme (WFP) reports that Somali refugees fleeing the conflict between the Union of Islamic Courts and the Transitional Federal Government have pushed the number of refugees in Kenya to the highest level in a decade.  That development is threatening to exhaust food aid stocks unless urgent donations are made to the World Food Programme.

Meanwhile, in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, WFP has started airlifting urgent food aid to nearly 9,000 needy people, even though it has not yet received any funding pledges for next year’s operations.  And we have a press release from WFP available upstairs.

**Treaty Signings

The Heads of State and Government and other senior officials who came here last week undertook a total of 86 treaty actions through last Friday, including the signing by 20 countries of an optional protocol to boost protection of UN personnel in the field.  This is according to our colleagues in the Office of Legal Affairs.

Human rights treaties garnered a total of 27 treaty actions, including six for the Optional Protocol to the Torture Convention, which provides for the establishment of an international expert body and other preventive mechanisms to deal with torture.  And we have more details upstairs in a press release out on the racks.

**Guest Tomorrow

Craig Barrett, Chairman of the UN Global Alliance for Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and Development, will be joining us at noon tomorrow.

An initiative of the Secretary-General, the Global Alliance, is an open multi-stakeholder platform, which aims to promote the effective use of ICT for development.  Mr. Barrett, whose day job is to be the Chairman of the Board of Intel Corporation, will talk about the work of the Alliance since its inaugural meeting last June.

And that is it for me.  I will take any questions, if you have them.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Stéphane, maybe I missed it, but when you were talking about the DPKO meeting on Sudan, the troop-contributing meeting, you said that there was hope to receive more pledges.  Was there any firm pledges made?

Spokesman:  No, just a number of pledges expressed by some countries at this point.

Question:  And which countries were they?

Spokesman:  Since it’s right now just in the form of pledges, we’ll let those countries speak for themselves, but we are following up and trying to get more.

Question:  On Sudan, following up, the UN Spokesman in Khartoum is quoted as saying, or somewhere in Sudan, is quoted as saying the UN in Sudan is discussing the deployment of advisors from DPKO.  Maybe I missed that in what you were saying, but is it more than technical, as a possible compromise, sending UN advisors to facilitate the deployment of the AU, pending a future discussion with the Security Council -- do you have any information on that?

Spokesman:  This is something that we have spoken about from here, over the last couple of days.  There’s the package that was agreed upon between the UN and the AU, last week, at the meeting just across the street; it will lead to the eventual deployment of about 105 UN staff officers and other experts to help AMIS in its current work.  These are technical experts, staff officers; it will also help with communication packages, some transportation equipment and others.  This is really to boost AMIS in this period and to do it as quickly as possible.  The deployment of UN staff officers to the AMIS Headquarters in Darfur will have the immediate effect of freeing up a number of African Union officers to go from desk duties to the filed.  So, that is one way where we will be increasing in assisting AMIS.

Question:  Did you say that the trip that the DSG is taking is done on leave?

Spokesman:  No, I did not.  I said that he is going to the UK, he is speaking at a panel on development at the Labour Party conference.  Then he will be taking a couple of days of leave in the UK, then he will be going to Brussels, and he will be returning back to the UK to participate to speak at the Oxford Union and also at a Conservative Party Conference.

Question:  Secretary Rice told the New York Times today that the mandate of force in Lebanon should be robust and, basically, she indicated that they should implement the Security Council resolutions in a way that the resolution is intended.  There seems to be some kind of difference, between what she says it intends and what commanders on the ground…

Spokesman:  Well, indeed, it is a robust mandate.  As I’ve said here, the aim of UNIFIL is to support the Lebanese army in creating this weapons-free zone.  Obviously, the operational decisions that Commanders will have to take on the ground, and, if there are instances where the Lebanese army is not able to act, then UNIFIL will act.  They will have the manpower.  They have the equipment.  We’ve got quite a large number of people already on the ground and UNIFIL has been working effectively, as you can see, by the quick withdrawal of the Israeli forces from the south.  There is currently a team of senior DPKO military advisors on the ground in UNIFIL from Headquarters.  They’re currently meeting, obviously, with all the new unit commanders, who have just arrived, and they will go through the mandate and explain the operations, and help with the strategic view of UNIFIL.  But UNIFIL’s mandate is a robust one, as it clearly states in the resolution.

Question:  There seems to be, you say weapons-free zone, which is the language of the resolution, there seems to be a political decision in Beirut not to make it a totally weapons-free (inaudible) zone.  So, if that is the decision, does the UN have the mandate to…?

Spokesman:  We’re not going to go into hypotheticals.  We’ve always said that disarming of the militias will be based on a political accord within Lebanon, which it’s obviously a dialogue that is ongoing and we are supporting the political process as we can, and we will enforce the resolution with the robust mandate that we have.

Question:  I have a UN housekeeping question.  The north gate was open for the press.  I went through that gate today and probably was the only person to go through that gate.  After I got myself checked, I found out that the road from there to the UN is barricaded.  I had to jump over the barricade and be checked a second time.  So, my question is, I know that the UN doesn’t close missions that are not needed anymore, but would it be possible to find some positive use for the people employed in that gate, a few of them, for instance in Darfur, or some other important place in the world?

Correspondent:  Stéphane, I have a note that DPI gave me to read by the way that Security says checks back to normal, media screening now at visitors entrance…

Spokesman:  My spokesman has spoken.  The security arrangements that were in place during the General Assembly, which you have patiently put up with, are in the process of being taken down, so hopefully, you will not have to go through any more hassle in the incoming days.

Question:  Actually the people there, at the gate, be told what you just said now.  The problem is…

Spokesman:  They will be told.  Mr. Pincas, the problem will be solved in a manner that is acceptable to you over the next few days.

Question:  Several things… firstly, the meetings of the Lebanese and Israeli staffs with General Pellegrini, may I assume those were separate meetings or were they…

Spokesman:  No, they were another in a long series of meetings he has been holding since the early days of the cessation of hostilities.  And, they are joint meetings held at Ras al Naqoura, which is the crossing point between Israel and Lebanon.  He chairs those meetings between Israeli and Lebanese officers.

Question:  So, do I recall correctly, there is at least a possibility that Mr. Brammertz may be able to come and brief us on Friday?

Spokesman:  We will ask him to do that.

Question:  One last thing.  Refresh my memory please.  The event with Al Gore on Thursday evening in the ECOSOC Chamber, who is it that is sponsoring that, and is there a handout thereon?

Spokesman:  I don’t know if there is a handout.  It is part of the ongoing lecture series the Secretary-General has been having.

Question:  Why is Mr. Joschka Fisher the Foreign Minister of Germany here?  Did he express any wish or desire to work at the UN?

Spokesman:  I am not aware.  I think Mr. Fisher is currently living in the US and teaching at Princeton, but I will see if I can get you anymore details on the meeting.

Question:  On Kosovo, there’s been a rise in ethnic violence in the last days and weeks.  And so I wonder, as status talks are coming to an end and, as it looks increasingly likely that neither side is willing to give much ground in their positions, what safeguards is the United Nations putting on the ground to ensure that there’s no further inter-ethnic violence in Kosovo?

Spokesman:  Well, the status talks I don’t think are coming to an end.  Mr. Athisaari is here, he is briefing the Secretary-General and his work is not done and that is very clear.  The issue of protection of minorities and of ethnic-based violence has been one of great concern to the UN, to the UN Mission on the ground in Kosovo.  They have been doing what they can and also working with local leaders to lower the number of incidents, but it is something of great concern to the Mission, and they’ve been following it closely.

Question:  Obviously, it’s not immediately coming to a close, but looking ahead in the next couple of months, is there any additional beefing up of security that’s expected by the United Nations in Kosovo?

Spokesman:  I think the Mission will take whatever measures they feel appropriate on an as needed basis for security.  And obviously, the status talks will continue in parallel.

Question:  Three minor questions.  Do you know, does the SG have any plans to meet the North Korean visitor who is speaking to the General Assembly today –- I don’t know if there was a meeting yet -– any idea?

Spokesman:  I will check.

Question:  Any comment, I’ll give it a shot, Ambassador Bolton seemed to go a little but more out of his way to make sure that the US wants a chief administrative officer in the post as the next SG.  Seemed to be, in effect, saying we don’t want the type of Secretary-General we’ve come to know and have here.  Does Kofi Annan’s experiences not match up to what the US now wants?

Spokesman:  Well, as you know, the choice of the next Secretary-General is being discussed in the Security Council and I would definitely not be one to comment on who they want to pick or the kind of person they want to pick.  Meanwhile, this Secretary-General, as he’s said over and over again, will continue his work until 31 December.  That work includes administrative functions and the continued push for reform and it includes his activities as mandated by the Security Council and the General Assembly on all sorts of political issues, and peace efforts and good offices missions as we’ve seen in the Middle East and other places.

Question:  My third thing, on Benny’s theme, Shashi Tharoor, who I think I saw you sitting next to last night at a public function.

Spokesman:  My social life is really of no concern to anyone here.

Question:  Based on that, it seems to need some improvement, but basically, is his appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations, is that under his job title, or is he taking a leave for two hours to do that event?

Spokesman:  Mr. Tharoor is on leave until the end of September and is not in charge of DPI.  There is an officer in charge in DPI, so he is doing this on his own time and dime.

Question:  One Member State suggested recently that in order to have a good transition and to allow the next Secretary-General to have his own team, all ASGs and above will resign.  Is that any idea that has been considered by…?

Spokesman:  Let them choose a new Secretary-General and let that Secretary-General decide how the transition should be handled.  I’m not going to speculate on what will happen during the transition.

Question:  Is there a tradition involved in this?

Spokesman:  Tradition, tradition.  Don’t make me breakout into a song.  It is my recollection, it is told to me by others who had been here at the time that, I think, all USGs did hand in their resignation, I think after this Secretary-General came.  I am not 100 per cent sure of that but, I think we will have to see how this transition goes.

Question:  Yes, an untraditional follow-up.  Does anybody in the political department really predict or analyse moving toward some kind of expectation that violence could happen since we are approaching the end of the process in which the Kosovo…

Spokesman:  We have people, whether it’s in peacekeeping or political affairs, who do strategic planning and look at various scenarios for our own internal consumption.  Obviously, the issue of violence as things grow to a close is of concern to the Mission.  As I said, the Mission will take whatever appropriate measures they will need to take.

Question:  So, they are planning…

Spokesman:  What I’m saying is that we have people who plan and look at various scenarios and that’s for our internal consumption and to help the decision makers, but obviously, as I said, the issue of ethnic-based violence is one that is of concern, and has always been of concern to the Mission in Kosovo.

Question:  Is it going to be on Thursday that the Security Council, another straw poll, and this time with coloured voting?

Spokesman:  That is a question you should ask the Security Council President.

Question:  Forgive my ignorance on the Oxford Union, is it Oxford Union or Oxford University or what?

Spokesman:  Oxford Union.  My ignorance of things, Oxford University, is probably on par to yours.  The Oxford Union, I believe, is a [debating] society that is part of Oxford University but, I am not a graduate of Oxford.  On that note, I will leave you in the hands of Gail.  Thank you.

Briefing by the Spokeswoman for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon.  The General Assembly is in its penultimate day of proceedings, with some 25 speakers expected to address the General Assembly today.  The Assembly will hear the last 20 speakers of the debate tomorrow.  President Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa continues her bilateral meetings today.  She met this morning with the Holy See’s Secretary for Relations with States and the Ministers for Foreign Affairs of Ireland and Azerbaijan.

This afternoon, she’ll hold consultations with Foreign Affairs Ministers of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Tunisia, Belarus, Armenia, Barbados and Guinea.  So, we have one more day of the Assembly even though all of the restrictions have been removed.  We still have one more day and we still have some more speakers.

Anything on the Assembly?  Thank you, see you tomorrow.

* *** *

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