DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICES OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL AND THE SPOKESWOMAN FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT

29 September 2006

DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICES OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL AND THE SPOKESWOMAN FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT

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

DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICES OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARy-GENERAL

AND THE SPOKESWOMAN FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT

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

Good afternoon.  My guest today will be Toby Lanzer, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in the Central African Republic, who will be joining us shortly to brief you on the situation in that country.

** Lebanon

I now have a statement to attribute to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

“The Board of Inquiry appointed to investigate the incident at Khiam, Lebanon, in which four UN Military Observers were killed, has now submitted its report to the Secretary-General.

“UN Patrol Base at Khiam was struck by a 500 kilogram precision-guided aerial bomb and destroyed at 1925 hours on 25 July 2006.  The Board of Inquiry notes that the Israeli authorities have accepted full responsibility for the incident and apologized to the United Nations for what they say was an “operational level” mistake.  The Board did not have access to operational or tactical level IDF commanders involved in the incident, and was, therefore, unable to determine why the attacks on the UN position were not halted, despite repeated demarches to the Israeli authorities from UN personnel, both in the field and at Headquarters.

“The report concludes that all standard operating procedures were followed and no additional actions could have been taken by UN personnel that would have changed the outcome.

“The Secretary-General once again pays tribute to the four who gave their lives in the cause of peace, and reiterates his heartfelt condolences to their families.”

**Security Council

Meanwhile, back here, Serge Brammertz, the Head of the International Independent Investigative Commission, this morning briefed the Security Council on his progress in investigating the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 22 other people.

Mr. Brammertz told the Security Council ambassadors that, despite the recent conflict in Lebanon, the Commission made progress in its investigation, and is satisfied with its efforts.  He said that 20 major investigation and analysis projects are ongoing, with the focus, in the last months, on consolidating the results of an extensive forensic examination of the crime scene.

Mr. Brammertz added that the Commission is examining information suggesting that Hariri was the subject of an earlier surveillance, and possibly of earlier attempts to kill him.  Brammertz’s statement is available upstairs and the Commission’s latest report, I think, you all had access to much earlier.

Brammertz’s opening briefing to the Council was followed by closed consultations, in which the discussion of the report continued.  And, I understand Mr. Brammertz is on his way to the stakeout right now.

Also this morning, the Security Council has scheduled consultations on the situation in Georgia.

This afternoon at 3 p.m., Council members will resume their work and will hold a closed meeting on Myanmar.  Council members are expected to hear a briefing on the latest developments there by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari.

The Council has also scheduled a number of formal meetings in the afternoon to vote on resolutions extending the mandates of different peacekeeping missions and panels that would otherwise expire at the end of the month.  They are set to vote on draft resolutions concerning the mandates of the United Nations Missions in Ethiopia and Eritrea, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as a panel of experts dealing with Sudan.

This is the last scheduled day of activity under the presidency of Greece, and as you know, with the new month coming on, Japan and Ambassador Kenzo Oshima will take over the presidency in October.

According to Ambassador Adamantios Vassilakis, the current President -- and I know this is something you all have been following with interest -- a “straw poll” for the selection of the next Secretary-General has been scheduled for Monday.

** Sudan

Meanwhile, turning to Sudan, the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) says that it has received reports that two local police patrols were attacked by unknown armed men on the road between Geneina and Sirba in Bir Dagig, in West Darfur.  No causalities were reported.

In South Darfur, meanwhile, UNMIS says there have been reports that two trucks belonging to an international non-governmental organization (NGO) were held up by armed men two days ago while travelling to Khor Abeche via Netiga.  The men stole money and cell phones before releasing the NGO staff.

Also in South Darfur, this time in Nyala, an NGO there reported that three shots were fired by an unknown man in front of its compound.  You can get more information on the situation in Darfur from a press release upstairs.

** Lebanon

Just going back to Lebanon, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) says that late yesterday, a French patrol travelling near the southern Lebanese village of Marwaheen saw an Israeli tank cross the Blue Line into Lebanon.  After some verbal communication, the Israeli tank recrossed back into Israel, but UNIFIL reported the incident as a ground violation of the Blue Line.

UNIFIL continues to expect that Israel will fully withdraw from southern Lebanon in the coming days.

**Central Africa

Meanwhile, available today is the latest report of the Secretary-General on the regional confidence-building measures and activities of the United Nations Standing Advisory Committee on Security Questions in Central Africa.

In the report, the Secretary-General says that the Standing Advisory Committee, while welcoming recent elections in Burundi and the United Nations Mission’s efforts to disarm militias in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, nevertheless, remains extremely concerned about the precarious security and humanitarian situation in the region.

The Secretary-General appeals to United Nations Member States to keep up their voluntary financial contributions to the Standing Advisory Committee.  And, he also urges countries in the region to assume full ownership of the activities of that Committee.

**Human Rights Council

Turning to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, the Council this morning discussed two reports: that of the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy; and that of the Independent Expert on Technical Cooperation and Advisory Services in Liberia, Ms. Charlotte Abaka.

**Central Emergency Response Fund

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that, as of tomorrow, the United Nations will have committed nearly $174 million from the new Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) for more than 250 projects in 26 countries.

During the Fund’s first seven months, nearly $97 million has been disbursed for new and/or rapidly deteriorating emergencies in Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lebanon, Niger, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Timor-Leste.

An additional $77 million of the funds have gone to underfunded emergencies in Burkina Faso, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Guinea, Haiti, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Republic of Congo, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

The UN refugee agency, or UNHCR, reports that tomorrow, it will be closing its office in Kissidougou, Guinea, ending a nearly 18-year presence in the region.  And that is primarily the result of a successful repatriation of Liberian refugees from Guinea.

Meanwhile, the Central African Republic (CAR) Government recently gave its agreement for UNHCR to use an air charter company to resume its voluntary repatriation operation to South Sudan.  UNHCR now plans to resume the operation for Sudanese refugees in south-eastern CAR in a few weeks.  And we have a press release upstairs.

**Tsunami

And our colleague Eric Schwartz, the United Nations Deputy Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery, late yesterday, issued a statement on Sri Lanka.  Mr. Schwartz said that he is deeply disturbed that over 200 civilians have been killed and thousands displaced over the past two months in Sri Lanka.

In parts of the north and east of the country, the tsunami recovery process has ground to a halt, and significant investments in reconstruction, so generously supported by donours around the world, are now imperilled, he adds.  And we have the statement upstairs.

**The Week Ahead at the United Nation

And last but not least, this is Friday and we have the Week Ahead at the United Nations for you with a couple of interesting items.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Today there is a report that Israeli airplanes attacked some base in Palestine and Gaza apparently and killed some Palestinians.  Any reaction to that?  And the other thing I wanted to ask you was about this report that was just issued.  It seems that you want to call it deliberate because it was so serious that these four peacekeepers were killed.  Why is this so muted?  Basically, it is muted because it does not want to criticize Israel, because it just wants to make peace?

Spokesman:  First of all, the Secretary-General said it was “apparently deliberate”.  I don’t agree with your characterization of the statement as being muted.  It clearly lays out the facts as we have them.  It notes that Israel has accepted full responsibility for the incident and apologized for what they said was an operational mistake.  However, the statement makes it clear that the Board did not have access to a number of field-level commanders, at the tactical level, and we are, therefore, unable to determine the why of the attacks and why they were not halted after so many demarches by United Nations authorities to the Israelis.  So, I don’t at all agree with you with the fact that it is muted.

Question:  But, you are just going to stop there?  You are not going to revisit the issue?

Spokesman:  It is clear that the report has a number of conclusions, which I think the previous briefer went into.  The report will be digested.  But, I don’t think anyone has said that this is closed.  We will study the report, take a look at its conclusions and see where we go from here.  As to the incident in Gaza, I did not see that particular incident but the Secretary-General has repeatedly stated his concern at the number of military activities that have been going on in Gaza and the loss of life of civilians.

Question:  There is no mention of who will compensate these United Nations peacekeepers?

Spokesman:  There are procedures relating to the compensation of people, United Nations staff, who die in the line of duty.  And, as I said, we will study the recommendations to the report and see where it takes us from there.  Before we go to our guest, we will now go to Gail, our General Assembly President’s Spokesperson.

Question:  May I ask a question?

Spokesman:  We’ll see what the question is.

Question:  On the statement on Lebanon and the investigation, is this really what the United Nations is saying here, that the —- with this precision-guided bomb -- United Nations base was actually targeted by the Israelis?

Spokesman:  The Israelis have accepted responsibility for the incident, which they said, and apologized for; it was an operational-level mistake.  It is clear that the Board of Inquiry did not have the access to a number of the operational tactical [Israeli Defense Forces] IDF staff, we would have liked to have the access to.  We did have access to senior officials, both on the military and the political side, so, the United Nations is unable to determine the why of the attacks and especially why they were not halted, despite the fact that we had made numerous calls both from the field and from Headquarters to our counterparts in the Israeli Government and the military.

Question:  How did the Israelis explain that their military commander, that a precision-guided bomb, hit United Nations observers?

Spokesman:  I think that is a question that should be directed to them.  Our Inquiry leaves us with a number of questions, on which, I think, I just elaborated on.

Gail, all yours.

Briefing by the Spokeswoman for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  The President of the Assembly, Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa, has begun a series of meetings with Chairs of the General Assembly Main Committees, and co-chairs responsible for various reform processes, as well as a number of other representatives of Member States.  On Thursday, she met with the Ambassadors of Italy, Germany, Argentina, Singapore, Sweden, New Zealand, Liechtenstein, San Marino and Yemen.  They discussed a wide range of issues and focused on the outstanding reform issues, such as Security Council reform, revitalization of the General Assembly, a comprehensive counter-terrorism convention, management reform and the reform of the Economic and Social Council.

She also met with the Ambassador of Japan, who will take over the presidency of the Security Council for the month of October, and the Ambassador of Greece, the outgoing President of the Council.  The discussions focused mainly on the selection of the Secretary-General, with a view to ensuring that transparency and open communication between the Assembly and the Council are maintained.

The plenary will meet on Monday on the Secretary-General’s report on the work of the Organization.

Further, to consultations this week and early next week, the Assembly President will outline the work programme for the sixty-first session around the main issues that I mentioned a little earlier.

Any questions?

Questions and Answers

Question:  When is she going to take up the issue of reform, and ask the Member States to take this issue now seriously, especially Security Council reform and management reform?  What will automatically undermine any American assistance to the United Nations?

Spokeswoman:  I think this is why she is holding the consultations now, to get a sense on how Member States feel, and how quickly they want to proceed.  In another week, she will have a press conference, where she will give you a sense of the programme of work, and you will certainly get, then, a better sense of when the reform issues will be discussed.

Question:  Does she have a timeline?

Spokeswoman:  As I mentioned, she wants to take the rest of next week to finish her consultations and I think by next Friday we should have something, more concrete for you.

Thank you very much.  Have a good weekend.

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