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

17 October 2006

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

17 October 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

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.

**Timor-Leste

Good afternoon.  Today, the UN Independent Special Commission of Inquiry for Timor-Leste submitted its report to the National Parliament of Timor-Leste.  You may recall the Commission was set up to establish the facts relating to the outbreaks of violence back in April and May of this year.  The Commission’s findings include that there was an absence of systematic control over weapons and ammunition within the security sector, particularly within the national police.

In regard to former Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, the Commission finds that there is no evidence before it, which could lead to a recommendation that he be prosecuted for being personally involved in the illegal movement, possession or use of weapons.  Nevertheless, the Commission adds it has information which gives rise to a suspicion that he knew about the illegal arming of civilians with police weapons by the Interior Minister.  Accordingly, the Commission has recommended further investigation to determine if Alkatiri bears any criminal responsibility.

In a message to the people of Timor-Leste, the Secretary-General urged them to accept the report’s conclusions and recommendations and to act on them in the constructive manner in which they were formulated.  If you’d like more information, we have, upstairs, a press release with much more detail, as well as the report itself.

**Security Council

Meanwhile back here, the Security Council is holding consultations today on the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hédi Annabi briefed Council members on the preparations for the second round of elections in that country, which are to take place on 29 October.

Annabi, under other matters, will also talk to the Council about recent developments in Ethiopia and Eritrea, which I read a statement on yesterday.  And, I understand there may be a press release from the ambassadors on the situation in Ethiopia and Eritrea.

The members of the Security Council will later hold their monthly luncheon with the Secretary-General.  Please be advised that we do not have a stakeout set outside of the Delegates Dining Room, and that any ambassador who wants to speak to you afterward will go to the regular second floor Security Council stakeout position.

** Lebanon

Meanwhile, from Lebanon, the Acting Force Commander of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, Brigadier General J.P. Nehra, met today with senior officers from the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Israeli Defense Forces [IDF] to discuss the situation around the southern Lebanese town of Gajjar and future security arrangements for the area.

Afterwards, Nehra said that the meeting went very well, and that the parties have “more or less closed all the gaps” except for a few minor technical issues.  He said that the issues should be finalized soon, and then he expects the IDF to complete their withdrawal from south Lebanon.  We have a press release with more information on that upstairs.

Also from Lebanon, about half a million school children returned to their public schools yesterday in Lebanon, for the start of the school year, which was delayed by one month because of the conflict.  UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] provided more details in their assistance to that operation in a press release available upstairs.

We do expect the Force Commander of UNIFIL, Major General Alain Pellegrini, who is in town this week, and he will be the guest at the noon briefing, we hope, this Thursday.

** Kenya – Somali Refugees

Just a couple of more items for you.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that the international aid community has issued a $35 million flash appeal for Kenya, to meet the needs of increasing numbers of Somali refugees over the next six months.  Fighting, drought and poverty in Somalia have caused the number of Somali refugees in the north-eastern Kenyan town of Dadaab to swell to 160,000.

The UN refugee agency, or UNHCR, has sent more staff to that area to carry out emergency camp registration procedures, and the World Food Programme is distributing food to new arrivals.  But, the situation remains precarious.  Particularly worrying to the UN staff is the fact that a 3-year-old girl, in one of the camps, has been diagnosed with polio, despite having received all necessary vaccinations.  This is the first case in Kenya in more than 20 years.  A team composed of Government officials, UNHCR, the World Health Organization and UNICEF is on its way to Dadaab to focus on the medical response.  We have more upstairs in the briefing notes from UNHCR.

**International Day for Eradication of Poverty

And lastly, today is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, which highlights the need for a truly global anti-poverty alliance.  In a message to mark the occasion, the Secretary-General said developed nations need to come through on their official development assistance (ODA) and debt relief commitments.  And developing nations should prioritize the Millennium Development Goals and adopt strategies to achieve them, he added.  And we have copies of his remarks upstairs.

This afternoon at 1, Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch-Brown will be delivering remarks on the North Lawn at an event organized by the Department of Social and Economic Affairs to mark this day.  And, I think you all heard from earlier today, the Under-Secretary-General for Public Information, Shashi Tharoor, presented the results of the Millennium Campaign.  Tharoor said that more than 23.5 million people stood up against poverty in a 24-hour period in multiple locations around the globe.  We do have more information on that upstairs.  That is it for me.  I will take your questions.

**Questions and Answers:

Question:  Can you give us an update on the military activity in the buffer zone between Eritrea and Ethiopia?

Spokesman:  I have not received any updated information from yesterday.  We understand that the troops that had entered are still there.  The acting head of the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea has met with Eritrean officials to file a protest over the actions and has also briefed Ethiopian officials.  We very much hope the Eritrean defence forces will move out of the area which they entered with over 1,500 troops and some 14 tanks, as we told you.

Question:  Is there any indication that there is a military build-up on the Eritrean side of the border behind this…?

Spokesman:  None that I have here.  One of the problems, of course, that remain is that the helicopter ban, flight ban, which the Eritreans had imposed on the UN, remains in place, which severely limits the Mission’s ability to discharge its mandate and to observe activities in the Temporary Security Zone.

Question:  Yesterday, I believe the new Secretary-General to be met with certain officials over here.  I just want to know if the transition team that he has is ready.  Is he creating a transition team?  Those officials that attended that meeting, will they be part of the transition team?

Spokesman:  I think you will have to ask his press people some of those questions.  For our part we are obviously ready and senior officials have begun meeting with them.  We are organizing ourselves to make sure that the transition is as smooth as possible on all levels whether it’s the Secretary-General’s office or departments so that the incoming team is fully briefed on what is going on within the UN.

Question:  Is it fair to assume that these officials that met with his are going to be part of the transition team?

Spokesman:  Which officials?

Question:  A few top UN officials met with him.

Spokesman:  The Secretary-General has clearly instructed his staff to make sure the transition runs as smoothly as possible.  It’s obviously still in the early days and we are formalizing the arrangements and I think they are doing the same on the Secretary-General-Designate’s side.

Question:  I think one who met with them is Robert Orr?

Spokesman:  People have meetings all the time.  Mr. Orr is a senior official in the Secretary-General’s office.  He and others have contact with the incoming team but, I think we are still in the process of formalizing those contacts.

Question:  Speaking of transition, a few months ago Ambassador Bolton of the United States said that everybody from ASG [Assistant Secretaries-General] recommended that everybody at ASG and up would resign in order to allow for the new Secretary-General to put in his own team.  Some might be from the existing staff.  And my question is:  Is there a plan for such resignation and how is this going to work out as far as…?

Spokesman:  I think, first of all, the decisions on staffing for the Secretary-General-Designate will be his.  He will have to see what he asks senior officials to do as of 1 January.  You should obviously note that the vast majority of the senior officials, USGs [Under-Secretaries-General] and others, people in senior positions, most of them have contracts that run out in February, and that was designed to give the incoming Secretary-General the flexibility to do what he wants.  But how Mr. Ban Ki-moon will want to handle those issues, that will be up to him and I can’t speak to that.

Question:  Just appointed last month.  Is her contract …

Spokesman:  I believe her term is, I would have to check, but I think her term is for three years.

Question:  This applies not to ASGs but to USGs?

Spokesman:  Mostly to USGs but, once again, these decisions would have to be made by Mr. Ban Ki-moon.

Question:  In Somalia, the Prime Minister of the Transitional Federal Government says he’s written to the UN saying that the mediation in Khartoum is not fair and is siding too much with the Islamic Courts.  I’m wondering if the Secretary or the UN system has the letter and has written a response to that.

Spokesman:  I have not seen the letter, but I can inquire as to whether or not it’s been received.

Question:  OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] had just issued a report, or I guess I had just seen it on the Department of Political Affairs (DPA) and it makes recommendations directly to the Secretary-General saying that overlap between DPA and DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] should be a thing and says that the Secretary-General’s office did not comment on the recommendation.  So, I’m asking, is there any response to the recommendations and if OIOS can be brought to talk about the report?

Spokesman:  Obviously on OIOS, they are an independent organ of the Secretariat.  Their reports are all made public.  As to whether or not they will decide to come down and brief, I don’t know, but a lot of their work and most of their output is in fact made public.  And obviously the Secretary-General’s office will follow up on the recommendations that are included in that report.

Question:  The Foreign Ministers of Senegal and Nigeria met with the Sudanese Government on the issue of the UN force in Sudan.  And they said there’s going to be a mini-African summit including the Heads of State.  Now is the UN aware of this and is the UN part of this development?

Spokesman:  We are aware of the efforts, as what is referred to in French as the “Comité des Sages”, to work with the Sudanese Government towards a transition.  Our shared principles are to work with the League of Arab States and the African Union to work towards convincing the Sudanese Government to accept an eventual transition to the UN staff.  So, this is really part of a broad international strategy to work with the Khartoum Government and get them to change their position.  As for any possible summit, I don’t have any specific information on that.

Question:  The Democratic Republic of the Congo, there’s a consultation going on and I am not sure what type of update Heidi Annabi is giving and, I’ve been told he is not going to come to the stakeout, so I’m going to ask you this question.  There is an NGO [non-governmental organization], Journaliste en Danger that has asked MONUC [United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] to protect TV stations and transmitting towers that are being destroyed in the campaign.  Is MONUC going to do that?

Spokesman:  As to what specific steps MONUC will take, we will have to see with them.  But obviously, this is something that MONUC has spoken out quite forcefully on over the last few days, is the need, on one hand, to protect media outlets, and on the other hand, for media outlets owned by parties not to engage in any inflammatory or hate messages that would have a negative effect on the campaigns.  I will now leave you in the hands of Gail, who will now tell you about elections and more elections.

Briefing by the Spokeswoman for the President of the General Assembly

Good afternoon everyone.  The General Assembly, this morning, resumed voting to elect a candidate from the Latin American and Caribbean region for a non-permanent seat on the 2007 Security Council.  After 10 rounds of voting yesterday, during which the candidates received a varied number of votes, no candidate was able to secure the two-thirds majority needed to be elected.  The final vote was almost the same as the first vote ending the day with 187 Member States voting, 4 abstaining, giving 110 votes to Guatemala and 77 to Venezuela.

The first ballot, this morning, has seen little change with a higher number of abstentions (8), 107 voting for Guatemala, 76 for Venezuela, and neither country getting the required 122 two-thirds majority.  Later voting results were:  107 votes for Guatemala, 77 for Venezuela in the second ballot; and 112 votes for Guatemala, 75 for Venezuela in the third ballot

Today’s first three ballot rounds were once again unrestricted, which meant any member from the group interested in running for the position could offer its candidature except, of course, Argentina and Peru —- current members of the Council.  Yesterday, the names of Cuba and Mexico were put forward in the unrestricted rounds of balloting.

The Assembly in the first round voting on Monday did elect Belgium, Indonesia, Italy and South Africa for two-year terms beginning 1 January 2007.

The fourteenth ballot has just been counted and we will squawk it to you as soon as we get out of here, so that you’ll have the latest.

In news of the work of the Committees, there were appeals on Monday in the Third Committee, which deals with Social, Humanitarian, and Cultural issues, to adopt “without change or delay” the long awaited Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms, Rodolfo Stavenhagen, said the Declaration represented a new path for the protection of the human rights of indigenous people and reflected the emerging international consensus on the content of their rights.  He appealed to Member States not to disappoint the hopes of the indigenous people of the world who have been waiting for some 20 or more years for action on this issue.  His sentiments were echoed by Mr. José Antonio Ocampo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, who stressed that the United Nations had an obligation to continue to promote respect for the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples in development processes at all levels.

While many delegations expressed support for the Declaration, some expressed strong reservations.  The representative of New Zealand, speaking on behalf of Australia and the United States as well, said those countries could not accept the text of the Declaration, which they described as “confusing, unworkable, contradictory and deeply flawed”.  They gave the example of the Declaration’s reference to self-determination which, they noted, could be misrepresented as conferring a unilateral right of self-determination and possible secession, thus threatening “the political unity, territorial integrity and stability of existing Member States”.

The Committee will conclude its debate on indigenous issues today.

The Fourth Committee has begun to look at questions relating to information.  On Monday, Under-Secretary-General Shashi Tharoor, in his opening address, noted that the United Nations needed to close the gap between what people wanted from the Organization and what it was able to deliver.  He stressed “The United Nations has a compelling story to tell, but it must be told well, so as to build public support.”  Debate continues today on this question.

Meanwhile, in the Sixth Committee, which deals with Legal Affairs, ending its discussions on terrorism, having considered among other things methods for applying sanctions.  They have now moved on to discuss requests for observer status by three organizations:  the OPEC [Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries] Fund for International Development, the Indian Ocean Commission and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).  The Committee is also examining re-organization of the internal justice system of the United Nations, the work of the Committee on the UN Charter and the rule of law at the international and national levels.

President of the GA [General Assembly], Sheikha Haya Al Khalifa, will participate in the commemorative event to mark the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, which will take place in Conference Room 2 at 1:15 p.m.  In her statement to mark the Day, she notes that “only by listening to the voices of the poorest and most vulnerable, can we demonstrate our commitment and common purpose.  Referring to the work of the recipient of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, Muhammed Yunis, she notes, “it is my strong belief that examples such as the Grameen Bank demonstrate that, given a chance, it is the poor who can best empower themselves.”  She also draws attention to the informal debate that she plans to hold on this very issue with the hope that “working together out of poverty, we can make poverty history.”  This event is organized by ATD Fourth World in partnership with the UN Department for Economic and Social Affairs and the NGO Subcommittee on Poverty.

The ceremony brings people living in poverty to the UN, where they speak directly on behalf of themselves and their community's experience.  People living in poverty from Guatemala, Appalachia, New Orleans and Ireland have gathered to speak here today.  They will meet with the President of the GA to share their experience and call for action.

That’s the report for today.

Questions and Answers:

Question:  First of all, when Mr. Tharoor says that the UN has a compelling story to tell, but it must be told well, it sounds almost like criticism on the Under-Secretary-General for Communication.  The question I have is that you said that Cuba and Mexico offered their candidacy.  I knew that they were voted on, but do you know for sure that they were the ones who offered their candidacy?

Spokeswoman:  No, I do not know for sure.  But, they could have or someone could have nominated them, because unless somebody nominated them, you can, from the floor, write the nomination of whoever you are voting for.  So, you are right.

Question:  I thought that was the case that somebody wrote in the name Mexico and somebody wrote in Cuba…

Spokeswoman:  I will double check.

Question:  Can you go back in the history box of the UN GA election that, at any point in time since the candidacy was split, like one nation serving one year, another nation serving another year?  I think the Chinese Ambassador said that in the early 1950s or 1960s that this happened.  That two candidates were running for the same seat and the compromise was they served one year each.

Spokeswoman:  I can certainly check on that.  I know someone else had asked how far the ballots could go, and we have talked [about] the 1979 instance of about 155 ballots.  But, in fact, the following year at the thirty-fifth session between Costa Rica and Guyana, it went to 23 ballots.  So, there is something between 155 and the current situation.  It was resolved at 23 ballots and that was somewhere around 1980.

Question:  Do you have any indication whether the GRULAC [Group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries] group is going to hold a meeting?  There was some discussion that they were going to hold a meeting.  Are they going to have a meeting today?

Spokeswoman:  I think that is still being discussed, because I saw one of the ambassadors at the stakeout saying that until Ecuador, which is the GRULAC current Chair, calls a meeting, right now it’s just a matter of talk.  That people are saying that one way out of the situation is for GRULAC to meet and discuss the situation and where they want to go.  Because, so far, there have been no further -- at least not for this morning -- there have been no further contenders even when the ballot was unrestricted.

Question:  And just that thing on the Host Committee?

Spokeswoman:  I do have an answer for you.  They, in fact, met and a press release was issued; the symbol is HK/650.  That more or less tells you, what the discussion was.  Basically, the US held one position, and Venezuela another.  The US on the specifics of the Venezuelan protest, they said that for one thing, the timing of the incident was different.  According to the press release, they had proof that the minister had been detained not for 90 minutes, but for 27, and they were able to show that with airport records. They said that the airline had in fact offered to board the Foreign Minister and his family without further screening, but he refused to board and chose to remain at the airport.  This had been reported earlier, so they, more or less, kept to the same position.  The Host Country Committee will meet again on 30[October], however, I don’t see any conclusions of the discussions in the release.  I think that both Member States just stated their positions.  You can read the press release on this.  They are meeting again on 30[October].

Question:  Is the President of the General Assembly aware that after theappointment of Mr. Ban Ki-moon, he met with regional groups, discussing appointments of Under-Secretaries-General and Assistant Secretaries-General.  Is the President of the General Assembly aware of these meetings that are going on between Mr. Ban Ki-moon and these regional groups?

Spokeswoman:  I am not sure.  I will have to check whether she is aware that this is happening.

Anything else?  Thank you.

* *** *

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