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

13 November 2006

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

13 November 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 Spokesman for Secretary-General

**Secretary-General in Turkey

Speaking in Istanbul today upon receiving the report on the Alliance of Civilizations, the Secretary-General said that the report rightly notes that today, for better or worse, we clearly do not live in different civilizations, with migration, integration and technology bringing peoples closer together.  He called for concerted social and political action to repair relations between people of different traditions and cultures.

He called for steps to protect freedom of religion, to build bridges between cultures through education and to create opportunities for young people to enable them to avoid extremism.  But he added that as long as Palestinians live under occupation and as long as Israelis are blown up in buses and dance halls, so long will passions everywhere be inflamed.  We have more upstairs, including his speech on the visit.

The Secretary-General recently concluded a joint press conference with the Turkish and Spanish Prime Ministers, during which the Secretary-General elaborated on the work of the Alliance.  We are working on that transcript for you.

Asked about Cyprus, he said he would be meeting with the Turkish Cypriot leader next week in Geneva.  He went on to say that everyone accepts the Cyprus dossier and that he has been using his good offices to do what he can and also would encourage his successor to stay engaged and push it as far as he can.

** Sudan

As part of their ongoing joint efforts to find a just and lasting solution to the ongoing crisis in Darfur, the Secretary-General and the Chairman of the African Union have invited to a meeting in Addis Ababa on 16 November high-level representatives from Russia, China, the United States, France and the UK –- as permanent members of the Security Council -– as well as high-level representatives from Congo, Gabon, Egypt, the League of Arab States and the European Union.  Other officials and representatives may also attend.  And, of course, there will also be representatives of the Government of Sudan.

The intent is to discuss ways in which to address the situation and move forward the peace process decisively.

The UN Mission in Sudan says that Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping, Hédi Annabi, is in Addis Ababa today after visiting Sudan, where he held meetings with President Omar Hassan Al Bashir on Sunday and with the Defence and Foreign Ministers on Saturday.  The Mission says that Annabi and his interlocutors discussed the situation in Darfur and the United Nations support package for the African Union Mission in Darfur.

Meanwhile, the Mission says the security situation is volatile in all three states of Darfur, with a number of reported militia attacks on civilians, violent acts of banditry and clashes between Government and rebel forces.  In North Darfur on Friday, the Mission says Arab militias attacked three villages, killing six civilians including four children.

In West Darfur, the Mission says that 300 armed militiamen backed by 18 military vehicles attacked camps for internally displaced persons in the village of Sirba, killing 31 people and injuring 18 others including women and children.  The Mission says the attackers burned down some 98 houses.  Following this incident, 10 international NGO staff members were relocated to El Geneina.

Available today is the Secretary-General’s monthly report on Darfur to the Security Council, in which he says that September witnessed an increased violence in the region.

** Central African Republic

Late on Friday, we issued a statement on the situation in the Central African Republic, which I will read into the record.

The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about worsening security conditions in north-eastern Central African Republic on the border with Sudan’s Darfur region.  The situation continues to deteriorate amid ongoing rebel attacks in different parts of the country and the recent violent seizure of the city of Birao.  He calls for the immediate end to the occupation of that city so that humanitarian and security conditions can be alleviated for civilians living in the area.  The Secretary-General stresses the urgent need to find a comprehensive solution to the security problems along the borders of Chad, the Central African Republic and Sudan.

** Uganda

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland met yesterday with Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) leader Joseph Kony, to discuss a range of humanitarian issues related to LRA-associated non-combatants and to advance the peace talks between the LRA and the Government of Uganda.  The meeting took place in an area of South Sudan close to the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

During their half-hour meeting -– which also included the Vice-President of South Sudan, who is the Chief Mediator for the peace talks, as well as members of the Ugandan and LRA negotiation teams -– Egeland asked Kony to come up with concrete humanitarian measures concerning the women, children and non-combatants who are currently with Kony’s army.  Egeland later noted that the LRA leadership had agreed to come back within one month with an answer to this request.  The LRA also agreed to identify, by 22 November, those sick and wounded in need of care.

According to Jan Egeland, this was the first time the international community was able to impress upon the senior command of the LRA and their supreme leader the importance of humanitarian issues.  Egeland also reiterated to Kony the commitment of the UN to invest in the peace process and bring humanitarian aid, including food, medicine and safe drinking water, to LRA assembly points.  We have a full press release upstairs, as well as the complete transcript of Mr. Egeland’s press conference, which he gave after the meeting with Mr. Kony.

** Myanmar

The Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Ibrahim Gambari, wrapped up a four-day visit to Myanmar on Sunday after meeting over the weekend with top government officials, including Senior General Than Shwe, as well as with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and members of her party, the National League for Democracy.

In his meeting with Than Shwe, Gambari delivered a letter from the Secretary-General reiterating his appeal for the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.  Gambari also urged a government security review which should lead to the release of other detained persons.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi assured Gambari that she was in reasonably good health, even though she does require more regular medical visits.  She said that she welcomes continued engagement by the United Nations with Myanmar, in the hope that it can be of help in addressing the political and humanitarian issues raised by Gambari during his visit.  We do have more upstairs on that visit, as well.

**Security Council

On Saturday, the Security Council failed to take action on a resolution concerning the recent violence in Gaza, due to a veto cast by the United States.  There were ten votes in favour of the draft resolution, sponsored by Qatar, while four countries -– Denmark, Japan, Slovakia and the United Kingdom -– abstained.

Council members had discussed the draft resolution on Friday afternoon, and had also discussed whether to send a delegation to Addis Ababa for talks taking place there today concerning the situation in Darfur.  After those Friday consultations, the Council President, Ambassador Jorge Voto-Bernales of Peru, told reporters, “We have not been able to reach a consensus on the mission from the Security Council attending the Addis Ababa meeting”.

There are no meetings or consultations of the Security Council scheduled for today.

** Afghanistan

A high-level delegation from the United Nations Security Council arrived in Kabul, Afghanistan over the weekend to review the progress and challenges facing the country as it strives to cement peace and stability following decades of conflict.

The delegation is led by the Japanese Ambassador, Kenzo Oshima, who said upon arrival in Kabul, “We all recognize that there is much more that needs to be achieved but I am convinced that with the continuing commitment of the Afghan people we can and will succeed in bringing peace, stability and progress to Afghanistan.”

** Haiti

The UN Mission in Haiti says it has opened an investigation into the circumstances that led to the killing of the two Jordanian peacekeepers who died on Friday evening after they were assaulted and shot by an unknown assailant in Port-au-Prince.

In a press release put out over the weekend, the Mission said that one peacekeeper died of gunshot wounds en route to a hospital while the other died while receiving emergency care at the hospital.  The Mission and the United Nations extend their deepest condolences to the bereaved families, to their colleagues in the Mission’s Jordanian battalion and to the Kingdom of Jordan.

Meanwhile, the Secretary-General announced on late Friday the appointment of Luiz Carlos da Costa as his Principal Deputy Special Representative for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).  Mr. da Costa will assume his responsibilities on 15 November 2006.

Mr. da Costa has had a long and distinguished career with the United Nations, most recently, having served since September 2005 as Deputy Special Representative for Operations and Rule of Law for the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) reported isolated clashes in Kinshasa on Saturday, between supporters of President Joseph Kabila and Vice–President Jean-Pierre Bemba.

Following the clashes, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in the DRC, William Lacy Swing, immediately called Kabila and the DRC’s Minister of Interior.  He also visited Bemba’s residence.  Meanwhile, a working group that had been set up by the UN Mission last August -– consisting of UN and EU peacekeeping and police elements, Congolese army and police officers, and representatives of Kabila and Bemba –- held a special session.

The UN Mission also reinforced its patrols and reported that the situation in Kinshasa was calm by Saturday evening.

** Sri Lanka

Allan Rock, the Special Advisor on Sri Lanka to the UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, has concluded his 10-day mission to Sri Lanka.

The mission’s initial findings reveal that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have not complied with their commitments to stop child recruitment and to release all children within their ranks.

The mission also found that the Karuna faction, a group that broke away from the LTTE, is continuing to abduct and forcibly recruit children in Government-controlled areas in eastern Sri Lanka.

The mission found disturbing but credible evidence that certain elements of the Government’s own security forces are supporting and sometimes participating in those abductions.  We have a press release for you on that.

**Guest at Noon Tomorrow

Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, will be joining us at noon tomorrow to present the new Portfolio of Mine Action Projects.

That’s it.  I will now take your questions.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  The Lebanese Government approved today the Hariri tribunal, despite the resignation of six ministers.  President Lahoud said the Cabinet was no longer legitimate, that it does not carry legal weight.  What is the Secretary-General’s position?

Spokesman:  As of about 30 minutes ago, we had not received any official notification from the Lebanese Government, so until we do, I will refrain from commenting.

Question:  We still cannot get the report on the Alliance of Civilizations.  Your staff, who is cooperative and helpful, could not get it either.  Can something be done?

Spokesman:  There must be a problem somewhere along the pipeline because I have the report.  We’ll make sure after this briefing is over, we go upstairs and we’ll get it for you.

Question:  Ban Ki-moon is here on Wednesday.  Do you have any ideas what meetings he has planned, briefing with the Secretariat?

Spokesman:  No ma’am. This is the beginning of the transition process but I do not have any specific details on who exactly he will be meeting first.

Question:  And do you know when the swearing-in is?

Spokesman:  The exact date of the General Assembly’s swearing-in ceremony is still being discussed, but I think you could probably pencil in the middle of December, somewhere in the middle of December.  Yes, Benny?

Question:  The question was not what the decision of the Cabinet was, but rather whether the Secretary-General considered the Cabinet in its current capacity a legitimate Cabinet.

Spokesman:  I fully understood the gist of Sylviane’s question, so I thank you, Benny.  My answer still stands that I am not going to comment on the validity of a letter that we have not yet received.

Question:  Follow up -- in the Alliance of Civilizations, was there any Israeli official present?

Spokesman:  The members of the Alliance gave a broad cultural and religious representation, and they were not named as officials of national Governments.  If you examine the list of people, there is a broad range of representations, with the major monotheistic religions that are represented on the planet, as well as the religions that are not monotheistic.

Question:  There are Turk and Spaniard officials…

Spokesman:  They were the official co-sponsors.

Question:  Since Israel is named as the major problem in the world…

Spokesman:  Benny, the Alliance, as I said, the Committee is made up of people who represented religions and cultures and who were not named for their national affiliations.  I think you would be misreading the conclusions of the report to say that it concludes that Israel is the problem.  The report concludes that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an issue that needs to be solved.  Thank you.  Matthew, and then we’ll go to you…

Question:  Friday in the Security Council, they decided not to send a Security Council delegation to the meetings in Addis about Darfur, about Sudan. And one of the ambassadors, the Republic of Congo, said that Kofi Annan, the Secretariat, had somehow let it be known that there should not be a Council delegation going down, since he’s going.  What was the Secretary-General’s position on the Security Council’s involvement in those meetings?

Spokesman:  The Security Council is the master of its own fate. If they decide where to go and where to send delegations to, it is not up to the Secretary-General to tell them what to do.

Question:  What recommendation, then?

Spokesman:  It is not for us to recommend to them one way or another.  We are very much focused on the meetings to take place on the 16th, with representatives of the P-5, the European Union and others, and Sudan of course, in order to bring the peace process forward.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Given that the President of Lebanon has said that the Government is null and void and it is no longer legitimate, how will that affect United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) actions in Lebanon?  Also, we heard over the weekend from the French there is the risk that the French or UNIFIL will fire against the Israeli warplanes if they overfly Lebanon.  Is there any comment about that?

Spokesman:  Yes.  As for the overflights, we have and will continue to protest forcefully the overflights, which are a violation of the resolution.  We will continue to try to solve this matter in a political and a diplomatic way, with our contacts on the political level, as well as on the military side.  There is, obviously, quite a lot going on politically in Lebanon currently, discussions between Governments and ministers, and I don’t want to insert ourselves at this point into that discussion.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Concerning the delegation that went to Afghanistan, is it fact-finding, or what?

Spokesman:  It is an official mission of the Security Council, led by Kenzo Oshima.  As you know, the Council often travels to the missions in which they have been very much involved.  The terms and references are available as an official document.  You can get a hold of those, and then Mr. Oshima will brief the Council upon return, on his mission.  Yes?

Question:  If you could update us on the proposals which Mr. Annan will be carrying in Ethiopia on the 16th concerning the formation of the international troops or African Union troops?

Spokesman:  This is part of a process. We want to move forward this peace process.  The situation in Darfur is critical, as we’ve been reporting every day. We continue to strengthen the current African Union force with a package approved by both the Security Council and the Government of Sudan, a $21-million package.  As the Secretary-General said before he left, we are also looking beyond for what should be a credible force on the ground; all that, of course, within the confines of resolution 1706.  So it really is a meeting that will look at the current situation and how to move forward, and how to best plan for the early part of next year.  Yes?

Question:  There is no shift then away from… the United Nations is still pushing for troops to go into the country?

Spokesman:  Our guideline continues to be resolution 1706, and we are trying to focus our best efforts in finding out how to implement that resolution with a credible force, and obviously as 1706 stipulates, with the agreement of the Government of Sudan.  Yes, Linda?

Question:  Can you tell us what the status is of UNIFIL involvement into exploring the allegations of weapons smuggling over the border from Syria into Lebanon.  Is there any role that UNIFIL is playing now?

Spokesman:  I would refer you back to the resolution, which outlines what UNIFIL’s role is.  The resolution called for the international community to assist the Lebanese Government in securing its border.  UNIFIL’s work is focused very much on its area of operation, which is south of the Litani River.  They have, on a number of occasions in the past few weeks, in fact, assisted the Lebanese army in securing weapons that were found in the zone.  Those weapons were then confiscated by the Lebanese Army, so they have been working on that front as well.  Yes, Laura?

Question:  I just wanted to ask you, the Secretary-General made a statement on Friday regarding the Central African Republic.  First of all, I wanted to see if there was any update on [Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO)], if they were going to look into that; they were proposing some sort of measure to protect civilians who were near the border.  And the second thing is that, since Jan Egeland and Hédi Annabi are around the region, are they going to be working on the side during the AU conference or at any other time, regarding this?

Spokesman:  As DPKO said, they have taken the lead and will report back to the Security Council and Secretary-General on ways to strengthen the security situation for civilians on the other side of the border, meaning especially in Chad.  That is an ongoing process.  I don’t have an update for you on that.  Mr. Egeland is scheduled to go to Sudan, will go to Darfur and will focus on the humanitarian issues in Darfur.  Yes, Benny?

Question:  On Sudan, can you flesh out the idea that was reported on, if you can, if you have any information, if you can confirm or deny it, about the hybrid force of African Union and United Nations?  Is that an idea that is being considered by DPKO?

Spokesman:  At this point, I would only refer you back to what the Secretary-General said on the record a couple of days ago, that we are trying to put together an effective force that would work in Darfur and would help move the situation forward.  At this point, I can’t go beyond on that.

Question:  Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said, I think today, that as a result of previously mentioned warnings to the Israelis not to fly in attack mode, the Israelis have stopped.  Does UNIFIL have any confirmation?

Spokesman:  I don’t have any reports of any air violations today, but I can go upstairs and see when the last one took place.  Yes, sir?

Question:  You remember some time ago about the comments the Pope made about the religion leaders.  The Secretary-General went to Turkey and they discussed that point.  I saw that he said something about the religion.  Generally speaking, what did the Secretary-General talk about?  What was his task force?  What is he going to do really, in general, so it doesn’t damage the children?

Spokesman:  I think I would refer you to the speech he just delivered this morning, which we have upstairs, on the need for greater understanding within the world’s religions and greater respect.  He just received the Alliance of Civilizations report this morning.  He will be studying it and he will be taking it up with his successor, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, to see how they can move that process forward.  The Alliance report, as you will see, has a number of concrete suggestions, notably in the area of education, and education of the youth, to try to defuse some these crises.  Yes, Betsy?

Question:  Do you have any news on the hostage negotiations out of Israel or the United Nations facilitator?

Spokesman:  No.  The facilitator is continuing.

Question:  Is he on the ground?

Spokesman:  We are not going to say…

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  At the risk of breaking the rule of talking about who this facilitator is, Michael Williams, who is the head of a section of the Political Affairs Department was in Lebanon at the request of the Secretary-General on follow-up to the resolutions, to help the Secretary-General draft his next report to 1701.  Mr. Williams is not the facilitator. There you go, I broke my rule.  Yes, sir?

Question:  How will UNIFIL act after the breakdown of the Government of Lebanon, because now, this Government is illegitimate, by Constitution, because seven ministers are missing from there?  A whole section of society is not represented and the Constitution states clearly that if one section of Lebanese society is not represented that means this Government is not representative of the people, and thus becomes illegitimate.

Spokesman:  UNIFIL’s mandate is derived from its Security Council mandate.  UNIFIL will continue to operate along the ways it has been mandated.  UNIFIL receives instructions from the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Question:  But upon the request of the Lebanese Government whenever…

Spokesman: The status of UNIFIL is unchanged.  Matthew?

Question:  On Friday, you put upstairs a press release by the Acting Humanitarian Coordinator in Uganda about disarmament by the Ugandan army in north-east Uganda with gunships.  I read it, and it seems to sort of blame the people who are getting bombed.  My question is this: since then there has been a quote by UNICEF saying they may or may not fund Ugandan disarmament, based on what the Government does.  UNDP has taken the same sort of position.  Is there a way to find out who is engaged or funding… what’s being done about this as it continues to proliferate?

Spokesman:  As usual, Matthew, you know more than I do about Uganda.  But we will do something.

Question:  I didn’t get any answer about the legitimacy of the Lebanese Government.

Spokesman:  It is not for the United Nations to rule on the legitimacy of--

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  I understand.  I fully understand the situation.  I am fully read up on the situation.  The point is that we are not going to comment on it.  UNIFIL’s mandate is unchanged and they will continue their operations.

Question:  Hamas and Fatah have agreed on forming a new Government to be headed by a professor who is not a member of Hamas.  How has the Secretary-General received this information?

Spokesman:  My understanding is that it is not yet finalized, but the issue of a national unity government is something that the Secretary-General and the United Nations have supported.  But we are waiting for official notification.

Thank you very much.

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