|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.
**Press Conference This Afternoon
Good afternoon. At 1 p.m. this afternoon, the President of the General Assembly, Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa, and the Vice-President of Operations of the Islamic Development Bank, His Excellency, Dr. Amadou Boubacar Cisse, will brief you on the General Assembly debate on “Partnerships towards Achieving the Millennium Development Goals”. And that’s at one o’clock, right here in this room.
** Gaza Statement
I now have a statement attributable to the Spokesman on the ceasefire in Gaza.
“The Secretary-General welcomes the reported agreement between President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, to establish a mutual ceasefire in Gaza. He is, however, deeply concerned that Palestinian militants continue to fire rockets against civilian targets inside Israel. Such attacks underscore the destructive power that militants have to derail the crucial efforts underway to de-escalate tensions.”
“The Secretary-General calls upon both parties to adhere strictly to their commitment, and to avoid hasty action, which could jeopardize progress towards a sustained period of calm. He also encourages them to endeavour to extend the ceasefire to the West Bank.”
And that statement is now available upstairs.
The Secretary-General spoke to you, I think, a short while ago, making a number of comments on Lebanon, Somalia, Sudan and the Congo, as well as Iraq.
Asked about the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he said that he had urged both President Laurent Kabila and opposition leader Jean Pierre Bemba to play by the rules and accept the results of that country’s presidential elections.
He also spoke to reporters about Iraq. Asked in response to a question, he said that, unless something is done urgently to arrest the deteriorating situation, “We could, in fact, be in a civil war. In fact, we are almost there,” he said. And that transcript is now available for you upstairs as well.
Also on Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, over the weekend, expressed his concern and condemnation of the increasing vicious cycle of sectarian revenge killings that is tearing away the very political and social fabric of Iraq. No country could tolerate such a cancer in its body politic, he said.
Accordingly, Mr. Qazi called on the Government, the political leadership and the people of Iraq to realize that they had no choice but to immediately demonstrate their urgent and sincere determination to save their country. He said this could only be done through a genuine national dialogue aimed at resolving key political issues and developing a national consensus in support of policies and measures to prevent extremists from destroying Iraq. And we have that statement available to you upstairs.
Also on Iraq, I just wanted to let you know that the Secretary-General, this afternoon, will be speaking to the Iraq Study Group, led by the former US Secretary of State, James Baker, and former Chairman of the US House of Representatives International Relations Committee, Lee Hamilton.
Meanwhile, turning to the situation in Chad and the region, the Secretary-General issued a statement on Chad over the weekend, condemning any attempt to seize power by force.
And today, the UN refugee agency and the World Food Programme appealed for the rapid restoration of order in volatile eastern Chad, following weekend unrest in which mobs looted warehouses storing vital aid supplies for hundreds of thousands of refugees from Darfur, along with Chadians, who are also in need.
Both agencies said their main warehouses in the eastern Chadian town of Abeche, which is the hub for relief efforts in the region for more than 200,000 refugees from Darfur and 90,000 internally displaced Chadians, had been pillaged during the turmoil on Saturday and Sunday.
** Central African Republic
Meanwhile, a UN delegation, which we had announced to you last week, comprising political, military, police, humanitarian and civilian experts, has just completed the first segment of a technical assessment mission to the Central African Republic.
The UN team is now about to proceed to Chad where they are planning a number of meetings with Government officials, after which they will submit a comprehensive report to the Secretary-General, who will then present the results to the Security Council. We will keep you updated on the results of that Mission as it goes along.
In addition to what the Secretary-General said about Darfur in the stakeout, I have some more information to add.
On Saturday, in Addis Ababa, the UN and the African Union signed a Memorandum of Understanding, setting out the terms of the UN support to the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS), with regard to command and control for the UN personnel as well as accountability issues for UN material support, which is provided to by AMIS.
And this is the so-called light support package which we have talked to you about, which includes night vision and communications equipment, as well as staff support for the areas of public information, civil affairs, administration, finance, and a number of other issues.
Meanwhile, the UN Mission in Sudan reports that the security situation in Darfur continues to be marked by serious security incidents, the latest of which is an attack, yesterday, in South Darfur, by rebels that are non-signatories to the Darfur Peace Agreement.
** Democratic Republic of the Congo
Turning now to the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the UN Mission says that it has called for an immediate end to hostilities between Congolese soldiers, backed by UN peacekeepers, and dissident fighters from the Congolese Army, led by dissident General Laurent Nkunda. The Mission says that a high-level delegation comprising of the Congolese Minister of Interior, as well as the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative, will arrive in Goma today to put in place the ceasefire. UN humanitarian experts will also be included in the delegation and will assess the humanitarian needs of the several thousands of persons displaced by the current round of fighting, which broke out on Saturday, when the dissident soldiers attacked the Congolese Army’s 11th Brigade in the town of Sake in the eastern part of the country. Heavy fighting ensued with small arms, machine guns and rocket propelled grenades, causing government soldiers to retreat and abandon their position.
On Sunday, UN peacekeepers returned fire with warning shots from ground forces and helicopters when they were fired upon by dissident troops, and were able to stall the dissident soldiers’ advance toward the town of Goma, which is also the major hub in the eastern part of the country.
The Congolese Army’s 11th Brigade, meanwhile, backed by UN peacekeepers, has now regained control of high-ground around the town of Sake, as intermittent fighting continues. And we will update you with more information as we receive it.
And, also on the election, the Mission says that the Congolese Supreme Court today will rule on the appeal of the results of the presidential elections, that appeal of course filed by Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba. The preliminary results have forecasted him as losing to the incumbent Joseph Kabila.
Meanwhile, back here, the Security Council held consultations on Myanmar this morning, in which Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari briefed the Council. And he also spoke to you and your colleagues outside the stakeout.
Also this morning, the Council is scheduled to hear a briefing on the sanctions on Sudan by the chairman of the Council’s Sanctions Committee for that country, Ambassador Vassilakis of Greece.
And tomorrow, the Security Council has scheduled an open debate on children and armed conflict, which will be chaired by the Foreign Minister of Peru, José Antonio García Belaunde. That is tomorrow.
Also regarding the Council, the Secretary-General has written a letter to the Security Council President regarding the peace process in Nepal and the request for UN assistance in that process.
He notes that the UN has been requested to monitor the arrangements of arms and armed personnel by providing qualified monitors supported by appropriate technical capacity. Assistance is also being sought, he writes, in a variety of areas in the peace process, with a view to creating an atmosphere conducive to free and fair elections in the Constituent Assembly.
The Secretary-General writes that it is his strong belief that the UN should respond positively, and outlines three immediate steps with which he intends to proceed. That is in the letter to the Security Council that I mentioned.
And, meanwhile, earlier this morning, the Secretary-General told the General Assembly, at its thematic debate on development, that the prospects for implementing the Millennium Development Goals are mixed at best.
It is not too late to turn the situation around, he said, but it will take focus, application and commitment, including a successful Doha Development Round. He added that development “will simply not happen if the developing world doesn’t get its own house in order.” And we have that statement upstairs.
And a couple of more items. The UN Mine Action Service wanted us to flag to you a number of incidents, over the past few days, in southern Lebanon, in which de-miners have been injured. Investigations on those incidents are ongoing.
The UN condemns the use of all anti-personnel mines, and calls upon any party that laid such mines during the recent conflict to provide information as to where they have been laid to prevent similar tragic incidents occurring in the future.
** Princeton University
And, tomorrow afternoon, the Secretary-General will be heading to Princeton University, where he will deliver an address at the Woodrow Wilson School concerning the need for a common strategy to deal with the dangers posed by nuclear weapons. He is to argue that we need to tackle both non-proliferation and disarmament with the urgency that they demand. We will make embargoed copies of his speech available to you.
And, while in Princeton, the Secretary-General will also receive the Crystal Tiger Award, which is conferred by Princeton’s undergraduates on public figures whom they regard as “agents of progress.”
**Press Conference Tomorrow
And truly lastly, at 1 p.m. tomorrow, Japanese Ambassador Kenzo Oshima, the Permanent Representative of Japan, and the Secretary-General of the Parliamentarians for Global Action, Ms. Shazia Rafi, will brief the organization’s annual forum, to be held in Japan on December 4th and 5th.
That’s it for me.
Questions and Answers
Question: About this incident of the mine explosion in South Lebanon, if I understand, two of the United Nations personnel were injured. These are supposed to be in the UNIFIL area. Why would the Israelis plant the mines in the UNIFIL area? They knew that the area would be handed over to the UNIFIL.
Spokesman: Yes, it did take place in the UNIFIL area, as far as I understand it, but you’re presuming the results of the inquiries which are ongoing. We don’t know the nationality of those mines. We don’t know who laid them. It is something we are obviously looking at very closely.
Question: Today there were overflights over Lebanon. They continue everyday. We don’t see any progress on that as well. They are violating 1701 every day, almost.
Spokesman: I have not received any reports of any overflights, but I will check if they are there for you. And if there are overflights, we have condemned them, and we will do so if they did occur.
Question: I may not have heard. This Iraq Study Group which is supposed to meet with the Secretary-General, when is it? Today?
Spokesman: This afternoon.
Question: Will it be available for us?
Spokesman: No, this is being done by remote communications devices.
Question: By videoconference. Will you have some sort of a readout of it?
Spokesman: You know, the Iraq Study Group has been looking to speak to the Secretary-General for quite some time, in fact since September, and we have been hard pressed to find time. We will see if we can get you anything afterwards, but he is one of the many people they are obviously speaking to.
Question: Two questions on Lebanon, first one, follow up on the mine thing. A spokeswoman from the Mine Action Group, in fact, says the size, shape and condition indicates, not indicates, she said proved, these were Israeli mines, or at least she was quoted as saying it, so now are you backtracking or…
Spokesman: I have not seen that statement, I’m basing myself on the information I saw…
Question: It’s the Associated Press.
Spokesman: I would never want to doubt the Associated Press. What I was trying to say was, I’m basing myself on the information we have available here at Headquarters, from the discussions we’ve had this morning. There’s been no definitive tagging of those mines, and, if I have something, I’ll be happy to share it with you.
Question: OK, second question, is about, over the weekend, the Lebanese Government approved the tribunal. Now, what’s next? How does it work? What’s according to UN plan?
Spokesman: The Lebanese Government obviously has to follow its own constitutional process, so they will be following that. Obviously, at some point there will need to be a signature between the UN and the Lebanese Government, but they have their own process to follow, and it is not up to us to dictate what that process should be.
Question: Do you expect a letter from them indicating that they…
Spokesman: We are awaiting further word from how that process is moving.
Question: Two questions, the Congo and UNDP. On the Congo, do you have anything more on the mass graves that were found last week, by the UN, in a Congolese army camp in eastern Congo, like what battalion it was, and what the UN is going to do about it?
Spokesman: No, I don’t have anything with me here, but it doesn’t mean we don’t have anything.
Question: And on UNDP, I’m asking you this for a reason…
Spokesman: I hope all of your questions have a reason.
Question: No, no, I’m asking you, as opposed to them. I’ll preface it to you this way. Just now, I tried to ask Mr. Kemal Dervis, the head of UNDP, a question about their funding of disarmament programmes in Uganda, and he said, and I quote, “I don’t just answer questions coming out of a room,” so I asked him whether he’ll do a press conference here, and he said if it’s some sort of special occasion. So, I guess, one, I want to ask you to produce him, and whether you have any guidelines for what the Chief Executives of UN agencies should, where and when they should answer questions. And the question is, to describe UNDP’s role in funding involuntary disarmament in eastern Uganda, which has now been criticized by Louise Arbour. The disarmament and the killing of civilians.
Spokesman: I think, on the issue of disarmament in Uganda, you’ve had a long running discussion with UNDP on that. It is not up to me to produce Mr. Dervis. If he and his organization want to brief, he will come down here. I am not the boss of him. If he wants to come down and brief, he can do that. It is not up to me to produce him.
Question: I’ve also asked, two weeks ago, something about Bangladesh, Bangladesh turning down a UNDP plan. Once again, I’m saying to you, from the top level, there is a need for transparency.
Spokesman: I’ve been copied in some of the correspondence between you and UNDP. They’ve tried to answer a lot of your questions in as much detail as possible. Maybe they’re not able to answer everything right away, but I do believe they’re trying to answer as much of your questions as possible.
Question: One Secretariat question, whether the Secretariat has any comment on the Cole inquiry in Australia and its findings about the Australian Wheat Board and oil-for-food. They’ve named 11 individuals.
Spokesman: We have supported and encouraged national judicial authorities to investigate, based on the conclusions of the Volcker report, which is what the Cole inquiry just did. The Volcker office in fact, while investigations have stopped, has remained operational for that very purpose, so that investigators from any country have access to those documents. We are currently in discussions with the Volcker office to see what happens after January 1st, when they will cease to exist, and we want to set up a system whereby those papers remain accessible to countries who wish to continue to investigate issues raised by the Volcker report.
Question: Do you have a date for the return of the UN team in Chad and the Central African Republic?
Spokesman: I think their mission goes on for another few days. I’ll see if I can give you a hard date.
Question: With regards to the Iraq Study Group, has anybody put it to you, I mean you, the UN, in these discussions about a greater UN role perhaps? Is anyone positing or suggesting a greater UN role in the security of Iraq that might evolve as the Americans withdraw? Is there anything being discussed as regards a potential greater UN peacekeeping, or any other style of UN intervention in Iraq, at this stage? And if so, what is the Secretary-General’s position on that? Is it that the UN has no place in the security of Iraq, or could be involved in the security of Iraq?
Spokesman: Those discussions, to the best of my knowledge, are not taking place. Our role in Iraq is clearly defined by the Security Council. Any change would have to be decided upon by the Security Council. We operate in a very difficult environment in Iraq. We work on a number of fronts, based on our capacity, where we actually have something to bring to the table that others may not. But any change in our role would have to come by the Security Council.
Question: Well, just to follow that up, these things don’t happen actually in a vacuum. For example, in Darfur and the Great Lakes area, there’s been numerous sorts of ideas about what might and might not work, and whether the Security Council should make decisions. The Secretariat makes all sorts of proposals, whether formal or informal. Now, is there any evolving thinking of this situation in Iraq, where now, according to recent figures we’re talking about similar civilian death tolls, or more directly by violence than in Darfur, which is something you talk about every single day? Are there any ideas coming from the UN with regards to how you might create some greater security in Iraq, or is it something the UN is going to take a pass on for the time being?
Spokesman: You know, I have nothing to add to what our potential security role could be. As I said, there have been no discussions that I’m aware of.
Question: Two things. First, do I understand correctly, just to verify, that the testimony or the appearance of the SG before the Baker Commission, the Iraq Study Group, is to be by teleconference? He’s not in fact going to go to Washington and traipsing up Capitol Hill?
Spokesman: That is correct. This is not testimony. They are asking to talk to him and he’s talking to them.
Question: A conversation?
Spokesman: A conversation, that is a good word. Thank you.
Question: You mentioned also, sir, an African Union agreement. Is that something that is available to us? It’s on the Sudan, I believe.
Spokesman: We will see if we can get you a copy of that this afternoon.
Question: Stéphane, I have an undated statement that is referring to Chad, I suppose it’s today?
Spokesman: It was released over the weekend.
Question: Over the weekend?
Spokesman: Over the weekend.
Question: He indicates that the rebels are marching toward, or according to reports, are advancing to N’Djamena. There are contradictory reports at this stage. But what I would like to clarify, the Government of Chad has now indicated that the Sudan has been approaching and arming the rebels and, for the first time, we are seeing Saudi Arabia named for doing that. Are there any indications at the UN that that is the case?
Spokesman: We don’t have any indications to, either to that effect or not to that effect. We don’t have any indication on this issue.
Question: A follow up on Mark’s question. Basically, the situation is that serious. Does the Secretariat believe that, at some point in time, the United Nations should get involved? And in that context, I’d also like to request that you, not produce, but at least ask Mr. Qazi come here and explain to us, he’s been absent for almost six months, so can he come here…
Spokesman: He may have not been briefing you for the past six months, but to say that he’s been absent would be unfair to him. He’s obviously been present in Iraq, where he should be. The UN is working hard with Iraqi authorities, with the international community through the Compact, through the International Compact for Iraq, to try and bring stability to the country. Obviously, we are not in the lead in the security field. And I know of no plans that would put us in the lead in the security field. But we’re working on issues of development, the constitution, human rights, and others. We are not in the lead of the security issue, and we have no plans of being in the lead on that front.
Question: Have you been briefed by Mr. Pedersen in Beirut about the unfolding events, especially the violence perpetrated by the pro-Government elements on Thursday, attacking the former Prime Minister Selim al-Hoss? And also a source from Lebanon, that Mr. Pierre Gemayel was gunned down in an inter-Christian conflict?
Spokesman: We are offering technical assistance to the Lebanese Government on the assassination of Mr. Gemayel. I would not want to pre-judge the results of that investigation. And, yes, Mr. Pedersen reports to us regularly, as it is his mandate to do so.
Question: Is the Secretary-General concerned that, apart from Australia and the AWB case, there has been very little national pursuing of names that were so prominent in the Volcker report, including most in Russia, where there has been no prosecution whatsoever, and names that were so prominent, and also in France?
Spokesman: Other countries have initiated investigations, the United States, France, as well. These are decisions that Member States have to make for themselves. The Volcker Commission was a momentous investigation, which brought to light a lot of information, most of which needs to be acted upon, if they choose so, by the Member States, and we will do whatever we can to facilitate those investigations.
Question: But will you do anything to encourage those countries to investigate?
Spokesman: The encouragement, as far as the UN is concerned, is making sure that all the information, all the papers, are clearly available to anyone who wants to investigate these claims further.
Question: Just a little further on Iraq, what would be really helpful to me, I don’t know who I should speak to, or if you can help me get a sense from the 38th floor. Is there any sense of a UN doctrine to apply here, in terms of protection of civilians, whereby I mean, if there is a superpower, or the lone superpower is involved, then the UN does not get involved? Or, if the difficulty of the situation in a country has reached a certain level, the UN again does not get involved? When does the UN get proactive, in terms of ideas coming from the 38th floor and various departments, and get involved on a huge civilian protection tragedy issue?
Spokesman: We can put you in touch with Iraq people here, but the UN is involved in ways that it can bring some kind of added value to the table. It is not involved on the security front.
Question: But here’s the situation, I’m just trying to get a sense, here’s a situation where basically the superpower is involved in a war that is very divisive here. And the UN basically, having suffered its own calamity in Iraq, is the UN ducking out, essentially of a situation of one of the world’s greatest civilian tragedies? Whereby civilians are dying at a rate of 100 a day or something? Is there a doctrine which explains this?
Spokesman: I don’t agree with your assessment that the UN is ducking out. The UN is involved in ways where it brings added value to the table, where it has the capacity to help the Iraqi Government. Obviously the Iraqi Government is working with the Multinational Force to get the situation under control. The Secretary-General described the situation there clearly to you about a half hour ago, but I really don’t have anything to add.
Question: The last thing on this, it is manifestly clear, that neither the Iraqi Government nor the Multinational Force have the situation under control. We’re in a phase where people are seeking new ideas. The current situation that the UN is aiding is a manifest failure, leading to a catastrophe of enormous proportions. So, in this new circumstance, why are we hearing no new ideas from the UN?
Spokesman: The UN has not long ago started working on the International Compact for Iraq. We are trying to encourage Iraq’s neighbours to play a positive role. No one is abandoning the situation. We are definitely making efforts in the areas where we have something to add.
Question: Was this conversation at the initiative of the Secretary-General or the Chairman?
Spokesman: No, it’s at the initiative of the Iraq Study Group. They’ve already spoken to Mr. Ashraf Qazi, and they’ve also spoken to the Deputy-Secretary-General. So they’re getting a number of different discussions with senior UN officials.
Question: Over the weekend, the UN-affiliated, I’ll call it, International Criminal Court named a judge to actually try Joseph Kony and the others in the LRA, so one, given what Jan Egeland was saying, there should be local justice in Uganda. Does the Secretary-General view that as a good thing, that now a prosecutor has been named? And is it indicative that trials will begin soon?
Spokesman: Whether or not it’s indicative you’d have to talk to the ICC. The ICC is independent of us. They’re going about their business, and we’re not going to comment on these issues. I think Mr. Egeland’s statements on the search for peace and justice and how those mesh together still stand, but we’re not going to comment on the ICC.
Question: About the quote from the Iraqi Health Ministry doubting the numbers that were so widely reported, last week, about the number of deaths during wartime…
Spokesman: Most of those numbers come from the Iraqi Ministry of Health, and the…
Question: Well, that’s why I’m saying…
Spokesman: And I’m saying we are confident of the veracity of those numbers, we stand by them, and we stand by the report.
Question: How is it compiled? Just by numbers given from the Ministry of Health?
Spokesman: They are the main source of numbers, and also the morgue in Baghdad, if I’m not mistaken.
Question: What do they, they go to the morgue, the UN…
Spokesman: Numbers are given to us by the morgue. Thank you very much, and, one o’clock you’ll have the GA President.
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