|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
Jan Eliasson, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Darfur, and Salim Ahmed Salim, his African Union counterpart, have arrived to Khartoum for a five-day joint mission to Sudan. The joint mission, the first to be carried out by the two officials since their appointment, is part of UN-AU efforts to re-energize the Darfur political process.
The Envoys said that they will be holding series of meetings in Khartoum and Darfur with signatories and non-signatories to the Darfur Peace Agreement, to whom they will be delivering a strong message: the urgent need to have a cessation of hostilities on the ground, to facilitate the humanitarian operations and to alleviate the suffering of the civilian population. That in turn will create the conditions for a credible and all-inclusive political process.
Acting Special Representative for Sudan, Tayé-Brook Zerihoun, left today to Addis Ababa to take part in the African Union Meeting on Chad and Sudan, to be held today at the AU Headquarters.
The UN Mission, in its daily bulletin, reports that violence in Darfur is forcing thousands of people to be on the move in a number of locations and also notes the need for a resumption of urgently required humanitarian assistance in some areas.
** Middle East Quartet
Last Friday, we put out a statement by the Quartet, which followed the phone conference among the Secretary-General and the other principal Quartet members earlier that day.
The Secretary-General spoke on the phone Saturday with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, and also spoke on Sunday with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, reiterating the terms of the Quartet statement released at UN Headquarters in New York on Friday and the need to support the agreement reached in Mecca.
Quartet members, the statement said, will meet on the 21st of February in Berlin to continue their consideration of these developments and to review formation and implementation of the agreement on the Government.
On Lebanon, Major General Claudio Graziano, the Force Commander of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), chaired his first tripartite meeting today with senior officers from the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Israel Defense Force.
The meeting took place following the incident near Marun al-Ras on 7 February, when the Lebanese and Israeli forces exchanged fire. UNIFIL submitted the report and findings of the incident to both parties. Both parties agreed with UNIFIL’s recommendation to improve UNIFIL’s liaison and coordination with each of the parties to prevent such situations.
The parties also discussed the northern part of the village of Ghajar, with a view to expediting the withdrawal of the Israeli forces from this area to south of the Blue Line, in accordance with Security Council resolution 1701 (2006).
** Lebanon Appointment
On Lebanon, the Secretary-General, in a letter to the Security Council, says that he intends to appoint Geir Pedersen of Norway as his Special Coordinator for Lebanon. Pedersen, currently the Secretary-General’s Personal Representative for Lebanon, would be responsible, in this post, for coordinating the work of the United Nations in the country and representing the Secretary-General on all political aspects of UN work there. We are awaiting the Security Council’s response to the Secretary-General’s letter.
The Security Council is today holding an open meeting on Timor-Leste, in which the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Atul Khare, began by noting the country’s preparations for its first national elections since the restoration of its independence. Khare said the security is clearly seen by all as a critical element for the success of the electoral process.
He added his belief that the deployment of an additional UN Formed Police Unit, as recommended by the Secretary-General, is essential, and he also noted the recommendation that the UN Mission’s mandate in Timor-Leste be extended by an additional twelve months. Khare will be the guest at tomorrow’s noon briefing.
On Kosovo, the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) reports that autopsies are being done on the bodies of two protestors who died following a violent demonstration in Pristina over the weekend. That demonstration escalated when pro-independence protestors tore down barricades in attempts to enter government buildings and threw stones at UN police officers. The police responded with irritant gas.
UN Police Commissioner Stephen Curtis expressed sadness over the deaths. He stressed that, while peaceful protest is everyone’s right, violence is unacceptable. He also invited Kosovo’s institutions to independently scrutinize the UN’s investigation into the matter. We have more information on that upstairs.
** Democratic Republic of the Congo
On the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the UN Mission in the DRC has expressed satisfaction at the fact that the disarmament, demobilization and reinsertion campaign in the region around the town of Beni has begun to show results. The Mission’s office in Beni reported this weekend that a sensitization broadcast begun early last month, and aimed at some 1000 Congolese and Ugandan rebels scattered in hideouts in the Semuliki Valley, is successfully persuading young rebels to join the disarmament drive.
The broadcast campaign includes an explanation of ways and means available to the rebels who join the process, and a guarantee of repatriation by the Mission and reinsertion into their countries and societies of origin. We have a Mission document explaining the campaign upstairs.
On Somalia, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia, François Lonseny Fall, has emphasized the importance of an inclusive political dialogue between the leadership of the Transitional Federal Institutions and key Somali stakeholders within the framework of the Transitional Federal Charter. Mr. Fall made these remarks Friday at a meeting in Tanzania of the International Contact Group on Somalia, to which the UN is an observer.
On Mozambique, UN agencies have been working with the Government of Mozambique to respond to severe floods that have affected tens of thousands of people in that country.
The World Food Programme (WFP) has already started distributing emergency food rations to 2,000 flood survivors. And, UNICEF has also sent a first shipment of emergency supplies. According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the situation in Mozambique is likely to continue to worsen in the coming days.
On Liberia, representatives from major bilateral foundations, civil society groups and other education partners will meet in New York this week to discuss the role of education in national reconstruction efforts in Liberia.
Hosted by UNICEF on behalf of the Government of Liberia, the one-day meeting this Friday will come on the heels of the Liberia Partners’ Forum, a high-level donors’ conference to be held in Washington DC, from this Tuesday to Thursday. We have more on that upstairs.
On Nepal, Ian Martin, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN peace mission in Nepal (UNMIN) welcomed the dialogue to take place between the government team and representatives not only of Madhesi organizations but also of Janajatis. Stressing the importance of all groups in the decision-makings for the future of Nepal, the Martin called on all those concerned to promote legitimate demands through peaceful dialogue.
And, then finally, the Internet Governance Forum, which held its first meeting late last year in Athens, will meet tomorrow in Geneva. This is all I have for you. Questions? Yes?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Yes, Michèle, please, I’d like to ask about the Secretary-General’s reaction to the Quartet and whether it now meets the demands of the Quartet, itself, and also whether the time is right to lift the economic blockade on the Palestinian Government?
Spokesperson: Well, this will be the subject of the next Quartet meeting, which is going to take place as you know the 21st of February in Berlin.
Question: Yes, but right now, he supports obviously the Mecca Agreement. That’s what he said. So from his point of view, is this enough now to lift the economic embargo imposed by the United States and Europe?
Spokesperson: You have the statement on the Quartet, and we will not go beyond that statement at this point. Yes?
Question: With regard to the appointments, I wondered if you could say if there has been any impact of the people of the Security Council who supported the Secretary-General’s candidacy on the appointments of prominent positions now? Has that been a consideration -- those that were in the Security Council at the time of the contest over who would be the next Secretary-General, and how important that is -- who supported him and who gets the key appointments?
Spokesperson: Well, I don’t think that this was the major factor. As you know, competency was one factor that the Secretary-General underlined, that the Chef de Cabinet underlined on Friday. I can only repeat what he said, that there were critical factors in making this selection -- and he mentioned professional skills, the overall picture of geographic distribution and gender balance -- this was what his criteria were. And, it is as you know the Secretary-General’s prerogative to appoint the team around him. That’s all I can add. Yes?
Question: Is there any reaction of the Secretary-General to the news out of Baghdad that the court has decided that the Vice-President who was condemned to death should indeed be hung? And, also, is there any reaction from the Secretary-General to some criticism that Louise Arbour had spent tremendous amount of time and effort making an appeal to spare this man from hanging, instead of giving equal amount of time and effort to the numerous amount of other people out there on death row as opposed to concentrating on people in Saddam Hussein’s inner circle?
Spokesperson: Well, I think she has spent a lot of time in other cases, just as much time. Is there any reaction from the Secretary-General? No, he supports Ms. Arbour’s decisions on this.
Question: It is the first time, she -- Ms. Arbour -- had actually written such a brief, in fact, the first time ever, a large brief, a tremendous amount of time and energy would have gone in putting that brief together. But, why specifically does Ban Ki-moon support putting such effort into this one case, as opposed to the tens of thousands of cases of people on death row in countries that approve the death penalty, like China and even South Korea, for instance?
Spokesperson: I don’t have a specific reaction on this, no I don’t, but I could try to get it for you. I do know that he had himself made an appeal in that direction. It was not a legal brief the way Ms. Arbour has chosen to do… Ms. Arbour chose one of the means at her disposal -- in this specific case; it probably won’t be the last time that she uses that specific way of acting. Yes?
Question: Does the SG have a position on Sudan blocking one of these human rights observers that were going to go on mission to Sudan?
Spokesperson: For the time being, we don’t have -- what we know is that the team arrived in Addis last night and meeting today with key AU and UN officials -- no word yet on visas. But, from what -- we talked to them this morning -- and they remain hopeful that they will get visas.
Question: But does the Secretary-General have any appeal to the Khartoum Government on the subject?
Spokesperson: No, he’s waiting to see what will happen. They have not been refused visas; they have just not been granted visas yet.
Question: It’s the same thing.
Spokesperson: Well, we are waiting. They are right now in Addis, so we’ll see what comes out of this. You know, the original plan was for them to go to Khartoum tomorrow, so we’re waiting for the day today, and we’ll see if we have something later today. Yes?
Question: Can you confirm that the person whose visa’s at issue is Guyanese -- Bertrand Ramcharan?
Spokesperson: No, I cannot confirm that. Yes?
Question: Who did you say was Lebanon SRSG?
Spokesperson: Geir Pedersen.
Question: That’s not the same as the one who’s there now?
Spokesperson: Yes, yes it is, except he has more responsibilities now, at the USG level. Yes?
Question: About the demarcation of the Lebanese border -- was it at the request of the Lebanese Government or was it done by UNIFIL?
Spokesperson: There was no redrawing of the line. The Blue Line is the Blue Line, stays the Blue Line. What has happened is that simply they put the markers to remind both parties of where the Blue Line was. There was nothing as far as I know -- it didn’t come from a request from anybody -- it just was simply refreshing the lines, that’s all.
Question: But why were they drawn far away from the original one?
Spokesperson: No, they were not -- the Blue Line has stayed the Blue Line.
Question: Do you have any idea -- the Brigadier, Mr. [inaudible], who drew that original Blue Line, himself, issued a statement saying there is a danger of changing the border, especially in the [inaudible] area and the Maroun al-Ras about 20,000 square metres were deducted from the Lebanese territory.
Spokesperson: Well, you know, the question of demarcation of borders, it’s something to be dealt with by Member States. I’m talking about the Blue Line, which is the line that UNIFIL established as a peace line, if you want to put it this way. So, we’re not talking about the demarcation of borders at this point, which is something that has to go through a bilateral discussion between the two States. If you’re talking about the Blue Line, the Blue Line has stayed the Blue Line; it has never moved. Yes?
Question: Michèle, according to the latest news, the Mayor of New York, Mr. Bloomberg, is in Washington, and among the other things he will address is his dissatisfaction with the authorities from Albany who are not speedy enough in giving approvals for the new building of the UN. Does the Secretary-General share his view? Did he meet him in person? Did he talk about that? And, what does he think about the dynamics of the new building?
Spokesperson: I’ll ask the question for you. I don’t think they have met on this. I will ask for you whether there is a specific position on the part of the Secretary-General on that.
Question: Just one more from my point of view -- is the Secretary-General concerned about the latest turmoil in Kosovo and Pristina and what does he intend to do if that violence continues?
Spokesperson: Well, right now he is certainly concerned about the violence. As you know, Martti Ahtisaari’s team has said that violence would never be tolerated as a way to solve the situation in Kosovo and to solve the Kosovo status process. We consider as very positive the position of the Kosovo authorities who condemned without ambiguity the violence, and appealed for calm. Is the Secretary-General worried about these protests? I said he’s concerned. The next step in the status process will start in Vienna on 21 February with the intention of closing the negotiations in early March. That’s all I can really say about it.
Question: Michèle, I thought you mentioned February 13th as the next step last week when Mr. Ahtisaari, or do I have that wrong?
Spokesperson: No, it was the 21st. That’s the date I have.
Question: There’s news from Bosnia, which is going to reconsider the UN’s having blocked these 800 federal and local police, and there are questions raised about whether the UN gave them due process, etc. Is the UN, what is the UN’s position on Bosnia considering rehiring people that the UN barred?
Spokesperson: As you know, we do remain committed to supporting Security Council deliberations on this matter, and we view the issue of the non-certified police officers with the utmost seriousness. I’d like to point to the merits of the certification process in the context of prevailing conditions at the time of the vetting process. It was necessary then to equip Bosnia with an ethnically neutral democratic police force operating according to international policy standards, in accordance with Security Council presidential statement of 25 June 2004. So, so far, this is what we have. So, we remain committed to supporting the Security Council deliberation on that matter. Yes?
Question: Just, remind me, the new posts that were announced, will they take up their posts when the contracts of the previous posts run out?
Question: So, most of the posts begin at the end of this month, is that correct?
Question: Now, just on a substantive question -- what’s going on in Haiti, with regard to the UN operation there? Because there is just so much noise coming out of there and we don’t really get very much over here as to what’s going on over there.
Spokesperson: We have asked to have a definite appraisal of what went on. As you know, there were demonstrations during the weekend, and there were operations that were led by MINUSTAH into Cite Soleil and other neighbourhoods in Port-au-Prince.
Question: What’s actually going on? Who’s being fought against? What’s actually – is this political? Is this just gang violence? Is this a drug war? What’s actually going on here?
Spokesperson: It’s all of the above.
Question: Well, would it be possible for us to have… [talkover] why, how…?
Spokesperson: We’ll certainly talk to MINUSTAH and ask for more specifics on the latest operations they had. Gang violence has existed in Haiti for the last three years, as you know, and it is fed, of course, partially by drug issues, its criminal activities, in some cases. In some other cases, there are links to political positions. So, at this point, what MINUSTAH is doing is countering criminal activities by going into neighbourhoods like Cite Soleil to confront some gang leaders and gang members.
Question: And, just to remind me, the mandate of the Security Council resolution setting up the Mission includes basically giving MINUSTAH a mandate to act as policeman, is that correct?
Spokesperson: Yes, they have a police force there, and they have the request… [talkover].
Question: Is it the police force that’s doing this or is it the soldiers that’s doing this? It’s very confusing.
Spokesperson: It’s both. It’s both. We’ll have some definite positions for you on what work by the police and what work is being done by the soldiers.
Question: Would it be possible for somebody to come with a map and pictures and just show us what’s going on? It’s a little bit hard to grasp.
Spokesperson: You had Mr. Mulet two weeks ago.
Question: But, it wasn’t happening.
Spokesperson: It was happening; it’s been happening for quite a while.
Question: Is this a new tactic or a new strategy by MINUSTAH to disarm the militias and, once and for all, solve that problem?
Spokesperson: Well, the decision was taken last December after a series of kidnappings for ransom, and as you know, the case created quite an uproar in Haiti, because at the time, there was a kidnapping of a busload of schoolchildren, and at the time, there was such an uproar in Haiti, that the decision was taken – and I think at the request of the Haitian Government – for MINUSTAH to start acting more decisively against the gangs. We’re not talking about militias here.
Question: So, there’s a decision here to act more decisively against the gangs than has been done in the past? Apart from the kidnappings, while it happened in December, it’s not that much in the news.
Spokesperson: Well, we’ve had an average of 10 kidnappings a week in Haiti, in Port-au-Prince.
Question: Right, that’s what I’m saying, so it’s not very newsworthy, so what… is the change because of a decision made by MINUSTAH to be a little tougher?
Spokesperson: Well, it’s because the situation has worsened. I mean, the number of kidnappings in the month of December… I mentioned the case of the children because it meant a lot in terms of public opinion in Haiti, but the kidnapping issue has been a very strong issue in Haiti for more than a year, and there has always been pressure for the Government to act on this and for the police to be able to act against the gangs. As you know, the police are still weak and not structured enough. They have had a number of actions against the gangs themselves -- I am talking about the Haitian police -- first there was support by MINUSTAH, and now they’re also acting together with a decisive approach to go into the slum area and actually secure places where gang leaders were operating.
Question: Just to follow up in terms of how the information is handled on this. You mentioned we had a briefing two weeks ago. When I’ve covered various ongoing operations in theatre or whatever with the Americans or whatever, you don’t get a briefing every two weeks, you get regular briefings, and since this seems to be a major hot action going on right now, and also since I don’t know but I suspect there are not that many international correspondents in Haiti right now, I think there would be validity in giving a slightly more regular update here by someone who’s involved in the operations, essentially when there are people being killed. I think it’s valid.
Spokesperson: Okay thank you. We’ll follow with this. We’ll try to get someone for you for an update.
Question: The Turkish Foreign Minister visited the SG last Friday. You issued a readout; anything you can say about it?
Spokesperson: No, I didn’t get a readout on it. I could ask for you what was discussed. Yes?
[The Spokesperson later added that the Secretary-General and Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül had discussed the Alliance of Civilizations, Cyprus and Iraq. On the Alliance of Civilizations, they agreed on the importance of appointing a High Representative for the Alliance, as was recommended by the Alliance’s High-level Group in November 2006. On Cyprus, they agreed that the 8 July 2006 agreement between the two sides must be implemented without further delay. On Iraq, they exchanged views on the general situation, including Kirkuk. They also touched upon Lebanon, as well as terrorism in general.]
Question: Is the Secretary-General going to go to Berlin for the Quartet meeting?
Question: Michèle, just to follow up on Matthew’s question. Actually, this decertification problem has been going on now for several years without any solution yet. Has there been any recent request by Bosnian diplomats for this process to be sped up, and does anyone from the Political Department here at the United Nations view this as part of the broader reform of the police in Bosnia, since this is the major reform that is right now ongoing in Bosnia?
Spokesperson: I will try to get it for you, to have more precision on the whole issue.
Question: Thank you. With reference to Mr. Khare’s appearance at the noon briefing tomorrow, is there any chance of getting the Prime Minister, Mr. Ramos-Horta to speak to us? I assume he’s meeting with the SG on 38 right now, so he couldn’t be coming to the stakeout, at least not for some time. Any chance of him coming to speak to us?
Spokesperson: I could ask for you.
Question: Concerning the executions in Iraq, does the Secretary-General have any reaction to the repeated disregard of the UN appeals on the issue? I mean, you’ve issued several appeals so far, and the Iraqi authorities do not seem to be concerned at all.
Spokesperson: He’s certainly concerned about it. He hasn’t had a specific reaction – I’m going to ask the question for Jonathan, specifically about Ms. Arbour’s new way of approaching the whole issue by filing a legal brief, and I’ll get an answer to your question also.
Question: And, also, could we have a more detailed readout of the Secretary-General’s conversations over the weekend with Mr. Olmert and Abbas and the Saudi King?
Spokesperson: Well, this is what I told you. They discussed follow to the Mecca talks, and they also discussed the next Quartet meeting, which is going to take place on the 21st, as I said. They, in the case of his conversation with Mr. Olmert, he did talk about the situation in Old Jerusalem and the number of protests in the city.
Question: What did he discuss with him about the protests?
Spokesperson: He just expressed the concern that had been expressed to him by a number of Ambassadors here at the UN, Permanent Representatives, who came to him last week to express concern, about the construction in the old city of Jerusalem. So, he simply conveyed that.
Question: Again, with stopping that?
Spokesperson: Pardon me?
Question: Did he express his wish that Israel would stop what they are doing?
Spokesperson: He expressed his concern to Mr. Olmert. Yes?
Question: Michèle, in the margins of the Munich conference on security, Mr. Gates said one cold war was enough. Does the Secretary-General have any comments or thoughts on that?
Spokesperson: No, no. He hasn’t expressed any to me, but I can always find out whether he has any thoughts on that. Yes?
Question: Thank you. Yesterday on CNN, they were showing footage taken in the Niger delta in Nigeria of 28 Filipino sailors in captivity. CNN went with film to the families of those folks in the Philippines to verify whether the story is true. There is a major new conflict brewing based on oil. Now, did this reach the UN? Is the UN…? Because it would be a very serious matter.
Spokesperson: Well, this conflict has been going on for quite a while, as you probably know. It is still going on now. There are people at the UN, of course, following the situation closely, but we don’t have a specific reaction to the press report.
Question: But with 28 hostages taken, I didn’t hear any discussions at the UN on the subject. Yet, the Nigerian Government contends that CNN is lying and that they staged the whole thing. CNN has shown those clippings and actually had contact with the families. That means there are two different versions. Now, is this a place for the UN to step in? This is my question.
Spokesperson: At the moment, we don’t have any comment on it.
Question: I wanted to ask about the phone conversations that the Secretary-General had over the weekend with the Saudi King. In, not the latest Quartet statement, but the one before, one of the points of the statement was that they wanted to have more regional involvement – was there any call or any discussion about involving Saudi Arabia or Egypt in the Berlin talks on the 21st, or is there going to be any outside sort of Quartet meetings with them?
Spokesperson: Not at this point, but the Secretary-General also, you know, as I said, spoke to the Saudi King and he also spoke to, you know, a number of other phone calls to countries of the region to gather support for the process that is ongoing. However, I don’t know of any decision to extend the composition of the Quartet at this time. Yes?
Question: Just to go back to his conversation over the weekend, did Mr. Ban Ki-moon get any commitment or promise from Mr. Olmert that he would halt the construction of the wall?
Spokesperson: No, there was no commitment. There was concern expressed by the Secretary-General, himself. Yes?
Question: Questions on the hiring, firing, retirements. Mr. Nambiar, on these 12 retirement posts for the speechwriter and other ones, said there were 500 applicants and shortlists. Is there any sense of when these posts are going to be named, or the shortlist for speechwriter would be released, or what the breakdown is for these posts, since there was such a big deal about the mobility?
Spokesperson: As you know, there are 13 posts now, because another one was advertised for a D-2 position. The number of people who applied is quite large, and right now they’re going through the whole list of applicants. I don’t know when we’ll have a definite choice made of the Secretary-General’s 38th floor composition.
Question: Could you keep us informed?
Spokesperson: Yes, as soon as we get something.
Question: The other thing, of the people whose resignations were accepted on Friday, we were told that some of them, like Rima Salah of UNICEF and others… how many of these decisions were based on people hitting retirement age?
Spokesperson: I can check on that for you. I don’t have a specific answer on that.
Question: Were they told in advance or did they hear it at the press conference on Friday?
Spokesperson: I was told that they were told in advance.
Question: There was an AP story, I guess on Saturday, about Jonathan [inaudible] the guy with the degrees. He is described as the inventor of the Galaxy employment system, the system that checks when people apply for jobs and rates them. Is he in fact the inventor of the Galaxy system, given that he now doesn’t have a degree?
Spokesperson: I don’t know.
Question: Can you find out?
Question: Two questions. One, I wonder if the Secretary-General has been following the six-party talks, and if there’s been any effort on the part of the Secretary-General to help those, to support those having a good conclusion? You had put out statements in the past and there’s been no sign or acknowledge that they are even happening and I was surprised.
Spokesperson: Well, we did have a statement a few days ago welcoming anything that would advance the process. However, the Secretary-General is not involved directly.
Question: The second concerns the Internet Governance Forum. Is there a way to follow what’s happening there? Can you make some statements?
Spokesperson: This you can easily find out. You can come to our office and you can have, there are press releases on this.
Question: Is there a website?
Spokesperson: I should assume so.
Question: Michèle? Did anybody express dissatisfaction knowing that resignations were accepted or sore disappointment that the Secretary-General had the opportunity to hear?
Spokesperson: I will not comment on individual cases.
Question: Were there some dissatisfactions or disappointments?
Spokesperson: Yes, I suppose so. Thank you.
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