|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.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon travels to Berlin for a meeting tomorrow of the diplomatic Quartet. As you know, the other principal members at the meeting are US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, European Union High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, European Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, representing the Presidency of the European Union.
The Secretary-General looks forward to another opportunity to meet with his Quartet partners and to discuss and review with them the Mecca Agreement as well as the trilateral meeting held yesterday with Abbas, Olmert and Rice. This is the second time in a month that the Quartet is meeting, which is illustrative of the Secretary-General's desire to re-energize the process.
Yesterday we issued the following statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General in connection with the terrorist bombing of the “Friendship Express” in India:
The Secretary-General strongly condemns the brutal terrorist bombing of the Delhi-Lahore "Friendship Express", in which 67 people were killed and nearly 20 injured. This heinous crime cannot be justified by any cause and its perpetrators should be brought to justice.
The Secretary-General conveys his deep condolences to the families of the innocent victims and the Governments of India and Pakistan.
The Secretary-General expresses his satisfaction that the leaders of India and Pakistan have reaffirmed their determination to continue on the path of dialogue. He is also encouraged by the strong reaction among the various communities in the subcontinent and their common resolve to thwart the motives of the terrorists.
The Secretary-General this morning addressed the Security Council’s open meeting on security sector reform, chaired by Slovakian Foreign Minister Jan Kubis, and he said that the search for sustainable security has long been a preoccupation for the United Nations.
For the United Nations, the Secretary-General said, security sector reform aims to achieve effective, accountable and sustainable security institutions that operate under a framework of the rule of law and respect for human rights.
He said that security is a crucial and immediate condition for peace-building after conflict, and warned that security cannot be restored and maintained in a vacuum. And he outlined several steps to strengthen the United Nations’ support for reforms in national security sectors.
We have his statement upstairs.
Council members expect to adopt a presidential statement at the end of today’s debate.
The Security Council began its work this morning with a briefing by the Ambassador of Peru on the work of the panel of experts dealing with sanctions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Once the open debate on security sector reform ends, the Security Council expects to vote on a resolution on Somalia.
** Democratic Republic of the Congo
The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has welcomed the life sentences handed down by a Congolese court to four men convicted of murdering two UN military observers in the restive Ituri province in 2003. Two other suspects were sentenced to 10 and 20 years in prison.
The Court ruled that the killings amounted to war crimes, a decision the Mission has hailed as an important step in the fight against impunity and an affirmation of the DRC’s commitment to the implementation of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, to which the DRC is a State party.
Ashraf Qazi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, met yesterday with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouschehr Mottaki and discussed with him the important role the neighbouring States can play in reducing violence and promoting stability in Iraq. Today, Qazi also met with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mehdi Araghchi for further talks on issues pertinent to Iraq.
The Iranian authorities raised their concern for the need to identify constructive solutions to Iraq’s current difficulties. In this context, they also raised the issue pertaining to the detention of Iranian diplomats in Iraq.
The meeting in Tehran is part of Qazi’s regional tour, intended to learn the views of the Governments of the region and explore the different options to enhance Iraq’s stability and regional reintegration.
We have a press release upstairs with more details, as well as one from UNDP that says that one third of today’s Iraqi population lives in poverty, with more than five per cent living in extreme poverty.
On Timor-Leste, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Timor-Leste, Atul Khare, said UN and Timorese police are working to enhance security arrangements across Dili in response to growing violence in the capital.
UN and Timorese police officers today responded to a fighting and arson incident related to inter-gang rivalry in the town of Kampung. Khare visited the area and expressed his condolences and sympathy to the residents.
UN police are also investigating an incident in which 700 bags of rice were stolen from a World Food Programme (WFP) warehouse in Dili. The World Food Programme has announced that no further distribution will take place until further notice and after due security clearance.
The UN Mission in Sudan reports that armed militia have been mobilizing in large numbers over the last five days in an area of West Darfur. The reason behind the massive militia mobilization is so far not known, the Mission says.
The Mission also says it is holding today a one-day workshop on sexual exploitation and abuse in Southern Sudan. It is being held jointly with the Government of Southern Sudan, UN agencies and non-governmental organizations.
The workshop’s objectives are to share information about the UN zero-tolerance policy and code of conduct; assess achievements, identify gaps and challenges in preventing sexual exploitation and abuse, especially of children in Southern Sudan; and establish a joint risk assessment, reporting and monitoring mechanism.
There is a press release on the UN Mission website.
From Haiti, the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti reports the arrest this weekend of Johnny Pierre Louis, also known as “Ti Bazil”, a presumed gang leader in Cité Soleil, the poor neighbourhood of the capital, Port-au-Prince, where UN police have been conducting a robust anti-gang operation in recent weeks.
The Mission says that Ti Bazil, an associate of main gang leader Evens, is responsible for the killing of members of two families because of their participation in the UN-run disarmament programme. Ti Bazil is also accused of forcibly enlisting residents of Cité Soleil in his illegal pursuits.
In Kosovo, the UN Mission in Kosovo yesterday announced that its Deputy Crime Commissioner, Trygve Kalleberg of Sweden, has been appointed as Police Commissioner ad interim.
That designation will remain in effect until the formal appointment of the UN Mission’s Police Commissioner by the Secretary-General following the usual procedures, which are expected to take several months.
The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, today said that it needs over $14 million to help hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the armed conflict in Colombia.
In other news, UNHCR reports that, despite an increasingly uncertain situation in Guinea, it is scheduling two voluntary repatriation movements there for some 500 Liberian refugees. Those operations will take place this week.
We have more on these items in my office.
On Mozambique, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that, while the overall situation in Mozambique has stabilized for the moment, it is concerned about the possible impact of tropical storm Favio, which is expected to hit the country on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the World Food Programme is currently providing food aid to 33,500 flood survivors. And UNICEF has provided water and sanitation supplies –- including plastic sheeting, chlorine, water tanks and latrine slabs –- for newly established accommodation centres. UNICEF is also supplying high protein supplements to feeding centres.
The United Nations Integrated Office in Burundi, known by its French acronym of BINUB, is being formally launched today in the capital, Bujumbura. The creation of this peacebuilding office was mandated by the Security Council to secure and expand on the achievements of the UN peacekeeping operation in that country, whose mandate expired on 31 December 2006.
Tomorrow, following the noon briefing, the Foreign Minister of Slovakia, Jan Kubis, will speak to you about security sector reform and other priority issues for the Slovak Presidency this month.
This is all I have for you. Thank you.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Yes, Michèle, I don’t know if you saw last night a BBC report about radical preparations for an attack on Iran. This report contained a list of targets, which were supposed to be bombed by stealth bombers and [inaudible] from the [inaudible] of radar of the United States. Is the Secretary-General doing anything to prevent this attack on Iran?
Spokesperson: Well, I would say first that we do not comment on press reports. And the Secretary-General is certainly following the situation closely.
Question: I have a request and I have a question. The request is, could you convey to the Spokesman of the General Assembly that the right to ask questions is not limited to the first three rows as was the case this morning? Many of us sit in the middle or in the back, as you very well know, and as you practise -– a good practice. So I would appreciate if you would do that.
The question is, there were some indications that two UN-marked cars were attacked in Pristina this morning in Kosovo. Could you confirm that?
Spokesperson: Yes. UNMIK had confirmed that for us. Last night in central Pristina, an unidentified explosive device went off under a parked UNMIK vehicle. Two other UN vehicles and one civilian vehicle, as well as windows in surrounding shops and houses, were also damaged. No injuries were reported. This is what we got from them. The police are investigating the circumstances of the incident. The United Nations, as usual, as you know, condemns any acts of violence directed at UN property or personnel.
Question: Despite reports that the hatchet has been buried between the Secretary-General and the G77, there are still lingering doubts that a lot of issues still need to be resolved. Is the Secretary-General going to make efforts to make sure that the hatchet is really buried and [inaudible] a chance to undermine his efforts for reform and other things at the UN?
Spokesperson: Well, as you know, the Secretary-General, all of last week, systematically met all members, or practically all members, of the General Assembly. He went to the General Assembly on Friday to discuss his proposals and give further explanation on his proposals, saying he had heard the concerns of Member States and he had changed, in some ways, his proposals because of this input from Member States.
I think right now, there will be additional information provided to the C34, which is a group, as you know, the Committee dealing with peacekeeping issues. And the Secretariat will be ready to answer more questions on the reform proposals. So, I think this is on the way to moving forward.
Question: I heard a group of scientists, I’m not sure, over the weekend it’s been reported, who sounded alarm bells about an asteroid headed for Earth and wanted the United Nations to discuss some way of actually taking action against this asteroid to stop it crashing into Earth. Is this something that the Secretary-General has seen and is considering?
Spokesman: I haven’t heard anything about this.
Question: Michèle, I wanted to ask you, I know the Secretary-General is meeting with Condoleezza Rice in Berlin this week. But does he have any reaction to the tripartite meeting that took place between Abbas, Olmert and Rice? And was he briefed by Rice afterwards? Did he receive a phone call from her? Did he make any phone calls?
Spokesperson: Not that I know of, but, as you know, they are meeting tomorrow, so they will certainly be discussing what came out of that meeting.
Question: On the same subject, the Mecca Agreement will be discussed by the Quartet tomorrow. Is this issue raised by Mr. Ban Ki-moon or by any other member of the Quartet?
Spokesperson: All members of the Quartet are raising the issue. I mean, this will be part of their discussions.
Question: Well, I understand, I mean, the Americans are not supporting this agreement at all, and Mr. Ban Ki-moon supported it. Is this now put on the table by the United Nations or by all members?
Spokesperson: All members. All members -– this is one of the objectives of the meeting, of the Quartet meeting, to examine those two specific agreements that took place, or those two specific meetings, I’m sorry, that took place in the last few days.
Question: Is Mr. Ban Ki-moon going to promote that, to support that agreement?
Spokesperson: He’s going to discuss with the principals.
Question: Michèle, two questions. First, could you tell us whether the Secretary-General is coming right back to New York or is he going elsewhere after Berlin. Secondly, in the interest of transparency, why did we have to wait for a question to get a news item really on what happened in Kosovo?
Spokesperson: Well –-
Question: You didn’t announce it in the main briefing. You made some comments about what happened in response to a question. Isn’t that an issue that we should have heard about?
Spokesperson: I guess because I answered a number of questions I had from some of you yesterday, because I did work yesterday, answering questions. And I’m sorry, you’re right. It should have been put forward, but so many of you asked questions about it yesterday.
Question: OK, but on the Secretary-General’s schedule?
Spokesperson: I’m sorry. He’s going from Berlin to Vienna and after Vienna he’s coming back to New York.
Question: What’s in Vienna?
Spokesperson: In Vienna he’s going to meet with the staff and, as you know [inaudible] UN Headquarters in Europe, one of the most important ones is in Vienna.
Question: Do you know if the issue of Lebanon will be raised at the Quartet meeting with Condoleezza Rice?
Spokesperson: I don’t know at this point.
Question: And there are also reports that Syria is calling for talks on Lebanon and other issues. Do you have anything on that?
Spokesperson: No, I don’t have anything on that.
Question: It’s been 30 days since the Secretary-General announced that there’s going to be an audit on all UN agencies, starting with North Korea. Has there been any headway on that?
Spokesperson: Well, the Secretary-General is following it very closely, and I can tell you he’s asking questions about it, and he should get a report on it very soon on how it’s working out. But it is moving.
Question: Very soon?
Question: Does the 90 days -- because he said it should be done in 90 days -- does the 90 days run from when he announced that the audits would begin or from when they actually began?
Question: Have they begun?
Spokesperson: Actually, I know that –- yes, they have started it.
Question: Which ones have started?
Spokesperson: The external auditors have started on the process.
Question: But could you specify? I mean, there’s a lot of agencies to be audited.
Spokesperson: As you know, they’re starting with the UNDP and the specific case of –-
Question: You say they have started. You mean the one in North Korea?
Question: The clock is running?
Correspondent: The 90-day clock.
Question: Starting when?
Spokesperson: Well, I don’t know exactly when the clock starts. I’ll let you know exactly when the clock is supposed to start and when it’s supposed to end. Yes?
Question: Can you please explain to us very clear by the situation of the restructuring of the DPKO, especially as it relates to the role of the C-34? What is the Secretary-General expecting the C-34 to do on this matter and when do you expect the [inaudible] of the whole matter to be resolved?
Spokesperson: Well, the whole issue is expected to be discussed this week. I cannot anticipate what the C-34 will say. But this is the process, and as you know, the Secretary-General, when he spoke Friday, did stress that he respects the legislative process and he wants to go through the legislative process. But we do expect also that there will be a framework resolution to be presented to the Assembly pretty soon. But I have no further details on a timeframe or anything of that sort. But it is moving.
Question: The Secretary-General, besides following closely the situation in Iran, you know that there is a [inaudible] coming up. What’s his view on the possible -- any military escalation in the Gulf region between the United States and Iran, besides following the issue?
Spokesperson: No, he has been concerned about any escalation of violence for the region. He’s very concerned about the fact that any escalation of violence can further deteriorate the situation.
Question: In the original DPKO split proposal, one of the key lines was that there would be no budget implication to the split. It wasn’t in the second one. Are there any budget implications to the proposal?
Spokesperson: As far as I know, none. But, I don’t know. With the discussion proceeding, I don’t know whether there will be. But right now, at this point, no. He’s staying within budget limitations.
Question: On Darfur, there’s this meeting in Libya between El-Bashir and the National Redemption Front. Is Jan Eliasson attending, and does Ban Ki-moon or the Secretariat feel that Libya’s intervention will be helpful?
Spokesperson: Well, I don’t know if Mr. Eliasson is attending. I don’t know. I will let you know whether he does attend or not. I can tell you that Mr. Eliasson spoke to the Secretary-General this weekend, and so, the whole Darfur issue is being followed. I also know that the Secretary-General spoke with the Head of the AU Commission, Mr. Konare, on this issue.
[The Spokesperson’s Office later announced that the UN’s envoy for Darfur, Jan Eliasson, and his AU counterpart are not in Tripoli. The United Nations, however, welcomes and supports any effort to work towards peace in Darfur that are in line with the high-level consultation in Addis Ababa which took place late last year.]
Question: On the Quartet meeting, you mentioned the Secretary-General’s desire to re-energize the process. Before the last meeting, you acknowledged that the Quartet was perceived as not doing a lot lately. Given the results of the last meeting, which weren’t too substantial, the outcome of Rice’s visit to the Middle East, will the Secretary-General be doing anything specific to re-energize the process? Is he going in there with any proposals? You know, what is his plan to turn this around?
Spokesperson: Well, as you know, this is the second time in a month that they’re meeting. And I think this gives a signal –- a signal that the Secretary-General believes that having that structure that allowed for discussions to take place on a multilateral level is an important process. It is part of, to him, the mechanism that can be helpful -- if, of course, something moves -– and could help move the issues on the ground.
Question: The issue of funding the Hamas Government, the US and Israel seemed very reluctant to go that way. Is he willing to step up and maybe intervene on that and try to push them in that direction in order to bring people back to the table for dialogue?
Spokesperson: We’ll see what the discussion gives way to. I’ll be able to answer your question when I come back.
Question: Yes, I just had a question about the DPKO. Did the Secretary-General look at what the thoughts were about doing some kind of revision of the situation from that body when proposing his reform? There is the issue of creating a political centre by putting the operations and separating it from those who do the ordering and the materials aspect. Is there a way not to create an extra political centre? What is the means of doing that? Could you maybe make a little presentation about that?
Spokesperson: No, I would like to refer you to a presentation that was done right here by DPKO on the subject. It was very clearly explained what the proposal was and what it implied.
Spokesperson: Yes, it should be available. And you can look at the detailed proposals that were put on the table at the meeting of the General Assembly, which was, of course, an informal meeting, but the Secretary-General’s letter has circulated and I think you have all the information you need there.
Question: Recently, it became known that the trajectory of an asteroid set exactly on April 13, 2036 will be very close to earth. And there’s a danger of collision. Now there were calls about the UN getting involved in this and come up with prevention. Is there any reaction?
Spokesperson: Mr. Pincas, I just answered that question, exactly the same one, a little earlier, about this. And I said the Secretary-General has no reaction on this at this point.
Question: Can you get us some information about the meeting this morning between the Secretary-General and the Crown Prince of the Netherlands?
Spokesperson: I will get a readout for you on the meeting. I don’t have it with me right now.
[The Spokesperson later announced that they discussed the Prince’s work as Chairman of the Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation and ways to reach the Millennium Development Goals in that context. The Secretary-General also thanked the Netherlands for its increasing contribution to official development assistance to developing countries.]
Question: Just to follow-up on the Darfur issue, first of all, do we have any information about who these armed militias are, the armed militia from any side? So is there any more information on that? Is this Government-backed or rebel-backed?
And, I haven’t quite realized, maybe because I haven’t read your reports, but apparently a number of the internationals in Darfur working for the UN and associated [inaudible] partners were raped by Government forces. How loudly has the Secretary-General spoken out against this? Personally, I don’t actually remember any public complaint about that. Thank you.
Spokesperson: Yes, I do know that the Secretary-General has talked about this, particularly during his last meeting -– at the AU meeting.
Question: But would it be possible to give us an on-the-record sense of what the Secretary-General thinks about --
Spokesperson: I will get that for you on a more formal basis.
[The correspondent was later referred to the noon briefing of 24 January 2007, in which the Associate Spokesperson had said that the Secretary-General was extremely concerned about the arrest on 19 January of 20 staff members of the UN, non-governmental organizations and the African Union Mission in Sudan, in Nyala, South Darfur. The Associate Spokesperson had said that the Secretary-General expected a swift investigation of this incident, particularly as several of the staff were assaulted and seriously injured before they were released.]
Question: And do you know any more about this armed militia?
Spokesperson: No report, but you can have additional information in the report from the Mission that is upstairs.
Question: There are indications that on the reform of the Security Council, the Group of Four have elaborated a new proposal. Do you have any information on that?
Spokesperson: No, I don’t, and unfortunately, the Spokesperson for the President of the Assembly is not here now and I don’t have a readout on what the discussions are and where they are.
Question: Following her discussion with President Abbas and the Israeli Prime Minister, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that Israeli digging around the Al-Aqsa Mosque is a problem. Now, is it going to be discussed at the Quartet meeting?
Spokesperson: I cannot tell you at this point. I don’t have the specific agenda of the meeting. I told you the general lines of the meeting. I don’t know whether specifics like the Al-Aqsa Mosque will be discussed.
Question: Will the Secretary-General press for lifting the embargo against the Palestinians in the Quartet meeting?
Spokesperson: You just asked me that.
Question: No, I didn’t just ask you that. That’s another [inaudible].
Spokesperson: Well, he’s going to discuss that.
Question: But what’s his personal position?
Spokesperson: I will tell you when we come back from that Quartet meeting. That’s what I answered earlier.
Question: [inaudible] for people who go to the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Israel is making restrictions so that all those who are under 50 are not allowed. That does not really meet with any resolutions of United Nations principles. Is Mr. Ban Ki-moon going to raise this with Israel or with the Americans?
Spokesperson: About the different subject that will be raised tomorrow, I told you I would let you know as soon as they are raised, which is tomorrow.
Question: [inaudible] this has been going on –
Spokesperson: Yes, I know. But [talk over] whether it would be raised at the meeting tomorrow. I said, you know, let’s wait and see. I will let you know immediately. In fact, I will be in touch with my office and let you know exactly what came out of the Quartet meeting as soon as it is held.
Thank you very much.
* *** *