|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.
Our guest today is Louise Arbour, High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Michael Williams, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the situation in the Middle East, is continuing his mission related to the preparation of the Secretary-General’s next report on Security Council resolution 1701.
Following his meetings with Israeli officials in Israel earlier this week, Williams met in Lebanon yesterday and today with Lebanese officials concerned with the implementation of that resolution. The discussions focused on a whole range of issues, including overflights, the issue of prisoners, and respect for the arms embargo, as well as the situation in the south, the Shebaa Farms and along the Blue Line. Williams stressed the general need to sustain a commitment by all parties to resolution 1701.
Among the officials that Williams met were Lebanon’s Prime Minister, Defence Minister, Interior Minister, former Energy Minister, and senior security officials. Williams was accompanied by the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Geir Pedersen. We have in our office a transcript of a press encounter that Williams gave in Beirut today.
The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has appealed for $26 million to improve the living conditions of some 18,000 Palestine refugees living in Neirab camp near Aleppo, Syria.
The Agency explains the reason behind this appeal by saying that the Neirab camp originally housed troops during World War II and no renovations have been performed ever since. This has led to unsafe building structures that pose health and safety hazards and overcrowding due to the large number of refugee families set up there.
The Secretary-General’s most recent report on Darfur is out as a document today. It covers the months of November, December and January.
In it, the Secretary-General says he is distressed by the deteriorating humanitarian and security situation on the ground, and he particularly deplores the aerial bombings by the Sudanese Armed Forces, which have expanded to new areas since January 16, resulting in more civilian casualties and suffering. He urges the Government to put an end to the aerial bombings and to take immediate action to hold accountable the perpetrators of attacks against civilians.
All parties, he says, must submit to dialogue and negotiation, and commit themselves to a non-military solution to the devastating conflict in Darfur.
We also have today the transcript of a press conference held today in Khartoum by the acting Special Representative for Sudan, Taye Brook-Zerihoun, together with the UNMIS Force Commander, Lieutenant General Jashir Lidder. We also have a daily update from the UN Mission in Sudan.
There are no meetings or consultations of the Security Council scheduled for today, the last day of the Slovakian Presidency. Starting tomorrow, South Africa assumes the Council Presidency for the month of March. Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo of South Africa is scheduled to brief you on Friday on the Council’s programme of work for the month. Also, the IAEA’s report on Iran is out as a document today.
**Democratic Republic of Congo
After three weeks of intense negotiations, the UN Mission in the DRC reports that militia leader Peter Karim yesterday took an important first step towards the consolidation of peace in the Ituri Province by disarming and ordering the surrender of some 170 fighters from his National Integrationist Front.
Among the surrendering fighters, 42 were identified as children by UNICEF and the Mission’s Child Protection Division. The disarmament operation, which was supervised by UN peacekeepers, also netted heavy weapons including AK-47s, machine guns, anti-tank mines and ammunition.
The United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) reports that 21 instances of fighting, stone-throwing and arson were reported in Dili over the past 24 hours. The situation is now reported as calm, but tense.
A new report from the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that neurological disorders, ranging from epilepsy to Alzheimer disease, affect up to 1 billion people worldwide. However, according to the report, health systems need to be strengthened to deliver better care for people suffering from such disorders.
In that context, Margaret Chan, WHO’s Director-General, says that, despite the fact that highly effective, low-cost treatments are available, as many as 9 out of 10 people suffering from epilepsy in Africa go untreated. We have more on that in my office.
Clarifications on climate change and the question that was asked yesterday. The Secretary-General is actively consulting with a range of actors on climate change and is looking at all options for building consensus on how best to address this common threat. He plans to attend the G8 meeting in June, where climate change will be a central topic of discussion.
The United Nations is also preparing for a UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference in Bali in December. At this time there are no plans for a Summit.
The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) -- which is an independent and quasi-judicial monitoring body for the implementation of the UN international drug control conventions -- today launched its annual report at the UN’s office in Vienna. A similar launch will also take place today in Washington, D.C.
We have a press release on the report in my office.
At 3 p.m., there will be a briefing on the UN Pension Fund. Just a reminder, with Comptroller Warren Sach and Bernard Cosheme, Chief Executive Officer of the UN Joint Staff Pension Fund.
Tomorrow, at 11 a.m., another reminder, the International Parliamentary Union will hold a press conference on annual statistics of women in parliament and the role of women leaders.
And our guest at noon will be Eric Laroche, the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia.
This is all I have for you.
**Questions and Answers
Question: You just said that there is no plan for organising a summit on the climate changes…
Spokesperson: At this time.
Question: At this time. Yesterday, we were talking that it may happen still?
Spokesperson: We’re saying that, yes, I said yesterday the Secretary-General was considering the options. At this time, I’m stressing, there is no plan.
Question: I know you don’t like hypothetical questions. However, if that summit happens, will the Secretary-General invite Mr. Al Gore to attend?
Spokesperson: I don’t know at this point, since it is a hypothetical question.
Question: I wanted to ask you about the International Narcotics Control Board report that’s out. We always get a briefing on this every year and for some reason, they’re briefing in Washington -- I think it’s tomorrow. Is there any way that I can, we can request a briefing on the report?
Spokesperson: We can try. We can try to get them to come here, yes.
Question: As soon as possible since it’s out this week?
Spokesperson: Okay, sure, we’ll request that.
Question: Yesterday, I think you said that the Secretary-General met with the families of the Israeli soldiers, prisoners. Will the Secretary-General also consider meeting with the families of prisoners now in the US jails, as reported by Human Rights Watch yesterday, by the CIA?
Spokesperson: He hasn’t been asked yet.
Question: What resulted out of that meeting with the two ladies he met yesterday from Israel?
Spokesperson: I have a readout out for you, I have one upstairs. And as you know, they had a stakeout yesterday when they came out. So, I think you have maybe the information you need from the stakeout also.
Question: The Secretary-General’s side, we heard from their side.
Spokesperson: Okay, I’ll give you a readout of their meeting.
[The Spokesperson later added that the Secretary-General promised that he would keep working hard to seek the Israeli soldiers’ release. She added that the Secretary-General had been receiving reports from and working with the “facilitator,” and that the UN strongly hoped for the prisoners’ release.]
Question: Is there a readout from the meeting of the Secretary-General with Mr. Djinnit on the Darfur crisis? Did he get any good answers? Are things moving ahead on the heavy package?
Spokesperson: On the heavy package, nothing is moving yet. As you know, the Secretary-General is still expecting that letter which hasn’t come yet, which we announced as a possibility last week. So this is really what I have, but I can give you a more and more accurate readout of the meeting. This is what we have.
[The Spokesperson later added that, in addition to Darfur, the Secretary-General and Mr. Djinnit discussed Guinea and Somalia.]
Question: There’s plans now to have a meeting in Iran with all the neighbours. Since the Secretary-General, anyway, plans to be around those dates in the region, or maybe even a little later, does he have any plan to…?
Spokesperson: Well, what we have is the fact that the Secretary-General supports this new diplomatic initiative and will be sending his Special Representative in Iraq, Mr. Ashraf Qazi, to attend the meeting as an observer. This is what we have.
Question: Which means he is not…?
Spokesperson: Exactly. So the Secretary-General has discussed this idea with Foreign Minister Zebari during the recent meeting in Berlin. And it is keeping with the call the UN has been making for national, regional and international efforts in support of the people and Government of Iraq. The Secretary-General hopes that the participants in the preparatory meeting will focus urgently needed steps to reduce violence in Iraq and help stabilize the situation in the region. This is what I have.
Question: A follow-up on this -- SRSGs have not yet been reshuffled for whatever it is -- what’s the status of Ashraf Qazi?
Spokesperson: We don’t have anything at this point yet. His contract is still on.
Spokesperson: I don’t have the exact date; I can get it for you.
Question: Today is the 28th, which is the end of the contracts of quite a number of the Under-Secretaries-General. Can you tell us whether they’re all departing, or are some of them staying on until their successors arrive? What’s the status?
Spokesperson: Well, this week, we are going to have the signing of the declaration by three of them, Mr. Holmes, as you know with OCHA. There will be also the signing by Lynn Pascoe of the declaration -- it will be on Friday morning. And the third person will be Muhammad Shaaban of Egypt who will be also, I will say, sworn in, will sign the declaration, which is the term that we have adopted. And it’s going to be 9 a.m., the signing of the declaration. And I can already announce that Mr. Holmes will brief you next week; that will be Monday at 11:15.
Spokesperson: We have asked. We are waiting for an answer. Yes?
Question: Is Mr. Ban Ki-moon going to discuss with Mr. Jumblatt why the Israeli army militia (inaudible) especially (inaudible) that he asked the United States to provide him with more weapons?
Spokesperson: I don’t know what will be discussed at that meeting. We’ll give you a readout once that meeting takes place.
Question: But will he raise that?
Spokesperson: I don’t know. I can’t answer that question.
Question: Kofi Annan had almost 74 Special Representatives around the world. Do you know how many people has this new Secretary-General?
Spokesperson: At this point, I could just give you the ones I had, which were announced the other day. And if you want to find out, as I said, they are still serving -- those who are there -- even until their contract expires. Then we’ll have new nominations as the contracts expire.
Question: Can you…?
Spokesperson: Yes, sure.
Question: On the item you read on the Democratic Republic of Congo -- Peter Karim. He had taken peacekeepers hostage last summer. So I’m wondering, as a follow-up, about the arrangement for disarmament. Number one, is it the UN’s understanding that he’s going to be put into the Congolese Army? Was he given money to disarm and what’s going to happen on this child soldier issue? If, as you said, he clearly recruited child soldiers, isn’t that a crime under international law?
Spokesperson: Well, as you know, the judicial process is a separate process. In terms of his status, I know that he has been integrated as an officer in the Congolese Army. What will happen on the judicial front, you will be able to ask Ms. Arbour that when she comes.
Question: There’s a story in today’s New York Times about reform that says, among other things, for those 12 mobility posts that were advertised in the UN system at large, there have been 1,200 applications for it. I thought Mr. Nambiar had said 500 -- have more…?
Spokesperson: More have come in.
Question: Because I think there was a deadline.
Spokesperson: But there were people applying from outside Headquarters also.
Question: And of the three that are signing the declaration on Friday, do you know if any of them are going to make their financial disclosure public?
Spokesperson: I don’t know. I don’t know at this point. As soon as they are public, I’ll let you know also.
Question: Can we assume that the Under-Secretaries-General that have not been replaced will be serving another term? I mean it’s the end of their…
Spokesperson: Well, we’ll just have to wait until their contract expires. Then we’ll know whether they are being renewed or whether they are going to be replaced.
Question: But isn’t it true that most of their contracts are expiring now?
Spokesperson: No, some of them it’s March, some of them it’s April.
Question: Is there a list of those deadlines in your office?
Spokesperson: Well, we can try to get one for you, because some of them have asked for minor extensions, so the original list has been modified slightly because some of them have to, of course, move out.
Question: I was just wondering: we know that the Secretary-General is meeting with the former USG for disarmament, Mr. Dhanapala, today. Do we know what the meeting is going to cover? And if not, will we get a readout tomorrow?
Spokesperson: Yes, we’ll try to give you a readout tomorrow. […] As you know, disarmament is one of the departments that is being studied, and for which there is a restructuring plan. So…
Question: Will Mr. Dhanapala meet about this issue, about disarmament, or about Sri Lanka? Because he is the Special Adviser to the President of Sri Lanka.
Spokesperson: I don’t know yet. I will have a readout for you after the meeting, of course.
[The Spokesperson later added that the Secretary-General and Jayantha Dhanapala discussed disarmament and the Secretary-General’s proposal for restructuring that department. Sri Lanka was not discussed.]
Question: Considering the Secretary-General’s meeting today with Ms. Arbour -- is the Secretary-General planning to contact the Iraqi (inaudible) concerning the death sentence issued against Mr. Taha Yassin Ramadan?
Spokesperson: I can’t answer that question, but you can ask Ms. Arbour. She met with the Secretary-General this morning and she should be here shortly. She’s here. Yes.
Question: When Mr. Jumblatt applied for this meeting with Mr. Ban Ki-moon, what was the reason for the meeting? What was the reason given?
Spokesperson: Well, to discuss the Lebanese situation.
Question: Is he a representative of the Government or in his personal capacity?
Spokesperson: I can inquire for you in what capacity. Yes. Thank you very much. Ms. Arbour.
* *** *