|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 press briefing by Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
I’m sorry I’m late. I was waiting for a statement being approved in Cairo, where the Secretary-General is. The first statement is on the attack on the Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq.
**Secretary-General Statement on Iraq Attack
“The Secretary-General met with the Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq, Mr. Salam Z. Al-Zubai, yesterday in Baghdad. He was shocked and dismayed to hear that the Deputy Prime Minister had been injured in an assassination attempt earlier today. The Secretary-General sent a personal message to Mr. Al-Zubai, offering his condolences for those who were killed and injured in the attack and wishing him a full and speedy recovery from his injuries.
“The Secretary-General greatly valued the opportunity to meet with Mr. Al-Zubai yesterday to hear his views on the current situation in Iraq. He reiterates his admiration for the Deputy Prime Minister’s readiness to serve Iraq at a great personal risk.”
**Secretary-General on Iraq
In a meeting with a group of reporters travelling with him today, the Secretary-General made it clear that his position on any possible increase of the United Nations role in Iraq has not changed because of the incident yesterday, in which a mortar exploded nearby while he was giving a press conference.
He said that he will consider upon his return to New York how the United Nations could do more for the Iraqi people and for political and development work in that country. At the same time, he noted that United Nations activity has been largely constrained by the security environment, and that the situation in Iraq is still very volatile.
The Secretary-General added that he was very moved during his meeting with United Nations staff in Baghdad, saying: “From my meeting with them, I was very much assured and grateful to them that, even in such an exceptional situation, they were working with a sense of dedication and duty.”
** Iraq Refugees
The UN refugee agency, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), today announced that Iraq had regained the top spot among asylum seekers in the world's industrialized countries in 2006. There is more on that from UNHCR upstairs.
**Secretary-General in the Middle East
The Secretary-General is in Cairo today, where he arrived earlier in the day from Baghdad. After meeting with the United Nations country team he was to meet with the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, which should be taking place now. He will also attend a dinner hosted by the Foreign Minister. The Secretary-General continues his visit in Egypt tomorrow.
**Secretary-General Statement on the Democratic Republic of the Congo
“The Secretary-General continues to follow with concern the developments unfolding in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo. The civilian population continues to be threatened by fighting in the heart of the city. He urgently appeals once again for a complete halt to all fighting. He deplores the unnecessary loss of life and condemns the looting and destruction that have taken place.
“The Democratic Republic of the Congo has reached a critical turning point. The recent violence in Kinshasa underscores the urgent need for a new political culture in the country. The Secretary-General urges all parties to turn away from violence and to actively pursue political dialogue at all levels. He urges the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to provide the necessary space for effective participation of all political parties in debate and in decision making and urges the Congolese authorities to observe due process and respect for fundamental human rights.”
** Democratic Republic of the Congo -- Update
Following yesterday’s hostilities between the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) and the guards of former Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba in Kinshasa, the United Nations Mission there reports today that sporadic fighting continues but order has generally been restored.
While MONUC welcomes the restoration of order by Government forces, it deeply regrets the fact that force was used to resolve a situation that could and should have been settled through dialogue. MONUC deplores the loss of life, damage to property, looting and the serious risks caused to civilians living in the capital.
In response to the unrest, MONUC moved two military companies into Kinshasa from elsewhere in the country. They have helped provide first aid, for example, to victims of the violence, as well as water and rations to school children holed up at their schools and people sheltered at MONUC headquarters.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, William Swing, is in contact with the different sides as well as with international officials, and issued repeated public appeals over the UN Radio station calling for an end to the violence.
** Democratic Republic of the Congo -- DSG
Here at Headquarters, the Deputy Secretary-General called Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete in his capacity as chair of the Organ of Peace and Security of the South African Development Community (SADC) to discuss the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The Security Council this morning unanimously adopted a resolution extending the mandate of the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan by one year, until 23 March 2008. It then heard a briefing about the sanctions adopted under resolution 1737, concerning Iran, by the chairman of that sanctions committee, Ambassador Johan Verbeke of Belgium. This is a periodic briefing, as called for in that resolution.
After that, Council members resumed consultations on the draft resolution on non-proliferation, concerning Iran, which they had also discussed yesterday afternoon.
Following a briefing yesterday afternoon in the Security Council on the situation in the Great Lakes by the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Lord’s Resistance Army affected areas, former Mozambique President Joaquim Chissano, the Security Council adopted a presidential statement in which it stressed its support for a negotiated settlement in the conflict in northern Uganda.
Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes today travelled to Juba, Southern Sudan. While there, Mr. Holmes met with First Vice-President of the Sudan and President of the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS), Mr. Salva Kiir, and Vice-President of the Government of Southern Sudan, Dr. Riek Machar.
While the largest humanitarian crisis in the world unfolds in the north, securing funds for Southern Sudan in the shadow of Darfur remains a significant challenge. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs notes this in a press release they have on this subject upstairs.
John Holmes, said from Juba today: “The United Nations, donors and NGOs all need to do much more to support the Government and people in Southern Sudan. Recovery and development activities need to be accelerated and the benefits of peace to become more apparent.”
** Sudan -- Eliasson
Jan Eliasson, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Darfur, has arrived in Khartoum from Asmara after having constructive meetings with Eritrean officials, including the President on the coordination of Eritrean mediation efforts in Darfur with those of the United Nations and the African Union.
Jan Eliasson is about to meet with African Union Special Envoy for Darfur, his counterpart, Salim Ahmed Salim. The two will be in the Sudan on a five-day mission in their attempts to re-energize the stalled peace process in Darfur.
I have just been informed that Security Council consultations have adjourned. For those of you who need to go out there, they will resume this afternoon at a time to be confirmed. Back to the briefing.
The United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Eric Laroche, has condemned the recent violence in Mogadishu, calling on all combatants, uniformed or not, to desist from further acts of aggression and to respect civilian life.
Laroche said the desecration of bodies of fallen fighters is a barbaric act and a gross violation of international humanitarian law. Meanwhile, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that the humanitarian situation in Mogadishu continues to deteriorate. We have more on both of these subjects upstairs.
**Human Rights Council
In Geneva, the Human Rights Council today heard presentations from independent experts on the human rights situations in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea; Burundi; Myanmar and Liberia. Human Rights Council members are currently holding a general debate on a number of country situations.
Afterwards, if there is enough time, the members will vote on certain drafts before them. You can find all relevant documents and draft resolutions on the Human Rights Council webpage. I think somebody asked me about this yesterday.
The United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste reports that the official campaign period began yesterday for the eight declared contenders in the April presidential election, following the completion of voter registration all across that country.
Speaking at a press conference yesterday in the capital Dili, the Special Representative to the Secretary-General for Timor-Leste, Atul Khare, said he was pleased that the registration went smoothly and without major security incidents.
The two-week campaigning period will see rallies, meetings, campaign posters and media publicity across Timor-Leste’s 13 districts. All campaigning will be supervised by the National Electoral Commission (CNE) and monitored by both national and international election observers. The campaign period ends on 6 April, ensuring a two-day information black-out ahead of the election. And we have more on this upstairs.
We also have a press release on a meningitis epidemic that erupted in Burkina Faso and is also affecting eight other countries in West Africa. You can read more about that upstairs.
**International Day of Solidarity with Detained and Missing Staff Members
Sunday will be the International Day of Solidarity with Detained and Missing Staff Members. The Secretary-General is marking the occasion in a message recalling that 14 staff members are currently under arrest, detained or missing. There are copies of that message upstairs.
**United Nations Global Initiative on ICT
On Monday, the first global forum on the United Nations Global Initiative for Inclusive Information and Communications Technologies is taking place here at United Nations Headquarters. Some 200 participants from industry, Government, academia and civil society are expected to attend the all-day meeting, which will address how such technology can improve the lives of people with disabilities. We have the full week ahead for you so that you can plan your coverage of the United Nations next week. And that’s what I have for you today.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Regarding the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the latest report indicates that Jean-Pierre Bemba has taken refuge in MONUC’s premises. Can you confirm that? And also, does the Secretary-General have any reaction to the alleged information that Iran has taken 15 British marines in the sea?
Deputy Spokesperson: On the latter, I have nothing. On Mr. Bemba’s whereabouts, the United Nations Mission has not reported on that.
Question: On the DRC, it’s reported and I think it’s true that Mr. Bemba has been indicted for treason. There’s now a court proceeding against him. Does MONUC or the Secretary-General have any comment on the utility of that in terms of maintaining the peace?
Deputy Spokesperson: (The Deputy Spokesperson referred the question to the above statement by the Secretary-General.)
Question: I have two more questions. You have a press release upstairs about UNMIK in Kosovo and the Romanian soldiers who left the country despite the request that they stay there. Can you explain, what are the duties of a troop contributing country? If they’re under investigation for having killed these demonstrators in Kosovo, can they just leave the country? And is the United Nations just asking Romania to voluntarily produce them, or is there some legal requirement that peacekeepers answer to charges of absence?
Deputy Spokesperson: I had that item, I don’t know why it’s not in my pile so I cannot read it out and I don’t really have too many details on that. Let me get you more after the briefing.
Question: I guess it’s to understand whether they call on them to make them available but it’s not clear at all whether there is a duty on Romania’s part, or on these troops’ part, to answer to this.
Deputy Spokesperson: It’s up to the troop contributing countries, obviously, to investigate. The file is given to the national authorities for them to look into, but I will give you the precise language on that particular case.
Question: And to me also please. Can I follow up on Kosovo? What would be the scenario after the 26th? We are going to have a presentation of Mr. Ahtisaari’s plan. He is not going to be here? Or, he is going to be here?
Deputy Spokesperson: My only understanding at this moment of the Kosovo report is that it is coming out on Monday. After that, I think the Security Council President for the month of March told you at his press conference here, I believe he said it was something that would be taken up in the month of April. So we will now have to find out from the April Security Council Presidency when they will schedule the discussions on that report.
Question: On the 26th, there is not going to be any discussion, or it is going to start on the 26th? I’m asking whether this date is going to be the starting point for discussion and then it will continue.
Deputy Spokesperson: You would have to ask the Security Council members. The report is going to the Security Council members on Monday.
Question: Is Mr. Ahtisaari coming?
Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t have a date for when the discussions are, so we will have to find out. Nothing has been officially decided on the date for the debate. It’s not in the Security Council programme for the month of March. It’s something that the Council members will have to agree on. Yes?
Question: I’m sorry if I missed some information before. Is the Security Council definitely meeting tomorrow on the draft resolution regarding Iran?
Deputy Spokesperson: I think this is why everybody ran out of the briefing room right now when the Security Council consultations finished. The Council President is probably announcing right now what the scenario is for the resolution. But if there is a vote, we’ll be here. Yes?
Question: Yesterday, when UNDP’s David Morrison was asked…to a number of questions he said the Board of Auditors answers that, he’s asked the Board of Auditors to make themselves available. I know the Secretary-General has been asked the same thing. Is there some way, given the interest in the audit of DPRK-UN programmes, to get the Board of Auditors to explain the delays, to just give some kind of a briefing? It seems that everyone has said to them they should speak, but they have not spoken.
Deputy Spokesperson: I’ll look into it for you, okay. No other questions? Have a good weekend and we’ll probably see you tomorrow.
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