|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.
**Statement on Sudan
Good afternoon. We have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Sudan.
The Secretary-General views with deep concern the evidence that has been presented to members of the Security Council regarding the flying of arms and heavy weapons into Darfur, in violation of Security Council resolution 1591 (2005).
He is especially troubled by reports that private or national aircraft have been illegally provided with UN markings and used for military purposes. If further substantiated, such actions would be in clear violation of international law and in contravention of the United Nations international status.
The Secretary-General will continue to work closely with the Security Council on this issue and will expect full cooperation from the Government of Sudan, other Governments and all other parties to provide prompt clarification.
**Secretary-General in Rome
The Secretary-General arrived in Rome from New York early Tuesday and started his official visit to Italy with a meeting with the President, Giorgio Napolitano, followed by one with the Foreign Minister, Massimo d’Alema. The topics covered included the Middle East, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Kosovo, climate change, UN reform, Darfur, Somalia and Western Sahara.
At a joint press encounter with the Foreign Minister after their meeting, the Secretary-General told reporters that he had very useful and constructive meetings with the two Italian leaders. He commended Italy as the only country to rank in the top eight in both troop and financial contributions to the United Nations.
In response to a question about the killing of the Mayor of Nagasaki, Iccho Itoh, the Secretary-General said that he learned with shock and regret of the assassination. He said that Mayor Itoh “was a champion of peace for a world where nuclear war would never happen again”. We have a full statement available upstairs.
The Secretary-General was also asked about capital punishment, and he said that he and High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour “fully support the growing trend in the international community towards the abolition of the use of the death penalty”.
The Secretary-General then continued his discussions with the Italian Foreign Minister over a working luncheon and then met with the Foreign Affairs Committees of the Chamber of Deputies and Senate, among other officials.
Right now, he is expected to be having a tête-à-tête meeting with the Pope. Later tonight, he will attend a dinner hosted by the Presidents of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Senate and House of Representatives.
The Security Council this morning held consultations on the diamond sanctions on Liberia, with a briefing by the chair of the Council’s Sanctions Committee for that country, the Ambassador of Qatar.
Under other matters, Council members also discussed the report of the monitoring group on Sudan sanctions.
Yesterday evening, the Security Council adopted a presidential statement on Lebanon, which, among other things, welcomes the Secretary-General’s intention to evaluate the situation along the entire Lebanese border and invites him to dispatch an independent mission to fully assess the monitoring of the border. It welcomes the completion of the second phase of the deployment of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
** Iraq Conference
High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres spoke at the closing of the conference on Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons in Geneva, and he lauded the Iraqi Government’s very welcome new policy to support the Iraqis outside the country.
He noted other recent achievements, including the adoption last week by the United Nations of a strategic platform for humanitarian action inside Iraq; the continued commitment of the countries that have been hosting Iraqis to go on granting protection and assistance until their voluntary return would be possible; and the unanimous recognition of the generosity of the host countries, especially of Syria and Jordan, and the clear commitment for burden sharing with those countries.
Guterres underscored that this was not a pledging conference, but “there was really a very clear commitment of support,” which he hoped will be translated in meaningful forms in the very near future.
The UN Mission in Timor-Leste is pleased that the national preliminary results for the first round of the presidential elections in Timor-Leste have been announced. The final results would, of course, be certified by the Court of Appeals after consideration of any appeals that are lodged within the permissible 24-hour period.
As mandated in Security Council resolution 1704, the UN Mission has provided technical and logistical support, as well as electoral policy advice in support of all aspects of these elections.
The two candidates who have obtained the highest number of votes will now contest a second round on 9 May. Again, these elections will have the benefit of considerable assistance from the international community including through the United Nations.
The United Nations is particularly pleased that the first round of the election was completed without any serious incidents of violence and intimidation during the campaign, vote and the counting of ballots, and that candidates have made full use of the appropriate legal channels to raise their concerns about the process.
** Western Sahara
The Secretary-General’s latest report on Western Sahara is out on the racks today. In it, he recommends that the Security Council call upon the parties, Morocco and the Frente Polisario, to enter into negotiations without preconditions, with a view to achieving a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution, which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara. The neighbouring countries, Algeria and Mauritania, should also be invited to those negotiations.
The Secretary-General also encourages the parties to lift all restrictions on UN military observers’ freedom of movement, and calls on them to remain engaged with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. He also recommends that the Security Council extend the mandate of the UN Mission in Western Sahara for a further period of six months, until 31 October 2007.
The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) in a report said management of exchange rates is the biggest challenge facing Asia-Pacific economies in 2007.
In its annual economic and social survey of Asia and the Pacific released today, ESCAP also forecasts the external environment in Asia and the Pacific to be less favourable in 2007. It also states that the region is becoming the locomotive of global growth and developing economies in the Asia-Pacific region accounted for 16 per cent of global output and one-third of world economic growth in 2006.
A special study also estimates that the cost of gender discrimination to the region’s economies, saying that the region is losing $42 billion to $47 billion dollars a year due to restrictions on women’s access to employment, and another $16 billion to $30 billion a year because of gender gaps in education.
**OCHA – Uganda/Sudan
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says the situation in northern Uganda and parts of Southern Sudan has improved significantly in the past year.
More than 300,000 people have returned home from displaced persons camps in the wake of sustained security improvements -- a result of progress in peace talks between the Government of Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army.
But OCHA notes that 1 million people still remain in the camps, and that the area requires continued emergency relief and protection, as well as assistance in returns and early recovery.
We have more in a press release upstairs.
**Background Briefing on Darfur
And then on Darfur, and as a follow-up to yesterday’s questions, we will have a background briefing for interested correspondents with a senior United Nations official today, 18 April, at 3:15 p.m. in the DPKO conference room, that’s room S-3727 A. It will be on the heavy support package.
That’s all I have for you.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Do you have any details, in terms of schedule and meetings, regarding the Security Council’s mission to Kosovo?
Spokesperson: No, I don’t have any readings on that.
Question: Just a follow-up on that. The US actually declared today that it would support Kosovo if it declared its independence, outside of what’s going on. What’s the UN’s position on that? Also, what is the subject of the SG’s meeting with the Pope?
Spokesperson: Well, we don’t know at this point. When they are finished meeting, I’ll let you know what they discussed.
As for the Kosovo issue, we don’t have any specific opinions on what a Member State says concerning another part of the world.
Question: Recalling my question of a couple of days ago as to how President Bashir got authority over approving helicopters, I know you don’t express an opinion but perhaps you could forward this question on to some of the people directly concerned with the issue. In light of subsequent events with the UN-painted planes, is it not possible that that strange issue whereby he arrogated to himself the right to approve specific items of military equipment was not in fact a smokescreen for his other actions with these UN-painted planes and other armed troops?
A totally unrelated question, by chance, if I just haven’t seen it, do you have the names of the first and second candidates in the Timorese election?
Spokesperson: No, I don’t have that information. On the first issue concerning Darfur, the best thing is for you to ask that question at the DPKO briefing. Then you will know exactly whether the facts you are citing are actually the facts.
Question: In northern Iraq, in Kurdistan, the PKK element is continuing to attack Turkey and the US is very concerned about this and it has urged Turkey to deal with it peacefully. But it fears that the attacks might be increasing. At the same time, Turkey is responding; the Chief of the Army has said that it should launch an incursion into Kurdistan if Parliament approves this. Also, Turkey has launched diplomatic measures with Iraq, urging Iraq to take urgent measures. So we have a very difficult situation here. Is the UN concerned about this? Is it doing anything before the situation turns into a full-blown crisis?
Spokesperson: Well it is a situation that we have been following very closely for quite a while now. What the UN will do, I cannot anticipate. But of course we will be keeping you informed about this.
Question: In an interview with Corriere della Sera, the Secretary-General said that there should be laws, internationally-accepted rules, on how to deal with hostages, but that nobody had yet come up with any concrete ideas to the UN. The question is does the SG himself have any guidelines? Does he have any ideas, for instance, on whether there should be negotiations with kidnappers regarding ransoms?
Spokesperson: No, in the interview with Corriere della Sera, which, as you probably know, was done in English, translated into Italian, and then translated back into English by a number of wires this morning, he did stress that it was a matter for Member States to discuss. He did say that hostage taking was a despicable act but he did not suggest any specific form of action, saying that it falls under the responsibility of Member States.
Question: In that case, can we see the transcript of his interview? It sounds slightly different than the way it was translated back, and for those of us who don’t speak Italian, is it possible to release what he actually said in English?
Spokesperson: Well, we would have to transcribe it for you, which has not been done at this point. I’ll try to get that for you whenever we can.
[The Spokesperson later added that the Secretary-General had said: “It is necessary to have common rules to face the knot of the seizures, and the United Nations is the right place to set them. I invite Member countries, Italy included, to present such a proposal to the General Assembly.]
Question: The Secretary-General is going to attend this Chief Executives Board meeting in Geneva of the UN funds and programme. When he announced the North Korea audit, I think it was said that he was going to try through that body to get the funds and programmes to begin releasing internal audits… somehow improve the system. Do you know if that’s on the agenda? And also now that it’s basically the ninetieth day since he announced it, what’s happening with the audit?
Spokesperson: I can try to have a readout for you on how far the audit has gotten. As you know, it’s not our responsibility. It’s with the Board of Auditors, and they’ve been working on it. I’ll try to find out for you how far they’ve gotten on this issue.
As for the Geneva meeting, it’s a meeting with the Chief Executives and they’re discussing quite a few issues, and this will probably be one of them.
Question: We’ll find out what they discussed after that meeting?
Spokesperson: Yes. It’s a long meeting. It’s a two-day meeting.
Question: Yesterday you read out that in Kosovo they said that someone was responsible, but they didn’t know which soldiers. It’s since been reported that the Romanian peacekeepers were using out-of-date rubber bullets that had expired in 1994, so they had hardened. I don’t know if you can answer it here or they can answer… whoever sent this used ammo, this decade-old ammo, might they be held responsible? And what is the UN’s policy in terms of peacekeeping, troop-contributing countries bringing in long-expired or otherwise defective ammunition?
Spokesperson: I can only tell you that this is an issue for the group that investigated what happened and I don’t have the answer. They would have the answer.
Question: There was actually something in the Congo that was similar, where a battalion from South Africa brought in, it was said, old munitions that went off-line. Is there any DPKO position on checking ammo before troops are deployed?
Spokesperson: We can ask DPKO that question.
Question: The Nigerian situation is getting increasingly deplorable. The opposition parties have come together to say that the elections should be cancelled. I wanted to know… what is the sense of the Secretary-General regarding what is going on in Nigeria right now with all the violence and the election manipulation? And secondly, you said yesterday that the United Nations is not monitoring the election. Why is that so?
Spokesperson: Not directly. ECOWAS is monitoring the election. You have a number of other international observers accredited by the Electoral Commission. But the UN as an institution is not.
Question: But why not? The UN has monitored elections…
Spokesperson: All this depends on the request from the Member State.
Question: Does that mean that Nigeria has not made a request?
Spokesperson: There was no request made, and the request went to ECOWAS. ECOWAS is monitoring the elections.
Question: So what was the answer to the first question?
Spokesperson: I think that this is a situation that the SG has been following since the beginning of the week. He is still waiting to see how things are developing. He’s certainly concerned about it.
Question: On the mission of Mr. Michel to Beirut, who has he met so far? And any progress on the international tribunal? Also, when do you expect him back? Is there any indication?
Spokesperson: I don’t think there is a date set for his return. He is meeting different people. How far has he gotten? I don’t know at this point. He was still meeting people today. So I will try to get a list of people he has met for you. But at this point I don’t have the information.
Question: According to the presidential statement that was issued last night on Lebanon, the SG is authorized to send a monitoring mission to assess the border between Lebanon and Syria. When will that mission be sent, and when will they present their report to the SG? How many people will be on the mission?
Spokesperson: I don’t have that information yet but it is certainly a question for which we will have an answer very soon.
Question: There was an OIOS report that was due last November on the Thessaloniki Centre. We were told that it was almost there last November and then we were told it was almost there every time I’ve asked since. We are now in April and I’m told it is not going to be issued before the next GA. Last time we were told it would be during the last GA. It seems a little bit… it’s not that fast, let’s put it that way.
Spokesperson: We’ll ask for you. Actually, you should ask directly. You should ask DESA about this.
Question: DESA? I thought I should ask OIOS.
Spokesperson: Yes, the OIOS.
Question: In that case, I don’t know if anybody ever requested it, but could we have OIOS brief us here?
Spokesperson: We have requested that.
Question: What was the result of that request? How long ago was that request made?
Spokesperson: First they said they are not commenting on ongoing investigations. So they will comment on an investigation once it is over. So we can get them to talk about something when it’s over.
Question: Can they comment on when an investigation will be over?
Spokesperson: We can ask.
Question: It seems that we’re stuck here in a vicious circle. You say that they will not brief us until the investigation is over. Meanwhile, the investigation is being… in order to find out when the investigation is over, you’re asking me to ask them. It almost seems like they’re trying to avoid us.
Spokesperson: No, they’re not trying to avoid you. As a matter of principle, they don’t comment on an ongoing investigation.
Question: But the investigation has gone on for a long, long time. And I’ve seen at least one draft of this investigation late last year, which makes it seem like most of the investigation is done.
Spokesperson: Well I cannot comment on this because I don’t have the information.
Question: Where do we seek comment from OIOS? Who is it exactly we should seek comment from? What’s the name of the person?
Spokesperson: I’ll try to get someone who can speak on their behalf or have one of them come and speak to you.
Question: You just said we should seek comment from OIOS. So, who do we seek comment from?
Spokesperson: I’ll get a name for you.
Question: On Western Sahara, the Secretary-General has called on the parties to negotiate directly and called on the others -- Algeria and Mauritania -- to join them on matters that directly concern them. And he also [inaudible] following the Baker approach. Why limit the field of work of Algeria and Mauritania to matters that only concern them directly? Why not search for a general political solution to the issue? Also, why does he suggest that the Baker approach be followed since Morocco has rejected the Baker II plan for Western Sahara? Why not try a novel approach?
Spokesperson: I think what you said about a comprehensive solution for the region has already been discussed with several stakeholders in the situation. When he mentions Algeria and Mauritania, it’s because they are on board for the specific issues concerning them. But it doesn’t mean that the comprehensive approach, an original approach, is not being sought after.
Question: On the question of the white aircraft, this report obviously is a month old, and it’s not clear to me when all this happened. It seems to have been referred to even before this monitoring group report. Was this discussed at all by Mr. Ban when he met President Bashir in wherever he was… Addis, I think it was?
Spokesperson: The violations? Yes. Actually, the Security Council sanctions committee had already spoken to the people responsible. What they were referring to I guess…
Question: These people?
Spokesperson: The Sudanese Government. Only the Council can answer those questions. As far as I know, those incidents that they mentioned in the report date back to the middle of March.
Question: Since then, I believe the Secretary-General has met the President of Sudan.
Spokesperson: Yes, he has.
Question: So, I’m saying… in that meeting, was this raised?
Spokesperson: A number of violations were raised.
Question: Specifically related to the white aircraft?
Question: Why did he not raise the question of white aircraft with the Sudanese President? Isn’t that something he’s concerned about?
Spokesperson: Well it’s something he’s certainly concerned about. However, the specific case of the white aircraft is something that the Security Council is discussing with the Government. They are still trying to investigate about that aircraft with the UN insignia on it.
Question: Isn’t this something that specifically concerns the Secretariat? I mean it’s an abuse of the UN-identifying characteristics in a place where there’s a big peacekeeping presence in the south and there’s some UN presence in Darfur. It seems to me par excellence a subject that peacekeeping should be dealing with and taking up with the Sudanese. Has that happened at all?
Spokesperson: Well, peacekeeping has already taken up the issue. This information was conveyed to the Security Council… the information about the violations. The information about the aircraft was conveyed to the Security Council on the 5th of April. The UN also informed the Security Council on Sudan’s violations, different violations in repeated reports dating back to 2006. So the violations had been reported steadily.
Question: But my question is not that. My question is what is the UN Secretariat doing with relation to Sudan? Has there been any demarche by the Secretariat to Sudan?
Spokesperson: When it comes to the sanctions, and violations of the sanctions…
Question: These aren’t violations of the sanctions.
Spokesperson: Of existing sanctions, yes, they are.
Question: Painting aircraft white is a violation of the Darfur Peace Agreement, which the UN was party in negotiating, and is an abuse of the UN logo, and these are not questions for the Security Council. These are questions for the Secretariat. So I’m asking you, what is the Secretariat doing in relation to Sudan? And what has Mr. Ban done, having met the Sudanese President, about these particular white aircraft violations?
Spokesperson: These particular white aircraft violations were not yet confirmed to the Secretary-General. For any State or any actor to co-opt the insignia of the UN, which of course implies privileges and immunities and a humanitarian purpose, violates the law of armed conflicts and also violates article 100 of the UN Charter on the exclusive international character of UN operations. If this is confirmed, of course, this is to be condemned and very strongly so.
Question: Is the UN taking any steps to confirm or disprove?
Spokesperson: Definitely yes. There is an investigation going on about the whereabouts of this plane, and whether it is one plane or several planes, and this is being pursued.
Question: And who’s doing the investigation?
Spokesperson: The Mission on the ground is doing the investigation.
Question: The UN Mission?
[Correspondents were later told that the Monitoring Panel for Sudan was handling the investigation.]
Question: On Iraq, we see from outside that the UN is almost scared to go deep into the problems of Iraq. It’s participating in the conference in Geneva and the neighbours’ meeting in Egypt. But when it comes to the real problems on the ground, the UN is staying out. For example, what is the UN doing in relation to the refugees, while the US is condemning Syria for hosting terrorists?
Spokesperson: There is a meeting right now on refugees and discussion on practical steps to help the refugees.
Question: Is the UN mediating between the US, between the Iraqi Government and the neighbouring States?
Spokesperson: You’re asking me whether the UN is involved in the political situation itself? The UN is mostly involved in the humanitarian situation right now and the economic development situation. As you know, because of security issues that affected UN personnel in Iraq, the UN has said repeatedly that as long as the security situation is the way it is, it could curtail UN involvement.
Question: What is the improvement you expect on security issues?
Spokesperson: Well security issues for…
Question: Do you expect the US to leave or do you expect them to…?
Spokesperson: There are a number of conditions and you can see from the security situation right now that it is a difficult situation for the UN to extend its participation in the effort. We are doing the most we can on the Iraq Compact. We are doing the most we can on the refugee issues with the neighbouring countries. And I think the UN is very involved in other issues concerning Iraq.
Question: The Secretary-General addressed the staff in his Town Hall meeting, the staff here at Headquarters and worldwide. After that he said has heard the concerns…
Spokesperson: I don’t have specifics on this, but I’ll get back to you on this.
Question: To follow-up on the question on Nigeria, it was reported that UNDP was actually asked to help with some aspects of the election. I’m not sure if they have, but that they were asked to do it. Is that a request to the UN? When you said the UN had no role in the election, is that just the Secretariat or the UN system as a whole?
Spokesperson: I would be surprised that UNDP would be asked to participate as an electoral observer. It would be the United Nations Secretariat that would be seized of the matter, not UNDP.
Question: You mean the observers?
Spokesperson: I’m talking about international observers to the election.
Question: Also, I wanted to ask you about the exhibit commemorating the Rwandan genocide… when you think it will actually be reopened, and whether the language will be shown to any missions prior to that taking place.
Spokesperson: The language is being changed right now. I don’t know if it will be shown to anybody. I do know that the exhibit is to open very shortly, either at the end of this week or at the beginning of next week.
Question: Two unrelated questions if I may. In view of both the importance and increasing complexity of Mr. Michel’s mission, would it be reasonable to expect that he would come to brief us upon his return? And may I hereby request that he be urged to do so. In an unrelated question on this whitewash episode, do I understand… is there a special UN investigative committee or is it one of the UN’s regular forces in the Sudan, and have they been charged with investigating the whole issue, this whitewash issue, and to see whether or not the whitewash has been “wet-washed”?
Spokesperson: The UN Mission in the field is the first body to investigate. Of course, DPKO and other… Political Affairs here, we’re all concerned about the situation.
Question: What about Mr. Michel? Would he come to brief us, do you think?
Spokesperson: Whenever he comes back. I have some additional things on UNDP and the Nigerian elections. While the UN is not observing, as I said, the Nigerian elections, but we have been providing advisory services and technical assistance to Nigeria’s Election Commission through UNDP, which is managing a basket fund of assistance from multiple donors. So that is the role that UNDP is playing.
Thank you very much.
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