DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL

3 December 2008

DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL

3 December 2008
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
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.

Good afternoon, all.

**Press Conferences Today

Our guest at the noon briefing today will be Mark Bowden, Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, who will brief on the situation in that country.

**Security Council

The Security Council this morning heard an update from Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, about his investigation into alleged crimes in Darfur.  He said that genocide is continuing there, as are rapes in and around camps for displaced people, in and around those camps.  Yet key suspects, including Ali Kushayb and Ahmed Harun, remain at large.  When it comes to justice, Moreno-Ocampo said, “only words have been offered”, but no concrete steps have been taken.

The Prosecutor noted that the decision on his request for an arrest warrant against Sudanese President Omer al-Bashir is now in the hands of International Criminal Court judges, and he said that the Security Council must be prepared for their decision.  He warned, “The international community cannot be part of any cover-up of genocide or crimes against humanity.”

Mr. Moreno-Ocampo will brief you, along with Ambassador Christian Wenaweser of Liechtenstein, in this room at 1:30.

The Security Council will also hear an update this afternoon, in another open meeting, from Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes, who recently completed visits to Sudan and Chad.  Mr. Holmes will then come to the Council stakeout to take your questions.

**Cluster Bombs –- Signing Conference

Representatives of some 100 Governments gathered in Oslo, Norway, today to sign a historic disarmament convention aimed at closing the chapter on cluster munitions, an insidious weapon that kills innocent civilians and cripples communities for decades after hostilities have ceased.  Also present at the conference were senior representatives of the United Nations, civil society groups and international organizations.  In his message to the signing conference, the Secretary-General urged all governments to sign and ratify the Convention without delay, adding that the Convention indicates a significant and fundamental change in the position of many Governments.

Adopted at a diplomatic conference in Dublin this May, the Convention on Cluster Munitions offers an unprecedented prohibition on the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster bombs.  The Oslo Signing Conference is the culmination of diplomatic efforts that began in Oslo in February 2007, representing the most significant humanitarian and disarmament treaty of the decade.  This Convention, negotiated by States that represent past and current producers, stockpilers and victims of cluster munitions, represents a new milestone in humanitarian disarmament and establishes important commitments regarding assistance to victims, clearance of contaminated areas and destruction of stockpiles.  It is the first successfully negotiated international treaty to ban an entire category of conventional weapons and is a significant strengthening of international humanitarian law.

As I announced yesterday, you’ll have a briefing on that tomorrow after the noon briefing.

** Zimbabwe

On Zimbabwe, we expect a press release shortly from the World Health Organization (WHO) updating us on the cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe, following a meeting called by the Zimbabwean Minister of Health and Child Welfare with WHO, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other agencies on the ground.  Meanwhile, WHO reports that according to its latest statistics, there were more than 12,500 "suspected" cases of cholera and 565 deaths since August in Zimbabwe.  WHO also says that South African health authorities have reported this week that there had been more than 400 cholera cases and eight deaths.

WHO is procuring emergency stocks of supplies to meet identified gaps and is deploying a full outbreak investigation and response team, including epidemiologists, water and sanitation engineers, and social mobilization specialists.  UNICEF says that Zimbabwean children are already bearing the brunt of a shattered economy, severe food shortages, HIV/AIDS and failing social services, as well as suffering the acute effects of a lack of food, water and health care.  But now, UNICEF adds, they are now succumbing to cholera and are not likely to return to school, even after their Christmas break.  And we have more upstairs for you on that.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

The security situation in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) remains calm today, says the UN Mission there, United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC).  The World Food Programme, meanwhile, is ramping up its humanitarian operation in the North Kivu province and expanding into Orientale Province where civilians have been attacked by the Lord’s Resistance Army.  During November, the agency increased food aid to some 564,000 displaced people across eastern DRC, 564,000 people, with more than half of them displaced in North Kivu alone.  But widespread insecurity and bad roads have also hampered access to some 70,000 displaced people in North Kivu.  There is more in the press release by the World Food Programme (WFP) upstairs.

** Rwanda

Rwandan composer and performing artist Simon Bikindi was sentenced to 15 years in prison for incitement to genocide.  The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which pronounced the verdict yesterday in Arusha, noted that through his songs and speeches and in stage shows with the Interahamwe militia, Bikindi was active in the anti-Tutsi campaign of 1994, which led to the genocide.  Prosecutors also blamed him for specific attacks and killings in Gisenyi prefecture.

** Somalia

On Somalia, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said that the bodies of 20 dead migrants washed up ashore in Yemen earlier this week after smugglers forced them overboard in the Gulf of Aden.  Another 2 migrants are reported missing.  The boat was reportedly carrying around 115 passengers, mostly Ethiopian nationals.  UNHCR said the other 93 passengers on the boat made it to shore on Monday.  The agency has helped bury the dead and is now helping to care for the survivors.  More than 43,500 people in over 850 smuggling boats have arrived in Yemen so far this year after taking the dangerous trip across the Gulf of Aden.  At least 380 people have died and some 360 remain missing.

** Liberia

The United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), in its biannual report on human rights in that country, finds progress in several areas, but notes that Liberia’s criminal justice system is still facing serious challenges.  These include the absence of key personnel and inadequate resources for essential rule of law institutions.  Rape and gender-based violence also remain prevalent, while harmful traditional practices, including ritual killings and female genital mutilation, are practiced almost with impunity, the report said.  UNMIL recommends continued international technical assistance and other measures to strengthen the criminal judicial system.  It also calls for a nationwide awareness campaign against harmful traditional practices.

** Gaza

On Gaza, the Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process reports that the Gaza crossings situation remains unchanged today.  All crossings for goods going into Gaza are still closed.  No fuel, humanitarian supplies or commercial commodities are being allowed in.

**AIDS

The AIDS epidemic is not over in any part of Africa, according to Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) Executive Director Peter Piot.  He was speaking in advance of the Fifteenth International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections, which opens today in Dakar, Senegal.  According to UNAIDS, sub-Saharan Africa remains the region in the world most heavily affected by HIV, with about 22 million people living with the virus.  In 2007, the region accounted for two thirds of all people living with HIV and for three quarters of AIDS deaths globally.  And AIDS continues to be the leading cause of death in Africa.  We have a press release on that upstairs.

**World Food Programme -- Nutrition in Asia

With a goal to improve nutrition for one million hungry people in Asia, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today announced a $15 million commitment to improve the nutritional status of hungry children and their families in seven countries across Asia.  The announcement was made at a meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in Hong Kong today, where business leaders and philanthropists also committed to raising more than $4 million in support of WFP’s work.

In a video message for the opening of the conference, the Secretary-General urged the Asia-Pacific region to play a leading role in averting a prolonged slowdown and a human catastrophe.  Adding that Asia has achieved remarkable gains in economic growth and development in recent decades, he commended the Clinton Global Initiative, saying that it will contribute to the progress and give a valuable lesson to the rest of the world.

**Disabilities

Today is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.  In remarks to this morning’s commemoration, the Secretary-General noted that this year’s entry into force of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was a cause for celebration.  He stressed that the United Nations remains committed to promoting accessibility in all aspects of society and development.  This means political access, access to the internet and communications technologies, and the inclusion of persons with disabilities in all international goals, from development and human rights to peace and security.

It also means physical access, he said.  That includes here at Headquarters, where the United Nations is working hard to make it easier to navigate the building.  The Capital Master Plan will bring facilities up to the latest standards of accessibility, by rebuilding rooms, changing doors, adding ramps and upgrading fixtures, he said.  We have the text of his remarks upstairs.

Also, just to flag for you, one of the side events taking place to mark the Day is a concert by “Rudely Interrupted”, an Australian indie rock band whose members are musicians with disabilities.  That’s taking place at 1 p.m. in the Dag Hammarskjöld Library Auditorium. 

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

Our guest at the noon briefing tomorrow, Alain Le Roy, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, will brief on the new Convention on Cluster Munitions, which opens for signature in Oslo tomorrow.

And at 2 p.m., there will be a press conference by Robert Orr, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Strategic Planning in the Executive Office of the Secretary-General, and Janos Pasztor, Director of the Secretary-General's Climate Change Support Team, on the Secretary-General’s strategy and engagement at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Poznań, Poland, and during next year, leading up to the Copenhagen conference in December 2009.

I mentioned earlier, the new Convention on cluster munitions -- you also have upstairs a press release from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

**Stakeout Today

Today in the afternoon, John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, will head to the Security Council, as I mentioned earlier.  He will go to the stakeout following his briefing to the Council on the situation in Chad and Sudan.  So you’ll be able to talk to him a little later today.

And this is all I have for you.  Thank you.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Michèle, on 10 December, Human Rights Day, one of the recipients of the award will be Benazir Bhutto, posthumously.  The Pakistan Government has requested the Secretary-General to appoint this inquiry commission and, as you know, initially that it was a terrorist who killed Benazir Bhutto.  They may be also linked to the same terrorists group which had also attacked Mumbai.  When will this inquiry commission be appointed by the Secretary-General?  It’s been so late.  You know, something has to be done so that the Pakistan Government can also prosecute this war, this terrorism, further.

Spokesperson:  I can tell you, I can confirm, that there was a conversation this morning by the Secretary-General with President Zardari and they discussed the Bhutto assassination.  They also discussed the Mumbai incident and the terrorist attacks on Mumbai.  We’ll try to get a readout of the phone call for you later today.  As I said, the Bhutto investigation was part of it.  But as you know also, there have been a number of contacts made between the United Nations and the Pakistani authorities on how to best bring this about.  I’m sure we’ll have some announcement soon on what shape that inquiry commission will take and how it will function.

Question:  Can we get the readout as soon as possible, later on?

Spokesperson:  Yes, I expect.  Yes.

[The correspondent was later given the following readout:  The Secretary-General called President Zardari of Pakistan this morning.  Just like yesterday, with Prime Minister Singh of India, the Secretary-General raised the terrorist attacks in Mumbai and stressed the need for the perpetrators to be brought to justice and for Pakistan to fully cooperate with India on this matter.  The President and the Secretary-General also discussed the status of the proposed inquiry on the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.]

Question:  If I recall correctly, you mentioned that there was an attack on innocent persons, civilians, by the Lord’s Resistance Army, the LRA, somewhere on the territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).  Forgive me, I may not be up on this and I may be naïve.  Is this a regular thing, or is this a first incursion?  The Lord’s Resistance Army are guerrillas, but they’re Ugandans.  And this is, like, two countries to the southwest.  Have they been operating for some time in the DRC or is this a first incursion? 

Spokesperson:  It’s not the first incursion.  It is not.  They have been operating over and over again along the border area.

Question:  Including in the provinces of the northern DRC?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  I have two questions.  One is:  there’s this letter to the Secretary-General from more than a hundred former presidents about Myanmar saying that he should make it clear that they should release political prisoners before the end of the year or seek some kind of sanctions from the Security Council.  Has he gotten the letter?  And what does he think about it?  Has he spoken…  Tony Blair is one signatory, who I know is a UN Envoy.  Has he spoken to Mr. Blair about the topic of Myanmar and what’s his response to the letter generally? 

Spokesperson:  I can confirm that he has received the letter.  I can also confirm that he has received a phone call this morning from the former Prime Minister of Norway, who is the coordinator of that initiative -– Prime Minister Bondevik of Norway, the former Prime Minister.  They discussed the letter, asking the Secretary-General to visit Myanmar and to urge the release of political prisoners by the end of this year.  The Secretary-General once more reiterated his pledge to remain fully engaged, both personally and through his Personal Envoy in Myanmar.  He said he would like to visit Myanmar again to discuss a broader range of issues.  However, he will not be able to do so without reasonable expectations of a meaningful outcome, which is what we have been saying all along.  The Secretary-General has consistently said that the primary responsibility lies with the Government to deliver substantive results, including freeing political prisoners and including having a dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi.  So, the phone call took place this morning and that’s the reaction to the letter.

Question:  Does the idea of not visiting, does this apply equally to his Envoy, Ibrahim Gambari?  Or does that only apply to Mr. Ban’s, the Secretary-General’s, own visits?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General’s own visits.  However, Mr. Gambari himself will not go unless there is some chance that this will move forward.  He will not just go for the sake of going, in other words.

Question:  Do you mind if I go on?  I just want to ask about the UN’s agreement or memorandum with NATO, which has apparently been released ‑‑ about five paragraphs.  I wanted to know if the UN can confirm that that is, in fact, the -- because at the time I was... I had not seen it ‑‑ whether that is the UN-NATO Agreement.  There are some criticisms that have been raised, mostly the following:  that the UN Charter says that the UN is for the abolition of war and NATO is a military alliance, but one that is not against the use of nuclear weapons, for example.  What’s… In further thinking about the agreement with NATO, would the UN do a similar agreement with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization?  Does it have other agreements with military alliances like NATO? 

Spokesperson:  First, I don’t know the text you’re referring to.  I have not seen that release so I cannot compare it to... I don’t know who released it.  So, I cannot say.  At the time it was signed, we did mention in this briefing about this agreement, which is part of the agreements we have with regional organizations about specific, initiatives that are taken, that have to do with NATO forces in different regions of the world working with United Nations peacekeeping forces.  This is just a regular thing.  There is nothing particularly special about it.  We have a number of agreements with other organizations, and it has to do with our peacekeeping role.

Question:  Okay.  I guess the only, the last thing I’ll ask is they seem to say that it’s different because this is a military alliance, and one that has, for example, that has a position on the use of nuclear weapons, the legitimacy of its use in defence, and I am wondering whether the UN, by making this agreement, is agreeing to NATO’s military policies.

Spokesperson:  It’s not.  It has nothing to do with agreeing with the policy.  We’re not members of NATO, as you know.  What we’re doing is we’re negotiating, discussing specific areas of common interest.  And as you know, the UN is discussing with several armies in the world about their own commitment and participation in UN peacekeeping operations.

Question:  I have two questions. One on Somalia, one on the Congo.  According to reports, since the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia, about 1.5 million Somalis have been facing starvation and 3.5 million have been displaced.  What’s the UN’s position with regards to Ethiopia’s incursion into Somalia?

Spokesperson:  Well, you know, the Secretary-General received a letter from Ethiopia stating their intention to withdraw.  And he has been strongly advocating international assistance to help stabilize Somalia.  And he has also been urging nations who can help to come and help Somalia to come forward with support for AMISOM.  And he has worked to encourage also Member States to offer military forces who can take part in a multinational stabilization force. Such commitments are not yet in place.  At this time we’re concerned about a vacuum being created, a security vacuum, should Ethiopia withdraw along the timeline they have indicated.  In terms of what the Ethiopians did there, they were called upon by the Somali Government.  So we cannot comment on specifically what they did or didn’t do there.  What I can only talk about is the fact that they are saying that now they need to have the UN intervene.

Question:  My understanding is that there is no Somali Government.  Which Somali Government invited the Ethiopians...?

Spokesperson:  There is a legal Government in place, [the Transitional Federal Government].  If you tell me it does not control the territory, I’ll tell you that everyone knows that.

Question:  When was this legal Government established in Somalia?

Spokesperson:  Well, the UN has been dealing with it for several years.  We can give you the information, of course, in more detail.

Question:  My understanding is that there was an entity, an Islamist entity, that had restored the semblance of stability to Somalia, and once that system, once that entity was entrenched, it was at that point that the Ethiopian Army invaded and removed that entity, and then this Government that you’re talking about emerged… (interrupted)

Spokesperson:  No, no.  It existed before.

Question:  It existed before?

Spokesperson:  It existed before, yes.

Question:  So, that Islamist entity that had (inaudible) checkpoints…

Spokesperson:  Was facing the Government.  It was facing the legal government.

Question:  It was attacking the legal Government, that’s the…?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  That’s the UN’s position?

Spokesperson:  It’s not the UN’s position; it’s just history.  You can just go and be a little more informed about this, but we’re of course...

Question:  (Inaudible)...no, there are different perspectives on this particular issue.

Spokesperson: Yes, sure.  Sure, of course.

Question:  I am, you know, I am not shilling for anyone.  Anyway, the Congo.  The Lord’s Resistance Army, where are they getting their arms?  Who is supporting them?  I mean, these guys have been around for several years wreaking havoc in the Congo.  My understanding is that there some neighbouring states that are supporting this Lord’s Resistance Army that’s really killing people, executing... creating a killing field in the Congo.  Is the UN involved in any way in terms of bringing the people, one, that the leaders of the Lord’s Resistance Army to justice; and two, holding the people who are supporting them and providing them with arms, holding them to account?

Spokesperson:  Okay, you’re talking about two different things.  One of them is getting into a judicial process of.  That’s for the courts to decide, international courts to decide whether they’re going to indict specifically some members of Mr. Kony’s army.  In terms of the political process, as you know, Mr. Kony was supposed to come in and sign, for the third time or fourth time, an agreement last week, and he did not sign the agreement.  There was a very extensive effort at mediation by the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy and by the many community leaders in northern Uganda, and the Secretary-General is expecting to be briefed by President Chissano, who is his Envoy, in the coming days.  So we should know more about what has been happening to move the political process.  In terms of the judicial process, as I said, it is a matter for the International Court and we don’t speak on behalf of the courts.

Question:  So, the UN isn’t aware of who is supporting the LRA?  You don’t know, you have no idea who supports the LRA?

Spokesperson:  We don’t have the information.

Question:  Now, with regards to prosecutions, the International Criminal Court seems pretty selective in terms of who it prosecutes.  There seems to be an emphasis on Darfur, but a de-emphasis on the Congo.  In other words, they’re quick to issue indictments for the people in Darfur, but there seems to be some sort of reticence in terms of moving forward in a forceful and determined way in the Congo...

Spokesperson:  May I suggest that you ask that question to Mr. Ocampo?  He is coming here.

Question:  And he will be here at 1:30 p.m.?

Spokesperson:  1:30 p.m., here, yes.

Question:  I have a question about the India situation.  There was report today that the BJP opposition party asked the Indian Government to approach the UN Security Council to kind of press them to put more pressure on Pakistan as far as reining in terrorists in that country.  And I was just wondering if there was any sort of a response or comments about that.

Spokesperson:  Well, it’s a matter for the Security Council -- whether they have received the request and whether they’re going to be following that request from the Indian Government.  The secretariat has really nothing to do with that.  I can tell you that the Secretary-General has spoken to the Prime Minister of India yesterday and he has spoken to Mr. Zardari of Pakistan today.  So, of course the Secretary-General is very engaged in this.  But in terms of a decision to be taken by the Security Council, it is a matter for the Security Council.  Yes.

Question:  With the opportunity of the Cluster Bomb Convention in Oslo, do we have any update about the letter that the Lebanese Prime Minister has sent to Ban Ki-moon urging him to request from Israel the maps of the cluster bombs?  And my second question has to do with Turkmenistan, with the elections there.  Do we know if the UN is going to send some observer missions?  There are already being sent some other observer missions there, and elections are on 14 December.  So, if we know something about that.

Spokesperson:  Okay.  On your first question, about the cluster bombs, I can tell you first that it was one of the issues that was discussed when the Secretary-General met with Prime Minister Sinora two days ago in Doha, and this issue of cluster bombs, in getting also a map of where the cluster bombs were, was raised by Prime Minister Sinora.  The Secretary-General is certainly engaging on the issue and the issue is being discussed.  And about Turkmenistan, I don’t have the information, but we can find the information for you, whether we’ll be involved in the electoral process there or not.  Mr. Abbadi.

[The Spokesperson later noted today’s statement by United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon Michael Williams, who reiterated the United Nations calls on Israel to provide the strike data of the cluster bombs dropped over south Lebanon, in line with the implementation of Security Council resolution 1701.]

Question:  Thank you, Michèle.  In the past you indicated on several occasions that the Secretary-General was (inaudible) upon his Personal Envoy to Western Sahara.  Has this appointment been made, and if not, what’s holding it up?

Spokesperson:  Well, it hasn’t been made yet.  There were still consultations being made with the different parties and that’s why it hasn’t been made yet.  But we expect that shortly.  Yes?

Question:  Michèle, at the top of the briefing you spoke about Gaza and that the crossings are still not being opened by Israel; they’re still closed.  Are there any fresh efforts being made by the Secretary-General, because he’s already appealed, I think about three or four days ago he made an appeal to the Israeli Government to open these crossings in view of the humanitarian situation existing in Gaza.  Have more efforts been made now?

Spokesperson:  There are constant efforts being made for Gaza.  The Secretary-General has brought this up in conversations, as you know, with Mr. Olmert and with the Foreign Minister about the issue of access of humanitarian assistance to the population there.  You have our presence on the ground; we’ve had humanitarian groups protesting against the fact that they have no access and about the lack of availability of basic commodities to the people living in the Gaza Strip.  So, at this point, this is a constant effort on the part of the Secretary-General to engage not only Israel, but to engage also different actors to try to change the situation.  Yes, Lalit.

Question:  Have you received any letter from India also on the Mumbai attacks?

Spokesperson:  I know that the Secretary-General spoke to the Prime Minister.  I can check for you whether there was a formal letter received.  Yes.

Question:  I just wanted to know if the UN can confirm that the areas vacated by the CNDP in Eastern Congo have since been taken over by in fact the FDLR Hutu militia.  There is a (inaudible) report from eastern Congo saying that as they pulled back, supposedly to leave a humanitarian corridor, in fact the FDLR took over the areas.  Is that the case?

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t think it is the case.  But we can check on the map for you on who is where, but at this point, no.  We have no confirmation of that.

[The Spokesperson later added that United Nations peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo say that some elements of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) appear to have retaken some of their previously abandoned positions in parts of North Kivu, which were recently vacated by CNDP rebels.  The United Nations Mission is still working to assess the full extent of this latest development.]

Question:  Okay.  And the other one is, and this may be mundane, but that ceiling in Geneva, there are some reports that a portion of the ceiling has in fact fallen and the room has been closed.  Can you confirm that?

Spokesperson:  (Laughter) Not that I know of...

Question:  No, serious.

Spokesperson:  I can check on the ceiling for you, of course.

Question:  Because it cost $25 million, I think it’s, if it fell, it’s kind of important.

Spokesperson:  I think it’s also, I have to say, a beautiful work of art.

Correspondent:  No, no, I am not disputing that.  (Laughter).

[She later added that there was nothing wrong with the ceiling in question.]

Question:  I understand that the Secretary-General met with President Mugabe on the sidelines of the Doha conference, and subsequent to that meeting, a letter was sent by Mrs. Jendayi Frazer, I think her name is, of the State Department, criticizing that meeting.  Could you, one, give us an idea in terms of what was discussed at that meeting and what was the content of the letter from the State Department?

Spokesperson:  As I said, the letter I don’t know anything about.  We have not received the letter.  In terms of the Secretary-General’s decision to meet with Mr. Mugabe, that is a decision for the Secretary-General to make and the Secretary-General makes those decisions whenever he feels that a population is at stake and there are things to be said about a population who is in dire straits.  In terms of the content of the conversation, as we said, it was a tête-à-tête meeting.  There were no note takers, and the only thing that the Secretary-General said about the meeting is that they discussed, first, the issue of humanitarian access and humanitarian assistance to the people of Zimbabwe, including the issue of cholera, and they also discussed power sharing.  This is all I can say at this point.  As I said, it was a tête-à-tête meeting.  Yes, George.

Question:  To get back briefly, Michèle, to this issue of Israel and the cluster bombs.  If, you know, are we talking about bombs that were dropped from the airplanes?  If so, how can the Israelis possibly know where they were dropped, if the airplane is going at, God knows, how many hundreds of miles an hour, and if they were dropped off the back of some kind of motor vehicles or tanks?  Is there somebody inside the vehicle keeping records or do they expect that somebody was inside the vehicle keeping records and maps?

Spokesperson:  We understand that it was a military operation, and usually in military operations they plan this type of thing.  I cannot answer your question; of course I cannot.  But I do know that this is one of the major issues that is being discussed after the Lebanese war.  That’s one of the major issues, the still remaining cluster bombs -- where they were dropped and where to find them so there can be a normalization of the situation in some areas.

Question:  I’d like to second Masood’s questions about terrorism in Pakistan and Benazir Bhutto.  It’s been one full year since Benazir Bhutto was killed and we still, there are no answers.  It looks like the UN is not making the right attempts to answer these questions and there is still a question as to whether the US and other Member States were involved somehow.  And similarly, it does appear that Somalia has no government, and this is the reason a couple of weeks ago that some of us raised the question about this girl being stoned to death.  And doesn’t this, if you like, the absence of a clear government, give the UN the opportunity to step in, because, as we well know, the UN doesn’t interfere without a request from the Government of a Member State.  But if there is no government, isn’t that a chance for the UN to take stronger action on...?

Spokesperson:  Okay.  Now, your first question about Benazir Bhutto; there was a request made by the Pakistani Government.  That request for an inquiry commission into the assassination of Mrs. Bhutto was made, and there have been discussions ever since on the issue, of what type of mechanism to set up, because there was an agreement in principle that there will be something set up to actually go into what happened.  We talked about it as an inquiry commission or commission of inquiry.  The formula was not fully accepted.  In that sense, there have been discussions.  There’s not been a fully accepted format, because a number of things have to be discussed.  As you know, before there was a Hariri Tribunal that was set up, it took a while in discussions between the Lebanese Government and the legal people here at the UN to set up that Tribunal.  Now that Tribunal is a reality.  It’s going to come into effect on 9 March; on 1 March, I am sorry.  So, now what’s going to happen about the Bhutto inquiry?  As I said, this is still being discussed between the parties.  Who is funding the tribunal? Who will be the judges?  Who will decide on who; where it will be set up? Will that be a tribunal or will that be just a commission of inquiry?  All these aspects of the request are being discussed and it is not the UN just dragging its feet.  The process has been going on consistently ever since the request was made.  So, judicial matters like this are not easy to work out.  

Question:  (Inaudible)...just clear that the questions aren’t going away.

Spokesperson:  Yes.  About Somalia, as you know, we have a Special Envoy to Somalia, Mr. Ould-Abdallah, who has come in and has talked to you several times, is certainly in contact with the Government.  Whether that Government controls the territory of Somalia is not something that we can assess.  You mention the case of that young woman who was stoned to death.  She was not stoned by a decision of the government in any way.  So, I don’t see what the link is between your question and the existence of a Government.  Of course, we do know that, obviously, the security situation is an extremely difficult situation in Somalia, and the fact that there is a Government who is there and who does not control the territory is not something that I can really comment on.

Question:  Well, just one final point, if I may.  I don’t know, I think in the questioning and the questions some of us raised about this girl’s stoning and where was the UN and so on; it seems like nothing has been forthcoming from the relevant agencies.  Some of us got one note from one agency saying what a horrible thing it was, but it just seemed to several of us that this was an opportunity for the UN to speak with a louder voice.  So the UN is officially recognizing some fragment of government in Somalia, is that the idea?

Spokesperson:  Yes, sure, of course.  This has been the case for quite a while now.  The existence of a Government and the fact that they are the ones who invited the Ethiopian troops to come in; and they are the ones requesting that there be an international presence there once the Ethiopian troops leave.

Question:  (Inaudible)...about the absence of government...so.

Spokesperson:  What do you mean?

Question:  This Government that you’re talking about in Somalia that controls nowhere, I mean, you know, it cannot stop a woman from being stoned and whatever; pirates operating off their coast, invited Ethiopian troops from a hotel room in Kenya.  

Spokesperson:  (Inaudible) I do not determine…

Question:   …The point I am making is that this so-called Somali Government, what kind of Government is this that cannot stop one of its citizens from being stoned; cannot control its coastline, so why… (interrupted)?

Spokesperson:  This is part of the problem. You’re describing the problem.  It’s true.  What you’re saying is true.

Question:  Okay.  Perhaps you need to engage other forces within Somalia to form a real representative government, perhaps, I mean...

Spokesperson:  Right now, with the security situation, do you think that there can be elections in Somalia?

Question:  Well, that’s what I am saying.  So, how can you call this entity a government if...

Spokesperson:  It is a fact that right now the main priority is to retain some form of security and stability in Somalia.  And that’s what they’re discussing in the Security Council, the possibility of having international troops come in to really bring back a measure of stability.  There cannot be something on the political front if you don’t have basic security there.  So, that is the main issue right now and this is what is being discussed in the Security Council at this point.

Question:  No, but the presence of Ethiopian troops, was that their “invitation”, was the purpose of that to secure...?

Spokesperson:  That was the purpose, yes.

Question:  That was the purpose?  And of course, that didn’t happen.

Spokesperson:  Well, I have really…

Question:  …because what has happened is that 1.5 million Somalis are facing starvation and 3.5 million have been displaced since the Ethiopian invasion.  So, what is the Security Council discussing?  To bring in more troops or what?

Spokesperson:  It was the case before, sir.  I don’t know why you link it to the Ethiopian invasion.  I don’t know.  Personally, I don’t have the numbers that you have.  I cannot confirm them.  I cannot say the contrary to what you’re saying.  What I am saying is that we have a grave security situation in Somalia.  Now, whether the Ethiopian troops did this or didn’t do this, I am not here to comment on that.  The only thing I can comment about is the subject being discussed in the Security Council; the request that was made on the part of the Secretariat for an examination of the question of Somalia.  And this is what we’re discussing.

Question:  So, what would these new troops achieve if they are brought in?  What will these new troops that the Security Council is requesting to be introduced into Somalia, what will they…?

Spokesperson:  The idea is to stabilize the country.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Michèle.  Michèle, does the Secretary-General plan to give the traditional end of the year press conference, and if so, what dates would that be?

Spokesperson:  It will be on 17 December and you will have the end of the year press conference then.  And that’s all I have for you, thank you.  We’re waiting for our guest, who should be here very shortly.  He’s at a meeting right now and should be out shortly.  And Yves will, of course, moderate.  Thank you so much.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.