Secretary-General's press encounter outside the Security Council
New York, 30 May 2006
SG: I have followed with concern, the developments in Afghanistan. We're following the tragic accident. Crowds gathered and led to even greater disturbances, leading to deaths and injuries of many people. Lots of properties were damaged, including UN and international humanitarian workers. Obviously the United Nations has always been supportive of the Afghan effort and we've worked with them over the years as a reliable partner and we will continue to do so, with the international community, in ensuring that the country is stabilized and we will continue our work to strengthen their institutions. I also had the opportunity of talking to President [Hamid] Karzai and [US] Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice about measures we can all take to help bring the situation under control. But, obviously what has happened is symptomatic of perhaps deeper problems and the need we have to work with them, to strengthen their security forces. And what happened in Kabul came after major disturbances during the week around the country. And President Karzai believes that the situation is now under control. But we will continue to monitor it very closely.
Q: Sir, you say there are deeper problems. What can be done to ease the tensions and what deeper problems are you referring to?
SG: We have an insecure situation in parts of the country. We have the question of the drug cultivation and production. We have a question of the need to strengthen, as I said, security forces and national institutions, and these do take time and resources, but we need to persevere.
Q: On the issue of Myanmar, we've just heard that Aung Sang Suu Kyi will be under detention for, who knows how long. This comes right after you personally called for her release and there had been some signs that, maybe, they might release her. What's your response to that and what can you do now to exert any pressure on the Government?
SG: I am disappointed that, when the Government reviewed her detention, they did not decide to release her. I will continue to work with our partners in the region and, as you may have noted, quite a few of them also issued statements appealing for her release. We will continue our work with the Government and we will continue to work with ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian countries] and with Malaysia, which has the Presidency of ASEAN and NAM [Non Aligned Movement]. And we hope that other governments with influence will bring pressure to bear.
Q: East Timor has always been lauded as one of the biggest success stories of your administration. What went wrong? Did the Security Council draw down too quickly? What can be done? Who have you been on the phone with?
SG: I think it's really sad and tragic that we have to relive this experience again in East Timor. Over the past couple of days, I have had the opportunity to talk to President Xanana Gusmão and Prime Minister [Mari] Alkatiri, as well as with the Prime Ministers of Australia, New Zealand, Portugal and Malaysia, about supporting East Timor.
I have also sent in Ian Martin as my Special Envoy. He's now on the ground. He has the authority, and the rank as an Under-Secretary-General, to help deal with the situation, and make a political assessment for me. He hit the ground running and he's been in a series of meetings already. What went wrong is what I hope this report would indicate. But obviously, there has been some miscommunication, some misunderstanding as to who is responsible for what and contradictory instructions having been given to forces. But I hope that, with the arrival of the international forces and Ian Martin's presence, we will be able to get the situation under control. President Xanana [Gusmao] spoke to the population this morning, appealing for calm and indicating some changes in ministerial appointments, and I hope this will help calm the situation.
Q: Is East Timor now going to need a Coalition of theWilling to constantly run it? Is it still?.
SG: I do not how long this Coalition force will stay, but, of course, this is also something that we, the UN, will need to think through very, very carefully. And there has been a sense that we tend to leave conflict areas too soon, and this is one of the issues that we hope the Peacebuilding Commission will help us address and get the message across – that when we get into these situations, we should be in for the medium to the longer term and take a longer term view, rather than a short-term view, believing that we can leave after elections. And, of course, questions have been asked as to why the UN stays in some operations for a very long time. We've been in Cyprus for ages, we've been in Bosnia, Kosovo. Why do we often try to leave other areas after two or three years? These are issues that, I think, the [Security] Council and all of us will have to review.
Would it have made a difference if the UN had stayed longer - if we had not drawn down our forces too quickly? And this is something that I must assess and we have developed a follow-on mission, and I'm going to have to re-think our own proposal for the follow-on force. But we also need to be careful because of the way different missions are seen to be treated. Some sometimes tend to think that there is a racist content in official UN thinking, when we are dealing with some of these issues, but I don't think that is entirely correct. But that is a perception that we also need to address.
Q: Today the Lebanese parliament condemned Syrian judicial moves against Walid Jumblatt and Marwan Hamadi, because, as you know the Syrian military court issued a warrant arrest for.Jumblatt and summons against Hamadi. These are two witnesses to the investigation that is under Serge Brammertz. You have not said anything about this. Do you care to take the opportunity now and say what you want to say about these moves? Is it not suspicious to some that Brammertz is not out there protecting witnesses to the investigation? And secondly, what is your answer finally to the Prime Minister of Lebanon, who months ago asked you to give an opinion about what does he need to do to bring Shaba'a under Lebanese authority. You haven't answered him yet.
SG: On your first question. I don't know the details of the Syrian actions and I would not want to comment on that. I don't go by news. I said that I don't have the details of this action. I would prefer not to comment. If they have taken legal action, we would need to look at the legal documents and to be able to determine. If it is witnesses to the investigation, Brammertz will be the one to act on it. I don't interfere in his work. I don't interfere – he is independent and if he deems it necessary to take action on that, he will take action. I will not interfere and I will not comment. I think it is for Brammertz to act on that.
On your second question, on Shaba'a. This is something we are working on and consulting. And I will be dealing directly with the Prime Minister on this. He has written to me and we have discussed it. And I will give him a formal answer, after my consultations are complete.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, how disappointed are you that Robert Mugabe basically withdrew his invitation to you to visit Zimbabwe? Where do we go from here?
SG: I'm not sure the invitation is withdrawn. I read the newspaper report that one of his ministers said the invitation has been withdrawn, but I'm not quite sure that is correct. I am continuing my preparation and I do hope to visit Zimbabwe as planned. And when the date is fixed, I will let you know. I haven't done that yet.
Q: Sur la Somalie. Il y a des violences qui se poursuivent sur le terrain. Les milices ont même pris des agences humanitaires, vous avez dit que vous êtes préoccupé par la situation, qu'est-ce que vous attendez donc du Conseil de sécurité dans ce sens, pour qu'enfin la Somalie retrouve le chemin le la paix ?
SG: J'ai un envoyé spécial sur place qui travaille avec eux et le Conseil de sécurité aura aussi l'occasion de discuter le dossier somalien et je tiens bien au courant ce qui se passe [sur le terrain]. Si vous êtes en train de me demander si on va envoyer des troupes je ne crois pas que pour le moment le Conseil [de sécurité] ait l'intention d'envoyer des troupes onusiennes en Somalie. Au contraire, les somaliens sont en train de discuter le déploiement de troupe de l'IGAD, l'organisation sous-régionale. Je ne sais pas si ça va aboutir mais ils sont en train d'en discuter.
Q: Est-ce que vous avez eu du contact récemment avec le président?
SG: Le président somalien? Non. Mais mon envoyé spécial est en contact quotidien avec lui.
Q Mr. Secretary-General, since five years has passed since the declaration – 2001 – the infection with AIDS has increased. We lose 8,500 a day, more than 13,000- - 25% of the population in Ghana, your home country, suffers from AIDS. Where did we go wrong? Things haven't improved – yes, there are more efforts, more finances, but yet we are losing more people to Aids and more are getting infected.
SG: On some levels, we have made a bit of progress. First of all, I think finally, the international reaction and the response has reached the level which it ought to be, even though we need to do more. We also need to work with the local communities to organize themselves and provide the leadership - the leadership from the political level to the community level. Then this week we are going to have [an] opportunity of taking stock with the governmental representatives and civil society, and people living with HIV participating in this. We are, unfortunately, nowhere near getting on top of the epidemic. And the problem is still very, very, very serious and we need to continue to be vigilant and to redouble our efforts, particularly with young people, and, of course, also press for the protection of women. Today AIDS has woman's face - more than 50% of those being infected are women and young people, and this is where we really need to be vigilant and work hard. And I hope that the discussion this week will re-energize the international community, and communities dealing with the epidemic, to go back to the grass roots and continue the fight.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, just quickly, on Sudan. Now that the Khartoum Government have agreed on the joint assessment team, will you be urging them to quickly make the decision that's necessary to allow the full UN force to be deployed? And when do you actually envisage this is going to happen, because?..
SG: I think the assessment mission has to go in first. They need to gather in Addis [Ababa]. It's a joint assessment mission between the UN and the African Union. So they will gather in Addis [Ababa] and prepare themselves to go in and [Lakhdar] Brahimi and Hedi Annabi did a good job. And I, myself, was on the phone with the President and the first step has been made. The [Security] Council is also going in and I think the Council's visit should also further facilitate matters, not only with reference to the assessment mission, but [also] the actual deployment of the mission. The planning is fairly advanced. We have the framework plan and when we go on to the ground, we will fill in the holes that we have. And we have made preliminary contacts with Governments about potential troop contribution. And the speed with which we deploy will depend on how quickly the Governments give us these troops. So we will be looking at a couple of months. By couple of months, I mean 4 months or so.
Q: On the Democratic Republic of the Congo, what's being done for the 7 peacekeepers that were taken hostage in Ituri? And also, over the weekend, the UN military head in Bunia said elections can't really be held in this type of circumstance? What can be done in the run-up to elections to make it more?.
SG: It is tragic what happened in Bunia and we lost one Nepalese and three are wounded and about seven are missing. And we have been in touch with Karim's group – we think that is the group holding them, and demanding their release. And hopefully, we will get them released. But Karim and others who get involved in these sort of activities, must understand that they will be held accountable, as Lubanga has been picked up and is now in the hands of the ICC [International Criminal Court]. They will be held individually accountable for these brutal acts. On the question of security for the elections, the UN force with the Government army, even though they have limited resources, are working hard to try and ensure secure and fair elections. We are going to do our best and we have appealed to population to work with us. And you must also understand that this is a very difficult environment - hardly any infrastructure – most of the people have not voted for over 40 years. It is their first vote. And so we've had to do lots of public education and I hope that we will be able to organize the elections in a fairly calm environment.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, the search for your successor is expected to heat up in the next couple of months. I just wondered, during your trip to Asia, if that issue weighed heavily, and whether you were able to have conversations, even with some potential candidates for your position?
SG: I met three of the candidates – I met the Korean candidate, the Thai candidate and the Sri Lankan candidate who happened to be in Tokyo when I was there, so he also came to see me. Obviously the main concern was whether the next Secretary-General will come from Asia, which, in my judgement, seems to be the sense and the generally accepted sense here in the house, that the next Secretary-General should be Asian. Over and above that, I remain very neutral. I have no horse in this race and may the best man or woman win.
Q: Are you still hopeful that Aung San Suu Kyi might be released shortly, that you can work out?
SG: We're going to work very hard.