27 July 2006
Spokesman's Noon Briefing

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.  We have here already our guest for the noon briefing.  His name is Gérhard Stoudmann, and he is the UN High Representative for Elections in Côte d’Ivoire.  And, he will brief you immediately after my briefing. 

** Iraq

The Government of Iraq and the United Nations today announced, in a joint statement, the formal launch of the International Compact with Iraq.  This Compact is an initiative of the Government of Iraq for a new partnership with the international community.  The Compact, jointly chaired by the Government of the Republic of Iraq and the United Nations, with the support of the World Bank, will, over the next five years, bring together the international community and multilateral organizations to help Iraq achieve its national vision.

The Government’s vision is that, five years from now, Iraq shall be a united, federal and democratic country, at peace with its neighbours and itself, well on its way to sustainable economic self-sufficiency and prosperity, and well integrated in its region and the world.  To achieve this vision, the Government of Iraq has undertaken to make progress on political inclusion and consensus-building, on the rule of law and on the establishment of professional security forces.

The full statement is available upstairs, and it has been issued in Baghdad also, earlier today.

** Lebanon

The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) reports that there were three incidents of firing close to UN positions in the last 24 hours from the Israeli side.  It was also reported that Hizbollah fired from the vicinity of four UN positions.

While heavy exchanges of fire continue to take place along the Blue Line, the UN mission says that more than 600 civilians from Naqoura and other neighbouring villages were sheltered inside the UNIFIL headquarters in Naqoura yesterday, and provided with food and water.

** Lebanon - Humanitarian

And, on the humanitarian front, we are planning two additional humanitarian convoys to go to southern Lebanon tomorrow.  Those convoys, which are being organized by the World Food Programme, are to go to the towns of Jezzine and Sidon, and we also hope to go deeper into the south in the following days.

And, we also would like to let you know that Jan Egeland, who has just completed his mission in the region, I’m told, will be briefing the Security Council, and we hope that he will talk to you at the stakeout following his briefing to the Council around 1 p.m. tomorrow.

** Nepal

The UN team, headed by Stefan de Mistura, has now arrived in Nepal.  It is seeking to forge a common understanding among various groups in Nepal about the scope and nature of the UN role in that country’s peace process.  As part of that effort, the team will meet with representatives from the Government of Nepal and the country’s Communist Party, as well as civil society, the media and parliament.

The UN team -- which includes experts in political affairs, military and police matters, electoral assistance and human rights -- will work mainly in Kathmandu, but its members may also carry out visits to the interior of the country.  After completing its work, the mission will report to the Secretary-General on its findings.  We have more information upstairs in a statement that was made by de Mistura upon his arrival there earlier today.

**Security Council

And, here, the Security Council held consultations this morning on a variety of subjects.  It first heard a briefing on Eritrea and Ethiopia by Dmitry Titov, Director of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations Africa Division.

And, following that, the Council was briefed by Greek Ambassador Vassilakis, the chairman of the Sudan sanctions committee, on that committee’s work.  The Council then held consultations on Georgia, with Assistant Secretary-General Jane Holl Lute briefing.

**Security Council Yesterday

And, yesterday afternoon, the Security Council adopted press statements on Côte d’Ivoire and Afghanistan.

On Côte d’Ivoire, the Security Council members condemned the recent surge in violence aimed at obstructing the normal functioning of the mobile courts, and expressed their full support for the Prime Minister in his effort to implement the road map and the agreement signed by all Ivorian parties in Yamoussoukro on 5 July.

On Afghanistan, the Security Council members voiced their concern over the worsening violence and reaffirmed their support for the Government and the armed forces in their effort to maintain security.  The Security Council members also welcomed the continued efforts of the Afghan Government and the international community to address the challenges in Afghanistan, including the cross-cutting issue of counter-narcotics.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

And, in a major UN-brokered development ahead of the 30th of July elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the UN Mission in that country reports that the rebel coalition, Mouvement Revolutionnaire Congolais (MRC), has agreed to lay down its weapons.  The Mission says the move will facilitate the movement of displaced persons in the eastern Ituri district and increase their participation in the elections.

A formal agreement was signed yesterday in Bunia by the Congolese Government and the MRC in the presence of UN officials.  William Lacy Swing, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in that country, welcomed the agreement as a major step forward in the electoral process and towards peace.  He urged other rebel groups to follow the MRC’s example and lay down their weapons.  And, we also have upstairs fact sheets detailing MONUC’s role and the UN system’s role in the elections.

** Somalia

And then, turning to Somalia, the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Somalia, François Lonseny Fall, today wrote to Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, the Chairman of the Executive Council of the Islamic Courts in Mogadishu, reaffirming his appeal for the Islamic Courts to send a delegation to Khartoum for a second round of peace talks with the Somali Transitional Federal Government.

In his letter, Fall also assured Sheikh Ahmed of the UN’s commitment to pursue all avenues for the restoration of peace and reconciliation in Somalia through dialogue.

And, earlier today, in Nairobi, Fall met with ambassadors and senior representatives of the international community, including the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, the African Union and the League of Arab States, and briefed them on his latest mission to Somalia, which was completed on Tuesday.

** Iraq Compensation

And then, on the United Nations Compensation Commission dealing with claims made after Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait, it has made available today a total of more than $396 million to four Governments for distribution to 31 successful claimants.

And, there’s more details in a press release upstairs.

**Press Conference

And last, but not least, there’ll be a press conference on “ Rwanda’s Contribution to its Recovery Through Culture and Arts” in Conference Room 6 today, at 3 p.m.  Speakers include Rwanda’s Minister for Youth, Culture and Sports and the African Union’s charge d’affaires here in New York.

And, the conference will be moderated by our very own Dr. Addadi, seated just over there.  If you want more information on this, you know where to go.

And, that’s what I have for you.  Let’s start in the back today.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Maybe you mentioned it earlier, I’m sorry, but, what is the official response, I’m not talking about the Mideast, but the drug arrest of the UN mailroom employee?  What facts can you tell us?

Deputy Spokesman:  What I can tell you… I assume you’re referring to…

Correspondent:  Oh, any others that have been arrested, feel free to volunteer.

Deputy Spokesman:  I don’t have any particular statement, so, if you have questions, feel free to…

Question:  [talkover] was he a current employee?  Did the UN not know until the feds told the UN about this person?  What kind of pouches were used?  How many pouches?  Where did they go?  Was the UN, were they involved in the informational… [talkover]… well, you don’t have… believe me, it’s not coming out of that pile.

Deputy Spokesman:  Let me start with the fact that the operation… the gentleman you’re asking about was arrested yesterday.  The operation was done in total cooperation between the United Nations and the US authorities.  And, they have… the US authorities have acknowledged that… and, of course, it is in our interest to cooperate in preventing UN premises or UN affiliation to be used for any criminal purposes.  The gentleman’s name I can identify is, as written in the press reports, Osman Osman.  He is originally from Somalia, and he worked in the mail unit.  And, that’s really all I can say for now.

Question:  What is his status?

Deputy Spokesman:  As is the standard practice in such cases, he will be placed on special leave with pay, while the legal process is under way.  And, as for the details that you seek, I can only refer you to the indictment, which is being also examined by our Office of Legal Affairs.  And, if they have anything further to say, they will give it to me, but they are currently studying the indictment.  So, that is the totality of what I have, so, if you have any other questions, I’m not sure I’m going to be able to answer them.

Question:  Marie, when is the Secretary-General due back at Headquarters, and are their plans for him to brief the Council?

Deputy Spokesman:  I understand he is on his way back from Rome.  He should be back in New York this afternoon.  I don’t think he will be coming into Headquarters, however, until tomorrow and, when I get his programme for tomorrow, I will let you know.  Let’s go from the back, yes?

Question:  The Canadian Prime Minister is wondering why the United Nations manned an outpost that was right in the line of fire -- the one at Khiyam -- in the middle of a war zone.  Why do you have that post, and why did you maintain personnel there?

Deputy Spokesman:  As you know, the UN mission in Lebanon is there under a Security Council resolution.  It has been there since 1978.  In terms of the specific patrol post that the four UN military observers were based in, as a senior DPKO official told you yesterday and as was mentioned in the Security Council briefing, they were posted in a well-marked, established area, and the United Nations had reassurances, assurances and reassurances that they would not come under attack.

Question:  How do you respond to the allegations that the UN is responsible in some way, or bears some of the responsibility, for the deaths of these four individuals?

Deputy Spokesman:  I think we have nothing further to add than what we said on the subject.  There were repeated calls made from the ground, from here, from the Secretary-General himself, regarding the continuous attacks in the vicinity, and I don’t think we need to go any further than what we’ve already said on this.

Question:  Why didn’t you evacuate the post -- if you noticed that this shelling went on for hours, like 16 hours, why did you maintain the personnel at this post, why didn’t you evacuate them when it became…?

Deputy Spokesman:  Because we had guarantees that the UN would not come under direct hit.  Yes?

Question:  Does the Secretary-General or peacekeeping have any position on the Council’s failure to adopt a statement so far in any way addressing the death of the peacekeepers?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the Secretary-General, as you know, is on his way back, he’s flying back.  But, I think, as his Spokesman, I can say that he would be disappointed that the Council was not able to pronounce itself on a statement, on an important statement, on the killings of four UN military personnel.

Question:  Is that as strong as you’re willing to go on that one?

Deputy Spokesman:  [talkover] let’s ask him directly.  I’m the Spokesman.

Question:  Did you just say Spokesman, by the way?  You’re a Spokesperson, by the way.

Deputy Spokesman:  Is that a question?

Question:  I’m just wondering… now that we have an e-mail from one of the deceased soldiers, observers, in that post, who clearly says that the target was not them, but tactical.  And, now that we have this Commander, this former Commander, who knows very well UN procedures from his post as the Commander of the force in Bosnia, saying that it’s clear that what he meant was Hizbollah was all over the place.  Will the Secretary-General now retract his apparent accusation that Israel deliberately targeted that post?

Deputy Spokesman:  Benny, I have nothing further on this subject since yesterday.

Question:  Will he retract it or not, it’s a very simple question?  Now, we have two versions:  one that says that it’s [talkover]… not deliberate [talkover].. he will not retract it?

Deputy Spokesman:  No.

Question:  That post at Khiyam is the closest post to the Syrian border.  Did those observers have any contact Monday to observe movement between Lebanon and Syria?

Deputy Spokesman:  I think that [according to] the resolution, I think that the answer is no.

Question:  On Somalia, the Transitional Government has said that now the Islamic Courts Union is getting their weapons from Eritrea, a plane landed.  I don’t know if Mr. Fall, has he said anything on this, can the UN confirm one way or another?

Deputy Spokesman:  We can certainly ask him for his comments on that.  He’s in Nairobi now, but we can run by those comments.  No, I don’t have anything from him directly on that subject, today.

Question:  They’re also saying a lot of members of the Transitional Government are resigning due to the Transitional Government’s failure to negotiate with the Islamic Courts and for, in their words, inviting Ethiopia into Somalia.  So, does he have…? I guess… I think… I heard what you said, but, I think more needs to be said.  Does he have more to say, other than inviting them to Khartoum?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, this is what I have now.  So, we can follow-up for you with him after the briefing.

Question:  On the DRC, the announcement that you made, is that a MONUC announcement that the Commander is joining the army.

Deputy Spokesman:  It’s MONUC welcoming the announcement.

Question:  Cursory research shows that the guy who’s running the army has previously been accused of using child soldiers and [talkover]…

Deputy Spokesman:  What are we talking about?

Question:  The announcement you made, that it’s a good thing for the Congo that a militia leader is putting down his arms and joining the army?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, it’s the coalition movement -- it’s one of the larger coalition rebel movements that have agreed to lay down their weapons, that’s what MONUC is welcoming.

Question:  [Name] is that correct?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don’t have the details.  Let’s… we’ll look into that, upstairs.  I don’t have further information than the welcoming statement.

Question:  On this UNIFIL announcement that they were investigating three additional attacks close to positions, UNIFIL positions.  What is the protocol now for informing Israeli authorities when, how is this being dealt with since the fatal attack Monday?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don’t quite understand your question.

Question:  Is the United Nations informing the Israeli military when there are, when there are explosions close to UNIFIL positions?

Deputy Spokesman:  UNIFIL is in constant touch with the Israeli authorities.

Question:  At yesterday’s briefing, the briefer told us that, she described in great detail the Israeli bombings of that spot on that day, because we have now evidence that there was similar attacks a week before.  They stressed yesterday in the briefing all those phone calls that went to Israel on that day, including from here to headquarters -- did similar phone calls go to Israel a week before?

Deputy Spokesman:  I’ll have to check with DPKO on that for you.

Question:  It could mean that, I mean, we have evidence now that this was not something that happened that day, on that particular event, and after 11 tries, the Israelis finally were able to hit that spot, but that it happened over a long time that Israel has apparently tried very hard not to hit the spot -- because there was constant bombardment.  So, the question is, did similar calls, frantic calls, as they were described yesterday, go to Israeli [inaudible] before?

Deputy Spokesman:  I can certainly look into that for you, but I think the senior DPKO official made it very clear that the series of calls that transpired prior to the direct hit on that base was a result of hours and hours of sustained, close fire.

[The reporter was later told that, as policy, UNIFIL protests any incidents of close firing that in any way endangers its personnel, to the parties involved.]

Question:  I’m talking about that base… [inaudible] hours and hours.. [inaudible].

Deputy Spokesman:  I have said that I would look into it for you.  There are no other questions? Let’s hear about Côte d’Ivoire. 

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For information media • not an official record