20 March 2006


20 March 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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

**Statement on Iranian Journalist

I’ll start off with a statement attributable to the Spokesman.

“The Secretary-General is pleased that Akbar Ganji, an Iranian journalist, is now free after having served a six-year prison sentence.  The Secretary-General wishes him good health.  In August 2005, the Secretary-General appealed to the Iranian authorities to grant Mr. Ganji’s release on humanitarian grounds following a prolonged hunger strike.”

And that statement is available upstairs.

**Secretary-General in Congo

Today, the Secretary-General met in Brazzaville, Congo- Brazzaville, with the Prime Minister of the Republic of the Congo, as well as with members of Parliament, the diplomatic corps and the UN country team.

He then met this afternoon with the Congolese President, who currently serves as the head of the African Union.  That meeting was a tête-à-tête.  The two discussed UN reform, the work of the Security Council, developments in Darfur, Liberia, Iran, and the June elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The Secretary-General and his wife Nane Annan, accompanied by the Congolese President and First Lady, then presided over a ceremony to destroy arms collected by the Congolese authorities –- arms that had been collected from combatants following the civil war there.

In a statement, the Secretary-General commended the President and the Congolese people for committing themselves to engaging in dialogue and reconciliation.  And we do have copies of that speech available upstairs.

And later today, the Secretary-General also plans to meet with opposition leaders before attending a State dinner in his honour, hosted by the President.  Tomorrow, the Secretary-General is scheduled to make his way across the river to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

**Security Council

The Security Council is holding an open debate this morning on small arms, and Hannelore Hoppe, the Officer-in-Charge of the Department for Disarmament Affairs, told the Council that the recent adoption by the General Assembly of an international instrument to identify and trace illicit small arms and light weapons was an important step forward in fighting the spread of such arms.

She said that the Secretary-General’s recent report on small arms underscored that, despite progress made so far, more needs to be done to implement fully some key recommendations.  She noted the need to support States in their efforts to improve the effectiveness of arms embargoes imposed by the Council.  And we have her statement available upstairs.

** Sudan

The UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) says that one of its temporary operating bases in Yambio, in the country’s south near the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was attacked over the weekend, leaving two Bangladeshi peacekeepers wounded.

Shortly after midnight on Saturday, 100 armed men entered Yambio and tried to contain the peacekeepers at the base in order to loot other compounds in the town.  The two wounded peacekeepers were both hit by ricocheting bullets, and not from bullets that were apparently fired directly at them.  Initial indications are that the attackers were looking to obtain communications equipment.

Three of the assailants were killed in the attack, which ended soon after local Sudanese troops reached the scene.  And the UN Mission says security will be upgraded at the base.

** Lebanon

Turning to Lebanon, Terje Roed-Larsen, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the implementation of Security Council resolution 1559, met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo today.

Roed-Larsen said that afterwards they had discussed the situation in the broader Middle East, which is now reaching a critical juncture in its history.  The Special Envoy also met with the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, Amr Moussa, and with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Ghait on Sunday night.

Upon the conclusion of his talks in Cairo, Roed-Larsen left for Doha where this afternoon he will have consultations with senior Qatari officials.  And as you know, Qatar currently represents the Arab group in the Security Council.  And we do have a note to correspondents with more information upstairs.

**World Food Programme/Gaza

The World Food Programme (WFP) says that food is running out in the Gaza Strip.  And WFP has, therefore, appealed to the Israeli authorities to allow food shipments to reach tens of thousands of people in Gaza who depend on such aid to survive.

At the same time, WFP also has called on the Palestinian Authority to ensure the security of humanitarian aid workers inside the Occupied Palestinian Territory is respected.  The agency currently provides food aid to some 430,000 people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, 160,000 of whom are in the Gaza Strip.  And we have more information from WFP upstairs.

** Burundi

The Secretary-General’s latest report on the UN Operation in Burundi (ONUB) is out on the racks today.

In it, he says the security and economic situation in Burundi remains extremely fragile and in need of urgent improvements in good governance, transparency and respect for human rights.

The report outlines steps that are being prepared for the withdrawal of the UN Mission by the end of the year.  He says that the UN would continue to assess the situation there in the coming months and that the pace of the Mission’s drawdown could be adjusted accordingly, in full consultation with the Government.

And the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Burundi, Carolyn McAskie is scheduled to be at the UN, I think this week, and we are arranging for her to speak to you at some point during the week.

**Human Rights

The Commission on Human Rights meeting in Geneva decided this morning to suspend its work for a further week, in light of the General Assembly’s recent decision to create the Human Rights Council.

Meanwhile, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) here in New York, under which the Commission works, is expected to meet this week here in New York to formally ask for the Commission to end its work.  And we have more details upstairs.

** Uzbekistan

And the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, today expressed regret over Uzbekistan’s decision to give the agency one month to leave the country.  UNHCR remains concerned about the fate of four detained Uzbek refugees in Kyrgyzstan, as well as the increasing number of Uzbek asylum-seekers who have been detained in former Soviet republics and forcibly returned to Uzbekistan.

UNHCR’s work in Uzbekistan currently focuses on the voluntary repatriation and resettlement of some 2,000 refugees, mainly from Afghanistan.  And we have a press release from UNHCR upstairs.

**UNHCR/Private Sector

And lastly, UNHCR also reports today that top executives from five international companies have pledged to use their business expertise to help the agency in its work with refugees worldwide.  The announcement came after a week’s visit to Somali and Burundian refugees in camps in Kenya and Tanzania by directors of Nike, Microsoft, Merck, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Manpower.

Nike also announced donations of new classrooms for girls’ education, and sports facilities.  And these five companies will help UNHCR in information technology, to streamline its work around the world.  And we have a press release on that upstairs.

And I think that is it for me.  Any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I have two questions.  The first one is, Mr. Roed-Larsen is in Cairo -- he was in Cairo.  He met with President Mubarak.  You stated here that the discussions were covering the broader Middle East.  Can you elaborate more on this subject?

Spokesman:  I will see if we can reach Mr. Larsen and get a little bit more of a readout on the meeting for you.

Question:  And my second question is, is he going to go to Lebanon?

Spokesman:  Yes, he will go to Lebanon.  I don’t have the exact date, but we do expect him to go to Lebanon.

Question:  I apologize if I missed [inaudible], does the United Nations have a comment on the elections in Belarus?

Spokesman:  We are at this point waiting for the OSCE report.  The OSCE was in the lead in the election monitoring there.  We were not involved, we are awaiting their report, and at this point, we have nothing to say until we see that report.

Question:  Is there any change in Terje Roed-Larsen’s job description?  Because, I mean, it was defined until now as Special Envoy to Lebanon and 1559 -- not even to Lebanon -- just to 1559.  And now it’s like Beijing, Saudi Arabia...

Spokesman:  I think, you know, Beijing was part -- first of all, there is no change in his job description.  Beijing was part of his stops -- the capitals of the five permanent members, Beijing being the last stop on that tour.  He’d been obviously to Washington, Paris, London, Moscow and Beijing.

And the other countries he’s seeing in the region are all part of the 1559 mandate because it does have regional implications, and I think Lebanon’s neighbours, and other regional Powers in the Arab world, have a role to play in the implementation.

Question:  So, it’s a regional approach to 1559 as opposed to a narrow --

Spokesman:  The approach is the full implementation of 1559, and do Lebanon’s neighbours and other Powers in the Arab world and the Security Council have a role to play?  I think the answer would be “yes”.

Question:  Given the Secretary-General’s itinerary, I hope this one could be answered.  Over the weekend it was reported that the Lord’s Resistance Army’s Joseph Kony has crossed into the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  That’s a report.  One, whether the UN or MONUC has confirmed that or could confirm that?  And two, what the UN would, given that he’s wanted by the ICC and you have personnel there, what might be done?

Spokesman:  One is that no we have not -- I have not seen confirmation of that.  We will look into it.  Obviously the UN would work closely with the Congolese security forces in order to help out in any way they can with people who are wanted.

Question:  Is there any follow-up to, remember that operation in Ituri and Grava and the town of Che -– there was an operation and then there was some disarray.  Has there been any update on that?

Spokesman:  We’ll get you an update after the briefing.  We’ll ask.  [The Spokesman later told the journalist that United Nations and national units were still in position.  He added that, apart from a few skirmishes, there were no new developments.]

Question:  Once the Commission on Human Rights actually begins meeting in Geneva, what are they going to do?

Spokesman:  No, the Commission on Human Rights suspended its meeting in light of –-

Question:  Sorry, what if they do begin?

Spokesman:  Well, they will obviously have some wind-up work to do.  What they’re awaiting now is a formal meeting of ECOSOC, because the Commission –- the Human Rights Commission -– as it operates now operatives under the umbrella of ECOSOC.  So, ECOSOC will pass a resolution declaring the end of the Commission.  And the Commission may have some wind-up work to do, but obviously, the focus is now on the new Human Rights Council.

Question:  So they’re not going to be undertaking or considering any resolutions as they normally do?

Spokesman:  Not as far as I know, but obviously it’s something we could help you check with our colleagues in Geneva.

Question:  Would they vote themselves?

Spokesman:  Well, the decision’s been taken by the General Assembly to create the Council.  What the Economic and Social Council, ECOSOC, what they will do, is put an end to the Human Rights Commission with this vote.

Question:  With that vote, is there a chance the Commission will meet at all?

Spokesman:  Let’s wait and see exactly what the resolution says, and if indeed, the Commission still needs to have some wind-up work to do in Geneva.

[The Spokesman’s Office later noted that the General Assembly, in the resolution it passed last week, requested the Economic and Social Council to abolish the work of the Commission on Human Rights on 16 June 2006.]

Question:  The Secretary-General in his talks, has he been focusing at all on Iran and the Iran issue?

Spokesman:  The Iran issue did come up in the meeting with the President of the Congo, as Congo serves on the Security Council.

Question:  On the Nicholas Michel report, can you confirm that it will be released on Thursday?

Spokesman:  We expect it to go the Security Council this week and I will check for you exactly what date Mr. Michel is scheduled to present it to the Council.  [The Spokesman later added that the report will go to the Security Council on Thursday.]

Thank you very much.

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