19 May 2006


19 May 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.

** Noon Guest

Good afternoon.  Juan Gabriel Valdés, the outgoing Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Haiti, will be joining us shortly to provide you an update on the situation in that country.

**SG in China

Meanwhile, the Secretary-General arrived in Beijing today, to begin the third leg of his current trip to Asia.

He began his official visit with a meeting with President Hu Jintao that spilled over into a working banquet hosted by the Chinese leader at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

They discussed a wide range of topics, including UN reform, the Iranian situation, North Korea, the Chinese President’s recent visit to Africa, as well as the Middle East and the avian flu.

During his stay, the Secretary-General plans to meet, early next week, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and a number of other senior Chinese officials. 

He will also be giving a speech at Beijing University, and hold a question-and-answer session with students there.

**Security Council

This morning, the Security Council was briefed by Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland on his recent trip to Sudan and Chad.

Egeland said that, what he saw in Darfur and eastern Chad, drove home how much was really at stake.  The next few weeks would be absolutely critical for millions of people in that region, he added.

On Sudan, he said we must do everything we can to achieve certain immediate goals, including implementing the Peace Agreement and bringing on board those who had not yet signed it, and ensuring that the humanitarian lifeline to more than 3 million people is secure and well funded.

On that issue, Egeland referred to the funding shortfall of some $389 million for Darfur alone, saying that it had led to feeding centres being closed, and internally displaced persons losing access to free health care in hospitals.

On Chad, he drew attention to insecurity, which was causing UN agencies to reduce their staff on the ground, at a time when needs were continuing to increase.

And we have his full statement upstairs.

The Security Council is also now holding closed consultations on Sudan and Chad, in Mr. Egeland’s presence.  And, after those consultations, Jan Egeland told us he would come to the stakeout to speak to you.

** Sudan

Meanwhile, in Darfur, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Jan Pronk, continues his tour of the area, where he’s continuing his efforts to promote the acceptance of the Darfur Peace Agreement.  He is due back in Khartoum over the weekend.

And, a number of you had been asking me about word of the Secretary-General sending a delegation to Sudan.  I can confirm that, as part of the continuing dialogue with the Government of Sudan, the Secretary-General has decided to send Lakhdar Brahimi to Khartoum, as his Special Envoy.  Mr. Brahimi will be accompanied by Hédi Annabi, the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations.

They will be conducting consultations with the Government of Sudan on the role the UN could play in the implementation of the Darfur Peace Agreement, including the proposed transition from the African Union force to a UN peacekeeping operation.

** Côte d’Ivoire

The UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire today is hosting the seventh ministerial-level meeting of the International Working Group, which has been mandated to monitor progress in the Ivorian peace process and to help prepare for elections.

The Mission also reports that, yesterday, it sent some 60 staff members to seven sites across the country to assist in the beginning of the citizen identification process.  That process and the disarmament process are seen as crucial steps towards national reconciliation there.

**UNHCHR - Cambodia

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, says that an independent, professional judiciary is of “capital importance” for the consolidation of democracy in Cambodia.

Arbour’s comments come at the end of her five-day visit to Cambodia, where she said she’d been told repeatedly of positive developments in the country, since the UN-organized polls of 1993. 

However, she says, the country still had difficulties to overcome, as the findings of successive UN human rights experts had shown. 

And we have more on that upstairs.

**UNHCR - Sri Lanka

UNHCR, meanwhile, reports that, from the beginning of the year, when people started fleeing the deteriorating security situation in Sri Lanka, until today, more than 1,000 people have arrived in southern India.  Today, 102 people arrived, the largest number in a single day, since the outflow began.

The refugee agency says the latest movement is a complete reversal of what had happened in 2005, when it helped more than 1,000 Sri Lankan refugees return home from the camps in southern India.

And there’s more information on that in UNHCR’s briefing notes.

And, today being Friday, we also have the Week Ahead for you. 

Any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I’d like to know a little bit more about Brahimi’s role in Sudan.  What he’ll be doing exactly, why the SG decided to pull him out of retirement, and is it that the UN has no other people, other than ex-envoys, to call on for this kind of job? 

And then, just one other thing on Ethiopia-Eritrea… Kofi Annan, I think, is due to give a report on Monday on the situation, on whether there’s been sufficient progress on border delineation.  And I just wondered, following the meeting in London, whether the UN considered there had been any progress on border delineation.

Spokesman:  On your second one, I don’t have any update, but I can get one for you.

On your first question, first of all, Mr. Brahimi is not going alone.  He’s going with Hédi Annabi, who’s the number two in peacekeeping operations. Mr. Brahimi, when he left, made it clear to us that he would be available for special assignments for the Secretary-General.  I think his experiences in Africa and the Arab world speak for themselves, and this is one of these moments when he would be of very good use to the UN.

The visit of both Mr. Annabi and Brahimi is part of the ongoing dialogue we’ve had with Sudan, to prepare for the proposed transition from an AU force to a UN peacekeeping operation.  That dialogue is continuing and, obviously with Mr. Brahimi’s dispatch, the intensity of that dialogue is increasing.

Question:  What happens, though, when this deadline, which only has a few days left…

Spokesman:  We’re very much aware of the timeframe imposed by the Security Council, as is the Sudanese Government.  We’re trying to move things along as quickly as possible.

Question:  When do they get there?

Spokesman:  Their meetings will start midweek, Wednesday, in Khartoum.

Question:  Does this mean that the Sudanese Government has not yet given a green light for the assessment mission to go to Darfur.

Spokesman:  That would be correct.

Question:  Back to Mr. Brahimi, if I may.  It’s very simple; will Sudan let in an assessment team or not?  What else is Mr. Brahimi bringing to the table?  What exactly is there to discuss with Khartoum?  What are these talks actually going to be about?

Spokesman:  What they will discuss is what role the UN will play in Darfur, in the implementation of the peace agreement, and they’re part of our preparation for the proposed transition.  We’ve been having contacts with the Sudanese Government, both at the Mission level here in New York, and in Khartoum, and we are trying to move our planning process along, as quickly as possible.

Question:  The SG, I know… I think you said his phone call was not taken by the President of Sudan, but then a letter was sent.  What’s the latest state of communications, and how did we get to this trip?

Spokesman:  The Secretary-General has spoken in the last few days to Vice-President Taha, as well as to the Special Adviser of the President.  As I said, it was part of the continuing discussions we’ve had with the Sudanese.  Obviously, Mr. Brahimi’s trip should be seen in the context of us trying to get the planning process moving along, as quickly as possible. 

Question:  The SG, in the Le Figaro interview, said there’s not a second to lose regarding Sudan…

Spokesman:  That was not a Le Figaro interview.  It was a reprint of an editorial, which appeared in the newspaper of the colleague directly in front of you… in the FT [Financial Times].  It was not an interview.  The Secretary-General’s message is clear -- there is not a moment to lose, both on the humanitarian front, on the funding.  As Mr. Egeland said, and, more importantly, while we are planning for an eventual transition to a UN force, it is the support of the current force in place in Darfur, of the African Union force, which is so essential.  They are underfunded and undermanned, and they need the support of the international community, now.

Question:  I keep getting asked on the air about how many countries have formally said they will send troops to an expanded mission.

Spokesman:  At this point, the planning process for the force is continuing.  We need that assessment mission on the ground to give a much more detailed plan of the kind of force the UN would have, which will then allow us to turn around to those countries that had the capabilities to give us the logistical support and troops that we need.  But, before we do that, Member States who have the capabilities should start thinking now about what they will be able to offer.

Question:  So that means none? 

Spokesman:  None have been officially approached as of now because the planning process is not concluded.  But, just because people have not been officially approached, doesn’t mean that they can’t start thinking about what will happen when we come knocking.

Question:  Does the Secretary-General endorse the finding of the Geneva Torture Committee that Guantánamo should be shut down now?

Spokesman:  It is not for him to endorse or reject.  This is part of an ongoing treaty review.  The views of the Secretary-General on Guantánamo, I think, are fairly clear.  He expressed those early this year, when he said he would expect that Guantánamo does need to be closed and that people cannot be detained in perpetuity, and that charges have to be brought against them and they need to be given a chance to explain themselves.  He made those comments to you a few months ago, and those still stand.

Thank you.

* *** *

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