25 August 2006


25 August 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.

**Secretary-General in Brussels

The Secretary-General, as you know, is in Brussels, where he just attended the meeting of the European Union Foreign Ministers.  In a press conference that had just concluded, the Secretary-General called the meeting “a success”.  He praised Europe for “providing the backbone” of the expanded United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon.  He said that the offers of troops today were sufficient for more than half of the expanded force.  The Secretary-General added that France would continue to lead UNIFIL until the end of February 2007, when Italy would take over its control.  Meanwhile, the Secretary-General said he expected an Italian general would head a new strategic cell in support of UNIFIL that would be set up, here, at United Nations Headquarters.

The Secretary-General also noted that he would be travelling onward to Lebanon and Israel next week before visiting other countries in the region.  He also said that “a successful implementation and stability in the region are critically dependent on the support of the regional players”.  We’ll try to provide a transcript of his opening remarks and the Q&A as soon as possible.

Earlier in the day, shortly after arriving in Brussels, the Secretary-General met with the Prime Minister of Belgium, Guy Verhofstadt, and also had meetings scheduled with German Foreign Minister Franz-Walter Steinmeier, as well as the Foreign Minister of Finland, who is the current President of the European Union, of the rotating presidency.  And, he was also to meet with Javier Solana, the European Union High Representative for a Common Foreign and Security Policy.

We’re also grateful that Spain is providing the logistical support for the Secretary-General’s trip to the region, and the Secretary-General will end his visit with a stop-over in Madrid, where he is expected to meet with senior officials there.

**United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon

From the ground: a group of an additional 150 French soldiers arrived today in Naqoura, in southern Lebanon, to reinforce UNIFIL.  The United Nations Mission reports that cessation of hostilities was maintained, in general, in the past 24 hours, and no incidents or breaches of the cessation of hostilities or air violations were recorded by the United Nations.  There has been no change in the Lebanese Army deployment since yesterday.

The United Nations peacekeeping mission today demolished unexploded ordnance in Kunin village, while a team from the Mine Action Coordination Centre continued controlled demolition of unexploded ordnance in five other areas.  The Mine Action Centre says it has located 288 individual cluster bomb strike locations all over southern Lebanon.  It has received information from the Lebanese Army’s National Demining Office that 12 people have been reported killed and 51 wounded because of unexploded ordnance and cluster bombs, since the cessation of hostilities went into effect on 14 August.

Also today, UNIFIL distributed 53,000 litres of drinking water to a number of villages in the south and helped out with finding a generator for pumping that water.

**Humanitarian Efforts in Lebanon

Also, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that three United Nations convoys left Beirut today carrying food and water.  Since 23 July, the World Food Programme (WFP) has provided more than 3,000 tons of food to nearly 600,000 people in Lebanon.  For its part, the United Nations Population Fund has provided baby kits and hygiene kits to Beirut’s southern suburbs and southern Lebanon.  Meanwhile, preliminary results of a recent World Health Organization health facility assessment show that 50 to 70 per cent of primary health facilities in Bint Jbeil and Marjayoun in the south have been completely destroyed.

We have more information upstairs.

** Nepal

I now have a statement pertaining to the situation in Nepal.

“The Secretary-General is firmly committed to support the peace process in Nepal and was, thus, encouraged to receive identical letters, earlier this month, from the Government of Nepal and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), requesting assistance from the United Nations in a number of areas.  These include human rights monitoring, monitoring of the Code of Conduct during the ceasefire, management of arms and armed personnel of both sides, and electoral observation.  He believes it is now urgent to undertake follow-on consultations with all concerned parties in Nepal, in order to build on the common understanding that now exists, so that detailed planning for the United Nations assistance may proceed.

“Accordingly, he has decided to appoint Ian Martin as his Personal Representative in Nepal for support to the peace process.  Building on the recent pre-assessment mission to the country, Mr. Martin will conduct intensive discussions with the key actors in Nepal.  He will begin his assignment immediately, and will be joined by a small multidisciplinary team that will assist him in advising the parties in the areas where the United Nations has been asked to help.”

That statement was issued earlier today.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

Turning now to the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the United Nations Mission in that country says that, more than 70 per cent of ballots cast in the parliamentary elections have now been compiled and, the first results are due out later today.  Meanwhile, life in Kinshasa, the Mission says, has returned to normal.  Negotiations to defuse the remaining tensions continued yesterday, with two separate meetings of the United Nations-backed International Committee of the Wise, with President Joseph Kabila and Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba.  The United Nations Special Representative, William Lacy Swing, and the United Nations Force Commander also conducted separate meetings with the two candidates and discussed security for the planned runoff vote in October.  United Nations peacekeepers, meanwhile, met with the security detail of both President Kabila and Vice-President Bemba and signed a ceasefire document, which comes into effect today.

**Security Council

The Security Council back here at Headquarters decided this morning to establish a follow-on mission in Timor-Leste, to be called the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste -- or UNMIT -- for an initial period of six months, with the intention to renew it for further periods.  The new Mission will consist of an appropriate civilian component, including some 1,600 police personnel, and an initial component of up to 34 military liaison and staff officers.

The Council, then, went into consultations this morning on Burundi, with the Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Burundi, Mr. Nureldin Sati, briefing the Council on the Secretary-General’s latest report and the political developments in that country.

**Humanitarian Situation in Gaza

Turning now to the situation in Gaza, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that, the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza was open today, for the first time in more than a week, enabling a backlog of thousands of Gaza residents to move into and out of the Gaza Strip.  It is the hope of OCHA that the crossing will remain open.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, for its part, says that almost no construction supplies have entered the Gaza Strip since late June.  This is a particular problem for the Agency, because 194,000 Gazan students will return to school next week, and UNRWA has run out of the supplies required to repair the school buildings damaged in military operations over the past two months.

We have more on that upstairs.

** Liberia

From Liberia, a United Nations report released today in Monrovia says that 14 years of violent conflict have decimated Liberia’s capacity to run effective public institutions.  That capacity must be rebuilt as a first step toward sustainable development.  Massive brain drain caused by continuing instability, a shortage of basic work supplies and, the absence of reliable power and water systems have largely paralyzed Liberia’s daily operations.

We have a press release on that upstairs.

** Niger

The World Food Programme says, together with the Government of Niger, it will today begin targeted free distribution of staple foodstuffs to the most vulnerable people in Niger, to ensure that they have enough food through this year’s lean season, which is currently under way.  At least 650,000 people will benefit from two rounds of distributions, and half the food aid is being provided by WFP.

**World Health Organization -- Helmet Use

Just to let you know, the World Health Organization (WHO) is intensifying efforts to support Governments, particularly those in low- and middle-income countries, to increase helmet use through a new publication.  Each year, WHO says, about 1.2 million people die, as a result of road traffic crashes.  Wearing a helmet is the single most effective way of reducing head injuries and fatalities resulting from motorcycle and bicycle crashes.

We have a press release on that upstairs.

**Disability Convention

Negotiations, as you know, on a new convention to protect the rights of persons with disabilities are in their final day, and the Chair of the negotiations say the parties are “within striking distance” of finalizing the treaty.  There are still, however, a number of issues that need to be resolved and Thomas Schindlmayr of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs will be able to brief you on the negotiations at a press briefing at 1:45 p.m., here, today.

**Sexual Exploitation, Abuse

We had been asked a couple of times for an update on data from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations on cases of sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations personnel in peacekeeping missions.  We have compiled that data, and it is available in our office for those of you -- or the one of you -- that are interested.

Today is, absolutely, Friday, and we do have the Week Ahead for you.

That is it for me.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Can you talk us through the process from here in terms of getting the rest of the UNIFIL Force together?  Is there going to be a troop contributors meeting next week?  When will the shape of the Force be finalized, and when will we see the actual breakdown?

Spokesman:  I think we’ll have a lot more clarity in the early part of next week.  Obviously, today’s meeting was a success in terms of putting together and firming the European offers.  We’re still going through the tallying -- the accounting -- part of what exactly was offered and how quickly it can be deployed.  Meanwhile, our discussions with Indonesia, Bangladesh and a number of other countries are continuing.  We do hope to have more details and a much firmer timeline in the early part of next week.

Question:  Just a follow-up on this question: on the question of leadership of UNIFIL, has it been between France -- now also offering 2,000 troops -- and Italy, which has now already committed 4,000 troops?

Spokesman:  I said that, I think before you came in, which is -- and the Secretary-General has said it publicly -- that France will continue to lead the Force and provide the Force Commander until February 2007, when Italy would take over its control.  He also said one could expect an Italian general to be appointed to the military cell -- which we discussed yesterday, and which is in the Secretary-General’s report -- which will provide strategic support to UNIFIL.

Question:  Just a quick question on exactly that -- Mr. Annan said that when Italy will come in, I guess after February 2007 to lead the Force in Lebanon, will that also mean that there will be some sort of pull-out of French troops?  Or is it just going to be a switching?

Spokesman:  There will not be any pull-out of any troops.  It’ll be a change of leadership at the top, at the Force Commander level.

Question:  [President] Jacques Chirac’s statement questioning the rationale behind the 15,000 troop strength -- is that something that is in dispute with United Nations figures?  I’m just wondering why there’s such a difference of opinion.

Spokesman:  The Secretary-General answered that question just as we were coming down to the press briefing, and so, we’ll take a look at his answer.

Question:  Is there any new information on how this “cell” would work -- the planning cell here in Headquarters?

Spokesman:  Beyond what’s in that paragraph of that report, obviously it has to be assembled.  The Secretary-General said it would be under Italian leadership.  It would also draw on existing resources of the Military Division, of the military advisers -- senior military officers -- we have here.  But, the overall leadership of the Force will continue to be the civilian leadership in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations here in New York.

Question:  Just to understand, on this cell -- I mean, it is, sort of, a different command structure within the United Nations.  It’s a sort of “MNF” [Multinational Force] within the United Nations.

Spokesman:  I wouldn’t interpret it as an MNF.  This continues to be a United Nations operation, under the leadership of the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations and ultimately the Secretary-General.  Those people -- whether they’re working for us in the field or here -- will be blue-bereted officers.  It will provide some strategic advice to the Force.  It’s obviously a very complex mission and it is a way of enhancing the efficacy of that mission.

Question:  Just one more on this -- what are the decisions it will take?  I mean, you said “strategic advice”.  Presumably though, it would be taking more immediate decisions than just a form of strategic advice.  What kind of tactical input would it have?

Spokesman:  It will be exactly that.  It will be there to provide strategic guidance at a strategic level.  That’s the way it is being offered and structured, as stated in that paragraph.

Question:  I have a question that starts with Sri Lanka and ends up in Lebanon.  Now, there’s an announcement that the Swedish Head of the outgoing Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, Brigadier Ulf Henricsson, slams the European Union for listing the Tamil Tiger rebels in Sri Lanka as terrorists.  Now, because of this, the Swedish, Finnish and Danish members of the Mission are leaving.  But, Norwegians and Icelanders, who are not part of the European Union, are staying.  Now, with this in mind, can we look forward to something like that -- that if a country has declared Hizbollah “terrorists”, they will not be allowed to be on the Force?  How does the 38th Floor look on the Sri Lanka situation, and how does it reflect on Lebanon?

Spokesman:  They are two separate…

Question:  I know they are different.

Spokesman:  It’s exactly that.  They’re different.

Question:  But, the implication is there.

Spokesman:  I’m not going to go into this.  I’m not going to follow into your line of questioning.  The United Nations Force is operating under a mandate, unanimously voted by the Security Council, to push -- to strengthen -- the Lebanese Government to implement [resolutions] 1701, 1559.  Everyone knows the parameters.  We will seek the support of the international community.

Question:  What was the mandate for Sri Lanka?  That was my question.

Spokesman:  It is not a United Nations mandate.

Question:  Is there any contingency plan in the works -- or does Kofi Annan plan on talking to the Syrians and Lebanese -- about that issue of the border and Hizbollah smuggling weapons across into Lebanese territory?

Spokesman:  I think we’ve discussed this.  In fact, he will go to Damascus and a number of capitals.  And, the message that he will bring is that these issues, these countries -- all the countries in the region -- need to have a positive influence and play a positive role in the implementation of [resolution] 1701.  That is clear.

The issue of the border is the responsibility of the Lebanese Government.  We will support them in whatever they ask of us in that regard.  But, the border is -- as clearly stated in the resolution -- the responsibility of the Lebanese Government.  The role of the regional players will be critical in the successful implementation of that resolution.

Question:  Mr. Annan mentioned in the press conference that he’ll be speaking to Turkey and hear from Turkey.  Do you think you can give any more details about what Turkey is offering, or what the United Nations is asking of Turkey?

Spokesman:  No, those talks are still going on.

Question:  On Kosovo, Marti Ahtisaari had a press conference in Pristina and announced that no package is going to be presented to the Council in September.  I’m thinking back -- we had a briefing in this room from Mr. [Soren] Jessen-Petersen saying that he put off the municipal elections because he thought that, this fall, the status would be resolved.  Has the thinking on the municipal elections changed?  Can you amplify on what Mr. Ahtisaari said?

Spokesman:  Not at this point, but, I’ll see if I can get some more information.

Thank you very much.

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