31 August 2006


31 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.

**Security Council

The Security Council met this morning and adopted a resolution on Sudan.  The vote was 12 in favour with 3 abstentions.

The resolution decides to expand the UN mission mandate to Darfur and invites the consent of the Sudanese Government for the deployment for the deployment of that mission.  It calls for the strengthening of the UN force to Darfur by up to 17,300 military personnel and by an appropriate civilian component including some 3,300 civilian police.

Today is the 31st, the last day of the month, so it is the last day of the Security Council presidency under Ghana.  Starting tomorrow, Greece assumes the presidency of the Council for the month of September.  Ambassador Vassilakis of Greece will brief you on Tuesday, 1 p.m., in this room, on the programme of work under his presidency.

** Sudan

In a letter to the President of Sudan, the Secretary-General has noted his deep concern that the Government’s Plan for the Restoration of Stability and Protection of Civilians in Darfur fails to provide for the envisaged transition from the African Union to a UN operation in Darfur.

In that letter, which is being shared with the Security Council members, the Secretary-General stresses that the United Nations remains convinced that the deployment of a UN peacekeeping operation would be the most appropriate approach to achieving lasting and sustainable peace in Darfur.  He goes on to say that only such an impartial peacekeeping force, with adequate resources and capacity, can effectively support the implementation of the Darfur Peace Agreement.

The Secretary-General says he looks forward to continuing consultations with the Sudanese Government with a view to reaching a successful and expeditious conclusion on this important matter.  He also expresses his serious concern over the deployment of a large number of Sudanese troops to Darfur.

And, as I said, that letter was shared with the Security Council.

The UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) has condemned the death of another humanitarian worker in Darfur.  The latest death -– this time of a staff member of the International Committee for the Red Cross, who disappeared during a hijacking incident in north Darfur –- brings the number of aid workers killed in the region this year to 12, almost all in the last two months.

The Mission is calling on everyone in Darfur to recognize the neutrality of all humanitarian staff, and the vital work that they are doing, and to ensure their safety.

And we have a press release on that upstairs.

**Secretary-General in Middle East

The Secretary-General was in Jordan this morning, where he met with King Abdullah II as well as the Foreign Minister of Jordan.

In discussions with the King, the Secretary-General briefed him on his trip and raised a number of issues including the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the implementation of resolution 1701.

He spoke to reporters before leaving Jordan and we are waiting for a transcript of that encounter.

The Secretary-General is now in Damascus, where he is meeting with the UN country team there, before a meeting with the Foreign Minister of Syria this evening.  Tomorrow he is scheduled to meet with President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.

** Lebanon

The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) reports that the Lebanese Army is now deploying in the general area of Bastra and in areas in south-eastern Lebanon, which were yesterday vacated by the Israeli Army.  UN peacekeepers had earlier patrolled these areas to confirm the Israeli withdrawal, in accordance with the terms of the cessation of hostilities.

UN forces also report that its Chinese demining team has disabled and disposed of some 250 items of unexploded ordnance, while the UN Mine Action Coordination Centre has carried out controlled demolition of over 300 items of unexploded ordnance.

UN peacekeepers also distributed some 40,000 litres of water and provided medical assistance to villagers in south Lebanon.

Also, on the humanitarian issue in Lebanon: municipal workers today handed out food rations from the World Food Programme (WFP) to vulnerable families in Beirut.  Today’s rations included packets of vegetable oil, lentils, canned vegetables and high-energy biscuits.

Earlier this week, those in need were given traditional Lebanese bread, baked locally with WFP wheat flour.  WFP was specifically targeting families who could no longer bake their own bread, due to unliveable apartments, or electricity and water cuts.

Authorities in all four municipalities in south Beirut say they will hand out WFP rations to more than 100,000 people over the coming weeks.

**Deputy Secretary-General

The Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown addressed the International Conference on Lebanon in Stockholm earlier today.

He said the challenge for the international community is two-fold: to respond to Lebanon’s immediate needs, and to get the Government-led recovery effort off to a determined start in the weeks ahead –- even as preparations begin for an international conference on the country’s longer-term needs.

He noted that despite a continuing Israeli air and sea blockade, urgently needed supplies are reaching those in need.  But, he also called for an immediate end to that blockade and for a political solution to the underlying causes of the conflict.

His statement is available to you upstairs.

**Memorial for Fallen UNIFIL Staff in Cyprus

The UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) says today that Under-Secretary for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno today attended a memorial service for Augustine Bielonwu, a civilian staff member of the UN Mission in southern Lebanon who was killed on 17 July in fighting between Israel and Hizbollah.  That happened when an Israeli rocket hit the building where he lived in Tyre.  Four other UNIFIL staff members, as you know, also died during that month’s conflict.

In his eulogy, Mr. Guéhenno praised Bielonwu’s service to the UN and recalled the dangers faced by UN peacekeeping personnel in pursuing their mandate.  The DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] notes that Bielonwu is among 258 UNIFIL staff members who have died in the line of duty since the inception of the Force in Lebanon.

** Sierra Leone

Available today is the Secretary-General’s report on Sierra Leone.  In it, he says that there has been a significant improvement in the country’s economic performance over the past few years.  However, this improvement is at risk of being upset by growing intolerance among political party leaders and their supporters ahead of general election in July 2007.

The Secretary-General also reports that the security situation, meanwhile, remains stable but fragile, in the wake of the transfer of former Liberian President Charles Taylor to The Hague, where he is to face war crime charges.


The UN Mission in Timor-Leste says that, along with its international counterparts, it has set up a task force to help apprehend the 57 prisoners who escaped from the prison east of Dili yesterday.

UN police are taking the lead role in the coordination of the task force, which will ensure the security of the population while pursuing the escapees.  Military backup, if necessary, will be provided by the Joint Task Force in Timor-Leste.

** Afghanistan

Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), will give a preview of his Office’s 2006 Afghan Opium Poppy Survey at a press conference this Saturday in Kabul.  Also attending will be the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai.

According to UNODC, poppy cultivation in Afghanistan will show an increase in 2006 after a fall in 2005.

** Ecuador

The World Food Programme is planning to distribute food rations to some 25,000 people in Ecuador, following the volcanic eruption in that country two weeks ago.

We have a press release with more information on that upstairs.

**United Nations Conference on Trade, Development

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) today launched its Trade and Development Report 2006, entitled Global Partnership and National Policies for Development.  And that is to be available upstairs.

**Joseph Stephanides

A question was asked yesterday or two days ago about the status of Joseph Stephanides and his appointment with the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea.

I can confirm that Mr. Stephanides was appointed as head of the UN Mission’s office in Addis Ababa.  The appointment is at the D-2 level and was effective as of August 15th.  And that is the answer to that question.

**Wallenberg Family Trust

Also, Matthew asked a question about Nane Annan, the Secretary-General’s wife, and whether or not she is a recipient of dividends from the Wallenberg Family Trust, following the purchase of Compass.

The answer is a categorical no.  She is in no way a beneficiary financially, or in any other way, of that entity.

And on that note, I will take your questions.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  As this morning’s Security Council resolution on Sudan can only be enforced with the consent of the Sudanese Government, what can the Secretary-General do to persuade the Sudanese Government to accept the resolution and accept the UN force?

Spokesman:  I think part of that answer is what I read out earlier from the letter he sent out to the Council.  He will continue his dialogue, which has been going on for quite a while, with the Sudanese authorities at different levels, and try to get some movement on that issue.  But, we also expect Member States -– not only members of the Security Council but also other African countries and Arab countries who have an influence with Sudan -– to pursue that same line.

Question:  The Eritrean Government announced today that it had arrested some UN staff, accusing them of smuggling young people out of the country.  Do you have any details on how many might have been arrested and is there any comment on this action?

Spokesman:  My understanding is that there has been one arrest.  That is all I know off the top of my head, but I will try to get something right after the briefing.  We are obviously trying to get some explanation from the Eritrean authorities, and as soon as this briefing is over, I’ll see if I can get you something more.

Question:  Did Terje Roed-Larsen join the Secretary-General on his trip to Damascus?

Spokesman:  Yes, he did.

Question:  Yesterday, Egeland spoke on the last three days of cluster bombings.  What was the source of that?

Spokesman:  The source of the information is from the Mine Action Coordination Centre of Southern Lebanon, which is run by the UN Mine Action Service in coordination with an NGO called the Mine Advisory Group.  They were the source of that information.

Question:  And is that a UN body or is that…

Spokesman:  The Mine Action Coordination Centre is run by the UN Mine Action Service, which is part of DPKO.

Question:  How do they know that the majority of the cluster bombs…

Spokesman:  The information they had was first-hand observations from their staff that remained in the area, and from information gathered from hospitals.

Question:  One last question about the person that was eulogized by Guéhenno.  I know he might not have been the target, but who shot that rocket that killed the UNIFIL guy?

Spokesman:  The information we have is that it was an Israeli rocket into the building.  This was a building that collapsed in Tyre, if I am not mistaken.  That staff member was the only UN victim, but there were a number of other victims in the building.

Question:  First, thanks for answering earlier questions.  Yesterday you told me that if a UN employee received a housing subsidy from a Government, that the UN did not consider that a gift or remuneration in violation of UN rules.  The Ambassador of Ghana, currently the Security Council President, told me he thinks that is improper.  I have also been told that there is a response from the Secretariat that is being re-drafted.  When are the names of individuals receiving such subsidies going to be disclosed?  What is the status?

Spokesman:  As I said, this issue is being looked at through the financial disclosure forms, and those are being reviewed by the Ethics Office.  I’ll see if I can get you anything more.

Question:  Since the financial disclosure forms are only for D-1 and above, if somebody below the D-1 level receives such a subsidy, whom do they disclose it to?

Spokesman:  They are meant to disclose it to the Office of Human Resources.

Question:  I just wondered whether the UN Secretary-General has any position on reports that Mr. Tharoor was getting help from Mittal, the steel billionaire, in his campaign for Secretary-General.  Is there any possible issue arising from that?

Spokesman:  Mr. Tharoor is on leave through September to conduct his activities.  We will not comment on the race to succeed the Secretary-General.

Question:  Are there any questions raised about the fact that Newsweek cited him in an article/interview as Under-Secretary-General?

Spokesman:  He currently holds that post, but he is on leave, and he is not conducting any UN business while he is on leave.

Question:  Right, but that seems like…

Spokesman:  That is a question to address to him or to the editors of Newsweek.

Question:  So, it is not a management issue for the UN, it is up to his say-so and decision, right?

Spokesman:  Well, he currently holds the post for Under-Secretary-General for Public Information and Communication.  That is a fact.  He is currently on leave and not conducting any UN business.  So, it is really up to him and up to Newsweek to see which is the best way to describe him.

Question:  Several questions.  Firstly, do you have any timetable on the arrival of the German naval component so as to replace the Israeli navy blockade?  Do I understand from your comments here today, that the blockade can and is regularly being penetrated by prior arrangements for shipments of certain categories of humanitarian aid?  Also, with regard to East Timor, do we know who these 57 people who escaped were?  Were they people who were participants in the recent conflict?

Spokesman:  Yes, they were.

On the German navy, no I don’t have an update.  We are going to see through the weekend quite a heavy deployment of troops in Naqoura.  We expect about 1,000 Italians; some advance French elements will be deploying over the next few days; we already have some advance Spanish troops on the ground; so, that is progressing very well.

As for humanitarian goods: humanitarian goods and some passenger traffic is currently being allowed in.

Question:  Can you specify, is Mr. Tharoor on annual or on special leave?  Those are two different kinds of leaves.

Spokesman:  Yes, there are two kinds of leaves.  It is one or the other and I will double check.

Question:  Regarding Somalia, who in the UN is going to speak to the involvement of either Ethiopia or Eritrea in Somalia?  I have asked your staff about this and it is kind of hard to get an answer.  I was told today that the sanctions monitoring group was going to brief the Council shortly.  When is that?

Spokesman:  I can find out for you.

Question:  Who has assumed the responsibility of Under-Secretary-General for Information in the absence of Mr. Tharoor?

Spokesman:  There is an Officer-in-Charge, who is currently Raymond Sommereyns.  Always, when the senior officer is absent, there is an Officer-in-Charge in every Department.

Question:  On the nuclear issue in Iran, the deadline is coming up in a few hours.  The Foreign Minister of France, Philippe Douste-Blazy, is pursuing discussions with Iran.  Does the Secretary-General hold any last-minute hope for a positive solution?

Spokesman:  The Secretary-General is eternally optimistic and always hopes for a positive outcome.  The Security Council just received the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] report and they will study it.  We will not make any comment at this point.

Question:  Just to clarify on the leave issue.  This is a very confusing situation, because I am not sure how often UN staff are given special leave to go run their personal political campaigns and what the staff rules say about that.  Is Mr. Tharoor receiving any payment from the UN covering this period?

Spokesman:  That will be part of my answer to Matthew and to you in terms of exactly on what kind of leave he is on.

[Later it was announced that Mr. Tharoor was on accumulated annual leave until the end of September.]

Thank you very much.

* *** *

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