21 September 2006


21 September 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 Yves Sorokobi, Associate Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and by Gail Bindley-Taylor Sainte, Spokeswoman for the General Assembly President.

Briefing by the Associate Spokesman for the Secretary-General

**International Day of Peace

Today is the International Day of Peace, and the Secretary-General marked the occasion this morning by delivering a peace message, observing a minute of silence in the name of peace, and ringing the Japanese Peace Bell.

The Secretary-General was accompanied by:  his wife Nane; by Ambassador Adamantios Vassilakis of Greece, who is President of the Security Council; and by Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa, President of the General Assembly.  Also present were the following Messengers of Peace:  Michael Douglas; Vijay Amritraj; Anna Cataldi; and Jane Goodall.  Renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma, the newest Messenger of Peace, performed a short piece at that event.  Nearly 200 children were also there, dressed in their national costumes and holding flags.

In his message, the Secretary-General said that for far too many people in the world today, the precious gifts of peace are only an elusive dream.  Those people live in chains:  a climate of fear and insecurity.  It is mainly for them that this day exists, he said.

The Secretary-General added that, twenty-five years ago, the General Assembly proclaimed the International Day of Peace as a day of global ceasefire and non-violence, and that the UN has observed it ever since.

We have his full remarks upstairs.

The Secretary-General also sent a message to today’s High-level Conference on Interfaith Cooperation for Peace.  He said in that message that, relations between adherents of major world religions have been particularly affected by sharply increasing intolerance, extremism and violence.  If unaddressed, these may even threaten stability in many places, he added.  We have those remarks upstairs as well.

Meanwhile, worldwide, UN offices, as well as Governments, schools, non-governmental organizations and communities of faith are also engaging in activities to mark International Peace Day.  In Somalia, for example, our office there tells us that communities in major population centres throughout the country are celebrating the Day with special activities ranging from peace marches and sporting events to music and dance.  In Burundi, to mark another country where the UN is active today, UNICEF and the UN Mission there have also organized similar activities.

** Sudan

I’m now turning to Sudan.  The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sudan, Jan Pronk, today welcomed the African Union’s decision to extend the mandate of its operations in Darfur, as it means there’ll be no security vacuum there at the end of the month.

Speaking at a press conference, Jan Pronk called for tranquillity in Darfur during the month of Ramadan.  Meanwhile, the UN Mission in Sudan says that it’s received reports from the African Union that one of its vehicles with four of its monitors on board was ambushed in Um Barunga, near Tawilla in North Darfur.  That was yesterday.  No injuries were reported in the incident, and the vehicle was later recovered.

Also, a UN humanitarian assessment team meanwhile has arrived in Deribat, north of Nyala in Northern Darfur on Tuesday, following fighting there earlier this month.  The assessment team identified water and health supplies as the items needed most urgently by residents.

We expect to have the transcript of Pronk’s words later on today, and for more on reports of what’s happening on the ground in Darfur, you can access the Mission’s daily bulletin on its website.  We also expect from the Secretary-General a statement on the extension of armies on Darfur later today. The statement of the Secretary-General will say that the Secretary-General welcomes that decision.  We will announce it to you when the statement is ready.

**Security Council

Now turning to the Security Council.  The Security Council is scheduled to hold a ministerial-level meeting on the Middle East this afternoon at 3:30 p.m.  The Secretary-General is scheduled to attend the open meeting.  The speakers list for that meeting is not yet available.  When it is, we will announce it to you as well.  We hope to have the Secretary-General’s remarks on an embargoed basis available prior to that meeting.  The Secretary-General also has his annual luncheon with the Foreign Ministers of the five permanent Security Council members later today.

** Lebanon -– Appointment

And now, I have an announcement on the appointment by the Secretary-General of a new Italian General to head the strategic military cell for United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

The Secretary-General has appointed Lieutenant General Giovanni Ridinó as Director of the newly established Strategic Military Cell (SMC) for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).  The SMC, which will be located at UN Headquarters in New York, will provide military guidance to UNIFIL at the strategic level, and will report to the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations.

General Ridinó has served in the Italian Army for over 30 years, most recently as a Corps Commander at the Italian Army Headquarters.  Among numerous other posts, he has served as the Deputy Commander of the Multinational Division (South-East) of the Stabilization Force for Bosnia and Herzegovina (SFOR) and the Commander of the Territorial Military Autonomous Command for Sicily.  The Secretary-General is grateful to the Government of Italy for making General Ridinó available for this important mission.

** Lebanon -– Peacekeeping

And now, turning to Lebanon and the operations there in the field.  Major-General Alain Pellegrini, the Force Commander of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) met today with General Michael Sleiman, Commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces.  The two generals agreed that, after the full withdrawal of Israeli Defense Forces from Southern Lebanon, UNIFIL and the Lebanese Army will jointly inspect the entire Blue Line, to ensure that there are no violations of it.  Pellegrini said afterward, “We had a very productive meeting.”  And we have a full press release upstairs with more details on that meeting.

** Middle East Quartet

Now turning to the Quartet meeting of yesterday.  The Secretary-General and the other principal members of the Middle East Quartet -– which brings together the United Nations, the United States, Russia and the European Union –- met yesterday afternoon to discuss the latest developments in that region, and issued a joint statement afterward.

In that statement, the Quartet welcomed the efforts by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to form a Government of national unity, in the hope that the platform of such a Government would reflect Quartet principles and allow for early engagement.

The Quartet also stressed the need for a credible political process in order to make progress towards a two-state solution through dialogue and parallel implementation of obligations.  In this context, it welcomed the prospect of a meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority in the near future.

** Afghanistan

Now turning to Afghanistan.  The Secretary-General, in his latest report on Afghanistan, says that the most significant development there in recent months has been the upsurge in violence, particularly in the south, south-east and east of the country.  It is estimated that more than 2,000 people, at least a third of them civilians, have lost their lives in the fighting since the start of this year.

The Secretary-General writes that the recent violence represents a watershed, warning that at no time since the Taliban fell in late 2001 has Afghanistan faced so severe a threat.  The report notes a broad insurgency, which relies heavily on cross-border fighters, many of whom are Afghans drawn from refugee camps and radical seminaries in Pakistan.

The Secretary-General says that the expansion of the International Security Assistance Force to the south of Afghanistan is particularly welcomed and timely, and he strongly encourages all nations to continue to support the Force.  He also calls for the need to deal with corruption and the narcotics industry in the Afghanistan.

** Thailand

And about Thailand, we issued a statement on Thailand yesterday afternoon, in which the Secretary-General appealed for a prompt return to civilian, democratic rule and the holding of new elections as quickly as possible.  The Secretary-General expressed his profound hope that efforts to establish and strengthen democratic institutions in Thailand will resume very soon.  And we have a full statement upstairs and also online on the website.

**Secretary-General/Security Council Reform

Last night, the Secretary-General briefly attended a dinner discussion on moving forward on speaking about Security Council reform.  The event was hosted by the President of Pakistan and the Prime Minister of Italy.  In prepared remarks, the Secretary-General said that no reform of the UN will be complete without Security Council reform.  Such reform is needed, he stressed, so that the Council can be accepted as fully legitimate as it addresses the major challenges of the Middle East Peace, Afghanistan, Sudan and Iraq –- just to name just a few.  For the good of the world’s people, he said, we cannot allow the current stalemate on reform to persist.  He encouraged Member States to think anew and find a compromise.  And a full text of his remarks is available upstairs.

**Human Rights Council

Now turning to the Human Rights Council.  Earlier today, the Human Rights Council in Geneva heard presentations on reports by the special rapporteurs on freedom of religion and freedom of expression, and concluded its discussion with the special rapporteur on torture, the rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, and the chairperson-rapporteur of the working group on arbitrary detention.

The Council also just ended its consideration of a joint report on the situation of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, which was submitted by five UN-appointed rapporteurs.  In that report, the Rapporteurs call on the US Government to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay without delay and to ensure that all detainees are not returned to places where they might be tortured.

At present, the Council is taking up a joint report on the incitement to racial and religious hatred and the promotion of tolerance.  We'll have a press release on the proceedings of the Council shortly.

** Darfur Statement

I now have, here, the statement attributable to the Spokesman of the Secretary-General on the extension of the UN Mission in Sudan.

The Secretary-General welcomes the extension, by the African Union Peace and Security Council (PSC), of the mandate of the African Union Mission in Sudan until 31 December 2006.  The Secretary-General also welcomes the support expressed by the PSC for United Nations efforts to strengthen [African Union Mission in Sudan] AMIS and notes that the United Nations will move forward urgently to assist the AU Mission in the areas of logistical and material support, military staff support and advisory support to civilian police, as well as civilian support in the areas of mine action, public information and implementation of the Darfur Peace Agreement.  The Secretary-General also stresses that additional funding for AMIS is urgently required for it to function effectively for the duration of its new mandate.

The Secretary-General emphasizes that the continued presence of a strong AMIS in Darfur has an important role to play in protecting civilians and improving a deteriorating security situation.  The Secretary-General stresses, once again, that there can be no military solution to the crisis in Darfur, and that a multidimensional United Nations peacekeeping operation in Darfur can have a significant and positive role in helping the Sudanese people to restore peace and stability to that troubled region.  Copies of the statement are available upstairs.

And before I close, I should let you know that, at 3 o’clock, today, we will here, in room 226, have a press conference by the Foreign Minister of Greece.  And also, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly is here and will brief you at the end of this briefing.

Questions and Answers

Question:  I wanted to ask you about… there’s press reports coming out of the region in Lebanon saying that there is not going to be a full Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon due to some issues or conflicts with UNIFIL, or UNIFIL and the Lebanese Army have to iron something out.  Can you address this and also was that one of the points that was brought up during that meeting that Pellegrini had?

Associate Spokesman:  Well the meeting is part of the coordination meetings that has been taking place for the past few weeks between the Israeli Defense Forces, the Lebanese Armed Forces and UNIFIL.  As to the Israeli announcement that they may not be able to complete their withdrawal by this weekend, we will have to wait and see whether or not those press reports are confirmed.  And right now, I don’t have any confirmation of those press reports, but when we do, I will get back to you with more details.

Question:  Can you give me an official number now of how many UNIFIL troops there are in the area?

Associate Spokesman:  We’ve hit the 5,000 milestone which has also explained the increased activities in terms of withdrawal and deployment of UNIFIL troops.  So, we are at 5,000 troops.  That much I can say.  As to the precise figures, I would have to look into that.

Question:  The meeting that the Secretary-General attended yesterday about the Ivory Coast it has been described by the press as having failed because Mr. Gbagbo did not attend.  Does the Secretary-General have any comment on the outcome of the meeting and President Gbagbo’s statement that the UN can leave the Ivory Coast?

Associate Spokesman:  Obviously, the Secretary-General and the whole of the UN system are disappointed that President Gbagbo did not attend the meeting, and because the President did not attend there were some severe limitations on what the meeting could achieve.  That said, the UN and the Secretary-General remain committed to finding a peaceful solution to the crisis in Côte d’Ivoire.  One of the conclusions of yesterday’s meeting, which is far from being a failure, I should say, is that regional organizations such as ECOWAS and the African Union will over the course of the next few weeks have a series of meetings in which they will continue to study the situation in Côte d’Ivoire with the hope of having a Security Council meeting towards the end of the month, October I should say, which will then fully address the situation, as it stand at that moment.

As to the statements by Gbagbo that UN peacekeepers can leave the country, we have received no formal indication from the President or from his representatives here, and as long as that has not happened, we must consider those comments to just be press reports, and we will still wait for a formal request to leave the country.

Question:  It relates to the ringing of the peace bell.  The media alert mentioned also Elie Wiesel as one the people who was supposed to be there.  But, he didn’t show up.  Is there anything in it that he didn’t show up, because he is very disappointed with the UN not moving on Sudan and allowing the killings to go on?  Is there anything the Secretary-General can tell us why Elie Wiesel didn’t show up this morning?

Associate Spokesman:  Well, I think it’s probably best that Elie Wiesel tell you himself why he didn’t show up.  I don’t think the Secretary-General can give you that answer.

Question:  He must have responded.  He’s not the kind of person that doesn’t show up without sending…

Associate Spokesman:  Well, I don’t know Mr. Wiesel.  But, once again, that’s a question for him and not for the Secretary-General.

Question:  Is there any way that you could find out?

Associate Spokesman:  No I can’t sir, sorry.

Question:  One follow-up.  Yesterday you told me that the UN is not going to help in the investigation on the assassination attempt on the President of Somalia, because it hasn’t been invited.

Associate Spokesman:  There has been no formal request from the Somali authorities for the UN to join that investigation.  But when there is, we will consider the request.

Question:  What communications has the UN system had with Transition Federal Government since the assassination attempt?  And, I have two questions into OCHA and about Somalia, that if you could light a fire under them…

Associate Spokesman:  And what are those questions?

Question:  Whether OCHA works with a particular member of the Islamic Courts known to have torn up Italian cemeteries and built a mosque on top on them, a known fanatic.  Just a question whether they work with him or not.  And whether in fact there is, as is reported, an investigation of UNDP Somalia for missing funds?  Those are the two questions and both of them said they would give an answer as of last week and have not.

Associate Spokesman:  Well, I’m sure they are still looking into those two questions.  As for your first question, we are permanently in contact with the Somali authorities and we have an office based in Nairobi that specially monitors development in Somalia, and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia has very specifically the mandate of monitoring developments in Somalia.  So, he is touch regularly with the authorities in Somalia.  And, I will make sure that my colleagues get back to you on your two other questions.

Question:  Regarding the meetings with Mr. Gbagbo, is he here?  He is not listed as being a speaker; the slot is slated for his Foreign Minister.

Associate Spokesman:  To my knowledge, Mr. Gbagbo is not in New York today.

Question:  No, is he here at all for the GA?

Associate Spokesman:  I think the Mission of Côte d’Ivoire would be able give you more precision on that, but Mr. Gbagbo did not attend the mini-summit that was convened by the UN yesterday and, as far as I know, he was not in New York yesterday.  As to the rest, the Mission of Côte d’Ivoire might be able to help you.

Thank you.

Briefing by Spokeswoman for the General Assembly President

Good Afternoon everyone.  I’m very conscious of time, because you have a press conference in here in 15 minutes, I think.  Less than 15 minutes now.  I’m just going to go very quickly through the notes letting you know what the General Assembly President has been up to for the last day.

The general debate today enters its third day today having heard from 32 speakers on Wednesday.

This morning the General Assembly President attended a Ministerial Meeting on Interfaith Dialogue and Cooperation for peace hosted by the Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines.  Addressing the meeting, Sheika Haya Rashed Al Khalifa noted that leaders of the world, in particular spiritual leaders, have a special responsibility to foster interfaith dialogue and cooperation among their respective people.  She called on the international community to instil universal values in educational curricula and promote messages of peace and coexistence in their media.

The President of the Assembly also attended the ringing of the Peace Bell Ceremony and the activities organized by the Department of Public Information in commemoration of the International Day of Peace.  At the Peace Day celebration, she addressed the many children gathered welcoming them with the words “This is your house… the house where we all learn to nurture what we have in common so that we can collectively live together in harmony.”  She exhorted the gathered young people to be messengers of peace, solidarity and respect for all human beings.

Sheika Haya also attended the High-Level Conference on Interfaith Cooperation for Peace. At the meeting President Al Khalifa stressed that despite numerous resolutions which promote the rights of persons belonging to national, ethnic, or religious minorities, and which also aim at eliminating all forms of intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief, more needed to be done to overcome misconceptions and mistrust, as well as to forge stronger partnerships between the United Nations and religious communities.  “We need a people-to-people dialogue,” she urged—not only among Governments, but also civil society and within and between nations.  She encouraged Member States to think creatively to examine how such exchanges could be achieved, to foster a culture of peace as well as to advance progress in achieving the Millennium Development goals.

The President continues today to conduct a number of bilateral meetings with visiting Heads of State and foreign ministers.  This morning she met with the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic and the Special Advisor to the US Secretary of State on the empowerment of women.  This afternoon she expects to meet the President of Serbia; the Defense Minister of India; the Foreign Ministers of Algeria, Germany, Guinea Bissau and Ukraine; and the Executive Director of UNAIDS.

That’s basically her programme for today, if you have any questions, I’ll take them.

Questions and Answers

Question:  Now, with the coup having been confirmed in Thailand, is the candidate they put forward to be the next Secretary-General, what is the status of that candidacy given the change of Government?

Spokeswoman:  That’s a tough one for me as the Spokeswoman for the President of the General Assembly.  At this point, we don’t know.  All we can tell you is what we know as far as the General Assembly is concerned.  We have to wait on the Credentials Committee to let us know who will represent Thailand at the General Assembly.  And I am sure, over the next coming days, the situation in Thailand will become clearer.

* *** *

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