DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
4 April 2002
Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
This is not Stephen Lewis sitting next to me. Mr. Stephen Lewis, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for HIV/AIDS in Africa, who was scheduled as our guest today, has decided to reschedule in view of today’s events. He will come some other time.
But this is Hua Jung, my new deputy. So I wanted you all to meet her. She is a 17-year veteran of BBC London, and a four-hour veteran of the Spokesman’s Office. She flew in from London just last night; hit the ground running this morning, and I hope you’ll all get to know her.
We start with Angola. On the occasion of the signing ceremony of the Memorandum of Understanding marking the cessation of hostilities between the Angolan Armed Forces and UNITA, Thursday morning in Luanda, UN Under-Secretary-General Ibrahim Gambari urged Angolans to maintain a "positive vision" for peace, but cautioned that nothing would be gained if the country's humanitarian crisis was not dealt with.
Noting that 27 years of war had reduced Angola to one of the world's poorest nations, despite its immense mineral wealth, Gambari said there was now "no excuses for failure, for false steps" in achieving peace and development.
He warned, however, that nothing would be achieved if the country's "terrible humanitarian challenges" were not tackled immediately.
"The United Nations will continue to work with Angolan authorities and aid the parties to consolidate peace, democracy and good governance", he promised.
Referring to the amnesty law proposed by the Government and approved by Parliament, Gambari said: "I would like to stress that the United Nations does not recognize the validity of any amnesty granted in respect of crimes against humanity or war crimes which may have been committed in the context of the conflict."
The ceremony was attended by President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, the diplomatic corps, representatives of all political parties, representatives of the Catholic Church and of civil society organizations.
The following is a statement attributable to the Spokesman on Lebanon:
“The Secretary-General strongly condemns the deliberate assault this morning by Hezbollah elements on unarmed UN military observers operating in south Lebanon.
“The Secretary-General reminds all of the parties of their responsibility for the security and freedom of movement of UN peacekeepers.
“He reiterates that any escalation of the tensions along the ‘Blue Line’ could have serious consequences for peace and security in the region.”
Here are the facts behind that statement. At approximately 10:15 this morning, Lebanon time, a group of four UN military observers were attacked by Hezbollah militants near the Chebaa Farms area.
The observer patrol was travelling in a clearly marked UN vehicle when armed Hezbollah forced their vehicle to stop.
The car windows were broken and the UN observers were dragged out of their car and assaulted with rifle butts.
At this time, a four-man patrol of the UNFIL soldiers travelling the same route saw the incident and went to the observers' assistance.
A scuffle broke out between the UN peacekeepers and Hezbollah who, outnumbering them, were able to seize their weapons.
One of the UN officers was able to radio headquarters which then immediately called Lebanese authorities to bring the situation under control. Within a few minutes of making this contact, UNIFIL was informed that Hezbollah had left the scene.
Three of the military observers were injured and evacuated to hospital in northern Israel. All the officers are reported to be in stable condition. They are from France, Ireland and Norway.
At a press conference in southern Lebanon today, the Force Commander of the UN Mission in Lebanon -– known as UNIFIL -– called for an investigation of this incident at the highest level.
The UN has since received profound apology from Hezbollah along with assurances that this will never happen again.
The Lebanese Government has also expressed its full support for the work of the UN peacekeepers.
In a press release issued today, Peter Hansen, the Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), strongly urged the Israeli Government to withdraw immediately from refugee camps and other populated areas in the occupied Palestinian territories.
This follows an assault by Israeli troops in the Jenin refugee camp and others in the West Bank.
UNRWA staff in the camps report unprecedented levels of destruction of shelters in the camps. The staff also report an immediate need for medical assistance and the delivery of basic humanitarian assistance.
The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East, Terje Roed Larsen, today issued a joint statement with Nigel Roberts, the World Bank’s Director in the West Bank and Gaza, expressing grave concern at the recent escalation in the conflict there, drawing attention to the destruction over the past 18 months of the Palestinian economy. The two say in their statement that the damage to livelihoods, infrastructure and organizational capacity runs counter to any serious pursuit of peace and stability.
They also note that the number of Palestinians living on less than two dollars a day has increased, to the point where half the people in the West Bank and Gaza live under such conditions. Larsen and Roberts say, “The most important cause of economic decline is the policy of closure.”
They urge Israel to lift the closures as soon as possible and also call on donors to continue to provide budgetary support to the Palestinian Authority and municipalities, as well as to provide adequate funding to humanitarian agencies, including the UNRWA. We have copies of the joint statement upstairs.
This morning, the Council met in closed consultations to receive a series of briefings.
The first was delivered by the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for Cyprus, Alvaro de Soto.
He briefed Council members on the ongoing face-to-face Cyprus talks which are at the midpoint of the June target completion date.
The Council was then briefed by Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hedi Annabi on the Secretary-General’s recent report on the United Nations Iraq-Kuwait Observer Mission, which we told you about yesterday.
They then heard from Mr. Annabi again this time on the incident in which a number of UN military observers were assaulted by Hezbollah along the “Blue Line”.
Presidential statements are expected on Cyprus and on Lebanon.
Council members then moved on to an open meeting on food aid in the context of conflict settlement in Afghanistan and other areas. Catherine Bertini, the outgoing Executive Director of the World Food Programme, is speaking to Council members on that issue.
Last night, the Council wrapped up its public meeting on the Middle East and then met in closed consultations on the same issue for about an hour.
A draft resolution from Syria was put into blue. It demands that all provisions of resolutions 1402 and 1397 be immediately implemented.
Further consultations on the Middle East are possible later this afternoon.
The World Food Programme (WFP) today, out of Kabul, warned that it might have to stop or slow down several projects in Afghanistan if donors do not provide more support to a new $285 million operation to assist millions of Afghans till the end of this year. We have a press release from the WFP upstairs.
The Secretary-General has decided to appoint Kamalesh Sharma as his Special Representative for East Timor and head of a successor mission to the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) with effect from 21 May. Many of you will know Ambassador Sharma as the current Permanent Representative of India to the UN in New York.
Mr. Sharma will succeed Sergio Vieira de Mello, who has served in the post for the past two and a half years. In a letter addressed to the President of the Security Council, the Secretary-General records his “sincere appreciation for his exceptional leadership of UNTAET”.
We have copies of Ambassador Sharma’s curriculum vitae in my Office.
**Secretary-General Accepts Berlin Wall Monument
Very shortly, the Secretary-General will go to the north-eastern side of the UN Garden, where he will be presented by Wolfgang Thierse, President of the German Bundestag, with a rare gift: three sections of the Berlin Wall.
In his remarks upon receiving the gift, which are available upstairs, the Secretary-General will say that the Berlin Wall was “an offence to the human spirit”, and will point out that the new freedom to find agreement internationally, following the pulling down of that Wall, has helped to liberate the entire international community.
The pieces of the wall will now reside at UN Headquarters as part of the UN collection of gifts.
**Global Reporting Initiative
This afternoon, Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette will deliver a message on behalf of the Secretary-General, welcoming the official inauguration of the Global Reporting Initiative, a project to bring actors from all sectors of society to offer guidelines for companies to report on their work on improving environmental and social conditions.
The Secretary-General’s message, available upstairs, says that the Initiative is an important complement to the Global Compact in its own effort to strengthen good corporate citizenship in fostering respect for environmental sustainability, labour standards and human rights.
Popular Rwandan musician and singer Simon Bikindi today pleaded not guilty to genocide charges, in his first appearance before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, United Republic of Tanzania.
Bikindi is alleged, among other things, to have composed and performed songs that mobilized and incited Rwanda’s Interhamwe militia and civilians to kill the country’s Tutsis, and for otherwise playing a major role in recruiting and training the Interhamwe to commit atrocities.
We have more information in a press release.
**New Population Publication
A new publication by the United Nations Population Division on “World Population Ageing 1950–2050” notes that, globally, the population of older persons is growing by about 2 per cent each year, faster than the population as a whole. In 1950, there were about 200 million older persons, and at the beginning of this century the number had tripled and is expected to triple again by 2050. The consequences of population ageing, the report says, “present enormous opportunities, as well as enormous challenges for all societies”.
As the book is a sales item, a limited number of copies are available for the press at the third floor documents counter.
The United Nations Postal Administration today launched a set of 12 new stamps in the endangered species series. The stamps are issued in each of the three currency values of the United Nations Postal Administration with four stamps in each currency.
We have a limited number of colour contact sheets available upstairs along with additional information on the stamp launch in the Philatelic Bulletin.
One press release to highlight, concerning World Health Day, which will be this Sunday. To commemorate World Health Day on Sunday, the World Health Organization (WHO) is focusing on physical activity to prevent disease and disability caused by sedentary lifestyles.
In a press release, the WHO warns that a sedentary lifestyle can double the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and obesity and increase the risk of colon cancer, high blood pressure depression and anxiety.
In addition to the press release on World Health Day, we also have a message from the Secretary-General and a statement from the Director-General of the WHO, Gro Harlem Brundtland.
One signing today. Kiribati this morning became the 125th country to sign the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.
No press conferences today. One to mention tomorrow at 12:45 p.m. in this room, Mr. P.N. Bhagwait, the Chairman, and Mr. David Kretzmer, the Vice-Chairman of the Human Rights Committee, will brief on the conclusion of the Committee’s seventy-fourth session.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Is there any reaction on the part of the United Nations following the arrest of a number of people in Kabul this morning, who were allegedly plotting to overthrow Mr. Karzai’s administration?
Spokesman: No. To my knowledge, the international security force did not have any advance notice that these arrests were going to be made. There was a press conference in Kabul this afternoon that was attended by the Minister of the Interior of the Transition Administration, Muhammad Qanouni. He was asked about these arrests, and he said that security forces had unveiled a conspiracy plot and that some 160 people had been arrested and that investigations were under way.
We have nothing at this point to comment on this event. I think we’re still trying to catch up with what happened.
Question: What is the Secretary-General’s response to the announcement on Secretary of State Powell’s visit to the Middle East?
Spokesman: I don’t have a specific response on that. But you know that, I think I said this as recently as yesterday, he has been urging the U.S. Government to get more deeply involved. And I think he, therefore, could only welcome the announcement today that the Secretary of State will be going to the region.
Question: Might he be available at this Berlin Wall thing for a comment?
Spokesman: Well, you’re always welcome to try to do a step-in whenever he goes into a public space, but he and I haven’t discussed it.
Question: Was he consulted in advance or did he have any input in this decision or the announcement was generally, the position was taken by President Bush?
Spokesman: He had a telephone conversation with the Secretary of State, I believe it was this morning -– I’ll have to check whether it was or last night. I believe it was this morning.
[Later, the Spokesman’s Office announced that the Secretary-General’s telephone conversation with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell took place yesterday.]
Spokesman: I can’t tell you whether he had any input, I don’t have any feedback on what was actually discussed.
Question: On Angola, there were some indications that Savimbi had ordered his commanders to cease fire two days before his death because the Government had assured him that the policies would henceforth change. Is there any confirmation of that development?
Spokesman: No, I have no information along those lines, and we’d have to check with the desk officer to see whether the United Nations had any information on that.
Question: I have two questions, Fred. First, do you have a read out on yesterday afternoon’s meeting between the Secretary-General and Ambassador Lancry? And the second is: where, physically, the Berlin Wall will reside at Headquarters?
Spokesman: No, I don’t have a read out of that meeting. The Israeli Ambassador had asked for that meeting kind of on short notice. And I don’t think the Ambassador said anything about what was discussed, therefore, I don’t think we will.
I believe that the Berlin Wall pieces will stay where they are now, which is at the edge of the North-South walk on the eastern side of the park in the north-east corner.
Question: Is this the first attack of Hezbollah of United Nations staff and what was the motive?
Spokesman: What was the motive? I don’t think we know yet. I think we have to wait for this investigation to see what these guys thought they were doing. You know, attacks on peacekeepers really can’t be tolerated and these observers were seriously hurt.
I believe one of them has a fractured skull, another one has a broken wrist. So, it wasn’t a light incident, it was a heavy beating. So, we want to know more about what happened. We appreciate the expressions of regret that were made. But I think we also want to see a full investigation.
Question: Was it the first time then since, let’s say, May, since the Israelis withdrew?
Spokesman: I think since the withdrawal of the Israeli forces it was the first such incident. UNIFIL has been in the area for 24, 25 years. Whether I could say it was the first time ever that UNIFIL personnel had been attacked, I don’t know. That would take research.
Question: What was on the agenda of the Secretary-General’s meeting with Senator Specter today?
Spokesman: I believe the Senator asked for that meeting. We’ll try to get a read out for you.
Question: Regarding the amnesty in Angola, can you comment on the merit of Ambassador Gambari’s statement? Is that meant to help because the Government is trying to solve the situation by providing amnesty and then come around and make a statement that the UN does not recognize the amnesty? What are the merits of that statement?
Spokesman: It is not the first time that the United Nations has withheld its approval of an amnesty offer by a government as it applied to international crimes. Crimes against humanity, war crimes -– these are not the jurisdiction of the government.
So, we have to draw the line and say that the government can grant amnesty on crimes that run counter to national law. But when it comes to international law, we’d have to reserve the right to prosecute, should we decide to do that. I am not saying we’re going to do it, but, as a matter of principle, we have to draw the line. And it’s not the first time we’ve done it.
Question: Is this the attribution of the representative of the Secretary-General or the Member State? After all, he is the representative of Secretary-General, not the Security Council.
Spokesman: He was asked to endorse the peace agreement, we feel, and we welcome this peace agreement, but the line about the amnesty, we had to take exception to, for a good number of reasons. We don’t want to detract from any elements of the agreement, but, as a matter of principle, we have to withhold approval of that element.
Question: I believe the Secretary-General spoke on the phone with Syria and Lebanon. Do you have anything on the conversations he had?
Spokesman: No, and I don’t think we will be giving you anything except that this stems from his concerns about the situation along the Blue Line, consistent with the statement he made to the Security Council in the closed session, but we made the text of that statement public. He’s very worried about the situation in Lebanon complicating an already very dangerous situation in Israel and the occupied territories.
Question: Was that before this attack on the peacekeepers?
Spokesman: Yes, these phone calls took place yesterday afternoon. The attack took place this morning.
Question: What would happen if the Lebanese Government cannot bring this situation under its control?
Spokesman: That’s a hypothetical question. What the Secretary-General is hoping is that everyone who has any influence over the actors in this region will use that influence to bring about restraint. What we don’t need is further escalation of an already very bad situation.
Thank you very much.
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