DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
20 July 2005
Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. Joining us in a few minutes, at 12:20, will be Inga-Britt Ahlenius of Sweden, the new Under-Secretary-General of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS). And she will be introduced by Mark Malloch Brown, the Chief of Cabinet. And that’s at 12:20.
I have a brief update on the report on Zimbabwe, resulting from Special Envoy Anna Tibaijuka’s mission to that country. It is going to the Government of Zimbabwe today.
For your planning purposes, we hope to make public the report on Friday or Monday, as I mentioned earlier. But in either case, we are planning for an 11 a.m. press conference by Ms. Tibaijuka. And embargoed copies of the report will be made available to those attending the press conference two hours earlier on the day of issuance.
Here at UN Headquarters, today the Security Council is holding an open meeting to consider the work of its three committees that deal with terrorism. The chairs of those committees -- the Ambassadors of Argentina, Denmark and Romania -- briefed the Council on their work. The Council is expected to adopt a presidential statement on counter-terrorism once the debate is done.
The Security Council began its work with consultations on the Middle East, to consider a request from the Arab Group for a meeting to discuss recent developments in the OccupiedPalestinianTerritory.
Council members agreed to have an open debate on the Middle East as part of tomorrow’s previously scheduled open meeting, which is to begin with a briefing by UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Alvaro de Soto. The open meeting will be followed by consultations on the Middle East. And we’ve asked Mr. de Soto whether he will speak to reporters at the stakeout following tomorrow’s meeting.
And then turning to Lebanon, the Secretary-General says that during a period characterized by political uncertainty in Lebanon, the country’s south enjoyed a relative calm. Yet he adds, in a report to the Security Council, that hostilities on the Blue Line in May, and the exchange of fire between Hezbollah and Israel in the Shab’a farms area on 29 June, demonstrate that the situation remains fragile and volatile.
He recommends to the Security Council that, under the current conditions, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon’s mandate should be extended until the end of January 2006, with no changes to the strength and composition of the force.
Copies of the report are upstairs.
And also on the Security Council’s website is the Secretary-General’s report on Abkhazia, Georgia. In it, the Secretary-General says that the resumption of the UN-led peace process between the Georgian and Abkhaz sides, after over eight months, is an encouraging development.
**Democratic Republic of Congo
And then turning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, UN peacekeepers today launched another major operation in Kabare and Walungu territories of the south Kivu in the eastern part of the country.
The main thrust of this exercise was to ensure the safety of the Congolese population by removing armed elements. To this end, a deadline had been delivered days ago to rebel troops at their brigade headquarters in Miranda.
Code-named “Thunder Storm”, today’s operation involved 1,200 blue helmets -- Pakistani quick reaction forces, Guatemalan special forces, with Indian air support -- alongside 200 soldiers from the Congolese army. They fanned out over a 70 by 30 kilometre area, with 100 blue helmets entering Miranda village. They found it empty. The Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR) had moved to an area of forest where there is no civilian population, west of Kabare, and outside the territory. UN troops searched the abandoned camp, assured that no people or ammunition were left, and set fire to the huts. The zone is now controlled by the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC). And the UN mission will continue to monitor activities there.
The exercise was witnessed by members of the press. And I’m sure you can get more details upstairs.
Around two months ago –- this is on Niger -- we told you that Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland had called Niger “the number one forgotten and neglected emergency in the world”. The situation in that country still remains troubling, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Currently, some 2.5 million people in Niger are living on less than one meal a day, because of a food crisis that was brought on by last year’s drought and locust plague.
The funds requested in the UN Flash Appeal for Niger, which was launched on 19 May, were revised upwards last week from $16 million to $30 million, following the World Food Programme’s need for additional resources. To date, only $10 million has been pledged by donors.
For its part, OCHA has deployed extra personnel to Niger to support the UN Resident Coordinator in emergency coordination and response and to provide regular updates on the situation.
The Security Council has announced that a panel of experts on Sudan will head to the area in the next few days to begin their mission of monitoring the implementation of Security Council resolutions.
They will be based in Addis Ababa and travel frequently within Sudan.
The group, authorized by a Security Council resolution adopted in March, will report back to the Council within 90 days. And there’s a press release upstairs on this.
And the Food and Agriculture Organization is sending seeds and tools to North Darfur to help some 70,000 families get planting done in time for the rainy season. The project is aimed at helping war refugees -- and at encouraging local farmers to stay on their lands and produce food. And details are available in a press release upstairs.
And just on Sudan, for your planning purposes again, Jan Pronk, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Sudan will be briefing the Security Council on Friday and he will be talking to you as well on Friday.
On Burundi, two Ethiopian soldiers were found in breach of the UN code of conduct by a UN investigation, and are currently in the process of being repatriated.
Specifically, one soldier was found guilty of paying for consensual sex, while the other was found guilty of sex with a legal minor.
There are currently no other cases under investigation for sexual exploitation in the UN Mission in Burundi.
In this case, the Mission moved quickly and decisively against the soldiers in question, and the United Nations in turn will be following up with the MemberState with regard to disciplinary action.
You know that the Secretary-General has a zero-tolerance policy and the UN Mission in Burundi, along with our other peacekeeping missions, take this seriously. When mission focal points for code of conduct issues receive allegations against UN personnel they are investigated thoroughly, and if substantiated, they are acted on immediately and robustly.
Meanwhile, the UN Mission in Haiti reports that a group of local women have launched a new organization aimed at helping women candidates in the upcoming elections. The initiative followed a political training seminar for women, organized by the UN Mission. There’s a press release upstairs on that.
And just flagging a press conference tomorrow, a guest at the noon briefing, Rosario Manalo, Chairperson of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, will be the guest at the briefing to speak about the work of the Committee’s current session.
And that’s all I have for you. We will have our guest shortly.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Two questions. On Sudan, do you know of any reason why a resolution took all these months to implement? There was a big fight over sanctions. Is it winnable? Is it not finding staff? Because what this means now that they’ve just sent people there is that nothing’s been done on that, I believe, negotiated resolution, for three months.
Deputy Spokesperson: We’d have to follow up with the Sanctions Committee whose decision it was to send this mission now.
Question: Secondly, the Zimbabwe report that might come out on Friday. I hear Assembly President, Ping, is delivering a report on Friday. Is the UN deliberately trying to hide these reports by having both on a Friday? Or is it that no one is aware that big reports that get thrown on us on a Friday afternoon have little chance of being widely publicized?
Deputy Spokesperson: First of all, there is no conspiracy to bury either one. The General Assembly President’s unveiling, I think, of the outcome document on Friday is something that’s been known for a long time. I think what they’re looking at is a Friday afternoon event.
In terms of the Zimbabwe report, what we told you was that it will be made available 48 hours after it is presented to the Government of Zimbabwe. Most reporters have asked for the earliest possible release. And that’s why I’m giving you the date of Friday. That would be the earliest possible release. And we would schedule it in the morning so we can meet the European and African deadlines. So I think 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. in the afternoon are probably enough hours in between for such major events. But, as I said, this Zimbabwe report release has not been planned. I said it comes out on Friday or Monday, so I’m leaving this open at the moment.
Question: When do the 48 hours start ticking? And secondly, 200 pages or whatever thrown at us on a Friday afternoon does not mean it writes itself. I’m just saying this in general. I know you personally, Marie Okabe, did not plan it this way. But the UN just is continuing not to get its message out, regardless of what it is -- whether it is the reform report, the Zimbabwe report, one is 11, the other at 3. Forget it. I mean we can write it, but you’re not going to see any play.
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, if there’s overwhelming consensus by the UN Correspondents Association that you would like the report definitely launched on Monday, we certainly could...
Question: Thursday, because it would leak by Monday.
Deputy Spokesperson: Friday or Monday is the day. So maybe UNCA could get back to us on what would be the best day for that launch. But as for making the report available in advance, I don’t know how long the report is as of now, but the idea was to give it out two hours in advance for those attending the press conference. So, at 9 a.m. embargoed distribution will be done for those who will be attending the press conference here.
Question: On Zimbabwe?
Deputy Spokesperson: Yes, on Zimbabwe.
Question: You mean there’s a press conference, too?
Deputy Spokesperson: Maybe you were on your way down. I announced at the beginning of the briefing that the report on Zimbabwe is going to the Government of Zimbabwe today; that on Friday or Monday there will be a press conference at 11 a.m. to launch that report by Ms. Tibaijuka. We have not settled on the day yet but I just wanted to give you a flag on that. And that the report will be issued, embargoed to those attending the press conference, at 9 a.m. on either day.
Let’s go to Linda and then...
Question: Marie, do you have any kind of update on the status of the Hariri investigation?
Deputy Spokesperson: Only that it is ongoing. I have no further updates for the moment. Joe?
Question: Is Zimbabwe the only country getting this report? Are the Security Council or the African Union countries also seeing it?
Deputy Spokesperson: Zimbabwe is the country that is getting the report, yes.
Question: The Secretary-General has been a big proponent of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Is he concerned by the bilateral deal the US made with India, which many people think will weaken the NPT?
Deputy Spokesperson: I have no -- as you know the Secretary-General has been recuperating from his shoulder injury this whole week. So, we have tried to leave him alone so he can recover. So, I do not have any direct comments from him. But, of course, the question of nuclear proliferation is something that he has always been very concerned about. And that’s one of the issues that he would like to make some headway on the upcoming summit as well. But specifically on this I don’t have anything. Yes?
[After the briefing the Spokesman’s office announced that the International Atomic Energy Agency had issued a press release that supported the sharing of peaceful civilian nuclear technology, a right enshrined in the NPT.]
Question: One of the questions ... (inaudible) ... that is about the Secretary-General’s comments to NHK Television. The.. (inaudible) had asked the Secretary-General to comment on the United States statement, last week’s statement calling on Member States not to vote for the G-4 resolution. And the Secretary-General, according to the NHK, stated that no country has a veto right against the General Assembly and that any plan needs two-thirds approval in order to be endorsed. And then he went on to say that he stressed that even the United States cannot unanimously, I think he meant unilaterally, decide anything at the General Assembly. Are these statements accurate?
Deputy Spokesperson: I am not aware that he gave an interview with NHK last week. So first I’d have to check to see if he did an interview. But he did speak to the press last week following the monthly luncheon with the Security Council. And I know he was asked about what was going on in the state of play at the time with the G-4. So those remarks are available on our website. And I think he did answer some questions from the Japanese press. So take a look at those comments and that will be the official record.
Question: I didn’t cover (inaudible)...
Deputy Spokesperson: That’s the last time he spoke publicly on it, so we dig that up for you if you can’t find it.
Question: Marie, is Mr. Brown going to take questions from the press or is he just going to introduce...
Deputy Spokesperson: My understanding is that he very much would like to introduce the new head of OIOS and say some remarks about her and not take questions but this is between you and...
Question: I just came across this interview with Mr. Christopher Burnham, in the second paragraph, in which he says the United Nations is so steeped in the culture of political bias and internal secrecy that it would take at least seven years to reform the Secretariat. What does he have in mind? That’s one thing that I’d like to know. And that he’s been saying that he was appointed to the post by Mr. Bush, the US President. Is that accurate? Can I get your comments on that?
Deputy Spokesperson: Ok, that’s an interview that he did with the Telegraph. I know he’s been doing a few interviews. Maybe we’ll try to bring him out for you so you can ask him yourself.
Question: Is Miss Tibaijuka going to be at that briefing when it does happen?
Deputy Spokesperson: It’s Miss Tibaijuka’s press conference. She will launch the report at 11 a.m. on either Friday or Monday.
Question: And you don’t have any specifics on the Security Council taking up the issue within a couple of days? There’s nothing at all under discussion?
Deputy Spokesperson: As you know, Miss Tibaijuka was sent to Zimbabwe on the Secretary-General’s initiative. It was not directly a Security Council-related mission. But I can’t tell the future. So I don’t know if the Security Council at some time down the line wants to take up Zimbabwe or not, but that’s something you’ll have to ask the Security Council.
Question: Just one other question. Tomorrow there are going to be some Senate hearings about the renovations at the United Nations. And one of the Senators came out today and was not happy that the UN to date has not had someone come and testify before Congress about the renovations themselves. Is there any reaction to that? Any sort of reply to those concerns?
Deputy Spokesperson: Let me check, let me check to see if we have somebody going in tomorrow for, will be available tomorrow on...
Question: Your understanding is that there will be no one available tomorrow.
Question: Isn’t (USG for Management) Chris Burham going? I thought I had read that somewhere.
Deputy Spokesperson: I just wanted to check before I went on record. But let me check that for you, double check that before I confirm anything.
[She later told the correspondent that Mr. Burham is in Washington, D.C., today and tomorrow meeting with US Senators, including on the subject of the Capital Master Plan.]
Question: Where is Benon Sevan?
Deputy Spokesperson: I have nothing further on that...
Question: Is it usual for the UN to have no idea where a senior member of its staff is?
Deputy Spokesperson: It’s ... the important thing here, and I’m going to repeat what you’ve heard, but for the record. We do provide Mr. Sevan with a dollar-a-year contract and this is to facilitate his cooperation with the Volcker Inquiry Committee and that if the Volcker Committee had any problems with securing his cooperation, they would alert us and upon which we would then become involved. And up to now no one has alerted us about any problems about getting Benon Sevan’s cooperation and...
Question: Is it usual for the UN to have no idea where a senior member of its staff is, especially someone as important as Benon Sevan?
Deputy Spokesperson: This is all I have for you today, Mark.
Yes, Mr. Abadi.
Question: Marie, in addition to the food crisis in Niger there is now developing another food crisis in southern Sudan and in western Tanzania with 400,000 refugees from Burundi. Have any wider efforts been made to tackle the situation in these other areas?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, as you know, this situation in Niger right now has reached such a critical point that I think that’s why Jan Egeland has been trying to raise this issue to try to draw the attention of the international community. I think there are a number of areas in Africa that are undergoing similar crises, maybe not of that magnitude. And that’s why they are constantly putting out appeals trying to get donors to get interested at an early stage so they don’t blow up like they did in Niger, and I think you mentioned one yesterday in a neighbouring country, and there’s an assessment out there as well. So it’s an ongoing process and the United Nations does what it can to try to sustain donor support.
Question: Just a follow-up to Mark’s question about Benon Sevan. With all due respect, I do understand what you said about cooperating with the Volcker Committee. But we as journalists have been asking you guys for a couple of weeks now about his whereabouts, which is a totally legitimate question -– separate completely from what Volcker is doing and what naturally Volcker is not himself, his committee, is not speaking with Benon Sevan, as we understand it, it’s with his lawyer. So again, please, can you tell us where Benon Sevan is?
Deputy Spokesperson: I have nothing beyond the guidance that I have now to give you.
Question: Then tomorrow at the briefing perhaps you can inform us of his whereabouts, please?
Deputy Spokesperson: Joe.
Question: On Zimbabwe, could you explain a little bit about the process involved? Will they get a right of reply? Is their own report coming out? Will there be an addendum to the UN’s report? Will it be incorporated in the report? If they can convince the UN that there’s something wrong will there be a chance to change something or to edit it because of what they say?
Deputy Spokesperson: Absolutely not on your last point. They will receive the final report. The final report will not be altered by any comments that the Government of Zimbabwe decides to make or not make. The exact format in which the Government of Zimbabwe wants to let its reactions known to the world is in their hands.
Question: So, why are you giving it to them two days in advance? Just for courtesy? You could just release it today and let them react to it like everybody else.
Deputy Spokesperson: This was part of the agreement. As you know the Secretary-General dispatched Ms. Tibaijuka to go to Zimbabwe and secured the Government’s cooperation. She has so far been the only independent official who’s gone into Zimbabwe and has been able to carry out a fairly in-depth assessment in the eyes of the public and the media to the places that she needed access to to write this report. And for that she required the Government’s cooperation. And my understanding is that the agreement reached was to give the Government 48 hours to look at the report before it is made public.
Question: Has there been communication between Zimbabwe and representatives of the UN in these two days?
Deputy Spokesperson: My understanding is it goes to -- it will be handed today to the Permanent Representative here and then 48 hours later, from the time that it’s received in Harare, it can be made public.
Question: The Secretary-General has already received that report. You might have already said it, but when exactly did he receive it and when can we expect some response from him on that, on the contents?
Deputy Spokesperson: First of all, Ms. Tibaijuka arrived the day before yesterday. Yesterday she submitted the report to the United Nations. The Secretary-General, as you know, is not working in the office this week. And then -- sorry what was the latter part of the question?
Question: When can we expect him to do something?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, the first thing is you wanted the report to be made public so this we’ll do, she will do a briefing. And we hope that we’ll have something from him as well that day. Okay?
If you’re finished with me, I will go and get our guest.
* *** *
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