DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
17 March 2008
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon, all.
On Kosovo, the Secretary-General’s Principal Deputy Special Representative in Kosovo, Larry Rossin, has condemned today’s violence, including direct fire, by a mob at the Mitrovica courthouse, calling it a flagrant breach of Security Council resolution 1244 (1999).
In a joint operation this morning, the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and NATO’s Kosovo Force, or KFOR, re-established control of the Courthouse, which had been forcibly occupied by a mob last Friday. As a temporary measure, UN police from north Mitrovica are redeploying outside of the city while KFOR reasserts its control over the Courthouse. According to UNMIK, tensions have been significantly reduced, and the overall situation is calm. Thirty-eight members of UNMIK’s police were wounded today, two seriously. The wounds were mostly from grenade fragments, although guns were also fired at UNMIK police and KFOR.
And I just received a Kosovo statement, a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General deplores the violent attacks against UNMIK police and KFOR personnel that occurred earlier today in Mitrovica, Kosovo.
This violence took place in the context of an operation by UNMIK and KFOR to re-establish control of the UNMIK court house that had been forcibly occupied by Kosovo Serb demonstrators on 14 March. The violence resulted in numerous injuries among UNMIK Police, KFOR and Kosovo Serb protesters.
The Secretary-General reaffirms that UNMIK will continue to implement its mandate under resolution 1244 (1999). He urges all communities to exercise calm and restraint, and underlines the need for constructive dialogue in order to address the situation. The Secretary-General expects all sides to refrain from any actions or statements that could incite or provoke further violence.
Security Council members will hold their monthly luncheon with the Secretary-General today. After that luncheon, the Secretary-General has told us that he will come to the second floor Security Council stakeout position and talk to you about his recent trip to Senegal as well as other recent developments. The Security Council this morning heard a briefing, in an open meeting, from Ambassador Johan Verbeke of Belgium concerning the Sanctions Committee dealing with Iran, which he chairs. After that, Council members held consultations to discuss the programme of work for March, as well as possible Security Council missions over the coming months.
On Sudan, the UN and African Union Special Envoys for Darfur, Jan Eliasson and Salim Ahmed Salim, are holding informal consultations with regional partners and international observers in Geneva today and tomorrow. The Geneva consultations are expected to offer an opportunity to review the political process in Darfur in light of the security situation and delays in plans to hold substantive talks among Darfur rebels and the Government of Sudan.
** Western Sahara
On Western Sahara, the fourth round of talks on Western Sahara got under way this morning in Manhasset, under the auspices of the Secretary-General's Personal Envoy, Peter van Walsum, and with the participation, in the opening session, of Morocco, Frente Polisario and the neighbouring countries, Algeria and Mauritania. This round is scheduled to conclude tomorrow. The talks are taking place, as before, in the framework of Security Council resolutions 1754 (2007) and 1783 (2007). A note to journalists: as we stated previously, the talks are not open to media and there are no planned news conferences. However, as a measure for the security and safety of any media who decide to go to Manhasset, the Greentree Estate has made available a location near the entrance gate where journalists will be able to stand without being on the main road outside. Greentree security will direct reporters when they arrive.
On Iraq, the UN Mission in Iraq released its twelfth human rights report on Iraq over the weekend, which recognizes that the last three months of 2007 were characterized by a marked decrease in violent attacks involving mass casualties, including suicide attacks and car bombings. UNAMI [United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq] cautions that, as security improved in parts of Baghdad and other locations, it deteriorated elsewhere, with heightened activity by insurgent groups and others in governorates such as Mosul and Diyala. The report welcomes measures taken by the Government of Iraq and the judicial authorities to improve the handling of detainees, including efforts to ensure more effective judicial oversight and alleviate overcrowding. However, UNAMI’s long-standing concerns with respect to due process rights of detainees within the legal framework adopted by the multinational force remained unaddressed, and large numbers of juvenile detainees remain in the custody of the multinational force. We have more information upstairs and the full report is on the web.
Terje Roed-Larsen, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy dealing with the implementation of resolution 1559 concerning Lebanon, met yesterday in Riyadh with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to discuss the situation in Lebanon. On Saturday, he met with Saudi Foreign Minister Saud El-Faisal in Paris. The Secretary-General has dispatched Roed-Larsen to several capitals to conduct a series of consultations as part of the preparation of the Secretary-General’s upcoming report to the Security Council on the implementation of resolution 1559, which is due on 21 April.
** Côte d’Ivoire
On Côte d’Ivoire, the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) handed three rehabilitated disarmament sites to the Government this weekend in the north of the country. At an event held to mark the occasion, 118 former rebel fighters surrendered their weapons and formally joined the reintegration process ahead of general elections. The Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Georg Charpentier, represented the United Nations at the weekend handover of the disarmament sites.
On Zambia, the International Telecommunication Union has deployed 25 satellite terminals to Zambia to help restore vital communication links there in the aftermath of severe floods. The mobile terminals have already eased the coordination of relief operations by Government and humanitarian agencies as they work to help flood survivors. We have more on that upstairs.
**United Nations Environment Programme on Glacier Melt
The world’s glaciers are continuing to melt at record speed. That’s according to the latest figures from the UN Environment Programme-supported World Glacier Monitoring Service. The Service looked at nearly 30 reference glaciers in nine mountain ranges; it found that the average rate of melting and thinning more than doubled during 2005-2006 compared with one year earlier. Some of the most dramatic shrinking has taken place in Europe, with one glacier in Norway thinning at almost 10 times its previous rate. If the current trend continues, the report warns, rivers that cross northern India, such as the Indus and the Brahmaputra, could soon become seasonal rivers. Meanwhile, 40 per cent of southern California’s water supply is likely to be vulnerable by the 2020s, and most of Latin America’s tropical glaciers could be gone within two decades. We have more information upstairs.
**unesco on Cultural Property
A two-day international conference on the “Return of Cultural Property to its Country of Origin” opened earlier today in Athens under UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] and Greek Government sponsorship. The event brings together lawyers, museum professionals, archaeologists, academics and cultural property experts.
**WHO on Tuberculosis
And then we have upstairs an embargoed press release on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) latest report on tuberculosis. The report, which is to be released today, is expected to find that progress in tuberculosis control actually slowed in 2006.
This is all I have for you. Thank you.
**Questions and Answers
Question: [In French]
Spokesperson: [In French]
Question: Did she ask about Tibet?
Spokesperson: Yes, about Tibet.
Question: Okay, I’m not sure what the question was, but my question is, several Tibetans have protested outside the UN compound this morning, demanding an independent investigation as to what the Dalai Lhama had called a “cultural genocide” by China, and I know that, on Friday, Marie had said that the Secretary-General is following the situation very closely, and that he’s calling on all those involved to take care. Do you have any update by the Secretary-General?
Spokesperson: I’m sure you will get the update by the Secretary-General himself, who is going to come, as you know, to the stakeout, after the lunch.
Question: Michèle, regarding the meeting between the Secretary-General today and the war criminal Samir Geagea. How can the Secretary-General justify meeting someone who has a lot of blood on his hands, like him?
Spokesperson: The Secretary-General has been meeting everyone across the spectrum on Lebanon, on the constitutional impasse in Lebanon right now, and he will continue to do so.
Question: Irrespective of the record of these people? Samir Geagea, he has killed one Prime Minister as good as Rafiq Hariri and he has at least thousands of people’s blood on his hands.
Spokesperson: I take note of what you’re saying, but, as I said again, the Secretary-General is speaking to all leaders in the political spectrum in Lebanon.
Question: In the past, he had refrained from meeting Michel Aoun, for example, when he went to Lebanon. And he did not meet…?
Spokesperson: No, I’m sorry. He didn’t meet with Michel Aoun, but they spoke on the phone for security reasons which had nothing to do with refusing to meet Michel Aoun. it was a practical reason why they didn’t meet.
Question: On the same subject, Lebanon, Mr. Larsen is supposed to deter any foreign interference, according to resolution 1559, in the Lebanese political process, especially the elections. How come he’s now trying to negotiate with others who are foreigners about the future election of a president in Lebanon by making this tour in Saudi Arabia and other parts and also Paris, regarding this?
Spokesperson: As you know, the whole purpose is trying to get as much information as he possibly can towards that report on resolution 1559.
Question: Resolution 1559 calls for, that foreign Powers should not interfere in the elections of Lebanon.
Spokesperson: That doesn’t mean that foreign leaders of neighbouring countries are not concerned. And in any case, that has nothing to do with the sovereignty of any country. The Secretary-General and his envoys do consult with leaders in the international community about specific national issues.
Question: But the mandate of Larsen himself is really contrary to what he’s doing at the moment. It’s a totally different job and has nothing to do with resolution 1559, does it?
Spokesperson: It does. I’m sorry, the Secretary-General thinks it does.
Question: Article 5 says no foreign interference.
Spokesperson: That has nothing to do with foreign interference. I think you’re misrepresenting what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that he’s meeting leaders of the international community, particularly of neighbouring countries, to discuss the situation. He is not talking about foreign interference. He’s not talking about getting those countries involved in the internal affairs of Lebanon.
Question: Is he trying to arrange an international conference?
Spokesperson: No, he’s not.
Question: One housekeeping question and then I want to ask something about Iraq. If these questions are going to be asked in French and in other languages, can you have the translations regularly done now in the press conferences? Because there is an effort now on the part of the French people that they’ll be asking questions in French. I did not understand the French question, nor did I understand your answer. So can we have the translators over here so that we can hear?
Spokesperson: We don’t have the possibility of having translators at the noon briefing.
Correspondent: We have to do something.
Spokesperson: The same question was asked later and it was answered in English.
Question: Okay, I believe that all six languages should be translated in the back over there if this is going to be the case. Okay, on Iraq I wanted to ask, in the backdrop of your report, of the UN report and ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross], does the Secretary-General have any observation or comments of his own on the fifth anniversary of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, which has just passed or is it today? The conditions in Iraq, violence was decreasing until 2007, as the report said, but now it is back again and has increased dramatically. And the Iraqi people are not getting electricity, food and stuff like that, they’re complaining about that. Does the Secretary-General have anything to say, or his Special Representative?
Spokesperson: I don’t think he has anything to say on the anniversary. However, you have the report you can consult upstairs or on the Web, on the human rights situation by the Representative.
Question: Yah, the ICRC report also said the same thing about human rights and does the Secretary-General’s Special Representative have anything to say about that?
Spokesperson: Go see the report. I already gave you a summary of the report and you can go see it upstairs.
Question: Michèle, if Bin Laden comes to visit the Secretary-General, would he meet him?
Spokesperson: This is a hypothetical question.
Question: Why hypothetical?
Question: Speaking of human rights, Louise Arbour says she’s not going to seek another term when her current tenure expires. Can you tell us how the search for her successor will go? I’m asking, will there be an open list, will there be a list of finalists, has the Secretary-General already begun seeking candidates?
Spokesperson: He has already begun seeking candidates. I don’t know if there will be a public list of candidates.
Question: What does the Secretary-General hope will come out of the talks in Manhasset on Western Sahara, if anything?
Spokesperson: Right now he’s in the observation mode, waiting to see what will come out, and he will get a report from his representative there.
Question: Can you tell us this afternoon?
Question: [In French] In Kosovo, why did UNMIK intervene, because the Kosovo police was not ready or able or was not called to intervene? Or was it appreciation that it’s not a good political moment for Kosovo police to intervene.
Spokesperson: This occupation was a clear and direct challenge to UNMIK’s exercise of its mandate in Kosovo and UNMIK took this action in close coordination with KFOR, after due consideration and after they carefully assessed the situation as it developed. As you know, the action was a response to the illegal and forceful occupation by tens of thousands of protesters of the courthouse and it follows other actions that have constituted a challenge to UNMIK’s mandated authority and it is deplorable that they were attacked.
Question: But did anyone say to Kosovo police you should stay away and you should not intervene, we will deal with this?
Spokesperson: UNMIK and KFOR felt it was their responsibility.
Question: One more question on that. Did the Secretary-General actually talk to any of the regional leaders, whether in Kosovo or probably even in Serbia, to see if they could pull some weight or leverage to try to influence or calm down the situation?
Spokesperson: Not that I know of, but I don’t have all his phone calls for today yet.
Question: Only one more. Serge Brammertz, the Chief Prosecutor for ICTY [International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia], said in one interview published a few days ago in Bosnia, probably a week ago, that, explicitly, that the Tribunal would not close the door until Mladic and Karadžic and another two, (inaudible) would be transferred to The Hague. Is that the official position or what would be the comment of the Secretary-General on that?
Spokesperson: The Secretary-General doesn’t have a comment. It’s a matter for the Tribunal to do and the Secretary-General will not interfere in matters of the Tribunal, as you know. So there is nothing the Secretary-General will have to say about it. Mr. Brammertz is doing his job.
Question: So, it will continue?
Spokesperson: We will check for you what he said.
Question: Okay, because I’m nice, I’m going to ask my question in French and in English. [In French] In English, is it possible for the UN to be on the side of independence for Kosovo and why not on the side of independence for Tibet?
Spokesperson: I’ll state something I’ve stated before. The UN is not in the business of recognizing countries. This is not a matter for the UN, it is a matter for individual countries. In the case of Kosovo, as in any other case, it is a matter for other States to recognize or not recognize a country that declares its independence.
Question: [In French]
Spokesperson: The question was: Would the Secretary-General have a statement to make for the month of Francophonie? The Secretary-General is scheduled to meet with the president of the Organization of the Francophonie.
Question: I have a question in Arabic.
Spokesperson: Don’t ask me in Arabic Tarek, because I won’t be able to answer you! (Laughter)
Comment: This is going to open a can of worms.
Question: Regarding the consultation meeting in Geneva on reviewing or reconsidering the political process in Darfur, I was wondering if Mr. Ban Ki-moon is reviewing the designation of former Secretary-General Kofi Annan as a mediator to hold direct talks with the Government in Khartoum, not only on Darfur but on other issues in Sudan.
Spokesperson: As far as I know, I’m not aware that the former Secretary-General has been formally contacted to act as an emissary of any sort or act as a mediator of any sort in the Sudan conflict.
Question: As a short follow-up to the Kosovo question, can you tell us about the nationalities of the injured in UNMIK?
Spokesperson: More than 20 were injured. I don’t know their nationalities.
Comment: Mostly Ukraine.
Spokesperson: So there you have information I don’t have.
Question: Michèle, although you said there would be no press conference or anything on Western Sahara, is there going to be any update that will be given?
Spokesperson: Not at this point. As you know, they started this morning. The talks are taking place until tomorrow, so I won’t have any answer for you until tomorrow. I don’t even know whether there will be. I cannot say.
Question: In light of the policy with regard to Lebanon of talking to everyone across the spectrum, I wonder if the Secretary-General has a similar policy with regard to the Palestinians and with regard to talking with the Palestinian Authority officials who were elected. Is that a similar policy, so that he will talk with the Hamas people who were elected to the Palestinian Authority?
Spokesperson: At this point, I don’t have that. What I know is that, in the case of Lebanon, there is a specific issue at hand, which is the constitutional impasse, and that’s what he’s trying to deal with.
Question: Just a follow up. There is a Vanity Fair article called the Gaza Bombshell and I would appreciate having a response to this article from the Secretary-General, if possible.
Spokesperson: The fact is that the Secretary-General doesn’t respond to press reports. You know that. I’ve said that over and over again.
Question: I was wondering about the response of Mr. Ban Ki-moon to the results of the parliamentary elections in Iran and how far he thinks it may help, or may not, in getting Iran to accept the Council resolutions on its enrichment programme.
Spokesperson: You want an opinion on something that is in the process right now. Of course not.
Question: But does he think this is a step forward?
Spokesperson: He doesn’t have any independent information on what is happening in terms of United Nations presence that could tell him what is happening so there will be no comment on this.
Question: The Eritrean Ambassador on Thursday blamed, I guess the UN Security Council, for not taking action on UN peacekeepers who committed women trafficking and pornography. Is the Secretary-General aware of this and can he confirm that it’s true?
Spokesperson: I don’t have any information on that. I’ll try to get the information for you, any confirmation that we might get.
Spokesperson: Translation, the Head of the Francophonie, Mr. Diouf, will meet with the Secretary-General on 28 March. And he will have a press briefing here in Room 226.
Question: Any chance we can have translation?
Spokesperson: We’ll have translation.
Question: At this time, did the UNMIK forces withdraw from Mitrovica actually, or are they still there?
Spokesperson: As far as I know, they are still there, but I think the KFOR troops are occupying the courthouse right now.
Thank you very much.
* *** *
For information media • not an official record
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