Notes following Briefing by Deputy Minister Aziz Pahad, Media Centre Amphitheatre, Union Buildings, Tshwane, South Africa, Tuesday, 8 August 2006

Sri Lankan Conflict

  • Let me begin by condemning the murders of 17 aid workers from a French aid group Action Contre La Faim (ACF) -- Action Against Hunger in English -- in the northeastern town of Mutur where they were working on rebuilding after the 2004 tsunami.
  • It is really tragic that people working to improve the quality of lives of others are so brutally killed.
  • The South African government encourages all parties to return to the 2002 ceasefire which was being implemented for some time. We are now however again seeing a spate of attacks in which civilians are increasingly being targeted.
  • The only solution is a negotiated solution in the interests of Sri Lankan people.

Democratic Republic of Congo

  • As you all know, the elections have now taken place.
  • These were the first democratic elections in over four decades since that country got independence on 30 June 1960.
  • Close to 25 million out of the targeted 28 million eligible voters, registered for these elections.
  • In total, close to 270 parties registered for the elections. There were 33 presidential candidates. There were 9 632 candidates for the 500-seat national assembly.
  • South Africa decided to deploy a 108-member national observer mission to observe the elections. The South African Observer Mission of 108 members have gained much respect from many of those involved in these elections. Many have indicated their satisfaction with the way in which the South African observers conducted themselves.
  • The South African IEC at the behest of their DRC counterparts also sent about 128 IT experts and logisticians, to render support to the DRC IEC in the designated 64 centres.
  • The main contingent of the Observer Mission returned to South Africa on 04 August 2006, while a skeleton staff of 14 remained in Kinshasa to observe the counting process.
  • All indications are that the voting proceeded smoothly and now the counting process is proceeding smoothly.
  • President Thabo Mbeki has already congratulated the people of the DRC on the holding of successful elections.
  • The South African Observer Mission report collaborates the reports of many of the other observer mission, ie. in view of the infrastructure challenges, as well as the complexity of the Ballot papers for a an electorate that has not voted for over forty years, the DRC elections were a success.
  • The Security Council Presidential statement paid tribute to the people of the DRC. The statement looks forward to the announcement of the results by the Independent Electoral Commission, and appeals to all of the Congolese parties and candidates to respect the outcome in a spirit of peace and reconciliation.
  • In addition, the Congolese people continue to face major challenges, including political and economic reforms, national reconciliation, good governance, and reconstruction and development. The United Nations remains deeply committed to supporting them in their efforts to build lasting peace and democracy.
  • Thus far, there is an acceptance by all roleplayers that the processes have been free and reflect the will of the people of the DRC.
  • In the aftermath of these elections, the DRC IEC also issued a provisional electoral timetable including the following important dates:
  • 20th August - announcement of the provisional presidential election results
  • 30th August - announcement of the final presidential election results.
  • 15th September - announcement of the final legislative results.
  • 19th September - first meeting of the National Assembly.
  • We are encouraged by the fact that the latest reports show great progress is being made in the capturing of results.
  • Latest indications are that at least by Friday, 11 August the capturing of the presidential results will be completed.
  • We were hoping that the IEC would be releasing results as they are available provincially but this is not yet underway.
  • We are also happy that some results centres have already started capturing the legislative results. The process of capturing of the legislative results is expected to take longer time compared to the presidential results.
  • All indications are that things have proceeded more smoothly than expected.
  • We again congratulate the Congolese people for their achievement in this regard.
  • We have also noted sporadic outbreaks of violence. The UN troop Commander in the area has indicated that the skirmish was a misunderstanding, and has been contained. Two rebel groups had indicated that they were prepared to surrender arms and present themselves for integration into the FARDC, subject to certain conditions. Rebels consciously or unconsciously do not appear to have disrupted the elections in the region. If the peaceful situations holds, and more rebels disarm, it would give the new government space to begin focussing on the task of reconstruction and development.
  • It is now imperative that the DDR process must continue and the reconstruction and development must commence.

Côte d'Ivoire

  • As you know, the last International Working Group meeting on Côte d'Ivoire took place on 20 July 2006 and was attended by Foreign Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma.
  • The Group acknowledged the announcement that was made by the Prime Minister on the achievement of the Pre-regrouping of the FDSCI and the FAFN. It was also noted that this was a pre-cursor to the DDR process that has begun and the disarming of the militia.
  • Following unrest on the 17-19 July 2006, the Mediator thought it prudent that Minister of Defence Mosioua Lekota and myself visit Côte d'Ivoire on 1 August 2006 to understand from all roleplayers what their concerns were and to see how we could assist the processes.
  • We had extensive discussions with the President, Prime Minister and the leadership of the FPI.
  • We received a clear brief from our interlocutors regarding the progress made and the challenges.
  • The opposition party did not meet with us for various reasons.
  • Their have been some very positive developments since our visit.
  • The Prime Minister has produced a document that has been made available to all roleplayers.
  • The FDI has therefore committed itself to participating in the public hearings.
  • Four youth leaders have committed themselves to not use force.
  • All rural and peri-rural areas will receive briefings on the DDR process.
  • All parties are now actively involved in the political campaigning process.
  • We believe we have now overcome one further obstacle towards the holding of free and fair elections and will remain seized with the matter.

Sudan

  • The African Union Peace and Security Council indicated that the African Mission in Sudan (AMIS) would end in September 2006 because of lack of resources. After the intervention of the UNSG and AU agreed to … its mandate until the end of the year, if the necessary funds were made available.
  • The Donor's Conference in July raised US$ 220 million.
  • However, all donors have insisted that the AMIS must be converted to a UN force by 1 January 2007.
  • The Secretary-General has said that the United Nations has no hidden agenda in Sudan. He has said that the majority of the UN forces will come from Africa and will come not as occupiers but as helpers.
  • We hope that the Secretary-General can convince the Sudanese government of this.

Burundi

  • As you know, the Facilitator was in the region last week where he held extensive discussions.
  • A Summit will be convened in Tanzania on 30 August 2006.
  • There has been good progress but there are still some outstanding problems. As you know minor outstanding issues in this region can become major issues.. We expect that the Summit will deal with these issues.
  • There have, on the whole, been some good developments in the Great Lakes region. Should this region achieve peace and stability, it will contribute greatly to peace and stability in Africa as a whole.

Middle East

  • This continues to be the greatest challenge facing humanity at this time.
  • For a number of weeks, the violence and carnage in Lebanon and Gaza have continued unabated.
  • The situation is becoming increasingly unbearable for the people of these countries.
  • Many aid agencies are predicting dire humanitarian consequences.
  • Almost all of Gaza has been destroyed. A great humanitarian tragedy is unfolding.
  • Israeli military actions in Gaza are merely serving to create more hatred in the region.
  • The Deputy Speaker of the PNA was arrested yesterday.
  • Humanitarian aid has been waiting at the border for five days before it was finally cleared. And due to the sun and weather most of the food aid has been spoilt.
  • The crossing between Gaza and Egypt is almost constantly closed.
  • The situation in Lebanon has been diverting attention from the situation in Palestine for the last few weeks. We must however continue to advocate for a two-state solution to the situation between Israel and Palestine. This remains the core issue for all other tensions in the region.
  • 85% of Lebanese infrastructure has been destroyed; a thousand people, mainly women and children have been killed; there are 1 million internally displaced people in Lebanon; the rockets from Hizbollah continue to be launched at over 100 a day - Hizbollah's capacity to retaliate has not been reduced in any way. The greatest victims are civilians, mostly children, women and the elderly.
  • Human Rights Watch, an American NGO, has indicated that massive human rights violations are being committed by the Israelis in Lebanon and the Gaza.
  • Amnesty International has also indicated that the recent actions by Israel amount to violations of international human rights and are war crimes.
  • These comments are being made by international human rights NGOs, not Iran or Syria.
  • The United Nations Secretary General also continues to express his concerns. While he does not debate Israel's right to defend itself, it is the manner and intensity of that defence that is being questioned. The Secretary-General has called for an immediate ceasefire.
  • The United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in Lebanon <http://www.un.org/apps/news/infocusRel.asp?infocusID=70&Body=Palestin&Body1=>, David Shearer, called on the Israeli Defence Forces to end its attacks on civilian infrastructure and to cease all actions hindering the supply of humanitarian relief supplies to the hundreds of thousands of displaced people across the country. "Attacks close to our convoys, could very well prevent us from continuing our humanitarian relief efforts, as many truck drivers are no longer willing to risk their lives," Shearer said. He said that the United Nations deplores the continuation of Israeli bombardment of civilian infrastructure in Lebanon and also condemns the continuing rocket attacks by Hezbollah against civilian targets in Israel.
  • World peace and security is being seriously threatened by this situation - a regional war is becoming a reality.
  • Of particular concern are the statements by almost every Arab leader - the latest being those by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria - warning of the potentially serious situation that threatens to engulf the region.
  • The Arab streets are seething - people are seeing their governments as being unable to respond to what is happening.
  • It is increasingly vital that the United Nations Security Council takes immediate action.
  • We have noted the draft resolution and comments in this regard. Unless there are major amendments to this, this resolution will not be supported by all the parties.
  • This is not the time for ceremonial actions, this is the time to show leadership in the interests of preserving peace and security.
  • President Mbeki yesterday received a letter from the Prime Minister of Lebanon requesting that South Africa lend political assistance towards their seven point plan. The Lebanese PM also requested humanitarian assistance. After the President has studied the letter and had consultations. We will respond to this letter. We continue to warn that we are at a very dangerous crossroads.
  • The South African government will continue to do what it can to support the process and to ensure the Security Council acts more decisively than it has for the last few weeks.

Questions and answers

Question Deputy Minister Pahad, what his your position on the holding of elections in Côte d'Ivoire by 30 October 2006?

Answer We are all committed to working towards this deadline of 30 October 2006. The United Nations Secretary-General has indicated that there will be a meeting on the fringes of the United Nations General Assembly in September 2006 during which a better sense of preparations for elections will be received.

He will also have received a report from the IEC and will decide on how to proceed.

The IWG is a very active forum in Côte d'Ivoire - it consists of representatives of the United Nations, the African Union, the European Union, IMF, etc - all these institutions will make presentations to the Secretary-General's September meeting.

Question Deputy Minister, is it a matter of concern for you that the members of the opposition in Côte d'Ivoire did not meet with you?

Answer We not know why the opposition did not meet with us. We did however receive a message that they had been informed too late of our arrival and were therefore not available to meet us. We understand their position.

Our mandate in Côte d'Ivoire was not meet with all roleplayers and to understand their concerns and how we could assist implement the processes.

We believe that since then, the Prime Minister has dealt with some of the major issues.

The question of South African troops not being allowed into rebel areas is also being addressed that the Mediator can receive immediate, on the ground reports when required.

Question Deputy Minister Pahad, what is South Africa's position on the attempted coup in Burundi and reports of South African involvement?

Answer We are seeking more information on allegations of a coup in Burundi.

To date we have had no reports of the involvement of South African intelligence sources in any such attempted coup.

We do not believe issues in Burundi are very serious.

Our own view is that the process towards peace and security cannot be halted.

Should the allegations of a coup prove to be real then it is the mandate of the African Union Peace and Security Council to deal with the matter. It is also their responsibility to protect the integrity of legitimately elected governments as determined by the Constitutive Act. Africa will not tolerate any coups.

Question Deputy Minister Pahad, how do you think South Africa can further assist Lebanon in terms of the Prime Minister's letter to President Mbeki?

Answer President Mbeki should have already received the letter from the Prime Minister.

The Lebanese are requesting support from their 7 point programme which which we are doing anyway.

The President will however look at the letter and after consultations determine how we can make a greater contribution to end the violence and create contitions towards a long term solution.

Question Deputy Minister Pahad, do you have a message for the people of Cuba following the illness of President Castro?

Answer Off course South Africa is concerned about the health of President Castro - I'm sure we must have sent a letter wishing him a speedy recovery.

We are preparing to visit Cuba for the Non Aligned Movement Summit which will be held in September 2006.

Question Deputy Minister Pahad, the British High Commission has made representation to the Portfolio Committee that the 700 South Africans in the British Forces be exempt from the conditions of the Foreign Military Assistance Act. Has the British government been in touch with you on this matter?

Answer I have not been fully briefed regarding the British High Commissioner's presentation to the Portfolio Committee.

We will seek to meet the British High Commissioner to discuss this matter further..

The Foreign Military Assistance Act has many more wide ranging consequences and it is finally a decision that Cabinet must take after the public discussions and the views of the legislature are taken into consideration.

Question Deputy Minister Pahad, are there any South Africans in the Israeli Defence Force? And is President Mbeki also in contact with President Bush regarding the Israeli-Lebanon situation or is the South African government interacting only with United Nations structures?

Answer I am not aware of any South Africans in the Israeli Defence Forces. If anyone is in possession of such information we request that it be furnished to the relevant agencies for investigation and follow up.

We are however very anxious to ensure that South African's, in any guise, are not involved in conflicts beyond our borders. Any such activities are very dangerous since South Africans may give others the pretext to act against SA.

We are also in touch with all Embassies in South Africa to get their assessment of the situation and to raise our concerns. We are also in touch with governments, at various levels, on this matter.

Question Deputy Minister Pahad, do you agree with President Gbagbo that he will remain President until whichever time elections are held?

Answer I am not sure when he is reported to have said this. I am sure many positions in this regard will be on the table.

We do however believe that in the event elections are delayed, it will not be a very long delay. We will off course all be happy if elections take place on 30 October as originally planned. If the September meeting proposes an extension of the election date, it will have to be discussed how the country will be governed after the 30 Oct deadline.

Question Deputy Minister Pahad, Uganda's Lords Resistance Army (LRA) have declared an immediate cessation of hostilities. What is your position on this matter?

Answer We, off course, welcome this development. We believe that peace between the government and LRA will also impact positively on the situation in Sudan, the DRC and Burundi.

This will indeed be positive for the region in particular and Africa as a whole.

We do not have a direct involvement in the situation but will be briefed through our participation in the African Union and our membership of the Peace and Security Council.

Question Deputy Minister Pahad, what is South Africa's reservation about the current UN resolution?

Answer We have not been fully privy, until very late, to the draft resolution. This matter was first handled by France and the United States. It was then sent to the other P5 members for their comments.

We are not on the ground in Lebanon to look at the strengths and weaknesses of this resolution.

We have however, always called for an immediate ceasefire and for a comprehensive long term solution to the situation.

We have always maintained that the Israeli-Palestinian situation remains the basis for all other conflict in the region.

There is also the problem with the interpretation of the term "Defensive Action" - what is this, how can it be applied, etc?

There is also the implementation of Resolution 1559 and the implementation of a permanent secure border between Israel and Lebanon.

This must not be perceived as a one-sided resolution. Unless it is accepted by all parties, the war will continue.

We hope that common sense will prevail. The main protagonists must be satisfied.

The Lebanese government has volunteered 15000 troops to go into the region to act as a buffer until the UN troops comes in.

There must be the political will for a two state solution to be realised and we must now accept that the Roadmap has failed hopelessly.

The Israeli-Palestinian situation must be removed from the Middle East body politik by finding solutions based on the various UN resolutions.

The Arab streets are seething - unless there is a speedy solution, there will be a revolt that cannot be contained. Hatred is growing very strongly. The international community must act decisively before we are faced with a catastrophic and dangerous situation.

Issued by Department of Foreign Affairs
Private Bag X152
Tshwane
0001

8 August 2006

 

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