Notes following Media Briefing by Deputy Minister Aziz Pahad, Media Centre, Union Buildings, Pretoria, Wednesday 16 January 2008

 UN Secretary-General lays out challenging UN agenda for 2008

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on 4 January 2008 said peacekeeping, pre-emptive diplomacy, climate change and improving the lot of poor countries, as well as internal reform, will be high on the United Nations agenda for 2008.

South Africa welcomes the comments by the UN Secretary-General that the United Nations is indispensable and ”multilateralism is alive and well and in greater demand than ever – that people look to us for global solutions to global problems.”

We welcome this because the South African government has been arguing for some time that especially, post 9/11, multilateralism and its institutions were being weakened and that unilateral actions were being taken by the more powerful countries and this was creating greater threats to stability throughout the world.

2008 marks the 60 th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and South Africa welcomes the announcement that the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) would be strengthened.”

In this regard, the Secretary-General once again said that Africa should be given priority because many countries on the Continent would not meet the Millennium Development Goals.  This once again puts on South Africa’s agend the key question: how do we ensure the developed countries implement all their commitments to meet the MDGs.  You will recall that we last year consistently called on the developed countries to do more to ensure that Africa could address its challenges of poverty and underdevelopment.

SUDAN

South Africa is concerned by the UN report citing a “dramatic deterioration” in the security situation in the Sudan’s troubled Darfur regions and that the joint United Nations-African Union force set up to stem the violence there seriously behind schedule, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno on Wednesday 9 January 2008 appealed to the Security Council - and the wider international community - to help speed up delivery of vital units and equipment and to promote the political process to ensure full deployment of the critically under-strength mission.

Under-Secretary General Guehenno also said that war with cross-border dimensions was ongoing, highlighting “extremely worrying developments”, including clashes and retaliatory attacks between Sudanese Armed Forces and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), and the escalating tension between the Sudan and Chad, as well as reports of increased violence by Chadian rebels.  This could have a “devastating impact” on refugees and displaced persons on both sides of the border and inevitably make the international community’s current efforts to deploy peacekeeping operations in both countries more difficult.

It is clear that the situation is deteriorating not just beyond the borders but also in the Darfur region. 

It is also a matter of concern that a UNAMID convoy of more than 20 marked vehicles was attacked by the Sudanese Army, as the convoy moved from Un Baru to Tine in West Darfur.

The convoy was carrying rations for UNAMID personnel in West Darfur, had come under sustained fire from light weapons and rocket propelled grenades.  UNAMID troops did not return fire.

The Sudanese Army’s area commander, confirmed that it had been a Sudanese Armed Forces unit that had fired on the convoy. 

Clashes between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Justice and Equality Movement in West Darfur had also led to a number of civilian casualties and the relocation of 283 humanitarian staff from several locations in the state.  On 29 December, the Justice and Equality Movement launched an attack on the local police station and Sudanese Armed Forces based in Seleia, a town north of El Geneina.  While there were differing reports regarding the intensity of the conflict and casualties incurred, it had been confirmed that the Movement ultimately had taken control of the town.

The Justice and Equality Movement had seized the Government controlled towns of Sirba and Abu Suruj, which were also located north of Seleia.  Both in the press and in discussions between Movement leader Khalil Ibrahim and United Nations officials in the field, he had repeatedly threatened to attack El Geneina, the state capital.  “The Secretary-General strongly condemned JEM’s acts of aggression and bellicose posture.”  Following the Movement’s attack on Seleia, authorities from the Government of the Sudan’s military intelligence surrounded the accommodations of Major General Bashir, the Justice and Equality Movement representative to the ceasefire commission in El Fasher.  The Government personnel were encountered by the AMIS protection force already guarding the premises.

Major General Bashir and five other Justice and Equality Movement representatives were arrested and taken into custody.  Military intelligence authorities had justified the arrest of the Movement’s representative by alleging that he was behind the attack in Seleia earlier that day.  

The situation in Darfur had also taken a serious turn for the worse due to the hostilities involving Chadian elements.  Media reports, as well as those received from UNAMID, indicated that the Government of Chad may have engaged Chadian rebels in Sudanese territory on a number of occasions.  There had also been widespread media reports suggesting that the Chadian Air Force might had bombed locations south of West Darfur, where Chadian rebels were believed to have congregated.

The Under-Secretary-General said that the recent upsurge of fighting in Eastern Chad and West Darfur, and the mobilization of the Justice and Equality Movement and Sudanese Armed Forces around El Geneina, were “a cause of great concern”, and sent an “extremely negative signal” with regard to the prospects of a political settlement to the Darfur crisis.  “For the substantive negotiations to begin, it would also be important that the Government of National Unity agree on a common negotiating team and come well prepared to the talks,” he added.

“Without decisive progress on each of these […] issues, we will face dire consequences for international efforts to bring peace and stability to Darfur,” he declared, appealing to the Council and to the entire international community to help on those and all other remaining problems, including the necessary specialized capabilities and equipment and the political process.  “This is collective responsibility,” he declared.

The Sudanese government confirmed it’s commitment to ensuring the safety and security of UNAMID personnel, and also to the full implementation of resolution 1769 (2007).  The government would launch an investigation into the incident, with the participation of the United Nations.  

SECURITY COUNCIL STRONGLY CONDEMNS SUDANESE ARMED FORCES ATTACK ON SUPPLY CONVOY OF AFRICAN UNION-UNITED NATIONS HYBRID OPERATION IN DARFUR (11 January 2008)

 The full text of presidential statement S/PRST/2008/1 reads as follows:

“The Security Council condemns in the strongest possible terms the 7 January attack by elements of the Sudanese Armed Forces, as confirmed by the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), on a UNAMID supply convoy.  The Security Council stresses that any attack on or threat against UNAMID is unacceptable, and demands that there will be no recurrence of attacks on UNAMID.  The Security Council welcomes the commitment of the Government of the Sudan to undertake a complete and full investigation into the incident, together with the United Nations and the African Union.

“The Security Council welcomes the transition of authority from the African Union peacekeeping operation (AMIS) to UNAMID, which occurred on 31 December.  The Security Council commends AMIS for its prompt action to begin to re-establish peace and security in Darfur.

“The Council calls on the Government of the Sudan to expedite full compliance with Security Council resolution 1769 (2007), including through concluding all the necessary arrangements for the expeditious deployment of an effective UNAMID force.

“The Council further urges the Government of the Sudan and all armed groups to respect an immediate and complete ceasefire and demands that all parties cooperate fully with the deployment of UNAMID and respect its security and freedom of movement.

“The Security Council reiterates that an inclusive political settlement and the successful deployment of UNAMID are essential for re-establishing peace and stability in Darfur.  The Security Council urges all parties, including rebel groups, to engage fully and constructively in the political process under the leadership of United Nations Special Envoy Jan Eliasson and African Union Special Envoy Salim Ahmed Salim, who have the Council’s full support.  The Security Council expresses its readiness to take action against any party that impedes the peace process, humanitarian aid or the deployment of UNAMID.  The Council also recognizes that due processes must take their course.

“The Council expresses concern about the deterioration of security and humanitarian conditions in Darfur and calls upon the United Nations and all Member States to facilitate the rapid and complete deployment of UNAMID.  The Council urges capable Member States to contribute the helicopter and transportation units necessary to ensure the successful implementation of UNAMID’s mandate.”

We are pleased that despite the deteriorating security situation, the AMIS has been replaced by the UNAMID.

Secretary-General's message for a ceremony to mark transfer of authority from AMIS to UNAMID (31 December 2007)

“Today, we open a new and profoundly challenging chapter in the history of United Nations peacekeeping. On this last day of 2007, in accordance with Security Council resolution 1769, the authority for the operation in Darfur is transferred from the African Union Mission in Sudan to the United Nations-African Union Hybrid Mission in Darfur, or UNAMID. It will be an unprecedented joint operation, requiring a great deal of dedication and the full and unstinting support of the entire international community.”

South Africa welcomes the UN Secretary-General’s statement that the UN is, “determined to deploy the most robust force possible, so that it can carry out effectively the difficult mandate the Security Council has entrusted to it.

The Mission was effectively a re-hatted AMIS.  While the advance party of the Chinese engineering company and the formed police unit from Bangladesh were currently in theatre, the great majority of troops were made up of personnel who had served with AMIS.  The new UNAMID units must deploy to Darfur as swiftly as possible, in order to have a material impact on the situation in the first half of the year.

Negotiations about the Memorandum of Understanding with troop-contributing countries were not moving fast enough and some countries had begun to set conditions for their participation, including proposals to limit operations to daytime hours and restriction of movement to the immediate vicinity of UNAMID military bases.  We believe this is unrealistic because this would result in the mission losing its capacity to implement its mandate.

Ultimately, the deployment of UNAMID will only be as effective as the political process it is mandated to support.  The Secretary-General therefore urged “all the parties to cease all military action and turn their energies, with the support of the AU-UN mediation, to the substance of the negotiations as soon as possible, and to come to the negotiating table to settle their differences.”

He went on to report that many of the unresolved issues included final confirmation of the composition of the force, finalization of the Status of Forces Agreement, provision of land for the mission, clearance to function 24 hours a day and an unequivocal agreement on the accoutrements for military and police personnel of UNAMID.

Discussions on the composition of the UNAMID military component had been going on for more than three months now.  The Government had verbally rejected the combined Nordic engineering unit, which would have serious consequences for the speed of the deployment.  He thanked the Nordic countries who had worked very hard to contribute the unit.  According to the Government, the outstanding issues were technical and should be resolved on that basis, Mr. Guéhenno said, and added, “We fully agree and believe that there is no good reason that these issues should persist ad infinitum, especially in light of the adverse impact they are having on the deployment of the mission and implementation of its mandate.”

South Africa is concerned that the Department had not received offers for critical transportation and aviation assets.  Those missing units - one heavy and one medium transport unit, three military utility aviation units (18 helicopters), and one light tactical helicopter unit (6 helicopters) -- would enable UNAMID to move personnel and resources over large areas with the speed required to respond to crises.  Such capacity would also allow for rapid re-supply of units based in insecure locations.  Without such technical support AMIS has to re-supply its troops by road - it is time consuming and would become prohibitively more difficult, if not impossible, during much of the rainy season.  The Department of Peacekeeping Operations also faced with a shortfall for one multi-role logistics unit, after a troop-contributing country providing that unit had withdrawn its offer; and one reconnaissance unit, following the technical determination that the unit pledged did not meet requirements.

The United Nations was in consultations with Ukraine to explore the possibility of transferring tactical helicopters from another mission.  The Department was also exploring proposals from the Russian Federation, which could involve providing airframes to other troop-contributing countries.

The South African government is of the view that there are many countries with the capacity to provide this logistical support and it is therefore difficult to understand delays and hesitation in providing to enable to force to be effective.

New UN Darfur force must reach full deployment as soon as possible

The current troop level of the new African Union-United Nations hybrid peacekeeping force seeking to end the violence in the troubled Sudanese region of Darfur is inadequate, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sai d on Monday 7 January 2008 appealing for resources to allow for full deployment.

Currently, there are 9,000 blue helmets serving with the force, known as UNAMID. “That is insufficient,” Mr. Ban told reporters in New York, urging the international community to ensure that the mission can reach its full deployment of 26,000 personnel “as soon as possible.”

He said that during a lengthy telephone discussion with Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir last Saturday, the two men agreed to meet in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, at the upcoming African Union (AU) summit.

The Sudanese Government, for its part, must commit itself to technical issues, such as a status of forces agreement, the Secretary-General said. Meanwhile, the international community must step up its support for UNAMID by contributing “critical assets” such as helicopters and heavy transport equipment.

A “good framework” – including the Darfur peace process and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), the landmark 2005 accord ending the country’s long-running north-south civil war – is in place to resolve the problems in Darfur and Sudan as a whole, he added.

In light of increasing tensions between Sudan and Chad, Mr. Ban urged the leaders of the two countries to abstain from using military force, warning that doing so will only aggravate the situation.

The Security Council also expressed its concern today at the rise in the activities of illegal armed groups in western Darfur and eastern Chad, leading to a surge in tensions.

UN and AU Envoys in Sudan

Salim Ahmed Salim and Jan Eliasson arrived Sunday 13 January 2008 in Khartoum on a weeklong mission to infuse new momentum into efforts to bring peace to the war-ravaged region.

Jan Eliasson and Salim Ahmed Salim plan to meet with officials from the Sudanese Government as well as rebel movements during which the envoys will assess the commitment of the parties to the political process and will appeal to them to exercise maximum restraint and to cease hostilities.

Mr. Eliasson and Mr. Salim also seek to gauge how ready the Darfur Movements are to participate in a UN-AU meeting to resume substantive negotiations with the Government.

SECURITY COUNCIL PRESS STATEMENT ON CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC, CHAD

The Security Council welcomed the deployment of a United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT) and the European Union force (EUFOR Chad/CAR), authorized by resolution 1778 (2007) to contribute to the protection of vulnerable civilian populations and facilitate the provision of humanitarian assistance.  They encouraged contributors to make available to MINURCAT and EUFOR the personnel and resources required for the implementation of their mandates.

The members of the Security Council expressed on that occasion their serious concern at the recent upsurge of activities of the illegal armed groups in western Darfur and in eastern Chad, and at the resulting tension between Sudan and Chad.

The members of the Security Council called on Sudan and Chad to exercise restraint and pursue dialogue and cooperation, and called on all parties in Sudan and Chad to respect their commitments, in particular in the Tripoli Agreement of 8 February 2006, the Riyadh Agreement of 3 May 2007 and the Sirte Agreement of 25 October 2007.

KENYA

This is an area that has in the last few weeks been of great concern to Africa as a whole and the international community as well.

The latest statement by the UN Secretary-General indicates and let me quote: “In the face of the deeply troubling situation in Kenya, the Secretary-General calls once again on the political leadership of Kenya to find – urgently – an acceptable solution through dialogue, so that the political crisis is resolved and the country returns to its peaceful and democratic path.  The Secretary-General wishes to express his continued support for the various efforts being made by regional and international actors to help the Kenyans arrive at a lasting solution.”

“Two weeks have now passed since violence erupted in Kenya following disputed national elections, the conduct of which prompted serious concerns on the part of national and international observers.  Today, the death toll stands at an appallingly high figure of more than 500 people, while more than 250 000 Kenyans have been forced to flee their homes.  Many of them are living in fear.  That much of the violence appears to have been directed at specific communities is all the more worrisome.  The killings must stop, alleged human rights violations should be investigated and those found responsible for crimes should be held accountable for their actions.  The potential for further bloodshed remains high unless the political crisis is quickly resolved.”

This indicated the urgency of finding a political solution to the crisis in Kenya.

You are fully aware of the background to the elections.  The outcome of the parliamentary processes are not being challenged, only the Presidential processes.

The results were scheduled to be announced on the 29 December 2007 but were announced on the 30 December 2007 with the electoral Commission of Kenya ultimately declaring President Mwai Kibaki the winner of the presidential election.

The election results are as follows:

  • Mwai Kibaki                                 4,584,721
  • Raila Amollo Odinga                   4,352,993

The chairman of ECK Mr. Kivuiti has publicly said that he does not know the winner of the election, and he claims that he was forced by President Kibaki and Kalonzo Musyoka to announce the election result.

There is a serious body of opinion within Kenya that is questioning the outcome of the electoral processes.

Despite this, on 8 January 2007 Mwai Kibaki announced his 17 person cabinet just prior to President Kufour’s  arrival in Kenya for mediation efforts by the AU to bring the two conflicting parties to the negotiation table.

Four missions have so far been undertaken in order to solve the conflict in Kenya, namely the All Africa Conference of Churches of which Archbishop Tutu was part, the United States Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, the African Union head President John Kufuor of Ghana and the African Forum (consists of the four Wisemen – former African presidents – former President Chissano, Kenneth Kaunda, President Masire and President Mkapa) from 07 – 12 January 2008 comprising former African heads of State and government. The President has also rejected the efforts of former UN Secretary-General Mr Kofi Annan.  

The African Forum, headed by former President Chissano and supported by President Kenneth Kaunda, President Masire and President Mkapa completed their mission and announced, on the basis of which the South African government will guided as will that of Kofi Annan and Graca Machel:

  • Acknowledge the magnitude of the national crisis and move speedily towards constructive dialogue for durable solution to the crisis, promotion of a process of national healing and engendering national reconciliation and peace;
  • Take urgent steps to stop the killings, end the violence and address their root causes;
  • Put a decisive end to all forms of hate campaign and promote a culture of tolerance and national unity;
  • Recognise that the post-election violence, through essentially political, has exacerbated ethnic and social polarisation which in turn undermines national unity and efforts towards further consolidation of democracy in Kenya;
  • Give top priority to the resumption of the constitutional reform process; and
  • Chart a way forward with follow-up procedures and mechanism for monitoring and evaluation of progress on what was agreed upon in the dialogue process.

The African Forum has committed itself and therefore Africa to doing three things:

  • Support efforts on bringing all concerned political parties to the table for national dialogue in order to resolve the crisis;
  • Promote full participation of civil society organisations, Faith Based Organisations and other community leaders in the national dialogue process; and
  • Support all initiatives and processes aimed at national healing and reconciliation at all levels.

These will therefore be the guidelines that we, as South Africa, will use to see whether we can, through the AU, assist to find a peaceful solution to the very serious crisis.

Kenya ’s First Parliamentary Session

As I indicated earlier the outcomes of the parliamentary processes are not being challenged.

The ODM’s Kenneth Otiato Marende was pronounced Speaker of the Tenth Parliament – he won by 105 votes of 101 - following which another ODM candidate, Mr Farah Maalim, was elected to the Deputy Speaker's position during Kenya’s first parliamentary session on Tuesday 15 January 2008.

In the 222 seat parliament, the ODM has the highest number of seats – 99 – after many of President Kibaki’s former ministers and allies lost their seats.

President Kibaki’s PNU has won only 43 seats.

You therefore have a very difficult situation emerging in the parliamentary processes.  It is therefore vital that we urgently do all that is necessary to get this dialogue going and to ensure that the Kenyans themselves are assisted as much as possible to find a political solution.

Annan Delays Kenyan Visit

Former United Nations (UN) chief Kofi Annan has postponed his mission to Kenya "for a few days" after taking ill with severe flu, the UN said today 16 January 2008. 

"On his way to the airport in Geneva this morning, former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan was taken ill with a severe flu. On advice of doctors he has postponed his mission to Nairobi for a few days," the UN said in a statement.

UN grants $7 million to assist Kenyan victims of post-electoral violence

The United Nations on Wednesday 9 January 2008 has authorized US$7 million from its Central Emergency Response Fund ( CER F) to support relief efforts in the aftermath of the post-electoral violence that tore through Kenya last week resulting in the displacement of some 255,000 people.

This will enable UN agencies on the ground to provide vital aid in the areas of food, health, shelter, water and sanitation to those affected by the violence, which reportedly has killed in excess of 600 people.

The humanitarian consequences of the post-electoral violence were “pretty severe,” not only terms of the number of people killed and injured but also in terms of people being displaced from their homes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes told reporters in New York.

 The UN estimates that up to 500,000 people altogether may be in need of some assistance over the next weeks and months.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is continuing to monitor the situation in Uganda, where thousands of people from Kenya have taken refuge.  The agency reports that some 3,400 people have so far been registered by the Ugandan Red Cross and more are continuing to arrive.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that, in a situation that is far more reminiscent of northern Uganda than Kenya, many people in different parts of the country are going to police stations to sleep for the night for fear of attack.

The agency is also very concerned about the impact of the recent crisis on Kenya’s children, at least 100,000 of whom are believed to have been displaced. The negative effects include bedwetting, withdrawal, bad behaviour and difficulty concentrating at school.

With regard to the impact of the crisis on Kenya’s environment, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) today noted that the country’s transport system is not currently running at 100 per cent, which may be compromising waste collection.

“The build up of wastes raises serious public health concerns as a result of increased levels of pests and risks to the local environment including river systems and water supplies as a result of leakages and the clogging of sewers,” UNEP spokesperson Nick Nuttall warned.

Challenges are emerging because while the opposition is accepting international mediation to resolve the crisis, President Kibaki’s party is rejecting mediation.  They are only supporting international efforts including those of Africa to facilitate a dialogue.  This is a matter that will have to be resolved because it will be difficult to sustain such an impasse. 

WESTERN SAHARA

Western Sahara : UN-led talks end with parties pledging to step up negotiations

The latest round of United Nations-led discussions on Western Sahara ended on Wednesday 9 January 2008, with Morocco and the Frente Polisario agreeing on the need to move into a more intensive and substantive phase of negotiations.

The two-day talks, which took place in Manhasset, just outside of New York City, were also attended by the neighbouring countries, Algeria and Mauritania, which were present at the opening and closing sessions and consulted separately during the discussions.

This third round of talks, following two meetings last year, focused on implementing two Security Council resolutions from 2007, namely 1754 and 1783. In both texts, the Council called on the parties to continue negotiations without preconditions and in good faith to achieve a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution.

The Parties discussed, but did not reach agreement on, confidence-building measures, and they also conferred on thematic subjects including administration, competencies and organs.   They have not however began to deal with the most important issue viz. the self determination of Western Sahara.

Morocco holds that its sovereignty over Western Sahara should be recognized, while the Frente Polisario’s position is that the Territory’s final status should be decided in a referendum that includes independence as an option.

They will reconvene from 11 to 13 March for a fourth round of talks to be held at Greentree Estate, the site of the previous three meetings.

“During the two days of discussions, the Parties continued to express strong differences on the fundamental questions at stake,” Peter van Walsum, the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy, said in a communiqué issued at the end of the talks.

“At the same time, the Parties reiterated their commitment to show political will and negotiate in good faith, as called for by the Security Council, and agreed on the need to move the process into a more intensive and substantive phase of negotiations.”

The Personal Envoy said that both Morocco and the Frente Polisario welcomed his intention to visit the region shortly for in-depth consultations.

The UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) has been in the Territory since September 1991 to monitor the ceasefire between Morocco and the Frente Polisario.

MIDDLE EAST

As you know, there has been a hive of activity in the region following the Annapolis Conference.  US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has visited the region many times and President Bush has just concluded his visit.

However, the violence is escalating.  There has just been a massive military incursion in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday 15 January 2008 which left at least 50 Palestinians injured and 17 Palestinians dead.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, has described Israel's latest deadly incursion into the Gaza Strip as "a masscre".  This will create difficulties in the talks.

It is clear from reports that the Israeli’s used apache helicopter gunships, armoured bulldozers, tanks and ground troops in this incursion.

We cannot as yet determine whether this would impact on the talks but we would call on all parties to show caution and not allow this continuing violence to scuttle what must happen viz. genuine talks between Palestine and Israel to find a two state solution.  We hope that reason will prevail.  We will try to get both sides to understand that negotiations are the only way forward and that they should not be diverted by violence which has been the order of the day in the region for many years.

We also call on Palestinians to stop shooting rockets into Israeli territory and on the Israelis to not take massive retaliatory action when such rockets are launched.  We should be more reasonable and not act in a way that exacerbates the situation.

There are also reports of another incursion in the industrial zone near the Erez crossing."

This incursion comes a week after Bush said he wanted a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians by the end of his presidential term at the end of 2008.

Hamas officials blamed Bush's presence in the region for the violence.

Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, has reportedly ordered a series of such "sharp and short" incursions, into Gaza and the West Bank.

Abbas said on Tuesday: "What happened today is a massacre, a slaughter against the Palestinian people.

"Our people cannot keep silent over these massacres. These massacres cannot bring peace."

He said the Gaza operation, in which Hussam al-Zahar - the son of Mahmoud al-Zahar, a former Hamas foreign minister - was also killed had severely damaged the peace efforts relaunched by Bush in the US city of Annapolis less than two months ago.

Ahmed Qureia, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said that if the violence continued it would render the negotiations "meaningless".

 Taher Nunu, a Hamas spokesman, said: "What is clear is that there is an Israeli plot to destroy the whole region.

 "President Bush gave the green light to such aggression and such terrorism."

He said: "To all the Arab countries, to the custodian of the two holy mosques [King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia], Arab leaders and heads of states, we would like to tell them that they have to act immediately in order to put an end to this aggression."

Israel said they were engaging in an operation "against terror threats".

Since  Annapolis, at least 115 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in Gaza, according to an AFP count.

The Israeli assaults on Gaza have sown further discord between  Israel and the Palestinians, who are also angry over the expansion of Jewish settlements on occupied land in the West Bank, despite negotiation attempts.

Meanwhile, al-Zahar has called for the suspension of Israeli-Palestinian talks initiated by Bush during his visit to the region last week.

He said: "We believe that this Zionist escalation is the result of Bush's visit and a natural result of the cover supplied by Bush to the Israeli occupation authorities to go forward in their escalation and aggression against our Palestinian people, particularly in Gaza Strip.

"We will retaliate in the way they understand."

This is a very dangerous situation and the South African government is very concerned because as we have always said, without the solution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict none of the other conflicts, including Iraq and Afghanistan, will be solved in the region.  It is vital that we find a solution to this conflict.

Nuclear Non-Proliferation

The South African government is very pleased that progress is being made.

IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei, accompanied by Mr. Olli Heinonen, Deputy Director General for Safeguards and Mr. Vilmos Cserveny, Director for External Relations and Policy Coordination, visited Teheran from 11 to 12 January 2008.

During meetings with senior officials, that included meetings with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadi-nejad, discussion took place on ways and means to accelerate implementation of safeguards in Iran as well as additional confidence building measures. While progress in the implementation of the workplan agreed between the IAEA Secretariat and Iran in August 2007 was noted, an agreement was reached on the timeline for implementation of all the remaining verification issues specified in the workplan. According to the agreed schedule implementation of the workplan should be completed in the next four weeks.

During the visit discussion also took place on the importance of the implementation of the Additional Protocol as well as on other confidence building measures called for by the Security Council. Furthermore, Iran also provided information on its research and development activities on a new generation of centrifuges.

Accordingly, Iran has agreed to answer questions about "secret nuclear activities" within one month, in a pledge made during talks between Iranian leaders with head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Mohamed ElBaradei at the weekend.

Tehran provided information to the IAEA on Sunday 13 January 2008 about work to develop advanced centrifuges.

A spokesperson for Mohamed ElBaradei, IAEA's director-general, said he was given new information on Iran's "new generation of centrifuges" during the talks.

Iran 's agreement to answer questions about its nuclear programme is primarily aimed to settle all issues in time for ElBaradei's next Iran report to a meeting of the IAEA's 35-nation board in early March.

"Agreement was reached on the timeline for implementation of all remaining verification issues specified in the work plan. According to the agreed schedule, implementation ... should be completed in the next four weeks," an IAEA statement said.

Mohammed Saeedi, deputy head of Iran's atomic energy agency, said the new deadline was agreed upon at Iranian initiative and would show the world that Tehran's nuclear goals are peaceful.

He said: " Iran has nothing to hide and therefore has no fear to answer remaining questions ... to pave the ground for [the IAEA] to give a transparent report about Iran's programme."

We believe that we can make progress, through the IAEA processes, in resolving the final problems that have not yet been solved so that the IAEA can pronounce on whether Iran has nuclear capabilities.

As you are aware, the US Intelligence Agency in 2007, in its report declared that they did not think that Iran had nuclear arsenal or plans to turn their nuclear programme into a weapons building programme.

All of this does indicate that we need to continue to argue for good reason and must avoid the bellicose noise coming from all sides when it is evident that progress is being made.

PAKISTAN

The South African government reiterates its condemnation of the assassination of the late Benazir Bhutto and maintains that violence cannot be used as a means to achieve political objectives.  We have argued that Pakistanis must not allow her assassination to prevent them from holding elections as scheduled.

Atomic chief fears for security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal

The head of the UN’s IAEA Mohamed ElBaradei has voiced concern over the possibility that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal could fall into extremist hands on Tuesday 8 January 2008.

"I fear that chaos... or an extremist regime could take root in that country which has 30 to 40 warheads," ElBaradei told the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat in an interview.

He stressed that he was "worried that nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of an extremist group in Pakistan or in Afghanistan."

There has been worldwide concern over the security of Pakistan's estimated 50 nuclear warheads since Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf imposed a state of emergency in the troubled country in November.

"I fear that a war in the Middle East or in the Muslim world could have grave repercussions in Pakistan, more than in Iran," ElBaradei said.

"Any attack on Iranian nuclear facilities will only complicate the problem," he said.

LEBANON

Some positive news: Arab League foreign ministers meeting in Cairo on Sunday 6 January 2008 called for the "immediate" election of Michel Suleiman, the consensus candidate for the Lebanese presidency, the organisation's secretary-general Amr Mussa said.
He said Syria, represented at the meeting by Foreign Minister Walid Muallem backed the call.

Mussa said ministers meeting in the consultative session had agreed on a three-stage plan namely the election of a president, the formation of a government of national unity and the adoption of a new electoral law.

The foreign ministers called "for an immediate agreement on the formation of a national unity government" in Lebanon, constructed in such a way as to deny either faction the right to impose their policies on the other side.

Under the plan, power would reside with the new president over whether or not to approve government decisions.

All Lebanese parties have accepted this recommendation.

Questions and answers

Question Deputy Minister, the Irish Prime Minister yesterday said that President Mbeki had informed him that the Zimbabwe mediation will be concluded within days.  Do you have any more information in this regard?

Answer I cannot add more than what the Prime Minister said yesterday but as you know, the MDC has been speaking to the media and I refer you to the report in The Star on 10 th January 2008 where the MDC has indicated that President Mbeki, because of some deadlocks, has taken over the chairmanship of the mediation process and that even the MDC have indicated that it seems that there has been agreement on all substantive issues.  What is now important is the timing – can the elections be held in March 2008?  Whether the agreed changes to the constitution should become effective before any elections are held.

It seems like that we can see some real movement in trying to resolve these outstanding issues.

So I welcome what the Prime Minister said yesterday – that he received a substantive briefing and that there is general confidence that we can move forward.

Question Deputy Minister, on Western Sahara – will South Africa be hosting a Solidarity Conference shortly?

Answer While we are not participating directly in the Western Sahara talks, we are constantly briefed by their negotiating team about the progress they are making.

There has always been solidarity within the political formation and even in government – we have taken resolutions at Polokwane and elsewhere for political support based on UN resolutions for the Western Sahara people.

The issue of the Solidarity Conference is one of the many issues that have been discussed in terms of how we can assist the people of Western Sahara.

We have given humanitarian assistance and we will continue to do this, amongst other acts of solidarity, to assist in finding a solution.

It is very important for South Africa that we solve the Western Sahara problem because as you know, that region is not functioning as one of the five sub-regions in Africa because of this situation.  This economic grouping is not functioning at all and this impacts totally on our African agenda.

So we do want a quick solution to this matter.

Question Deputy Minister, President Kabila has arrived at the DRC peace talks in Goma.  What are your views on this?

Answer I did not mention the reconciliation conference which started on the 6 th January in the DRC which aims to find a solution to the violence that continues to erupt in the Kivus area – all I can say is that it is very representative and has gone through a long process of consultation.

 Indeed, it was mooted in 2007 already and has taken a long time to bear fruit.

Perhaps this delay, although lives were lost in the process, helped to lay a better foundation.

South Africa assisted with the initial funding to prepare for this reconciliation conference.

General Nkunda, who is supposedly the key person leading the rebels, is himself not attending the Conference but he has political and military representatives at the Conference.

Many other key people from the Congolese body politik are part of the proceedings.

 President Kabila and the new UN envoy have just entered the talks.

Question Deputy Minister, you say that the African group has said that the elections have brought the situation in Kenya to a boiling point – the opposition has asked for new elections – do you think this is a possibility?

Answer The African way in which to deal with challenges is that problems in sub-regions are dealt with by the sub-regional groupings responsible for the region.

Although the initiative has been taken at the level of the AU it has become an AU initiative.

The South African government is in touch with all the relevant players in Kenya and the African Group.

The problem is not with the parliamentary elections which have been deemed free and fair.  The challenge is with the Presidential elections.  There is no meeting of minds at the moment from both sides – should there be new elections, a recount of the votes (we think it would be very difficult in the circumstances) – the present President and his cabinet have rejected any new elections.  They are talking of forming an interim coalition government.  The opposition has rejected any new formula that does not emerge from negotiations involving themselves.

We hope that the African Forum, which must be the main initiative the government supports, will be able to create the conditions for a formula to be found that will be acceptable to both.

In the end, it is only the Kenyans that will be able to find a solution.  All we can say is that this situation is unprecedented in Kenya since it attained independence – violence on this scale, the loss of life, etc.

This impacts negatively because Kenya has been one of the most politically and economically stable democracies.  Our view is that if we do not find a quick solution, it will only add to the prevailing Afro-pessimism abroad.

Kenyans must understand that them finding a solution is not just in their interests but in the interests of the Continent as a whole and failure to do this must mean that the leadership is not looking beyond very narrow interests.

Time now demands that they look at the interests of the Kenyan people and indeed Africa.

The neighbouring countries are suffering because they are landlocked and goods and services are transported through Kenya so this is impacting also on the neighbouring countries.

In 2009 several elections will be held – besides South Africa, 5 other SADC countries will hold elections.  In 2008 Zimbabwe and Malawi will hold elections so SADC in the next two years will have 8 democratic elections.

Anything happening negatively will cast an incorrect impression on what will happen in the rest of Africa.

This is why we will support any efforts to allow the Kenyans to get together to find a solution.

Question Deputy Minister, I was in Burundi last year – a group of 1500 Paliphehutu-FNL were being protected by the South African forces and another 1500 by the Burundi forces.  How many more combatants do you think remain in Burundi considering the size of the country?

Answer Sometime last year we indicated that the Paliphehutu-FNL was still creating many obstacles to arriving at a final agreement.  Many new demands are being added and we have always argued that this was unacceptable.  They joined the processes late and they should now see how they can be accommodated through the framework of what the democratic elections created.  We did report that there were an estimated 1500 troops at that time.  We appealed to the international community to make funds available so that they could be looked after.  It is difficult for us to understand how there can be more – it is very difficult because in this kind of situation no numbers were provided and we now receive large numbers of people.  I believe that these numbers would refer to the combatants and their families.

The Facilitator and our Special Envoy were supposed to have traveled to the region last week.  We are hoping that they can travel to the region within the next few days.

We have called on the regional grouping – Tanzania and Uganda – to really call a regional conference so that a regional approach can be determined to address, what I think, are the stalling tactics of the Paliphehutu-FNL.

Question Deputy Minister, what type of assistance will South Africa be offering Mozambique to deal with the floods?

Answer I am not aware of any specific assistance at this time – in the past we have provided a lot of assistance and we have been active in assisting them develop a crisis management system.  I am not aware, at this moment, of any concrete assistance we have provided.

Question Deputy Minister, it has been reported that the South African government will increase troop deployment to Sudan (inaudible)?

Answer At the moment we have 900 troops in Sudan and we have not managed to determine how many more we will be able to contribute.  It will depend on our other priorities.  We have committed ourselves to maintaining a battalion at all time in that terrain.

South Africa has also been asked to provide other technical assistance – this is a matter that defence is dealing with and it will be good if you would contact them about this.

Question Deputy Minister, what is your assessment of President Sarkozy’s policy towards Africa and is he scheduled to visit South Africa this year?

Answer The dates of his visit have been confirmed as February 26-28.

We have just had an Africa – Europe Summit – the EU has just launched a new plan for Africa and clearly, there is on all sides, an understanding that we need to forge this relationship on a new basis – it must be mutually beneficial and indeed, while we accept that we are the weaker partner in many instances we do believe that you cannot solve any of the major problems without Africa’s involvement.  To date, the French have announced a bilateral programme for Africa that is outside that of that proposed by the EU.  They have committed themselves to doing all that is possible, like other countries, to co-operate with Africa in terms of conflict resolution so we are working bilaterally and through the AU and EU on conflict regions.

President Sarkozy has indicated that France will consider how they can increase their commitments to Africa meeting the MDGs.

So, to date, it is too early to determine how many good announcements made by the EU in general and specific countries like France, have begun to be operationalised.  We do not have any problem considering that French foreign policy towards Africa will be in line with the new EU policy towards Africa.

Issued by Department of Foreign Affairs
Private Bag X152
Pretoria
0001

16 January 2008

 


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