11/10/2005
Spokesman's Noon Briefing

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL


AND THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT


Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Pragati Pascale, Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.


Briefing by Spokesman for Secretary-General


United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Jose Antonio Ocampo, will be with us shortly to brief you on the UN’s World Economic and Social Survey 2005.


** Liberia


I’ll start first with a note from Liberia.  In a radio message to the people of Liberia, the Secretary-General called upon all registered voters to cast their ballots in today’s general elections.  He said as they vote for a new Government, the Liberians have “the opportunity to open the door to a new era”.


The UN Mission in Liberia reports that the voting is going according to plans.  As of early afternoon Liberian time, there had been no reported incidents at the more than 3,000 polling stations.


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative there, Alan Doss, visited several polling stations and reported that the turnout was large.


Final results are expected on October 26th.


**South Asia Quake


Earlier today in Geneva, the UN launched a flash appeal for approximately $272 million to help Pakistan cope with the earthquake, and at 1:00 this afternoon, here in room 226, Hansjoerg Strohmeyer, the Chief of Staff to Jan Egeland, will be here to brief you on the appeal.


In the meantime, UN agencies are already on the ground, working to meet the needs of the survivors.  The World Health Organization, for example, has sent medical material to cover the needs of some 210,000 people for one month, as well as surgical equipment for about 1,000 operations.  WHO is still concerned, however, that many hospitals have been demolished and that many health workers have perished.


For its part, the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees has begun distributing family and hospital tents, plastic sheeting, mattresses, kitchen sets and other items from its warehouses near the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.


The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) had sent convoys to northern Pakistan carrying blankets, children’s clothing, water purification kits and other items.


And the World Food Programme reports that it is flying in an initial shipment of high energy biscuits for about 240,000 people for a supply of about five days.


We have a lot more details on all of these agencies upstairs. 


** Eritrea


Yesterday, a number of you had asked me for an update on the situation in Eritrea.  What I can tell you is that, unfortunately, nothing on the ground has changed.  Our helicopters are still banned from flying in Eritrea.


The UN Mission there is monitoring the situation.


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Legwaila Joseph Legwaila, is in fact seeking a meeting with Col. Zecarias Ogabagader, the Eritrean official who is our main point of contact for the UN peacekeeping mission, to seek further clarification on this continuing ban.


The UN Force Commander, Gen. Rajinder Singh, says that, without the helicopters, we are unable to observe and monitor 50-55 per cent of the area on the Eritrean side within the Temporary Security Zone, which creates a serious situation for the UN Mission.


The Mission itself is considering closing two outposts, Bada and Fawlina, on the Eritrean side, as the continuing ban endangers the troops in these remote areas who don’t have access to helicopter support in the event of an emergency. 


**Secretary-General’s Travels


The Secretary-General arrived in Lisbon, Portugal, today, where he just recently met with Portuguese Foreign Minister Diogo Freitas do Amaral.


This evening, he will meet with President Jorge Sampaio, receive a medal and also attend a dinner hosted in the Secretary-General’s honour.


**Security Council


The Security Council yesterday afternoon heard a briefing in closed consultations from Assistant Secretary-General Hédi Annabi on the increasing violence in Darfur, Sudan.


The Council President for October, Ambassador Motoc of Romania, told reporters afterward that Council members “jointly condemned and expressed concern in the face of the recent upsurge in violence” in Darfur.  In particular, he noted the attacks perpetrated against civilians and the killing of three peacekeepers and two contract workers serving with the African Union Mission in Sudan.


Also yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General transmitted to the Council a report by his Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Juan Mendez, following his visit to Darfur.


** Haiti


From Haiti, the Secretary-General’s report to the Security Council on the UN Mission in Haiti is out on the racks today.  In it, he says that the possibility of a credible electoral process has been helped by the registration of a large number of voters.  He also says the voters will cast ballots for a list of candidates representing a broad range of political opinion.  However, the Secretary-General notes that there are a number of problems still to be overcome, including a greater need for openness in the process.


He said the international community should stand ready to play a greater role in the organization of the electoral process.  And that report, as I said, is out on the racks.


**Deputy Secretary-General


The Deputy Secretary-General, Louise Fréchette, continued her visit to Australia today, holding meetings with the Lord Mayor of Melbourne, the Governor of Victoria and the State Minister for Environment and Water. 


She also met with the CEO of World Vision Australia, to discuss, among other issues, climate change, regional trade, and UN reform.


UN reform and the World Summit were also topics of discussion at the end of the day, in talks with Australian and academic leaders.


And Ms. Fréchette flew on to Canberra today for two days of meetings with Australian Government officials.


** Western Sahara


Ambassador Peter van Walsum, the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, will begin his visit to the region tomorrow.


He will visit Rabat, Tindouf, Algiers and Nouakchott, for consultations with the Government of Morocco and the leadership of the POLISARIO Front, as well as meetings with the Governments of the two neighbouring countries, Algeria and Mauritania.


Ambassador van Walsum will assess the situation and explore with the parties, the neighbouring countries and other stakeholders how best to overcome the present political impasse.  And he will report to the Secretary-General on his findings.


**UNHCR – Migrants


Also, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, has sent a team of his senior staff to Morocco, following missions over the past week by other UNHCR teams to the Spanish enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta, as well as to the Canary Islands.


UNCHR says that while it recognizes the legitimate right of Governments to take measures to manage illegal migration, it strongly urges authorities to respect international protection principles, especially when it comes to forcibly returning people to countries where they may face persecution.


Mr. Guterres, as well as the agency’s offices in Madrid and Rabat, have been in regular contact with the Spanish and Moroccan authorities over this issue.


** Central America


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs launched a flash appeal yesterday for Guatemala following the devastating floods, and that was for just under $22 million.


A UN team in Guatemala is helping national authorities coordinate the work of international search and rescue teams.  The UNDAC team is also collaborating with the UN Volunteers to improve information management on the ground.  We have more information on this upstairs.


**Tsunami


Mr. Jan Egeland, the head of the humanitarian affairs department, arrived in Colombo, Sri Lanka, today for a two-day mission to review the coordination of post-tsunami aid.  The focus of his mission is to facilitate the smooth transition from relief to recovery activities.


Egeland met today with the Sri Lankan Prime Minister and representatives of UN agencies, international financial institutions and non-governmental organizations, among others.


**Environmental Refugees


Just a couple of more items.


We have upstairs a copy of an embargoed handout from the UN University on a report highlighting their concerns regarding environmental refugees.


**Correction


And I do have a correction to make for something I announced yesterday about Iraq.  We had said that the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, had met with members of Kirkuk’s communities while visiting Kirkuk.  In fact, he met that delegation in Baghdad, where they had travelled to meet with him.  We regret that error.


**Press Conference Tomorrow


Tomorrow at 11 a.m., the long-awaited briefing by Louis Reuter on the Capital Master Plan will take place here in 226, and at noon, Maria Jose Alcala, author of the UN Population Fund’s 2005 report on the State of the World Population, will brief you on the report.


That is it for me. Any questions?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  On the Mehlis investigation, I understand that the Committee to Protect Journalists addressed Kofi Annan with a letter to extend Mehlis’s mandate to the assassination of the two journalists.  Also, can you tell us what is happening with the discussions to extend the term of the investigation?


Spokesman:  I have not seen the letter, so I will check up for you on that after the briefing.  As I had mentioned earlier, the Secretary-General had received a phone call from the Lebanese Prime Minister asking for an extension until mid-December of the mandate of Mr. Mehlis and his team, and as I said, that request is currently being studied.


Question:  One of the things that is needed in Pakistan is, I don’t know if you’re going to be able to answer this one, heavy machinery and helicopters.  The $270 million in the flash appeal, can that be used for buying and delivering the heavy machinery in the area that is completely inaccessible?


Spokesman:  That is a valid question.  I would save that question for Mr. Strohmeyer who will be here in about 45 minutes and who is much more knowledgeable in these things than I am.


Question:  I am not clear as to who is doing the coordination for delivery of assistance to Pakistan.  Is it the humanitarian office?  Is it the World Food Programme?  Or is it Pakistani authorities?


Spokesman:  On the UN side, it is OCHA who is working with not only the other UN agencies but NGOs on the ground.  I highlighted for you the items from the agencies just to give you an idea of what the agencies themselves were doing.


Question:  Has the Secretary-General reacted to the letter sent to him on the 6th of October on behalf of the Group of 77 and China in which they express, and I quote, “their concern, regarding the content of comments made by senior officials in the Secretariat”?  And this comes in the wake of the statements made by Malloch Brown to Fox News and the US Congress.


Spokesman:  We are, I’m sure, in the process of replying to that letter.  What I can tell you now, I think it’s clear to the Secretariat that we’re accountable to the General Assembly.  We take our guidance by decisions reached by Member States and, as it’s doing with the Outcome Document, where the Secretary-General’s staff are working hard to implement the decisions which Member States had agreed upon last month.  In terms of comments made by the Secretary-General’s senior staff, they speak out when appropriate and their comments do not favour any individual Member States over others.  I think all the Member States complain regularly on what the Secretary-General and senior staff say at one point or another.


Question:  In reference to that, what about the charges also made in that particular letter that the Secretariat is appeasing one particular Member State because its right-wing lobby is very strong, and certain appointments are being made, and so forth?  What about those charges?


Spokesman:  The Secretary-General is going about his business as he sees fit but obviously, it’s clear to us that we are accountable to the General Assembly and the Member States.


Question:  Is there any chance that Jan Egeland is going to go from Sri Lanka to Pakistan for a first-hand look?


Spokesman:  My understanding is that, if I recall what was said yesterday, he would go at some point to Pakistan but we’ll try to get you an update. Otherwise, you can ask Hans Joerg at 1 o’clock.


Question:  You’ve probably seen the reports that Jean-Bernard Merimee, the former French Ambassador and Kofi Annan’s own Under-Secretary-General has now been taken into custody in Paris, in connection with the “oil-for-food” scandal.  What can you say about that?  What is the Secretary-General’s position about yet another one of his key people now under scrutiny?


Spokesman:  Two things. I would correct what you said in the question.  Mr. Merimée is not an Under-Secretary-General at the UN.  He served from 1999 to 2002 as a special advisor when actually employed at the USG level.  But that was from ’99 to 2002.  I’m not going to comment on an ongoing police investigation in which we have no direct input.  We don’t want to prejudice any investigation that may be going on.  However, in more general terms, we’ve made it clear that we support the efforts of national authorities who wish to pursue proceedings into activities of their own nationals that may or may not have been involved in the oil-for-food programme.


Question:  A couple of follow-ups.  A colleague last week was also asking about former Under-Secretary-General Giandomenico Picco.  Did you get back or could you clarify, was the UN aware of a potential conflict of interest that he was the chairman of IHC services?.  Anything further that you can let us know on that front, and also Fox News was reporting a story that had to do with the procurement department concerning the exchange of e-mails between Mr. Testa and a Mr. Siewert that showed that there was proprietary information that shouldn’t have been passed from the procurement department to a contract provider.  What has the UN done about this issue?  Has it been brought to the proper authorities?  Are you investigating this issue?


Spokesman:  Obviously, we’re concerned about anything that would show serious violation of procurement rules.  As we had mentioned to you, there is currently a wide-ranging study and review by Deloitte & Touche that is going on, that began on October 4th, which will focus on all the internal mechanisms, which are currently in place and see how they can be improved, whether or not the procurement department has enough resources to do the job that it does.  And meanwhile, the Office of Internal Oversight Services is continuing its investigation into Mr. Yakovlev’s activities and obviously that investigation by OIOS is continuing and involves anything that Mr. Yakovlev may have had dealings with.


As for Mr. Picco, the disclosure rules in place at the time didn’t require that people who served when actually employed had to do financial disclosure forms.  That is something we are looking at to change to make sure that all senior officials, whether full time or when actually employed, properly disclose financial resources in any other business dealings.


Question:  But, if there was ill behaviour by Mr. Picco, during that period, while he was Under-Secretary-General, is that not something that the UN is going to look into and…


Spokesman:  It is something of concern to us and I have nothing further to say on that at this point.


Question:  The discussions that are going to take place in the Sixth Committee for the elimination of international terrorism, are there any specific decisions?


Spokesman:  I’m sure my colleague, Pragati, who speaks for the General Assembly, can answer that afterwards.


Question:  Any comments on the accusation by the Greek Government that Mr. Nimetz’s proposals are unacceptable?


Spokesman:  No sir.


Question:  Can you refresh my memory as to what work Jean Bernard Merimée did for the UN after he resigned from the French Foreign Service?


Spokesman:  He worked on a specific project and that was that he helped draft a memorandum of understanding between the European Commission and the United Nations having to do with how European Commission aid and monies were transferred over to UN agencies.  It was a very specific task that he was given and he participated in establishing that memorandum of understanding.  He served when actually employed from 1999 to 2002.


Question:  Mr. Picco is still the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the Dialogue among Civilizations?


Spokesman:  No.  The title he currently holds is just Special Advisor to the Secretary-General when actually employed but he has not -- my understanding is that at this point he has no dealings with the Alliance “Dialogue among Civilizations”.


Question:  Has the UN actually spoken with Mr. Picco since these revelations surfaced?


Spokesman:  I’m not aware but I can follow up with you on that later.


Question:  Can you tell us about the state of the investigation of Carina Perelli who is now in Europe, obviously?


Spokesman:  The discussions between the office of Ms. Perelli and the office of human resources is continuing and there is no update beyond that.


Thank you. Pragati.


Briefing by Spokesperson for General Assembly President


The first round of informal consultations of the plenary on the Human Rights Council began this morning and will likely extend into this afternoon.  Today’s meetings are being chaired by the Assembly President, assisted by his two co-chairs on this issue, Ambassador Arias of Panama and Ambassador Kumalo of South Africa.  Most statements thus far have expressed support for the process and have been a recap of positions prior to the World Summit.  A draft timetable was circulated by the President and co-chairs for discussion.


On the Peacebuilding Commission, the two co-chairs, the Ambassadors of Denmark and Tanzania, will be circulating a letter this afternoon to all Member States in preparation for the informal consultations tomorrow morning.  We will make that available on-line and upstairs.


All the Main Committees are continuing their work today.  On the Sixth Committee, I’ll have to check up.  I know they are discussing the terrorism item but I’ll try to find out if they’re considering specific decisions.


This evening, the President will be making remarks at UNA-USA’s Global Leadership Award Dinner, which will also be attended by Angelina Jolie.


Questions?


Questions and Answers


Question:  Are those speeches on the Human Rights Council available?  I noticed the meeting was closed.


Spokesperson:  Most of the delegations are not circulating prepared texts.  Only one or two have.  I suppose we could make them available.


Question:  Has the President received any proposal from the Secretary-General on the appointment of a CEO for the United Nations?


Spokesperson:  I don’t believe so.  The Secretary-General has just circulated a list of proposals for management reform but I think I’m not the one to be answering that, but as far as I know he has not.


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For information media • not an official record