13/10/2005
Spokesman's Noon Briefing

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

Daily press briefing by the officeS 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, the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.


Briefing by Spokesman for Secretary-General


Good afternoon.  Our guests today will be Nils Kastberg, who’s sitting on my left, from UNICEF, who is the Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, who will brief you on the current UN relief efforts in Central America, and we do also expect Hansjoerg Strohmeyer, who is the Chief of Staff of Jan Egeland, the head of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and he will provide you with an update on the humanitarian response to the earthquake in South Asia.


**Secretary-General on Iraq


In a statement issued on Iraq’s National Constitution Day, the Secretary-General said that this Saturday’s referendum is a keystone to the transition to democracy in that country.  The Iraqi people, he noted, will be able to exercise their democratic right to accept or reject the draft text before them.  “For the second time in less than a year”, he said, “the future is in your hands.”


He said that this is the time to keep the guns quiet on all sides, and to let the voices of the Iraqi people be heard.  The Secretary-General urged those who themselves refuse to participate in the political process not to deprive others of their right to do so, free from fear and intimidation.


The Secretary-General added, “At this critical moment in Iraq’s history, every vote counts.”  The United Nations will continue to do all it can to build a stable, unified and prosperous Iraq, he said.  The full statement is available upstairs.


**Secretary-General in Spain


The Secretary-General travelled to Salamanca in Spain today from Portugal.  In Salamanca, he plans to address the Ibero-American Summit tomorrow, and he’s holding today and tomorrow bilateral meetings with a number of the leaders who are gathered in Salamanca.  After arriving at midday, he met with the Chilean President, Ricardo Lagos Escobar.


He is also scheduled to have meetings this afternoon with the Spanish Prime Minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, as well as Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Norman José Caldera Cardenal.  He is scheduled to meet with King Juan Carlos this evening.


The official opening of the summit is tomorrow. 


**Deputy Secretary-General


Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette continued her visit to Australia today, holding a series of meetings with Government and opposition leaders in Canberra and Sydney.


She visited Parliament and met with Members of Parliament, including the Minister of Defence.  Among the topics discussed were UN reform, Australia’s role in the Millennium Development Goals, and events in the Asia-Pacific region.


Ms. Fréchette left Canberra for Sydney this evening, where she delivered a lecture on the results of the Summit, the road ahead to ensure compliance with the MDGs, and the fight against terrorism and UN reform.  She emphasized that positive results in all these areas were in the hands of Member States.  We have her speech upstairs.


**Security Council


At 3 o’clock this afternoon, the Security Council will hold a formal meeting on Côte d’Ivoire, during which it will hear a briefing from the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Pierre Schori, as well as the High Representative for elections in Côte d’Ivoire, Antonio Monteiro.  We’re confident they will both speak to you at the stakeout after the meeting.  Officials representing the African Union are also scheduled to attend the meeting. 


** Afghanistan


The UN Mission in Afghanistan today strongly condemned an attack which took place yesterday and that resulted in the killing of five Afghan aid workers in the Kandahar province.  Two others were wounded in the attack.


The gravity of this incident is further compounded by the fact that the aid workers -- a medical team -- were on their way to help Afghans staying at an internally displaced persons camp.


The UN Mission expressed its sympathy to the wounded and the relatives of those killed in the incident.  It also said it is convinced that the people of Afghanistan will see in this brutal attack further reason to rally against all forms of violence.  We have further details in today’s Kabul briefing notes, and also we have a transcript of the press briefing the UN Mission gave on the work it is doing in the western city of Herat.


** Sudan


According to our UN Mission in Sudan, the security situation in Darfur remains very tense, with continuing banditry and violence causing thousands of civilians to flee to camps for internally displaced people.


However, in such towns as Tawilla, minimal humanitarian assistance is available, as all international NGOs have been evacuated.


Meanwhile, in Geneina, the capital of West Darfur, humanitarian agencies are facing increasing constraints, as the security situation has led the UN to restrict access to all roads leading out of town.

** Western Sahara


From Western Sahara, the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, Peter van Walsum, met today in Casablanca with King Mohammed VI of Morocco.  He listened to the King’s assessment of the situation in Western Sahara.  Van Walsum expressed his appreciation for the Moroccan Government’s willingness to cooperate with the United Nations.


Van Walsum also met yesterday in Rabat with Morocco’s Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Interior Ministers.  Tomorrow, he will travel to Tindouf to meet with the leaders of the Frente POLISARIO.  After that, he will meet with officials of the two neighbouring countries, Algeria and Mauritania.


** Somalia


The World Food Programme (WFP) today strongly condemned the hijacking which took place yesterday of another food-aid ship off the coast of Somalia.  This is the second time a WFP vessel has now been pirated.


The ship was in the process of being unloaded yesterday afternoon when six unidentified gunmen stormed it and forced it to leave the port.  Close to half of the cargo of 850 tons of WFP food aid remained on board.  We have more information upstairs from the World Food Programme. 


**Kosovo


Turning to Kosovo, following a two-to-one decision, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) yesterday chose to allow former Kosovo President and war crimes suspect Ramush Haradinaj to engage in politics and travel through Kosovo during his provisional release.


At the same time, however, he will not be permitted to hold any governmental positions, and he will be required to inform the UN Mission in Kosovo of his travels 24 hours in advance.


In other news, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Kosovo, Søren Jessen-Petersen, today met with U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns at the UN Mission’s headquarters in Pristina.  We have a readout of that meeting available upstairs.


**Controller


We also have upstairs the report of the UN Controller to the Fifth Committee of the General Assembly.  The Controller, Warren Sach, says that although the cash position is stronger than it was last year, and the projections to the end of the year are more positive than in 2004, the Organization is suffering from what he called “continuing fragility”.


He said the positive projections depend on relatively few Member States making their payments according to their schedules.  That text is upstairs.


**UNESCO


Lastly, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) today helped launch a new, inexpensive water filter that it says could help save millions of lives per year.


The device, which uses easily available materials and requires no power, effectively cleans arsenic from drinking water.


Arsenic often contaminates drinking water in industrialized countries as a result of mining and coal burning.  We have a full press release available on that upstairs.


That’s it for me.  Any questions?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Two questions.  One on the Jerome Ackerman investigation into Dileep Nair.  Do you know who he’s reporting to and when we can get a definitive result of that investigation?


Spokesman:  He will be sending his report to Chris Burnham, the Under-Secretary-General for Management, and I would think you would probably get something by the end of the year, if not by the end of November, but let me get back to you on those dates.


Question:  My second question was, you know that power outage that happened awhile ago?  Mark Malloch Brown had sent an internal e-mail that none of us got, saying that he would get to the bottom of that and inform people of what happened.  I think he probably circulated that internally, but as tenants of this Building, as well, we never heard anything.  Is it possible to get a readout of what he said?


Spokesman:  Sure.  Part of the outcome was an upgrading of the public address system and better instructions given over the public address system, so that not only can they be clearly heard but they can be clearly understood.  As for the actual cause of the power outage, last I checked it was a failure of some wiring, but I can see if I can get you some more details on that. 


Question:  I don’t know if you covered this before I walked in, but Ethiopia and Eritrea -- there seem to have been new restrictions on UN personnel on the border.  Your spokesperson, either in Addis or in Asmara, I forget which, was suggesting that the UN could no longer say with any confidence there wasn’t a build-up of troops leading to possible outbreak of hostilities.  How concerned are the UN and the Secretary-General that hostilities are now a real danger between Eritrea and Ethiopia again?


Spokesman:  The grounding of helicopters on the Eritrean side continues.  It continues to be of grave concern to us because it limits our ability to monitor what is happening in that zone.  Without helicopters, we can’t do overflights, we can’t resupply the outposts that we have, so the situation in terms of the helicopters is of concern to us, and it greatly limits our ability to monitor the area.


Question:  To follow up, can you confirm the fact that border patrols have also been now stopped by Eritrean militia, and if you can’t say, can we have a political affairs briefing or some such on all these warnings that are coming out from UN spokespeople, on the record, of basically a possible build-up of troops and the danger of hostilities?


Spokesman:  Sure, but the information that I have as of this morning did not include the issue of the stopping of movement of patrols on foot, but I will check for you on that.


[It was later announced that the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea is facing border restrictions.  According to the Mission there, there have been sporadic halts in patrols in the Temporary Security Zone and Adjacent Areas.  The Mission is monitoring the situation to assess the significance and is continuing its normal patrols by foot and vehicle.  Taking into account the limitations on the UN’s monitoring ability, no build-up of forces along the border has been seen.]


Question:  To start with, what’s going on with the discussion on the name of The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia?


Spokesman:  Mr. Nimetz, as always, sometimes makes proposals to that effect, and his good offices are continuing. 


Question:  Did he talk to the Secretary-General or any of the closest associates of the Secretary-General in regard to that?  Did he fully inform them what is the progress, what’s going on, what is the newest impact? 


Spokesman:  I don’t know of any direct conversations between the Secretary-General and Mr. Nimetz, but he is acting as a UN envoy, so I have no doubt that he is keeping everyone he needs to keep fully informed.


Question:  Who is the first in the line that he talks to at the UN administration?


Spokesman:  He reports to the Department of Political Affairs. 


Question:  So the head of Political Affairs, he talks to him?


Spokesman:  He reports to the Department of Political Affairs, yes.


Question:  Can you expand on what the nature of the problem is in the General Assembly Hall, specifically as it relates to the repairs that were seemingly done on the roof or ceiling of the hall recently?


Spokesman:  It’s raining a lot.


Question:  Can I quote you on that?


Spokesman:  You don’t have to quote me.  You can just go outside.  I don’t know if Pragati has any more details on the plumbing, but I can see if after we get the electrical update, we can get you a plumbing update, as well.


Question:  There were major repairs recently on the GA.


Spokesman:  Yes, exactly, I don’t know if it’s the same location, but I’m happy to put on my boots and check. 


Question:  Also on the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE), what is the latest you have on the timetable or possibility that this helicopter restriction will cause a significant redeployment of troops or force that to happen?


Spokesman:  It is causing, it has significant impact on our ability.  The head of the military for that mission, General Singh, has said that he’s considered closing at least two of the outposts, because they’re not being able to be resupplied.


Question:  At what point would that become absolutely necessary?  Would that be (inaudible)?


Spokesman:  We’re looking probably the next two weeks, if not a little less.


Question:  The other thing you said was that you had a response to the
G-77 letter to the Secretary-General.


Spokesman:  Yes, I gave that response.  You can check the record, and I’ll give it to you again.  I don’t have it in front of me, but we responded to that letter.


Question:  Also, can anything, if at all, be done about Somalia?  These ships seem to be hijacked every now and then.  Obviously, the United Nations is unable, there is no protection force which can extract them from the hands of the pirates?


Spokesman:  No, it’s a problem, and it reflects, I think, the general breakdown of security in Somalia as a whole.


Question:  When was the last time Mr. Nimetz submitted proposals to the parties, and if after that, there were or there are ongoing negotiations between them?


Spokesman:  I will get you an update and exact dates for you.  [The Spokesman later informed the journalist that Mr. Nimetz last presented ideas to the parties on Friday, 7 October 2005.  Given the present situation, Mr. Nimetz believes that there should be a quiet period in the process at this time.]


Question:  And lastly, when was the last time the Secretary-General reported to the Council on these negotiations?


Spokesman:  I will check for you on that.


Question:  I was just wondering if you had any news on the evacuation of UN staff in Darfur?


Spokesman:  No, I do not have an update, but I can get one for you on that, as well.  [The Spokesman later confirmed that UN staff was being evacuated.]


Question:  How often can Mr. Nimetz be seen at the UN Building?


Spokesman:  Mr. Nimetz does not have to punch in a card in and out...


Question:  I didn’t say it like that...


Spokesman:  No, no, I’m saying he can work over the phone.  I don’t keep track of the movements of when people are in and out of the Building.


Question:  When did you see him last?


Spokesman:  His portfolio does not include reporting to me.  I don’t know what exactly you’re getting at.  Mr. Nimetz is working on behalf of the Secretary-General, and he’s doing his work.


Question:  Do you have any update on the killing of, I mean the death of, or rather, the suicide-death of the Syrian Interior Minister at all, anything?


Spokesman:  No further update than all the information I gave you yesterday.


Question:  Can I ask you if Jack Straw spoke with the Secretary-general recently?


Spokesman:  Not in the last 48 hours, but I will double-check. 


Briefing by Spokesperson for General Assembly President


This morning, the meeting of the General Assembly plenary had to be moved to the Trusteeship Council Chamber because of leaks in the General Assembly Hall.  In opening the meeting, Assembly President Jan Eliasson said that “perhaps nature is sending us a message about the Capital Master Plan”.


The plenary is meeting to review the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the Decade to Roll Back Malaria.  In his statement, the President cited the commitments on aid made at the World Summit and G8 Summit, as well as those by African leaders on governance and creating an environment conducive to investment and development.  He said that, “Thanks in no small part to the African-owned agenda which NEPAD lays out, Africa is creating for itself a time of opportunity the likes of which we have not seen for a generation.”


On malaria, he noted that, despite a number of positive initiatives in distributing treated bed nets and more effective drugs, still “the tragic fact remains that every 30 seconds a child somewhere in Africa dies of malaria”.  He called for a strong partnership backed up by renewed financial and political commitments.


Yesterday, the co-Chairs of the informal consultations on the Human Rights Council, the Ambassadors of Panama and South Africa, sent a letter to all Member States suggesting an agenda for the next three meetings, running through the first of November. That letter is available upstairs, and we will also circulate it by e-mail.  The next meeting, on the mandate and functions of the Council, is scheduled for 18 October.


All the Main Committees are continuing their work today.  Any questions?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Can I ask, just about the GA, we were sort of giggling about it before, but the UN did spend $600,000 to repair that roof, and when it rains for more than a day, it starts leaking again.  Is the GA, or who would be looking into what went wrong when it seems obviously the repairs didn’t work properly?


Spokesman for the Secretary-General:  We’ll check.  That would be a plant and maintenance issue.


Question:  It’s not a GA issue?


Spokesman for the Secretary-General:  I don’t believe repairing the roof is a responsibility of the President.


Question:  Another quick question for Stéphane:  I was just wondering whether the Secretary-General likes the proposal that the UN decamp to a cruise ship on the East River, and whether he thinks it will be useful for making a quick getaway if things get a little bit hairy here in the U.S.? 


Spokesman:  I think that’s a great lead-in to talk about floods.  Hansjoerg, come on in.


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For information media • not an official record