9 March 2006
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


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon.


I’d like first to welcome our visiting journalists -- here from the Middle East -- who are participating in the International Visitor’s Leadership Programme, sponsored by the US Department of State. Welcome to the UN.


**Secretary-General’s Travel


I’ll first start with an announcement on travels for the Secretary-General.  The Secretary-General will be travelling to Africa for a two-week visit.  His first stop is Cape Town, South Africa, where he is scheduled to meet with President Thabo Mbeki, and address a joint session of Parliament.  And, while in South Africa, he is also expected to visit Johannesburg.


The Secretary-General will then travel to Madagascar for an official visit, where he plans to hold meetings with the President and other officials, and receive an honorary doctorate from the National Academy of Arts, Letters and Sciences.


An official visit to the Republic of Congo will then follow.  In Brazzaville, he is expected to meet with the President, who is also, as you know, the current African Union President.


The final leg of this scheduled trip is the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).  While in Kinshasa, the Secretary-General plans to meet with President Joseph Kabila and address the Congolese people.  Also in the DRC, the Secretary-General is expected to travel outside the capital, to Kisangani.


He plans to depart this weekend and return two weeks later to New York.  Please note that the exact itinerary of this trip is subject to change.


**Central Emergency Response Fund


Earlier this morning, the Secretary-General addressed the launch of the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).  Calling the Fund “proactive, rather than reactive”, he said that it will ensure that, in the critical realm of humanitarian assistance, the UN will do more, and do it sooner.


He also gave his commitment that the Fund will be transparent, with a new website reporting all expenditures and programme results to the General Assembly, donors, as well as the public.  The Secretary-General added that the Fund is not just about money, “it actually makes the statement that in a world of plenty, unnecessary and avoidable suffering is inexcusable”…


[Meeting services staff place water and pitchers on the podium]


Thank you (laughs). No respect. No respect. [laughter]


We have the full text of the Secretary-General’s remarks upstairs, and the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Jan Egeland, and the Prime Minister of Grenada, Keith Mitchell, will be here to tell you more about the Fund in just a few moments, after I am done here.


** Iran


Yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General forwarded to the Security Council, a letter from the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei.


In that letter, Dr. ElBaradei transmitted the report on Iran that he gave to the Agency’s Board of Governors, for the meeting that began on 6 March, which ended yesterday.  He noted that the Board of Governors did not adopt a resolution in its March meeting.


** Sudan


And turning now to Darfur, citing deteriorating security that has severely limited its operations and access in Sudan’s Darfur region, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, today announced a 44 per cent reduction in its 2006 programme budget for the region.


In a revised supplementary appeal for Darfur for 2006, UNHCR notes that, the steady erosion of security in recent months in much of Darfur, prompted the United Nations, in January, to impose tighter restrictions on staff and operations in several areas.  A number of UNHCR staff were relocated out of the affected areas and the movements of those remaining are now severely limited.


And you can read more about it in a press release and notes from UNHCR, which are available upstairs.


Also on Sudan, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sudan, Jan Pronk, is in Paris today, to attend a World Bank meeting on Sudan, to which he referred, when he spoke to you in this room recently.  And, earlier this week, he visited Cairo, where he met with the Egyptian Foreign Minister and the Secretary-General of the Arab League.


** Ethiopia and Eritrea


And turning to Ethiopia and Eritrea, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Ethiopia and Eritrea is on his way to London, to attend the meetings tomorrow, as well as the next day, of the Eritrea Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC).


And, as you’ll recall, the Secretary-General urges the parties, in his latest report on the UN Mission, which is out on the racks today, to seize the unique opportunity and extend the necessary cooperation to the Commission, so that the expeditious demarcation of the common border can take place.


** Pakistan


From Pakistan, the UN’s relief coordination office says that, five months after the earthquake, there has been no second wave of deaths, no massive population movement down the mountains, no severe malnutrition, and no outbreak of epidemics.


The major challenge now, according to Jamie McGoldrick, who is OCHA’s Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator in Pakistan, is to keep relief operations going until the end of this month, improving sanitation in the smaller camps, and preparing for the return of internally displaced people.


Plans are currently under way with the Special Envoy for the South Asian Earthquake Disaster, former US President George H. W. Bush, for a high-level launch of “The Action Plan from Relief to Recovery” in New York, which will cover a one year period starting in April 2006.


**Avian Flu


Meanwhile, the World Health Organization’s chief, Dr. Lee Jong-Wook, is currently wrapping up a visit to Madagascar, Mauritius and Kenya.  While addressing different issues in each country, bird flu was the common theme.


Speaking to the press today in Nairobi, he said that, while there was no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission of the bird flu virus, or any other potential influenza pandemic virus at this time, African countries must use the time nature is giving them to prepare.


**Water


And a new UN report out today says the world has plenty of water, but mismanagement, limited resources and environmental changes mean that almost one-fifth of the planet’s population still lacks access to safe drinking water, and 40 per cent does not have basic sanitation.


The report, written with contributions from 24 UN agencies, was presented in Mexico City today, in advance of an international water forum, which starts next week.  And we do have a press release on that upstairs.


** Iraq Compensation Commission


Meanwhile, from Geneva, the Governing Council of the UN Compensation Commission today concluded its fifty-ninth session in Geneva.  And we have a press release available on that upstairs.


**Timor-Leste


And lastly, four years after gaining independence, Timor-Leste remains one of the world’s least-developed nations, says the country’s National Human Development Report 2006, launched in the capital, Dili, yesterday, by the Government and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). 


The UN’s newest Member State ranks below all of the countries of the Association of South-East Asian Nations, known as ASEAN, on the human-development index.  Half the population lacks safe drinking water, while life expectancy, at only 55.5 years of age in 2004, is not improving.  And we have more information upstairs form UNDP.


And before we turn to Mr. Egeland, who I hope will show up soon, I will answer Benny’s question.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Just now, (inaudible) told us that Shebaa farms, he thought, went by resolution 242, as opposed to 425.  And, the question is, since Foreign Minister Lavrov said yesterday that, eventually, in the long run, we may to revisit the question of the Shebaa farms, does the Secretary-General have any qualms about that and where are we on that?


Spokesman:  I can’t predict what will happen in the long run.  The Secretary-General’s position, and the Security Council’s position, on the Shebaa farms is well known and unchanged, and I would refer you to even his latest report on the UN Mission in Lebanon.


Question:  Going back to Ethiopia/Eritrea, you say the Secretary-General’s Representative is on his way to London.  Does the Secretary-General have an assurance that all sides will be participating in this conference?  And what does the Secretary-General expect from this meeting?


Spokesman:  You know, this is not a meeting that is chaired by us, as the Commission is independent, so I can’t give you the assurances, as to who would be there.  What we would like to see, is movement on the demarcation.  But, obviously, for that to proceed, we would have to see all the restrictions that have been placed on the Mission by Eritrea, lifted.


Question:  Following the release of the Secretary-General’s management reform report, most of the Staff Union seems not happy with it, and they have said so in a meeting earlier -- day before yesterday -- with the Secretary-General.  Now they are holding an emergency meeting, I believe, to protest and pass a “no confidence” motion.


Spokesman:  You know, the Staff Union is obviously free to meet -- that’s what they’re there for -- and pass resolutions.  But, I would stress that, first of all, the report, as laid out, was a strategic approach, and will affect staff, and is for the benefit of staff, throughout the UN system, both at Headquarters and in the field.  Now, this phase of the report is the consultation phase that will be going on at different levels.  There will be formal consultations with the Staff Union through the Joint Advisory Committee, and then, later on, with the Staff Management Committee.


But, meanwhile, all the heads of departments have been asked to meet with their staff to explain the report, and to talk to them and consult with them about the implementations.  So the consultations with staff will be getting under way at a very serious level for the implementation of this report.


Question:  On Iran, did the Secretary-General consider maybe postponing his trip to Africa, given the fact that the Iran issue is coming here, and it’s going to be on the agenda in the Council so prominently and things are probably going to get very busy on that?  And, is he considering playing any role in that himself, possibly negotiating or discussing this issue with Teheran directly?


Spokesman:  No, the Secretary-General, as far as I’m aware, is not planning any personal initiatives.  The matter is now in front of the Security Council and we will see how they will resolve… we don’t know what action the Council will take, but we’ll have to wait and see.  And, as for the Secretary-General, while he’s on the road, he remains in constant touch with his staff here and as to what is happening at Headquarters.


Question:  A follow-up to Masood’s question.  Looking back at this, wouldn’t it have been more beneficial for those who wrote the report and prepared this reform plan, to consult earlier on with the Staff Union, because that seems to be their major gripe currently.


Spokesman:  It’s clear that the Secretary-General acknowledged that there was no formal consultation with staff.  But, I think a couple of points need to be made.  First of all, especially on the human resources part of the report, there was a great effort from the Human Resources Department to collect input from staff, and suggestions.  And they did that, a number of times last year, in November and December of last year.  And, in fact, e-mails went out to every staff member, asking for suggestions on the human resources rules and regulations.  So there was staff input.


But, this is a report to the Member States, who are our bosses and who basically regulate our employment here at the UN.  It’s a strategic vision that is laid out to the Member States, and now, of course, in its implementation, staff will be consulted, and, as I said, both formally with the Staff Union and more informally, through each of the departments.


Question:  On Darfur, if I understood you correctly, you said UNHCR is reducing its budget.  So, I guess… does that mean there is a reduction or an increase in refugees?  And, is that decision contingent on what the AU decides -- I think there’s a meeting tomorrow, about whether to invite in a force?  It just seems strange to me, reducing a budget to deal with refugees.


Spokesman:  Their operations are being reduced, as I said, for security reasons, and the high level of insecurity that now exists in Darfur.  Obviously, one way to solve that problem is for a robust and mobile peacekeeping force to operate in that area.  And, of course, as important, is for a political agreement to be reached amongst the parties in Darfur.


Question:  On the question of Darfur.  There was a suggestion last year by the Secretary-General that he would be seeking the United States assistance in the deployment of peacekeeping troops from the US.  Did the Secretary-General discuss this with President Bush in his recent discussions and, if so, what has been the result?


Spokesman:  In the recent discussions with the President of the United States in Washington, last month, if I’m not mistaken, the Secretary-General laid out his vision for an eventual UN force in Darfur, which would have to be mobile and robust, and would have to be proactive and prevent attacks where it can.  And, that, obviously, would mean that, once we have a much clearer vision… once the planning process for the force is done, that we will come back to those countries that have the capabilities… the technical capabilities to help put that force together, we will come back to them with specific requests.  But, it was a clear understanding between the Secretary-General and the President for a need for a new kind of force in Darfur.


Question:  Another Ethiopia-Eritrea question.  In his report this week, the Secretary-General criticized Eritrea for restricting the movements of UN observers on the border.  I think he used the term “increasingly untenable”.  What’s the status of communications on that issue, and will the Secretary-General’s Representative be going with an agenda on that subject to London?


Spokesman:  The aim of the Secretary-General’s Special Representative’s visit to London is, specifically, on the Boundary Commission.  I’ll try to find out if there’s anything else.  As far as I understand it, we still have not received good explanations from the Eritrean side, as to why these restrictions were imposed in the first place.


Okay. I’ll be right back with Mr. Egeland and the Prime Minister.


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For information media • not an official record