29 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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon.  I’m sorry I’m a little late.  We’re trying to get the latest on Charles Taylor.


**Guests at Noon Briefing


But, before I go to that, just to let you know that we do have several guests today at the noon briefing and they’re already here.


The Department of Peacekeeping Operations has been holding a two-day meeting with troop-contributors and troop-receiving countries on the topic of enhancing gender balance amongst uniformed personnel in peacekeeping missions.  The meeting ends today and, to tell us about this, we’ll have here the Department’s Gender Adviser, Comfort Lamptey, and the UN’s Deputy Police Adviser, Mr. Lopes, and the meeting’s Chair, Nana Effah-Apenteng, the Permanent Representative of Ghana to the United Nations.


**Statement on Former Liberian President Charles Taylor


Now I have a statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on former Liberian President Charles Taylor.


“The Secretary-General is relieved by reports that Charles Taylor, the former President of Liberia, was detained by the Nigerian authorities after his initial disappearance yesterday.  He expects that Mr. Taylor will be transferred to Liberia sometime today for immediate dispatch to the Special Court for Sierra Leone, with the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) assistance.


“The Secretary-General strongly believes the capture and trial of Taylor will send a powerful message to the region and beyond that impunity will not be allowed to stand and the rule of law must prevail.”


And, according to the UN Mission in Liberia, they report now that Charles Taylor is in UN hands.


**Secretary-General on Charles Taylor


And some of you were downstairs when the Secretary-General walked into the building and he told you that he had spoken with Nigerian President Obasanjo, who had arrived in Washington.  He spoke to him last night.  And he said that Obasanjo, the President had informed the Secretary-General that he had taken every measure to search for Taylor and he had also put under arrest the guards who were watching Taylor.


And the Secretary-General added that Taylor’s capture, and possible trial, “sends a powerful message to the region, that impunity will not be allowed to stand, and would-be warlords will pay a price”.


And we have a transcript of those informal comments, as well.


**Statement on Avian Influenza


We have another statement today, and this one is on avian influenza.


The Secretary-General expressed his deep concern about the rapid spread of avian influenza from Asia into Europe, the Middle East and Africa.


To do their part, and protect their people, some nations are absolutely dependent on outside assistance, the Secretary-General says.  And, nowhere is this more the case, than in Africa, where the Secretary-General says that he learned, first hand, that there is an immediate and desperate need for expertise, funds, transport and equipment.  With cases now confirmed in four African countries, the need grows more pressing every day.


And, bearing in mind the growing challenges faced by poor countries in all regions, donors will have to be prepared to mobilize additional resources for urgent as well as long-term needs.


The Secretary-General warns, “Avian influenza threatens the entire world.  It knows no borders.  It is our collective responsibility to ensure that all countries -- rich and poor -- are protected and prepared.  The United Nations family will do all it can, to help ensure that this happens.”  And we have a full text of that statement upstairs.


**Security Council


Meanwhile, here at UN Headquarters, the Security Council met this morning on Côte d’Ivoire, to hear a briefing by that country’s Foreign Minister.  It then went into consultations on the same subject, with the Director of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations’ Africa Division briefing.  The Council is later expected to adopt a presidential statement on Côte d’Ivoire.


Also on the Council’s agenda this morning is Lebanon, specifically the proposed tribunal, which would deal with the assassination of former Prime Minister Hariri.  And consultations and the adoption of a resolution are expected on that matter.


The Security Council will also hold consultations and adopt a resolution on the Sudan Panel of Experts, which deals with sanctions, and whose mandate will soon be expiring.


And under other matters, the Security Council will be briefed by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations on Charles Taylor.


**Death of UNHCR Staff Member


A staff member from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) passed away in a Nairobi hospital overnight, from wounds he received two weeks ago in an attack on UNHCR’s compound in south Sudan.  The 48-year-old Iraqi, who had been hired to handle logistics, and who had joined the refugee agency in 1991, leaves behind a wife and four children.  He was assigned last October to the Agency’s south Sudan operation.


The UN Refugee Agency’s staff around the world observed a minute of silence today in tribute.  There is more on this upstairs.

**Kosovo


And turning to Kosovo, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative there, Søren Jessen-Petersen, has expressed deep regret at the stabbing yesterday evening of a Kosovo Serb youth in the northern part of the town of Mitrovica.  He has asked the police to investigate, and has urged restraint in the meantime.  And we have a statement on that upstairs.


** Pakistan


And, turning to Pakistan, the UN Refugee Agency reports that the first relief camps in the country’s earthquake zone had been emptied, after more than 36,000 people left for their homes, as part of the return process that started this month.  And there’s more on their website on this update.


**Malaria Event


And tonight at 6 p.m., there will be an event here at Headquarters, in the Dag Hammarskjöld Auditorium, to highlight the fight against malaria.  The film, Africa Live: The Roll Back Malaria Concert, will be screened, and there will be a panel discussion.


Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, Shashi Tharoor, as well as UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, Youssou N’dour, and the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the Millennium Development Goals, Jeffrey Sachs, will be there.  And we have a media advisory on this upstairs.


**Press Conference


And finally, just to let you know, tomorrow, the New York launch of the 2006 Survey of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific will take place at 11:15 in this room.  Ambassador Yerzhan Kazykhanov of Kazakhstan, and Robert Vos, Chief of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs Development Policy and Analysis Division, will be briefing.  And that’s tomorrow.


Before I turn over the floor to the Department of Peacekeeping Operations guests.  Any questions for me?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  You said in UN hands.  Charles Taylor.  Can you give us any more specifics?


Deputy Spokesman:  The operation is still ongoing, so I think we would refrain from going into further details at this point.  As you know, the Secretary-General did mention that he would be transferred to the Sierra Leone Court.  And when that’s complete, we’ll confirm.


Question:  Sorry, in your last update, where was he?  Was he on a UN plane?  Was he with the Nigerians still?


Deputy Spokesman:  He… the UN Mission in Liberia confirmed that he was in UN hands in Monrovia.  I believe he’s on a UN aircraft –- a UN helicopter.


Question:  Is he flying out of Monrovia now to…


Deputy Spokesman:  Beyond that, I will… let’s wait until the operation is complete.


[The Deputy Spokesman later announced that a UN helicopter carrying Taylor had landed in Freetown at 7:06 p.m. local time, and Taylor was in the custody of the Special Court for Sierra Leone.]


Question:  The Cambodian Prime Minister is reported as calling the UN Envoy Yash Ghai “deranged”, and that he would never meet him, and wanting him sacked.  I was wondering if the UN had any reply to that statement.


Deputy Spokesman:  We are aware of the report that you are referring to.  There is a press release regarding the Envoy’s statement upstairs for you to see.  As for our immediate reaction to that incident, my understanding is that a full translation of the Prime Minister’s statement is being made now.  So we won’t have anything to say after that. 


But I do want to flag the fact that the Secretary-General has repeatedly expressed the hope that Prime Minister Hun Sen would ensure freedom of expression and respect by Cambodia for its human rights obligations and the rule of law.


Question:  There’s a report in the Canadian newspaper that Mr. Maurice Strong, who left here about two or three years ago, after it was discovered that he had hired his stepdaughter in the UN -- that he’s back in the UN fold, and he’s working on some sort of a project to get some funding for North Korea.  My question is, is he still a de facto UN ambassador to help North Korea, or is he doing it in a personal capacity.


Deputy Spokesman:  He is not a UN envoy.  I’m not aware of the Canadian press reports you are referring to, but let me look into that for you.  But, as far as we’re concerned, he is not.


Question:  Sorry, just further on the Cambodia issue, does the Secretary-General stand by and endorse Mr. Yash Ghai’s statement?


Deputy Spokesman:  The Secretary-General… he appointed his Envoy for Cambodia and he obviously stands by the work of his Envoy.


Question:  Does he endorse the statement?


Deputy Spokesman:  I’d have to ask him.  Thanks.


Question:  Do you have any comment on this report that President Bush, at this point in time, does not want Ibrahim Jaafri to be involved in any future Iraqi Government.


Deputy Spokesman:  No, I don’t have any immediate comment on that either.


If there are no other questions for me, I’d like to turn the floor over to the Department of Peacekeeping guests.  We have the Department’s Gender Adviser, the Permanent Representative of Ghana and the Deputy Police Adviser.


* *** *


For information media • not an official record