20 March 2007
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing

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

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


Following is a near verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


**Guest at noon today


Good afternoon.  Our guest at the briefing today is Mr. Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.  Mr. de Boer will brief you on his meeting with environmental ministers at the “G-8+5” meeting that took place this last weekend in Germany.


**Secretary-General / Palestinian National Unity Government


I will start with a clarification.  The Secretary-General views the establishment of the new Government of Palestine as an important and positive step forward, and he wants to encourage that process.  At the same time, he expressed disappointment because he would like to see the program of the National Unity Government fully reflect Quartet principles.


He will be watching very carefully the new Government's actions and hopes to see further positive movement in that direction.


**UNIFIL


Also, to answer some questions we received yesterday about UNIFIL, a number of recent press articles regarding UNIFIL have not accurately reported the Mission’s current activities.  Contrary to what was expressed in one article, there has been no official communication between the United Nations and the Lebanese Government planning for the establishment of a UN or any other monitoring mechanism on the Lebanese border with Syria.


UNIFIL is mandated under resolution 1701 to assist the Government of Lebanon to secure its border with Syria, at the request of the Government of Lebanon.  Until now, the Government has not made any such request and UNIFIL’s activities are limited to helping facilitate international bilateral assistance to the Government of Lebanon in this regard.


As the Secretary-General stated in his recent report regarding the implementation of resolution 1701, the United Nations strongly encourages bilateral assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces and other internal security and border agencies to assist the Government to secure all its borders.


It should be noted that any smuggling across the Lebanese border with Syria is a serious violation of resolution 1701.


As the Secretary-General’s recent report stated, it is critical to reinforce and strengthen the Lebanese Armed Forces and other internal security and border agencies so that the Lebanese Government is able to extend its authority over all its territory, including all its border areas.


**Security Council


The Security Council is holding a meeting on Afghanistan.  Briefing Council members were the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan Tom Koenigs and Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the Office on Drugs and Crime.  We have their briefings upstairs and they will both go to the Security Council stakeout microphone immediately after the meeting.


Mr. Koenigs, the Special Representative, in his briefing, said that while the conflict continues in the South, with Afghanistan’s border areas in the east and southeast vulnerable to incursions and violence, the need for strategic co-ordination of military, political and development efforts is stronger than ever.  The threat to peace has not diminished.


Mr. Costa, referring to the current opium situation, outlined four points and said he hoped that the Security Council will judge these developments as helpful to free Afghanistan from the clutches of drugs, crime and violence.


** Sudan


The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, after briefing the Security Council yesterday afternoon on Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s response to the Secretary-General’s letter detailing UN support to the African Union force in Darfur, said: “We still have, unfortunately, a long way to go because there may be some fundamental misunderstandings on what are the expectations of the Government of Sudan and what is on offer.”


But in response to a question, the Under-Secretary-General said, “We'll never take any reaction as a rejection.  We can't afford that and the people in Darfur can't afford that."


** Darfur Today


Meanwhile, the most recent humanitarian update from Darfur reports that camps for internally displaced persons are almost at full capacity due to a continuing influx of people fleeing violence.


The report noted the need to locate a site for a new camp in the vicinity of El Fasher, capital of North Darfur.  A new site has been identified in North Darfur near Zam Zam camp, which is nearing maximum capacity.


According to the report, 30,000 people were displaced across Darfur in February, bringing the total number of people who have fled violence in the region since January to 80,000.  In 2006, almost half a million people were displaced. 


**Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty


The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty is 10 years old this year.  And on the occasion of the commemoration of the Treaty’s anniversary, Sergei Ordzhonikidze, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva and Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament, spoke at a special event in the Palais des Nations in Geneva.  He said that the conclusion of the Treaty marked the completion of an important step in the ongoing process towards the verified elimination of all nuclear weapons.  And yet challenges that impede the Treaty’s entry into force persist. 


“A universal and effectively verifiable Treaty constitutes a fundamental instrument in the field of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation,” the Director-General noted.  He added that the Treaty’s entry into force would restore confidence in multilateral security arrangements in general, and would boost efforts to negotiate further instruments towards nuclear disarmament, such as a treaty on fissile materials.  And we have his full remarks upstairs.


** Lebanon


Available as a document today is the latest progress report of the International Independent Investigation Commission on the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and 22 others.


In it, chief investigator Serge Brammertz provides information on his team’s progress in the Hariri case, with particular emphasis on developing crime scene leads and collecting evidence relating to perpetrators as well as other aspects of the case.  The report also asserts that the Commission has continued to provide significant technical assistance on 15 other cases.  The Commission also reports that it continues to work with the Lebanese authorities on the investigation of the 13 February bombings, in which three people were killed and at least 20 people were injured when two explosions occurred on two buses travelling through the village of Ain Alaq, near Beirut.


And Brammertz is scheduled to brief the Security Council on March 21 and will also speak to correspondents at the 2nd floor stakeout after briefing the Council.


**Human Rights Council


In Geneva, the Human Rights Council began discussing thematic reports today, hearing presentations in the morning from human rights experts on minorities’ issues; the rights of migrants; and the rights and freedoms of indigenous peoples. 


This afternoon, the Council is considering three additional reports, namely, from the representative of the Secretary-General on human rights of internally displaced persons; the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; and the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.  We have additional information available in a press release for you upstairs.


** Iraq -- Refugees


The UN refugee agency says that invitations have now gone out to more than 190 governments, 65 international organizations and some 60 NGOs for next month's international humanitarian conference on refugees and displaced persons in Iraq and neighbouring countries.


The April 17-18 ministerial-level meeting will be held in Geneva in the Palais des Nations.  It will examine the humanitarian dimensions of the displacement crisis, identify the enormous needs, and seek to forge a common international effort to address those needs, including through sharing the burden that's now being borne by neighbouring states.


It will also seek targeted responses to specific, urgent humanitarian problems, including immediate solutions for those who are particularly vulnerable both inside and outside Iraq.


**FAO –- Africa Floods


The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is appealing for close to $4 million to help flood victims in southern Africa, where heavy rains and a series of cyclones have destroyed thousands of hectares of crops.


As part of efforts to adapt aid to conditions on the ground, affected families in Mozambique will be given vouchers that they can redeem for seeds, tools and even small livestock at trade fairs organized by the FAO and the local Government.


The agency is also asking for help for Madagascar, where cyclones have caused severe crop damage over the past four months.  In the coming days, the FAO also plans to launch an appeal for funding for Zambia.  We have a press release upstairs.


**WFP –- Sri Lanka


The World Food Programme (WFP) is ramping up its operations in eastern Sri Lanka, where intense fighting between Government and LTTE (Tamil Tiger) forces has more than doubled the number of internally displaced persons in just the past week.  The WFP plans to send nearly 600 tons of rice and wheat flour to the Batticaloa District.  The agency warns, however, that its available food stocks in Sri Lanka are dwindling.  The WFP has received only about a third of its required funding for food assistance, and could run out of supplies by the end of next month unless it receives new contributions soon.  We have a press release upstairs.


**IFAD -- Remittances


The UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) is launching a global initiative to improve the remittances services used by foreign workers around the world to send money back to their families in rural areas.


IFAD is establishing a $10 million financing facility to fund innovative money transfer proposals.  While competition has driven down the cost of sending remittances between major cities, it is still more expensive to send money to rural areas that lack formal financial services. 


As part of the Fund’s efforts to turn remittances into a development tool, priority will be given to proposals submitted by financial institutions that link remittances with other services, such as savings, insurance and loans.  We have a press release upstairs.


**World Bank -- Climate Change


The World Bank today launched the Carbon Fund for Europe, in partnership with the European Investment Bank.  The Carbon Fund is a €50 million trust designed to help European countries meet their commitments to the Kyoto Protocol and the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme. 


The fund will purchase greenhouse gas emission reductions from climate-friendly investment projects.  We have more in a press release upstairs.


**UNESCAP – Infrastructure Conference


The United Nations Economic and Social Commission on Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) is holding a regional meeting in New Delhi, India from 21-22 March, to tackle underinvestment in infrastructure in the Asia-Pacific region.  A proposal is expected to be made in the meeting on raising the $200 billion annually.  UNESCAP estimates that the requirement of infrastructure investment in the region is over $600 billion annually but falls short by about $200 billion every year.


**Guest at noon tomorrow


And our guest at the noon briefing tomorrow will be Mr. Antonio Maria Costa, the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. 


This is all I have for you.  Thank you.  Yes?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Did you say you were clarifying the Secretary-General’s statement on the Palestinian Unity Government?  What is the clarification?


Spokesperson:  The clarification is that the disappointment that was noted by some media, I just explained the fact that he is watching very carefully the new Government’s actions and he hopes to see positive movement in that direction.  He wants to encourage the process.  His disappointment was, because he would like to see the programme of the National Unity Government fully reflect Quartet principles.


Question:  This is broadly what he said yesterday in his statement.  That’s why I asked what was the clarification.


Spokesperson:  Because there were some misunderstandings, apparently.  We have gotten quite a few questions about this statement, so we had to clarify what was said.  Yes?


Question:  Michèle, is the Secretary-General going to meet the President of Syria, al Assad?


Spokesperson:  I can check.  I don’t know.  I don’t know.


Question:  Okay, because a media source is telling me that he is going to meet him, that the news is broken.  Is he visiting Baghdad also?


Spokesperson:  No, he is not visiting Baghdad.  And he is not going to Syria.


Question:  He is not going to Syria?


Spokesperson:  No, he is not.


Question:  I was just wondering if you could tell us what’s holding up the statement from the Quartet?


Spokesperson:  I don’t know at this point.  I do know that some of the principals had to discuss the terms of the statement, and that’s why the statement has not been released yet.


Question:  Do you know when it might be released?


Spokesperson:  I really don’t know at this point.  Yes, in back?


Question:  Just to follow up on the first question, according to the Secretary-General, what is the new Palestinian Government required to do in order to show its commitment to the Quartet and the calls of the international community?


Spokesperson:  Well, you know, the conditions of the Quartet were set quite clearly.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?


Question:  Michèle, yesterday the Secretary-General met with Mr. Ould-Abdallah, the Special Representative to West Africa, and Mr. Bedjaoui, the Foreign Minister of Algeria.  Can we have a readout of those two meetings?


Spokesperson:  I will get it for you.  I think we have the readout upstairs for Algeria, but I can check for the other one for you.  Yes, Laura?


Question:  I wanted to ask you about the Human Rights Council that you mentioned had gone over some reports.  British Foreign Minister Margaret Beckett called on the Human Rights Council to examine the problems going on right now in Zimbabwe.  Was there any mention of that in the (inaudible)?


Spokesperson:  Not that I know of and I haven’t seen any reaction on the part of the Council on that.  But, we can certainly get more information from Geneva.  If I find anything concerning that, I will let you know.  Yes, Masood?


Question:  Michèle, there is a United Nations report out, which says that there are thousands and thousands of refugees, Iraqi refugees, in Jordan and in Syria and that they are suffering from malnutrition, lack of medicine and everything.  What is being done about that? Are there (inaudible) there?  I mean, they are there, I know that’s what the report says.  How is their situation being eased?


Spokesperson:  There are United Nations programmes related to those refugees and we can get more information for you on that.


Question:  I want to ask another question about this official at UNESCO.  As you probably are aware, he gave out contracts to six American concerns without an open bidding process.  Are the same rules applicable which are here, at the United Nations?  Or, are those rules separate?


Spokesperson:  UNESCO is a separate agency, but it is part of the United Nations family and I just want to reiterate the principles, as yet expressed, of the need in all United Nations bodies for accountability and transparency, as well as investigations into allegations of wrongdoing.  But, you know, this is not a case that the United Nations Office of Oversight Services is involved with.


Question:  So, it doesn’t oversee that body?


Spokesperson:  Not directly.


Question:  Any body… okay.


Spokesperson:  Yes?


Question:  One follow-up to Laura’s question.  There’s a move afoot in the Human Rights Council to eliminate the Special Rapporteurs.  It has been proposed by a number of countries that there no longer be investigations of abuse in countries.  Kofi Annan used to call these Rapporteurs the “crown jewel of the human rights system,” and I’m wondering if Ban Ki-moon has any position.  I understand you are going to say it’s a Human Rights Council matter, but it’s so central to the United Nations system that I’m wondering if Mr. Ban has any position on whether that type of human rights inquiry should continue.


Spokesperson:  To start out with, the Human Rights Council has not decided on anything of that sort.  You know, this is…some countries might talk about it, but this is not at all being decided by the Council right now at this point.  The Secretary-General expects the Human Rights Council to complete its discussions on its procedures by June and he stands strongly behind the special procedures, which he has consistently supported.  So, this is his position.


Question:  I just wanted to ask you one question.  The AU has called for additional, from the United Nations, financial and logistical help for its mission in Somalia, saying it really needs it and things are…so, I’m wondering if the Secretary-General is going to propose that, what the response from the United Nations system or DPKO is to this urgent request from the AU for help in Somalia.


Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t have an answer on this yet.  You know, the AU has proposed that and we should know more about it very soon.  There should be a formal request done.  Yes?


Question:  Does the Secretary-General have any reaction to Peter Smith’s resignation from UNESCO and the audit being made against him?


Spokesperson:  Well, we just had that question a few minutes ago.  No reaction.  Yes, Mr. Abaddi?


Question:  Michèle, today is the International Day of the Francophonie and also the entry into force of the UNESCO convention on cultural diversity.  Does the Secretary-General have any message or comment on this occasion?


Spokesperson:  On the Day of Francophonie?  No, I don’t have a statement, but as you know he is for cultural diversity and he has said it several times, and for also language parity.


Question:  Today is Equinox and at 8:07 tonight the Peace Bell will be rung in honour of Earth Day.  Usually, the Secretary-General, or many times, the Secretary-General has participated.  Who is participating this time, tonight, from the United Nations? Does the Secretary-General participate? Is somebody else appointed to do that?


Spokesperson:  I don’t know at this point.  I’ll check for you.


Question: It happens tonight at 8:07 downstairs at the Peace Bell.


Spokesperson: Thank you for informing us.  Yes?


Question: Following Russian anger over the United Nations plan on the official status of Kosovo and even an implied threat of a veto, what are the options left for the Secretary-General to pursue the plan?


Spokesperson: Well, at this point, we are not discussing hypothetical questions and I think we will wait for something to happen.


Question: There was nothing hypothetical about what the Russian ambassador said.


Spokesperson: Well, the Russian ambassador said it.  But you know, at this point, the Security Council is dealing with the question, right?  Yes, okay.  Yes, any other questions?  Okay, I would like to have Mr. de Boer just to come over and brief you.


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