14 May 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


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


Good afternoon all.


**Under-Secretary-General’s Visit to Uganda and Somalia


Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes today arrived in Kampala, Uganda.  Tomorrow, he is scheduled to visit Kitgum in northern Uganda, where he will meet local authorities and humanitarian workers.  He will also meet with internally displaced persons, including ex-combatants, at a settlement camp.


Over the weekend, Holmes visited Somalia.  He was the first Under-Secretary-General to visit the country in 14 years.  The mission had to be cut short for security reasons, and plans for a second day in Somalia were cancelled.  Nevertheless, in discussions with President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed and Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi, Holmes did have the opportunity to stress that the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) needs to provide a more enabling operating environment for aid workers.  Mr. Holmes also raised his concerns over human rights abuses in the country, and received assurances from the TFG that it would let High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour visit Somalia.  We have more information on that upstairs.


** Iraq


On Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, today called upon the Constitutional Review Committee to find consensus among all of the political blocs on needed changes to the Constitution, and he encouraged it to build consensus and foster compromise.  The deadline for the completion of the constitutional review is tomorrow.


Mr. Qazi reiterated the determination of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) to assist the Committee in its efforts to deal with the core constitutional issues at the heart of how Iraq’s federal system will function -- namely, a balanced division of powers between the federal Government and the regions, and a system for the fair distribution of oil revenues throughout Iraq.  We have a press release with more details upstairs.


** Democratic Republic of the Congo


The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, William Lacy Swing, this weekend visited camps for internally displaced persons in Rutshuru in the restive North Kivu province.  With some 140,000 more civilians displaced by the insecurity and recurrent bouts of violence in the region since the start of 2007, Swing appealed to the displaced Congolese to continue to seek United Nations and international support and promised to press the Kinshasa authorities to work speedily towards improving their situation.


Noting that some 85 per cent of United Nations peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo were deployed in the north-eastern provinces, Swing said that the United Nations Force Commander and representatives of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs would be assessing local conditions with a view to addressing the immediate needs of the internally displaced.  Swing later held working meetings with Congolese and United Nations officials posted in the region.


High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour today started her 12-day mission to the Great Lakes region, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  She met in Kinshasa with President Joseph Kabila, Prime Minister Antoine Gizenga, Defence Minister Chikez Diemu and senators and deputies in the National Assembly, as well as representatives of Congolese human rights groups.


Tomorrow, she is scheduled to meet with the Ministers for Foreign Affairs, Justice and Human Rights, and she is expected to head to Kisangani on Thursday.  Among the issues she is discussing are the need to combat the still widespread impunity in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, sexual violence against women and girls, and the use of child soldiers.


**Timor-Leste


On Timor-Leste, the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) welcomes the unfolding of the judicial process over the past few months in the ongoing case of the former Interior Minister, Rogerio Lobato.  The head of UNMIT, Atul Khare, has commended all relevant parties involved in the trial of the former Interior Minister, noting that Lobato submitted voluntarily and peacefully to justice.  He also hopes that others, including Alfredo Reinado, would follow this example.  The latest decision shows that a culture of impunity will not be tolerated in Timor-Leste and respect for the legal process will lead to the longer-term goals of national reconciliation.


**AIDS


On AIDS, despite increased political commitment and funding for the AIDS response, most people who inject drugs are still being denied access to basic HIV-prevention and treatment services, according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, known as UNAIDS.  The number of people who inject drugs globally was estimated at over 13 million at the end of 2005; yet, only 8 per cent have access to some kind of HIV-prevention service, UNAIDS says.  We have more details in a press release upstairs.


**World Health Assembly


Today in Geneva, the World Health Assembly opened its sixtieth session.  The Assembly is the supreme policy- and decision-making body of the World Health Organization (WHO).  For the next week and a half, member States will discuss various issues, including avian and pandemic influenza, polio and smallpox eradication, malaria and tuberculosis control, health- and emergency-care systems and progress in the use of medicines.


**Security Council


There are no Security Council meetings scheduled for today, but the Secretary-General is scheduled to hold his monthly luncheon with Security Council members tomorrow.


**Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women


The thirty-eighth session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women got under way at Headquarters this morning.  For the next three weeks, the Committee will consider country reports from Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger, Pakistan, Serbia, Syria and Vanuatu on measures they have taken to implement the Convention [on All Forms of Discrimination against Women].


**Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues


Also this morning, the sixth session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues got under way.  This year’s theme focuses on “Territories, Lands and Natural Resources”.


At 1:15 p.m., here in Room 226, there will be a press conference on the opening of the current session.  Here to brief you will be Permanent Forum Chairperson Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, and Forum members Ida Nicolaisen and Hassan Id Balkassm.


This is all I have for you today.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  I’m afraid I wasn’t here late on Friday, so I don’t know if you issued a statement then.  Does the Secretary-General congratulate Zimbabwe on its assumption of the Chair of the Commission on Sustainable Development?


Spokesperson:  No, he hasn’t.  It is not customary for the Secretary-General to do so.


Question:  More important, separately from Zimbabwe, the entire Commission on Sustainable Development collapsed late on Friday.  That doesn’t bode well for climate change.  Is there any reaction?


Spokesperson:  Not at this point, no.  The Secretary-General is… has asked for a complete report on everything that was discussed at the Commission’s meeting.  And he is studying it closely.


Question:  I have two questions on two separate issues.  On Lebanon, is the Secretary-General going to brief the [Security] Council tomorrow, on the developments of the Hariri tribunal matter?


Spokesperson:  We don’t know at this point.  Yes, there is a possibility they will be.


Question:  Okay, and my second question is actually on the Polisario issue.  The United Nations Envoy, Mr. Peter van Walsum, is supposed to be leaving soon for Morocco-Algeria to set a date for negotiations.  Can you update us on that?


Spokesperson: I don’t have an update, but I’ll find one… I’ll get one for you.


Question:  He’s actually leaving 17 May to go to Morocco, to Algeria.


Spokesperson:  I’ll check on that for you.


[The Spokesperson later added that Peter van Walsum was indeed starting his next visit to the region this week.  He planned to visit Rabat, Tindouf, Algiers and Nouakchott.]


Question:  Michèle, I wanted to ask you about Somalia.  John Holmes was there.  Was he able to secure any sort of promise from the Transitional Federal Government about access?  Because they had promised before, about a month before, when it was an issue.  So I just wanted to know if there was anything solid.  And the other thing was, on a related matter, does the Secretary-General have any comment on the announcement made that the Ethiopian troops will withdraw once the African Union forces are in?  I think the President made an announcement this morning.


Spokesperson:  Well, we have got…  This is, as you know, for the time being, this is a matter with the African Union.  So, this is going on with the African Union… the process is with the African Union.


[The Spokesperson later added that the Secretary-General had already in the past called for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Somalia and for the deployment of African Union troops.]


In terms of if the Secretary-General… Your first question was about Somalia, did Mr. Holmes get any promises about access.  We can check on that for you.


[The Spokesperson later added no promises were made.  However, Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government had noted its desire to cooperate with international organizations.]


Question:  Did he receive the letter from [President Fouad] Siniora regarding the tribunal -- to pass it under Chapter VII?


Spokesperson:  We are expecting such a letter.  I don’t have it yet.  As soon as the letter is received, the Secretary-General will examine it and then transfer it to the Security Council.  [The letter was received later in the day.]


Question:  Is he sending an envoy, or will it be passed from here, from the mission?


Spokesperson:  An envoy where? To…?


Question:  From Beirut to here, all the way to… Is he sending…?


Spokesperson:  I’m not aware of that.


Question:  Another thing, regarding these allegations that [President] Bashar [al-]Assad made a threat to Mr. Ban Ki-moon last Wednesday.  Can you please tell us exactly if there’s any…?


Spokesperson:  It is untrue.


Question:  It is totally untrue?


Spokesperson:  Totally untrue.


Question:  Just to follow up on Evelyn’s question again.  Is the Secretary-General going to look into this… after the failure of the Commission on Sustainable Development, which is, after all, the United Nations primary sitting body to discuss environmental policy right now?  Is he -- as he sort of pushes ahead with this whole “climate change as his main priority” thing -- going to try and think of new systems and new ways that the United Nations should…?  And also, is there a question of why the world pays vast amounts of money for this thing, when it’s a complete sham?  Is there any sort of rethinking in the whole kind of ongoing reform as to how you deal with this thing?


Spokesperson:  Well, it is something for the Member States to decide, the Commission on Sustainable Development.  You know, on its composition, its…


Correspondent:  The Secretary-General can propose all sorts of things in regards to this, so it’s not just for the Member States.  The Secretary-General could, if he chose, have some position.


Spokesperson:  At this point, you know, he is going ahead with the climate issue, with other steps taken.  You’ve met the Special Envoys the other day.  He is moving on that front.  The fact that there was… you feel there was a setback at the Commission on Sustainable Development, is something, of course, that he is examining.


Question:  The Under-Secretary-General, [José Antonio] Ocampo, was there, I think, throughout the conference.  He was there Friday evening, throughout the whole proceeding.  What was his role?  Did he play any role in, either trying to get an agreement on the text for CSD 15, or on the role of Zimbabwe in the next… in CSD 16?  What was he doing with the conference?


Spokesperson:  Well, he was not actively involved.  This is a CSD matter, you know.  And they are an independent body.  They name their own, elect their own, representatives.  It’s not for either Mr. Ocampo or the Secretary-General to say anything.


Question:  I understand on the election, but on the text agreement, did he have any role in trying to…?  There was no agreement even on the text of the whole last two years’ work.


Spokesperson:  I don’t think he has any specific role to play, as a member of the Secretariat.


Question:  On Somalia, Holmes, I guess, has left in the face of bombs at the United Nations compound.  Who in the United Nations system remains in Mogadishu?  Is [Eric] Laroche there?  What is the United Nations presence, international presence, in Mogadishu at this time?


Spokesperson:  I can find out for you who is still there, who is there.  There is always a United Nations presence in Somalia.  I don’t know where it is deployed, but we will find out for you who is there.  Mr. [François Lonseny] Fall was there last week.  He went back, as you know, to Nairobi, and so…


Question:  On these stories that Mr. Holmes left in the face of, I think, four people were killed in front of the United Nations compound.  And then he left?


Spokesperson:  A bomb exploded a few minutes after he arrived in the Somali capital on Saturday.  And, I guess, there were two other bombs that went off within half an hour, all on the path of his itinerary.  And personnel from the African Union Mission to Somalia defused the fourth explosive device, also on the route of his itinerary.  So Mr. Holmes returned to Nairobi, and plans for a second day in Somalia were cancelled.


Question:  If you could figure out what the presence is there.


[The Spokesperson later clarified that the United Nations has no permanent international presence in Mogadishu.]


Question:  And also, this is totally unrelated to that, this staff mobility, staff managed or mandatory mobility plan.  I think Ms. [Alicia] Bárcena said it was going to start on 1 May.  I’m not sure.  Has it started?  There’s also this new… there’s going to be more town halls about it.  Has the notification been published that would actually start the process of mandatory mobility for staff?  Where does it stand now, with mobility?


Spokesperson:  I’ll check for that… I’ll check on that for you.


[The Spokesperson later added that the first phase of managed mobility was scheduled to begin later this month.]


Question:  On Somalia, do you think Mr. Holmes was personally targeted in these attacks, because of all these bombs on his itinerary?


Spokesperson:  Well, I’m not saying that he was personally… I was just saying that bombs exploded on his itinerary.  We cannot draw the conclusion that he was the target.


Question:  So does this mean there’s a position towards the United Nations, and that’s why they would target a senior official with all these bombs?


Spokesperson:  I never said that.  I didn’t say he was targeted.  I’m just saying that the bombs happened to be on his itinerary.  You know, I’m not in the mind of the people who planted the bombs, in other words.  And there have been no statements, as far as I know, about it.


Question:  Michèle, do you know if the Secretary-General has taken any steps towards appointing an Envoy to help with the deadlock in the six-party talks?  He spoke originally, when he took the position of Secretary-General, about trying to help those to develop, and to go more smoothly.


Spokesperson:  No, he has not yet.


Question:  A follow-up on the bombs being scattered along his itinerary.  How widely known was his itinerary before he embarked upon it?


Spokesperson:  That I don’t know.  That’s a security issue.  I will ask whether, you know, how much publicity was made of where he would be going.


Thank you very much.


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For information media • not an official record