16 May 2007
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing

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

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


AND THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT

 


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


Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General


**Guest at Noon


Good afternoon, all.  The guest at the noon briefing today is Ms. Alicia Bárcena Ibarra, Under-Secretary-General for Management, who will be with us shortly.


** Gaza


A statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the violence in Gaza:


The Secretary-General is profoundly concerned at the escalation of violence in Gaza, and the growing number of casualties.  The deadly factional fighting has included unacceptable attacks on Palestinian Authority installations, institutions and personnel, and endangers civilians throughout Gaza.  Equally unacceptable is the firing by Palestinian militants of rockets into Israel, targeting and injuring civilians.


The Secretary-General calls on all Palestinian factions to cease immediately all acts of violence.  He calls on President Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and the Palestinian Authority Government to bring violence to an end and restore calm.  He underlines the obligations on all parties involved to act in strict accordance with international human rights and humanitarian law, and to ensure that humanitarian operations can continue without impediment.


**Secretary-General Appointments


We have three appointments by the Secretary-General to announce today.


The Secretary-General has informed the Security Council of his intention to appoint Mr. Michael C. Williams of the United Kingdom as his Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative to the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority.  He will also serve as the Secretary-General’s Envoy to the Quartet, and succeeds Mr. Alvaro de Soto of Peru.  Mr. Williams has also served as the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the Situation in the Middle East and, prior to this, he was the Director for the Asia and the Pacific Division in the Department of Political Affairs.


The Secretary-General has also decided to appoint Mr. Haile Menkerios of Eritrea as his new Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, succeeding Mr. Tuliameni Kalomoh of Namibia.  Mr. Menkerios is currently the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the Democratic Republic of the Congo.


The Secretary-General’s third appointment is Mr. Nicholas Haysom of South Africa as Director for Political Affairs in his Executive Office.  Mr. Haysom succeeds Mr. Carlos Lopes of Guinea-Bissau.  Mr. Haysom was the Legal Adviser to President Nelson Mandela until 1999, and has since been engaged in resolving internal conflicts and advising on constitutional reform in East and Central Africa, and South and South-East Asia.  He most recently served as head of the Office of Constitutional Support in the UN’s Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI).


We have more information on all three appointees in their bios upstairs.


** Somalia


The Special Representative of the Secretary General for Somalia, François Lonseny Fall, has strongly condemned the attack earlier today in Mogadishu that claimed the lives of four Ugandan troops from the African Union peacekeeping force and injured and several others.


On behalf of the United Nations, Fall extended his condolences to the African Union Mission and to the families of the fallen peacekeepers.  He also reiterated his appreciation for the Mission’s courageous initiative to restore security and ease the suffering of the people of Somalia.  We have copies of Fall’s statement upstairs.


**John Holmes


Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes also offered his condolences to the families of the African Union peacekeepers from Uganda who died today in Mogadishu.  He was speaking at a press conference in Kampala, Uganda, and said he was especially saddened since he had been personally protected by Ugandan peacekeepers during his recent visit to Somalia.  He added that he had been impressed by their professionalism.


Today in Kampala, Holmes met with Uganda’s Foreign Minister, donors and representatives of UN agencies and non-governmental organizations.  Holmes expressed his concern that the humanitarian appeal for Uganda is still only half funded.  He also noted that continued UN support for the Juba process is already paying off, with a better humanitarian situation in both northern Uganda and south Sudan. 


Holmes will return to New York tomorrow, and is scheduled to brief the Security Council on his mission to Somalia and Uganda on Monday.


**Security Council


The Security Council is holding a formal meeting on Bosnia and Herzegovina, on which it heard a briefing by Christian Schwarz-Schilling, the High Representative for the implementation of that country’s peace agreement.  Nikola Špirić, the Chairman of Bosnia’s Council of Ministers, was also among the speakers addressing the meeting today.


** Lebanon


Following yesterday’s luncheon with the members of the Security Council, the Secretary-General told reporters that he is of the view that, after having exhausted all diplomatic efforts by the United Nations and having received an official request from the Prime Minister of Lebanon, he thinks it is time for the Security Council to take necessary action concerning the special tribunal.


At the same time, he emphasized: “The most desirable situation would have been for the Lebanese Government and people to agree on their national consensus.” The Secretary-General expressed hope that the Lebanese parties would continue to try to take action on establishing the special tribunal.


As you are aware, the Secretary-General and his senior officials, notably including Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Nicolas Michel, have been in contact with leaders in Lebanon and the region to seek agreement on the tribunal. Mr. Michel recently informed the Security Council that, despite extensive consultations, there had been no progress among the Lebanese parties on reaching such an agreement.


** Sudan


Available upstairs is the near-verbatim transcript of the weekly press briefing by the UN Mission in Sudan that took place in Khartoum earlier today.  It covers a wide range of developments ranging from the return of internally displaced persons from Khartoum to Southern Sudan, the rise in newly displaced in Darfur, as well as the inflow of Chadian refugees into West Darfur and an account of incidents affecting the UN’s humanitarian operations in Darfur.


** C ôte d’Ivoire


Out as a document today is the Secretary-General’s latest report on Côte d’Ivoire, in which he describes efforts undertaken by the Ivorian authorities to realize key provisions of the Ouagadougou Agreement.


The Secretary-General recommends that the UN adjust its role in Côte d’Ivoire to boost support for the peace process, including rationalizing and redistributing the UN military presence, in light of the dismantling of the Zone of Confidence between the north and south of the country.


While congratulating the Ivorian parties for assuming full responsibility for resolving the crisis, the Secretary-General urge them to implement the peace agreement fully and in good faith.


** Western Sahara


The Department of Political Affairs has informed us of a change in plans regarding the travels of Peter van Walsum, the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara.  As we had told some of you earlier, he was scheduled to be visiting the region this week, making stops in Rabat, Tindouf, Algiers and Nouakchott.


Instead of the visit, however, it has been decided that efforts will now focus on planning for a meeting of the parties, hosted by the UN, to take place in the first half of June 2007.  That is in order to respond to the Security Council’s request for the setting up of negotiations under the auspices of the Secretary-General and for a report on those talks’ status and progress by 30 June.  We will keep you informed as those plans develop.


**Timor-Leste


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Timor-Leste, Atul Khare, expressed concern over the resurgence of gang fighting and mob violence in Dili over the past 24 hours.


After visiting the area this morning where violence broke out, Khare said he has told all political leaders in Timor-Leste, including President elect Jose Ramos-Horta, that violence justified as political act is unacceptable and that those who commit criminal acts will be treated as criminals by the police.


**UN Flag


The UN Flag is flying half-mast today in observance of the official mourning for the Head of State of Samoa, His Highness Mr. Malietoa Tanumafili II.  As usual, no other flags are flying today.


**Climate Change


To clarify what I said yesterday about a climate change event, it is the Secretary-General’s intention to hold an informal, high-level event, if Member States are ready to participate and consider that it would help to advance the multilateral response to climate change.  The Special Envoys are consulting now with Governments on these points and on the nature of the event, and will make an initial report to the Secretary-General by the end of May.  We still cannot confirm any date at this point.


**Press Conferences


At 3:30 p.m. tomorrow, Ms. Tarja Halonen, President of Finland, will brief you after her meeting with the Secretary-General.


This is all I have for you today. In a few minutes, we will have Ms. Alicia Bárcena.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Would you clarify the appointment of Michael Williams?  Is that on the same level that his predecessor was, which was USG, or is it ASG?


Spokesperson:  As far as I know, it’s [ASG].


Question:  Michèle, I wanted to ask you about the cancelled the visit by Peter van Walsum to the region.  Reports out of the area indicate that the reason for why it was cancelled was because Morocco wanted to involve Saharawis who live in Morocco.  So first, I wanted to see if I could confirm that with you.  Second, do you know who will participate in the meeting, and has the United Nations changed its stance?  The Secretary-General came out with a report on Western Sahara saying the involved parties would be the Frente Polisario and Morocco.  So has there been any change on the United Nations stance with that? 


Spokesperson:  As far as I know, there has been no change in the policy.  In terms of the trip itself, we had announced that it was going to be cancelled, but the reason you gave I cannot confirm.


Question:  You said it’s going to be the first half of June.  Will it be here in New York or somewhere in the region?


Spokesperson:  The venue has not been decided yet.


Question:  Do you know who’ll participate?


Spokesperson:  I don’t have that yet.


Question:  Can I follow up on Western Sahara, please?  What’s the official reason for cancelling the visit and how are you going to prepare for the meeting without meeting the parties themselves?


Spokesperson:  The parties would be invited to participate.


Question:  But, in preparation for this meeting, he doesn’t need to see the people in Algeria and Morocco?


Spokesperson:  Well, the contacts exist and they’ll continue to exist and I think they’ll be invited to participate in that meeting.


Question:  So why was it cancelled?


Spokesperson:  The trip was cancelled.  Not the…


Question:  Why?


Spokesperson:  I don’t have the exact reason right now.


Question:  Is Mr. van Walsum persona non grata in Aldiers because of what he said here after the report?  Because we heard so, too.


Spokesperson:  Not at all.


Question:  Anything on the Lahoud letter to Ban Ki-moon?


Spokesperson:  I do know the letter has been received by the Department of Political Affairs.  No action has been taken on it yet.


Question:  Can we have the content of the letter?


Spokesperson:  This letter, as you probably know, has been published in the Lebanese press extensively.


Question:  Officially here?


Spokesperson:  Not yet.  If it is being circulated to the Security Council, we’ll have to wait for it to be circulated.


Question:  Are you recommending that we rely on the Lebanese press?


Spokesperson:  I’m not saying that.  I said I cannot release it and I said that it exists.


Question:  This fighting on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.  Afghanistan says 13 people were killed and they’ve written to Ban Ki-moon asking for some action.  Has he received such a letter and what is the Secretary-General’s position on this?  This is where this wall is being built by Pakistan, as well.


Spokesperson:  We don’t have anything other than what I gave you yesterday on the violence.  I have nothing new on Pakistan.  However, Matthew, since you asked a question, I find it very unfortunate that inaccurate facts are printed without being properly verified.  You asked yesterday about a United Nations professional working for OIOS who happens to be South Korean.  Without verifying the facts, you stated that he had been assigned to the Executive Office of the Secretary-General.  This is flatly wrong.  And Mr. Daeyoung Park, if this is the person you’re talking about, that you’re referring to, is employed by OIOS and will go on sabbatical in mid July in order to pursue an advanced degree in public administration.  He never had any plans to apply for a position in the Executive Office.


Question:  Can I ask a follow-up question?  I think yesterday in the hall, Soung-ah Choi said there are five South Koreans working in the Office of the Secretary-General.  First of all, can they be named?  And there was some promise of an organigram.


Spokesperson:  The organigram will come once the whole Executive Office is finalized.


Question:  There are other issues I want to ask you about, but can you name the five?


Spokesperson:  Yes, sure you can have them.  Come to my office and I’ll give you the list.


Question:  About the Western Sahara, has the United Nations already addressed invitations to the parties to come to this meeting?


Spokesperson:  I don’t know whether formal invitations have been sent, but definitely, they are being discussed.


Question:  As the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, Mr. [Peter van] Walsum had a consultation with the Secretary-General.  Did that decision take place during that meeting?


Spokesperson:  Not that I know of.  It was a decision taken by the department that takes care specifically of the issue of Western Sahara.


Question:  A clarification on the climate change conference.  What’s an informal event?


Spokesperson:  It’s not going to be a formal meeting -- because I was asked a question about a summit and I said it would not be a summit.  It is going to be an event involving… probably some high-level event.  Right now, the Special Envoys are getting in touch with the Governments to see at what level this will be, and if the Governments agree, then we will have that event.


Question:  So there’s still a possibility it would not happen, or do you expect there to be an event?


Spokesperson:  We expect that there will be one.


Question:  Two questions, if I may.  In the past, the position of political director has varied in the sense of what their responsibilities are, so it would be interesting to have a sense of what Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s vision of the role of his political director on the 38th floor is and what the relationship is to the political department and so forth.  My other question was with regard to the letter leaked, written by Larry Johnson, Legal Counsel, over allegations over Zimbabwe and diamond smuggling and so forth.  Do you have a comment on the status of that investigation?  That’s not for UNDP to comment on.  UNDP doesn’t want to comment on that, since it’s not their investigation, it’s a Secretariat thing, as I understand, but maybe I’m wrong.  But would you please clarify what the situation is with that investigation?


Spokesperson:  I can only say that we are aware of these allegations regarding to the letter sent by the Deputy Legal Counsel, Larry Johnson.  As you know, he thanked the sender for bringing the allegations to the attention of the United Nations, and he said it is being followed up.  We have nothing new about this investigation.


Question:  Okay, maybe you have nothing new, but can you explain, what is the status of this investigation?  Can you treat me as if I know nothing about this, which I almost do?  So what is the status of what Larry Johnson is doing?


Spokesperson:  There were allegations that were made and these allegations are being looked into, first by UNDP itself.  And there will be a decision on whether to go beyond that.


Question:  But, Larry Johnson doesn’t work for UNDP.


Spokesperson:  No.  He’s the Deputy Legal Counsel who received the letter and answered.


Question:  So his letter is saying that UNDP is looking into the matter?  I’m sorry, I’m totally confused.  Why is somebody working for the Secretariat writing about what UNDP is doing?  I thought they were separate.


Spokesperson:  Because he received the letter.  You know, UNDP is not separate.


Question:  Well, every time we ask a question about UNDP in here we’re referred to go to UNDP, so that suggests that there is the suggestion that you treat yourselves as separate.


Spokesperson:  But in this case, the allegations were transmitted to Mr. Johnson, so that’s why he answered them.


Question:  So, just to clarify.  There’s nothing happening at the Secretariat level in terms of this investigation.  It’s purely, only, a UNDP affair right now.  Is that correct?


Spokesperson:  At this point, yes.


Question:  I understand.  And on the Political Affairs Director post, what is the job description?


Spokesperson:  The job description is the same as it was before.


Question:  Well, it was never entirely clear and the role has shifted.


Spokesperson:  Well, when we get the complete make-up of the 38th floor, then you’ll get a description of posts for every person involved.


Question:  Is the allegation basically that UNDP vehicles were used to get diamonds out of Zimbabwe?


Spokesperson:  These were the original allegations, but they have not been verified.


Question:  This is also on Zimbabwe.  It’s been reported that, although Larry Johnson said there was an investigation, the Resident Rep of UNDP in Zimbabwe said there was no investigation.  That’s one of the reasons I asked you on Friday, and frankly, I was surprised I never got an answer to that until today.  But UNDP on the ground said there’s no investigation.  Larry Johnson says there is.  This is why the question of who’s doing the investigation if UNDP says there is none.


Spokesperson:  Okay, so we can check a little more on that.  I’m sorry, I have to give the floor over to Ashraf, for him to tell you about the General Assembly.


Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President


**Clarification on Fifth Committee’s Resumed Session


Good afternoon.


I made a mistake yesterday.  I said the Fifth Committee session had adjourned.  It adjourns on 1 June.  The status of the report on DPKO reform is that the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) is looking at it on Thursday -- this is all tentative -- and they’re hoping to send it to the Fifth on the 25th.  That leaves the last week of work for the Fifth to look at that report.


**Elections


As far as the elections are concerned, I was getting a lot of questions on that, so I’ll see if I can confuse you a little more.  The Assembly is scheduled to hold elections for 14 members of the Human Rights Council tomorrow, at 10 a.m., in the General Assembly Hall. 


Balloting will take place simultaneously for all regions.  The first round will be unrestricted balloting, i.e., all members of a regional group are eligible for the seats designated for their group.  If fewer than the vacant number of seats are filled for any regional group at the first round of balloting, then there will be three rounds of restricted balloting, followed by three rounds of unrestricted, etc., until all vacant seats are filled.  The difference between restricted balloting and unrestricted balloting is that unrestricted balloting allows anybody from that region to get on the ballots.  Restricted balloting would be restricted to the two highest vote-getters in that round per seat.


I told you yesterday about the elections for the President of the sixty-second session, which will take place on 24 May.


** Rutgers University Panel Discussion


The Assembly President, with Iranian human rights lawyer and Nobel laureate, Shirin Ebadi, will take part this evening at a Rutgers University panel discussion on “Women and Human Rights in the Middle East”.  We will make her statement available as soon as we have it.  Yes?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Can you just remind me when the elections are for the Security Council?  It’s towards the end of the year, right?


Spokesperson:  Yes.  I have to check the date.


Question:  Okay, but I understand there are already some candidates putting their name in the ring, is that correct?


Spokesperson:  Which elections… for the rotating seats, right?


Question:  Yes.  I just wonder how that procedure works.  Just remind me exactly how that procedure works.


Spokesperson:  Are you talking about the rotating seat between Africa and Asia?  Is this what you’re trying to find out?


Question:  There are a number of countries who, I understand, would like to get… Five seats rotate every year, right?  So we need to replace five with another five.  Now, I was just wondering with regards to procedure, do the applicants put their names in and give them to the President of the General Assembly’s Office?  If that’s the case, have you received those applications yet?  Any applications?


Spokesperson:  I have to check to see if we have received the applications.  I will get back to you.


Question:  Thank you.


Question:  Just to follow up, there is one letter that I know of that got to the office, the General Assembly office at the Secretary-General’s office.


Spokesperson:  Say that again?


Correspondent:  There is… the Secretary-General has a person who is charged with General Assembly affairs, and they have received one letter I know of, that I have seen.


Spokesperson:  All right.  I’ll check on that.  Thank you.  Yes, sir?


Question:  Is there any chance that tomorrow’s vote on the Human Rights Council would last into a following day, or do you anticipate that it would be wrapped up fairly rapidly?


Spokesperson:  I don’t know.  It’s anybody’s guess.  They keep voting until all the seats are filled. 


Question:  So, there is a chance of a contentious seat and…?


Spokesperson:  Hypothetically, yes.  It can happen.


Question:  And also, I missed the briefing yesterday, but, apparently, you mentioned that the Fifth Committee has decided to postpone…


Spokesperson:  No, no, no.  I said mistakenly that the Fifth Committee has adjourned its session but it…


Question:  No, no.  I’m talking about holding of discussion, specifically about the Secretary-General’s reform plans.


Spokesperson:  No, they haven’t made any decision as far as that is concerned.


Question:  So, they could make a decision…?


Spokesperson:  That could happen.


Question:  So, it’s not postponed until December, then?


Spokesperson:  No, we’ll see by the first of June what happens.


Spokesperson for the Secretary-General:  Thank you, Ashraf.  I’m going to ask Ms. Bárcena to come.


Spokesperson:  I’ll answer you after the briefing, Matthew.


Spokesperson for the Secretary-General:  Yes, we have to manage the time that we have.


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