1 June 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.


**Guest at Noon


The guest at the briefing today is Atul Khare, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Timor-Leste and Head of the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste.  He will be briefing you on the situation in that country.


**Security Council


Today is the first day of the Belgian presidency of the Security Council.  The Secretary-General briefed the Security Council a short while ago, expressing concern at the volatile and tense situation in the Middle East as evidenced by the intra-Palestinian violence in Gaza and violence between the Israelis and Palestinians. 


In northern Lebanon, the Secretary-General noted that heavy fighting resumed this morning.  He expressed his concern about the threat posed to Lebanese sovereignty and stability as a result of these clashes.  He said he had spoken to several regional leaders to help alleviate the situation.  He then briefed on the Quartet’s meeting, the fourth he attended since taking office.  You have seen the Quartet’s communiqué.


The Secretary-General said the Quartet also addressed the bilateral and regional tracks.  The Quartet, he said, expressed support for the ongoing bilateral meetings between President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert.  In order to continue the momentum, the Quartet decided to meet on 26 and 27 June in the region, and take the important steps of meeting with Israelis and Palestinians and then to hold a separate meeting with members of the Arab League to continue to follow up on the Arab Peace Initiative.  The Secretary-General is now engaging in a question-and-answer session.


On Monday morning, Belgian Ambassador Johan Verbeke will chair the Council’s closed-door consultation on the programme of work for the month of June.  And we expect him to come to this room soon after, at about 12:30, to brief you on that programme.


** Lebanon


The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has confirmed that the fighting has resumed between the Lebanese Army and Islamist fighters entrenched in the UN-run Nahr al-Bared camp for Palestinian refugees, near Tripoli in northern Lebanon.  UNRWA says that the shelling today has been heavier than on previous days, and some 5,000 refugees are believed to still be in the camp.


Because of the heavy fighting, UNRWA has been unable to obtain first-hand information on developments inside the camp and to assess conditions for civilians.  As soon as information is available, we will update you on what UNRWA and other agencies are doing to assist the beleaguered civilians in the camp.


**Secretary-General Travels


The Secretary-General will depart this Saturday for Panama City, Panama, where he will attend the opening of the Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly.  During his two day stay in Panama, the Secretary General will meet with the President of Panama and current chairman of the OAS, Martín Torrijos Espino, and other Latin American officials.


The Secretary General will be in Madrid next Tuesday for an official visit.  He will have an audience with His Majesty the King of Spain, and meet with the Prime Minister José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero, as well as other Spanish officials.  The Secretary-General will also visit the headquarters of the World Tourism Organization in Madrid.


On the 7th and 8th, the Secretary-General will attend the G-8 Summit at Heiligendamm and will hold a number of bilateral meetings during his two day stay in Germany.  The Secretary-General will be back at Headquarters next weekend.


**Statement on Democratic People’s Republic of Korea


I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General:


The UN Board of Auditors have handed in their report on the activities of the UN Development Programme, the UN Children’s Fund and the UN Population Fund in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  The Secretary-General has also received a copy.


The report does point to some of the difficulties UN funds and programmes have had in operating in the DPRK.  On independence of staff hiring, foreign currency transactions and access to local projects, the report identifies practices not in keeping with how the UN operates elsewhere in the world.  It should be noted that the report does not indicate that large-scale UN funding has been systematically diverted, as has been alleged.  However, the Secretary-General does expect the agencies to act upon the findings in the audit as quickly and transparently as possible.


As the report also indicates, there are a number of areas that the Secretary-General feels would require follow-up in a subsequent audit phase.  The Secretary-General will write to the Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) asking that the Committee consider requesting the Board of Auditors to continue their work, including a visit to the DPRK. 


The Secretary-General had called for this audit in January 2007 as the top priority in a systematic worldwide probe of United Nations activities in the field.  Today’s report represents the first results of this ongoing effort.


For your information, I am told that UNDP will submit its management response to the ACABQ, and David Morrison of UNDP will be here at 1 o’clock to give the highlights of that response.


**Charles Taylor


On Monday, the Special Court for Sierra Leone will open the trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor in a courtroom at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.


Taylor was indicted in March 2003 in a 17-count indictment for crimes against humanity, war crimes and other serious violations of international humanitarian law.  The indictment was ordered kept under seal until June 2003. Then, in March 2006, the Special Court approved an amended indictment reducing the number of counts to 11, including acts of terrorism, unlawful killings, looting and pillaging, sexual slavery and the use of child soldiers.


The Special Court has prepared fact sheets and background materials on the case, and we have some copies available upstairs in my Office.


** Haiti


The UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) says that Haitian police, working with UN Police, yesterday seized some 420 kilograms of cocaine and detained 10 suspected drug smugglers and traffickers.  Among those detained are 5 Haitian police officers and 2 Colombian and 2 Haitian nationals.


The Mission says that the cocaine shipment was en route to the capital Port-au-prince from the town of Petite Goave.  It was handed over to the US Drug Enforcement Agency while the detained individuals were rendered into the custody of the Haitian police in Port-au-Prince.


** Central African Republic


In the Central African Republic, a team from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has arrived in the town of Sam Ouandja to begin registering roughly 1,500 Sudanese refugees.  They fled on foot from their village in Sudan, some 200 kilometres away, following attacks there.  UNHCR is preparing to deliver 600 rolls of plastic sheeting for temporary shelters, while other agencies are arranging the delivery of food, water and sanitation supplies.


** Somalia


Meanwhile, in Somalia, UNHCR says roughly one quarter of the nearly 400,000 Somalis displaced from Mogadishu have now returned.  Living conditions in the capital, however, remain difficult, with no electricity or running water and sanitation a major concern, UNHCR says.  There is more information in UNHCR’s briefing notes upstairs.


**World Environment Day


This morning, the Secretary-General addressed the annual student observance of World Environment Day -- which is next Tuesday.  Speaking to those gathered in the Dag Hammarskjöld Library Auditorium, as well as students video linked from around the world, the Secretary-General stressed that the world cannot continue with “business as usual” when it comes to the grave and growing effects of climate change.


He urged developed countries to do much more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to support clean development in fast-growing economies and to help countries facing the greatest threats from climate change.  We have the full text of his remarks upstairs.


That is all I have for you.  I also have the “Week Ahead” for you.  Any questions?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  We had a story from Amsterdam saying that the families of the victims of the Srebrenica massacre are suing the Netherlands and the United Nations in a civil suit in the Netherlands for allowing the killings to happen.  Is there any reaction to that? And then I’ll go on to Sudan.


Spokesperson:  We have no reaction yet.  We are aware of it and, certainly, this will be followed very closely.


Question:  On Sudan, the African Union has not, repeat not, approved the hybrid plan and, in fact, has some changes despite all the talk that it is going to Sudan, and so forth.  Do you have a comment on it, or do you know why it has not been approved and is it going to affect the commanding control structure, which is important to the UN, to get funding from the General Assembly?


Spokesperson:  Since you wrote your story, which I read, there has been some agreement on some textural changes and these should be brought shortly.  It seems to be going forward.


Question:  Agreement by whom?


Spokesperson:  Between the UN and the AU about some of the wordings.


Question:  Have they submitted a new text?


Spokesperson:  I would not say it is a new text.  There are some changes.


Question:  They still have to look at it now?


Spokesperson:  Yes, they still have to discuss it.


Question:  On climate change, how does the Secretary-General view the plan outlined by President Bush yesterday?


Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General welcomes the positive engagement by President Bush.  This is perhaps, he thinks, the defining issue of our time.  We need the positive engagement of all leaders, which is why the Secretary-General also welcomes recent announcements by leaders around the globe, including the European Union, the United Kingdom, Japan and Mexico and the declared intentions by leaders in China and India to come forward with their own strategies.  This is the kind of high-level mobilization that we need to see.


Question:  When you say “we are aware of” regarding the question of the possible suit by the -- actually it is already going on -- by the “Mothers of Srebrenica”, that is how they call themselves, what does it mean actually that you are aware?  Are you preparing a battery of lawyers?  You are aware that you are going with a kind of political statement?


Spokesperson:  We are waiting for this to be introduced into a court, and then we will be following the court process, the judicial process.


Question:  How seriously is that accepted at the UN here, since it seems to me that, before, it was going on at various levels and then it was evaporating somehow from the map of engagement?


Spokesperson:  If it is introduced in the court, it will not evaporate.


Question:  They will sue the United Nations?


Spokesperson:  This is what I will have to find out from the Legal Office.


Question:  I have two questions on two different subjects.  First, on Charles Taylor.  Do we have any sense about the level of preparations of the defence team, because oftentimes we hear these stories from the point of view of the Court?  Do we have any sense of what is happening with the defence team?  And then also, can we have an idea of the witness list?  Then the second question is about the Office of the Special Adviser on Africa.  It is now one month that the Under-Secretary-General has left and there is no replacement.  This is beginning to draw a little bit of apprehension among the African delegations.  The question is, when is the Secretary-General going to appoint another Under-Secretary-General for that office?


Spokesperson:  Your second question, right now, there is an examination of a number of posts, as you know, and interviews are being done and the post of Special Adviser for Africa is being discussed like other posts.  There is going to be the wider picture first, all the different candidates from different regions, with different merits.  The process is being pursued.  This is definitely one element which is going to be examined.


On your first question, on Charles Taylor, we have upstairs all the information you need about the court proceedings, and you can have that also on the website.  And the defence had the possibility -- and that is why we are at the point.  That we have 11 counts now instead of the original counts against Charles Taylor.  You can certainly get all the arguments from all sides on the web and in our Office.


Question:  I have two questions on different subjects.  The first one is not yet on North Korea.  It has to do with an event that took place outside today on the North Lawn -- Blue Planet Run, Dow Chemicals and this UN Office of Partnerships.  I guess my question is, there was a protest.  People pulled out a banner criticizing Dow Chemical’s environmental record.  They were escorted off by guards.  I followed to cover it and was told I couldn’t go back and cover the event.  So I am wondering -- I don’t think it was the guards’ fault -- but I am wondering if the UN has a policy on allowing press access if there are in fact non-violent protests of either events on UN properties


Spokesperson:  Well, I am not aware of the incidents you are mentioning, and I will certainly try to find out.


Question:  But more exactly on the policy.  They say, go back and cover the event, and I say, well if you are detaining people from protesting.  And I guess if the UN could say, whether in partnering with Dow Chemical in this event, there was any issue raised about either Dow Chemical’s environmental records or existing... Amnesty International has an action against them for…


Spokesperson:  I will find out what the incident was.  I was not aware of it.


Question:  Very good.  And the other thing about it, and I understand that we will have David Morrison in here, so I want to ask you about non-UNDP issues.  It seems -- just speed-reading the recommendations -- it says among other things that there were no internal audits done by the UNOPS organization and that UNICEF… that there were two recommendations that were not acted upon.  Are we going to have any briefing by UNOPS or UNICEF?


Spokesperson:  Well, I’ll first say one thing, I don’t know if you will have any briefing or not, I will say that I will not comment on the report that is in the hands of the ACABQ at the moment.  I will not make any more comments on this.


Correspondent:  I just wanted to see to procedural issues.


Spokesperson:  We’ll see.


Question:  And another thing is that it doesn’t mention the WFP, but WFP obviously is active in North Korea and they said they were arranging for an audit through their own separate mechanism.


Spokesperson:  It is a separate audit.


Question:  Will that be released here?  Will that also go to ACABQ?


Spokesperson:  Well, if it is going to be released, it is going to be released by the WFP.


Question:  Right, but does it go to ACABQ here in New York?


Spokesperson:  I will try to find out for you what process this specific audit will follow, but you can ask questions about UNDP to David Morrison.  He will be here at 1 o’clock.


Question:  As you know, Norway has started to direct aid to the Palestinian Government led by Hamas.  Since the UN is a part of the Quartet and has a policy, how does it view the action taken by Norway?


Spokesperson:  I think it is a decision taken by Norway, and it is an independent decision.  We don’t have any specific comments on it.


Question:  Would it have an impact on the United Nations attitude towards the Hamas Government?


Spokesperson:  Well, the United Nations has always been helping the Palestinian Authority in a number of ways, so that does not affect in any way the way we deal with the Palestinian Authority.


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For information media • not an official record