15 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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon.  I’m sorry I’m late.  I was waiting for a statement.


**Guest at Noon


We have today a guest from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Saahir Lone, Senior Liaison Officer of the UNRWA Office in New York.  He will be updating you on the situation in Gaza and UNRWA’s emergency assistance there.


**Secretary-General’s Statement on Middle East


I will start with a statement attributable to the Spokesperson on the Middle East:


The shocking violence of recent days in Gaza, much of which has involved violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, has caused great alarm and sadness around the world.  The Secretary-General is deeply concerned for the welfare of ordinary Palestinians and calls for full respect of their human rights.


The ongoing crisis is of deep concern to the United Nations, particularly in view of the work of United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), World Food Programme (WFP) and other agencies in delivering humanitarian assistance to a large majority of the population in Gaza.  The United Nations is determined to ensure the safety and security of the large number of United Nations employees working in Gaza, and to ensure that they can continue their vital work to assist a large section of the Palestinian population in Gaza, many of whom are dependent on emergency aid for daily sustenance.  This will require the cooperation of all parties to ensure appropriate security and access conditions for the passage of humanitarian goods and personnel both within the Gaza Strip and at key crossing points.


The Secretary-General is deeply disappointed at the failure of the National Unity Government, and the violence, destruction and fragmentation that has brought about its demise.  This must end immediately and calm must be restored.  The Secretary-General renews his support to President Abbas as he moves to discharge his responsibilities under the Palestinian Basic Law.  The Secretary-General remains in close consultation with the parties and regional and Quartet partners about the way ahead."


We will have copies of his statement upstairs.


** Gaza


Meanwhile, I know that Mr. Lone will brief you, but UN agencies are expressing deep concern about the humanitarian situation in Gaza.  The World Food Programme says it is carrying on as best as it can, given the current security situation.  It continues to distribute bread to Gaza hospitals.  Noting that the crossing points from Gaza into Israel have all been closed, WFP estimates that there are enough food supplies in the markets to last a week.


The World Health Organization (WHO), meanwhile, says that the escalation of violence is posing particular problems for health workers and patients, many of whom are not able to leave their homes.  At least four hospitals in Gaza have been fired upon, and the increased number of patients with grave injuries is overwhelming emergency wards, according to WHO.  There’s more information on this upstairs from the briefing notes from Geneva earlier today.


**Secretary-General Statement on the Killing of Radio Okapi Journalist


And I also have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson on the killing of a national radio journalist at Radio Okapi in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC):


“The Secretary-General was shocked and saddened to receive the news of the brutal killing of Mr. Serge Meheshe, a respected national radio journalist at Radio Okapi in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The Secretary-General extends his condolences to Mr. Meheshe’s family, to his colleagues in MONUC’s Radio Okapi and to its partner, Fondation Hirondelle.


“The free flow of information and ideas and the freedom of expression are the lifeblood of democracy.  Mr. Meheshe’s death is a great loss for the United Nations and the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo as they continue their efforts to build a sustainable peace in their country.  The United Nations will do everything possible to support the authorities of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to identify the perpetrators of this crime and bring them to justice.”


**Security Council


And turning here now to the UN, the Security Council this morning unanimously voted to extend the mandate of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus by six months, until the middle of December.  The Council also expressed its full support for the process enshrined in the 8 July 2006 Agreement on a comprehensive settlement, and noted with concern the lack of progress on that process.


Yesterday, the Council ended its consultations on Somalia by adopting a presidential statement on the situation there, reiterating its support for the National Reconciliation Congress as a mechanism for much needed political dialogue and reconciliation in Somalia.  The Council expressed its grave concern at the recent pattern of attacks by extremist elements in that country.


Meanwhile, the Security Council mission is on its way to Africa.  Tomorrow in Addis Ababa, the travelling Security Council delegation will begin its official programme in the morning with the Chairperson of the African Union (AU) Commission, Alpha Oumar Konaré, in a meeting expected to focus on AU-UN cooperation, Sudan and Somalia.  After that, the Council delegates will hold a working lunch with Mr. Konaré and Commissioner Said Djinnit to decide Sudan and AU-UN peacekeeping issues.


The Security Council will then meet with the AU Peace and Security Council that afternoon, and the two Councils are expected to adopt a joint communiqué detailing their consultations when the meeting adjourns.  There will be a press conference afterwards.


The delegation will depart from Addis Ababa early on Sunday for Khartoum, where a meeting is planned with the senior management of the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS).  The Council mission will also meet with President Omar al-Bashir and other senior Sudanese officials, and hold a press conference in Khartoum.


This is just to give you an idea of the weekend and the Council mission’s activities.  We will give you an update, obviously on Monday, when we hear back from the mission.


**Human Rights Council


And in Geneva, the Human Rights Council continued its consultations today in preparation for adopting the various proposals on its institution-building measures, which it must decide by Monday.


As mentioned yesterday, those proposals relate to a universal periodic review mechanism to monitor the human rights records of Member States, a review of mandates of the special procedures of the Council, the agenda for the Council’s future sessions, a complaints procedure and an expert advice body. 


The Council is planning to hold informal consultations on Sunday, at which time the President intends to circulate a revised text on institution-building.


** Sri Lanka


And also today in Geneva, High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, said that she held what she characterized as a “very productive” meeting with the President of Sri Lanka yesterday.


She relayed the concerns of the international community about the situation there and explained what role her office could play in extending the national human rights protection system in that country.  She also stressed the value of accurate and independent reporting of the human rights situation on the ground. 


We have more information again in the Geneva notes upstairs.


** Somalia


In Somalia, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that its Coordinator for the country led a mission to Mogadishu yesterday to continue discussions with the Transitional Federal Government on how to improve the distribution of humanitarian assistance. 


An estimated 112,000 displaced Somalis have returned to the capital of Mogadishu since the beginning of May.  According to OCHA, many have lost property and need water, sanitation and hygiene assistance, as well as shelter and household items.  And there’s more information on this upstairs as well.


Former Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim


And finally, the Secretary-General, as you know, this morning, spoke at the General Assembly’s memorial service for former Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim, saying that Waldheim’s 10 years at the helm covered a deeply challenging time in the world and in the life of the United Nations.  When he left office in 1981, the world had undergone profound changes which could hardly have been imagined 10 years before.


The Secretary-General expressed his condolences today to Mr. Waldheim’s family, and to the people and Government of Austria, and paid tribute to him and to all his predecessors, who have served in what has been called the most impossible job on Earth.  And we have his remarks upstairs.


In observance of the former Secretary-General’s passing, the UN flag is flying at half-mast today, and no other flags are flying at UN Headquarters.


**Other Press Releases


And we have just three more press releases to flag.  The Advisory Group on Environmental Emergencies wrapped up its two-day biennial meeting in Stockholm today.


And the International Labour Organization (ILO) today awarded its first annual “Decent Work Research Prize”, and there’s more on that for you upstairs.


And the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is marking the Day of the African Child –- which is tomorrow -- by supporting the African Union’s call to increase efforts to prevent child trafficking.  And there’s a press release with more information on that.


**The Week Ahead


And we also have the Week Ahead at the United Nations for your planning purposes next week.  As I mentioned, the Human Rights Council is scheduled to conclude its session on Monday, and there are a number of other items in there that will probably interest all of you.


So that’s what I have for you.  Before I turn to Mr. Lone, any questions for me?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  As you know, the negotiations on the Sahara conflict begin on Monday in Long Island.   Morocco is dispatching a high-level delegation, including the Minister of the Interior and the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation.  Is the Secretary-General sending a message of encouragement to the meeting?  What does he hope the meeting will accomplish?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I think we’ve given you as much as we can on those talks.  He has entrusted a senior UN official, his envoy, Mr. van Walsum, to undertake these negotiations, and we’ve asked to get you a briefing of the session afterwards.  So let’s wait to see how it goes.


Question:  I’m sorry, Marie, I’m not quite clear about the position of Mr. Ban Ki-moon regarding what’s going on in Gaza.  Does he support the decision of Mr. Abbas to dismiss the Prime Minister, or is he calling for the national unity Government to be restored?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I think I have to refer you to the statement I just read on that.  I can’t really go beyond what he said on that today.


Question:  On the meeting next Monday on the Western Sahara negotiations:  Where is it going to take place?  Is it possible to know?  Is there any schedule…or are they discussing an agreement?  Can you give us more information about that?


Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ve given you all the information that we can publicly in advance of the talks.  At the moment, they are private and we have not disclosed the location because, obviously, these are delicate sensitive talks at a crucial time, and we can only get you a readout afterwards.


Question:  Do you have any information on Ban Ki-moon’s piece that’s coming out tomorrow in the Washington Post?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I’m sorry.  I didn’t understand your question.


Question:  His Op-Ed that’s coming out tomorrow?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Op-Ed on what subject?


Question:   Darfur.


Deputy Spokesperson:  What is your question?


Question:  Do you have any information on it?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Whether he’s going to have an Op-Ed in the Washington Post tomorrow?  My understanding is yes.


Correspondent:  No, I mean his position.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, you’ve heard his position on Darfur, I think, a number of times.  He most recently gave a rather extensive explanation of what he is doing there at a stakeout just this week.  As for flagging an Op-Ed before it appears, I can only tell you to start looking on the website about the time they start posting this.


Question:  Two questions.  The first is Côte d’Ivoire.  There are conflicting reports about the High Representative for the elections in Côte d’Ivoire -- the UN position -- whether it will be…whether Mr. Stoutman will be…  one, is he in Côte d’Ivoire?  Will he return to Côte d’Ivoire?  There’s an article that says that he won’t, but the position will continue.  Has the UN received communications from the President of Burkina Faso about this?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything new on that, but then again, the Security Council is headed to Côte d’Ivoire as part of its mission, so maybe we’ll get more directly from the Council’s consultations.


[The Deputy Spokesperson later told the correspondent that the Secretary-General in his latest report on Côte d’Ivoire had referred to this issue.]


Question:  I also wanted to ask a question about Somalia.  What is the UN’s financial support to the Transitional Federal Government for police?  It was something I was told to ask Pascoe [Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs] at the stakeout, but it’s a little too nitty-gritty.  What’s the UN’s financial support to the transitional federal Government?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Sure, we’ll look into it for you.


[The Deputy Spokesperson later the told the correspondent that the United Nations does not provide any direct assistance to the Transitional Federal Government.  Instead, donor nations channel their aid to the Transitional Federal Government through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).  UNDP is a conduit for funding by donors, the United Nations provides no unique assistance.]


Question:  On the Quartet meeting that’s coming up, given the situation in Gaza right now, do you know who will be representing the Palestinians at that meeting and is that going to change?  Is there any concern about that meeting being disrupted?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I actually have no further details on a Quartet meeting.  But what I told you today is that the Secretary-General does remain in close consultations with the parties, both regional and with the Quartet partners, on the way ahead.  He did have a teleconference this morning with the principals and, on an urgent basis, he will stay in close consultation with them.  So I think at the moment, given the circumstances on the ground, he will be in very close touch with the principals, and I believe he is expected to have another round to speak to them as early as next week.


Question:  Does that include President Abbas?  Is he in direct contact with him?


Deputy Spokesperson:  This morning’s meeting was with the Quartet principals only, so that’s all I can confirm for you at the moment.


Question:  And just a quick follow-up.  I know the Secretary-General is supposed to meet with the Israeli Prime Minister this weekend.  Given that there was just this very strong criticism about the UN and its close alliance with the United States and Israel, is there any concern about the perception of him meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister this weekend?  Will he have any meetings with anybody from the Palestinian side?


Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General is in touch with all parties, as I mentioned.  He is in phone contact with all parties.  He has travelled to the region.  He’s seen various regional leaders.  This is…as we mentioned to you, he is accepting an invitation to meet with Mr. Olmert on Sunday, and the details of that you will get from the Israeli mission since they are the ones organizing it.


Question:  May I go back to the question I asked on the forthcoming meeting on the Sahara conflict? Does the Secretary-General intend to send a message of encouragement to the meeting?  Does he, at any time, intend to participate in the meeting, or is he going to leave matters to his representative, Mr. Walsum?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I think the fact that he has asked his representative to convene this meeting is the message here.  The fact that he is convening this meeting to bring the parties together and entrusting it to his representative –- who is following up on a Security Council mandate to do so –-I think that is the message.  So we’ll have to wait and see what the outcome of the talks is.  No, personally he is not scheduled to attend these meetings.


Question:  Whose requested that the location be kept secret?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I’m sorry?


Question:  Who’s request was it that the location be kept secret?


Deputy Spokesperson:  These are the parameters of the current negotiations.


I have one more item to add to the Middle East.  There’s been a little confusion in some press reports, so I’d just like to make it clear that when the Secretary-General had an initial exchange of views with the members of the Security Council at their monthly luncheon on Tuesday about the possibility of an international presence in Gaza, he was not presenting his own idea, as some have misinterpreted it in the press.  The Secretary-General had earlier spoken by phone with Palestinian President Abbas, who had raised with the Secretary-General the idea of an international presence.  So, when he met with Council members for the luncheon on Tuesday, the Secretary-General conveyed Mr. Abbas’ views and not his own.


With that, I would like to turn it over to Mr. Lone on the humanitarian situation in Gaza.


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For information media • not an official record