|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.
**Secretary-General’s Statement on India- Pakistan Storms
There is a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General is deeply concerned by the loss of life and serious damage caused by severe storms and flooding in parts of India and Pakistan. He extends his condolences to the victims and their families, and the Governments of both countries.
Commending the prompt and effective response to this disaster in both countries, the Secretary-General reaffirms the United Nations readiness to support national and local efforts to provide emergency assistance to the survivors.
According to the United Nations relief agencies on the ground, recent storms, combined with tropical cyclone Yemyn -- which made landfall this morning in Pakistan's province of Balochistan -- have caused significant damage in both Pakistan and India, causing hundreds of deaths and bringing commercial activity in Karachi to a halt. The United Nations remains in contact with both Governments and is ready to provide relief, if so requested.
The Secretary-General came back from Paris last night. He was satisfied with the meeting in Paris, which he felt was a constructive conference that will contribute to the efforts towards a solution of the Darfur crisis. The participants at the Paris conference reconfirmed the central role of the United Nations in the political, security and humanitarian domains in Darfur, as well as its role in the future development of the Sudanese province. The Secretary-General called for support to the African Union-United Nations hybrid force, both financially and politically. During the press conference that concluded the meeting, he spoke of “slow, but credible and considerable progress” in recent months to resolve the crisis.
This morning at the Security Council, the leaders of the Council’s recent mission to Africa briefed on their trip. In his remarks, Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo of South Africa, who co-chaired the first segment of the mission, noted that the delegation and the African Union’s Peace and Security Council have come to an agreement on peace and security issues. There should be, he said, an exchange of views between the Security Council and the African Union Peace and Security Council to study how the United Nations, on a case by case basis, can assist the African Union in restoring and maintaining peace and security on behalf of the international community.
Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry of the United Kingdom, who co-chaired the first half of the trip with Ambasssador Kumalo, said in his comments that such agreements would bring about coherence, not just in peacekeeping, but also in disarmament, demobilization and reinsertion and in security sector reform.
Ambassador Jones Parry also said that the delegation briefed the African Union Peace and Security Council on Somalia and on the need for reconciliation and political inclusiveness in Somalia. Both Ambassadors Jones Parry and Kumalo also briefed on meetings with Sudanese officials in Khartoum and with the African Union chairman, Ghanaian President John Kufuor, in Accra.
Mr. Jones Parry welcomed the confirmation by Sudan of the agreement with the United Nations and the African Union on the deployment of a hybrid force for Darfur. He cautioned against complacency in ensuring that Sudan holds its end of the bargain. After that, the Council heard briefings by a representative of Ambassador Jorge Voto-Bernales of Peru, who chaired the trip to Côte d’Ivoire. And later, French Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere, who headed the trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, briefed on the mission there.
** Middle East Media Seminar
A two-day media seminar, organized by the United Nations to address the latest situation in the Middle East and discuss ways to re-engage the Israelis and Palestinians in the peace process, began today in Tokyo. Delivering a message from the Secretary-General, the Under-Secretary-General for Public Information, Kiyo Akasaka, expressed concern about recent intra-Palestinian violence and about the fact that Israeli and Palestinian societies stand further apart than ever before. He urged conference participants to come up with creative solutions for spreading the message of peace and coexistence. We have the full text of his remarks upstairs.
** Iraq Refugees
The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is expressing concern about the plight of some 14,000 Palestinians who have fled Baghdad and are now stranded in camps on the Iraq-Syria border. A team from UNHCR visited the al-Waleed camp last week, where it found an urgent need for medical care. The agency is trying to help but says that the lack of access to proper water, sanitation, care and shelter -- in addition to a snake and scorpion infestation -- is making the situation nearly impossible. High temperatures and sandstorms are adding to the misery, and refugees and relief agencies have also faced armed threats from local Iraqis, UNHCR says. It is calling on the international community to do more to help. We have more information in a press release upstairs from the United Nations Refugee Agency on Iraq.
**Deputy Secretary-General at Global Forum on “Reinventing Government”
The Deputy Secretary-General is in Vienna, where she delivered the opening statement at the seventh Global Forum, “Reinventing Government”. Trust remains in short supply, and, yet, it is a critical component of governance in all countries. Clearly, trust in Government, and in governance, needs to be restored, the Deputy Secretary-General told more than 2,000 delegates from 150 countries. She said that there was evidence from both the developing and developed world that the governed have very limited trust in their Governments. She urged delegates to examine how Governments can better manage and meet the expectations of their citizens. We have the complete text as delivered upstairs in my Office.
From Vienna, the Deputy Secretary-General is scheduled to travel to Guinea Bissau, the second leg of her trip that will also take her to the African Union Summit in Accra.
**Horn of Africa
Six African Governments and the United Nations today agreed on a road map to tackle the root causes of rising hunger across the Horn of Africa, and they warned that the next major crisis could affect more than 20 million people. The road map came out at the end of two-day talks in Nairobi that brought together various United Nations humanitarian and food agencies with representatives from Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda. Kjell Magne Bondevik, the United Nations Special Humanitarian Envoy to the Horn of Africa, said that the biggest challenge is to scale up successes to extinguish hunger in the Horn of Africa, rather than just “fighting fires each time one breaks out”. We have a press release upstairs with more details.
On Zimbabwe, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today said that it is deeply concerned about the increased suffering of children in Zimbabwe, a situation the agency had blamed on the grave economic problems facing the country.
Zimbabwe continues to face severe shortages of medicine, key health and education staff, and is also going through yet another drought, in addition to having an inflation rate at 4,530 per cent. All these woes have seriously affected children’s access to the basic elements of a decent and healthy childhood, including affordable education, food, clothing and shelter, the agency said. There’s more in a press release from UNICEF upstairs.
**UNESCO World Heritage Committee
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee, which is meeting all this week in Christchurch, New Zealand, has added two new sites to its list of World Heritage in Danger.
Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands are threatened by invasive species and by changes caused by growing tourism and immigration, UNESCO says. Meanwhile, the Niokolo-Koba National Park in Senegal -- which is home to elephants, lions, chimpanzees and other animals -- is facing threats from poachers, and plans for a dam on the Gambia River just a few kilometres upstream. We have more in a press release upstairs from UNESCO.
**International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking
Today is the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. In a message, the Secretary-General stressed that drug abuse could be prevented, treated and controlled. He urged Member States to devote more attention to early detection, to the prevention of diseases spread through drug use and to the treatment of all addictions.
Also marking the occasion, the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Antonio Maria Costa, said more investment was needed to fight drug addiction, and underlined the need to continue to push back against drugs. Finally -- coinciding with the Day against Drug Abuse -- UNODC is launching its 2007 World Drug Report, which provides evidence that the world drug problem is being controlled, despite some remaining problems, such as the opium production in Afghanistan.
**International Day in Support of Victims of Torture
On the occasion of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture -- which is also today -- the Secretary-General reaffirmed the need for a global commitment to rehabilitate all victims of such abuse. He urged all United Nations Member States to accede to the Convention against Torture, which came into force 20 years ago today. The Secretary-General also urged Member States to sign and ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances, which opened for signature in the past year.
In a joint statement High Commissioner Louise Arbour also called on States to cooperate with the Committee against Torture and follow its requests not to deport individuals to countries where they run the risk of being tortured. We have more information on that upstairs.
**Guest at Noon Tomorrow
As a heads-up: The guests at the noon briefing tomorrow will be Ann Erb Leoncavallo, speechwriter in the Office of the Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Anika Rahman, President of Americans for UNFPA, who will launch the State of the World Population 2007 report. Advance copies of the report are available at the documents centre upstairs.
This is all I have for you today.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you Michèle. Anything on the border assessment report? Will it be released today?
Spokesperson: I’m not sure it’s going to be today. But the Secretary-General is to transfer it, as you know, to the Security Council, and it will be available as soon as it is issued by the Council.
Question: But it has been largely commented in some newspapers already.
Spokesperson: It has, indeed. But it is not yet public.
Question: Does it mean that this is the real report that has been already…?
Spokesperson: I cannot confirm that. There will probably be changes. I don’t know if there will be changes. There might be. And at any rate, we will know as soon as the Council puts it out and the Secretary-General has transmitted it to the Council.
Question: Will it be today?
Spokesperson: I don’t know. I can’t really confirm that.
[The Spokesperson later confirmed that the Security Council members had received the report.]
Question: Okay, about the report on [Security Council resolution] 1701 (2006). Can you confirm that it will be this week?
Spokesperson: Well, I cannot confirm anything. The report, we don’t have it. So I cannot confirm that it is going to be released today or tomorrow.
Question: Can we at least have a sort of summary of the Secretary-General’s understanding of the recommendations of this border commission?
Spokesperson: You will have it once it is officially released.
Question: [The report on] 1701 (2006): has it been delayed to include the latest attack against the Spanish peacekeeping troops? Is that the reason why it has been delayed?
Spokesperson: I don’t know why, but we’ll find out soon. I’ll let you know.
Question: Michèle, I understand that in the next 48 hours the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, will be appointed Special Envoy to the Quartet on Middle East Peace. Does the Secretary-General think that he has the credibility and the ability to make decisive contributions to lasting peace in the Middle East?
Spokesperson: I cannot comment on that yet, because, as you know, the name is not official yet. The Quartet principals are discussing it. As soon as all Quartet principals have signed, of course you will have comments.
Question: He approves of the idea? He likes Mr. Blair as a representative for…?
Spokesperson: I cannot comment at this point.
Question: Michèle, I wanted to ask you: last week, when I had asked you, you said that possibly the Special Envoy for the Western Sahara was going to report to the Security Council by the end of the month, on the status of the talks and what went on last week. So, I just wanted to get an update on that. That’s my first question.
Spokesperson: Well, I don’t have anything new, Laura Angela. Not right now.
Question: Okay. The other thing is -- and this might be a dumb question -- the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) just made a statement that they were going to launch a reconstruction project of the al-Askari shrine in Iraq that was damaged twice. And the one thing they put on it was that the reconstruction will start “as soon as security conditions are guaranteed”. So, what does that mean? I mean, who is going to… There’s already United Nations people there, who’re working in Iraq. So what exactly does that mean? Does that mean when nobody gets bombed? Or does that mean when the United States pull out?
Spokesperson: It means when the people who actually do the reconstruction work can function. There are no absolute criteria. But of course we have been saying over and over again that our role in Iraq is limited by the security conditions. So, it holds for this also, for the UNESCO efforts.
Question: About the meeting in Paris yesterday. Mr. [Bernard] Kouchner indicated that the African Union had not been invited. Do we know why? And does the Secretary-General have anything to say about that? Or did he have anything to say in this matter at all?
Spokesperson: The African Union was not present at the meeting. It is a fact. But…
Question: Were they invited?
Spokesperson: Yes, they were.
Question: Mr. Kouchner said they were not.
Spokesperson: So maybe they were not. I don’t know. I cannot comment on the side of the Secretary-General on this. About the lack of African participation, I remind you that the Paris conference was a French initiative. It was not a United Nations conference. And we were invited to that conference. I cannot confirm whether or not Mr. [Alpha] Konaré was formally invited. I cannot confirm that. It is up to the French Government to confirm this. All I can say is that the Secretary-General, during this meeting and his intervention at the press conference in particular, urged for total support, as much support as possible, to the African troops on the ground right now until at least the end of December. As you know, their mandate was renewed until the end of December. And they need support right now to be able to function and protect the population as much as they can.
Question: Did he express any regret that the African Union wasn’t…?
Spokesperson: No, not really. But he did say that he has been speaking with Mr. Konaré and he has not expressed… It is not his call. It was not his conference.
Question: Michèle, the media seminar on the Middle East: Was it arranged by the United Nations?
Spokesperson: Yes, it is a regular event that the United Nations organizes.
Question: And why was the location Tokyo? Why was Japan chosen as the location?
Spokesperson: I don’t really know, but I can find out for you. Every time, there’s a different venue. Every year there is a different venue.
[The Spokesperson later added that Japan had offered to co-host the seminar.]
Question: Do you have a detailed press release on that?
Spokesperson: Yes, we do -- at least, the statement that was delivered. We have that.
Question: Michèle, there are reports that the Organization of Rwanda Genocide Survivors has given a letter to Mr. Ban Ki-moon asking him to do more for them. The same report says that another request has been made to him, to recommend to extend the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Has he received these letters, and what’s his reply to them?
Spokesperson: As far as I know, he has not received these letters yet.
Question: Can I ask you something about Myanmar? The Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict is there, and it’s said that it’s not clear yet if the Government, or who in the Government of Myanmar, is going to meet with her on the issue of children and armed conflict. Has either the Secretary-General or Mr. [Ibrahim] Gambari or anyone in the Secretariat reached out to the Myanmar Government to see that this visit is actually met by the appropriate Government officials?
Spokesperson: I don’t know at this point, but I can inquire for you.
Question: The meeting between [Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad] Siniora and Mr. Ban Ki-moon: did they discuss the issue of these militias in Lebanon after the latest attack on the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL)?
Spokesperson: I don’t have the details of that meeting that took place at the end of the meeting on Darfur yesterday. It lasted a very short time, because it was just a side event, a side meeting. I know that they discussed recent events -- the UNIFIL situation and the death of the soldiers from the Spanish contingent. I know they talked about the Tribunal also. That’s all I have, in terms of information.
Question: Was it at the request of Mr. Siniora or Mr. Ban Ki-moon, the meeting?
Spokesperson: Mr. Siniora.
Question: How long did it last, roughly?
Spokesperson: Ten minutes.
Any other questions? Thank you very much.
* *** *For information media • not an official record