|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.
**Guest at Noon
Good afternoon all. Our guest at the noon briefing today is Anwarul Chowdhury, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, who will launch the Climate Change Report 2007. Copies of the report are available in this room.
The Security Council heard from the Prime Minister of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia, Ali Mohamed Gedi, in a closed meeting this morning. The Prime Minister will also give a press briefing in this room at 2:15 this afternoon.
The Security Council has now finished the private meeting and is just beginning consultations, with a view to a formal meeting, on the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
The Secretary-General’s latest report on Somalia is out as a document today. In it, the Secretary-General gives an update on the UN role in support of the intra-Somali negotiations to convene a national reconciliation congress, which is now planned for 15 July. He also notes that efforts by the Transitional Federal Government to secure and establish key State institutions in the capital Mogadishu continue to face significant resistance from remnants of the deposed Union of Islamic Courts and various sub-clans of Mogadishu’s dominant Hawiye clan. Security in the rest of the country, meanwhile, remains volatile due to widespread banditry, lawlessness and intra-clan violence, a situation made even more volatile by the eruption in April of tensions between the Puntland and Somaliland regions.
Condemning the deadly attacks against AU peacekeepers in Somalia, the Secretary-General also deplores continued deterioration of both the security and humanitarian conditions, which has led some 400,000 people between February and late April to flee Mogadishu and the south-central regions. Increased insecurity, meanwhile, has caused another 3,500 people to flee the capital this month, adds the UN Refugee Agency in a press release issued earlier today. The Agency says another 10,000 people are also reported to have fled the town of Kismayao due to violence between rival clans.
And both the UN report and the UNHCR press release are available upstairs.
**Secretary-General’s Meeting with Somalia’s Prime Minister
The Secretary-General met yesterday with the Prime Minister of Somalia, Mr. Ali Mohamed Gedi, and was encouraged by the Prime Minister’s assurances that plans are on track to begin the National Reconciliation Congress next month. The Secretary-General said it was important for the Government to reach out in an effort to ensure that the Congress is inclusive. The Secretary-General pledged to do his part to encourage troop contributions and other support to the African Union mission, AMISOM, which has a critical role to play in establishing security in the country. He also expressed concern about the humanitarian situation and urged greater cooperation with the humanitarian community working in Somalia.
This is the readout that some of you have asked for about the meeting yesterday.
As you’ll recall, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hèdi Annabi yesterday told reporters, after his briefing to the Security Council, that a troop contributors’ meeting has been scheduled for Friday to discuss the African Union-United Nations hybrid operation for Darfur.
The Security Council President, meanwhile, said that a draft resolution authorizing the hybrid force was expected to be introduced in the days to come.
And, we have today’s update compiled by the UN Mission in Sudan. On Darfur, the report mentions a new influx of internally displaced persons at a camp in South Darfur and a grenade explosion in a camp in West Darfur, which killed a six-year-old boy and severely injured at least four other people.
The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) welcomed the opening today of the Karni crossing point between Israel and the Gaza Strip, which allowed 5,000 tonnes of wheat to pass through. The Agency said it is crucial that Karni remains open on a permanent basis, and continues to be fully functional. UNRWA Spokesman Chris Gunness said: “If we are to avoid total aid dependency for Gaza, we need to get commercial imports and exports moving.”
According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the UN agencies are meeting the basic needs of the Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip at present. As of today, they are getting an average 80 to 90 trucks of relief supplies into the territory daily. We will soon have a press release with more on this.
Meanwhile, UNRWA says its summer programme for children in Gaza is well under way. Nearly 200,000 children are expected to participate in a broad range of recreational and educational activities as part of UNRWA’s “summer games”.
The Force Commander of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), Major-General Claudio Graziano, today held an open meeting with local authorities from the towns and villages in the eastern sector of UNIFIL’s area of operations, with the aim of strengthening relations with the local communities.
Graziano added that the recent terrorist attack against UNIFIL peacekeepers would not deter them from carrying out their mission, adding that all UNIFIL troops remain committed more than ever to their mission.
We have a press release upstairs with more information.
The UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste says that the distribution of ballot papers for this weekend’s parliamentary elections has begun in both the capital Dili and the main town of the country’s 13 districts. This is being done by the UN in cooperation with the Timorese Secretariat for Electoral Administration.
The Mission says that the ballot papers will be transported from Dili and other district capitals to the 708 polling stations and 520 polling centres by helicopters, vehicles and horses with porters on 29 June. A total of 652,000 ballot papers will be distributed throughout the country, and a reserve will be stored in all districts to deal with emergencies.
On Iraq, the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) has now published on its website its compendium of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programmes. It’s a more than 1,000-page document that provides a detailed account of Iraq’s chemical and biological warfare programmes and associated delivery systems, as well as UN efforts to map and verify the true extent and nature of Iraq’s activities.
The lessons learned chapter of this compendium represents the views of the inspectors themselves, and highlights the difficulties faced by inspectors and many of the strengths and weaknesses of the UN inspection system.
For your information, the site is www.unmovic.org.
This afternoon, the United Nations University is presenting a new report, which calls desertification –- exacerbated by climate change -– an imminent threat to international stability.
According to the study, within the next 10 years, 50 million people could be at risk of displacement due to severe desertification. The report calls on Governments to overhaul their agriculture and other land use policies.
The United Nations University’s report is being presented at the panel in Conference Room 2, at 3 p.m. We also have more information in a press release upstairs.
The Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, will conclude her five-day visit to Myanmar tomorrow. During her visit, the Special Representative met with the acting Prime Minister, as well as other ministers and senior officials. She said that the Government responded favourably to engaging in an ongoing dialogue with the UN.
And you can find a full press release on that upstairs.
**World Heritage List
For the first time ever, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) has decided today to remove a site from its World Heritage List.
The Arabian Oryx Sanctuary –- which is home to rare antelope -– has been deleted from the list because of Oman’s decision to reduce the size of the protected area by 90 per cent and proceed to hydrocarbon prospecting. The World Heritage Committee sees this as destroying the outstanding universal value of the site, which was inscribed in 1994.
The World Heritage Committee, which is meeting this week in New Zealand, also added more than a dozen sites to their list today, such as the Sydney Opera House and the old town of Corfu.
And we have press releases on this upstairs from UNESCO.
According to the UN World Tourism Organization (WTO), China is expected to become the world’s third most popular tourist destination by 2008. China attracted 49.6 million tourists last year.
The WTO says that France, Spain and the United States are currently the world’s top three tourist destinations, but that China was neck-and-neck with the US last year.
**Sergio Vieira de Mello
A ceremony is taking place tonight in Geneva to honour former top UN envoy in Iraq and High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sergio Vieira de Mello. He was killed, along with 21 colleagues, in a bombing of the UN’s Baghdad Headquarters in August 2003.
**Fourth of July Tickets
Finally, for those of you who want to watch the Fourth of July fireworks at UN Headquarters next week, the Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit says that, as they traditionally do, they will provide tickets for entry into the building, which you can get from their office starting at 10:00 a.m. tomorrow. Tickets, as always, will be available on a first-come, first-served basis, with a limit of two tickets per customer.
This is all I have for you.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Just to go back to that letter that was written by the two members of the presidency. Does the Secretary-General consider, since that was written by only two members of the Bosnian presidency, that that was actually the letter written by representatives of the Bosnian State?
Spokesperson: It was a letter written by only two members of the Government. The Secretary-General would respond if it was a letter signed by all three of them.
Question: Okay. Is the Secretary-General, or are you, avoiding to comment on this any more, because the ongoing issue of the lawsuit of the NGO Mother of Srebrenicaagainst the UN?
Spokesperson: No, there is no ongoing issue there. As you know, we have taken a very strong position on that and there is no ongoing issue.
Question: And if I may, just one more follow-up: Does the Secretary-General believe and think that he is doing really enough using even thisopportunity, the ruling of the International Court of Justice, to apply lessons learned in Rwanda and Srebrenica?
Spokesperson: I didn’t get your question.
Question: Does the Secretary-General think that he is doing really enough by using the International Court of Justice ruling on genocide in Srebrenica to apply all lessons learned in Srebrenica and Rwanda?
Spokesperson: I think… the position of the Secretary-General on acts of genocide has been a very clear one, and I think he has articulated that position in several previous positions. So I don’t think there is any doubt here that the Secretary-General would do anything within his power to enforce those decisions. As you know, those are judicial decisions.
Question: Just one more: If there would be a private letter from any current organization from Bosnia, would the Secretary-General feel that he would respond, and does he have an obligation to publish this letter as a document?
Spokesperson: No, he does not, he does not.
Question: Any comments, reaction to Mark Malloch Brown’s appointment as Junior Minister in Mr. Gordon Brown’s cabinet?
Spokesperson: Well, the Secretary-General is going to work of course with the new Government. As you know, he is going on a trip to London during the next two weeks, at the end of the next two weeks, and of course he will work with Mark Malloch Brown, like he works with all members of the Government.
Question: Do you have a confirmation for the story in the New York Times about Mr. [Serge] Brammertz’s appointment as the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, and who is going to be next after him in case he takes the job?
Spokesperson: Well, I just got the information. Mr. Brammertz’ contract was recently extended until 31 December. Until then, he will be heading the International Independent Investigation Commission for Lebanon. Ms. [Carla] Del Ponte’s current contract is due to expire on 15 September. The selection of her replacement as the prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia will be decided by the Security Council upon recommendations from the Secretary-General. As of today, the Council has not taken any such decision, and neither has it been seized of the matter. So I think this answers, maybe, your question.
Question: Does this mean that the report is wrong? The report says that Mr. Brammertz accepted the job.
Spokesperson: I cannot speak for the sources that this article had, I can just tell you what I know.
Question: Just to ask whether the Secretary-General took any position on who is going to replace… Does he have his favourite choice?
Spokesperson: Not at this point. I cannot confirm any choices made.
Question: Regarding the announcement of UNMOVIC and its website: It has been determined that there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Is this an exercise to justify the invasion of Iraq now again by the United Nations?
Spokesperson: No, these are just the ends of regular reports you have been getting, you know. Look at the site and you will see.
Question: Why was this done now?
Spokesperson: It is just a follow-up to reports made. And I always keep you abreast of reports that are made.
Question: But this website that…
Spokesperson: The website was there before. It didn’t come into being today or…
Question: Has it been updated with new information about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction?
Spokesperson: It is always updated.
Question: What response is coming from the Middle East, from Arab countries. That did not welcome at all the appointment of Mr. [Tony] Blair as Quartet envoy. What are the comments of Mr. Ban Ki-moon on that? And also, why didn’t we hear remarks on the Israeli operation in the Gaza Strip yesterday?
Spokesperson: On the first question, you know, we will not comment on opinions expressed about this, of course not. I already read to you what was the position of the Quartet on the nomination of Mr. Blair. That is as far as I will go. On the second question, which would you specify…
Question: Yes, on the Israeli operation in the Gaza Strip and the result of killing about eight or ten Palestinians: What are the remarks of Mr. Ban Ki-moon on that?
Spokesperson: We don’t have anything specific on that today, but it is something we are following very closely, and we have been regularly giving reactions to events in the region. There is nothing really… you know, we don’t have any update on this today.
Question: So, it is not an escalation? Israelis shooting 13 Palestinians in Gaza, that is not something worth commenting on, you think?
Spokesperson: I am not saying that, I never said that. I just said that we have been commenting… that we have been following closely the situation over there. As you know, the UN is very much present there in the area, and, periodically, we do report different situations to you and give reactions of the Secretary-General to the situation. The fact that he is concerned is obvious, with all the phone calls that he is making on a daily basis on the situation in the Middle East.
Question: Hamas in the Gaza Strip has been calling for resuming a national dialogue with Fatah and President [Mahmoud] Abbas. What is the reaction of Mr. Ban Ki-moon to this? Is he for isolating Hamas in the Gaza Strip, or does he encourage this national dialogue for the integrity of the Palestinian people?
Spokesperson: As you know, the position has always been a two-State solution with the Palestinian State and the Israeli State. The position has always been clear. What else would you like me to say?
Question: Would he encourage such a dialogue between Hamas and…?
Spokesperson: He certainly would encourage a dialogue between Hamas and Fatah, definitely.
Question: I don’t remember exactly what happened at the end, but at the end of the last year there was a drive to enact a law against former UN officials doing business with the UN in all sorts of governmental and private capacities. Do you know about that?
Spokesperson: I am not aware of that, but I will try to get to information to know whether such a decision was taken.
[The Spokesperson later said that the policy approved last year applies solely to procurement transactions.]
Question: Benni is right. There was a proposal made by the outgoing Under-Secretary-General [inaudible] that that should be the case. And as a follow-up to the Palestinian… Yesterday, I had asked you specifically about these 12 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces. You said that you would come back with a reaction. There is no reaction. Whenever something else happens, there is an immediate reaction.
Spokesperson: No, that is not true. We have, let’s face it, we have a number of situations like this that occur daily. We try to react periodically to them. You asked me a question the other day about Afghanistan. But I cannot have a statement everyday about something happening in Afghanistan, everyday about something happening in the Middle East… It is not that it is not important. It is followed very closely by the Secretariat. And all those issues are followed on a daily basis. The concern is there and the concern is periodically expressed. But we don’t react to every single event that takes place.
Question: Another region –- to see if this is followed closely -- in Brazil in Rio, the Government went into a neighbourhood and 19 people were killed in the last 24 hours. I am wondering, is Brazil, and incidents like that, something that the UN tracks, followed closely?
Spokesperson: Of course. You know, it is a national issue, but the UN does follow closely there what happens, yes, of course.
Question: Which end of the UN?
Spokesperson: Political Affairs follows that.
Question: Yesterday, the Fifth Committee voted on the Department of Peacekeeping Operations restructuring. Ashraf had read one thing out, but the proposal of Ban Ki-moon to have procurement move into the Department of Field Service did not take place. Previously, he had said he had no comment until it is done. Does he have any reaction to the vote? Is he satisfied?
Spokesperson: It will be done, tomorrow, when the GA votes on it.
Question: Did the Secretary-General and the Security Council receive the letter from Prime Minister [Fouad] Siniora asking for the renewal of the mandate of UNIFIL?
Spokesperson: I will check on that for you.
[The Spokesperson later confirmed that the letter had been received.]
Question: That question which remained unanswered…
Spokesperson: I said that I would check, for the simple reason that I don’t know whether it was adopted or not. Was the decision adopted? That is what we have to find out. It was a proposal, right? So, that is what I have to find out first, whether it was adopted. And I don’t have that information at this point.
* *** *For information media • not an official record