7 August 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 Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


**Guest at Noon Today


Our guest at the noon briefing today is Jane Holl Lute, acting head of the Department of Field Support, who will discuss preparations for the AU-UN “hybrid operation” in Darfur.  That should be in just a few minutes, so I’ll try to keep my part short.


**Security Council


The Security Council has finished discussing in consultations the work of the UN Mission in Iraq, and it received a briefing on that subject by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe.  Council members also received a draft resolution on the extension of the UN Mission’s mandate; the current mandate expires on 10 August.


After he was done in the Council, Pascoe spoke to reporters at the stakeout and he said that the United Nations has consistently been on the ground, supporting and providing assistance to the Government of Iraq.  He mentioned the constraints posed by the security situation on the ground, adding that we are doing what we can to ensure that UN staff are safe.  He said there might be a small increase in UN staff on the ground in the coming months, bearing in mind security conditions.


Also, the letter from the Secretary-General to the Security Council recommending a 12-month extension of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon -- that is, until the end of August 2008 -- is out as a document.


** Somalia


François Lonseny Fall, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Somalia, earlier today addressed the National Reconciliation Congress in Mogadishu, urging the Transitional Federal Government to invite opposition groups to join the debate.


He told the assembled delegates, “We would like to see the stakeholders who renounce violence inside and outside the country take part in this process.”  He also stressed the fact that the international community remains firmly in support of the reconciliation process.  He added that the international community will contribute much-needed technical assistance to ensure that delegates can reach decisions for peace.  Fall also encouraged them to discuss all sticking points, which range from power-sharing to disarmament.


Before speaking at the Reconciliation Congress, Fall met with Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed and with Ali Mahdi Mohamed, the Chairman of the National Reconciliation Committee, at the Presidential Palace in Mogadishu.


**Timor-Leste


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Timor-Leste, Mr. Atul Khare, condemned the violence in Dili following the announcement of the new Government yesterday afternoon.


Characterizing the violence as sporadic and isolated, Khare stressed that any political party supporters engaging in acts of violence will be treated as criminals and dealt with swiftly.


Khare met this morning with the Secretary-General of Fretilin, Mari Alkatiri, to request his support in keeping the situation calm.


Timorese and UN police officers, along with the International Security Forces, have been working to contain the violence, mostly comprised of rock-throwing, roadblocks and arson.


**Floods in South Asia


UN agencies are warning of a possible health crisis after the monsoon rains have left millions in urgent need of freshwater, food and shelter.  There are increasing reports of outbreaks of water-borne diseases, viral fever and skin infections, according to UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO).


WHO says it is stockpiling emergency medicines for disease-outbreak management and has prepositioned health kits to the worst-affected areas.  UNICEF is also providing emergency medical kits and essential drugs, among other things.


According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the flooding has so far affected nearly 40 million people in the region.


And we have more on this upstairs.


** Pakistan


Meanwhile, in Pakistan, OCHA is concerned that the onset of the monsoon season could worsen flooding in areas that were already affected by the June cyclone and floods.  It notes that its flash appeal for $38 million for Pakistan, launched three weeks ago, remains less than one third funded.  The UN Resident Coordinator in Pakistan is appealing to the donor community to urgently meet the funding shortfall.


** Afghanistan


Afghanistan’s cereals production has doubled in the six years since the end of the Taliban regime and the Afghan people have nearly reached cereal self-sufficiency, according to the latest figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).


FAO reports that, despite the continuing tense security environment, the country’s cereal output will reach 4.6 million tonnes in 2007, more than twice the level of 2001.  The UN agency says Afghanistan’s success with cereals stems from several years of favourable weather and from ongoing development efforts.


And we have a press release upstairs highlighting the projects supported by FAO in the country.


**Refugees from Chad and Central African Republic


The UN refugee agency and other United Nations humanitarian agencies are tomorrow launching a relief operation to assist some 26,000 refugees from the Central African Republic who are living in precarious conditions along the eastern border of Cameroon.  The refugees are mainly Mbororo nomadic cattle herders who have been targeted by rebel groups and bandits.  UN agencies are sending more than 200 tons of basic supplies, while WFP is positioning 3,000 tons of food rations.


Meanwhile, UNHCR says it and its Sudanese governmental counterpart have recommended that thousands of new arrivals from Chad, who have crossed over to Darfur in recent months, be recognized as refugees.  The joint report notes that refugee status should not be granted to active or former combatants, however.


And there is more information in UNHCR’s briefing notes, which are upstairs.


**Weather


On the weather we have been having recently:  so far, 2007 has been marked by record weather extremes in many parts across the world, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).


Land surface temperatures in January and April will likely go down as the warmest since record-keeping began in 1880.  Meanwhile, two extreme heat waves hit South-Eastern Europe in June and July, while South America has been gripped by bitterly cold weather.


Several regions have also experienced extremely heavy precipitation, including a doubling of monsoon depressions in South Asia -- as we were mentioning just a few minutes ago -- the first ever cyclone in the Arabian Sea, and record-breaking rains in England and Wales.


The World Meteorological Organization notes that climate change projections show that extremes of heat and precipitation will likely become more frequent.  And we have information on this upstairs.


**Press Conference Tomorrow


Like I said earlier, we’ll expect Jane Holl Lute to talk to you about the preparations on Sudan.  We also have a press conference scheduled for tomorrow, at 12:30 p.m.  That will be by Ambassador Irakli Chikovani, the Deputy Permanent Representative of the Mission of Georgia, on the situation concerning Georgia.


Are there any questions for me now, before we go to Ms. Holl Lute?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Prime Minister [Ehud] Olmert met, as we know, with President [Mahmoud] Abbas.  The meeting was very constructive and Mr. Olmert apparently wants to accelerate the establishment of an independent Palestinian State.  Does the Secretary-General have any reaction to this development?  Also, the Under-Secretary-General of DPA announced a few minutes ago that the Secretary-General is very close to announcing the appointment of a Special Envoy to Iraq.  Would you confirm or deny that it would be Ambassador [Lakhdar] Brahimi?


Associate Spokesperson:  On your second question, I don’t have any name to give right now.  We will make an announcement, hopefully fairly soon, but I don’t have anything to tell you about the replacement for Mr. [Ashraf] Qazi just yet.


For your first question:  yes, we are encouraged by the talks between Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas.  We would encourage them to continue meeting with each other, and we certainly hope that they can continue to make progress in that effort.  Along those lines, the Secretary-General will be meeting this evening with the Quartet’s Envoy for the Middle East, Tony Blair.  They are both in Barbados now and they will have a working dinner.  So, we can expect them to discuss some of these recent developments further.


Question:  Did the UN receive any request about providing a safe place for negotiations between the South Koreans and the Taliban regarding the hostage situation?


Associate Spokesperson:  I have been in touch with my colleagues in the UN Mission in Afghanistan.  They are not aware of any such request.


Question:  Is there any update on the status of the Russian translator who has been charged with immigration fraud?  You said yesterday that he had not been suspended.


Associate Spokesperson:  As of right now, he has not been suspended.  If a process is put in place, I’ll let you know at that point.  But this is at an early part.  Basically, as of 6 August, that is to say yesterday, the US law-enforcement authorities announced that Mr. [Vyacheslav] Manokhin has been arrested and charged with carrying out a scheme of providing illegal entry into the US for non-citizens.  We had already waived his immunity a week earlier, on 27 July.  In terms of any further administrative action, I’ll have to wait and see if that is taken.


Question:  Does the Secretary-General have any response to Georgia’s claim that Russia has committed an act of aggression by firing a rocket…?


Associate Spokesperson:  We have seen conflicting press reports regarding an alleged bombing of Georgian territory.  The UN has no access to first-hand information either to confirm or deny these reports.  The UN is not going to investigate the incident, which is beyond our peacekeeping role in Georgia, which is limited to the Georgia-Abkhaz conflict.  The site of the alleged incident is outside our area of operations.


Question:  So, if a request was made to the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG), they would not, you are saying, they would not get involved?


Associate Spokesperson:  Like I said, UNOMIG sees this as outside its peacekeeping role in Georgia, which is part of the Abkhaz conflict.  And I think before you entered this room, Mark, that the Georgian Deputy Permanent Representative will give a briefing in this room at 12:30 tomorrow.


Question:  I have just one follow-up to this.  Would the UN consider one country announcing that another country has committed an act of aggression on its territory as a threat to international peace and security?


Associate Spokesperson:  Again, since we are dealing with allegations that we are not in a position to corroborate, I wouldn’t have any further comment on that.


Question:  As the anniversary of the bombing in Baghdad in Iraq is approaching -- on 19 August -- are you planning some events here at New York Headquarters?


Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, we are.  On 17 August, the Friday before the fourth anniversary commemoration, we will have, at about 10:15 in the morning, in the General Assembly building’s public lobby, lasting about 15 minutes, in which the names of those who were killed during the 19 August 2003 attack will be read out.  There will be a wreath-laying and, I believe, a moment of silence at that time.


Question:  Mr. Pascoe just said at the stakeout that the size of the UNAMI force is going to grow from 65, which is its current level, to around 95.  Is that under the conditions of the existing mandate, and, therefore, are all bets off in terms of any increase in force under the new mandate?


Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t want to speculate on what the new mandate will contain.  That is still being discussed by the Security Council.  The Secretary-General is able to alter the ceiling for UN personnel on the ground, depending on security conditions.  What Mr. Pascoe is suggesting is that we might be able to adjust it upward slightly from the present level, which, as you mentioned, is at 65.


Question:  Could you coordinate with Jared of the Department of Political Affairs on what the 65 do? Are they national or international?


Associate Spokesperson:  These are international staff, not including the Fijians, who are also internationals but are part of the security presence there.  They are the inner-ring security presence.  That would boost the international presence of the ground upward.


Question:  What do they do?


Associate Spokesperson:  The Fijians?


Question:  No, the 65…  Are they political officers or are they…?


Associate Spokesperson:  Exactly, these are people who handle basic political tasks.  They have been handling things like electoral functions, constitutional review and also some humanitarian work, although a lot of our humanitarian staff dealing with Iraq are actually based in Amman, Jordan.


Question:  On Iraq, the Staff Union has been circulating a resolution -- I think they are going to vote on it today -- that would call on the Secretary-General to certify under Staff Regulation 1.2 c that things are safe in Iraq to send staff in.  Under the staff regulation, is it self-enforcing?  Is there a process by which the Secretary-General, or some other unit of the UN, would make such a certification?


Associate Spokesperson:  We have daily assessments of security situations on the ground in Iraq, as indeed elsewhere in the world wherever we operate.  Our decisions on staffing, wherever UN staff are based, are based on the regular security update.


Question:  So this path, I mean it wouldn’t change, from your point of view, it wouldn’t change…


Associate Spokesperson:  What you describe does not sound different from what we do as a standard practice.  We have a Department of Security and Safety that coordinates these security assessments around the world.


Question:  There is a report in Carib Net News that Ban Ki-moon has met with the Acting Prime Minister of Barbados.


Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, we announced that on Friday.  Mia Mottley.


Question:  On the schedule today, it just says “travelling”.


Associate Spokesperson:  He met with the Acting Prime Minister on Friday.  We are also trying to schedule a meeting with the Prime Minister, who had been out of town, but hopefully we might have something to announce in the next day or so.


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