|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.
The Secretary-General met in his office today with Ambassador Pak Gil Yon of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) to discuss issues relating to peace and security on the Korean peninsula. The Secretary-General reiterated his welcome of the forthcoming inter-Korea summit to be held later this month and expressed his wishes for a successful outcome.
In this connection he emphasized the importance of the six-party talks and expressed his hope for smooth implementation of the February joint statement. The Secretary-General reaffirmed the United Nations readiness to offer help or assistance towards a peaceful, nuclear-free, prosperous Korean peninsula.
The Secretary-General conveyed his sympathy to the Government and people of the DPRK, which is experiencing heavy damage from flooding. He assured the United Nations would do its utmost, in coordination with the international community, to help mitigate the consequences of this natural disaster.
The Secretary-General and Ambassador Pak agreed to continue the dialogue on possible avenues of cooperation, in close coordination with Member States.
**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea - Floods
Concerning the floods in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the World Food Programme (WFP) reports that UN agencies were invited by the Government of that country to participate in a joint assessment mission -- in a preliminary request for assistance.
The mission, which includes WFP, UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO), visited today one of the four provinces affected by the floods. It is expected to continue its assessment tomorrow, as well as the following day, in order to identify the needs of the populations affected by the floods.
**Floods in South Asia and Sudan
Turning to the floods in South Asia, UNICEF and the World Food Programme have so far distributed 90 tons of high-protein biscuits in Bangladesh, and expect to deliver 24 more tons this week.
In Nepal, UNICEF has provided more than 2,000 mosquito nets and has delivered radio broadcasts in the country’s four regional languages on the necessity of water purification to prevent disease.
In India, where floods have affected some 24 million people, UNICEF is distributing rehydration packs, water jerry cans and water purification packs. The agency is also conducting a massive vaccination campaign against chicken pox.
Meanwhile, in Sudan, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says at least 365,000 people have been affected, and preliminary estimates show that the number in need of food assistance may swiftly rise. WHO has prepositioned medical supplies in several locations and has prepared a plan to prevent further diarrhoea outbreaks.
There is more information in the Geneva briefing notes upstairs.
The members of the Security Council are holding their monthly luncheon with the Secretary-General today.
The Secretary-General will speak to reporters at the 2nd floor Security Council stakeout position following the luncheon. The 2nd floor stakeout is also available in case any of the Council members wants to speak to you afterwards.
The UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Geir Pedersen, today issued a statement that appeared in several Lebanese papers on the first anniversary of the end of last summer’s war.
Pedersen writes that, since the end of the war, significant divisions have emerged on the Lebanese political scene, and the tensions they bring about hinder progress and threaten stability once more. If the Lebanese people wish to forge a prosperous and peaceful future for their country, he says, they must be able to overcome their differences and work together.
There are a number of initiatives to assist the various parties to come together in dialogue and reach mutually acceptable solutions, both on the presidency and the composition of the Government. These efforts will continue, and will be supported to the utmost extent possible by the Secretary-General, Pedersen writes.
We have his full statement upstairs.
**Human Rights – Uganda
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights today released a new study on the perceptions of victims of the conflict in northern Uganda on accountability, reconciliation and transitional justice.
The report highlights the fact that the local communities hold both the Lord’s Resistance Army and the Government responsible for the harm they have endured, and believe both should be held accountable. Truth and compensation were consistently identified as the principal transitional justice need.
The study also showed mixed opinions on the virtues of amnesty, domestic prosecution and the International Criminal Court.
We have more information on that upstairs.
** Burundi Refugees
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and the World Food Programme (WFP) are warning that, without additional funding, the return of 149,000 Burundian refugees living in camps in Tanzania could be jeopardized.
WFP says it urgently needs $20 million to continue its work in Burundi, where it provides food rations to returnees, as well as food assistance to Burundians.
The agency says it must be able to tell families considering a return to Burundi that they can count on food and other aid to help them. WFP wants to provide a six-month food ration to the returning refugees in order to speed up the pace of returns this year.
We have more on this in a press release upstairs, and this is all I have for you today. Thank you. Questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Two questions. One, I wondered if there was any request from the DPRK Ambassador besides the help for the flooding? Is there? Because you said the Secretary-General offered that there be further help if that was needed with regard to the six-party talks. I wondered if there was any request with regard to that.
Spokesperson: Well, you would have to ask Ambassador Pak himself.
Question: The second question is regarding the website. It seems no new text has been posted and that, as of last night, I did find that the French website, there was still some damage on it, and I wondered who do you report that to, and what’s happening with regard to that.
Spokesperson: This was a big issue, you were not here yesterday [talk over] -- it was a very big issue because…
Spokesperson: …because we were attacked by hackers, so our site on Sunday was disturbed. We replaced the texts that were missing, but yesterday we were asked by the people in charge of our technology department, it was announced that they would shut down the whole process. So we could not post anything yesterday, which was why many of you were not aware, for instance, of the meeting that took place this morning. So there’s nothing we can do about this. We are waiting to find out when this can be totally restored.
Question: And the other piece of that question…?
Spokesperson: But you can, in the meantime, find that information in our Office.
Question: Okay. Good. And then the other piece of the question is, people online who have familiarity with security problems are discussing this situation, and watching and trying to see if there’s a way in the discussion to be helpful. I wondered if you’ve been able to get some help from that kind of discussion. Do you know?
Spokesperson: Yes, I think we are getting all the help we need on that. Thank you very much. Yes?
Question: Do you think that this attack on the UN website is a random one?
Spokesperson: Well, it has occurred before. You know, it’s not a random one, but it happens, and it’s not just the UN. It happens to several companies and several organizations throughout the world. It’s not just us.
Question: Was the Secretary-General surprised yesterday by the announcement by the head of the African Union that the African Union could provide the full complement of peacekeepers in Darfur, and that the Asian countries that have been approached and agreed weren’t needed any more.
Spokesperson: Well, actually, the fact that they were not needed was not really the case. The Secretary-General welcomed the fact that the African Group and the African countries were willing to provide as many troops as we need for the hybrid force.
However, we still need specialized units, particularly in terms of technology, communications, transportation, and these can be provided by other countries who actually also are willing to give help to the hybrid force, and they’re not all of them African -- a number of them are not.
Question: One follow-up on that. Does the UN have any comment on AMISOM, which is supposed to be AU troops in Somalia, is not even at half its strength? I mean, is the UN going to try to say something to the African Union and say, how can the troops suddenly be available for Darfur when Somalia hasn’t been… there’s only 1,700 out of 8,000 that are supposed to be in Somalia?
Spokesperson: Well, there is a constant discussion on this, on the availability of troops. And DPKO is certainly on top of what is happening in terms of the contributions of different countries to troops. It’s a decision by an individual country whether they would contribute troops to one situation and not to another one. It’s not for the UN to decide.
Question: The Geir Pedersen article or reflection. Where was it published?
Spokesperson: It was published, as far as we know, in several newspapers. We don’t know which ones yet. I can find out for you.
[The Spokesperson later informed the correspondent that the newspapers were An-Nahar, As-Safir and the Daily Star.]
Question: [Inaudible] it was not in our newspaper. It’s a very leading newspaper, and it was not in the newspaper. How come… what is the… how did you…?
Spokesperson: We can find out. We didn’t do it ourselves. It was done from Lebanon, so we’ll find out for you what criteria were used. And, certainly, I’m sure Mr. Pedersen would be very happy to have his text published by L’Orient-Le Jour.
Question: I wondered, following this UN report on the Pakistani peacekeepers acting as sort of hired guards for gold smugglers in Congo. What exactly is the follow-up that you’re demanding that the Pakistani Government… what follow-up have you heard that the Pakistani Government has taken?
Spokesperson: I have a series of questions that you submitted to me yesterday, which I’ve been putting through to [talk over]. I don’t have the answers yet on that [talk over] -– on follow-up. But, you know, a number of follow-ups on different issues were already taken care of by DPKO in two meetings that they had with you recently.
Question: [Inaudible] I’m very specifically asking about what is the UN saying to the Pakistani Government, and what is the UN asking of the Pakistani Government and how has the Pakistani Government responded to the UN? That’s what I’m asking.
Spokesperson: I will get that for you.
[The Spokesperson later informed the correspondent that the Department of Peacekeeping Operations says there is no further action from the United Nations side regarding Pakistan and the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) smuggling allegations; the matter is now with the Pakistani Government to handle.]
Question: Just one other question. Can you update me… what is the Deputy Secretary-General’s job description, because I’m a little confused as to what she does, because she’s basically invisible? But you mentioned she did this thing yesterday, but apart from that?
Spokesperson: Well, she came here and told you what her job description was.
Question: Well, can you remind me?
Spokesperson: She’s taking care of a lot of development issues -- development and management issues are her primary concern. Development issues, the MDGs are her primary responsibility. Yes, Benny?
Question: Just since that’s part of her responsibility, a management question. Yesterday, we asked about the jurisdiction issue between the Ethics Office and UNDP as far as a decision on the whistle-blower question, whether he would be designated a whistle-blower or not.
Spokesperson: Well, I said that I would get someone for you from the Ethics Office, the person responsible for the Ethics Office to come down. He’s unfortunately travelling and he should be coming next week, I expect that you would be able to ask him the question yourself.
Question: But there’s no cursory answer as to whether the Ethics Office has jurisdiction over…
Spokesperson: Well, he does have jurisdiction to a certain extent, yes. To what extent, that’s what I’m trying to figure out for you. Yes?
[The Spokesperson later told the correspondent that the Office for Internal Oversight Services does not have a specific mandate to investigate UNDP, but it has the ability, under a memorandum of agreement with UNDP, to undertake services for UNDP at its request.
In this particular case, OIOS is trying to obtain information from a complainant to see whether the complainant's reasons for not reporting information to UNDP are justified. Until OIOS receives that information and can determine whether the complainant's reasons are valid, it is not proceeding to deal with the particulars of the case.]
Question: There was a letter sent yesterday to the SG by Reporters without Borders about two Kurdish journalists sentenced to death in Iran. The group is asking the SG to intervene, and I was just wondering if you had a response yet to this, or any general comments on it.
Spokesperson: As far as I know, he has not received the letter yet. And, as soon as I receive it, I’ll ask your question. Yes, Jonathan?
Question: Just in follow-up to what Benny was asking about, do you have any more information about OIOS (Office of Internal Oversight Services) and its efforts at trying to get to the bottom of this?
Spokesperson: No, no, I’ve been asking for an answer to your questions. I submitted all your questions yesterday, and I hope to get an answer for you soon.
Question: Including Secretary Ban’s opinions on this, as well?
Spokesperson: Well, his opinion on this I don’t have yet. I was waiting to get further factual information for you before asking for his reaction. Yes, Masood?
Question: I just wanted to… there’s one follow-up question on [inaudible]. On this question about the AU saying that they have sufficient forces -- they don’t need help from any other countries. Has, I just want to know… ultimately, the decision to lead the force would be made by the United Nations as to who would lead the force, right?
Spokesperson: They’ve already chosen who is leading the force. You already have the name of the Commander. You already have that information.
Question: So no other Western country has offered any troops at all?
Spokesperson: Well, yes, there have been Western countries offering help. And, as you know, the help is being asked specifically with targets in mind, specifically on technology, on the transport of troops and things of that sort, for which Western countries have a particular capability.
Question: But no soldiers on the ground?
Spokesperson: As far as I know, no.
Question: On the Iraq situation. Has the Secretary-General sent any assessment mission to Iraq in order to assess what is the danger level over there –- in order to assess the threshold for the UN to eventually decide to go back to Iraq?
Spokesperson: Well, we have a Mission there, working on a regular basis [talk over] we have 65 people there and they are better than anybody able to assess the security situation, and we have security people assessing the degree of security that is afforded. So, at this point, I think this is being assessed. Yes, Evelyn?
Question: We have not heard of one Western country –- nor has Peacekeeping -- offering military personnel. There have been some… you know, the US said that they’d help with sending contractors in to build housing and so forth. But, as far as military personnel, command and control, attack helicopters, the things they really need. Secondly, pledges of infantry, which is what the African Union gave, doesn’t really mean that’s the last number, does it?
Spokesperson: No. Right now, the composition of the force is being put together, and you will get more information about it as soon as it is finalized.
Question: In the list that was there last week, none of the… very few of the police components came from Africa. They were all Asian. Can you…?
Spokesperson: They were the ones that had offered. But for troops, the final composition is not set yet.
Question: I was just curious because of the SG’s statement on that. What I don’t know is…
Spokesperson: There is a statement because it is in the process of being established.
Question: I can’t find any Western country -– and I’ve been checking on this -- that has given a firm pledge for anything in terms of military personnel, not in helping transport troops into the area and so forth.
Spokesperson: Well, I think we will have some additional numbers very soon. I think you’ll have more information very soon on that. As far as I know, they are still discussing the composition. They have more troops than they need, actually, but what they do…
Question: Are they the right troops for what…?
Spokesperson: Well, that’s it. There are some specific tasks which need to be taken care of by…
Question: (talk over) ones who’ll be committed to show up at…
Spokesperson: This is the composition that is being discussed within DPKO and with contributing countries, but it is not yet set.
Question: Yeah, but even pledges so far –- current pledges -- I haven’t seen any and I’ve been checking on it.
Spokesperson: I think there have been recent pledges, and I will check for you which ones they are, and you will have a complete picture very soon on the composition.
Correspondent: Well, as of yesterday, there weren’t any.
Question: Since it’s been said that the African force has more than enough troops at this point in time, can’t some of them be diverted to Somalia?
Spokesperson: Well, it’s up to the contributing countries, Masood, it is not up to the UN. The contributing countries decide which mission they contribute troops to.
Question: Can the African Union be asked that some of the troops be diverted for a peacekeeping mission in Somalia?
Spokesperson: Of course they could be asked. Whether they are being asked or not I can check that for you.
Question: Is the Secretary-General concerned that the African Union, by saying they have enough troops, may be playing to Sudan’s President, who is insistent that there be no non-African troops? Is he concerned that the AU is playing to the gallery of the Sudanese President?
Spokesperson: Well, there is already an agreement –- an agreement between the AU, the President of Sudan and the United Nations -- that there would be specialized units that would not necessarily be African. I mentioned the areas in which they would need non-African contributions. So, there is an agreement that exists. It’s a signed agreement.
Question: Is this what the AU Chairperson (inaudible)?
Spokesperson: Well, I cannot interpret what the AU wants to do or what the AU has in mind. What I know is what has been signed and the discussions that have taken place. They concern specifically putting that force on the ground as soon as possible.
Question: I am referring now to the question I asked yesterday about Shebaa Farms -- the UN delineation of the boundary. I’ve got this statement that Geir Pedersen said that “the issue of Shebaa Farms is under close study and solid progress is being made towards a provisional determination of the geographical extent of the area”. Is it possible to translate that into English, please? Has the UN team determined the line or not?
Spokesperson: Not yet.
Question: It hasn’t done it?
Spokesperson: It hasn’t finished its work. It hasn’t finished its work.
Question: What does that mean to not have finished the work? Can you describe in slightly more detailed way that is consistent…?
Spokesperson: Well, I can give you…
Question: Because all the diplomatic reports I’ve heard is that you guys have finished the work, but you’re just releasing the results. So, I was just interested to know, what precisely… what is it? You just haven’t finished measuring certain portions? You haven’t gone out and put certain stakes in the ground? I don’t know what it consists of, so it would be very helpful -- since this is such an important job the UN is doing –- to get more of a clear explanation about what it is you guys are doing, what you have finished and what you haven’t finished.
Spokesperson: Okay. Sure, I’ll get that for you.
Question: Two Ban Ki-moon questions for you. One is, in his meeting with the Permanent Representative of North Korea, did he bring up this issue of the Board of Auditors not gaining access to North Korea? He said he wants the Board of Auditors to be able to get there. Did he bring that up in their meeting?
Spokesperson: I can check whether it was talked about.
Question: And the other one is an environmental question. Starting today, there’s a protest outside Heathrow Airport saying that air travel is a major contributor to global warming, so I’m wondering if the Secretariat has any comment on that protest, or on the contribution of air travel to global warming, and if Ban Ki-moon –- as with a conference that took place here recently –- offsets the carbon emission from his travels by, I don’t know, purchasing credits or in any other way? What’s his position on air travel and global warming?
Spokesperson: Well, as far as I know, there is only one way to go from here to Khartoum, and that is to take a plane. If you can think of any other way, we will listen to the suggestions. As far as…
Question: Well, there was just a meeting here where the President of the GA offset the whole emissions. I mean, I don’t know if he should do it or not, I’m just asking if he does do it.
Spokesperson: Well, the Secretary-General right now uses, of course, air travel. As you know, the impact of air travel and other issues has been studied by the technical bodies that take care of global warming at the UN. You have pretty thick reports on the contributing factors to global warming and gas emissions. So these are two separate issues. One is, does it contribute? This you can find, I’m sure, within the technical branch of the UN dealing with global warming. As for the Secretary-General’s own position about air travel and what he should do to offset that, I will ask him.
Question: Thanks. I’d really appreciate that. One final thing -- maybe you could speak to this. Given the importance he attaches to global warming, does he think that the protests like those at Heathrow are part of his same kind of movement on global warming, or does he see that as something different? Does he think that’s part of the solution -- individuals trying to publicly protest what they view as…?
Spokesperson: Well, he has no specific comment on the global warming protests at Heathrow. What I can say is that he is in favour of any group pushing for change and for better awareness of the dangers of gas emission and climate change.
Question: One follow-up to Mark’s question -- a simple, technical issue -- has the cartographer been to Lebanon yet?
Spokesperson: Yes he has.
Question: You know that for a fact?
Spokesperson: Well, I can check all this for you. All the details of what has been done on Shebaa Farms will be provided to you.
Question: Secondly, has there been any progress on naming an SRSG for Iraq, and a replacement for the Middle East SRSG, who was apparently hijacked by the (inaudible)?
Spokesperson: I can say that you will know about this very soon.
Question: Regarding the recent cyberattacks against the UN or Member States, has the Secretary-General ever issued any statement on the serious cyberattacks against Governments like Estonia, which shut down its newspapers, banks and websites? The European Union responded and many other Member States, but I would like some clarification from the UN spokespeople on the position on cyberattacks or cyberterrorism.
Spokesperson: Well, this has been condemned systematically. Every time we have talked about cyberterrorism, it has been systematically condemned. I don’t think that the Secretary-General has reacted specifically to the Estonia case, nor has he reacted to yesterday’s attack –- which was a rather minor one –- on his own website. I’m sure the one that you’re mentioning was much larger and much more important. But he has reacted on the issue itself, in several instances.
Question: A follow-up. Michèle, is it possible to have some technical briefing, because there’s an SQL injection vulnerability in Microsoft products that people online think was responsible for this. And there are certain vulnerable products that if they’re used could lead to problems in other products that are less vulnerable. It’s not an issue of cyber terrorism, it’s an issue of sort of software awareness and giving the people who do the work the sufficient resources to have both the knowledge and the materials they need to make a website safe. So I wondered if you could have somebody come and brief so that people have knowledge of how such a problem develops and how, in fact, there are means to be able to not allow it to happen and prevent it.
Spokesperson: Well, I’m sure that they are working on preventing it in our case, but I could always ask for you to have someone to talk more specifically about this.
Question: On the arms smuggling, since the LIBAT report, assessment mission, what are the means put into place in order to prevent the smuggling of arms on the Lebanese border?
Spokesperson: You mean on the part of the UN?
Correspondent: On the part of the UN.
Spokesperson: Well the UN, as you know, we are not deployed on that part of the border, and we first have to… it has to be a Security Council decision for us to be deployed in that area.
Question: But you sent the mission…
Spokesperson: The assessment mission went, and they are studying ways and means to counter this, but this is going to be a Member State decision –- it’s going to be a Security Council decision on what to do.
Question: [Inaudible] did a PRST on this issue [inaudible]?
Spokesperson: We don’t have anything yet. Thank you very much.
Correspondent: I mean I’ve been waving my hand.
Spokesperson: Oh, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry Masood. Go ahead.
Question: It doesn’t matter. On global warming, I just wanted to ask you. How many countries have signed onto this global conference being called by the Secretary-General? The United States has also called a conference in Washington. So how many have signed onto this climate change conference?
Spokesperson: Okay. Well, we’re still expecting more answers, but I can tell you that it will be a conference that will be held at the highest level. We have quite a few Heads of State and Government who will be attending.
Question: How many?
Spokesperson: I don’t have all the answers, so I cannot count what I do not have. As soon as we have all the answers, you will be informed of exactly how many Heads of State who will be there, how many Heads of Government who will be there, and that information you will get. I can tell you it is working very well. There have been positive answers to the Secretary-General’s invitation. So far, everyone he has invited on a personal level, when he has met them, they all have said they will attend. So, as far as I know, it will be a very high-level conference, but we don’t have all the answers yet, so I cannot tell you there will be this many people, that many people. Okay? Thank you.
Question: Reporters without Borders said they wrote yesterday to the Secretary-General about two reporters in Iran.
Spokesperson: That question was just asked.
Question: Oh, okay. Maybe this is a little bit nitty-gritty. We’ve heard that the Department of Safety and Security, in the case of the whistle blower, it came up about him being put on the photo array to be kept out of the building. I’ve heard that, since then, the Department of Safety and Security has come up with a list of people that are not in the photos, but are to be only allowed into the building under escort. And that this is something of a new policy that somehow reacts to issues that arose around retaliation. Is there a way that you can ask the Department of Safety and Security if they have a new sort of second list of people and, if so, what’s the purpose, and whether the names have to go through the Office of Legal Affairs to be put on it? If there’s any relation to what took place.
Spokesperson: Sure, I will ask that.
Question: When are we going to have answers for the Shebaa Farms questions?
Spokesperson: I ask people who are in charge and they answer me. And I give you the answer as soon as I get it. You know, Mark got an answer. He was not satisfied with the answer. He wants more explanations. I’m going to get more explanations and more details.
Question: [Inaudible] today we can get it?
Spokesperson: I’m hoping to. Yes.
Question: Will most of the people who are participating in the global warming conference be flying here?
Spokesperson: Will they be flying here? Well, some of them could start walking, but that would be quite a long walk and I don’t know whether they can actually walk over the ocean. It takes special powers to do that. Okay. Thank you very much.
* *** *For information media • not an official record