11 September 2007
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICES OF THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL


AND THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT

 


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Ashraf Kamal, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.


Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General


Good afternoon, all.


**Guest at Noon


Our guest at the noon briefing today is Cheick Sidi Diarra, High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States.  He will brief you on his recent trip to Mongolia, where he attended a meeting on landlocked developing countries.


**Security Council


The Security Council today is hearing, in its closed consultations, from Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes about the humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).


Holmes, you will recall, visited that country, including the Kivus, last week and drew attention to the horrific consequences of the violence there.  We have just learned that he will speak to you about the DRC here in Room 226 at 2:30 this afternoon.


The Security Council today also intends to hold consultations on the work of its Sanctions Committee for Somalia, with a briefing by the Chair of that Committee, Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo of South Africa.


Yesterday, the Council adopted a presidential statement on Timor-Leste, in which the Council lauded the Timorese people for demonstrating their strong commitment to peace and democracy by successfully holding elections and forming a new Government.


** Sudan


On Sudan, according to the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), the AU Mission in Darfur (AMIS) has received extremely grave reports about fighting between the Government of Sudan armed forces and non-signatory rebel factions in a South Darfur town yesterday afternoon.


AMIS, in a statement, says “while the exact details of what happened still have to be properly investigated, the evidence that fighting indeed took place involving use of heavy weapons, including helicopter gunships, is clear”.  AMIS is mandated to monitor the ceasefire.


Meanwhile, the UN Mission continues to report on insecurity in Darfur.  In South Darfur, four armed men shot and wounded a displaced person in Kalma camp yesterday, and a boy from the Fur tribe was reportedly beaten by several armed men in the same camp for displaced persons.  In West Darfur, 20 women from an IDP camp were detained on Sunday while fetching fire wood from the nearby area and were later released.


** Sierra Leone


We issued a statement yesterday afternoon on Sierra Leone.  I’ll now read it into the record.  “The Secretary-General is pleased to note that the second round of the presidential election in Sierra Leone took place on 8 September in a generally orderly and peaceful atmosphere, in spite of the tensions and violence that marred the campaign period.


“The Secretary-General urges the political parties and people of Sierra Leone to exercise restraint as counting of the ballots proceeds and to resolve all arising disputes through the existing legal channels.”


** Uganda


Turning to Uganda, the UN refugee agency says that the first 2 out of 40 camps for internally displaced people were closed today in the northern Lang’o region.  Most of the IDPs there have returned home as the security situation has improved and peace talks continue between the Ugandan Government and the Lord’s Resistance Army.  All 40 camps are expected to be closed by the middle of next year, and UNHCR says it plans to transform many of them into sustainable communities.


Elsewhere in Uganda, UNHCR and the World Food Programme are providing shelter and other assistance to some 1,500 Congolese refugees at the Nyakabanda reception centre.  They had fled fighting last week in North Kivu, where UNHCR is also providing assistance to an estimated 35,000 stranded IDPs.  There’s more in the UNHCR briefing note upstairs.


And also in Uganda, UN agencies are distributing food, vaccines and other assistance to those affected by heavy rainfall in the eastern part of the country.  The World Food Programme is providing a one-month food ration while UNICEF is delivering basic household items and has begun cholera prevention activities.


** Lebanon


On Lebanon, in Beirut yesterday, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) issued an appeal for almost $55 million for one year, to meet the emergency needs of the affected population following the violence in Lebanon’s Nahr el-Bared refugee camp.


Karen AbuZayd, UNRWA’s Commissioner-General, said that the appeal includes provisions for temporary shelter and support to host families; infrastructure, including water and sanitation; temporary employment; and basic services, including humanitarian assistance, health care and education for the coming year.


** Afghanistan


On Afghanistan, Tom Koenigs, the head of the UN Mission in Afghanistan, today appealed for all Afghans to cease violence throughout the country on 21 September, in order to allow vital humanitarian initiatives to be carried out.


He noted that 21 September is marked throughout the world as a day of peace, but this year in Afghanistan, a special effort has been under way to promote support for an actual day of non-violence.  In a press conference in Kabul today, Koenigs urged all Afghans, “Help us make peace in Afghanistan real”.  We may have a press release and press briefing notes from Kabul with more details upstairs.


** Iraq


On Iraq, the World Health Organization (WHO) has sent two trucks carrying tons of medical supplies to northern Iraq, following a cholera outbreak there.  The supplies include antibiotics, rehydration salts and water chlorination kits.  WHO says the outbreak might partly be a result of cracked water pipes in the area, which allowed sewage to taint the water supply.


We have more information upstairs.


**Iraq/Syria


The United Nations refugee agency reports that the crossing point at the border between Syria and Iraq was found virtually empty as yesterday was the first day of new visa restrictions imposed by the Syrian Government on all Iraqis entering the country.  UNHCR is actively advocating to the Syrian Government for a “humanitarian” visa for people who are fleeing violence and persecution in Iraq.


**UNICEF


Recording artist and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Angélique Kidjo has been in her home country of Benin since yesterday on a mission for UNICEF.  Kidjo is there to attend the launch of the 2007 girls’ education campaign with Government officials and other development partners.  She will also visit schools and meet with women’s groups and child victims of trafficking.


UNICEF says that Kidjo’s visit is expected to help raise decision makers’ awareness of children’s rights, especially the rights to education and protection, and to highlight the needs of exploited and trafficked children.


**Memorial


I have a note from UNCA (United Nations Correspondents Association).  UNCA will hold a brief memorial for colleague Ted Morello, who passed away on 15 July.  The date is Wednesday, 12 September, at 11 a.m. at the UNCA Club room.


**Guest Tomorrow


And our guest at noon tomorrow will be Guido Schmidt-Traub of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), who will brief you on the upcoming Millennium Development Goals Africa Steering Group meeting, to be held at UN Headquarters on Friday 14 September -– this Friday.


This is all I have for you.  Thank you.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  I’m interested to know the comments of Mr. Ban Ki-moon regarding the fighting with heavy weapons, as you have just mentioned, between the Sudanese army and the rebels in Darfur.  It just happened a few days from his visit there.


Spokesperson:  Well, I can talk about just what he already said -- what he said yesterday and what he said while he was on the trip.  “In preparation for the upcoming peace talks, the Secretary-General urged all parties to declare their serious commitment to achieve a political solution to the Darfur crisis, to create a security environment in Darfur conducive to negotiations, to participate in and commit to the outcome of the negotiating effort, and to cease all hostilities immediately.”


And he has repeatedly –- he has done so during his trip -– said that there must be an end to violence and insecurity, a strengthened ceasefire, supported by the incoming UNAMID hybrid operation, as well as an improvement in the humanitarian situation and better prospects for development and recovery for the people of Darfur.  That is mostly what he has been saying in the last few days.


Question:  Do you think such events can affect the holding of the meeting due to be held in Tripoli late this month?  I mean this kind of violence –- continuing violence between the Government and the rebels -- can affect the meeting Mr. Ban Ki-moon talked about, to be held in Tripoli?


Spokesperson:  We certainly cannot say that at this point.


Question:  Has the Secretary-General made any statements today with regards to the sixth anniversary of 9/11?


Spokesperson:  No, he has not.  We did it every … He mentioned it yesterday.  During his press stakeout, he mentioned 11 September, but we have no formal statement on that today.


Question:  Uganda has apparently complained about reporting by the UN-run Radio Okapi of Uganda massed troops on the border of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Does the UN have any response?  Does it stand behind its report of Ugandan troop movements there?


Spokesperson:  You’re talking about the press report by Radio Okapi?


Correspondent:  Yes.


Spokesperson:  We are not going to comment on that at this point.


Question:  My other question is this:  we’ve seen a complaint by … I’m sorry to say another whistleblower has written to the Ethics Office as well as to the Secretariat.  Imran Mumtaz wrote about alleged retaliation that took place in Turkey.  I wanted to factually confirm that it has been received and how it’s going to be processed given that Mr. [Kemal] Dervis has just now said his group of experts will only deal with North Korea issues and will not deal with these new whistleblowers.


Spokesperson:  But he did talk about that specific case, didn’t he, the case in Turkey?


Correspondent:  He said that the person who allegedly retaliated was not his bodyguard, but it doesn’t seem like that really resolves … the question is, how is that case going to be processed by the UN system?


Spokesperson:  Whether Mr. Benson has received the case, I will let you know whether he has received the case.  I cannot tell you if he hasn’t made any decision; if the case is in progress I don’t think there will be any comments by Mr. Benson.  I will let you know whether he has received any complaints or not.


Question:  The Secretary-General yesterday received a letter from Syria.  Are you going to transfer that letter to the Security Council?


Spokesperson:  As far as I know, yes the letter will be transferred, if it has not already been transferred to the Security Council.


Question:  Is there a request in that letter for Security Council action?


Spokesperson:  From what I gather there are no specific requests except for transferring the letter to the Security Council.


Question:  We’ve heard that the Georgian President will be visiting New York shortly, towards the end of the month.  Has there been a confirmed date for the meeting with Mr. Ban and if so, which party asked for the meeting?


Spokesperson:  Well, we have to find out first if he is coming in the context of the General Assembly.  Then I will find out for you when that meeting will be.  But these are not finalized yet and I will not have an answer immediately.  As you know, it is Mr. Ban’s first General Assembly as Secretary-General so there are quite a few requests for his time.  So I don’t know when there will be a meeting and I’ll let you know, of course.  There should be dates given out by the General Assembly President on the next meeting.


Question:  [inaudible] allegations from the Israelis regarding the air violations because I understand Syria has provided you with the clarifications.


Spokesperson:  As far as I know there has been no letter from the Israelis.


Question:  Are you still asking them for that?


Spokesperson:  I don’t know where it is at this point.  I will ask.  As you know, these occurred four, five days ago and as far as I know all we have received is the letter from the Syrians.


Question:  There’s this report that Mr. Suleiman Jamous still somehow didn’t move to get medical treatment.  Can we find out whether he has actually gone and got the treatment?


Spokesperson:  I can check that for you.


[The correspondent was later informed that Mr. Jamous has not yet left Sudan.]


Correspondent:  And also there was Ms. Coomaraswamy, I think she was going to be the guest at noon yesterday.


Spokesperson:  Yes, she could not come, but we will try to reschedule her.  The problem is that we have press briefings every day now until the 14 and beyond, so we’ll try to see whether we can have a better time for her so that she could come as closely as possible to her trip.


Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President


Good afternoon.


** Bahrain Exhibition


The President of the General Assembly inaugurated at 6:30 p.m. yesterday, in the South Lobby of the UN, a week-long exhibition organized by the Mission of Bahrain.  Dubbed “ Bahrain:  Making policy a reality, meeting the millennium challenges”.  The exhibition celebrates the UN-Habitat award presented by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to the Bahraini Prime Minister Shaikh Khalifa Bin Salman Al Khalifa in July.  It features Bahrain’s efforts to preserve the environment through responsible urban planning.


In her remarks opening the exhibit, the President stated that, “Development is indispensable for advancement, prosperity and safeguarding the future.  It is a fundamental human right that we must all strive to protect and promote.”  And in implementing initiatives in the pursuit of development:  “The needs of the poor must be paramount, for poverty, just like unemployment and illiteracy, reinforces the foundation upon which tension, fanaticism and violence thrive.”


**UN MDG Awards Festival and Telecast


There will be a press conference tomorrow morning at 11:30 here in Room 226, by Ambassadors Zina Andrianarivelo-Razafy and Francis Lorenzo, Permanent Representatives of Madagascar and the Dominican Republic, accompanied by Grammy Awards producer Nile Rodgers, to announce plans for a UN Millennium Development Goals Awards Festival to be held at the UN in June 2008.  Just prior to the press conference, the ambassadors and Mr. Rodgers will present to the President of the General Assembly, Sheikha Haya Al Khalifa, a special recognition award for her efforts on behalf of the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals.  The President will deliver a short statement at the press conference tomorrow.


**Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples


The Assembly is scheduled to take action on the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples at a plenary meeting scheduled for 10 a.m. on Thursday, 13 September, in the GA Hall.  At the same meeting the Assembly will also pay tribute to the Presidents of the 30th and 24th sessions, Mr. Gaston Thorn of Luxembourg and Ms. Angie Brooks of Liberia, respectively, who passed away recently.  Ms. Brooks was the second woman to serve as President of the General Assembly.


**Sixty-Second Session, Speakers List for General Debate


We have upstairs copies of the updated provisional speakers list for the general debate of the sixty-second session.  The list now indicates that 108 Heads of State or Government are expected to address the Assembly.


Question:  Is Nile Rodgers now a UN Goodwill Ambassador?


Spokesperson:  He’s a very famous Grammy Awards producer and Award winner.  I can check for you and I’ll let you know.


Question:  Besides what you have already announced regarding the activities of the President, what are her plans between now and the beginning of the new session?


Spokesperson:  It’s a full agenda every day.  The new session begins on Tuesday so that gives you Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.  She’ll be here tomorrow; you can ask her about that.


Question:  What about afterwards?


Spokesperson:  She’s going back to her practice in Bahrain.


* *** *


For information media • not an official record