12 September 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 of today’s noon briefing by Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


**Millennium Development Goals


With sub-Saharan Africa lagging behind at the mid-point to the 2015 deadline towards the Millennium Development Goals, the Secretary-General on Friday will chair the inaugural meeting of the UN Millennium Development Goals Africa Steering Group.  The meeting will focus on mobilizing the UN system and major development partners, including the Bretton Woods institutions, to support African countries’ efforts to achieve the MDGs.


Our guest at the noon briefing today is Guido Schmidt-Traub of the United Nations Development Programme, who will brief you on the upcoming Millennium Development Goals Africa Steering Group meeting, to be held at the UN Headquarters on Friday 14 September.


A number of other high-level events are also planned between 21 and 24 September.  We will have a senior official briefing you tomorrow on these events.


** Indonesia


We have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


The Secretary-General is deeply concerned by the potential consequences of today’s earthquake off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, including the possible tsunami in its aftermath.


A team from Banda Aceh, comprised of members of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and other United Nations staff, will travel to the area for an initial assessment in the next few hours.  The Asia-Pacific United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination Team (UNDAC) is on alert to travel if necessary.


**Security Council


The Secretary-General this morning briefed the Security Council in closed consultations on his just-concluded visit to Sudan, Chad and Libya.


As he has told you, he told Council members that even though good progress was made, “now is the time to redouble our efforts, to move with even more speed to make good on commitments and the positive momentum we have generated so that we can finally, with the Sudanese people, see an end to the suffering and insecurity in Darfur.”


The Secretary-General expressed his deep concern about reports of renewed aerial bombardments and military clashes in Darfur.  He said, “We must all renew our strong appeals to the parties to show restraint in the lead-up to political negotiations in October.”


The Secretary-General also briefed on his trip to Haiti, which he took in August.  His remarks are available in the Spokesperson’s Office.


** Iraq


Ashraf Qazi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, today expressed concern over the intermittent shelling of certain areas in the Northern Region of Kurdistan.  Qazi said that such incidents continue to cause damage and consternation among the civilian populations in these areas, disrupting their daily lives.


He recently discussed this issue with all the relevant parties, and urged them to use their good offices to ensure an immediate end to shelling.  The relevant United Nations agencies have been in touch with the governorates and local authorities in the areas concerned and have provided tents, blankets, cooking equipment and other emergency items to several hundred displaced families. In addition, UN agencies have delivered emergency supplies to hospitals treating the wounded, and work is ongoing to ensure adequate water supplies to those affected.


** Lebanon


On Lebanon, the Secretary-General’s latest report on the establishment of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon is out as a document, and it notes that UN Legal Counsel Nicolas Michel led a delegation to the Netherlands at the end of August to visit possible sites for the Tribunal in that country.


The Secretary-General also says he has begun the process of establishing a three-member selection panel, which next month will take up the task of providing recommendations on the judges for the Tribunal.  Meanwhile, the report says, 51 per cent of the Tribunal’s expenses will be borne by voluntary contributions, while 49 per cent will be paid by the Government of Lebanon.  A letter will shortly be sent to Member States inviting them to contribute to a Secretariat trust fund for the Tribunal.


** Iran


The International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) report to its Board of Governors on Iran is out as a document also.  It notes that the Agency is able to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran, but remains unable to verify certain aspects concerning the scope and nature of Iran’s nuclear programme.


It calls the work plan agreed with Iran “a significant step forward” and adds that the Agency considers it essential that Iran adheres to the timeline that was developed and implements all the necessary safeguards and transparency measures.  The report is available also upstairs.


**IAEA/Illicit Trafficking Database


The International Atomic Energy Agency yesterday released its latest aggregated statistics on illicit trafficking of nuclear materials.  IAEA data show that 14 such incidents occurred in 2006, including the illegal possession or movement of nuclear materials, or attempts to illegally trade these materials.  From January 1993 to December 2006, a total of 275 incidents involving unauthorized possession and related criminal activities with nuclear materials were confirmed to the Agency’s Illicit Trafficking Database (ITDB).


** Democratic Republic of the Congo


Turning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the World Health Organization (WHO) is rushing staff, equipment and supplies to the eastern province of Kasai Occidental Following a disease outbreak that includes cases of Ebola. 


WHO says it is aware of 372 cases and 166 deaths associated with the outbreak.  Laboratory tests have confirmed the presence of the Ebola virus in several cases, but it is not clear how many were caused by Ebola.  Shigella dysentery has also been confirmed in the affected area, and WHO says there may be simultaneous outbreaks of both diseases.  Additional samples have been taken for laboratory analysis.  We have more information also upstairs.


**Desertification


In a message to the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, which is meeting in Madrid, the Secretary-General today stressed that climate change and desertification pose unrivalled challenges to humanity and that both required an unprecedented response.


He said that for people living in dry areas, especially in Africa, changing weather patterns threaten to exacerbate desertification, drought and food insecurity, leading to increased poverty, forced migration and vulnerability to conflicts.


He added that efforts to combat desertification –- by reclaiming degraded land, combating soil loss and restoring vegetation -– could help curb greenhouse gas emissions and strengthen countries’ capacities to adapt to climate change.  We have the full text of his message upstairs.


**Press Conference Tomorrow


And tomorrow at 11 a.m. there will be a press conference by Ambassador Johan Løvald of Norway, Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission’s Country-Specific Meetings on Burundi, will brief you on his recent trip to Burundi.


This is all I have for you for the moment.  We are going to try to restrict the number of questions because we started late today and we have a guest waiting.


**Questions and Answers


Question: Does the Secretary-General have any reaction with regard to how the resignation of Japan’s Prime Minister could dilute the effect of what he was hoping to achieve at the 24 September climate change summit?


Spokesperson: Well, he has no specific reaction to the fact that the Prime Minister resigned.  He was informed two days ago that the Prime Minister will not be able to attend the meeting and, of course, he’s sorry that it won’t be at that high level, but we have a number of other high-level participants at that meeting.  We’ll have a chance to get a briefing for you in the next few days about details of what will take place on that climate change 24 September event.


Question: Did the Secretary-General get in touch with the Israeli Government regarding Syrian complaints about air violations by Israel of its territory?


Spokesperson: Not directly, not that I know of.


Question: The Syrian Government did send a letter to the Secretary-General …


Spokesperson: That letter was also sent to the Security Council and you have the text of that letter available.  There was no specific request for an action to be taken.  The Secretary-General transmitted those letters.


Question: What’s the purpose of sending such letters which do not ask for any action?


Spokesperson: Well, don’t ask me that question; I think you should ask that question to the Syrian representatives.


Question: Michèle, I had asked you this question last week.  Human Rights Watch had specifically asked the Secretary-General to take some action, to inquire into Israeli violations in the Israeli-Hezbollah war.  It charged that Israel killed about 900 civilians, that the bombs that were used at that time were supplied by the United States, and it asked the Secretary-General specifically to order an inquiry.  Has any action been taken, because when I asked you last time you said you were still looking into it?


Spokesperson: Well, such an action would definitely, if it is to be undertaken, be undertaken by the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, not directly by the Secretariat here.  As you know, we have a body that takes care of this type of situation.


Correspondent: Michèle, that was addressed directly to the Secretary-General, not to the (inaudible).


Spokesperson: Whether it is directed to the Secretary-General or not, there is a structure here and the Secretary-General certainly refers violations of human rights first and foremost to the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  That’s my answer.


Question: Where does the situation in the DRC stand on the current Secretary-General’s agenda?


Spokesperson: The situation in Kivu; he’s constantly being informed about what is happening and following it closely.  You had a briefing the other day by the Force Commander, and the Secretary-General met with the Force Commander and they certainly discussed the issues.  And it is being followed very, very closely.


Question: Where can I get information about where the FDLR (Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda) get their arms supplies? I asked Mr. Holmes earlier and he didn’t know about it.


Spokesperson: That is not a question for us to answer.  You can contact DPKO or certainly their own mission.


Question: Does UNDOF have any reaction to the violations in Syria?


Spokesperson: UNDOF would not if it’s outside its mandate, its area of jurisdiction.  The mandate has specific limits and the UN Force cannot exceed those limits, which were determined by the Security Council.


Question: So UNDOF doesn’t have to say anything about this?


Spokesperson: We don’t have anything at this point.


Question: Can you confirm to us what exactly happened last Thursday? Some news said that it was an air strike that targeted the transfer of some shipment of arms to Hezbollah or Hamas, while the Syrian ambassador has just told us outside it was some fuel tanks or some munitions …


Spokesperson: Well, Tareq, I’ve just said the UN cannot confirm something that it did not observe directly.  We cannot confirm something that is outside our area of jurisdiction, of our mandate.  There is a UN force there on a limited territory and that’s where its mandate stops.  I cannot tell you a reaction or what happened.  We were not there.


Question: But you told us last week that you asked the Israelis …


Spokesperson: We asked for clarifications; we did not get the clarifications from all parties.  We got the letter from the Syrians, and the letter -- you have read it -- is an open document.


Question: So when you ask for clarifications, when you ask any Member State…


Spokesperson: It is done through diplomatic channels.


Question: Yes, but how long is it supposed to take to receive the answer?


Spokesperson: There is no time limit for that.


Question: On Myanmar, the Secretary-General said he’s sending Ibrahim Gambari there.  Do you know when he’s going there?


Spokesperson: We don’t know yet.  We don’t have a date.


Question: You said on human rights the Secretary-General defers to Ms. Arbour.  On climate change, is UNEP in charge or is the Secretary-General the one who speaks on that?


Spokesperson: Of course, you have specialized agencies or specialized departments that take charge.  But the Secretary-General has decided to put his own advocacy behind the whole climate change issue and mobilize political will in addressing climate change.  So I think you are dealing here with a different subject. 


* *** *


For information media • not an official record