28 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 transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Briefing by the Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General


** Myanmar


As we informed you yesterday, the Government of Myanmar has agreed to a visit by the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Ibrahim Gambari, beginning tomorrow.


In a statement we issued yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General called on the authorities in Myanmar to engage in a constructive dialogue with his Special Adviser and to commit to a path of peaceful and inclusive national reconciliation.


We’ll try to inform you once we can confirm that Mr. Gambari has landed in Myanmar.  He is currently in Singapore, where he held meetings today at the Foreign Ministry.


**Non-Aligned Movement


The Secretary-General, today, spoke to the foreign ministers of the Non-Aligned Movement, detailing the current state of UN efforts to deal with, among other things, Darfur, the Middle East, Iraq, Myanmar, the Millennium Development Goals and global poverty.


Speaking on Myanmar, he noted that recent developments there are causing grave concern, and the Secretary-General urged that authorities there should exercise restraint, engage without delay in dialogue, release detained leaders and initiate a national reconciliation process.


He also said that he counts on the Non-Aligned Movement’s support as he is to propose to the General Assembly that the Department for Political Affairs be strengthened significantly.  We have his remarks upstairs.


**Human Rights Council


In Geneva today, the President of the Human Rights Council received a request, signed by 17 Member States of the Human Rights Council, for a special session to be held on Myanmar.  The President said the special session will be held this Tuesday.  Open-ended consultations on the conduct and organization of the special session will be held this Monday. 


In related news, the Human Rights Council today adopted a number of resolutions as it wrapped up the first part of its sixth session. 


Among other actions, the Council extended the mandates of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the Special Rapporteur on human rights of indigenous people and the Independent Expert on human rights in Burundi.  The Council also created the post of Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery and set up the Forum on Minority Issues.


**Security Council


This morning, the Security Council approved a resolution extending by one year, until 15 October 2008, the mandate of the Panel of Experts dealing with sanctions imposed on the Sudan.


The Council then began a meeting to hear a briefing from the Chairman-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Miguel Angel Moratinos.


Yesterday afternoon, the Council President, Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert of France, issued a statement to the press, saying that Council members called for the holding of a free and fair presidential election in Lebanon, in conformity with the Lebanese constitutional norms and schedules and without any foreign interference.


**UNHCR/Somalia


On Somalia, the UN refugee agency says that yesterday it began distributing much-needed relief supplies to some 24,000 people who have fled the recent intensification of violence in Mogadishu.  Plastic sheeting, blankets and jerry cans are being given out over a three-day period.


UNHCR reports that so many displaced people have joined the existing settlements along the road leading west from Mogadishu, that the road is sometimes completely impassable. 


We have some more information in the UNHCR briefing notes upstairs.


**Uganda/Floods


We have an update on flood relief efforts in Uganda.  The World Food Programme (WFP) and its partners have distributed more than 1,000 metric tons of food to nearly 82,000 affected people.  WFP is planning to distribute food to an additional 25,000 people.


Meanwhile, UNICEF has distributed emergency health kits to treat 11,000 people for three months, and is providing health care for 48,000 children for one month.  UNICEF is also providing measles and polio vaccines, as well as insecticide-treated nets and water purification tablets.  It also has cholera supplies standing by for up to 10,000 cases. 


**Former Yugoslavia


In a ruling delivered yesterday, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia sentenced two former senior officers of the Yugoslav People's Army to lengthy prison terms and acquitted another of all charges against him.


Mile Mrkšić and Veselin Šljivančanin received 20 years and 5 years, respectively, for their roles in the November 1991 Ovčara executions, which followed the fall of the Croatian town of Vukovar.


Mrkšić was found guilty of aiding and abetting the murder, torture and cruel treatment of 194 non-Serb prisoners, while Šljivančanin was convicted of aiding and abetting the torture of the prisoners.


The third accused, Muroslav Radic, was cleared of all charges, although the Tribunal has determined his role in helping to remove non-Serbs from a Vukovar hospital and transport them to a building in Ovčara where they were beaten, tortured and eventually murdered. 


And we have more on this upstairs.


** Democratic Republic of the Congo


Turning now to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the World Food Programme says it’s taking advantage of an improvement in security conditions to provide aid to displaced persons who had previously been impossible to reach.


Despite improving security conditions, however, the UN refugee agency notes that recent fighting in North Kivu has led to more displacement and is highlighting reports of people fleeing into the neighbouring South Kivu Province.


Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) says its team on the ground is working to try to understand how many recent disease-related deaths have been caused by Ebola. 


We have more information on these items in the Geneva press briefing notes upstairs.


**UNMOVIC


The U.S. authorities have concluded the analysis of substances removed from the UNMOVIC premises and determined that these did not contain any harmful materials.  The United Nations would like to thank the host country authorities for resolving this issue.


**The Week Ahead at the United Nations


And we have available upstairs “the Week Ahead at the United Nations”.


Just to highlight a few things, Monday is the first day of Ghana’s presidency of the Security Council.


On Tuesday, following the noon briefing, there will be a press conference by Ambassador Leslie Kojo Christian of Ghana, in his capacity as the President of the Security Council for the month of October, and he’ll brief you on the Council’s work over the coming month. 


Meanwhile, on Tuesday, as we said, the Human Rights Council is scheduled to hold a special session on the situation of human rights in Myanmar. 


And we have the full “Week Ahead” upstairs.


Are there any questions?  Yes, Betsy.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  I wasn’t going to start with this, but since you brought up the faux phosgene, what is the status of the Secretary-General’s blue ribbon panel to determine how the non-substance got to be there?


Associate Spokesperson:  In terms of that, the members of that panel appointed to look into the handling of materials by UNMOVIC have been reviewing documents.  They’ve been interviewing many people, both current and former staff of the weapons inspectors, including some that were on the 1996 inspection that recovered the material.  They’re on target to complete their work and report on it before the end of October.


Question:  Just to follow up on that, I don’t remember, are they working pro bono or are they being paid?


Associate Spokesperson:  I would need to check up on that.  I don’t know what the conditions of the contract are.  It’s a short-term appointment, in any case.


[The Associate Spokesperson later confirmed that members of the UNMOVIC panel are receiving salary.]


Question:  Farhan, you said, actually, that there were lengthy sentences in the case of sentencing for three Serbian officers, in the case of Vukovar.  I wonder, how can you reconcile the first reactions coming from Croatia that are actually saying that those are not lengthy at all and that those are not adequate sentences.  Do you have any comment on those reactions coming from Croatia, which obviously are throwing a great deal of unsatisfaction with the verdict?


Associate Spokesperson:  Obviously, whenever there’s a verdict, one side or another might be dissatisfied with it.  At the same time, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia has tried to follow procedures, come out with sentences that respect the basic rules by which they operate.  If there’s a need for appeals against the sentences, they can continue to try to rely on that course of action.  But for now, we wouldn’t second guess what our colleagues in the Yugoslavia Tribunal judged.


Question:  Let me follow up on that, then.  How do you comment that even the Prosecutor’s Office of the ICTY didn’t like the verdict?


Associate Spokesperson:  Obviously, the Prosecutor’s Office tries as hard as it can to secure convictions against all of those who are to appear before the Court and they often want lengthy sentences.  But the decision on the sentences is made by the judges.


Question:  The Croatian Prime Minister, Sanader, today sent a letter to the Secretary-General in which he strongly protests against this verdict of the Vukovar three and he asked for this letter to be circulated as a document of the General Assembly, and to be submitted to the Security Council, also.  So did the Secretary-General inform about that letter?  Did he have a reaction on that letter yet?


Associate Spokesperson: In terms of that, once these letters are received, if they contain a request to be circulated as documents they’re very quickly processed and circulated as documents, so we would expect to see that issued in the coming days. 


[The Associate Spokesperson later confirmed that the letter had been received.]


Question:  I might have missed this and I apologize.  Mr. Gambari is supposed to be in Myanmar/Burma tomorrow sometime?


Associate Spokesperson:  Well, the idea is he will travel to Myanmar on Saturday afternoon their time, which by our time standards is very early in the morning.  We’ll try to provide some information to our weekend list of correspondents once we can confirm that he’s on the ground.


Question:  Do you have any sense of who he’s going to ask to visit or what is on his agenda?


Associate Spokesperson:  Mr. Gambari hopes to meet with all the important actors in Myanmar.  The agenda for his trip is still being worked out right now.  Yes, please.


Question:  Also on Myanmar, have you had any news from UNHCR about an increased influx yet of refugees from Burma into Thai… from Myanmar into Thailand?


AssociateSpokesperson:  At this stage, UNHCR isn’t reporting any increased influx into Thailand.  In the past, when there have been different types of fighting between armed groups, that has led to influxes.  It’s not, at this stage, anticipated that there will be something similar, but they would monitor the situation.  Yes, Matthew.


Question:  One follow-up on Burma, Myanmar slash Burma, should be… there are these reports of the Government cutting off Internet access so that the information can’t leave the country of events going on, what I wonder is whether the Secretary-General or the UN system has any particular comment on Governments cutting off the flow of information so that humanitarian and other information… What’s the UN’s position, I guess, on that aspect of this?


Associate Spokesperson:  In terms of specifically for Myanmar, I don’t think we’re going to have any comment on that while we await Mr. Gambari’s arrival.  At the same time, obviously, the UN encourages all Governments to allow for a free flow of information, particularly insofar as helping with things like humanitarian access.


Question:  How will Mr. Gambari actually communicate?  I guess what I’m saying, is that presumably he’ll be able to communicate when he’s there?


Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, presumably so.  Yes.


Question:  Who has the UN got on the ground now?  I mean, is there a UNDP or…


Associate Spokesperson:  There is a UN office, a small UN office, that is based in Yangon.  Charles Petrie is there as both the Resident Coordinator and the Humanitarian Coordinator and there’s a small office that does some development work and some humanitarian work.


[The Spokesperson later added that the team based in Myanmar includes staff from UNAIDS, FAO, UNODC, UNFPA, UNHCR, UNDP, UNICEF, WFP, WHO and ILO.]


Question:  Have you heard from him recently?


Associate Spokesperson:  Yes.  Yes, Erol.


Question:  Farhan, did the UN somehow anticipate this kind of events in Myanmar before?  Was anybody thinking in that direction that this may erupt?


Associate Spokesperson:  In terms of the level of eruption, I don’t know whether anyone can anticipate the level of what has happened.  Certainly we have been seized of the situation in Myanmar and Mr. Gambari has visited several times recently.  In fact, even prior to this week’s events, he had briefed the Council last week on what the latest round of developments had been, and he had been working for some weeks now on travelling to Myanmar and now, of course, he’s going this weekend.


Question:  What can you say about the Secretary-General’s meeting with Robert Mugabe?  It’s been reported in Zimbabwe’s kind of Government media that Mr. Ban agreed with Mr. Mugabe that the way to solve this is with regional organizations in Africa and sort of did not pursue issues that have been…human rights and democratization issues that are in the air.  So, since his counterpart is saying what happened at the meeting, what’s the UN’s stance on what was…


Associate Spokesperson:  We do have a readout that you can get when you’re upstairs, so come up and we’ll provide that for you.


Question:  The Sudanese Ambassador had said that, the offer of Egyptian troops for UNAMID, for the Darfur force, he seemed to think that, raised it as frustration that the UN, from his point of view, was not accepting African troops that were being offered for the Darfur force and he said that this is because of some plot to not have it be an entirely African force.  Have those troops been accepted?


Associate Spokesperson:  First of all, the UN is making every effort to respect the fundamentally African character of the hybrid operation and there will be a substantial amount of African troops.  At the same time, as we’ve said in the past, there are some specialized services that we may need, to make sure that the force is as robust as possible.  And for some of those we may look to countries even outside of Africa.  But we are accepting a wide range of African troops and the composition of the force is still being worked out.


Question:  Can we find out, I guess, because I’ve seen a report that the Egyptian contingent was accepted, and then the Sudanese Ambassador said it wasn’t.  When do we, when does one know?


Associate Spokesperson:  Once we can have the final composition of the force worked out, we’ll certainly let you know who all the contingents are, but right now they’re still working on the forces.  Yes, Richard.


Question:  You’re a veteran of the UN.  I wondered, could you just explain, for background or informational purposes, why Ibrahim Gambari is the man for Myanmar?  They seem to like him.  Can you explain the relationship there and how he’s the point person for the UN, the former Nigerian Ambassador, Political Affairs Officer, how he’s turned out to be the person?


Associate Spokesperson:  Well, Ibrahim Gambari, as you know, until the end of last year was, in fact, the head of all of our political affairs.  He was the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs for about a year-and-a-half.  So he certainly has a range of political experience in a number of issues.  And, of course, even prior to working for the United Nations, he represented Nigeria in the General Assembly and in the Security Council, so he’s been able to deal with a wide range of political issues over the years and he continues to do so.  As you know, even now he has other appointments, including Myanmar. 


Question:  Okay, I have a question about a couple of peacekeeping reports that have come out about Afghanistan.  One’s the Secretary-General’s report and the other is put out by UNAMA itself.  And there’s a lot of discrepancies about the number and importance, consequences of suicide bombing.  What is the UN’s take on the importance of these kinds of attacks and why is there such a discrepancy of assessment?


Associate Spokesperson:  If you’re saying “discrepancy”, there was an earlier report that was about the sort of people who were involved in suicide attacks; that was a separate, I think partly independent, report, so …


Question:  From the…


Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, but the Secretary-General’s report is a report that’s prepared with UNAMA as a whole and takes into account the larger picture, which is that we do take, of course, all terrorist attacks very seriously and both UNAMA on the ground and the Secretary-General have taken very seriously the idea that there has been an insurgency, that it’s made certain areas, including the south and south-east of Afghanistan, very hard to obtain access to.  And so, we’ve been urging ways to improve the situation there so that the UN humanitarian actors and others can operate freely throughout the country, and the Secretary-General did meet with the Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board for the Afghan Compact just on Sunday to try and discuss those matters.  And certainly all of the participants on that Board took both the questions of having to deal with an insurgency, and also having to deal with the narcotics traffic, very seriously. 


In clarification of his earlier remarks, the Spokesperson later made the following announcement, which amends what was said at the noon briefing:  “The UNAMA report was not an official document of the United Nations.  It contained a great deal of information that does not necessarily reflect the views of the Secretary-General.  The Secretary-General's report, issued on 21 September, reflects the view of the Secretary-General on the situation in Afghanistan right now.  The report, incidentally, goes over a number of important issues in Afghanistan that are of concern to us, of which suicide attacks are a part, but not the full story.”


Question:  Yeah, I have a question about this, the UN’s participation in the Cambodian court, the Extraordinary Chambers in the courts of Cambodia?  One was the report that the UN rebuffed a meeting with the retired King, who was saying that he would speak to them as long as he wasn’t going to be called to testify, and there’s a controversy in Cambodia about whether he, in fact, will be called to testify or not, and what the UN’s role in that is.  I don’t know if you’ll know it.  I tried to ask Nicolas Michel about it and he said somehow we can’t talk about it, but it’s a UN issue.  And the other one is, there is an issue of an audit.  UNDP runs the money for the Court.  Issues of corruption have arisen.  They claim they did an audit and then they refuse to issue the audit.  So, I’m wondering, if you as a spokesman for the UN system with two controversies surrounding the court, either can you get answers on these two or what is the UN’s role in releasing audits for the Court?


Associate Spokesperson:  First of all, on the issue of UNDP, I believe UNDP does have some guidance for you so I would urge you to talk to my UNDP colleagues on what exactly they’re doing concerning this audit.


Question:  The thing they put out was widely criticized in the press as a whitewash.  They didn’t release the audit.  They said we did an audit.  I don’t know if you’ve seen it.


Associate Spokesperson:  I’m just informed that they have some information, so I would refer you to them to deal with any of the issues having to do with their activities.  As for the Court, we announce who would appear before the Court once the Court officials for the Extraordinary Chambers, the co-prosecuting judges, announce that.  So, I wouldn’t want to get ahead of ourselves and say who would appear in advance of a decision taken by the co-prosecuting judges.


Question:  Could you say who is definitely not going to appear?  I guess that’s the controversy there.


Associate Spokesperson:  Those are issues that ultimately… This is a mixed Court and the international and Cambodian prosecutors and the international and Cambodian judges end up agreeing on a course of action, and so we would have to see what course of action they agreed to.  And once they do, they’ll announce it and we’ll announce it from here.  Yes.


Question:  I had a follow-up about this Vukovar judgement.  Could you expect some kind of answer from the Secretary-General or his Office, because this letter of the Croatian Prime Minister was published in the Croatian media?  What is the procedure?


Associate Spokesperson:  If the request in the letter is to transmit it as a document and to transmit it to the Security Council, then that will be done.  That is the action the Secretary-General takes.


Question:  When would that be?


Associate Spokesperson:  If that’s requested in the letter, then yes, that’s what would be done.


Question:  In how many days, Monday, Tuesday…


Associate Spokesperson:  It takes just a couple of days to process these things, so probably in the early part of next week, if that happened.  Alright.  And with that, I wish you a good afternoon.


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For information media • not an official record