|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 Janos Tisovszky, Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.
Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Good afternoon, all.
**Secretary-General Statement on Korean Peninsula
We have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General welcomes the Declaration on the Advancement of South-North Korean Relations, Peace and Prosperity, signed in Pyongyang today by the leaders of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea, as a major step forward to enhance inter-Korean cooperation, as well as peace and security on the Korean peninsula and in North-East Asia.
The Secretary-General commends the two leaders’ commitment to expand and advance inter-Korean relations, as well as to move towards permanent peace on a non-nuclear peninsula through increased bilateral dialogue, cooperation and multilateral diplomacy including the six-party talks.
The United Nations stands ready to provide assistance as may be required, in cooperation with the international community.
On Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, will meet with the Secretary-General at 5:00 this afternoon to provide a briefing about his visit to Myanmar. He intends to inform the President of the General Assembly and the members of the Security Council about his visit tomorrow.
The Secretary-General, speaking to reporters yesterday about Gambari’s visit to Myanmar, said that his Envoy “was assured of his second visit in November sometime”.
Asked whether he was satisfied with the results of Gambari’s visit, the Secretary-General said, “We are doing what we must do. And I was relatively relieved that he was, first of all, able to meet with the leaders of the Myanmar Government as well as Madame Aung San Suu Kyi.” But he expressed his continuing concerns about the ongoing situation in Myanmar, including the human rights situation.
The Secretary-General noted the strong statement made by the Association of South-East Asian Nations on Myanmar, and underscored ASEAN’s collective responsibility on the matter.
I informed you yesterday that a UNDP staffer, as well as her husband and two relatives, were arrested by the Myanmar authorities earlier that day. We have been told that the staff member and her family members were released to UNDP today at 16:30 local time.
On the Security Council, the Security Council has scheduled consultations at 3 p.m., this afternoon, in connection with Myanmar.
Council members are considering the timing and format of Mr. Gambari’s briefing on Myanmar tomorrow.
In his remarks, he said it is time to promote the idea that diversity is a virtue, not a threat. It is time to explain that different religions, belief systems and cultural backgrounds are essential to the richness of the human experience. And it is time to stress that our common humanity is greater than our outward differences, he added.
We have his full remarks in my office.
** Iraq -- Cholera
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that cholera is continuing to spread across Iraq.
Because poor water quality and sanitation are known to spread cholera contamination, WHO is procuring 5 million water-treatment tablets for Iraqis. It is also sending epidemiologists to help Iraq’s Ministry of Health.
WHO reports that more than 3,000 people have tested positive for cholera, and 14 have died.
We have more information upstairs.
** Democratic Republic of the Congo
The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has confirmed news reports that a commercial aircraft crashed in a residential area of the capital, Kinshasa, earlier this morning.
The latest update from the Mission indicates that 25 people have been killed in the crash. Many have been injured and efforts continue to ascertain their number.
The Mission is providing fire-fighting equipment and is helping with the evacuation of victims from the site of the crash. United Nations humanitarian agencies remain on site to provide further assistance. And UN photographers are helping to document the extent of the damage. Other UN staff will assist Congolese authorities in the investigation they are launching into the accident.
On Sudan, this afternoon at 3 p.m. at UN Headquarters, there will be a meeting of the troop-and police-contributing countries for the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID).
Then, at 11 a.m. tomorrow here in Room 226, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, and Jane Holl Lute, head of the Department of Field Services, are expected to brief you.
On Liberia, the Secretary-General has declared Liberia eligible to receive funding from the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund. He has also instructed the UN Mission in Liberia to begin consultations with Liberian authorities and local civil society partners to draw up a priority plan. That plan is expected to list key activities to push forward the consolidation of peace in Liberia, the fifth country declared eligible for assistance from the Peacebuilding Fund.
The UN and its partners are seeking nearly $10 million to fund flood relief efforts for 75,000 people in northern Ghana. Entire communities along the Black and White Volta Rivers have been hit by persistent flooding since late August. Crops have been destroyed, and food storage and processing facilities are currently underwater.
The funds will be used to provide health services, temporary shelter and basic household items.
We have a press release from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs upstairs.
The UN-organized second International Conference on Climate Change and Tourism has wrapped up in Davos, Switzerland. Participants included Government Ministers, environmental experts and tourism officials. They ended the session by issuing a “Davos Declaration”.
That Declaration urges the entire tourism sector to address climate change by reducing its own greenhouse gas emissions, especially from transport and accommodation, adapting tourism businesses and destinations to changing climate conditions, and securing financial help for poor regions and countries.
We have more information upstairs.
The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) launched its World Investment Prospects Survey for 2007–2009 in Geneva today.
According to the study, more than two thirds of multinational companies believe their foreign investment will grow over the next three years, despite some concerns about global financial and political instability and protectionism in some countries.
According to the survey, South and South-East Asia will remain the most popular investment choices for multinationals, with the United States being the third most favoured location in the world.
**Press Conferences Tomorrow
And there will be a press conference at 2:30 p.m. tomorrow by Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Secretary-General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, on the organization’s reform, its relationship with the UN, the sixty-second session of the General Assembly and issues concerning the Middle East.
And this is all I have for you today, thank you. Yes?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Michèle, the State media in Myanmar have reported that the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy and the country’s ruler, General Than Shwe, that Shwe agreed during the meeting to meet Aung San Suu Kyi under certain preconditions. Can you confirm that this in fact is what happened during the meeting? Is this report by the State media in Myanmar correct? And then I have another question.
Spokesperson: Well, I cannot confirm this. I’ve read reports like you have, the press reports, and I’m awaiting for Mr. Gambari to arrive and to ask him about this.
Question: Okay, secondly, since Mr. Gambari’s going to be briefing the Security Council at 11 o’clock, is it possible to change the time of the briefing by Mr. Guéhenno and Jane Holl Lute?
Spokesperson: Well, I have to say that at 11 o’clock, Mr. Gambari will not say anything to you. He will go to the Security Council and will speak to you afterwards.
Question: Yes, but there is a possibility that it’s going to be an open meeting, so if it is an open meeting, he’s certainly going to be saying something that we’re going to want to cover.
Spokesperson: Okay, well, we’ll try to adjust the schedule. Yes?
Question: On the release of the UNDP staffer, was the driver released, also because it was her husband or brother-in-law and the driver?
[The Spokesperson later confirmed that the driver was among those released.]
Spokesperson: From what I gather, everyone who had been arrested with them was released. But I can check the case of the driver for you. Yes?
Question: Related to that, do you understand that she and her family members were arrested during the sweep that was targeting the area and it wasn’t she that was particularly targeted?
Spokesperson: Yes, we did say that yesterday that it was part of a sweep of the whole neighbourhood.
Question: Do you have a rough idea of how many people were arrested on that particular morning?
Spokesperson: That we don’t know. That we don’t know.
Question: And my last question related to that is, so far how many UN workers that are working in Myanmar have been arrested, not by intention, but like her? Do you have more on another one?
Spokesperson: Not yet, not yet. We are still trying to assess what happened after Mr. Gambari left. Yes?
Question: Do we have any report from her as to the conditions in wherever it was she was held after she was arrested?
Spokesperson: Not yet, not yet.
Question: Do you expect such a report because…
Spokesperson: Well, we have been in touch with them but it’s very difficult. Communications are extremely difficult.
Question: How many UNDP or all UN-affiliated workers are there in the area?
Spokesperson: I can check that. You want national and international?
Question: Whoever has a UN…
Spokesperson: Okay, I’ll check the number for you. I’ll check the number.
Question: Also, just another point on that, whether the national staff are… UNDP acknowledges them as staff members with UN contracts etc.
Spokesperson: Well, of course, national staff members have contracts.
Question: Right, I guess so, I’m saying the number of nationals that work for you… I just remember that in North Korea the issue came up where they tried to call people who worked for them contractors, short-term contractors… so I guess just to cover the scope.
Spokesperson: I can find that out. Yes, any other questions?
[The Spokesperson later added that the country office in Yangon has 62 positions; 11 are international, 51 are local. In addition, hundreds of other project employees are working across the country.]
Question: On Sri Lanka, there’s this report out of Sri Lanka that Louise Arbour -- who’s supposed to go there next week and who’s meeting with Mr. Ban today, and Manfred Novak, who’s already there -- that the Government said they can’t enter parts of the country because that would be propaganda for the Tamil-controlled areas. So I’m wondering if the UN has had any response to being barred on these two visits to parts of the country.
Spokesperson: Well, first, let me check the information, whether she was barred or not and from what area. If this is so, I’ll ask about a reaction. Okay?
Question: And I just wanted to ask one other thing, something I’m working on today. We’ve heard that there was an OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] report on the Department of Management that was being prepared and that has been scuttled was the way I’m told was that the draft was not carried through and will not be completed. So I’m wondering -- this is from people within the Department of Management, so I feel it’s my duty to ask you -- if you’re… can you check that out?
Spokesperson: I’m not aware of this, Matthew. I can find out, but I’m not aware of it.
Question: Please do.
Question: Michèle, I’m sorry, about this UNDP lady… so she was arrested early morning on the third and she was released on the fourth in the afternoon, on the fourth. So she was in detention for more than 36 hours. No torture, nothing?
Spokesperson: Well, I said I would try to find out exactly.
Question: But, she was detained overnight?
Spokesperson: She was detained overnight, yes.
Question: And she was released back to UNDP?
Question: And she’s healthy anyway?
Spokesperson: Well, as far as we know yes. Okay, thank you very much. Janos?
Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President
Good afternoon, good to see you all. A couple of things I want to flag for you.
**Interreligious and Intercultural High-Level Dialogue
I’m going to start with the Interreligious and Intercultural High-Level Dialogue. The President of the General Assembly opened this morning the two-day High-Level Dialogue on Interreligious and Intercultural Understanding and Cooperation for Peace.
This is the first time that the Assembly is dealing with this issue in the form of a high-level event, with over a dozen ministers participating. Following this morning’s plenary, in the afternoon, there is an interactive hearing with the involvement of civil society participants looking at the challenges and best practices in the context of interreligious and intercultural dialogue.
That event will be in the Trusteeship Council Chamber, and also open to all those interested to listen in.
The President, in his opening statement, pointed out that, by convening this event, the General Assembly had taken an important stand to reaffirm the values enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but more importantly, the Assembly was taking concrete steps to advance these values around the world.
The President noted that, during the just-concluded general debate, Heads of State and Government from all regions placed great emphasis on the value of tolerance and mutual understanding.
He stressed that in this era of globalization “we have the unrivalled opportunity and responsibility to replace intolerance and discrimination with understanding and mutual acceptance”.
Open and sustained dialogue, respect for freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief are fundamental to this endeavour, according to the President.
He made a point of stressing that the United Nations has a crucial role in promoting such a dialogue, and advancing the fundamental freedom that we must all respect others’ religions and beliefs.
He called for an intensive multifaceted global dialogue at the political as well as cultural and social levels that promotes unity in diversity, and replaces misunderstanding with mutual understanding and acceptance.
He noted that the success of such a global dialogue rests on the active involvement of all -- Governments, private sector, civil society, faith groups, NGOs and the media.
Just a reminder, this is an event that is initiated by the General Assembly and is for all Member States to carry forward the issue of interreligious and intercultural dialogue in the framework of the Assembly. As the President noted in his speech, the High-Level Dialogue complements and builds upon other initiatives undertaken by the United Nations.
And just one last word on the general debate. As you know, of course, the general debate did conclude yesterday early afternoon.
In his closing speech, the President referred to the views and proposals expressed by Member States, especially on the main theme of the general debate -- responding to climate change, which as the President notes, has been endorsed as the flagship issue for the sixty-second session. The President also had a statement on the conclusion of the debate attributable to his Spokesman that was issued yesterday in the afternoon and that is available for you, as is his speech, of course, for the High-Level Dialogue.
That’s all I have for you. Questions? Please.
**Questions and Answers
Question: About Mr. Gambari, the President is meeting him and after that, is there any chance that you can relate to us a little bit about the conversation?
GA Spokesperson: I didn’t… I caught the first part of your question about Mr. Gambari but…
Question: Mr. Gambari’s going to meet the President, right?
GA Spokesperson: That is correct, yes. Tomorrow morning. That is correct.
Question: What time?
GA Spokesperson: I think it’ll be before the Security Council.
Question: It’s not tonight?
GA Spokesperson: No, it’s not tonight. It is tentatively scheduled for tomorrow morning.
Question: Photo ops for that?
GA Spokesperson: I beg your pardon?
Question: Photo ops for that?
GA Spokesperson: I don’t know. If you’re interested, we’ll certainly look into that. If no questions, then thank you very much for your attention.
* *** *For information media • not an official record