5 October 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 Janos Tisovszky, Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.


Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General


** Myanmar


Good afternoon, all.  I realize we have a pretty empty room today – everyone waiting for the Security Council, of course.  We’ll announce when Mr. Gambari will go to the stakeout.  The Secretary-General and his Special Adviser, Ibrahim Gambari, this morning opened a Security Council meeting on Myanmar, calling for sustained regional and international engagement to deal with developments there amid reports of continued human rights violations.


The Secretary-General stressed that the use of force against peaceful demonstrators is abhorrent and unacceptable, and he expressed his hope that those detained will be released without further delay.


Gambari briefed the Council on his recent visit to Myanmar, and he expressed his concern at the continuing and disturbing reports of abuses being committed by security and non-uniformed elements, particularly at night during curfew, including raids on private homes, beatings, arbitrary arrests and disappearances. 


He noted that, following his trip, the Myanmar authorities have already announced a relaxation of the curfew in Yangon and Mandalay, and reports indicate that visible military presence in the streets has been reduced.


The Government also told Gambari that, as of today, a total of 2,095 persons arrested in the course of demonstrations have been released, including 728 monks, and that more releases will follow.  Gambari said that further steps will be needed, over the next few days and weeks, not only to overcome the current crisis but also to address the underlying factors to the recent unrest.


He added that he was cautiously encouraged by the Government’s announcement yesterday that Senior General Than Shwe is prepared to meet with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, although with certain conditions.  This is a potentially welcome development which calls for maximum flexibility on all sides.  The Secretary-General, in his statement, urged both parties to meet as soon as possible.


The Secretary-General concluded that it is too early to measure the impact of Gambari’s visit, and to label it a success or a failure.  It appears, however, that a window of opportunity has opened, and it is vital that the Government of Myanmar responds positively.


Following the open meeting on Myanmar, Council members continued their discussions with Gambari in closed consultations.  He will then speak to you at the stakeout afterwards.


**Statement on Nepal


We have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Nepal.  The Secretary-General is disappointed by the decision of the Interim Government of Nepal to postpone the Constituent Assembly Election, which had been scheduled for 22 November.  He strongly urges the Seven-Party Alliance to redouble efforts so that outstanding issues can be expeditiously resolved and the election held very soon.  The people of Nepal have demonstrated their desire for peace and the stakes are too high to allow manageable differences to deny their aspirations.


The United Nations remains committed to assisting efforts to establish a durable peace in Nepal.


** Democratic Republic of the Congo


On the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the UN Refugee Agency says over the past week some 5,000 people fled fighting between Government forces, renegade troops and rebels in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Most have found refuge at the camp near the town of Goma.


The Agency says that some among the displaced persons travelled on foot for several days to safety.  This new influx has brought the total of IDP’s at the camp to over 80,000.  The United Nations now estimates that over 370,000 civilians have been displaced in North Kivu since December 2006.  The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, meanwhile, says that fighting continued intermittently in Karuba, near Goma.


And yesterday, the Mission, in a press release, strongly condemned the arrest by the Congolese Army of three local officials of the Military Tribunal of Kisangani.  The three were arrested sometime last week.  Then they were cuffed, undressed and severely beaten, says a MONUC team who visited them at a Kisangani hospital. 


Of course, all these press releases can be found in the Spokesperson’s Office.


** Cote d’Ivoire


On Cote d’Ivoire, the Force Commander of the UN Operation in Cote d’Ivoire, General Fernand Marcel Amoussou, met this week with the leaders of the Government and former rebel armies at the Mission’s headquarters in Abidjan.  They discussed the structure and work of the Integrated Command Centre, which was created to unify the Ivorian military parties, and how it can support the ongoing pre-election identification scheme.  They also talked about other aspects of the implementation of the Ouagadougou Peace Agreement.


**UNHCR


The UN Refugee Agency says new visa restrictions for Iraqis trying to enter Syria have been strictly enforced since they went into effect on Monday.  Only those with visas issued for commercial, transport, scientific and educational purposes have been able to cross the border.


UNHCR is calling for a “humanitarian visa” for Iraqis fleeing persecution.  It also continues to appeal for increased support for Syria, which is currently hosting 1.4 million Iraqi refugees. 


There is more information in the UNHCR briefing note upstairs.


**UNDP


The Administrator for the United Nations Development Programme, Kemal Dervis, began a 10-day trip to Africa today to encourage renewed efforts in many countries that are not on track to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).  He stated that while the leadership to achieve the MDGs must come from within Africa, African countries cannot achieve this alone and must be supported by international organizations and development partners.


He is also visiting three of the four African One UN pilot countries:  Mozambique, Rwanda and Tanzania. 


For more information, please contact the communications office at UNDP.


**UNEP


The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) is warning about the environmental dangers, especially for children, posed by one of Africa’s largest waste dumps.


The 30-acre Dandora Municipal Dumping site in Nairobi receives 2000 tons of rubbish every day.  A UNEP study found that almost half the children living nearby had high levels of lead in their blood or suffered from respiratory diseases. 


UNEP is calling for urgent action to address the problem, and says it is ready to help the local authorities improve their waste management strategies. 


We have more information on this upstairs.


**World Teachers’ Day


Today is World Teachers’ Day, and UNESCO estimates that the world will need 18 million new teachers by 2015 – 4 million in Africa alone – to meet the global target of providing quality primary education to all children.  To address the shortage of qualified teachers in Afghanistan, UNICEF is helping with teacher training in that country, including the training of 16,000 female teachers.


In related news, the UN Relief and Works Agency, better known as UNRWA, says that violence, occupation, closures and poverty are having a dire effect on the schooling of Palestinian refugee children in Gaza.  Unlike their counterparts in UNRWA schools in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, children in Gaza are failing their math and Arabic classes in worrying numbers.


In response, UNRWA is working to hire more than 1,500 new classroom assistants, limit class sizes in boys’ schools to 30, add extra classes in Arabic and math, and build a new teacher training college.


**Secretary-General Appointment


The Secretary-General has appointed Mr. Mike Smith of Australia as Executive Director of the Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate, replacing Mr. Javier Ruperez of Spain who stepped down at the end of June this year.  He is expected to take up his functions shortly.


Mr. Smith currently serves as Australia’s Ambassador for Counter-Terrorism.  He has held a number of senior postings in the Australian diplomatic service, including that of Permanent Representative of Australia to the UN in Geneva.


**Press Conference Today


At 2.30 p.m., there will be a press conference in this room, Room 226 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.


**Press Conference on Monday


Our guests at the noon briefing on Monday will be Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations; and Jane Holl Lute, Acting Head of the Department of Field Support, who will brief you on the situation in the Sudan.  And we also have upstairs for you “The Week Ahead at the United Nations”.  On Tuesday, I will underline that the Special Representative of the Secretary General in Kosovo, Joachim Rucker, is scheduled to brief the Security Council during consultations on the UN Mission in Kosovo.  And that day, on Tuesday, the guests of the day will be Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes and Markku Niskala, Secretary-General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), who will brief on IFRC’s new initiative, the Global Alliance for Disaster Risk Reduction.  This is all I have for you today.  Thank you very much.  Any questions?  Yes, Matthew?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  On Kosovo, the U.S. envoy to the Troika, Frank Wisner, has said there will not be time for any resolution of status before the end of the year.  I’m wondering, does the UN – the Secretariat is very involved in that process – does the UN agree with that statement?  Do they still think there’s a chance that if a report is turned in December 10 that something can happen by the end of the year?


Spokesperson:  That’s a process we’re following up.  I don’t have any specific comment on this statement today.


Question:  The thing from yesterday, I was just wondering about Sri Lanka and the (inaudible) audit of the Department of Management.  Is there any update?


Spokesperson:  No, as far as I know, no.  No one seems to know about this - no one we asked.  Yes, Masood?


Question:  Michèle is there any update from the UN Representative, SRSG, in Iraq about the renewed violence that is now occurring over there?


Spokesperson:  No, we didn’t get any today.


Question:  Would you be making a statement sometime again?


Spokesperson:  At this point, we don’t have anything new to add to what we’ve had recently. 


Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President


Thank you, Michèle.  Good afternoon, good to see you again.  I’ll try to be brief, so that whenever that call comes from Michèle, you’ll be ready to go.


** Myanmar


Very briefly, the President met this morning with the Secretary-General’s special envoy on Myanmar, Mr. Ibrahim Gambari, prior to Mr. Gambari briefing the Security Council.  We have a statement attributable to the Spokesman of the President of the General Assembly in this regard.  It reads as follows:


The President of the General Assembly is following developments in Myanmar very closely.  He expressed his grave concern over the situation while meeting this morning with the Special Adviser of the Secretary-General, Ibrahim Gambari, and receiving from him a first-hand account of his recent mission to the country.


The President stressed the continued interest of the General Assembly in resolving the human rights situation of Myanmar, as expressed by a number of resolutions by the Assembly.  In the spirit of those resolutions, he strongly condemns violence and the use of force in resolving the situation and calls for the release of all political detainees, the leaders of the National League for Democracy, including Aung San Suu Kyi.


Reiterating the General Assembly’s most recent resolution on the human rights situation in Myanmar, resolution 61/232, the President calls on the Government of Myanmar to permit all political representatives and representatives of ethnic nationalities to participate fully in the political transition process without restrictions, and resume without further delay, dialogue with all political actors to complete the drafting of the constitution and set a clear timetable for the transition to democracy.


The President expresses his full support for continuing the good offices efforts of the Secretary-General and urges the authorities in Myanmar to grant full access to his special envoy.


And we have copies of that statement upstairs for you.


**Interreligious and Intercultural High-Level Dialogue


On the Interreligious and Intercultural High-level Dialogue, the General Assembly is continuing its two-day High-level Dialogue, and the meeting is in two plenary sessions today and will wrap up this afternoon with closing comments from the President.  In his concluding remarks, the President, in reacting to views expressed by the speakers, is expected to highlight that many speakers emphasized the timely nature of having such a High-level Dialogue through the General Assembly.  The President is to take note of the fact that numerous speakers described their societies as multicultural and multireligious, which indicated the urgent need to take forward the issue of intercultural and interfaith cooperation.  The President is also expected to stress that a meaningful dialogue must involve a whole range of stakeholders -- including Governments, civil society, religious leaders, private sector, media and international organizations.  As regards to this latter stakeholder, the President is expected to note that during the two-day event Governments as well as participating civil society actors all welcomed the role of the United Nations and its agencies in taking forward this issue.


**Next Week


Now a few things on upcoming events in the next week.  The plenary of the Assembly will meet on Monday and Wednesday mornings next week.  The items on the agenda for Monday are the Report of the Secretary-General on the Work of the Organization, and appointment of members of the Joint Inspection Unit.  On Wednesday morning, the plenary will take up the Report of the Peacebuilding Commission and the Report of the Secretary-General on the Peacebuilding Fund.


And the Main Committees will be meeting.  In fact, the Fifth Committee is already holding its first meeting this morning; it’s already gone over its organization of work.  In the afternoon, it will have an informal briefing and that is a closed meeting.  This one will be on the reform and management of the UN, and Ms. Alicia Barcena, Under-Secretary-General for Management will brief the members.  The Committee, meaning the Fifth Committee, will have further informal briefings on Monday and Tuesday.  At the same time, as I mentioned, the other Main Committees will start their meetings on Monday and the First, Second and Third Committees will start with their respective general debates.


That’s all I have to flag for you.  And I’m open to any questions you may have.  Masood?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  In reference to this plenary meeting on this Interreligious, Interfaith, religious Dialogue, Pakistan and other Muslim nations have been raising this issue that there’s this element of Islamophobia, which exists and have warned against, and have called for harmony and peace and everything.  What is the reaction of the President of the General Assembly? Has he been aware?


Spokesperson:  The President of the Assembly, in general, welcomes the whole process of having the Member States agreeing on the fact through a resolution this year to hold such a high-level dialogue in the framework of the General Assembly because he accepts and supports the idea that there is a need for such a high-level dialogue, and hopefully what will happen out of this dialogue is to see what Member States want to do with this issue.  Because, as you know, there is the Secretary-General’s initiative on Alliance for Civilizations and this is an initiative that comes -- I’ve mentioned to you in previous briefings -- from the 2005 Summit Outcome Document, and in a more formalized way from last year with the General Assembly having a resolution on Intercultural and Interreligious Dialogue and already they’re talking about the need to have a high-level meeting, which is supposed to express the interest of the countries, to discuss this issue within the framework of the General Assembly, within the framework of the United Nations, keep it there on the agenda.  That is also why this time it was decided to have it now with the general debate basically cut short by two days in order to have such a dialogue on a high level.


At the same time, what is important, I think, in this regard is exactly to have not only a high-level participation, but also somehow in an interactive way, involve civil society partners.  This is what this event tried to do in order to have an opportunity on the highest level to voice the concerns of the various different Member States, how they look upon this issue of interreligious, intercultural dialogue and how to take it forward.  The event has the full support of the President and he feels the General assembly is, in fact, the place where such a dialogue should take place and should be taken forward.


Question:  Following up on the same question, is a formal declaration planned?  What comes out of this dialogue? How does it end?  Will there be a statement or declaration?


Spokesperson:  I don’t know of any formal outcome as far as this dialogue is concerned.  I would say this is the beginning, or let’s put it this way, an important beginning, of a process that was basically started by the Outcome Document.  It is supposed to give impetus as to how to take this issue forward, and at the same time it is also important as a proof of a high-level declaration on the importance that this issue carries with Member States.  That’s the essence of it; that’s essentially why it’s called high-level dialogue.  It is to have that dialogue -- to begin a momentum on this issue.  Matthew?


Question:  The meeting of the Host Country Committee.  Because of this, I wasn’t able to attend it.  I’m wondering if you have any readout of the meeting.


Spokesperson:  No, I don’t.


Okay, then if no questions then have a great weekend and see you on Monday.


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For information media • not an official record