17 October 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


And the spokesperson for the General Assembly president

 


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Janos Tisovszky, Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.


Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General


Good afternoon.


**Guest at Noon


Our guests are here already and the next speaker, Janos Tisovszky, is also here to brief you on the General Assembly.  Our guests will be Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict; Hilde Johnson, Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF; and Ishmael Beah, youth activist and the author of Long Way Gone, who will brief you on the 10 years following the Graça Machel report on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children.


** Somalia


I will start with a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Somalia. 


The Secretary-General strongly condemns the forceful and illegal entry of Government security forces into the United Nations compound in Mogadishu, and the detention of a United Nations official.  The Secretary-General calls for the immediate and unconditional release of the staff member.


The Secretary-General reminds the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia of its obligation to protect all United Nations staff members and property.  Today’s actions are in flagrant violation of the 1946 Convention on Privileges and Immunity to which the Somali government formally committed in the January 2006 agreement.


And according to the World Food Programme (WFP) the incident happened this morning at 8.15 local time.  WFP says that between 50 and 60 armed members of the Somali National Security Service entered the UN compound in an unauthorized manner, over the protests of UN staff members.  No shots were fired, but WFP’s Officer-in-Charge was taken away at gunpoint.  He is now being held in a cell at Somali National Security Service headquarters near the presidential palace, according to the World Food Programme.


In light of his detention and the need to safeguard its staff, WFP says it has been forced to immediately suspend a food distribution programme that began in Mogadishu on Monday.  The programme –- aimed at providing food to more than 75,000 people through local mosques –- was WFP’s first distribution in the Somali capital since June.


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) notes that this comes at a time when more than 1.5 million Somalis need assistance and protection.  That’s a 50 per cent increase since the beginning of the year.  OCHA notes a deteriorating food security situation in central and southern Somalia, due to an inadequate rainy season, as well as continuing internal displacements and a potential looming cholera epidemic.


** Sudan


Turning to the Sudan, the World Food Programme has issued a press release condemning the killing of three contract truck drivers who were shot to death while working for the UN's food agency in Darfur.  Approximately 2,000 contract drivers and drivers' assistants work for WFP in Darfur, where the agency delivers food to three million people in its largest operation worldwide.


The World Food Programme has no information on who is responsible for the killings.  And there’s a press release, as I mentioned, upstairs, that has more details on this incident.


This comes at a time when increasing insecurity in the Darfur region of Sudan has resulted in further attacks against civilians, aid workers, and AU (African Union) troops, which are significantly impacting the civilian population and interrupting vital life-saving aid programmes at a time when they are most needed.  Some 4.2 million people in Darfur are currently in need of humanitarian assistance.  Recent violence in two villages of Haskanita and Muhajariya displaced nearly 90,000 civilians alone.


The United Nations is seriously concerned about the safety of civilians throughout Darfur.  And we have more information on the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Darfur upstairs.


** Myanmar


Now turning to Myanmar, the Special Advisor of the Secretary-General, Ibrahim Gambari, met today with Malaysia’s Prime Minister in the administrative capital of that country.  They had very detailed and substantive discussions on the UN's efforts in Myanmar and the support that ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and other neighbouring countries could provide in this regard.


Before departing Malaysia, Mr. Gambari spoke to the press, highlighting that the Secretary-General is absolutely committed to working with the Government of Myanmar, with neighbouring countries, and with ASEAN, to achieve the goals of a peaceful, democratic, prosperous Myanmar, with full respect for the human rights of its own people.


Mr. Gambari is now in Jakarta where he is scheduled to meet with Indonesia’s President and Foreign Minister tomorrow.  From there, he is expected to move on to India, China and then to Japan.


And here at UN Headquarters –- for those of you who may have missed it –- the Secretary-General, in a press encounter late yesterday afternoon, strongly urged the Myanmar authorities to fully implement the Myanmar Government’s seven-point road map for democratization, adding that the way the authorities treated the demonstrators was abhorrent and unacceptable.


He also stressed that Myanmar authorities should think about the future of their country and of their people, reflecting and respecting all the wishes of the international community.


** Democratic Republic of the Congo


Turning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the UN Mission there has categorically denied Congolese press reports accusing it of providing support to dissident troops led by renegade General Laurent Nkunda.  The Mission declared earlier today in Kinshasa that UN peacekeepers are fully committed to discharging the mandate entrusted them by the Security Council to assist the Government in restoring State authority, including in the area of security.


Meanwhile, the situation remains tense in North Kivu in the east, where the standoff between the Government army and dissident troops continues.  Some 150 schoolchildren from the Rutshuru area, some as young as seven, were given refuge yesterday by UN peacekeepers after fleeing attempts to enlist them into Nkunda’s force.  An unknown number of schoolchildren fled in other directions, and remain unaccounted for, two days after Nkunda troops surrounded their school in the centre of Rutshuru.


Over in the Ituri province, UN disarmament workers report that some 1,800 former combatants have now joined the cantonment sites.  However, an undefined number of fighters, in particular those from the FNI (Front des Nationalistes et Integrationistes) armed group, remain staunchly opposed to joining the disarmament drive.


** Iraq


And out on the racks today is the Secretary-General’s latest report to the Security Council on Iraq, and it says that there is now an opportunity in the country that should not be missed.  September witnessed the lowest number of Iraqi casualties for the year, and there has also been a decrease in violence resulting from the ceasefire by the Mahdi army.


The Secretary-General said he welcomes the new UN mandate in Iraq, including the expansion of the UN role in advancing national dialogue and reconciliation.  He said he has already strengthened the UN team in Iraq, by increasing the staff ceiling in Baghdad and Erbil, and is considering other ways to improve outreach to the provinces, including re-establishing a small UN presence in Basra.


**Security Council


And the Security Council today is holding an open debate on the work of the Peacebuilding Commission, which began with a briefing by the Chairman of the Commission’s Organizational Committee, Yukio Takasu.  The Commission, as you know, has taken on Sierra Leone and Burundi as its first cases.  There are 19 speakers inscribed for today’s debate.


**Kosovo


And the UN Mission in Kosovo and the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have helped more than 100 members of the Roma community to return to their original lands.  The returns project, which is still ongoing, is also working towards the reintegration of Roma families back into the social fabric of northern Kosovo’s Mitrovica municipality.  There is a press release on Kosovo upstairs.


**Malaria


And there is a press release from UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), about the significant gains being made in the fight against malaria in sub-Saharan Africa.  And you can pick that up upstairs.


** Nepal


There is a UNHCR press release on the launch of a new project for strengthening HIV/AIDS services among the conflict-affected populations in Nepal.  You can also pick that up upstairs.


**Poverty Eradication Day


Today is Poverty Eradication Day and the Secretary-General will observe it at a ceremony at 1 p.m. on the North Lawn.  He will lead delegates and staff members in reciting an anti-poverty pledge.  Last year, 23.5 million people in more than 100 countries took part in the first “Stand Up Against Poverty” event, setting a Guinness World Record that the organizers hope to break this year.


In a message to mark the day, the Secretary-General says that our global scorecard for fighting poverty is mixed and he appeals for a show of political will to end the scourge of poverty once and for all.


Meanwhile, the Deputy Secretary-General, speaking at a similar event in London today, says that poverty can be eradicated only if Governments of both developed and developing countries live up to their promises.


And from 1.30 p.m. to 2.45 p.m. today, the North Lawn observance will feature testimonies from people facing extreme poverty, a musical piece, and the presentation of awards to five children who won the UN’s International Children’s Art Competition on ending poverty.  Over 12,000 children took part in the competition; the six winning designs will be issued as UN stamps next year.


**UNESCO


UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) has a press release announcing that it and the US Library of Congress are joining forces in Paris today to build a World Digital Library, following an agreement signed by both institutions.


The library will gather and digitize unique materials from all around the world and make them available free of charge on the Internet.  These are manuscripts, maps, books, musical scores, sound recordings, films, prints, photographs, etc., and you can read about that in the UNESCO press release upstairs. 


**Special Event Today


This afternoon at 1.30 p.m. in Conference Room 1, a team of young people from conflict-affected countries will launch a report entitled “Will you Listen? Young Voices from Conflict Zones”.  It includes first-hand accounts from 1,700 young people in 92 countries on how youth experience violence, displacement, sexual violence, interruption of education, malnutrition and lack of health care, and trauma.  


**Press Conferences Tomorrow


And there are several press conferences scheduled for tomorrow.  At 11.15 a.m. there will be a press conference by H.E. Ismael Benavides, Minister of Agriculture of Peru; and Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization, on World Food Day, and on the International Year of the Potato, to be observed next year.


Our guests at the noon briefing will be Kiyotaka Akasaka, Under-Secretary-General of Public Information; and Mandy Kibel, Deputy Director of Communications for the UN Millennium Campaign, who will brief you on Stand Up Against Poverty 2007, which is taking place today.  More information on the campaign is available upstairs.


And at 2 p.m., this is also tomorrow, Chief Executive of the Secretariat of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), will brief you on recent developments and peace initiatives in Africa.  And that’s all I have for you.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  First of all, the Secretariat goes to (inaudible) next and secondly, what is the year of the potato?  I mean it has been going for over a year now.


Deputy Spokesperson:  No, no, no.  I believe it’s just starting, and you can ask Mr. Diouf of the Food and Agriculture Organization all about this tomorrow.


Question:  Is the Secretary-General in support of the seven-point plan, road map for Burma?  Of course, the way I understood it until now, there was demand for a little modification of it


Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General, as I mentioned to you now –- and as he mentioned yesterday –- urges the Myanmar authorities to pursue their seven-point plan, which needs to be more inclusive and participatory.  In addition to what is contained in that plan, Mr. Gambari, when he was here last time, elaborated on a number of new recommendations that have been made.  I will refer you to Mr. Gambari’s transcript on that.


Question:  But should more be added to that plan in order to make it more inclusive?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Absolutely.  And the additional elements were flagged by Mr. Gambari, given that the seven-point plan was something that had been previously encouraged by Mr. Gambari.  But, given the new climate, especially in light of the detention of the demonstrators and the treatment of them, which the Secretary-General characterized as abhorrent and unacceptable, there were a number of other conditions that have been added and we’ll be glad to pull that out for you later.


Question:  You mentioned the role of the United Nations in Iraq.  What is specifically being proposed regarding national reconciliation?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, specifically I don’t have the details.  The report is just out, so I would recommend you take a look at that.  But this is one of the mandates that had been given to the Secretariat by the new Security Council resolution from this summer.  Yes, sir?


Question:  On Somalia, in a strife country like this, doesn’t the UN have its own security arrangement and if so, did they try to resist this intrusion?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I think the reason why we have a statement is because of this forceful and illegal entry by the Government.  If we would have been able to defend against it, we wouldn’t have this incident.


Question:  About Iraq, can I understand that the ceiling of the staff members to be in the country has been lifted?


Deputy Spokesperson:  What I mentioned to you was that the ceiling for the international civilian staff in Baghdad, which had been at 65, has been raised to 85 and there are now some 30 international staff in Erbil, and what I mentioned earlier –- maybe before you walked in –- was that he’s considering ways to improve outreaches within the province including re-establishing a small presence in Basra.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Two questions about Darfur.  One, the lead prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Mr. Ocampo, has been quoted, I guess today, or said yesterday, criticizing the Secretary-General for his reports on Sudan not including justice, and the need to execute the warrants on Mr. Harun and others.  And he said this may indicate a weakening of the international community’s resolve to deal with this.  Does the Secretary-General have any response to that?  Why is justice not in his reports to the Security Council on…?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t know the answer to your question about the report, but I think this is an issue that the Secretary-General has constantly raised –- the importance of justice, and, and the impunity question –- and I think there’s no doubt about the Secretary-General’s position on that.  And Mr. Ocampo is simply doing his job by bringing the world’s attention to the justice side of this issue, which as you know is very complex and is involving many actors’ efforts in the political, in peacekeeping and the humanitarian and hopefully in the future, the development track, as well as justice.  But I’m saying that Mr. Ocampo’s mandate is one that he is carrying out.  Yes?


Question:  I also wanted to ask about this contract –- the infrastructure contract in Darfur, the $250 million, no-bid contract.  Yesterday at the stakeout, Mr. Ban said you were going to be totally transparent about it and yesterday your colleague, Ms. Montas, said the contract would be made public.  So first, I just sort of want to nail it down, if it’s now finalized, when will it be made public and also If I could get an explanation of…?  Yesterday, someone within… a proponent of the contract, said the reason it shifted from $700 million to $250 million was that the terms were changed.  Some of the equipment that was part of it was moved out of it.  So, I don’t know if you can describe that or someone can come brief us about the contract details?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Okay, the Secretary-General did answer your questions at the stakeout in regards to, and sorry I was going to mention this at the end of the briefing, but the guests were here, so I didn’t, but in terms of the contract question from yesterday:  As per the established procedures, summary information of the contract –- that is price, name of company, dates, etc. –- will be posted on the UN procurement website.  Actual copies of the contract are not posted for commercial, legal and security reasons.  So that’s the answer to your question on the contract.  And the answer to your question on the price –- you’re talking about the $700 million to $250 million reduction –- following negotiations with the vendor, the initial planning requirements were either clarified or better specified by the logisticians and experts in the Department of Field Support.  Therefore, much uncertainty was eliminated, thus, substantially reducing the price.  The contractual risk for the vendor and the UN was reviewed in depth, thus resulting in further savings.  Finally, additional savings had been achieved through the normal negotiating process using benchmarking, market survey, etc.  And it should be noted that the $250 million is a “not-to-exceed” amount.  The price is actually component-based type, meaning that the UN pays only for those goods and services it actually ordered, delivered and approved for payment.  I can give this to you in writing because it’s rather technical. 


Question:  Because of that briefing that was given to ACABQ (Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions) saying you negotiated the price down from $700 million to $250 million, if in fact parts of the work to be required were taken out, does the Secretary-General stand behind the negotiated down price…


Deputy Spokesperson:  Why don’t you take a look at what I just read to you and we’ll take it from there.


Question:  Just a quick housekeeping question. One is yesterday, when Kemal Dervis was here, we had very little time to be able to ask questions and certainly I left with a lot of questions.  I was just wondering if we could at least send a message through that it would be very helpful –- I mean, we’re happy that he came –- but it would be very helpful to have him here on a more regular basis?  It would allow us more time to ask the questions.  And secondly, on Iraq, with the increase of the lifting of the ceiling, it might be helpful also to have someone who’s close and intimate with that programme to debrief us on a variety of issues from security to what the intentions are.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, I think that would be an excellent idea and we will certainly try.  As you know there are going to be movements of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, so as soon as we have people in place to go we will get that for you. 


Briefing by Spokesperson for General Assembly President


Good afternoon, good to see you all.  I’ll try to keep it short.  I don’t know whether it’ll be sweet, but I’ll try to keep it short.


**Activities of the President of the General Assembly


Quickly on something Marie mentioned already, the Stand Up Against Poverty.  That’s something that the President of the Assembly will also take part in today. That will be in about half an hour.  Also, on the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, within that context, the President of the General Assembly is meeting members of the International Movement ATD Fourth World in a few minutes in his office.  It is actually this movement, you may remember, that was instrumental in the designation of today as the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.


We also have a statement attributable to the spokesman of the President on the occasion of the anti-poverty day and it reads as follows:


The President of the General Assembly calls on all to use the occasion of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty to join him and take part in the worldwide campaign to stand up and speak out against poverty and for the Millennium Developments Goals.


The President believes that the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty provides an excellent opportunity to focus attention on the first Millennium Development Goal, to halve extreme poverty and hunger by 2015.  He commends the commitment of men, women and children around the world who have taken up this initiative and strive to draw greater international attention to extreme poverty.  He is especially grateful for the work of the members of the International Movement ATD Fourth World – a group of whom he met this morning – for their unwavering efforts and self-sacrifice in this effort.


The President notes that Member States support his initiative to make the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals a priority for the 62nd session of the General Assembly.  He has expressed concern that many countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, are not on target to achieve any of the goals.  He believes that the midpoint for attainment of the goals by 2015 provides an excellent opportunity for the international community to review progress on implementation of the MDGs, recommit efforts and resources to reach the agreed targets.


The President on his part pledges to continue to stand up and speak out against poverty and for the Millennium Development Goals for the full duration of the 62nd session and to urge Member States to use the current General Assembly session to build consensus for urgent action to achieve the MDGs.


And we have copies of the statement upstairs for you.


**General Assembly Plenary


On the plenary, the General Assembly yesterday, as you know, elected five Member States as non-permanent members of the Security Council for two years for 2008 and 2009 and the details on that we have already given you yesterday.  The President, who chaired the session yesterday, noted in his concluding remarks that it was a good day for the United Nations and for the General Assembly.  He stressed that the spirit of cooperation, goodwill and mutual trust demonstrated in the meeting was particularly noteworthy and in that respect he expressed a special thanks to the delegations of the Czech Republic and the Dominican Republic for their gracious cooperation.


The Assembly will have its next plenary session tomorrow and that will be primarily focusing on NEPAD, that is the New Partnership for Africa’s Development.


And today the Assembly is meeting in the afternoon in a closed informal plenary format on the issue of mandate review.


And on the work of the main committees, I am not going to give you details because those are in the Journal, so you can follow that.  I don’t want to take up time on that.  That’s all I have, unless you have questions.  Benny?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  There’s a quote in one of the Israeli newspapers that said that yesterday in the First Committee, the Syrian ambassador said that Israel attacked a nuclear facility in Syria.  Um, is there any way to confirm whether that happened (inaudible), whether he said that or not?


GA Spokesperson:  What happened was that, exercising its right of reply, Syria yesterday had a statement in the First Committee and that was reflected in a press release issued by the Department of Public Information and we’re looking into it, whether in fact what was attributed to the representative of Syria is in fact, correct.  So, we’ll give you details on that, but we’re just looking into exactly what has happened.


Question:  When do you expect an answer?


GA Spokesperson:  Very soon, I guess.  But please also note, as we have said many times -- and it is written on the bottom of every press release -- that press releases on the committees, no matter how helpful they are, they’re only supposed to be looked upon as materials for information purposes and not as official documents. 


Question:  Just as a follow-up to that, do you have a transcript that you make public or a video recording of what was actually said?  Because there seems to be some confusion.


GA Spokesperson:  Well, what is, what is actually in the text, as I took it out from the press release, what was said -- and I’ll quote this -- but as I said this is where all the controversy is about.  And this is what we’ll be looking at was the following:  “That moreover, Israel was the fourth largest exporter of weapons of mass destruction and a violator of other nations’ airspace, and it had taken action against nuclear facilities, including the 6 July attack in Syria.”  This is the point that is being discussed.  We’re looking into this –- whether this was in fact what was said or this was a misquote on the part of either the interpreters or on the part of those who have done this transcription.  So please bear with us.  As I said, this is not an official document in any form.  It is supposed to be just an informative, helpful tool for you.


Question:  In other words, you’re not officially saying that he said that.


GA Spokesperson:  I’m quoting, Benny, I just mentioned that, what I’m saying here -- just for those who have not followed this -- that this was in the press release and this was what triggered your question.  I just quoted the press release, but I’m saying this might not necessarily be the way it was actually said, but this was what was reflected in the press release, this is what we’re looking at.  Just, just for the clarity.


(Following the briefing it was clarified that, after a review of the original speech in Arabic it was determined that the text of the transcript is erroneous and misquoted Syria as a result of an error in interpretation.)


Okay.  Matthew.


Question:  Just the one question… I want to, if you could, if you know or could find out the status of this Office of the Special Adviser on Africa, for Africa, whether there’s a back-and-forth where the office was being eliminated or consolidated… whether the GA or the Group of 77 and China (Inaudible).  And you’ll notice on the press release for tomorrow’s NEPAD it’s still listed as being around.  Is the Fifth Committee, is the GA, has the GA effectively kept that office open?  Is it going to remain open?  What’s its status?


GA Spokesperson:  I’ll follow up for you on that as regards to the General Assembly angle.  Yes, very quickly.


Question:  About the draft resolution that was tabled from the two Koreas…


GA Spokesperson:  Yes.


Question:  What is the next step?


GA Spokesperson:  Just for those of you not necessarily familiar with this, with what the question refers to.  In the Journal you will see that there’s going to be a meeting –- it’s on the first page of the Journal –- of the General Committee –- this is going to be the second meeting of the General Committee on Friday.  The General Committee decides on adopting additional items for the General Assembly and on allocation of items.  And there was a proposal, and that is what we have here, from the two Koreas.  It is on the racks, it is A/62/234 and it is a request for the inclusion of an additional item in the agenda of the 62nd Session and that’s peace, security and reunification of the Korean peninsula.  So that will be before the General Committee on Friday, they will look at it and decide whether to actually put it on the agenda and also decide as to where to allocate it to -- whether it will be for one of the committees or whether it will go directly to the plenary.  That’s what you’re going to see on Friday.


Question:  When do you think the adoption will come?  Usually?


GA Spokesperson:  Well, the General Committee will make a decision on Friday very quickly and then from there we will know whether it will be on the plenary or in one of the committees and then from there, I think it’s a matter of scheduling, as to when action will be taken on a particular uh, draft.


If there are no more questions, then thank you very much for your attention and I’ll turn over the floor to our guests.


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For information media • not an official record