13 November 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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General


Good afternoon.


**Press Conferences


Our guest at the noon briefing today is Erika Feller, UNHCR’s [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, who will brief you on the agency’s efforts to help protect more than 32 million refugees and others of concern to UNHCR, including in key operations such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Jordan.


And I think she will be here at 12:15 p.m.


Following that, at around 1 p.m., there will be a press conference by Joaquim Chissano, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the areas affected by the Lord’s Resistance Army.  He’s briefing the Security Council now, and he will join you here afterwards.


**Security Council


Then, the Security Council, this afternoon at 3 p.m., will hold a formal meeting on Myanmar, to receive a briefing from the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Ibrahim Gambari, on his recent visit to that country and the region.  That meeting will be followed by consultations, also on Myanmar, and Mr. Gambari has agreed to speak to you at the Council stakeout once those consultations have finished.  So that begins at 3 p.m., so it will be later in the afternoon.


And this morning, as I just mentioned, the Security Council heard a briefing from Mr. Chissano, who discussed the recent talks between LRA and the Government of Uganda.


Also in this morning’s consultations, the Security Council members discussed the recent report of the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea.


** Myanmar


And turning to Myanmar, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the Human Rights Rapporteur for that country, travelled this morning to the new capital, Nay Pyi Taw, where he met the Home Minister, who assured Pinheiro that he will be able to interview detainees, before the end of his mission, as requested.


Pinheiro also met with 20 members of the newly established human rights body, within the Government, and engaged in a dialogue on issues of mutual concern.


Later in the afternoon, the Special Rapporteur held a meeting with some representatives of international non-governmental organizations, as well as with Government officials dealing with religion and economic development.


And there’s a press release with more details on his visit.


**Secretary-General Appointments


The Secretary-General has sent a letter to the Security Council, informing it of his intention to appoint Daniel Bellemare, who was, until recently, the Deputy Attorney General of Canada, to replace Serge Brammertz of Belgium as the Commissioner of the International Independent Investigation Commission dealing with Lebanon.  Mr. Brammertz had informed the Secretary-General that he would not be available to head the Commission following the expiration of his current mandate at the end of this year.


We are awaiting the Security Council’s response to the Secretary-General’s letter.


**Secretary-General Travels


Today is the last day of the Secretary-General’s visit to Brazil, during which he took a boat ride on the Amazon River and went to Combu Island, where he met with indigenous leaders.  He spoke to reporters on that island, and he said that the Amazon is a common asset of all mankind that must be preserved.  He added that the people who live in the Amazon are the pioneers in preserving the forest.


The Secretary-General will now travel on to Europe.


The Secretary-General spoke to reporters yesterday after his meeting with the Brazilian President and said that he and the President had discussed the strong partnership between the United Nations and Brazil; his appreciation for Brazil’s role in UN peacekeeping, especially in Haiti; and plans to hold a high-level meeting on the Millennium Development Goals next year.  The Secretary-General discussed climate change, and he also asked for a greater Brazilian contribution to the Central Emergency Response Fund, in light of the growing number of natural disasters around the world.


** Democratic Republic of the Congo


Turning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the UN Refugee Agency is gravely concerned about the fate of tens of thousands of Congolese civilians who this morning fled in a panic caused by the resumption of gun battles between the Army and unidentified rebel forces.  The previously uprooted masses were housed at five UN-run camps for the displaced in the region around Goma, the main town in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s North Kivu province.


The camps were apparently not directly targeted, but the crackling of gunfire sent most of its residents fleeing up the wooded hills nearby.  The Refugee Agency estimates that 30,000 of the camps’ residents have abandoned their premises.


Today’s incidents come at a time when UN humanitarian agencies had stepped up their joint efforts to curb the spread of cholera in the camps.  UNICEF, which has increased chlorination to provide safe water, is now concerned that, without preventive action, the displacement could spread cholera to Goma, a city of some 570,000 people.  The agency says that nearly 600 cases of cholera were reported in the camps in the past month. 


**Mauritania/Senegal


UNHCR and the Governments of Mauritania and Senegal have signed a tripartite agreement in Nouakchott that clears the way for the repatriation to Mauritania of some 24,000 refugees who fled their country in the late 1980s.


And there’s more on that upstairs.


** Cambodia


And we have available upstairs a press release concerning the charges made by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia against former Cambodian Foreign Minister Ieng Sary and his wife.  Both have claimed that they do not have the means to pay for their legal representation, so their defence team will be funded through the Court’s legal assistance team while their claim is assessed.


**Kenya/Malnutrition


The UN Refugee Agency, UNICEF and the World Food Programme are praising international efforts that helped turn around a devastating malnutrition crisis in refugee camps in northern Kenya. 


Surveys show a substantial decline in malnutrition rates among children under the age of five at camps in Dadaab and Kakuma.


The agencies warn, however, that continued support is needed to maintain the progress made so far.


And there’s more information in a press release upstairs.


**Food and Agriculture Organization/Sudan


And on Sudan, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has sent an animal health expert to help advise the Government on prevention and security measures in the wake of an outbreak of Rift Valley Fever.  The disease, which is transmitted from mosquitoes to both humans and livestock, has so far killed more than 80 people in White Nile State.


Meanwhile, FAO is also warning about an outbreak of desert locusts that began last month in northern Sudan.  FAO is concerned that breeding of the migratory grasshoppers could intensify on both sides of the Red Sea this winter.


And there’s more information on that.


**UN University Event


There is a UN University event today, entitled “The African Food System and Its Interactions with Health and Nutrition”, taking place today at the Dag Hammarskjöld Library penthouse.  There is more information on this symposium available upstairs, that’s UNU and Cornell Symposium.


And that’s what I have for you. 


I know that the General Assembly Spokesman is here.  He is here and available for questions if you have them, otherwise he does not have a briefing today.  Let’s start with Nizar and then Masood.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Yes, regarding, we heard that the Secretary-General is heading towards Lebanon shortly.  How accurate are these reports?


Spokesperson:  I have no confirmation or announcement to make about his trip.


Question:  Would you deny this?


Spokesperson:  I have nothing further on that right now.  Yes, Masood?


Question:  Marie, yesterday the Secretary-General, he said, in a statement, that he expressed satisfaction over the date, election date, set by the President, but now, what has happened is that most of the opposition, one of the biggest opposition leaders has been placed in jail, in house arrest again.  Most of the political activists are again being jailed, some who have been re-arrested.  Does the Secretary-General have any other response now?


Spokesperson:  I think the Secretary-General’s response has been consistent.  Yesterday, as you mentioned, when he was asked about the situation, he urged the Pakistani leadership to meet the expectations of the international community regarding the democratization of the country, and he reiterated his hope that Pakistan would do more to further the lifting of emergency measures and to release political detainees, including the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief. 


Question:  So today there is basically, there is no update?


Spokesperson:  He has been stressing, in addition to that, that the Government should take actions to ensure that the atmosphere is conducive for elections to be credible, including the lifting of the state of emergency.  So these are the themes that he has been repeatedly echoing.  Yes, if there’s nobody else… Matthew?


Question:  Two questions, Marie.  One was this letter from the, I guess, trade associations of biofuels groups.  Can you now confirm, I mean, has he received it, and does Mr. Ban have any response to it?


Spokesperson:  On the issue of biofuels, I think you yourself had asked the Secretary-General at a stakeout recently, and he provided you with his response to the issue.  I cannot confirm or deny about the letter received, but as you know, the Special Rapporteur is independent.  He is appointed by the Human Rights Council, and as far as the Secretary-General is concerned, more study is needed, and they should be balanced between the need for food and clear energy.  And again, I refer you to his remarks made after his visit to the ethanol plant and at the stakeout where you asked him the same question.


Question:  And the second question is, there’s a 20 July memo from Controller Warren Sach to Jane Holl Lute (head of the Department of Field Support) where, in speaking of procurement for the Darfur mission, he said “I hope you’re aware that these actions constitute a pattern of which oversight bodies of the UN may be less charitable and may well find the pattern troubling”, talking about irregularities of sole-source contracting and the late providing of information.  So I guess what I’m, the oversight, I’m assuming that the oversight bodies that he’s referring to is OIOS (Office of Internal Oversight Services) and I wanted to know whether OIOS is going to review the sole-source Lockheed contract or…


Spokesperson:  You’d have to ask OIOS.  As you know, we don’t speak for OIOS.


Question:  But I guess, since it’s something that the Controller said, I think you do speak for him, no?


Spokesperson:  I cannot confirm or deny anything that OIOS is doing.  You’d have to ask them directly.  As for the sole-source contracting issue, I think we’ve said everything that we can, up to date.


Question:  But this is, this seemed like Sach himself had a problem with the contract, that’s…


Spokesperson:  Matthew, this is all I have.


Question:  Okay.


Spokesperson:  Thank you.  Yes, Nizar?


Question:  We have heard that UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) is probably considering pulling out of Lebanon if there, should there be a two-Government system.  Do you have any comment on that?


Spokesperson:  I do not.  Of course, UNIFIL has a mandate from the Security Council, so you’d probably need to ask them about that.  Okay, yes Jonathan?


Question:  Marie, just one question.  Yesterday you commented a little bit about the fire safety in the building.  But I was just wondering, are there any concrete steps that the UN is taking now to address the big gap between what, at least, Mayor Bloomberg would like to see here and what has been done already?  And how to explain why the work wasn’t done to comply, at least farther along in the compliance process?


Spokesperson:  First of all, I don’t think there’s a big gap, as you mentioned.  The Secretary-General and the Head of the Department of Management, Alicia Bárcena, are in complete agreement with the Mayor in terms of concerns for the safety of visitors and staff and others who occupy this building, which I mentioned to you yesterday.  And, as you know, our immediate goal, of course, is to address the issue of full compliance with the New York City fire and safety codes by getting the Capital Master Plan to renovate the entire UN structure here and the system, so that we can be fully compliant by the year 2013.  So that is our big objective.  In the meantime, we are addressing all of the issues that the city and the fire department and UN have been working on.  We agree on the benchmarks and, specifically, what have we done?  We have addressed the issue of the fire safety by getting fire guards to patrol the building when it’s occupied, at all times, which apparently, when premises are not fully compliant, this is a measure that New York City accepts as a substitute.  And we’ve changed, the letter [to the Mayor] mentions, close to 400 emergency lights, they’ve replaced 2,000 sprinkler heads, and they’ve erected over 1,000 signs that, for fire protection, elevators and stair identification, etcetera.  So I think we are moving along, and the city and UN continue to address these measures as expeditiously as possible.


Question:  Yes, one follow-up on that.  There seemed to be this very concrete issue of compartmentalization, which I guess means fire doors and also something to do with the fan system, which the city seems to think should be repaired by January.  Is this…


Spokesperson:  There is a benchmark date set for that and we’ve agreed to that. 


So, if there are no other questions, let’s turn to Erika Feller, the Assistant High Commissioner for Protection for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and she’ll join us up here.


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