|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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon, all.
I understand that we have some guests with us today -- journalism students from southern California’s Biola University. Welcome.
**Office of Internal Oversight Services
At 1 p.m. today, Inga-Britt Ahlenius, Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), and Robert Appleton, Chairperson of the OIOS Procurement Task Force, will brief you on the latest OIOS annual report and the report of the activities of the Procurement Task Force. That will be at 1 o’clock.
One hundred fifty-one thousand Iraqis died as a result of violence between March 2003 and June 2006, according to a new survey by the Iraqi Government and the World Health Organization (WHO). The results showed that violence became a leading cause of death for Iraqi adults after March 2003 and the main cause for men between the ages of 15 and 59. The survey also found that, on average, 128 Iraqis died of violent causes per day in the first year following the invasion. That number sank to 115 per day in the second year but rose back to 126 in the third year. More than half of the violent deaths occurred in Baghdad.
Another worrying finding of the study was that only 57 per cent of the women surveyed said they had heard of AIDS. That compares with 84 per cent of women in Turkey and Egypt, 91 per cent in Morocco and 97 per cent in Jordan.
We have more on this upstairs.
Although there are no Security Council meetings or consultations scheduled today, the members of the Council are having their monthly luncheon with the Secretary-General this afternoon.
According to the UN Country Team in Kenya, the security situation in that country is calm but remains unpredictable. On the humanitarian front, the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has allocated $7 million for relief work in Kenya. Meanwhile, the distribution of World Food Programme (WFP) aid started today for tens of thousands of people in the Nairobi slums.
Also today, a WFP-chartered helicopter flew from Nairobi to the northern Rift Valley town of Eldoret, helping WFP assessment teams to locate scattered pockets of displaced people in need of humanitarian assistance. The helicopter, which flew into Kenya from Sudan, will also fly UN aid to people cut off by violence in the coming days.
We have more information upstairs.
Also, on Kenya, we would like to bring this clarification in response to questions and news reports about the UN’s role in the disputed Kenya parliamentary and presidential elections:
The UN did not observe the recent Kenyan elections or the tallying of the votes. Thus, the UN could not have pronounced itself on a matter in which it was not involved and has no facts.
UNDP only provided non-partisan technical assistance to the electoral process. We assisted with voter registration and education; facilitated the capacity of the Kenya Domestic Observation Team to observe the elections; supported the Kenya Human Rights Commission to ensure there were no violations occurring during the campaign; and supported the local media in order to promote balanced reporting and educate their readers or viewers on the electoral process. This was managed with funds ($12 million) provided by the United States Agency for International Development, the Canadian International Development Agency, the Swedish International Development Agency, the European Union and the Governments of Norway, Finland and the Netherlands.
The UNDP programme was never intended to, and it therefore did not, support the results transmission, tallying or counting processes. The UN did not participate in election monitoring, once more, and no UN staff observed the elections.
** Western Sahara
The third round of discussions on Western Sahara wrapped up yesterday afternoon in Manhasset.
In a communiqué read out at the end of the talks, the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy, Peter van Walsum, noted that the parties had continued to express strong differences. At the same time, they reiterated their commitment to negotiate in good faith and agreed on the need to move into a more intensive and substantive phase of discussions.
The parties have agreed to meet again in Manhasset from March 11th to 13th. The Personal Envoy is also expected to travel to the region shortly for in-depth consultations.
We have copies of the communiqué upstairs. You probably had it last night.
In his report to the Security Council on Nepal’s request for the United Nations’ assistance in support of its peace process, the Secretary-General recommended that the mandate of the UN Mission in Nepal be extended for a further six months. The Secretary-General recommended that the extension maintain the currently existing configuration and staffing of the Mission, and reduce electoral staffing, as well as other minor adjustments.
He said it is encouraging that the Seven-Party Alliance has moved in the direction of a peace agreement and that there is a common recognition of the critical need to maintain the cohesion of the Seven-Party Alliance.
Meanwhile, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Angela Kane continues her visit to Nepal. We expect to have updates on her trip very soon.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei will begin a two-day visit to Iran tomorrow for talks with high-level Iranian officials.
During the trip, Dr. ElBaradei hopes to develop ways to accelerate implementation of safeguards in Iran, with an aim at resolving remaining outstanding issues. He also welcomes the visit as a chance to enable the IAEA to provide assurance about Iran’s past and present nuclear activities.
**Democratic Republic of Congo
Alan Doss, the new Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, arrived in Kinshasa yesterday to take up his functions. Doss, a UK national, was appointed to the post by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in October to replace William Lacy Swing of the United States.
The Kivu Conference on Peace, Security and Development continues in Goma, in the north-eastern DRC, with thematic talks and seminars. The closing plenary session is expected to take place on 17 January.
This is all I have for you, thank you. Any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Can you tell us something about Kenya and a report on Kofi Annan’s role, which has been announced as a mediator?
Spokesperson: We don’t have yet confirmation. We have heard of it, but we don’t know. We have not been directly involved with this. We don’t have any first-hand information on it.
[The Spokesperson later added that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sees this as a positive development. He spoke to Mr. Annan earlier today and expressed his strong support for Mr. Annan’s mission as head of a panel of eminent Africans to mediate the crisis in Kenya, as announced earlier by President John Kufuor of Ghana.]
Question: This is a question that is directly related to the United Nations. President Bush, on his Middle Eastern tour, has called on Hamas and Fatah to leave behind unimplemented UN resolutions, such as those calling for the removal of Israeli settlements and the return of Palestinian refugees. He said, “The deal did not work out for the UN in the past, and this is an opportunity to move forward and to negotiate a new deal”. Now, this is a pretty damning indictment of what the UN tries to do here. Does the Office have any comment on this?
Spokesperson: We have read the press reports. However, we don’t have first-hand knowledge of this. What I can say is, we stand by the UN resolutions taken in the past. We have been calling for a number of things concerning the Middle Eastern issue, and this is continuing.
Question: Can you update us on Mr. Gambari’s visit to India and China? When is he going to Burma?
Spokesperson: I read something about this yesterday. He is planning during this month to go to India and China. We don’t have specific dates yet. As you know, he has a standing invitation to go back to Burma. We don’t have a specific date on that either.
Question: How [inaudible] to China, how different is it from previous visits?
Spokesperson: As you know, a number of things have happened in terms of consultation with different actors and different international leaders involved with the crisis. As far as I know, he is just going to go further into discussions with two major actors in the situation in Myanmar.
Question: Has Israel officially complained to the UN that info passed to UNIFIL is making its way to Hizbullah?
Spokesperson: This we don’t have a specific complaint about. You mean weapons making their way to Hizbullah?
Spokesperson: Information? We don’t have anything specific on that.
Question: What can you tell us about the release tomorrow, or the delivery tomorrow to the Secretary-General, of the security report relating to the Algiers attack? What information will we be able to get either from the report itself or from a briefing in this room?
Spokesperson: The Secretary-General is getting the report tomorrow, as you said. He is going to study it. As you know, it is very important to him. As to specific recommendations coming out of that report, he is going, certainly by Monday, to give you his take on the report that he is getting only tomorrow.
Question: So tomorrow we can’t expect to learn anything about the nature of the report?
Question: Monday, he personally will brief us or…?
Spokesperson: No, at this point I don’t know how it will be dealt with, but I do know that you certainly will, by Monday, get the Secretary-General’s reaction.
Question: With reference to the situation in Kenya, did the UN -- and I am not trying to be critical -- but did the UN honestly have no idea -- I understand, as a matter of fact, that they did not participate in any monitoring activities, of that there is no doubt -- but did the UN have no idea that some result, particularly a close result such as seems to have happened, might produce this kind of violence, or might justify monitoring?
Spokesperson: Well, we cannot monitor at the spur of the moment. Monitoring is something that is usually prepared in advance. But we were not asked to monitor the elections and we were not monitoring the elections. So we cannot give an opinion on any elections we have not observed first-hand.
Question: I wondered, has Ban Ki-moon confirmed reports in the South Korean press that he is interested in visiting North Korea, and is there any date in mind for the trip?
Spokesperson: Not that I know of.
Question: Two questions. One is on Nepal. There is a report in the Indian press that these rebels in the Terai region, they say, “Even Ban Ki-moon is aware of our demand for a separate homeland in the Terai region.” So I am wondering, I guess I am just asking you, is he aware of that? Does he have any response to that?
Spokesperson: He has not received any official communications on that.
Question: And also, there is a story of the head of the UN’s Millennium Campaign, Eveline Herfkens, that she … there is a series of stories, one part of which was that she is receiving, while employed by the UN in this capacity, $7,000 in housing subsidies from the Dutch Government. I asked UNDP [inaudible] and they said they are looking into if authorization was given for it. So, I guess I want to know: can the Secretary… One, has he, since he has been Secretary-General, authorized any UN person to receive money or rent subsidy from a Government, and is it his position that people should not receive money from national Governments?
Spokesperson: Well, I don’t think this is the issue. You have asked the question to UNDP, why don’t you wait for an answer to your questions?
Question: I just wanted… I guess this arose under the previous Secretary-General and they confirmed that there was one person who was receiving it and that was supposed to be phased out. So it seems like the time to ask: does Ban Ki-moon feel… I know there was a letter by Mr. [Vijay] Nambiar that any gift should be given to the Secretary-General. Is it his position -- forget Ms. Herfkens for a moment -- that no UN official should receive money from a Government, either for housing or for any other purpose?
Question: That is a position. And he would not authorize anyone to get it?
Question: Yesterday, the new Government of Kosovo was approved by the Parliament, and its Prime Minister announced that independence would be declared within the next few weeks. So I am wondering, when is Mr. Ban Ki-moon going to unveil his position on this?
Spokesperson: Well, I think that for the time being we will stick to what he told you at the press conference the day before yesterday. That is all we have.
Question: I don’t know if this was asked before I came, but the Sudanese Government claims that the calls that were made supposedly taking responsibility for the attack [inaudible] could have been manufactured.
Spokesperson: Which calls?
Correspondent: That Mr. Guéhenno referred to, from the local army commander that took responsibility for the attack. They said that anybody could call, they said.
Spokesperson: Most of your answers you could have obtained yesterday.
Correspondent: I know, but that was told to me afterwards. I mean, on that question, that such a call could have been fake.
Spokesperson: Well, we are not in the business of presumption or assumptions. Right now, the Ambassador stands by what he said and you can have further clarification from DPKO. But Mr. Guéhenno was very clear yesterday in his answers to you.
Question: There was a report in the Sudanese press that the Defence Ministry has now acknowledged that they attacked. Has that been communicated at all in a formal kind of level to the UN?
Spokesperson: No, we have read the reports, but it was not communicated at an official level.
Question: I think the Defence Minister defended the shooting by saying that the Sudanese Government had not been informed that the convoy was going or its route. Does the UN accept… Does it generally inform the Sudanese Government of every movement that it makes? How is this problem going to be solved, if it is their position that they are going to shoot if they don’t know who is going where?
Spokesperson: This is a question to go to the people in charge of UNAMID on the ground. I can get that information for you, but it is definitely a question for the people on the ground.
[The Spokesperson later added that Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno had told the Security Council on 9 January 2008 that the movements of the convoy had been confirmed with the Sudanese Government and rebel movements in advance.]
Question: Any news on the rockets fired on Israel? I mean…
Spokesperson: No, the only thing I can do is what I said yesterday. I can confirm that on Tuesday the Israeli authorities informed the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) that two rockets had been fired from southern Lebanon, and that they hit the northern Israeli town of Shelomi early on the morning of 8 January, causing minor damage to a house, no injuries. The firing of the rockets was not observed or detected by UNIFIL.
A UNIFIL investigation team, including forensics and explosives experts, inspected the impact site in Shelomi and UNIFIL patrols combed locations for potential launching sites. And the investigation continues. We have nothing more on it. And you heard the sentence yesterday that we gave: “If it is determined that there was firing from within Lebanon, the incident would be a serious violation of resolution 1701 (2006)”.
Question: Not to put too fine a point on it, but if they inspected the sites, does that mean that they acknowledge at least that the Katyushas landed?
Spokesperson: Well, no, actually, right now they are investigating. I don’t have the results of the investigation at this point. All I said is that they have been informed by the Israeli authorities that this has happened.
Question: And upon visiting the site, did they have…?
Spokesperson: We don’t have a conclusion yet. I told you, the investigation is going on, because they are also combing the area to get -- on both sides -- to find out where it was fired from and how it…
Question: But you said there was light damage, right?
Spokesperson: There was light damage, yes. Minor damage to a house.
Question: From what? When?
Spokesperson: I just said that the firing of the rockets was not observed or detected by UNIFIL.
* *** *For information media • not an official record