18 January 2008
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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon, all.


**Noon Guests Today


Our guests at the noon briefing today are the Department of Peacekeeping Operations’ Gender Adviser, Comfort Lamptey, and the Gender Advisers for the United Nations peacekeeping missions in Liberia (UNMIL), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), and the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT).


** Middle East


We expect a statement concerning Gaza to be issued this afternoon.  You already just heard Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes, who told you that he was deeply concerned by the closure of all of the crossing points between Gaza and Israel used for the delivery of humanitarian assistance.  If this situation endures, he said, the closure will also cause shortages of food, medical and relief items for ongoing humanitarian projects in the Gaza Strip.


Yesterday afternoon, we issued a statement that said that the Secretary-General is deeply concerned at the current escalation of violence in Gaza and southern Israel, as well as in the West Bank.  He is troubled by the heavy bloodshed, particularly the killing and injuring of civilians on both sides and the potential for further casualties unless the situation is de-escalated.


The Secretary-General calls for an immediate cessation of Palestinian sniper and rocket attacks into Israel, and for maximum restraint on the part of the Israel Defense Forces.  He reminds all parties of their obligation to comply with international humanitarian law and not to endanger civilians.


**Security Council


The Security Council this morning held consultations on the work of the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN), on which it received a briefing by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative to that country, Ian Martin.  Council members also discussed a draft resolution on extending the UN Mission’s mandate.  Mr. Martin will be the guest at Monday’s noon briefing to talk to you further about our efforts in Nepal.


Following the discussion yesterday that the Security Council had with the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Ibrahim Gambari, on Myanmar, Council President Giadalla Ettalhi of Libya read out a press statement reiterating the Council’s full support for Gambari’s efforts.


He said that Council members affirmed their support for the objectives set out in the Council’s presidential statement of 11 October 2007 and regretted the slow rate of progress so far towards meeting those objectives.  Council members underscored the importance of further progress, noting that an early visit to Myanmar by Mr. Gambari could help facilitate this.


Speaking to reporters following the Council’s discussions, Gambari said that, while the date of his return is still under discussion, “the earlier a visit occurs, the better”.  He added that the Myanmar authorities need to move toward tangible progress on the Constitution, freedom for all political prisoners, and addressing the root causes of discontent among the population.


** Sudan


On Sudan, the United Nations and African Union (AU) Special Envoys, Jan Eliasson and Salim Ahmed Salim, have met with the Commanders of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) Abdul Wahid faction in North Darfur.  They were accompanied by the UNAMID Force Commander, General Martin Luther Agwai.


In their meeting, which took place yesterday, the Special Envoys informed them of the planned “Arusha type” meeting which aims to help the movements consolidate their positions for negotiations.  They also said that, for the negotiations to be successful there should not be pre-conditions for participations, as these will be counterproductive.


Speaking on behalf of the SLA, the movement’s spokesman Nur Mohammed Abdul Khaman confirmed their readiness to participate in the political process and urged the Special Envoys to meet with their leader, Abdul Wahid.


His movement, he said, welcomed the presence of General Agwai and expressed their willingness to cooperate with UNAMID.  General Agwai promised to meet with them again next week for them to discuss plans for the deployment of troops and other issues pertaining to UNAMID.


The Special Envoys continue their visit to Sudan today, with a visit to Juba where they will meet with the authorities in South Sudan before returning to Khartoum.  They hold a press conference tomorrow.


** Kenya


On Kenya, today is the third day of nationwide protest rallies called by the opposition, with a serious escalation of the violence between police and opposition supporters.  A dozen people are reported to have been killed.  The UN Country Team says that UN humanitarian workers continue to assist the needy in the slums of Nairobi and other towns.  They add that to date some 390 education facilities were burnt, looted, or vandalized across the country.  In response, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has set up a number of tents as temporary schools to allow displaced children to continue their education.


The UN Population Fund (UNFPA), working with Kenyan health officials, is giving out emergency medical equipment and supplies, with particular attention to the needs of women giving birth in internally displaced persons’ camps.  The World Food Programme (WPF), meanwhile, was unable to deliver food in the Northern Rift, Kisumu, Western Kenya and Nairobi slums due to insecurity.  The agency, however, plans to airlift emergency food supplies to parts of Nyanza and western provinces where travel by road is not advised at this time.  Food distribution and other humanitarian assistance have proceeded unhindered in internally displaced persons camps for Kenyans in neighbouring Uganda.


**Democratic Republic of Congo


The Conference on Peace, Security and Development in the Kivu provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) continued yesterday in Goma.  Delegates discussed the possibility of amnesty for dissident General Laurent Nkunda, the integration of his fighters into the brassage process and the need to respond to refugee concerns.  The Conference, originally expected to conclude today, may be extended until 21 January.


The UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC), meanwhile, reports that two days of violent clashes in Bunia between Government troops and the Ituri Patriotic Resistance Front militia has left two soldiers dead, with two others wounded, while seven militiamen were captured.


**Peacebuilding Commission


The Secretary-General is attending a retreat this weekend to mark the completion of the first year of the Peacebuilding Commission and to discuss its future.


The Secretary-General will tell Commission members that the Commission, over the past year, has enjoyed successes in accompanying Sierra Leone through an election process that was at times tense, and in helping to avert a major crisis by bringing together key stakeholders in Burundi.  Now, he will tell them, the Commission has the opportunity to capitalize on the momentum it has gained over the past year as it provides advice to Guinea-Bissau.  We will make available this afternoon his remarks at the Commission retreat.


**Venezuela/Colombia


The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has signed an agreement with a major Venezuelan bank to grant microcredit to Colombian refugees in Venezuela.  Through the bank (Banco del Pueblo Soberano), more than $700,000 in low-interest loans will be disbursed some 10,000 registered refugees and asylum-seekers in three Venezuelan states bordering Colombia.


The funds will be used to help people set up self-employment projects.  Beneficiaries will also receive basic training in business management, accounting and other small business skills.  There is more information in the UNHCR briefing notes upstairs.


**New Messenger of Peace


United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has designated filmmaker, actor and human rights advocate George Clooney of the United States as a United Nations Messenger of Peace with a special focus on United Nations peacekeeping.


Recognized for focusing public attention on crucial international political and social issues, Mr. Clooney joins eight other United Nations Messengers of Peace who advocate on behalf of the Organization.  He will visit United Nations Headquarters on 31 January 2008 to receive his designation, attend a meeting of the countries that contribute to United Nations peacekeeping efforts and brief the press.


Messengers of Peace are individuals who possess widely recognized talents in the fields of art, film, literature, music and sports, and help raise worldwide awareness of the Organization’s ideals and activities.  Through their public appearances, contacts with the international media and humanitarian work, they expand public understanding of how the United Nations helps to improve the lives of billions of people everywhere.


**Week Ahead


Our guest at the noon briefing on Monday will be Ian Martin, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and Head of the UN Political Mission in Nepal (UNMIN).


On Saturday and Sunday in Cairo, Egypt, the Deputy Secretary-General attends a high-level symposium on the Development Cooperation Forum.  On Monday, she attends the third Conference and Cultural Workshops on the “Dialogue among Peoples and Cultures in the Euro-Mediterranean and Gulf Areas”, which is taking place in Alexandria, Egypt.


On Monday, the Security Council is scheduled to adopt a resolution on the UN Mission in Nepal, followed by a debate on the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) and the Multinational Force.


On Monday also, in Ohrid, in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the Secretary-General’s Personal Representative for Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Matthew Nimetz, participates in talks between the two parties on the “name issue” and related themes.


On Tuesday, the Secretary-General begins a trip to Switzerland.  In Geneva, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) launches its State of the World’s Children 2008 report.


On Wednesday, the Secretary-General is scheduled to address the Conference on Disarmament.  He’s also scheduled to take part in a memorial service for the victims of the Algiers bombing (which is being simulcast at Headquarters in Conference Room 4, beginning at 8:45 a.m. New York time), and hold a press conference there in Geneva.


This is all I have for you today.


Yes, Rima.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Yes, Michèle, I have three questions.  Given the closures in Gaza, will the UN issue a peacekeeping force on the border?


Spokesperson:  At this time, this is not what is being considered.  We are not at this point discussing this.  As you know, any peacekeeping force, to be deployed anywhere, should be a decision of the Security Council.


Question:  The other question I have is on the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) letter that was sent to the Secretary-General this week.  There were two letters that were sent, one on 4 January and one this week from Bhutto’s husband.  Will the Secretary-General respond to the first letter?  And has the Secretary-General received the letter this week?


Spokesperson:  Well, I’ve already answered that question, Rima.  About the second letter -- I don’t have it.  I don’t have a second letter.  The answer I gave you yesterday is the same today.  We received the first letter from the party’s office in New York.  We have not received a second letter from the husband of Mrs. Bhutto.


Question:  But do you know if the Secretary-General will be responding…?


Spokesperson:  I don’t know that at this point.


Question:  Will you tell us when that happens?


Spokesperson:  Yes, of course I will, Rima.


[The Spokesperson later added that the second letter, from Asif Ali Zerdari, had been received.]


Question:  The other question that I have is on the UN independent commission in Algeria.  So far this week the Algerian Prime Minister said that he was not consulted on the commission.  The Algerian Interior Minister is looking down on the decision.  And yesterday you said that Algeria has expressed no official protest on the commission.  If the UN cannot investigate the assassination in Pakistan without the approval of the Government, how can this UN probe into the Algiers bombing move forward without the approval of the Algerian Government?


Spokesperson:  I already told you yesterday, and the day before and the day before, what the panel will be doing.  It’s a panel that will be reviewing not only the situation before, during and after the bombing in Algiers, but will be examining issues of wider scale of security for UN personnel.  They will still start with the Algiers bombing, yes.  And they will be cooperating as much as they can, of course, with the host Government.


Question:  You say “of course”, but they are saying that they weren’t consulted.


Spokesperson:  That has nothing to do with it.  They were not consulted on the actual makeup of the panel.  They were not consulted about setting up the panel.


Question:  You’re saying on the commission.


Spokesperson:  Yes, the panel -- same thing.


Question:  Michèle, two civilians were kidnapped today from Lebanese territory.  Did you get anything from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon regarding their release by the Israelis?


Spokesperson:  What I have at this point is that the UN Interim Force was informed by the Israel Defense Forces that they detained one person in the general area of Ghajar village on the Israeli side of the Blue Line.  I don’t know whether you’re referring to the same thing.


Question:  It’s in [inaudible] which is close to Ghajar, but of course north of Ghajar is occupied.  It’s far away from the Blue Line.  As for the previous shepherd kidnapping, did you get anything regarding the investigation, where he was really kidnapped from?


Spokesperson:  UNIFIL, from the information I got earlier, immediately informed the Lebanese Armed Forces and dispatched an investigation team to the area to ascertain all the facts regarding the incident, and UNIFIL remains in close contact with both the Israeli and Lebanese authorities with a view to resolving the situation quickly.  This is what I got from UNIFIL before I came here.


Correspondent:  But this is quite far away from the Blue Line.


Spokesperson:  Well, that’s what they are investigating.


Correspondent:  It is miles away from the Blue Line, and still the Israelis would do such an incursion, kidnap people at home…


Spokesperson:  That’s the objective of the investigation.


Question:  What can UNIFIL do to prevent such things from recurring?


Spokesperson:  They are working on it right now, as I said.


Question:  Last week, during Ms. Ahlenius’ briefing, she referred to a case of the World Meteorological [Organization] (WMO) she’d spoken to the Secretary-General about in order to [inaudible] a whistle-blower, and she said she had asked the Secretary-General to look into the case.  As he’s going to Geneva next week, does he have any plans to speak with the WMO [inaudible] Maria Veiga, who was the whistle-blower who was kicked out of her job for whistle-blowing efforts?  Will he make an effort to look into her case?


Spokesperson:  I don’t know if that will be on his agenda.  Of course, I will get the information for you.


Question:  Michèle, we just heard from Under-Secretary-General [John] Holmes on the crisis in Gaza.  Will we be having an opportunity to speak directly to the Secretary-General on his reaction to this, because there seems to be a disconnect between what the Under-Secretary-General was saying -- that the Secretary-General takes it very seriously -- yet we’re going to get a paper statement on this morning’s activities by the Israeli Government.  Is there any way we can have a direct back and forth with him at some point on this issue?


Spokesperson:  It’s going to be impossible today.  He has a very tight schedule.  But, as I said, there will be a statement by the Secretary-General later on today.  That’s all I have.  Yes, Matthew.


Question:  On this George Clooney announcement you made, the Sudanese Mission here has said that the Department of Field Services (DFS) has been trying to get permission for George Clooney to go with a team of theirs to Sudan, currently.  Is that the case?  Did Sudan oppose it?


Spokesperson:  No, I cannot confirm this.  I don’t know.


Question:  Can you look into it?


Spokesperson:  Well, I can look into it, but what I have on the announcement is what I have.  We don’t have any confirmation yet of the trip.


Question:  Is the top officer of DFS currently heading to, or in, Darfur or in Sudan?


Spokesperson:  I cannot confirm that either.


Question:  Michèle, it has been reported that the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas might be considering resigning his post because of the situation in the West Bank, as well as in Gaza.  Is the Secretary-General concerned about this possible resignation of a moderate leader, which might severely impact the peace process begun at Annapolis?


Spokesperson:  We’re not going to comment, as usual, on hypothetical cases, which is what this is.  Sorry about that, Mr. Abbadi.


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For information media • not an official record