25 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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon.


**Secretary-General’s Statement on Lebanon


I’ll start with a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Lebanon:


The Secretary-General strongly condemns the terrorist attack today in Lebanon that killed an officer of the Internal Security Forces and reportedly five others and injured 20.  He extends his sincere condolences to the families of those killed and the Government of Lebanon.


This latest act of terror should not be allowed to undermine the security, stability and sovereignty of Lebanon.  The Secretary-General reiterates his call on the people of Lebanon to continue exercising restraint and for those behind this and previous attacks to be brought to justice.


We have copies of that upstairs.


**Secretary-General in Davos


The Secretary-General, himself, today addressed the press in Davos, Switzerland, pressing his call for 2008 to be the year of the “bottom billion”, the people he described as “the forgotten ones, the nearly 1 billion left behind by global growth”.


He said that he is launching a new initiative this September, when the United Nations will host a high-level meeting on the Millennium Development Goals, with a special focus on Africa.  He said, “We will bring together world leaders and, together, demand action.”


We have his remarks available upstairs.


And before leaving Davos, the Secretary-General conducted several bilateral meetings with the leaders attending the World Economic Forum, including British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen.


This evening, he travels to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, where he will meet with the Prime Minister, Janez Jansa, and the two of them are to hold a joint press conference afterwards.  This is his first visit as Secretary-General to Slovenia, which currently holds the Presidency of the European Union.


Humanitarian Relief Initiatives Launched in Davos


Also from Davos, several of the companies at the World Economic Forum and the UN launched two initiatives to promote greater support from the private sector for humanitarian relief operations.


One initiative is a set of guiding principles for coordinating such efforts.  The other is a joint collaboration involving leading transport companies, who will help with emergency response logistics in the wake of major natural disasters.  There is more information on this upstairs.


**Security Council


Here at UN Headquarters, the Security Council is currently holding consultations on the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE), and received a briefing on the Mission by Azouz Ennifar, the acting head of that Mission.  Mr. Ennifar discussed recent developments and presented the Secretary-General’s latest report on UNMEE, which went to Council members yesterday, and he intends to speak to you at the stakeout after consultations end.  Actually, the report came out yesterday.


In that report, the Secretary-General says that UN Peacekeepers in Eritrea are facing serious difficulties in sustaining their operations and reliable communications because they have not received any fuel from suppliers in Eritrea since 1 December 2007.  The latest imposed fuel shortage has forced UN peacekeepers to cut back on key operational activities, including patrols, demining and administrative support to regional locations and team sites.


In light of this and some 45 other restrictions on UN peacekeepers, the Secretary-General recommends a one-month technical rollover of the mandate of the Mission.  The Secretary-General says he will review developments on the ground and the challenges facing the Mission, and prepare specific recommendations on the future direction of the Mission, including possible withdrawal or relocation.


He adds that the situation between Eritrea and Ethiopia remains very tense as the parties continue to move troops along their shared border.


And this afternoon, the Council will hold consultations -- this is at 3 p.m. -- to continue their discussion of a draft presidential statement on Gaza.  And Mr. Ennifar had agreed to come to the stakeout to brief you on the latest situation in UNMEE following consultations, so we’ll let you know when that happens.


** Gaza Humanitarian Update


Now turning to Gaza, about which I just said the Council will be resuming their consultations at 3, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that all three crossings for goods from Israel into Gaza were closed today.  As a result, the World Food Programme (WFP) will be unable to give a full ration of food to 10,000 of its poorest beneficiaries on Sunday.


Three hundred thousand litres of industrial fuel did make it into Gaza today.  But due to limited reserves, the Gaza power plant has reduced its power output, causing power cuts of eight hours a day.  Fuel reserves are expected to run out on Sunday, according to OCHA.


OCHA also reports that about half of Gazan households have access to running water for only one or two hours a day.  In addition, Gaza’s waste water system is currently only partially functioning, leading to the daily dumping of 30 million litres of untreated sewage into the sea.


** Kenya Humanitarian Update


Turning to Kenya, children, teenagers and women have borne the worst of the violence in Kenya, UNICEF says today.  And while they have been reluctant to talk about sexual attacks, the reality of their being abused in the midst of the political crisis is all too evident.


UNICEF says that preliminary reports suggest that girls and women in camps for the internally displaced are trading sex for food, protection or transportation.  Women, young and old, are raped while trying to use public toilets at night.  Some boys have also been sexually assaulted, the agency says, adding victims most often do not report these attacks for fear of reprisals.


To date, UNICEF has allocated $1.2 million dollars in emergency supplies.  The agency also says that, while the Kenyan Government has been trying to close down camps for displaced people in Nairobi, many among the displaced have expressed fear about returning home.


The World Food Programme, meanwhile, continues its emergency food distribution in IDP camps, now reaching some 168,000 people in the Rift Valley and western Kenya. Meanwhile, the number of registered Kenyan refugees in Uganda is still above 6,000.  Registration for new arrivals has been suspended while those already registered are being transferred to camps deeper inside Uganda.


** Myanmar Political Update


Turning to the activities of the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser dealing with Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari arrived today in Brussels for consultations with European Union counterparts, including EU High Representative Javier Solana, the Office of the Commissioner for External Relations, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, and the EU Presidency.


From Brussels, Mr. Gambari is expected to travel to New Delhi, where he will meet with Indian officials from 29 to 31 January.  He also intends to visit Beijing during the month of February.


Mr. Gambari’s meetings are a continuation of his high-level consultations with key interested Member States in the implementation of the Secretary-General’s good offices mandate in Myanmar.


**Secretary-General’s Report on Georgia


Also out on the racks today is the Secretary-General’s latest report on the situation in Abkhazia, Georgia.  In it, he says that there have been no recent incidents between the Georgian and Abkhaz sides.  Nevertheless, allegations concerning the deployment of forces on both sides of the ceasefire line generated tensions during the reporting period.


In that regard, the Secretary-General said that the disconnect between the realities on the ground, on the one hand, and media reports or official statements, on the other, is a matter of concern.  For its part, the UN Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG), despite its limited resources, has made strenuous efforts to verify as many reports as possible concerning events in its area of responsibility.  The Secretary-General said the Mission’s findings should be fully taken into account by the sides.


**IAEA Experts Complete Visit to South Africa


And on South Africa, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) experts have completed a visit to the Pelindaba nuclear facility in South Africa, following an invitation from South African authorities to exchange views on the lessons learned after armed men broke into the complex on 8 November 2007.


The team reported that there was no evidence that sensitive nuclear areas were under any threat at any time during the incident.  And it recommended specific proposals for security training and equipment to the South African authorities.  And you can read more about that upstairs.


**World Food Programme (WFP)/ Bangladesh


And on Bangladesh, the World Food Programme is warning that, for many families in areas affected by last year’s Cyclone Sidr, access to food remains an urgent priority.  A new WFP assessment finds that prices for locally grown wheat and rice have risen since the storm destroyed crops and food stocks.  More than one fifth of the population is suffering from malnutrition, according to WFP.


The agency is calling for a continued and strong relief response.  It urgently needs more than $20 million to continue delivering assistance to the poorest and most vulnerable through mid-May, when the next harvest comes on the market.


UNIFEM


There’s more information on that, as well as a press release from the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) on its Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women.  As part of the “Say No to Violence against Women” campaign, the [UN] Foundation will donate $1 for each of the first 100,000 signatures to its online campaign.  People can sign up at www.saynotoviolence.org.


We also have more information upstairs on that.


**Week Ahead at United Nations


As you know, we have “The Week Ahead” for you for your planning purposes next week.


This Sunday will mark the third International Day [of Commemoration] in memory of the victims of the Holocaust, which was unanimously proclaimed in 2005 by the General Assembly.


In a message that we have upstairs, the Secretary-General says he stands in solidarity with Holocaust survivors and victims’ families around the world.  He adds that, to those who claim that the Holocaust never happened, or has been exaggerated, we respond by reiterating our determination to honour the memory of every innocent person murdered at the hands of the Nazis and their accomplices.


A number of events will be taking place next week at Headquarters to remember the Holocaust.  For example, on Monday at 11 a.m. in this room, a Holocaust Remembrance Stamp will be launched.  And on Monday evening, there will be a Memorial Ceremony and Concert in the General Assembly Hall.


We have more details on these events upstairs, plus a list of the events and we have a message from the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour.


Also to flag for you two other things from “The Week Ahead”:  one is at 11 a.m.  Here in Room 226 on Thursday 31 January, George Clooney, the UN Messenger of Peace, will be introduced by Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, Kiyo Akasaka; and Friday, 1 February, will be the first day of Panama’s Security Council presidency.  And of course he will brief you on the month’s programme following the first consultations under his presidency.


That’s what I have for you.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Do you have an update on the UN mediation efforts with Algerian officials?


Deputy Spokesperson:  No. Not beyond what we’ve already told you.


Correspondent:  Alright.  I just thought…


Deputy Spokesperson:  You’re waiting for an announcement, I’m sure, but I don’t have anything to give you now.


Question:  Okay.  My other question is on…  I believe the National Staff Council sent a letter to the Secretary-General on the Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).  They were saying that there were complaints and allegations against senior officials in that Mission…


Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes.  We were asked about that the other day and we have a response.  There is a press release on it upstairs, so I will refer you to that.


Question:  Well, do you know what these allegations and complaints…?


Deputy Spokesperson:  It’s all contained…  I don’t think I brought the press release with me downstairs, but it’s…  If you don’t mind, if you could just pick it up when we get upstairs, because I don’t have it with me.


Question:  Do you know what these allegations and complaints consist of?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything beyond what the Mission is telling us.


Correspondent:  Okay. Thank you.


Question:  The US Senate yesterday heard that North Korea used United Nations-linked bank accounts to secretly transfer funds in connection with alleged weapons sales.  Do you have any comment on this Senate hearing yesterday?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I think we commented on it yesterday.  As you know, the Secretary-General has appointed the head of an investigation into this, and that investigation should be complete by March.  We won’t have anything to say about that until the panel gets to the bottom of that.


Question:  Well, I have a question, but just to clarify:  that panel was appointed by Kemal Derviş, [Administrator] of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) wasn’t it, not the Secretary-General?


Deputy Spokesperson:  It’s an independent investigation.


Question:  Right, but who appointed them?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I think that the Secretary-General appointed them, yes.


Correspondent:  I think it’s Kemal Derviş.  I think that UNDP appointed the panel.  Anyway…


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the move is strongly backed by the Secretary-General.  It’s an independent investigation.  The story is the same:  we’re waiting until the results are back to comment on that case.


Question:  Okay. Today, Amnesty International said that the Government of Myanmar has arrested up to 96 or 100 political activists since the Government of Myanmar committed to the UN that they would stop doing this in November.  Does the UN, one, dispute those numbers?  Does it have any response to those numbers?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I‘m not sure right now we’re in a position to confirm those statistics.  As you know, the Human Rights Rapporteur did get in for the first time.  He did do some reporting when he came out.  But as of now, I don’t think there is any way we can independently verify those statistics.  However, as I just mentioned to you, Ibrahim Gambari is still very much on the case of Myanmar, under the Secretary-General’s good offices, and he will continue to work towards a resolution to the situation there.


Correspondent:  Okay, Just one…


Deputy Spokesperson:  Can we try somebody else?  Yes, Rhonda?


Question:  Thank you, Marie.  You said that the World Food Programme would be unable to give food to 10,000 people in Gaza.  Is the Secretary-General doing anything to try to change the situation so that problem doesn’t happen on Sunday?


Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General, as you know, has not only been issuing statements, but talking daily to the parties concerned.  As you know, in his current travels, not only has he made phone calls to Mr. [Ehud] Olmert, but he has been speaking to the Israeli leaders he has been meeting in Davos.  And so I think he is doing whatever he can, as are our humanitarian colleagues on the ground who obviously are doing whatever they can to get whatever they can to the people who are in need.  If there are no other questions for me?  Matthew?


Question:  One thing.  I guess I’ll just ask this:  this thing on the lawn … they’re building a whole thing there.  I guess it’s for Gucci and Madonna, doing an event there.  What arrangement, if any, is there between the Gucci and the UN for the use of that space?


Deputy Spokesperson:  It’s a UNICEF project, so I think it would be best if we probably refer you to them.


Question:  Well, it is the Secretariat, it’s the North Lawn.  Gucci has put out a press release saying that it’s to promote the opening of their store on 5th Avenue, et cetera.  So, I’m just wondering if…?


Deputy Spokesperson:  UNICEF has provided me guidance on this.  If I don’t have it, I may have to…


Question:  It’s the use of the lawn.  Who decides who uses the lawn?  That’s what I wanted to know about.


Deputy Spokesperson:  It is A Night to Benefit Raising Malawi and UNICEF. It’s an event that is taking place on 6 February.  The event is being underwritten and hosted by Gucci, as part of, as you mentioned, the opening of its flagship store.  UNICEF has a longstanding partnership with Gucci.


It’s the UN’s lawn and that’s where the temporary structure is eventually going to go up.  It is being used for this purpose by UNICEF.


Question:  Is the UN charging or not charging?  Who?  That’s the question.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Let’s look into that for you, okay?


[The Deputy Spokesperson later told the correspondent:  The United Nations decides who may use the lawn or other facilities.  The sponsor is asked to pay the United Nations upfront prior to the event for all costs incurred (security, plant and engineering, custodial, event coordination, lawn repair, etc.).


In this instance there is a Memorandum of Understanding between Gucci and the United Nations.]


Question:  Is it possible, Marie, to get a reaction from the SG on the new efforts by the US and the Europeans to pass a new resolution imposing sanctions against Iran?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Sorry.  What was your question?


Correspondent:  The new resolution…


Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, I heard the subject but what…?


Question:  What’s the Secretary-General’s reaction to these efforts?  Does he support the new sanctions resolution against Iran?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I think he is closely watching what the Security Council is doing on this, and I think his position on this has not changed.


If there are no other questions, have a good afternoon and good weekend.  And Mr. Ennifar will be at the Security Council stakeout, so please be on the lookout for that.  Thank you very much.


* *** *


For information media • not an official record