30 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. 


Our guest today will be Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict.  She will brief you on the Secretary-General’s latest report, which we flagged for you yesterday.


**Secretary-General in Addis Ababa


The Secretary-General is in Addis Ababa today, where he will address the African Union summit tomorrow.  This afternoon, he met with some of the leaders gathered for that summit to discuss issues of mutual interest.


He began those meetings with a working luncheon with African Union Commission Chairperson Alpha Oumar Konaré, at which they discussed Darfur and the need to push forward with the dialogue among all parties there; the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between North and South Sudan; the situation between Chad and Sudan; and Kenya.  On Kenya, they agreed that the African Union and the United Nations should support the current efforts by former Secretary-General Kofi Annan of the United Nations.


After that, the Secretary-General met for about an hour and a half with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, and they agreed on the need to accelerate the deployment of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation (UNAMID), and the finalization of the status of forces agreement for that Mission.  The Secretary-General also stressed the need to engage with the parties in Darfur and to move forward on the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.


Later today, the Secretary-General is also scheduled to meet separately with three African Presidents:  John Kufuor of Ghana, Omar Bongo of Gabon and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda.


Tomorrow afternoon in Addis, he intends to hold a press conference there, which will be morning here.


**Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty


And I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty:


The Secretary-General, in his capacity as Depositary of the Comprehensive Ban Treaty, welcomes the ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty by the Government of Colombia on 29 January 2008.  Colombia is one of the 44 States listed in annex 2 of the Treaty, the ratification of which is essential for the entry into force of the Treaty. 


This brings the number of ratifications of the Treaty to 144, including 35 ratifications of the annex 2 States.


**Security Council


Here, at UN Headquarters, the Security Council is currently holding an open debate on the Middle East.  Briefing Council members, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe said that recent events underscore the gap between “the aspirations of the political process and the grim realities of the situation on the ground”.


He added that continued efforts over the past month to progress along the Annapolis track were overshadowed by an intensification of violence in Gaza and southern Israel -– which was combined with periods of total closure of the Gaza Strip and increased humanitarian suffering and violations of human rights.  “The crisis adds new urgency to the proposal of the Palestinian Authority to operate the Gaza crossings,” Pascoe said.  Reiterating the Secretary-General’s strong support for these proposals, he welcomed the recent Arab League and European Council resolutions to that end.


Pascoe also said the UN supports Egypt’s continuing efforts to find a peaceful and orderly solution along its border with Gaza.


While noting that levels of violence have been significantly reduced in the past week in Gaza and southern Israel, Pascoe said the United Nations remains concerned that 77 rockets and mortars were fired in the last week by Palestinian militants, and that there were also four Israeli incursions and air strikes on Gaza.


Referring to today’s decision by Israel's Supreme Court, which declared legal the reductions to Gaza’s fuel and electricity supply, Pascoe reminded the Council of the Secretary-General’s previously stated concern that the 1.4 million residents of Gaza should not be punished for the unacceptable actions of militants and extremists.


Pascoe also expressed continuing UN concern over the presidential vacuum in Lebanon and the recent grave security incidents in that country.  “ Lebanon's leaders must act now to find a way to bridge their positions and return the country to normal political activity.”


We have his full remarks upstairs.


This afternoon at 3, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Dmitry Titov will brief the Security Council in closed consultations about the situation in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.  These consultations may be followed by a formal meeting on the DRC.


Also in consultations, Council members expect to hear a briefing under other matters on Kenya, from Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Mr. Pascoe.  Mr. Pascoe intends to talk to you at the Council stakeout once those consultations have ended.


Later this afternoon, the Security Council also expects to vote on a resolution to extend the mandate of the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE).


** Democratic Republic of the Congo


The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is deploying new mobile bases in eight towns in eastern Congo’s North Kivu province, as part of its effort to support the acts of engagement that were agreed upon recently in Goma.  Those mobile bases will be used to protect the civilian population and to monitor the application of the ceasefire.


The UN Mission, known as MONUC, also reports an exchange of fire on Monday in the Masisi territory in North Kivu between forces loyal to General Laurent Nkunda and elements of the Congolese Patriotic Resistance.  MONUC forces sent patrols to the area to stabilize the situation.


We have more details on these and other operations in the DRC available in today’s press briefing notes from MONUC, which are available in French upstairs.  And this is in answer to Matthew’s question from last week.


**Sudan


Available today is a letter from the Secretary-General to the President of the Security Council on the Sudan Panel of Experts, which helps to monitor sanctions in Darfur.


In it, the Secretary-General says that he has appointed a fifth expert to serve on the Panel until October 2008.  With the addition of the new expert, Patrick Schneider of Germany, the Panel is now at its full strength of five members.


**Nepal


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Nepal, Ian Martin, today condemned in the strongest terms the bomb attack during a political rally promoting the Constituent Assembly election, in Birgunj as well as bombings and threats to other rallies.


Adding that violence and intimidation have no place in a democratic transition, and in particular in Nepal’s Constituent Assembly election process, Martin stressed that political differences must be resolved through peaceful means.  Martin also urged that acts of terror will discredit any cause claimed by the bombers, and expressed hope for those responsible to be identified and brought to justice.


** Bolivia


The World Food Programme (WFP) comments on the recent floods in Bolivia, saying that it is assisting nearly 40,000 people there.  And you can find more information on that.


**World Tourism


Meanwhile, the World Tourism Organization (WTO) has some latest statistics out, and it says that world tourism continued to set records in 2007.


The WTO says international arrivals grew by more than 6 per cent last year, to nearly 900 million people.  Fast growth in emerging markets and developing economies is driving the increase, and demonstrates tourism’s potential for the developing world, WTO says.


It also says that, in 2008, the outlook for tourism looks good, although this could be affected by the volatility in the world economy, global imbalances and high oil prices.


And there is more information on that.


Just two more announcements.  Something that you all have been asking for.


** Ghana


The UN Development Programme (UNDP) has teamed up with the British chocolate maker Cadbury and the Government of Ghana to promote sustainable cocoa farming.


As part of the multi-million dollar initiative, Cadbury will invest in small farming communities, helping farmers to increase yields and produce top-quality beans.  UNDP will help determine how best to spend the money, which will also be used to provide support for businesses and community projects ranging from schools and libraries to wells for clean water.


Cadbury eventually plans to expand the project to India, Indonesia and the Caribbean. 


And there is a press release on that upstairs.


**Holocaust Commemoration


The Department of Public Information will unveil a Holocaust exhibit at 6 this evening on the third floor of the Conference Building.  This Headquarters exhibit will present an overview of the tragedy of the Holocaust in the context of World War II and the founding of the United Nations.  It will also highlight the role of the UN in helping to promote human rights and prevent genocide.


The speakers tonight will include Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, Kiyo Akasaka, Israeli Ambassador Dan Gillerman, and a representative from the Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide.


**George Clooney Visit


And finally, this is tomorrow’s programme for filmmaker, actor and human rights activist George Clooney, who will visit United Nations Headquarters for the first time as a United Nations Messenger of Peace.  His parents will accompany him as well.


In the morning, he will meet with the Deputy Secretary-General, who will present him with the United Nations Messenger of Peace certificate and a dove pin, as is the tradition with all newly-designated Messengers.  Mr. Akasaka, the Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, who is the focal point for the Messengers of Peace and Goodwill Ambassador Programmes in the United Nations system, and Ms. Jane Holl Lute, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General and Officer-in-Charge of the Department of Field Support, will take part in that ceremony.


To lend his support to United Nations peacekeeping efforts, Mr. Clooney will make a statement to a meeting of troop contributors, which will be chaired by Major General Per Arne Five, Acting Military Adviser ( Norway).  During that meeting, Assistant Secretary-General Lute will brief Member States on the start-up operations of UNAMID, the joint African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur; MINURCAT, the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad; as well as MONUC, the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.


Following that meeting, Mr. Clooney will take part in a press conference from 11 to 11:30 a.m. in Room S-226.  He is expected to share his impressions on his visit to Darfur, Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where he accompanied Assistant Secretary-General Lute on her recent technical mission.  The team also travelled to India, the third largest troop-contributing country, which has more than 9,300 uniformed personnel serving in United Nations peacekeeping operations.


You can pick up a copy of that upstairs.  That is his schedule for tomorrow.


That is all I have for you.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Just a quick thing on Clooney, the TCC meeting, will that be open?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t think so.  There may be a photo-op at the beginning, since he is speaking, but let us find out more about that.


[Correspondents were later informed that Mr. Clooney would not attend the troop contributors meeting.]


Question:  What can you tell us about Ban Ki-moon’s upcoming trip to Kenya?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing to report on that.  We have been asked this morning about whether he has plans.  I just would like you to know that the Secretary-General has been very focused on this issue.  He has been in close touch with former Secretary-General Annan.  He has just arrived in Addis a few hours ago and he is consulting with a wide range of leaders on this issue.  If there is anything more to say, I am sure it will come from the Secretary-General in Addis.


Question:  He is going there, right?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I did not say that.  I have nothing to announce on the reports that we have been getting this morning.


Question:  Has he been asked to go?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing beyond what I just said.


Question:  Do you have an update on the humanitarian situation in Gaza?  The food and the fuel…


Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, Mr. Pascoe just briefed extensively on it.  So if you can take a look at his briefing notes.


Question:  At what time will we be briefed on Kenya at the stakeout?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the afternoon consultations are usually scheduled at 3.  I mentioned that they will first be discussing the DRC, so I think you will have to add in the time that would take for that.  Only Council members know how long they need to discuss that subject.


Question:  Also, there are reports in Haiti that the people there are resorting to eating dirt.  I was wondering what the UN was doing to alleviate that situation there.


Deputy Spokesperson:  I have seen the press reports that you are referring to.  Obviously, I don’t have independent confirmation of that.  But what I can tell you is that the World Food Programme annually supports more than 800,000 people in Haiti by providing assistance to primary school children and improving the nutritional and health status of vulnerable people.  WFP is the main actor in school feeding, providing a daily meal to more than 300,000 people in some 700 primary schools.  It also supports anaemic mothers, underweight children under five, people living with HIV/AIDS, and those suffering from tuberculosis.  In addition, WFP provides food for work activities.  We can also try to get you some more information on this after the briefing.  I think we have Gary [Media Accreditation] here, who probably has something to say about tomorrow’s…


Gary Fowlie, Chief, Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit:  Details about some photo opportunities will be on tonight’s Media Alert.  There are a number of restricted photo-ops, but they will be detailed on the Alert.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, thank you for that update.  And we will keep you updated.


Question:  Concerning the Secretary-General’s meeting with President Al-Bashir, just a handful of things.  How long was it?


Deputy Spokesperson:  One hour and a half.  I think I mentioned that.


[The Deputy Spokesperson later added that 15 minutes of the meeting was a one-on-one.]


Question:  Oh, sorry.  Did they release a joint statement afterwards?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Not that I know of, but as I said, the Secretary-General will be having a press conference tomorrow in Addis.  I am sure that subject will come up.


Question:  So we can say so far that all we know is that they have agreed on a need to accelerate UNAMID’s deployments.


Deputy Spokesperson:  And the finalization of the status of forces agreement.  As you know, all this week, Under-Secretary-General Guéhenno has been in Khartoum and Addis.  There have been a number of high-level exchanges on trying to expedite this crucial agreement.


Question:  Did they get any specifics on how they are going to expedite this, what kind of follow-up there will be?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Unfortunately, this was the only thing that I was able to get.  The phone line connections are rather poor with Addis, and if I can get more, I will give it to you.  But I think the story is going to go to the reporters based in Addis, unfortunately, because the press conference is going to take place before we wake up.


Question:  One thing on Addis, what was his plan if he doesn’t go to Nairobi after that?  He would come straight back, right?


Deputy Spokesperson:  His programme as it stands now is from Addis, yes, he will be returning to New York.


Question:  You said the parents of George Clooney will be with him tomorrow.  Are they going to participate in any active way –- asking questions or expressing opinions -– or are they just here for a rather high-level tour?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Why don’t you ask him when he gets here?


Question:  Do I take it from your response to his last question that, if there is a trip to Nairobi, it will be part of the present trip in which he is already engaged?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing to say on the Secretary-General’s reported trip to Nairobi.  All I said was, if there is any news on that, it would be coming from Addis, as the Secretary-General is there and he is focused on this issue with the leaders on the ground.


Question:  I know you have a difficult position, but several sources, a lot of journalists are reporting that he is going.  I know he probably wants to announce it tomorrow at his press conference, but it is kind of weird for everybody to know that he is going.


Deputy Spokesperson:  But Nathan, you didn’t get the announcement from the Secretary-General, and as you know… [talkover] and as you know… Let me… Can I finish?  Can I finish, please?  As you know, for planning purposes we have always informed you in advance when we have been able to confirm a visit someplace, okay?


Question:  This is a situation where the whole of the world’s attention is on one country.  We know he is going.  And, you know, instead of saying we have no plans... It’s... it’s just not...


Deputy Spokesperson:  I cannot confirm, we cannot confirm –- I just spoke to the Secretary-General’s spokesperson in Addis -– we cannot confirm at this point that he has a trip planned as you said.  If there is something to announce, it will be announced.


Question:  There is a report by Amnesty International, criticizing the UN in Kosovo for failing to apply international law and resolve in cases of war crimes prior to this point.  It is a pretty damning report, and UNMIK has been quoted as saying, “It is our policy, we do not comment on the substance of reports issued by NGOs.”  One, I am asking, I guess of the Secretariat, if they have any response to this critique?  And also, is that UN policy, not to comment on reports by NGOs?


Deputy Spokesperson:  First of all, you are talking about a press report that I have not seen.  So we will look into that after the briefing for you.


[The Deputy Spokesperson later told the reporter that the UN Mission in Kosovo has seen the Amnesty International report.  It takes note of the report, as it takes note of all reports issued by non-governmental organizations related to Kosovo.  It has no immediate comment on the report.]


Question:  I wondered if the Secretary-General has or will comment on the inability of the Security Council to make a statement about what is happening in Gaza and about the closure of the crossing points.  Will there be something from him, or has he…?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I think the Secretary-General has pronounced himself very clearly and his top political official has just given a briefing in an open meeting of the Security Council.


Question:  But the particular question has to do with the inability of the Security Council to deal with the issue, even though that is what they are charged with dealing with.  So, that particular aspect, which some of the members of the Security Council are commenting on.  And I wondered if the Secretary-General…


Deputy Spokesperson:  I think this is a matter for Security Council members to comment on, and not for the Secretary-General.


Question:  Just going back to Clooney’s appearance before the meeting of troop-contributing countries.  Since we have such a high-profile, well-known person who is not a delegate of any particular country, appearing before this meeting, perhaps we could request that, in this case, it could be opened up so that we can hear what he has to say.


Deputy Spokesperson:  I think that is precisely why Gary came in here, to tell you that he is working on that now.


Question:  [inaudible] open that meeting.  It is a very important meeting that the press would like to have access to.


Deputy Spokesperson:  I think that is why Gary was in here, to let you know that he is working…


Question:  You know, we understand, but the fact that we actually get to see his briefing to the TCCs.


Deputy Spokesperson:  We will let you know as soon as we have some more information on that.


Okay, now since our guest has been patiently waiting, I think I’ll turn over to Ms. Coomaraswamy, who will report to you on the Secretary-General’s recent report on children and armed conflict.


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For information media • not an official record