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 Michčle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon, all.  I know you’re all expecting the stakeout.  I’ll let you know when Mr. Serry and Mr. Holmes will make it to the stakeout.


**Security Council


The Security Council this morning held an open meeting on the Middle East.  It is now holding closed consultations on the same topic.  Briefing Council members this morning, the UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, said the Annapolis process needs to continue and needs support.  But it can only be sustained by real changes on the ground, he added.


On the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Mr. Serry said the imposing presence of the barrier, expanding settlements, unremoved outposts, the system of closures and constant military incursions have grave implications for the human rights, economic life and social fabric of the entire population.  He added that, in Gaza, the deprivations of basic human dignity are even more acute and the sense of abandonment and frustration is palpable.  Mr. Serry said the security situation for both Israelis and Palestinians remains deeply concerning.  He said he was particularly alarmed at the number of incidents on both sides where children are being killed or injured.


Also briefing the Security Council this morning was Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes, who recently undertook a mission to the region.  Mr. Holmes said he found conditions for the people of Gaza “grim and miserable and far from ‘normal’”.  He also highlighted his visit to the Israeli town of Sderot, which has been targeted by more than 4,300 rockets since 2004.  Mr. Holmes said the rockets are aimed at hurting civilians and clearly constitute terrorism.  Hamas must act to stop the rockets immediately, he added.  At the same time, however, Mr. Holmes stressed that, whatever the provocation and illegality of the rockets, the effective Israeli isolation of Gaza is not justified, given Israel’s continuing obligations to the people of Gaza.  It amounts to collective punishment, he said, and is contrary to international humanitarian law.  We have the full remarks by Mr. Serry and Mr. Holmes upstairs.  And both officials will head to the stakeout after consultations to take your questions and I’m sure we’ll be informed here and we’ll let you know.


** Sudan


On the Sudan, the Special Representative for the joint African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur, Rodolphe Adada, today visited the town of Silea in western Darfur to assess the situation on the ground following recent attacks in the area.  He met with the affected community and explored ways to hasten delivery of assistance to the region.  Silea was one of the areas seriously affected by the recent violence and witnessed displacement of people and destruction of houses and other property.  The UN refugee agency and its partners have opened up a new site in the west Darfur region of Sudan to accommodate up to 6,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs).


Meanwhile, according to UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees], civilians who were affected by the recent air raids in the Northern Corridor area of west Darfur are not currently moving southwards to El Geneina.  They mainly go to other villages or have been hiding in the Jebel Mountains.  Many also appear to be attempting the dangerous journey into Chad in order to seek safety.


**Sudanese Refugees in Chad


According to a UNHCR team at the border, more people have crossed into Chad over the past weekend following renewed attacks on Jebel Moun.  The latest arrivals are mainly women, children and elderly people, and they are extremely traumatized.  Furthermore, refugees are suffering from exposure to the harsh weather, living in the open, with cold winds affecting especially children and the elderly.  Two refugee women and two children died last night because of the cold temperatures.  The vast majority of the new refugees in Chad had already been displaced previously in west Darfur since 2003 and are traumatized by the recent attacks.  All of them fear going back to Darfur and have asked to be moved further inland into Chad as they do not feel safe near the border.


**Chadian Refugees in Cameroon


Meanwhile, some 5,500 Chadian refugees were relocated to a newly equipped camp in the village of Maltam in north-eastern Cameroon, UN humanitarian workers in that region said.  There are some 30,000 Chadian refugees in northern Cameroon.  These are civilians who fled the late January to early February fighting in N’Djamena.


**Eritrea/Ethiopia


On Eritrea, the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea said that the Eritrean soldiers have blocked the passage of eight UN peacekeeping vehicles in the past 24 hours.  This occurred at a checkpoint near Senafe inside the Temporary Security Zone.  The Mission says the eight vehicles were en route to a UN camp to collect equipment for the ongoing gathering of UN personnel and equipment in Asmara ahead of a planned temporary relocation outside of Eritrea.  Meanwhile, other movements by peacekeepers and vehicles have proceeded without incident.


**Japan/Republic of Korea


The Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe, left Seoul today en route to Moscow after attending the inauguration yesterday of President Lee Myung-bak of the Republic of Korea, along with the Deputy Chef de Cabinet and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General, Kim Won-soo.  The delegation reports it had a very warm meeting with the new President, who expressed strong interest and determination to expand, as part of his country’s global diplomacy, its role in the United Nations, including on climate change, increased participation in peacekeeping operations and official development assistance.


The delegation was in Tokyo before visiting Seoul, and had very useful discussions there with Japan’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Masahiko Koumura, and other senior officials on the areas where Japan and the United Nations could further strengthen their interaction, including UN reform and international peace.  Mr. Pascoe expressed the Secretary-General’s strong appreciation for Japan’s contributions to the Organization and assured that the UN would work for the success of the coming G8 [Group of Eight] Summit in Hokkaido, as well as the Fourth Tokyo International Conference on African Development.


** Sierra Leone


On Sierra Leone, UN human rights officers are working with Sierra Leone’s National Human Rights Commission and the NGO [non-governmental organization] Prison Watch to improve monitoring of prison conditions in that country.  The initiative will kick off tomorrow with a three-day training session in Freetown for prison monitors from across Sierra Leone.  Given the country’s recent past and ongoing prosecution of crimes committed during the civil war, the UN Integrated Office in Sierra Leone continues to emphasize that protection of prisoners’ rights is a key condition for a lasting peace.  And tomorrow’s training exercise is expected to enhance human rights protection for detainees.  The UN team says it has put together a handbook on national and international prison standards that it intends to distribute among local detention officers.  We have more in a press release upstairs.


** Liberia


On Liberia, UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman, on her first visit to Liberia, has announced the allocation of nearly $20 million to help rebuild the country’s primary education system.  A new public/private partnership, based on donations from the Dutch Government and the Open Society Institute, will train teachers and rebuild schools that were destroyed during the country’s 15-year civil war.  Currently, only one third of primary school children in Liberia reach fifth grade; it is one of the few countries where the younger generation is less literate than the one before it.


**Tuberculosis


Multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis has been recorded at the highest rates ever, according to a new World Health Organization (WHO) report.  The highest rate was recorded in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, where nearly a quarter of all new tuberculosis cases were reported as multi-drug-resistant.  Surveys in China suggest that the sickness is also widespread in that country, according to WHO.  We have more on this upstairs.


**Central American


The World Food Programme (WFP) is warning of a looming nutritional crisis in Central America, as a result of skyrocketing food costs.  Wheat and corn prices have nearly doubled in the past year, and bad weather has pushed the price of beans to unprecedented levels.  The estimated calorie intake of an average meal in rural El Salvador is today roughly 60 per cent of what it was in May 2006.


In response to the growing crisis, WFP has increased local purchases and is urgently asking international donors for more contributions in order to make up for its sharp decline in purchasing power.  WFP has also set up an internal task force at its Rome headquarters and is reviewing ways to target its assistance with maximum precision.  There is more information upstairs.


**FAO


On a positive note, world fertilizer production is expected to outpace demand over the next five years, thereby supporting greater production of both food and biofuels.  That’s according to a new report from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).


In other news, FAO is also welcoming the opening of the Global Seed Vault in Norway.  The vault will store duplicates of the world’s most important crops inside a frozen mountain in the Norwegian Arctic.  We have more information upstairs.


**Greece/FYROM


In response to your questions yesterday, the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Greece and The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Matthew Nimetz, will be having continued discussions with the representatives of those two countries here in New York this Friday, 29 February.  That’s what you asked yesterday.


**Press Conferences


At 4:15 today, in this room, the Foreign Minister of Chad, Ahmad Allam-Mi, will be here to speak to the press.


And tomorrow, at 11 a.m., the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iceland will discuss “Investing in Women:  Iceland's Human Development Success”.  And our guest tomorrow will be Kaarina Immonen, UN Resident Coordinator in Moldova, who will speak about the UN’s recovery response to a disastrous drought in Moldova.


This is all I have for you.  Thank you.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Do we have any information on Kofi Annan suspending talks in Kenya?


Spokesperson:  The former Secretary-General has been in touch with the Secretary-General today and has informed him of the impasse.  I know they are still trying other ways to break that impasse and we’ll let you know as soon as we have more on this.


Question:  Another question is on the rising food prices.  The World Food Programme said yesterday that they will cut the number of food rations and possibly the number of people reached if they do not receive more money from donors.  What are the Secretary-General’s thoughts on that?


Spokesperson:  We already spoke about that yesterday.


Question:  This was a new development.


Spokesperson:  No, actually, they have not announced they would cut.  What they have said is that they would have to cut if they don’t get the support they have asked for.


Question:  I know you cannot answer hypothetical questions, but, you know, if the Secretary-General will comment on the issue?


Spokesperson:  No, he will not at this point.


Question:  My other question is similar to a question I asked last week.  It was on the situation, obviously, in the occupied Palestinian territories.  A senior PLO representative had said that they will unilaterally declare a State if talks with Israel fail.  And I know you said you’re not going to answer hypothetical questions, but what are the Secretary-General’s thoughts on the parallels that are being drawn between the Kosovars and Palestinians? 


Spokesperson:  That is a hypothetical question.  The Secretary-General will not answer that one, but you might want to ask -- I’ve been informed that the UN’s Coordinator for the Middle East Process, Robert Serry, and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes, will soon be heading to the Security Council stakeout.  I know many of you are interested.  They should be there in around 5 to 10 minutes, so I’ll just take maybe one more question and then we’ll stop here.  Yes?


Question:  Do you have any information on what is being done to address the spread of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis?


Spokesperson:  We can get that information for you from WHO, but, if you go on their site, I’m sure you can get the information you need.


Question:  There’s a story of Liberia by contractors of UNMIL (United Nations Mission in Liberia) stating that they’re being unfairly terminated and saying it’s an unfair labour practice and discriminatory.  Does the UN have a response to that?


Spokesperson:  We have some information upstairs on that.  I just received that this morning so I can communicate that to you.


[The correspondent was later informed that UNMIL categorically rejects any suggestions that the Mission is engaging in or condoning unfair employment or discriminatory practices.]


Question:  I also wanted to ask.  There’s a report in the Dutch press that the UNDP head of the Millennium Campaign for the UN, Evelyn Hirschkins, there’s a dispute about whether she should pay back the housing subsidy she received in contravention of UN rules.  One, does the UN have a position on whether she should pay it back?  And also, the Dutch housing reports say there are at least two other individuals in international positions that were receiving this and they’re looking into it.  Can you say whether there are other Dutch UN officials that were receiving housing subsidy?


Spokesperson:  I don’t have any information on that.


Question:  Given that the Dutch Government said that she asked for it and they paid it automatically, isn’t the UN concerned that there was a Government paying housing subsidy to its nationals?


Spokesperson:  I will have to look into this.  Thank you very much.


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For information media • not an official record