11 March 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.


**Statement on Pakistan


We have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Pakistan.


The Secretary-General was shocked and saddened to learn of the double suicide bombing in the city of Lahore today, which reportedly claimed a large number of innocent lives and injured scores more.  The Secretary-General strongly condemns these indiscriminate acts of terrorism and expresses condolences to the families of the victims.  The Secretary-General is concerned by the increase of terrorist attacks in Pakistan over the past few months, and welcomes the resolve of the Government and people of Pakistan to unite against the scourge of terrorism.


**Secretary-General to Dakar


The Secretary General will attend, tomorrow, Wednesday, in Dakar, a mini-summit on Sudan-Chad to be held on the margin of the eleventh session of the Islamic summit conference.  The meeting, hosted by President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal, will include President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, President Idriss Déby of Chad, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, President Omar Bongo of Gabon, President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania, Chair of the African Union, and Alpha Oumar Konare, Chair of the African Union Commission.  The Secretary General will address the summit of the Islamic Conference on Thursday and will hold bilaterals with some of the Heads of State attending the meeting.  The Secretary General is expected back in New York on Friday.


**Security Council on Darfur


The Security Council heard a briefing this morning on the Secretary-General’s latest report on UNAMID, the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur, by Edmond Mulet, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations.  He focused on the recent violence in West Darfur and provided a detailed overview of UNAMID’s deployment and priorities.  Tensions between Chad and Sudan, and the fighting carried out by proxy rebel forces, had the potential to regionalize the crisis and derail international peace efforts on both sides of the border, he said.  Normalization of relations between the two countries is essential if international efforts to restore stability are to succeed, he said, adding that tomorrow’s summit in Dakar between Presidents Bashir and Deby at the invitation of President Wade is an important opportunity in this regard.


He also noted that the fighting in Darfur makes clear that preparing for political negotiations does not seem to be a priority for either the Government or rebel movements, and reminded members that a peacekeeping operation alone can not bring security to Darfur.  While warning that there is little prospect for beginning substantive negotiations with the parties any time soon, he said the UN and AU Special Envoys, Jan Eliasson and Salim Ahmed Salim, are convening informal consultations with regional and international partners in Geneva on 17 and 18 March to take stock of the situation and hopefully reach an understanding on the way forward.


**Security Council on Kosovo


This afternoon at 3 o’clock, the Security Council will hold a formal meeting to hear from the Foreign Minister of Serbia, Vuk Jeremic, about Kosovo.  Following that meeting, the Council will go into consultations on Kosovo.


**Secretary-General Briefing on Development


The Secretary-General this morning provided an informal briefing to the General Assembly about proposals to reform the UN’s development work, and he stressed to them that if the development machinery of the United Nations is weak, the entire international system is weak.  And yet, he warned, the level of resources available to the Organization to deliver on its development mandates has not increased accordingly.  It has, in fact, decreased.  The Secretary-General said that a report he has prepared, in response to last year’s General Assembly resolution on reforming the UN’s development work, will be formally introduced later this week by the Deputy Secretary-General, to the Fifth Committee.  He cautions against over-stretch in the Secretariat with more mandates accompanied by a decrease in resources, and said that, in addressing the capacity gaps, a modest increase in resource level has been proposed to provide for 150 additional posts, at an estimated cost of $25.5 million.


**Peacekeeping


Jean-Marie Guéhenno, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, yesterday told General Assembly’s Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations that, despite progress in strengthening UN peacekeeping, faltering international interest and lack of sustained support are making it difficult to keep recent gains in key conflict areas.  Also addressing the Special Committee, Jane Holl Lute, the acting head of the Department of Field Support, shared Mr. Guéhenno’s concerns, saying that, given the growing scope and complexity of UN peacekeeping, and the challenges DPKO and DFS face across the board, it is more important than ever that Member States support peacekeeping mandates.  Mr. Guéhenno’s and Ms. Lute’s comments are included in a press release published today, copies of which are available in my Office, at the Document Centre and online.


** Middle East


On the Middle East, in a statement we issued yesterday, the Secretary-General expressed his concern over the Government of Israel's approval of a resumption of construction of 750 housing units in the West Bank settlement of Givat Zeev.  Any settlement expansion is contrary to Israel's obligations under the Road Map and to international law.  The Secretary-General calls on the Government of Israel to halt settlement expansion and reiterates that the fulfilment of Road Map obligations by both parties is an important measure underpinning the political process between them.


** Lebanon


On Lebanon, as we announced yesterday, the Secretary-General has appointed Mr. Robin Vincent of the United Kingdom as the Registrar of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.  He will commence his duties at a date to be determined.  From 2002 to 2005, Vincent served as Registrar of the Special Court for Sierra Leone.  Since then, his work has included serving temporarily as Deputy Registrar of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and advising on the establishment of other international tribunals, including the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.  The appointment of the Registrar reflects the steady progress being accomplished in establishing the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.  A prosecutor, Daniel Bellemare, has already been appointed.  Also, 11 judges have been selected for the Tribunal, and the Secretary-General will announce their names at a later stage.


** Afghanistan Report


On Afghanistan, in his latest report to the General Assembly and Security Council on Afghanistan, the Secretary-General says that the political transition in that country continues to face serious challenges two years after the adoption of the Afghanistan Compact.  The Taliban and related armed groups and the drug economy represent fundamental threats to still-fragile political, economic and social institutions, he says.  The level of insurgent and terrorist activity increased sharply in 2007 from the previous year, with an average of 566 incidents recorded each month compared to 425 incidents per month in 2006.  More than 1,500 of the 8,000 conflict-related fatalities last year were of civilians.  Following last September’s high-level meeting on Afghanistan, the Secretary-General writes that agreement has emerged on the need for the UN Mission in Afghanistan’s coordination capacity to be strengthened.  The full report is available on the racks.


**Ethiopia/Eritrea


On Eritrea, a total of 397 Jordanian peacekeepers are now back in Jordan as part of the temporary relocation of UN peacekeepers from Eritrea.  Also temporarily relocated to their home country are 305 peacekeepers from India.  That’s according to the Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE), which says that more flights out of Asmara are planned for next week for most remaining UN personnel in Eritrea.


** Liberia


On Liberia, the UN today joined the Liberian Government and other partners in launching an analysis of the country’s Critical Humanitarian Gaps for 2008.  It calls for $28 million in urgent funding for projects targeting health care, clean water, sanitation and food security, all of which remain out of reach for the majority of Liberians.  “The delivery of basic services is vital for Liberia’s continued stability and development,” says Jordan Ryan, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Liberia.  We have more information upstairs.


**Former Yugoslavia


On the former Yugoslavia, the trial of three former Croatian Generals began earlier today at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in the Hague.  Ante Gotovina, Ivan Cermak, and Mladen Markac have denied the charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity that have been brought against them by the Office of Prosecutor Serge Brammertz.  The Prosecutor’s office says the three accused persecuted and murdered Croatian Serbs during the 1990s and plundered their property.  The trial of the former Croatian generals is expected to last more than a year.


**Humanitarian Updates


We have several updates from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on relief efforts in the wake of natural disasters.  In Ecuador, the World Food Programme has distributed 135 metric tons of high-energy biscuits and 10,000 food rations in the wake of recent flooding.  The World Health Organization is helping with vaccinations, and other agencies are also on the ground.  In northern and central Mozambique, where a cyclone struck two days ago, the World Food Programme and UNICEF are providing water and sanitation, as well as plastic sheeting materials to replace destroyed roofs.  And in Tajikistan, warmer weather has replaced snow with intense rain and avalanches, while a cold wave continues in the east.  The agriculture sector has sustained widespread damage and OCHA fears more than half a million people could soon face food shortages.  A flash appeal for $25 million remains only about one-quarter funded.


** Asia and Pacific


The UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) today launched an online database, which will help promote the development of telecentres.  According to ESCAP, telecentres in the Asia-Pacific region currently provide many communities with their first chance to go online or learn about computer basics.  Among other things, they help farmers and rural entrepreneurs learn about market trends and business opportunities and how to market their products.  We have more on this upstairs.


** Rwanda Fund


The Secretary-General yesterday handed over a check in the amount of $10,000 to the Permanent Representative of Rwanda, Ambassador Joseph Nsengimana, for the survivors of the 1994 genocide.  The check is from the Secretary-General’s Trust fund for Special Projects.  On a recent trip to Rwanda, the Secretary-General made that pledge of $10,000 to the “Fonds d’Assistance aux rescapés du genocide”, a fund set up by the Government to assist the survivors of the genocide and help in the education of hundreds of orphans.  On 29 January, after touring the genocide memorial in Kigali, the Secretary-General had called for an “end to impunity that can ensure that our cry of ‘never again’ will become an enduring reality, not only for Rwanda, but for our common humanity”.  He reiterated his commitment yesterday to the survivors and to the orphans he met during that trip to Kigali.  “The United Nations”, he said, “will never forget”.


**Women for Peace Event


The United Nations Delegations Women’s Club (UNDWC), an association of women delegates to the United Nations and spouses of Mission representatives, will host a cultural event tonight at the General Assembly Hall in conjunction with its “Women for Peace” project.  The event, celebrating opportunities for peace in the context of International Women’s Day, will be opened with remarks by Mrs. Ban Soon-taek, wife of the Secretary-General, to honour International Women’s Day.


The event will feature a special, multicultural production that reflects the richness of diverse cultures and shows how, through song and dance, differences among people can be overcome.  More information is available upstairs, and this is all I have for you today.  Thank you.


**Late Statement on Burundi


I’m sorry, I just received a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Burundi:


The Secretary-General is very concerned by the simultaneous grenade attacks in Bujumbura on the homes of four Burundian parliamentarians on 8 March.  He calls on the national authorities to continue to give this serious incident the attention it deserves and to bring the perpetrators to justice without delay.  The Secretary-General reminds the Government of its obligations to protect all Burundian citizens.  The Secretary-General urges the Government of Burundi and all political leaders to work together through the national democratic institutions to ease the current tensions.  We will continue to monitor the situation in Burundi very closely.


I’m sorry, this was brought at the last minute so I didn’t include it earlier.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Michèle, I want to ask, in the recent conflict in the Occupied Territories, the reports are that there were about 45 children killed.  Does UNICEF keep any data on this?


Spokesperson:  I don’t think UNICEF keeps specific counts, no.


Question:  Either on the Occupied Territory or on how many children were casualties of this particular conflict?


Spokesperson:  I will ask UNRWA whether they have any numbers.  I’ll check for that.


[The Spokesperson later referred the journalist to OCHA figures at www.ochaopt.org/documents/PoC_tables_Jan_08.pdf.]


Question:  Also, when Israel started to build this wall, there was supposed to be a registry set up to see how many Palestinians are displaced as a consequence of the wall.  Is that registry still working and who is maintaining the records?


Spokesperson:  As far as I know, the UN is maintaining those records, and I’ll try to get more on that for you, but the records are being kept.  The registry is still there and kept updated.


[The Spokesperson later confirmed that the Register is still being kept in a Vienna-based office that is a subsidiary organ of the General Assembly, operating under the administrative authority of the Secretary-General.]


Question:  I’m talking specifically in terms of the new construction, which the Secretary-General has asked Israel to halt.  Is that part of the registry or not?


Spokesperson:  The registry is of people who have been displaced.


Question:  How many due to the construction?


Spokesperson:  I don’t have that information at this point.


Question:  Do you consider the demolition of houses of the Palestinians as terrorist acts?


Spokesperson:  We’re not going to discuss again.  As I said earlier, the United Nations as a body of 192 countries, has not reached a conclusion on the definition…


Question:  I’m talking about the act, not the definition.  Is it a terrorist act to demolish somebody’s home and make him homeless?


Spokesperson:  I can’t go into specifics on this.


Question:  But we’re talking about specific acts.  The Speaker of the Knesset yesterday called for demolition of houses.  She’s a district judge.  She’s a judge and she’s supposed to be a lawmaker.  What do you say about that?  


Spokesperson:  We don’t say anything about what people say in hypothetical situations.


Question:  No, they already demolished the house of the attacker.


Spokesperson:  As far as I could confirm this morning, the house was not destroyed.


Question:  It was destroyed Thursday.


Spokesperson:  I checked this morning.  Before I came here, I checked with our Mission over there.  The house is not destroyed.


Question:  But yesterday, she asked the General Attorney to destroy the house, and it was done this morning.


Spokesperson:  Whatever she has asked is irrelevant.  I’m just telling you the facts that I got from the field.  As far as we know, and this is the last information we got from the field, the house was not destroyed.


[Question asked in French.]


Spokesperson:  As far as I know, the Secretary-General is going there as an observer.


Question:  Please answer in French.


[The Spokesperson replied in French.]


Question:  My question is related to the terrorist attack.  I understand the definition is difficult.  But when we hear some press statements from the Secretary-General, he says that a rocket launch is a terrorist attack.  When UNIFIL soldiers were attacked by bombs, the UN press release said the soldiers were attacked by a terrorist act.  Sometimes these words are indeed used in the UN literature.  Is there any line? 


Spokesperson:  As far as I know, the line is essentially civilian casualties and any attack directed against civilians.


Question:  I have a follow-up on Burundi and then another question.  Before this incident, there was a report that 46 legislators in Burundi had asked the UN for protection.  Is there some way to know what the UN did after that report was received?


Spokesperson:  We’ll find out what the UN has done, but this is all I have at the moment.


Question:  Okay.  The other question was this: the Foreign Minister of Nepal has been quoted as saying Mr. Ban may go to Nepal or has expressed a desire to go to Nepal for the Constituent Assembly on April 10.  Do you have any information on that?


Spokesperson:  As far as I know, the Secretary-General is planning eventually to go to Nepal, but the date has not been set yet.


Question:  Also on Nepal, about the helicopter that went down, there’s a report that the contract that UNMIN had with the helicopter company was for three years, even though UNMIN’s mandate was for one year.  I asked this last week, the identity of the contractor, whether it is this company called Vertical T, and the length of the contract.  And if the contract was longer than the mandate, why that would be?


Spokesperson:  I can ask for you what exactly the length of the contract was.  I don’t have that information.


Question:  All right.  One last thing.  There seems to be a complaint in an ACABQ report that OIOS commissioned a report on its own investigative division, they’re calling it the Grimstadt report.  And ACABQ writes about it and says, “however, the Committee did not have the benefit of access to the review itself, as OIOS declined to provide it.  Is there some reason why OIOS, using UN money to study itself, would not give such a report to ACABQ?


Spokesperson:  We can transmit your question to OIOS.


Question:  Do you confirm reports from Nicosia that Mr. Pascoe is going there on 31 March?


Spokesperson:  I don’t have the exact schedule for Mr. Pascoe’s trips.


[The Spokesperson later added that the United Nations is considering dispatching an assessment mission to Cyprus in the near future in the framework of the Secretary-General’s good offices.]


Question:  Do you have an update on Mr. Gambari’s meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi, the second meeting?


Spokesperson:  I don’t have any additional information.  As I said earlier, the Secretary-General is meeting Mr. Gambari in Dakar on Thursday, so we’ll know more about it then.


Question:  Also, to follow up on that, there were a few calls made by dissident groups for the Secretary-General himself to go to Burma.  Are there any plans?  What’s the thinking on that?


Spokesperson:  As far as I know, the Secretary-General is not yet considering going there, and as you know, the Secretary-General has to speak to Mr. Gambari before he takes any decisions concerning Myanmar.


Question:  Is Gambari expected to brief the Council or the General Assembly or anybody here when he comes back?


Spokesperson:  I assume he will, but I don’t know exactly when he will be back.  I don’t have a date yet.


Question:  With Myanmar, if the junta goes with the elections over the referendum without the participation of Aung San Suu Kyi, would the UN consider that not just and fair?


Spokesperson:  That’s a hypothetical question.  I don’t have an answer.


Question:  They’re saying she can’t join the elections for the referendum.


Spokesperson:  That’s what they’re saying but right now I cannot say any more on Myanmar until the Secretary-General actually is briefed by his own Special Envoy.


Question:  You had mentioned last week that Colombian President Uribe had spoken with the Secretary-General and soon thereafter the problem was resolved and Colombia apologized and the apologies were accepted so that’s normalized.  Can you tell us if the Secretary-General played any part in that happy outcome?


Spokesperson:  I cannot say.  It’s very difficult to assess because as you know, there was a meeting of the Rio Group right after that, so it’s very difficult to know who had an impact on that, whether it was an OAS meeting or the Rio Group.  I cannot really assess that.


Question:  Can you tell us anything about the conversation between the Secretary-General and President Uribe?


Spokesperson:  They simply discussed the situation, the way it was when the phone call was made.


Question:  Did the Secretary-General suggest to Uribe that an apology was in order?  Seriously.  Is that a course of action he would have advocated?


Spokesperson:  No, not that I know of.


Question:  Do you have any comments regarding what’s happening in Kuwait, the arrest of clerics and many members of society?


Spokesperson:  We have heard of that report, and you came to me about this two days ago.  As far as I know, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) is monitoring events, and it has called for everyone to respect the rule of law, as well as freedom of expression and association.  And from what I got from the Office is that “OHCHR hopes that Kuwaiti citizens and institutions will have the capacity to handle the situation in full respect of human rights”.  This is what I got from the Office of the High Commissioner.


Question:  Michèle, given the deteriorating situation in Iraq, has the Secretary-General’s Special Representative over there issued any statement or any observations, sent anything to the Secretary-General?


Spokesperson:  We keep you constantly updated about Mr. de Mistura.  I don’t have anything new today.


Question:  On Georgia, we just had a press conference by the Ambassador of Georgia and, among other things, Georgia seems to be saying that there may not be a place for Russian peacekeepers in the peacekeeping force that’s dealing with Abkhazia.  And also, there’s a factual question about whether the Russian peacekeepers have been digging trenches on the border between the Abkhazia region and Georgia.  I’m wondering if UNOMIG, the UN mission there, is aware of fortifications being built on either side of the line and of any deterioration in the climate between sides.


Spokesperson:  We’ll ask them for you.


[The Spokesperson later added that UNOMIG has sent patrols to most of the reported locations.  In most cases, the reports proved false.  At several Abkhaz posts, UNOMIG observed that "light" works had been carried out to improve fortifications.  There were also increases in manning levels at the Abkhaz posts following the 29 February incident, in which three Abkhaz police officers were wounded by a mine; the levels returned to normal as of 7 March.]


Question:  Okay and finally, there was a Somalia report that was delayed previously and was supposed to be done by yesterday.  Has it been submitted to the Council?


Spokesperson:  No, the Secretary-General is very concerned about the situation in Somalia.  There was this morning a policy committee meeting on that report and they were discussing that report, so it’s not finalized yet.


Question:  You think it will be before this March 20 meeting of the Council on Somalia?


Spokesperson:  I hope so.


[The Spokesperson later added that this is a matter of high priority for the Secretary-General and his focus is on making sure that the report is solid, thorough and complete.  She expected the report to be submitted to the Security Council in coming days.]


Question:  Follow-up on Mr. Pascoe.  There’s a report that he met with the Russian Foreign Minister on discussing a Cyprus settlement, and also that the United Kingdom has been asked to exit its bases on Cyprus.  Any developments on this Cyprus settlement or on these reports?


Spokesperson:  We’ll have to address the question about Mr. Pascoe’s meeting to DPA because I don’t have the information on whom he met and what he discussed.  About the Cyprus issue, every time we have an update I give it to you as soon as I have it.  Thank you very much.


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For information media • not an official record