20 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, all.


**Security Council


The Security Council, in an open meeting today, heard a briefing on Somalia from the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah.  Mr. Ould-Abdallah congratulated the Somalis on the announcement by the Transitional Federal Government last week of a reconciliation strategy that involves local peacemaking inside the country and talks with the external opposition.  He added that, for UN work to be truly credible, it needs to deploy many more international staff in Somalia, and he called for more engagement by the international community.


Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Edmond Mulet also briefed the Council, discussing the work of a fact-finding mission that went to Somalia in January.  He said that the security situation in many parts of Somalia, and particularly Mogadishu, remains complex, volatile and unpredictable.  And he discussed four possible scenarios that could lead to the possibility of deploying a UN peacekeeping operation there.


The Security Council began the day by adopting resolutions that provide new mandates for the UN Mission in Afghanistan and the Executive Directorate of the Counter-Terrorism Committee.  The Council extended the mandate of the UN Mission in Afghanistan by one year, until 23 March 2009, and also decided that the Mission, among other things, would lead international civilian efforts to provide political outreach, support reconciliation programmes and strengthen cooperation with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) at all levels.


The Council also decided that the Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate will continue to operate as a special political mission until the end of 2010.


Following consultations taking place now on Somalia, the Security Council will also hold consultations to receive a briefing from Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Haile Menkerios on the situation in northern Uganda.


** Sudan


On Sudan, according to a report issued today by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in cooperation with the United Nations–African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), attacks in January and February by militias and the Sudanese Armed Forces on four villages in West Darfur amount to violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.  The report adds that the scale of destruction of civilian property, including objects necessary for civilians’ survival, suggests that the damage was a deliberate and integral part of a military strategy.  The report also describes extensive looting during and after the attacks, and catalogues consistent and credible accounts of rape committed by armed uniformed men during and after the attack in the village of Sirba.  UNAMID human rights officers say they were unable to carry out their investigations in the Jebel Moon area as the Sudanese Government initially denied the UN access to that region.  That was in breach of its obligation under the Status of Forces Agreement to allow UNAMID officials freedom of movement, according to the report.


The report adds that, as a result of the attacks, at least 115 people were killed, including the elderly and disabled, women and children.  And more than 30,000 individuals were forcibly displaced.  In addition, civilian homes, NGO clinics and offices, community centres, water structures, schools, food storage facilities, milling machines and shops were systematically looted, vandalized and in many cases burned to the ground, sometimes with their occupants still inside.  We have more on that upstairs.  And you’ll recall that, in early February, when the latest of these attacks took place, the Secretary-General condemned them in the strongest possible terms and stressed that all parties must adhere to international humanitarian law.


The Deputy UN-African Union Joint Special Representative for Darfur, Henry Anyidoho, has travelled to Silea, in West Darfur, to assess personally the security situation on the ground following recent violence there.  Anyidoho stressed that the UN-AU joint Operation, UNAMID, would soon have a permanent presence in Silea to provide a secure environment and to allow uninterrupted access to humanitarian assistance.  Currently, UNAMID conducts daily patrols from West Darfur’s capital, El-Geneina, to the conflict-affected areas.  Anyidoho spoke to community elders in Silea, telling them that the protection of civilians is a priority and asserting, “we will not abandon you”.  We have a press release with more details upstairs.


** Guinea-Bissau


On Guinea-Bissau, the Secretary-General’s latest report on Guinea-Bissau and the work of the Peacebuilding Support Office there is available today as a document.  In it, he says that he is encouraged by the momentum generated by the UN’s decision to place Guinea-Bissau on the agenda of the Peacebuilding Commission.  There’s also been progress in the security sector reform process and in the Government’s effort to engage the international community to help it realize economic recovery.  The Secretary-General says that elections planned for this year will be a major benchmark for democratic governance in the country.


** Iraq


Available on the racks today is a letter from the Secretary-General to the President of the Security Council, which recommends that $100 million from the UN Iraq account can be released and transferred to the Development Fund for Iraq.  A note by the Secretary-General provides an update on the Iraq account and the processing of outstanding letters of credit.


**World Water Day


As we mentioned before, Saturday is World Water Day.  In a message to mark the occasion, the Secretary-General focuses on the terrible human toll resulting from the combination of poor sanitation and a lack of safe drinking water.  Every 20 seconds, a child dies as a result of abysmal sanitation conditions that could easily be prevented, he notes.  He calls on the international community, especially Governments, to do more, including through providing financial resources and transferring technology to countries in need.


Also as part of World Water Day, UNICEF and the World Health Organization today released preliminary data on the sanitation situation in Africa, which found that 62 per cent of Africans have no access to improved sanitation.  They’re among an estimated 2.6 billion people worldwide who have no access to a proper toilet.


To raise awareness about precisely that issue, right now across town, at Columbus Circle, people are lining up to set the world’s record for the longest line for a toilet.  The UN Development Programme and UNICEF are organizing this special event.  We have more information on all of these items upstairs.


** Central African Republic


And on a related note, nearly 1 million people in conflict-affected areas of the Central African Republic do not have access to clean water.  In parts of the country’s north-east, only one per cent of the population has potable water.  In response, UNICEF is leading a “water alliance” of experts from 14 aid organizations.  They will coordinate the repair and drilling of wells and boreholes, as well as the provision of water pumps.  The initiative is one of 10 projects designed by UN agencies and non-governmental organizations to improve access to clean water and sanitary facilities across northern Central African Republic this year.  Only three projects have received funding to date, however.  Any further delays could put them in jeopardy, because they must be carried out during the dry season, which usually ends in April.  We have more information on that upstairs.


** Zambia


As part of its emergency response to assist flood-affected schools in Zambia, UNICEF has sent in 58 “schools-in-a-box” kits containing everything needed, supplies and materials, for teachers and students whose families have been forced to flee their homes due to severe floods, to resume school.  Each “schools-in-a-box” contains supplies and learning materials for 100 children from grades one to nine, which includes all essential learning materials and equipment, as well as supplies for a classroom including paper, pencils, chalkboards, and clocks.  The kits are to be distributed to over 40 community and Government schools in flood damaged areas of Southern, Lusaka and Western Provinces.  This is the case in Zambia, then.


**World Bank on Remittances


The World Bank, in a new report released yesterday, says that India received the largest amount of remittances from migrants last year, some $27 billion.  It was followed, in order, by China, Mexico, the Philippines and France.


The World Bank’s latest fact book on migration and remittances also says that the United States led all countries in receiving migrants in 2005, followed by Russia and Germany.  We have a press release with more information upstairs.


**Francophonie


And before we end, I would like to wish the half billion francophones in the world a bonne journée internationale de la francophonie.  And I won’t translate this, Masood. (Laughter)


Thank you, all.  This is all I have for you.  We’ll have the Week Ahead today, available upstairs, because as you know, we don’t have a press briefing tomorrow.  The UN will be closed, as you know.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  I just wanted to ask a question, some clarification on the $100 million you say will be transferred from the Iraq account.  One, is it being transferred for any specific reasons, to pay off debts for people, or is coming out of the Sanctions Committee account?


Spokesperson:  No, no, it’s part of the regular.  You have all the information upstairs, including all the letters of credit.  Everything is available upstairs.  You have more details there.


Question:  I also want to ask about these accusations of rape by Indian peacekeepers charging many Indian troops.


Spokesperson:  This was asked yesterday and I answered the question yesterday by saying that, as far as I know, the rape charges have been withdrawn and there are no charges on those peacekeepers.  That’s the information I got.


Question:  I just want to follow up on that.  Is there a way to find out whether the charges were dropped because India has committed to either review the charges through the military process or back in India?


Spokesperson:  No, no, the plaintiffs withdrew the charges.


Question:  Fully withdrawn?


Spokesperson:  Yes.


Question:  How many were charged?


Spokesperson:  I don’t know how many were charged initially, because, as you know, the charges have been withdrawn, so I don’t know.


[The Spokesperson later added that the accusation had been directed at three peacekeepers.]


Question:  And when were the charges levelled at them?


Spokesperson:  I can find that out for you from DPKO.


Question:  And how big is the Indian contingent there?


Spokesperson:  I don’t know.  Some of them were on leave in South Africa.  They are MONUC (United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) contingent.


Question:  Does the Secretary-General have any comment on a report in Reuters today and in The New York Times that US President Bush has authorized the sale of weapons to the Government of Kosovo, saying that this will strengthen the security of the United States and promote world peace?  Isn’t that an inflammatory area to send weapons into?


Spokesperson:  I only have the press reports on this.  I read them as you did.  We don’t have confirmation or official notification of this.


Question:  On the same topic, did the Secretary-General receive a letter from the Serbian Foreign Minister on Kosovo?


Spokesperson:  The Serbian Foreign Minister?  Jeremić, you mean?  Yes, we did give you that information yesterday.


Question:  About taking up the matter with the Security Council?


Spokesperson:  We did receive the letter the day before yesterday from the Serbian Foreign Minister, [Vuk] Jeremić.  I think I gave you that information yesterday.  And the Secretary-General has taken note of Serbia’s request to carry out an investigation into the incident and is giving consideration to that matter.  And, as I understand it, a letter was sent to the Security Council.  A different one.


Question:  My other question is, it was reported that the UN Special Representative for Sports and Development will be visiting China as soon as possible.  Can you confirm if that’s true? 


Spokesperson:  I read it in the press also.  We will get his itinerary for you to find out where he’s going and when.


Question:  And do you know why, why he’s going?


Spokesperson:  Because China is holding the Olympics.


Question:  Do you know if he’ll be visiting Tibet?


Spokesperson:  Not that I know of.  If he is, you should find out from his office.  We can give you the necessary contacts upstairs in my office.


Question:  Also on Mr. Lemke, is this new envoy on sports still going to be serving as an elected official in Bremen during his service.  Is he full time or is he still an official of Bremen State in Germany?


Spokesperson:  I can check that for you.  As you know, he’s a $1-a-year person.


Question:  And if he still is an elected member of this Bremen entity?


Spokesperson:  We’ll find out for you.  Or we’ll put you in contact with his press people.


Question:  Okay.  There’s a comment by the Interior Minister of Ukraine, saying that the tragic event in Mitrovica had something to do with the rules of engagement, saying that the rules of engagement were too limited and didn’t allow the peacekeepers to defend themselves.  And he’s been quoted as saying that Ukraine needs to question whether their peacekeepers should go under KFOR rather than the UN because they’re in danger.  I’m wondering.  He claims the rules of engagement were to fire only after the first injury, that’s how he put it.  What are the rules of engagement of the UN peacekeepers serving with UNMIK?  


Spokesperson:  I don’t have that detail for you, but I can tell you that the Deputy Special Representative, Larry Rossin, briefed the Ukrainian Minister yesterday afternoon for over one hour, on the Monday operation, and answered all his questions.  Of course, UNMIK understands the concerns, but it maintains that the operation was well planned and fully coordinated with KFOR.  According to UNMIK, the blame for the death of the Ukrainian police officer lies solely with the rioters.  The rioters used firearms and hand grenades against UN police and those officers were just doing their duty.  That’s what I got from UNMIK.


Question:  Thank you.  There have been some reports that the UN may have played a role in leaking what had been a Serbian proposal to resolve the conflict around the courthouse, i.e. proposing that somehow a de facto partition be agreed to by the UN.  Are you aware of those reports?


Spokesperson:  I’m not aware of those reports, no.


Question:  And the UN would not leak a diplomatic proposal like that?


Spokesperson:  Definitely not.


Question:  I just want to ask if the Secretary-General has any comment on the resumption of hostilities in the Gaza, where today the Israelis killed another civilian?


Spokesperson:  No, we don’t have anything new on Gaza, but, as you know, it is one of the major preoccupations that the Secretary-General has.  He is constantly following up on the situation in Gaza.  We don’t have a comment on the specific incident today.


Question:  We’ve been writing about water and sanitation problems for so long.  Did you notice any good news among all the continuing bad news about it?


Spokesperson:  A number of initiatives are being taken around the world on that, and I think a lot of good projects have taken place in the last year in quite a few countries.  And you can get a lot of information on this upstairs and also with the agencies.


Question:  So you cover the good news upstairs as well as the bad?


Spokesperson:  Yes, there is good news.


Question:  Michèle, do you have anything regarding the delegations of Detlev Mehlis, the former investigator on the UN International Investigation Committee of Lebanon?  His interview on NBC recently made some accusations against the four generals arrested in Lebanon.  Are you going to issue anything in response to what he said?


Spokesperson:  No, we just first have to get exactly what he said, which we don’t have yet, as I mentioned to you today.


Okay, thank you very much.


* *** *


For information media • not an official record