25 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.


**Guest


My guest today is Jorge Sampaio, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy to Stop Tuberculosis, on the Global Tuberculosis Control 2008.


**Security Council


The Security Council is holding an open debate on the Middle East today.  Briefing the Council this morning, the Secretary-General said he was deeply concerned about the prospect of renewed violence in Gaza and southern Israel, and what this would mean both for the civilian populations in the conflict zone and for the peace process we are all trying to advance.  He added that the peace process is too important to be allowed to lose momentum through inaction and indifference, and to be overwhelmed by violence.  We have the Secretary-General’s remarks upstairs.


Also briefing the Council was Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe.  He said he regretted that, over the past month, continuing efforts to advance the political process were once again overshadowed by violence, high numbers of civilian casualties and a lack of concrete improvements on the ground.  But he added that the very fact that the political process between Israelis and Palestinians is continuing is extremely important.  Pascoe also said the international community and all regional parties should give strong support to efforts to bring about a cessation of violence in and around Gaza and a reopening of crossings in an atmosphere where the security concerns of the Palestinians, Israel and Egypt are addressed.  On Lebanon, he said the country continues to be in the grip of a deep political crisis.  The longer the stalemate continues, the greater the chance for the situation to deteriorate further, both politically and in terms of the security situation.  We also have his remarks upstairs.


**Slavery Commemoration


Today, the first annual commemoration of the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade got under way this morning in the Economic and Social Council Chamber.  There have been performances by musicians, dancers and other artists from across Africa and the Caribbean, as well as a keynote speech from UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Harry Belafonte.  The Secretary-General, in his remarks, called the transatlantic slave trade “one of the greatest atrocities in history”, one which left a terrible legacy that continues to dehumanize and oppress people around the world to this day.


To atone for this crime, he said, we must honour the slave trade’s victims by remembering their struggle and making sure that no person is deprived of liberty, dignity and human rights, including in our time as a result of forced labour and human trafficking.  He added that countries that prospered from the slave trade must also examine the origins of present-day social inequality and work to unravel mistrust between communities.  We have copies of his remarks upstairs.


**Detained and Missing Staff


Today, 25 March, is also the International Day of Solidarity with Detained and Missing Staff Members here at the UN.  And the Secretary-General, in a message marking the occasion, says there are still 40 UN staff members under arrest, detained or missing today.  Most of them are national staff.  The Secretary-General also pays tribute to the victims of the 11 December 2007 bombing of the UN offices in Algiers.  He pledges to make paramount the safety and security of UN staff and to seek cooperation at the highest levels to achieve this goal.  He added that he will also demand that Member States prosecute crimes against the UN.  He urged Member States that have not yet done so to sign up to the Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel.


**Greece/The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia


The Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Greece and The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Matthew Nimetz, will be holding continued discussions with the parties on the “name issue” this afternoon here at UN Headquarters.  He has informed us that he will speak to reporters at the Security Council stakeout at approximately 5:30 this afternoon.


** Liberia


In his latest report on Liberia, now out on the racks, the Secretary-General notes that the overall political situation there remains stable and the economy is growing briskly.  Progress has been made in reforming the security sector, regaining control of natural resources and consolidating Government authority throughout the country, he says.  But more progress is needed on legal and judicial reforms, the reintegration of war-affected populations and the extension of the rule of law throughout the country, he says.  In addition, significant challenges remain to be addressed, including pervasive poverty, food insecurity, corruption, high unemployment, poor infrastructure and inadequate basic services.  The Secretary-General appeals to international donors to support Liberia in these efforts.


**Southern Africa Floods


On Southern Africa, nearly 1 million people in Southern Africa have been affected this year by weather-related events, such as cyclones and heavy flooding.  That’s according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which says  Madagascar, Mozambique and Malawi have been the worst hit.  UN agencies are continuing their relief efforts throughout the region.  A $36 million Madagascar flash appeal launched three weeks ago has been roughly one third funded.  But the $89 million requested through the Southern African Region Preparedness and Response Plan 2008, which was launched in early February, has only been about 15 per cent funded.


**UNHCR


The UN Refugee Agency today urged Ghana to cease forcible removals of Liberian refugees, two days after the Ghanaian authorities deported 16 Liberians, 13 of whom were registered by UNHCR as refugees.  The Refugee Agency regrets the deportation of the group of refugees on Sunday and hopes that its ongoing negotiations with the Ghanaian authorities will help to resolve the situation of several hundred Liberians refugees who are in detention.  We have more details in today’s UNHCR notes upstairs, which also mention the effort to resettle Bhutanese refugees, who had been living in Nepal, to live in the United States.


** Somalia


On Somalia, Somalia is again polio-free, according to an announcement today by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, which is spearheaded in part by UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO).  The Initiative said the use of innovative approaches tailored to conflict areas was pivotal in stopping polio in Somalia.  These included increased community involvement and the effective use of certain vaccines that could immunize children in insecure areas with several doses within a short period of time.  According to WHO, this “truly historic achievement” shows that polio can be eradicated everywhere, even in the most challenging and difficult settings.  We have more on that upstairs.


**Potato Year


With cereal prices soaring worldwide, potatoes require less land to produce more food than maize, wheat or rice.  That could make the potato “the food of the future”, according to some scientists.  Harnessing the potato’s potential for agriculture, the economy and food security, especially in the world’s poorest countries, is the focus of a four-day international conference that opened today in Cusco, Peru.  The event is part of the UN International Year of the Potato.  Some of you have been asking questions about this.  We have more information upstairs in a press release from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).


**Press Conferences


Today, at 1:30 in 226, here, there will be a press conference on the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, with Kiyo Akasaka, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information; Harry Belafonte, Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF; United States Congressman Donald Payne; and Ambassador Christopher Hackett of Barbados.


At 11 o’clock tomorrow, UNAIDS will launch a report entitled Redefining AIDS in Asia – Crafting an Effective Response.  Introducing the report will be Dr. Peter Piot, Executive Director of UNAIDS, and Professor C. Rangarajan, Chief Economic Adviser to the Prime Minister of India.


And at 1:15 tomorrow again, the Economic and Social Survey for Asia and the Pacific 2008 will be launched by the Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development in the Department for Economic and Social Affairs, Jomo Kwame Sundaram.  He will be accompanied by Robert Voss, Director of DESA’s Development Policy and Analysis Division.  Note that this press conference will be embargoed until 1 a.m. New York time on 27 March.


This is all I have for you.  Before I give the floor to our guest today, I’ll take just a few questions.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Michèle, do you have any update on the kidnapped UNICEF workers in northern Darfur?


Spokesperson:  No, I do not at this point.  We have been asking and we should be getting something soon.


Question:  Does the Secretary-General have any comments on the assumption of office today in Islamabad by Pakistan’s new, democratically elected Prime Minister, Yousaf Gilani?


Spokesperson:  I know he’s expected to speak to him today on the phone.  I’ll give you a readout of that phone call when it’s made.


Question:  Later in the afternoon?


Spokesperson:  Yes, today.


Question:  Do you have any announcement on the replacement of Mr. Møller?  And also, on the dates of the trip of Mr. Pascoe in Cyprus?


Spokesperson:  As far as I know, Ms. Elizabeth Spehar will serve as interim Head of the mission in Cyprus, pending the naming of a new SRSG.  As you know, Ms. Spehar is the Director of the Americas and Europe Division in the UN’s Department of Political Affairs.  As for Mr. Pascoe, we don’t have a date yet on his visit to Cyprus, but as soon as we get a date, as I mentioned yesterday, I will be informing you.  So no definite date yet.


Question:  There have been some press reports that members of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) were prohibited to move into Ledras by Turkish army forces to start preparing the reopening.  Do you have any comment on that or information?


Spokesperson:  No, not yet.  We have asked and we have also read the press reports and we’ll try to get more for you later.  At this point we don’t have anything additional.  And we cannot confirm either.


[The Spokesperson later said she could not confirm those press reports.  But she did say that there had been some technical questions that needed to be worked out regarding Nicosia’s Ledra Street crossing.  Those issues had now been resolved and an UNFICYP-supported demining team was set to go in tomorrow to ensure that the area of the future crossing was free of explosives.]


Question:  The Permanent Representative of Nepal said he delivered a letter to Mr. Ban, inviting him to visit the country for the Constituent Assembly.  Has he delivered it and is Mr. Ban, might he go to Nepal?


Spokesperson:  Actually, the letter was delivered, it was received by the Secretary-General and we are looking into it.  No decision has been taken yet.


Question:  The G-77 letter I asked you about yesterday, I kept asking this morning and I’ve been told they very much feel it has been received.


Spokesperson:  I don’t have any additional information from what I gave you yesterday.  I’ll try to find out what that letter is, but we have not received it.


Question:  It concerned that merger of the Special Adviser on Africa and Small Island States.  Okay.  I meant to ask this yesterday.  There was an article in the Washington Post confirming that the budget add-ons that the Secretariat has requested are $1.1 billion, a 25 per cent increase over the previous budget.  Given that, when the presentation was made, there was only about a 2 per cent increase, how does the Secretary-General explain this over $1 billion additional request?


Spokesperson:  I have some additional information upstairs on the budget.  I can give it to you later on.


[The Spokesperson later added that although the Washington Post says that “the United Nations […] presented its top donors with a request for nearly $1.1 billion in additional funds”, in fact, the Secretariat has only provided a projection of how financing needs would evolve if the Member States were to support a wide range of political missions and management reform proposals currently on the table.  However, that projection is not the final amount, since this is a consultative process and its ultimate outcome will be determined by the Member States at large in the General Assembly and not by the Secretariat.  Also, the costs for special political missions, including Iraq and Afghanistan, cannot in any sense be considered “administrative costs”, as the article puts it.]


Any other questions?  Because I would not want our guest to wait to long.


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For information media • not an official record