23 April 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.


**Secretary-General in Africa


The Secretary-General has arrived in Côte d’Ivoire, where he met with President Laurent Gbagbo; he will soon also meet with Prime Minister Guillaume Soro. Upon arriving in Abidjan, he told reporters that the United Nations will continue to support Cote d’Ivoire’s peace process, including elections later this year.


Yesterday, in Burkina Faso, he discussed the peace process in Côte d’Ivoire with the facilitator of that process, Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Compaoré, whom he thanked for his work in the inter-Ivorian dialogue. The Secretary-General told the press, following his meeting with President Compaoré, that he was encouraged that the Ivorian government has set a date for elections on 30 November, and that he would encourage President Gbagbo to keep this commitment.


The Secretary-General also met yesterday with Burkina Faso’s Prime Minister and Speaker of Parliament, and discussed with them the Millennium Development Goals, good governance and poverty reduction.


Today, before he left Burkina Faso, the Secretary-General visited the Manegda School, a UNICEF-supported primary school on the outskirts of the capital, Ouagadougou. He planted a tree there and offered 10 computers to the schoolchildren.


**Secretary-General in Europe


After his Africa trip ends, the Secretary General will travel on to Vienna where he will meet on Friday with the Federal Chancellor of Austria, Alfred Gusenbauer. He will attend the inauguration of additional conference facilities at the Vienna International Centre, where the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations Office in Vienna, the UN Industrial Development Organization and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty Organization have their headquarters.


The Secretary General will, on Monday and Tuesday, chair the meeting in Berne, of the United Nations’ Chief Executive Board, a meeting that will bring together 27 heads of Agencies, Funds and Programmes and will largely focus on increasing food prices and the possible responses from the United Nations System.


On the 29th, in Geneva, the Secretary General will deliver the first of a series of lectures organized by the United Nations office in Geneva and UNITAR, the UN Institute for training and Research. “Are the Development goals doomed to fail?” The lecture will have an interactive part, with questions that have been coming in from the audience through three Swiss media in the last few days. More than 1,500 people are expected to attend the lecture at the Palais des Nations.


Next Friday, 2 May, the Quartet Principals will meet in London to review all aspects of the process launched at Annapolis and the situation on the ground.  The Secretary-General will chair this meeting, which will take place in the margins of a meeting of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) the same day.  The AHLC is convening to assess progress in Palestinian institutional and economic development since the last meeting here in New York last September.


**Security Council


The Security Council held a meeting on the Middle East this morning. Briefing Council members, Assistant-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Angela Kane said Israelis and Palestinians are in the most intensive set of negotiations on final status issues since the breakdown of the political process nearly eight years ago. The significance of this should not be underestimated, but neither should the grave risks to the process be overlooked.


In that context, Kane noted major episodes of violence, especially in and around Gaza, and expressed deep alarm at the prospects of a further intensification of violence.


Kane noted that Israel is now re-examining security mechanisms to ensure the secure delivery of commercial fuel into Gaza. In the meantime, however, the lack of fuel has had adverse impacts for Gazans. For example, 15-20 per cent of the population now receives water for only 3-5 hours every four days. And 60,000 cubic meters of raw and partially treated sewage continue to be dumped daily into the Mediterranean Sea.


Most fishing vessels are grounded, and no materials are entering for UN humanitarian infrastructure projects, she added.


Kane welcomed Israel’s removal of obstacles in the West Bank. At the same time, however, she said that, of the 44 removed, only 5 were significant. In that regard, she strongly urged further and more substantive progress to ease restrictions. She also noted that restrictions on UN operations continue to increase in the West Bank.


Turning to Lebanon, Kane said the country remains in the grip of an intense political crisis. In addition, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has recorded a steep increase in the number of Israeli air violations, which occur on a daily basis. The overflights constitute violations of Lebanese sovereignty and the Blue Line and continue to undermine the credibility of UNIFIL and the Lebanese Armed Forces, she added. We have her full statement upstairs.


The Security Council is now holding consultations on the Middle East, Timor-Leste and other matters.


On Timor-Leste, the Council is being briefed by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations’ Police Advisor, Andrew Hughes.


Then, at four this afternoon, the Security Council will hold a closed meeting on Georgia. We’ve been informed that the Georgian Foreign Minister will speak to you at the stakeout following that meeting.


**Security Council Yesterday


Yesterday afternoon, the Security Council held consultations on the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE).


After the nearly three-hour closed session, the Security Council President, South African Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo, told reporters that the members of the Council unanimously agreed that the way the peacekeepers of UNMEE have been treated in Eritrea is totally unacceptable.


Describing the decision on the future of the mission as difficult and complicated, the Council President said he expected to have another Council meeting as early as next week.  And, as you’ll recall, in a special report on UNMEE released earlier this month, the Secretary-General outlined four options for the future of the operation.


** Nepal


In his report to the Security Council on children and armed conflict in Nepal, the Secretary-General says that, although grave violations of children’s rights have decreased significantly since the signing of the comprehensive ceasefire agreement, violations have not yet ceased.  The report notes that substantial numbers of children were recruited by the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist and moved into cantonments prior to the signing of the ceasefire, and no progress has been achieved in securing their formal discharge.


In the report, the Secretary-General recommends that the Government of Nepal make clear its commitment to lead in the reintegration of children associated with armed forces and armed groups. Also, all armed groups in the Terai region should publicly commit to ending all violations of children’s rights, including recruitment of all people under the age of 18.


** Afghanistan


Kai Eide, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, praised the progress made by Afghanistan’s schools, noting that today, over six million children attend schools, including more than 330,000 girls who started schooling for the first time this year. Before 2001, he noted, there were fewer than a million children in schools – and nearly no girls.


Eide spoke during a week of international action calling for the inclusive education of all school age children. We have a press release with more details upstairs.


**Small Arms


The Secretary-General’s report to the Security Council on small arms is out today.  It notes that within the United Nations, coordination on the issue of small arms could benefit from further improvement. He adds that reviving the Coordinating Action on Small Arms is one of the priorities in the field of disarmament for 2008.


In the report, the Secretary-General recommends that States should enhance their efforts to collect, maintain and share data on small arms and that those in a position to do so should boost their support for research on the distribution and impact of small arms.


He also recommends that the Security Council encourage a strengthened practical cooperation among relevant sanctions monitoring groups of the Security Council, peacekeeping missions, Member States and their investigative authorities; as well as relevant regional and international organizations. It is also recommended that the Peacebuilding Commission, the Office for Disarmament Affairs, and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict should increase cooperation on the nexus of children and small arms.


**UNEP


Ten new enterprises have signed on to the UN Environment Programme’s Climate Neutral Network.  They include a Latin American beauty corporation, a French advertising agency, a UK-based sustainability think-tank, and a Brazilian online carbon trading venture.  All have pledged to significantly reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, eventually to zero. 


Meanwhile, the UN Environment Programme is warning of potentially enormous losses to medical science from the decline and extinction of the world’s plant and animal species.  That is the topic of a new book called “Sustaining Life”, the most comprehensive treatment of this subject to date.  Published with support from UNEP and the UN Development Programme, the book looks at how threatened biodiversity might hold the key to such things as treating bone disease, kidney failure, and cancer, or re-growing lost tissues and organs. We have more information on both of these items upstairs.


**Press Conferences


Today at 2 p.m., UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman; Ted Turner, Chairman of the UN Foundation; Tim Wirth, President of the UN Foundation; and National Basketball Association Commissioner David Stern will hold a press conference to announce a new grassroots effort to raise funds for bed nets to help prevent malaria deaths in Africa.  We have more information available upstairs.


And tomorrow morning at 11 a.m., there will be a video press conference with World Food Programme Executive Director Josette Sheeran.  That will take place here in Room 226, and Sheeran will speak to reporters via video link from Rome on the situation of soaring food prices around the globe.


This is all I have for you. Thank you.


**Questions and Answers


Question: Thank you Michèle. The Secretary-General in his Monrovia press conference yesterday addressed the issue o0f sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers. I guess my question is, is there anything new or different that is being done by the UN to address this issue?


Spokesperson:  Well, we are constantly addressing this issue. I think this has been said to you on different occasions about different cases. And the Secretary-General in his press conference –- you can read his remarks –- was focusing on the situation in Liberia, and he was not simply focusing on sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers.


Question:  But he did bring up the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and he referred to them as the ones committing those crimes.


Spokesperson:  Well, I think you should re-read his statement.


Question: Is there anything on the visit of IAEA to Tehran?  And how is Mr. Ban Ki-moon reacting to the Iranian President announcing that he is ready to discuss the nuclear dispute with any country?


Spokesperson:  I know that there was a press conference by the IAEA Director General, Mr. ElBaradei, and he gave his comment. We don’t have the Secretary-General’s comment yet. As you know, this was this morning.


Question: Just a follow-up.  What was the reason for Mr. ElBaradei to go Sarajevo, to Bosnia?


Spokesperson:  I think you should address your question to IAEA. We can put you in touch with them.


Question: The Executive Secretary of the WFP is now speaking about a silent tsunami threatening to lead a hundred million people into poverty and hunger and these food riots and food crisis are now beginning to threaten some Governments and some States. Would the Secretary-General be in favour of a addressing a message to the Security Council on this subject since it clearly has a security aspect?


Spokesperson:  As I said earlier, there are several steps to this process. The Secretary-General is meeting all heads of agencies, funds and programmes in Bern next week, and we should definitely have some decisions taken by the UN system. I don’t know whether that will involve the Secretary-General turning to the Security Council.


Question: Just regarding what you said yesterday regarding the van Walsum report, you mentioned that Ban Ki-moon doesn’t share all the elements. Did you mean that there is a contradiction?


Spokesperson:  No, there is no contradiction between the two simply that the Secretary-General did not want to insert an opinion into the ongoing talks. He felt that rather this should be left to the facilitator who is leading the talks. There is no contradiction there.


Question: So it is not fully his report?


Spokesperson:  He stands by his report of course. In terms of Mr. van Walsum’s proposal, as I said, there is a minimum of leeway which is given to the facilitator to be able to lead those talks.


Question: It is part of his mandate to give the…


Spokesperson:  It is part of his mandate, yes.


Question: So there is no contradiction at all between them?


Spokesperson:  No, there is none.


Question: Just a follow-up. So Mr. Ban Ki-moon does not share the views of Ambassador van Walsum about establishing a State in Western Sahara by POLISARIO?  He said it is not realistic anymore to…


Spokesperson:  Tarek, I didn’t say that. What I said is that the Secretary-General did not want to insert himself to give an opinion on the ongoing talks and he left it to the facilitator who actually expressed those thoughts in his own assessment to the Security Council.  The Secretary-General’s report stands as it is.


Question: But I am asking about the view expressed by Ambassador van Walsum. How is it…


Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General simply does not want to go into an assessment of the process that is going on right now. That is all.


Question: A follow-up from that question, Michèle. Since Ambassador van Walsum thinks that it will not be realistic to opt for the independence option, is he going to make some suggestions on this basis regarding the future negotiations?


Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t know at this point. It is between Mr. van Walsum and the Security Council at this point because, as you know, he has offered his own assessment to the Security Council.


Question: Thank you Michèle. The Nigerian Government has asked for the United Nations to help it in convoking a kind of peace conference in the Niger Delta and now, there are reports in Nigerian newspapers that the Federal Government of Nigeria is asking the United Nations to release Under-Secretary-General Gambari temporarily to chair that Committee to bring about peace in the Niger Delta. What is the reaction of the Secretariat to these reports?


Spokesperson:  As far as I know, we have not received a letter yet and I will get a reaction for you once we get it. We don’t have it yet. Yes, Matthew?


Question: Yes, Michèle, there has been  a  call by 60 some NGOs – OXFAM, Human Rights Watch and others – for the UN to appoint a human rights envoy to Eastern Congo on human rights issues and on sexual violence issues, so I am wondering whether the Secretary-General is aware of that call, whether that is something that could be considered.


Spokesperson:  I have to say that this is matter for the Human Rights Council, not for the Secretariat.


Question: Okay, as you understand it, that is who they are directing it at? They are not asking for an envoy from the Secretariat?


Spokesperson:  Not that I know of.


Question: Then, I wanted to ask this from the Africa conference last week.  Did the Secretary-General meet with Prime Minister Prodi of Italy?


Spokesperson:  Yes, he did.


Question: And you know if it is okay to as if, whether, among other things, a possible post with the UN was discussed?


Spokesperson:  Not that I know of. Thank you very much.


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For information media • not an official record