25 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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon.  We’re going to get started because at 12:25 or thereabouts, our guests will be arriving and I will have to give them the floor.


**World Malaria Day and Noon Guests


Today is the first-ever World Malaria Day, and in a message to mark the occasion, the Secretary-General says that the toll malaria is taking is unacceptable, all the more so because the disease is preventable and treatable.  And our guests at 12:25 are the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Malaria, Ray Chambers, and the World Health Organization’s Director-General, Margaret Chan.  And they will brief you on the Secretary-General’s new vision for fighting malaria. 


**Secretary-General’s Travels


Meanwhile, the Secretary-General is in Vienna today.  He attended the inauguration of the “M Building”, an environmentally friendly complex which Austria has donated to the international community and that has the capacity to service up to fifteen hundred people.  He told the Austrian Government, “The United Nations and other Vienna-based organizations are very grateful for this meaningful contribution, which will facilitate our work here immeasurably.”  During a press conference on the site of the new conference building, the Secretary-General addressed the rising food prices.  “We must take immediate action in a concerted way,” he said.  In the short term, we must address all humanitarian crises, while in the long term, the leaders of the international community should sit down together on an urgent basis to explore how we can improve distribution systems and promote improved production of agricultural products.


He also met with Austrian Foreign Minister, first tête-à-tête and then during a working luncheon, during which he also met with the Czech, Slovenian and Slovakian Foreign Ministers and senior officials from Poland and Hungary.  They discussed UN-EU cooperation, Kosovo, Chad, Darfur, the Middle East, Cyprus and UN reforms.  He met with the Austrian President later in the afternoon and they discussed the contribution of Austria in peacekeeping operations in Chad, and Kosovo, the Olympic Games, the Annapolis process in the Middle East, the humanitarian situation in Gaza and the Summit meeting planned in September on the Millennium Development Goals.


Yesterday, before leaving Côte d’Ivoire, the Secretary-General spoke to the press and expressed the United Nations appreciation for what has been achieved so far in the implementation of the Ouagadougou Agreement, which he said had reached “a point of no return”.  At the same time, he said that considerable challenges remain to be addressed.  “The road to the elections, to sustainable peace and reconciliation may be treacherous and we should be vigilant,” he warned.  And we have that statement upstairs. 


** Gaza


And on the Middle East today, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, has released a statement on the diesel and benzene situation in Gaza.  In it, he describes the existing fuel situation and expresses concern about the effects that the continued fuel shortage is having on the civilian population, public services, and UN operations in Gaza.  Serry calls on Hamas to ensure conditions within Gaza that will enable the distribution of supplies at the Nahal Oz fuel crossing, so that more supplies can come in.  Hamas must also immediately bring an end to attacks by itself or any other group against crossings in Gaza.  He repeats his condemnation of such attacks.  At the same time, Serry says Israel must restore adequate supplies of diesel and benzene for the civilian population of Gaza, in accordance with international law.  There’s a full statement from Robert Serry upstairs.


** Iraq


And today, the Secretary-General’s latest report to the Security Council on the UN Mission in Iraq is out as a document, and in it, he says that, while some initial steps towards national reconciliation in Iraq have begun, more needs to be done to help Iraqi communities resolve the fundamental issues that divide them.  He says he believes that the holding of credible governorate elections later this year, as mandated by recent legislation, could in the long run serve to underpin the legitimacy of democratic governance.  The Secretary-General writes that the end of fighting in Basra and other places at the end of March was made possible by compromise and agreement, and he urges all concerned to do everything possible to maintain the current decrease in violent conflict and to avoid any provocative acts that could serve to undermine it.  The Security Council is scheduled to discuss the report next Monday in an open debate, where Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe will present the report.


**Children and Armed Conflict


The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, meanwhile concluded a five-day visit to Iraq today, saying that children of Iraq are the silent victims of the ongoing violence.  She called on religious, political, military and community leaders to send one clear message to Iraqi children:  “Stay out of the violence and go back to school”.  Coomaraswamy strongly urged all parties to the conflict in Iraq to strictly adhere to international humanitarian standards for the protection of children and to immediately release any children under the age of 18 years who are associated with their forces in any way.  She will be the guest at the noon briefing next Wednesday.  And we have a press release upstairs with more information.


** Nepal


And in Nepal, following the tabulation of the proportional representation vote, the Election Commission today announced that the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) won 100 seats under the proportion representation system, while the Nepali Congress and the United Marxist-Leninist party received 73 and 70 seats, respectively.  The fourth and fifth largest share of seats went to two Terai-based parties.  The United Nations Mission in Nepal says this does not yet constitute the “final results” as stipulated in the Interim Constitution, which will only be announced by the Electoral Commission once parties have finalized their proportional representatives and the Commission has signed off on these.


**Security Council


The Security Council, here, this morning adopted a resolution on non-proliferation, extending for three years the mandate of the Committee set up by resolution 1540, which imposes binding obligations on all States to establish domestic controls to prevent the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and their means of delivery.  Yesterday afternoon, following the consultations, the Security Council adopted a presidential statement on Burundi, which expressed the Council’s serious concern at the recent confrontations between the PFNL and the National Defence Forces of Burundi and the resulting loss of lives.  The Security Council condemned the use of violence and called again on the two parties to scrupulously respect the ceasefire concluded on 7 September 2006.


** Syria


And from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), it says the Agency was provided with information by the United States yesterday that claimed that the installation destroyed by Israel in Syria last September was a nuclear reactor.  According to this information, the reactor was not yet operational and no nuclear material had been introduced into it.  IAEA will treat this information with the seriousness it deserves and will investigate the veracity of the information.  Syria has an obligation under its safeguards agreement with IAEA to report the planning and construction of any nuclear facility to the Agency.


**Non-Proliferation


And the Preparatory Committee for the 2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons will hold its second session from Monday, at the United Nations Office in Geneva.  This is the second of three sessions of the Preparatory Committee that will be held prior to the 2010 Review Conference.


**UNHCR


I have a couple of items to flag to you from the UN refugee agency.  It says the latest flare-up in fighting this week in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, has sparked a fresh exodus of an estimated 7,000 people rushing to escape violence that has killed a substantial number of civilians, including women and children.  And the refugee agency’s office in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, North Kivu Office, yesterday halted a distribution of aid to displaced people amid a fresh eruption of violence there.  Hundreds of people have fled fighting in the Rutshuru area since the clashes began last weekend.  And the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that 16,000 people have fled their homes in the area in anticipation of further fighting.


** Chernobyl


And there is a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the twenty-second anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.  With this statement, the UN honours the emergency workers who laboured heroically at the damaged reactor; the hundreds of thousands who were evacuated from surrounding areas with little hope of return; and the millions living in contaminated areas who have long feared for their health.  The accident had a huge impact on the region, and its consequences linger even today.  The full statement is available upstairs and on the website.


Meanwhile, the UN Development Programme has presented a draft action plan covering UN work in Chernobyl until 2016.  In addition, Russian tennis star Maria Scharapova, who is a UNDP Goodwill Ambassador, plans to visit UNDP Community Development projects in the region.  And there is more on that upstairs. 


**Staff Day


And as you know, today is also UN Staff Day.  The Deputy Secretary-General began the day at a brief ceremony to remember our colleagues who died in the service of the UN since the last Staff Day.  A total of 294 names were read out.  A minute of silence followed the reading, after which the UN Flag was raised to full mast.  Then the Deputy Secretary-General addressed the staff in the General Assembly Hall, saying she was bringing greetings from the Secretary-General to staff at Headquarters as well as our colleagues in the field.  She said that this day was marked with joy, but that we must also commemorate our colleagues who have given their lives in the service of the peoples of the world.  This is, therefore, an occasion to pay tribute to those colleagues who have lost their lives in the line of duty.  And we should have the complete statement by the Deputy Secretary-General to the staff later today.


That’s all I have for you today.  As I mentioned, just in a few minutes we have our guests today for Malaria Day.  Until then I can take a few questions.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Did the United States Government share the information it had about the Syrian nuclear plant that Israel destroyed?  Did the United States share this information with the United Nations or Secretary-General?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I just read out an item on that.  IAEA has a press release out on that today.


Question:  What I’m asking is, if such information is available to a Member State, is it supposed to inform the Secretary-General also?


Deputy Spokesperson:  The United States has informed IAEA and there is a press release on that upstairs.


Question:  Yes, about that Syrian facility that Israel bombed last fall.  I had spoken to oil executives because it’s an oil town and they had told me that, if there were any kind of nuclear building going on at the site there, radiation monitors would have picked up any kind of debris with field instruments and they’ve picked up nothing.  I’m just wondering, this being the case, has anyone gone to Syria to check for nuclear debris?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I think that question about Syria today should be addressed to IAEA, which is the agency that is directly dealing with this issue. 


Question:  Do they have any plans to go there?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I think you should follow up with them.  There’s a press release.


Question:  I did, and they said to come and ask at the United Nations.  I called Switzerland.


Deputy Spokesperson:  IAEA is based in Vienna, their headquarters.


Question:  I called there too.


Deputy Spokesperson:  But IAEA would know whether they were planning a mission or not.  I think our guests are here.  Okay, one question.


Question:  You may have read out something about the fighting in eastern Congo.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes I did.


Question:  Is there any indication whether General Nkunda’s forces are involved?  Who are the forces that are fighting?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Today I would like to refer you to the UNHCR briefing note.  It has quite a lot of detail on the fighting there.  Beyond that, I don’t have anything else.


As I warned you in the beginning, our guests are here.  Today is World Malaria Day.  We have the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Malaria and Margaret Chan, the Director-General of the World Health Organization, and I’m going to immediately turn the floor over to them because they have to leave at 12:40, I am told, to launch the Secretary-General’s initiative.


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