27 June 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.


**Guests at Noon


My guests today at the noon briefing are Léo Mérorès, President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, and Nikhil Seth, Director, Office for ECOSOC Support and Coordination/DESA [Department of Economic and Social Affairs].


They are here to brief you ahead of ECOSOC’s high-level segment, which is taking place from 30 June to 3 July.  The high-level segment will focus on a number of issues on the UN’s development agenda.  They will tell you more about it in a few minutes.


** Zimbabwe


Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Haile Menkerios is continuing to discuss the situation in Zimbabwe with leaders in southern Africa.  Yesterday, he met in Luanda with Angolan President José Edoardo dos Santos and, this afternoon, he is to meet in Dar-Es-Salaam with the President of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete.  From there, he will travel onward to Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, for the meeting of the African Union.


As you know, the Secretary-General has commented this week on the run-off round of elections taking place today in Zimbabwe, and he said repeatedly that the vote should have been postponed, given present circumstances.  The Secretary-General and Haile Menkerios will continue to work with the African Union and other regional organizations to ensure a satisfactory and non-violent resolution.


Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, on Thursday called for justice and accountability in response to the campaign of political violence that has corrupted the electoral process in Zimbabwe.


She said that serious violations of human rights need to stop immediately, and those who perpetrate crimes must be held to account.


Arbour described the ongoing crisis in Zimbabwe as a “perversion of democracy”, saying that respect of fundamental human rights and the rule of law are at the heart of any meaningful political and democratic process.  She welcomed the continuing regional and international efforts to resolve the crisis and urged that mediation efforts be guided by the necessity for justice and accountability, the essential first steps towards reconciliation.


**Security Council


Lisa Buttenheim, Director of the Department of Political Affairs Asia-Pacific Division, briefed Council members this morning during their periodic meeting on the Middle East.  She said it is clear that progress has been made on several fronts, compared to the situation 12 months ago.


She noted that the UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, was in Ankara yesterday and will visit Damascus tomorrow to underline the UN’s support and encouragement for the continuing indirect talks between Israel and Syria under Turkish mediation.  On Lebanon, she said she hoped that agreement on the composition of the Lebanese Cabinet will be reached soon and that it would foster a climate of lasting national reconciliation.


Buttenheim noted, however, that conditions in Gaza remain extremely grave and need urgent attention.  For example, continuing fuel restrictions are leading to reduced water supply, the accumulation of 600 tons of rubbish a day on the streets, and the daily dumping of 77 million litres of sewage into the Mediterranean.


Buttenheim added that new procedures applied to the movement of UN agencies in the West Bank –- including searches of UN property, the refusal to accept UN identification, and a requirement on UN Palestinian staff to walk across crossings -- are causing increased operational concerns to UN staff on the ground.  We have her full statement upstairs.


The Security Council followed her briefing with closed consultations on the Middle East, which included a discussion of a draft resolution introduced by Libya.


The Council also expects to discuss the Central African Republic in its consultations, and it will receive a briefing on that country by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative there, Francois Lonseny Fall.


Earlier this morning, the Council unanimously adopted a resolution and a presidential statement on the situation in the Golan Heights.  The Council extended the UN Disengagement Observer Force in that region by six months, until the end of this year.


**Secretary-General in Asia


The Secretary-General will begin, this weekend, an official visit to Japan.  On Sunday, he will deliver a lecture on climate change at Kyoto University and, in Tokyo the next day, he will have an audience with the Emperor and Empress of Japan.  He will also meet with Crown Prince Naruhito, the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, amongst others.


In China, an official visit there will include meetings with the President, Premier and Foreign Minister, as well as with the UN country team.  He will speak at the Foreign Affairs University, and is expected to visit Olympic Games sites.


In his first trip home to the Republic of Korea since becoming Secretary-General, he will be conferred an honorary degree at Seoul National University and lead a seminar on climate change at the National Assembly.  He plans to meet with the President, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, and he will attend a Model UN at Cheongju University.


The Secretary-General then returns to Japan to attend the G-8 [Group of Eight] Hokkaido Toyako Summit.  He will attend sessions on Development for Africa and Climate Change.  He will also speak with students at Hokkaido University.


The Secretary-General will return to New York in the second week of July.


**Deputy Secretary-General


The Deputy Secretary-General will travel to Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, this weekend to represent the United Nations at the African Union Summit.


She will deliver a statement at the opening session and will have a number of bilateral meetings with African leaders to discuss issues of common concern, including peace and security and development.  In the margins of the Summit, the Deputy Secretary-General will introduce the recommendations of the MDG Africa Steering Group.


** Greece -- The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia


The Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for the talks between Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Matthew Nimetz, is currently in the region for continued consultations on the “name issue”.


Nimetz met in Skopje today with the President, Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and other officials from the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.  He heard detailed assessments of their latest positions.  Yesterday, he had what he said was a “good meeting” with the Greek Foreign Minister and other Greek officials in Athens.  No specific new proposals were put forth, but the “outline of a solution” was discussed.


No decision has been taken on the next steps at this point, but that will be addressed soon, perhaps next week.


** Pakistan


High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour has wrapped up her first official visit to Pakistan.  In a statement today, she said she was deeply impressed by the historic mobilization of Pakistan’s civil society in defence of democracy and the rule of law.


At the same time, however, she warned that the current judicial crisis in Pakistan risks paralyzing the new Government’s ability to address other critical policy challenges.


Arbour added that, as a gesture of reconciliation, Pakistan’s Government should drop all outstanding charges against those human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers and political activists who were detained during last November’s state of emergency.


We have her full statement in my office.


** Afghanistan


Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes is on a five-day visit to Afghanistan.  He is there to review the humanitarian situation, in order to improve the response to the needs of the Afghan population.


Holmes today arrived in Jalalabad, where he visited two sites for Afghan refugees who have returned home from Pakistan.


Yesterday, Mr. Holmes met the UN humanitarian team in Kabul.  On Saturday, he will travel to another field location before returning to Kabul.


Still on Afghanistan, Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, will be visiting Afghanistan from tomorrow until 3 July, at the invitation of the Government.


Her main objective is to inaugurate a Security Council-mandated monitoring and reporting mechanism on grave violations committed against children in armed conflict.


Coomaraswamy will also meet with children affected by conflict, as well as Government officials and religious and tribal leaders.


We also have more on that upstairs.


** Thailand


The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has written to the Government of Thailand to express concern over the repatriation of 837 Lao Hmong last Sunday, following a protest by thousands of refugees who broke out of a camp run by the Thai Army.


UNHCR says the lack of transparency surrounding the repatriation raises doubt about whether the returns were voluntary.  The agency is particularly concerned that a group of eight leaders and their families appear to have been deported against their will without any determination of whether they needed international protection.  UNHCR is also concerned that families may have been separated in the process.


UNHCR says it stands ready to help both the Lao and Thai Governments. 


There is more information also upstairs.


**United Nations Environment Programme


A new initiative on the disposal of computing equipment was launched today at a conference on waste management in Bali, Indonesia.  The initiative is part of the Basel Convention on Waste Management administered by the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP).


The Partnership for Action on Computing Equipment will tackle the management of obsolete and used computers and develop technical guidelines for proper repair, refurbishing and recycling.


The conference also adopted a declaration on Waste Management for Human Health and Livelihood.  It calls on the World Health Organization to consider a resolution on the improvement of health through safe and environmentally sound waste management.


**Financing for Development


The Secretary-General has decided to appoint Oscar de Rojas of Venezuela, Director of the Financing for Development Office in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, as the Executive Secretary of the Follow-Up International Conference to Review the Implementation of the Monterrey Consensus, which will be held in Doha, Qatar, from 29 November to 2 December 2008.


The review Conference will assess progress made, reaffirm goals and commitments and share best practices and lessons learned.  It will also identify obstacles and constraints that have been encountered, actions and initiatives to overcome them, and important measures for further implementation, as well as new challenges and emerging issues.


This is all I have for you today.  Thank you.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  It was reported that IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] received a secret briefing by a senior Israeli official.  Can you confirm if that is the case?


Spokesperson:  If it is a secret briefing, I cannot possibly confirm it.


Question:  Are you aware of it?


Spokesperson:  I am not aware of this.


Question:  With respect to the ceasefire between the Palestinians and the Israelis:  how many violations are the Palestinians responsible for and how many violations are the Israelis responsible for?


Spokesperson:  We are not officially monitoring this process.  According to our colleagues in Jerusalem, those media reports are not based on any official UN sources and, at the current time, we are not commenting on alleged violations, because we have nothing to do with the monitoring process.


Question:  The Quartet does not monitor the…?


Spokesperson:  No, absolutely not.


Question:  I just want to launch a protest.  There was a correspondent from IPS picked up by Israeli forces in Gaza yesterday and beaten up and stripped of all his belongings.  The Israeli forces wanted to know what did he do with the scholarship that he has gotten and then finally he was beaten up and [inaudible].


Spokesperson:  Well, we got that information also this morning, but we don’t have any official information on it.


Question:  You don’t have a confirmation from UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East], is that what you are saying?


Spokesperson:  Not that I know of.


Question:  If there is one, would you…?


Spokesperson:  Of course, we will let you know.  We will let you know as soon as we get some information from the field.  I was aware of the situation, but I was aware through journalism sources.


Question:  There is a report that the UN country representative in Zimbabwe, Agostinho Zacarias, has said to the Zimbabwe Government that he may close the UN office in Zimbabwe based on safety of humanitarian workers.  Is that the case?


Spokesperson:  I am not aware of that.


Question:  It seems like it is important.  Could it be found out whether there is a report in what is called “The Zimbabwe Independent” that he made that statement to the Government?


Spokesperson:  We will check on that.


[Correspondents were later informed that any reports about closure of the UN office in Zimbabwe were erroneous and that the UN office is open.]


Question:  Just now, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Sports and Development said that he disagrees with the position taken by Gordon Brown as he tries to block the Zimbabwean cricket team from coming to the United Kingdom because of the elections to be held today and human rights issues.  Since Mr. Lemke is the Adviser to Ban Ki-moon, does Ban Ki-moon disagree with Gordon Brown trying to block the Zimbabwean cricket team, or what is his position?


Spokesperson:  I am not aware of any opinion on this subject.  I don’t have any information on it.  You can ask Mr. Lemke himself.


Question:  No I asked Lemke, and Lemke said he is against… he disagrees with Gordon Brown.


Spokesperson:  So you have his opinion.


Question:  I have his opinion, but I wanted what Ban Ki-moon…


Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General is not, I mean Mr. Lemke is in charge of such issues.


Question:  So that is Ban Ki-moon’s view?


Spokesperson:  I am not saying it is Ban Ki-moon’s view.  It is Lemke’s view, and I am sure the Secretary-General has total confidence in him.  You cannot expect the Secretary-General to react every time one of his advisers or one of his Special Representatives says something, that we will automatically have something from the Secretary-General himself.


Question:  It seems that, on the topic of Zimbabwe, it seemed fair to ask, so that is all.  I asked, you answered.  On the Hmong thing, I understand that UNHCR has written this letter.  Can you find out whether the Hmong representatives have sought to meet with the Department of Political Affairs (DPA) and been rebuffed?  That is what I have heard.  That the Hmong on this very problem have asked DPA, and that DPA said we only meet with Governments.  If that is not true, I would love to know it.  But can you…?


Spokesperson:  Of course, we can find out.  But I don’t know…


Question:  Here in New York.


Spokesperson:  Here in New York.  I will ask for you, but I am not aware of this issue at all. 


[The reporter was later informed that DPA staff had in fact met with Hmong representatives on many occasions.]


And let me just say that we just received a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.  It is about the appointment of Ronald J. Bettauer -– his name is Ronald J. Bettauer -- as one of the three members of the Board of the United Nations Register of Damage caused by the Construction of the Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (UNRoD).  Ronald Bettauer, a prominent international expert in all aspects of damage claims processing and registration, will replace Michael Raboin, who tragically died in April 2008.  The Board is expected to pursue next month its mandated work in a meeting at UNRoD’s headquarters in Vienna.


And this will of course be published in my office.


Question:  Is it the office in Geneva or Vienna?


Spokesperson:  In Vienna.


Question:  If… they will do it in Vienna?


Spokesperson:  It is going to be done in Vienna by the group.


Question:  The outbreak of foot-and-mouth decease in Burma, how serious is this, and is it affecting the humanitarian relief efforts in that part of the country?


Spokesperson:  I don’t think it will affect the humanitarian work, but I can find out for you whether this is of particular concern in the humanitarian community down there.  I can find out if there is any reported increase in the number of cases.


Question:  Do I understand correctly that there is a UN body investigating damage caused by the wall, and this body has an office which is based in Vienna?  Is that correct?


Spokesperson:  Yes.  And it is of course a General Assembly decision.


Question:  And it is responsible directly to the General Assembly.  May I assume somebody in your office has an updated list of the personnel of this body…?


Spokesperson:  Sure, we can find out, definitely.  But the General Assembly would be the proper conduit for information.  But we can help you on this.


Question:  On Sudan, this idea of a Chief Negotiator to replace Mr. Eliasson and Salim, was it said that the name already has been presented to the Council?


Spokesperson:  Not yet.


Question:  It has been reported that the Foreign Minister of Burkina Faso, Mr. Bassolé, is the man.  Is that something that you…?


Spokesperson:  I cannot confirm this.  As long as the Council has not been informed, I will not confirm any name.


Question:  I was told today, whether it is DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] or DFS [Department of Field Support], Ms. Malcorra travelled to Sudan specifically to ask that the Lockheed Martin contract be extended with a base in El-Fashir?  Can that be confirmed?


Spokesperson:  I am not aware of that.  You can address your question to DPKO.


Thank you.


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For information media • not an official record