6 August 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.


We’re expecting shortly a statement on Mauritania.


**Office of Legal Affairs Appointment


The Secretary-General today announced the appointment of Patricia O’Brien of Ireland as the new Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and UN Legal Counsel.  The Secretary-General is particularly pleased with this appointment, as the first appointment of a woman Legal Counsel in UN history.  Ms. O’Brien will replace Nicolas Michel, of Switzerland.


The Secretary-General is grateful for Mr. Michel’s committed service to the United Nations and for his important contribution to the achievement of its goals.  He recalled the tireless dedication to the Organization, the constant and consistent professionalism, as well as the integrity shown by Mr. Michel.


As the new Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and UN Legal Counsel, Ms. O’Brien brings to the job an extensive experience of legal and international affairs to integrate the legal dimension in the internal decision-making processes, to promote the rule of law in international relations, and to contribute to the strengthening of the culture of the end of impunity.  She has been Legal Adviser to the Department of Foreign Affairs in Ireland since 2003.  And we have more information upstairs.


**Security Council


Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe briefed the Security Council on Iraq in an open meeting this morning.  He highlighted the Secretary-General’s recent report, which underscores the improved security in most parts of the country, and which highlights the need to cement the gains on the security front through strengthened and sustained political dialogue.


Pascoe noted that discussions in the Iraqi Parliament in Baghdad about the adoption of a new electoral law remain unresolved.  He said that the United Nations has been doing all it can to urge practical compromises, and warned that a failure to come to agreement on a law at this time would be a major setback, not only for the prospects of elections this year, but for the larger process of national reconciliation in Iraq.


He added that, in connection with discord over the passage of the election law, the situation in Kirkuk grew more tense and turned violent last week.  The bloodshed in Kirkuk illustrated just how fragile the situation has become and how the lack of dialogue and compromise could easily lead to renewed violence.  We have his briefing notes upstairs.


And at 3 this afternoon, the Security Council has scheduled consultations on Kosovo.  Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Edmond Mulet will provide a briefing on the review of the actions taken by UN peacekeepers at Mitrovica, among other topics.


** Sudan


On Sudan, the UN-AU Mission in Darfur, known as UNAMID, reports that seven Sudanese civilian vehicles that had been travelling from Nyala to El Fasher on Monday were ambushed by unknown men on camels, suspected to be Janjaweed.  The Mission today confirms that 6 people were killed and 28 wounded in that attack.  UNAMID helicopters evacuated eight of the wounded to a private hospital in El Fasher, with the bulk of the remaining casualties being evacuated to Nyala.


UNAMID also reports that the rotation of the Gambian company took place yesterday, when more than 170 Gambian soldiers arrived in El Fasher.  The new Gambian company has already taken over security duties at UNAMID compounds.


Meanwhile, the remaining personnel from the Egyptian engineering company are expected to arrive in El Fasher on 12 August.


** Democratic Republic of the Congo


On the DRC, the Secretary General’s Special Representative in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Alan Doss, is intensifying efforts to reinforce the respect by MONUC peacekeepers for the United Nations code of conduct.


The Special Representative is seeking the advice of an independent, high-level panel of experts on how MONUC can further strengthen its efforts to prevent misconduct by its personnel, and to ensure that those responsible for unacceptable behaviour are held accountable.  This high-level panel, which will include both Congolese and international members, will be set up shortly.  The Special Representative and the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations will cooperate in the panel’s work.


Alan Doss, in a statement this morning, stressed his commitment in maintaining the respect and trust of the Congolese people who deserve, he said, “the highest standards of conduct from civilian and military peacekeepers alike”.


**Secretary-General’s Message to Hiroshima Ceremony


In a message to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony today, the Secretary-General said global awareness of the need for progress in nuclear disarmament is stronger now than it has ever been.  Countless groups and individuals are not just advocating disarmament by words alone, but actively working to achieve this goal.


Stressing that the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony is much more than an annual ritual, he highlighted that it is an opportunity for Hiroshima and people around the world to honour the memory of the first victims of atomic warfare, and to reflect on what’s needed to achieve a world without nuclear weapons.


The Secretary-General also welcomed the participation of children at this ceremony, stressing that their generation will soon take on their own responsibilities for remembering the past while continuing collective efforts towards a nuclear-weapon-free world.


**World Food Programme


The World Food Programme (WFP) today welcomed Canada’s decision to deploy a frigate to Somalia to protect WFP food ships against piracy.  Between November and June, frigates from France, Denmark and the Netherlands provided escorts for WFP ships.  Not a single one was attacked during that time, but those escorts ended in late June.  WFP hopes other Governments will step forward to take over from Canada once it completes its mission in a few weeks.


In other news, a special memorial ceremony to honour late Italian tenor and UN Messenger of Peace Luciano Pavarotti will take place in Petra, Jordan, in October.  The proceeds will go to projects in Afghanistan run jointly by WFP and the UN refugee agency.  The line-up of musicians will be announced in September.  There is more information on both these items upstairs.


**Climate-Proofing Cities


A new report on reducing the vulnerability of cities in East Asia to climate change was launched today by the World Bank, the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery.


Entitled Climate-Resilient Cities, the report is expected to prove a useful tool for city managers the world over.  Eight of the world’s ten most populous cities are located near rivers or the sea, and are already exposed to hazards like flooding, earthquakes, typhoons and low-quality infrastructure.


The report offers recommendations on how to make cities more resilient to climate change.  These include improving the quality of public infrastructure and providing alternatives to fossil fuels.  Other recommendations are as simple as providing more green space and increasing the use of energy-efficient transport vehicles.  We have more information on that upstairs.


**Olympic Stamps


To coincide with the opening of the Beijing Olympics on Friday, the UN Postal Administration will issue a set of six commemorative stamps on the theme “Sport for Peace”.


The stamps will feature original works by South American artist Romero Britto that depict athletes in motion.  We have more information also upstairs.


** Nepal


And this evening at 6 p.m. in the Visitors’ Lobby, an exhibition entitled “Towards an Inclusive Peace:  United Nations Support to Nepal’s Peace Process” will be formally launched.   The Secretary-General is scheduled to speak at the opening ceremony.


This multimedia exhibit includes photographs, video and artefacts illustrating the different forms of assistance provided by the United Nations in the run-up to the historic Constituent Assembly election of April 2008 -- a major milestone in the peace process in Nepal.  You are all invited, of course, to attend.


And this is all I have for you today.  Yes?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  There is a lot of tension between North and South Korea currently, and I have heard originally the Secretary-General had some thoughts about having an envoy who maybe could be helpful with regard to problems, and I wondered if he has any plans to have such an envoy to maybe help deal with that tension.


Spokesperson:  I don’t have any additional information on that.  Yes?


Question:  The second part of the question is that the International Atomic Energy Agency is usually in charge of monitoring things that happen with non-proliferation, and just yesterday in a press conference in South Korea, President Bush said that he was interested in what North Korea is going to do with regard to verification for its non-proliferation and what it is doing.  Isn’t that that a role for the IAEA?


Spokesperson:  Well, of course.  But you know that they have six–party talks going on on the nuclear issue and I think this process is still under way.  Yes?


Question:  Regarding Mauritania, the coup d’état which happened today, is there a statement you are issuing…?


Spokesperson:  I announced at the beginning that we would have a statement, I hope in a few minutes.  Yes?


Question:  Michèle, at the top of the briefing you mentioned an appointment by the Secretary-General; what is the name?  Ms. O’Brien?


Spokesperson:  O’Brien, yes.


Question:  As what?


Spokesperson:  She is replacing Nicolas Michel as Chief Legal Counsel.


Correspondent:  Okay.


Spokesperson:  Patricia O’Brien.


Question:  I just wanted to add, the Secretary-General has written a letter, I think, to the Security Council as regards the oil-for-food fund and everything.  And he has suggested transferring the funds as well as the responsibility of administering any remaining activity under the programme to the Iraq Government in that letter.  He has suggested all that.  So, in that case, do you know, or is it going to be that the oil-for-food inquiry, which is now still being held over here, will also be transferred to…?


Spokesperson:  You mean the inquiry…?  I mean, there are several inquiries taking place over the oil-for-food programme concerning different nations, actually.  So, there is nothing to add to this.  This is a report that the Secretary-General sent to the Security Council and the Security Council has the matter at hand.


Question:  So what I am saying is then he is suggesting this, this is also stipulates that all the records which are here in New York will also be transferred to the Iraq Government?


Spokesperson:  Yes.


Spokesperson:  OK, I have the statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


The Secretary-General deeply regrets the overthrow on 6 August 2008 of the Government of President Sidi Mohamed Ould Chiekh Abdallahi of Mauritania.  He notes the Government was elected in a multiparty democratic election in June 2007.  The Secretary-General calls for respect for the rule of law and for the immediate restoration of constitutional order in the country.


Yes, Benny?


Question:  What type representation does the United Nations have, if it does at all, in Mauritania?


Spokesperson:  We certainly have a mission there.  Certainly UNDP is there.  I can check whether there are other, you know, how big the United Nations family is over there.


[The Spokesperson later added that there are a total of 50 international staff and 61 national staff in Mauritania, working for the following agencies and bodies: the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Department of Safety and Security, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World Food Programme (WFP), Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, World Health Organization (WHO), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).


Question:  Are people safe?


Spokesperson:  Yes.


Question:  Also, are you going to announce soon now that you announced the head of the OLA, who would be the ASG under the OLA; because there is one ASG…?


Spokesperson:  Oh, yes.  Well, we don’t have that yet.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?


Question:  Thank you.  The Secretary-General “deeply regrets” the overthrow of a civilian democratically elected Government in Mauritania and the imprisonment of the President and Prime Minister.  Is there any reason why he does not “condemn” this coup, military coup?


Spokesperson:  Well, we’re still trying to get more information on what happened, you know.  So, this is what I have.  And, as you know, this is a situation that we are still assessing.


Question:  But did he take into consideration the resignation of 48 [Members of Parliament] recently in Mauritania?  Because, obviously, there was a lot of corruption and there were complaints to which the President did not listen to.


Spokesperson:  Well, you know whatever events happened there, this statement stands as regretting the overthrow of an elected Government.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Michèle, I have a couple of Darfur questions.  One was the Olympic gold medallist speed skater Joey Cheek had a visa denied to go to the Olympics in China.  So I am wondering if the Secretary-General or anyone in the UN system has had anything to say about that.  He was specifically denied because of his position on the conflict in Darfur.


Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything on that, no.  The Secretary-General has nothing specific to say on that.  We have representation at the Olympics.  If you have human rights questions concerning the Olympics, I can put you in touch with the Human Rights Office.


Question:  I guess I am thinking of Willi Lemke.  You don’t think he has any comment on that?


Spokesperson:  No, he does not.  But you can contact the Human Rights Office, I’ll give you the phone number.


Question:  Okay.  And also, I wanted to ask you, the Government in Khartoum has now appointed, as had been requested as part of this AU plan, has appointed a Special Prosecutor for the situation in Darfur.  Does the UN think that’s a positive step?


Spokesperson:  Well, let’s see what’s happening.  Every move made by a national Government, we cannot give an opinion on every single move made by that.  Of course it is a positive step.


Question:  The reason I ask is because it’s also reported that Al-Arabiya is reporting that, quoting UN sources, that Ban Ki-moon prefers freezing any arrest warrant against President [Omer] al-Bashir.  So, I’m wondering, is that not true? 


Spokesperson:  Well, Al-Arabiya, I guess, has its sources.  I cannot comment on that.  Yes?  You have a Kosovo question?


Question:  Yes, I do actually.  One is, there has been a series reports about Mr. [Lamberto] Zannier, in an interview he’d said that they might set up ethnically separate policing of northern Kosovo and have a separate customs administration, so that in Kosovo, I guess, authorities are speaking against it.  In fact, there is one article saying that they might, they’re very upset about this.  And that he’s gone on vacation, Mr. Haysom is there.  Did he say those things and is that the UN position, that it will be looking towards having a separate police force for northern Kosovo and a separate customs authority?


Spokesperson:  I will try to get more information on that for you.  Mr. Haysom is there.


Question:  He’s physically going to remain there throughout the…?


Spokesperson:  We don’t know for how long, but I’ll let you know.  Thank you very much.


[The Spokesperson later added that United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) said that there has been no proposal to change the chain of command in Kosovo.]


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