11 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 Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon, everyone.


**Guest at Noon Briefing


We will have a guest at the noon briefing today, Cecilia Ugaz, who is Acting Director of the UNDP’s Human Development Report Office, and she will be here to present a youth version of the Human Development Report 2007/2008 on climate change.  We will expect her here shortly.


** Georgia -- Statement by the Secretary-General


Late on Saturday night, the Secretary-General issued a statement on the situation in Georgia.  In it, he said he was alarmed by the escalation of hostilities and particularly worried about violence spreading to areas outside the Georgian-Ossetian conflict zone.


Expressing profound concern over mounting tensions in the Abkhaz zone of conflict, he called for maximum restraint by all concerned, as well as a guarantee of the safety and security of unarmed UN military observers.


The Secretary-General urged all parties to immediately end hostilities and to engage, without delay, in negotiations to achieve a peaceful settlement.  He also said that all armed contingents which are not authorized by respective agreements on South Ossetia, should leave the zone of conflict.


The Secretary-General urged all parties to respect the principle of the territorial integrity of States enshrined in the UN Charter and to refrain from actions that could undermine efforts to settle the longstanding conflicts in Georgia.


And we have his full statement upstairs and on the web.


**Georgia -- Security Council


The Security Council met over the weekend to take up the situation in Georgia.  Saturday’s consultations were followed by an open meeting on Sunday, in which both Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe, and Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Edmond Mulet, briefed.


Pascoe acknowledged that the UN had no first-hand information on the situation on the ground.  He did note, however, that the UN Resident Coordinator in Georgia had recommended that international staff evacuate.  But, at that moment, no international staff had left Georgia, he said.


For his part, Mulet said the situation in Abkhazia, where the conflict had spread, remained a concern, with a military build-up on the Abkhaz side and bombings of the town of Gori.  He noted that, as a result of the increase in bombings in the area of operations of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG), the Mission had had to scale down its operations and was now conducting only essential patrols.  You can read the press release on yesterday’s meeting for more details.


**Georgia -- Humanitarian


UN agencies are launching relief operations to help people affected by the escalating conflict in Georgia.  Over the weekend, in response to a request from the Georgian Government, the World Food Programme (WFP) provided a 10-day food ration to nearly 2,000 displaced people living in shelters in the capital, Tbilisi.  Today’s distributions are mainly targeted at people outside the capital, but access to them is restricted by continuing Russian air raids.  The situation is extremely dangerous for WFP staff, according to the agency.


Meanwhile, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is mounting an emergency airlift of relief supplies to bolster its stockpiles of humanitarian aid in the Caucasus region.  Additional staff are also being deployed.  The first airlift flight, which will carry 20,000 blankets and other aid items, is scheduled to fly from UNHCR’s stockpile in Dubai to Georgia tonight.  A second flight is planned for Wednesday from Copenhagen.  The two flights will carry humanitarian supplies for up to 30,000 people.


In addition to displacement from South Ossetia, UNHCR is also worried by population movements from the town of Gori in central Georgia.  A UNHCR assessment team travelled to Gori on Sunday and was told by local officials that up to 80 per cent of the population had left, fearing further attacks.  And we have more on that upstairs.


** Darfur


The UN-AU Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) says that one of its helicopters was reportedly shot at earlier today in West Darfur.


The helicopter took off from El Geneina at around noon local time and the pilot heard shots being fired at the helicopter about 30 minutes after take-off, when the helicopter was over a location 90 kilometres north-east of El Geneina.  The pilot aborted the mission and returned safely to El Geneina.  There were no casualties reported and the helicopter is being examined to assess any damage.  At the moment, it is not clear who was behind the shooting.


Also today, UNAMID’s senior leadership provided a briefing on its work at its headquarters in El Fasher to the visiting US Special Envoy for Sudan, Richard Williamson.  The Deputy UN-AU Joint Special Representative, Henry Anyidoho, expressed his appreciation for the support that the US Government is extending to the Mission.  He added that, despite limited resources and associated challenges, UNAMID is doing its utmost to implement its mandate and to improve the security situation on the ground.


The Mission also reports that the security situation in UNAMID’s area of responsibility remained relatively calm during the past few days.


** Sudan


Meanwhile, Ashraf Qazi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sudan, over the weekend welcomed the announcement of senior appointments for the administration of Abyei, in Southern Sudan.  Qazi encouraged the two parties to continue to move ahead with implementation of the remaining road map provisions so that those displaced by May’s fighting can soon return in safety and dignity to resume their lives in a secure environment.  Those steps include final withdrawal of the forces of the two sides from the area, and the full deployment of joint integrated units, including police units.  And we have that statement upstairs.


** Côte d’Ivoire


Yesterday in Abidjan, representatives of the UN mission in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) delivered a first batch of electoral material to the Ivorian Government. The package, which includes some 1,500 electoral kits, was transported by air from the UN logistical centre in Brindisi, Italy.  The equipment should help the technical operator for the elections to fast-track the identification process.


Abou Moussa, the mission’s Principal Deputy Special Representative, said the delivery shows the UN’s determination to help start a rapid launch of the identification drive.  He added that the mission would also help to meet the remaining logistical challenges, including the recruitment and training of electoral workers and the rehabilitation of the central identification site and some 70 other local sites.  And there is more in a press release upstairs.


**Speech by the Deputy Secretary-General


On Saturday, Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro spoke to the American Bar Association in New York and called on lawyers to play a greater role in guaranteeing that countries live up to their commitments to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.


The Deputy Secretary-General cited the formation of the International Criminal Court and the 2005 pledge by world leaders on the responsibility to protect populations from such crimes as important milestones.  She added that the need to make the responsibility to protect fully operational represents a major priority and challenge for the United Nations and for Member States.  And we have her speech upstairs.


** Pakistan


The World Food Programme (WFP) has started distributing food aid in Peshawar District in northern Pakistan to help people cope with the disastrous impact of a devastating flood last week.  The affected people in rural areas have lost assets including food, livestock and drinking water.  The flood has washed away most of the mud houses in the affected villages.  A UN joint assessment found that nearly 100 villages were affected, about 50 of them severely.  Over 35 people have been reported dead and many more were injured.  And we have a WFP press release with more details.


** Viet Nam


The UN country team in Viet Nam says that it has received information from the national authorities that 97 people have been killed and 48 are missing following recent floods in that country.  Search-and-rescue operations are ongoing.


Over 4,000 houses have been damaged, while a further 300 have been completely destroyed, according to reports received by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  UNDP adds that it is collecting additional information from partners present in the field.


**Guest at Tomorrow’s Noon Briefing


This week, a number of force commanders for UN peacekeeping missions are here in New York for talks.  And we will have a number of them for you over the course of the week as our guests at the noon briefing.  Our guest at the noon briefing tomorrow will be General Martin Luther Agwai, Force Commander of the UN-AU Mission in Darfur.


And that is it for me.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Regarding Ban Ki-moon’s statement on the Georgia conflict.  Has the Secretary-General been in touch with either the Russians or the Georgians directly, and if so, who specifically?


Associate Spokesperson:  I’ll check about his calls.  The Secretary-General is out of town this week, but he and his senior officials have maintained their conversations.  I’ll try and get an update on whom precisely they have been talking to.


[It was later announced that the Secretary-General spoke by phone on Saturday with European Union High Representative Javier Solana and United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; on Sunday with United Kingdom Prime Minister Gordon Brown; and on Monday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.}


Question:  Does the Secretary-General have any comment on the Russian Ambassador’s allegation yesterday regarding Pascoe and… on reports that it was done because he was American?


Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t have any specific comment on that.  I would, however, like to underscore that all UN staff are international civil servants.  We are not loyal to our respective Member States, but to the ideals of the Organization and of the UN Charter.  All senior officials, including Mr. Pascoe, have signed, as part of their oath of office, assurances that they would, in fact, do that; that they would function as international civil servants, and consequently as unbiased and impartial in their handling of disputes.


Question:  So you have no comment on allegations that his presentation was lacking depth and showed that…?


Associate Spokesperson:  I just did tell you a few words right then.


Question:  Why have we not seen the Secretary-General publicly on camera discussing this crisis?


Associate Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General is out of town right now.


Question:  But he was here Friday.  He failed to attend the Security Council briefing and thus also has drawn this very rare public criticism of a top political affairs officer from a permanent member of the Security Council and (inaudible because of cell phone use).  I think it was odd that he was not at yesterday’s meeting either.


Associate Spokesperson:  Like I said, the Secretary-General was not in town yesterday.  We did have senior officials, including Mr. Pascoe and Mr. Mulet, present and briefing the Security Council at that.  And the Secretary-General was responsible over the weekend for issuing the statement that we put out on Saturday, which makes his own views on the matter quite clear.


Question:  Did you say that UNOMIG has been drawing down or has been curtailing their activities?


Associate Spokesperson:  What Mr. Mulet made clear was that they had to scale down its operations, so that they could only conduct essential patrols.  UNOMIG has not left the area of operations.  They are still present and they still are conducting essential patrols.  But, beyond that, they have had to cut down on other operations.


Question:  What is their mandate, exactly?


Associate Spokesperson:  They are military observers, so they do observer functions.  I can refer you to the relevant resolutions and the details are also on UNOMIG’s own website.


Question:  Is there any update on the humanitarian corridors?  There has been an effort to allow free passage for civilians, make sure that aid workers can get around…


Associate Spokesperson:  As I pointed out at the top of the briefing, we are still facing problems with access to populations.  One of the things we pointed out was that access to populations outside the capital has been restricted by continuing air raids.  So we still have some concerns about that.  But I’ll try to get an update on where the aid corridors stand.


Question:  Because there was talk this morning from the aid agencies like out of Geneva that they were in the process of establishing… So it sounds like maybe they are not?


Associate Spokesperson:  I am not aware that we have come to an agreement on aid corridors, but if there is anything further, I will let you know.  Yes, Richard?


[The Associate Spokesperson later added that United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres welcomed the opening of two humanitarian aid corridors in the area.]


Question:  In the UN’s view, who started this, Georgia or Russia?


Associate Spokesperson:  You saw the briefings that we gave yesterday, and I don’t think either Mr. Pascoe or Mr. Mulet was trying to say who started it.  They did give some chronology of what was going on on the ground.  But, at this stage, the important point, and the relevant point that we flagged from the Secretary-General’s statement, was that the parties have to immediately end hostilities and to engage in negotiations for a peaceful settlement.  That is where we are focusing our attention.  And we can get into other aspects of this later on, but certainly we are not trying to play the blame game so much as we are trying to get the parties involved into negotiations.


Question:  On Darfur, can you tell us how many aircraft are operating now for UNAMID there?


Associate Spokesperson:  How many aircraft?  I’ll try to get that number.


Question:  Is Verbeke, Special Representative [Johan] Verbeke, is he in Tbilisi?


Associate Spokesperson:  Mr. Verbeke was newly appointed just a little over a week ago.  His functions have not started.  As we made clear in the announcement, the Special Representative for Georgia remains Jean Arnault, and he is in Tbilisi.


Question:  In the statement, it says that he calls for all parties that are not party to the agreement to withdraw.  Which ones…?  Because, I mean, both Russia and Georgia are parties to the agreement, aren’t they?


Associate Spokesperson:  I think the statement speaks for itself.  There is an agreement between Russia, Georgia, and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) about the provision of troops.  The troops that are not covered by the agreement are the ones we are referring to.


Question:  Do I recall correctly that Georgia, I think it is Georgia and the Baltic countries, are non-members of CIS?


Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t speak for the CIS.  I don’t know who are not members of CIS.  I am sure they have their own information.


Question:  Is the Secretary-General planning to come back or to speak on camera about this?


Associate Spokesperson:  He is continuing to monitor events and if there is any need for him to curtail his trip, he will do so.  Right now, he and his senior officials do continue to exchange information with each other, and so he is continuing to be apprised.


Question:  I am sorry that the regular briefer is not here, because we always appreciate you are here.  For this question, I don’t like giving it to you, but does the Secretary-General in any way feel responsible for perhaps escalating tensions inside the Security Council with his ludicrous climate plan, raising temperatures in the building, no air conditioning on the weekends, men in suits under pressure, under television lights, sharp exchanges not heard often here at all between great Powers, in a building that was roasting yesterday and Saturday?  Will he consider reversing that policy, especially on weekends during crisis situations?


Associate Spokesperson:  First off, Richard, although I respect you, I think it is a bit of a stretch that the amount of rancour seen over the last few days is related in any way to the warmth or coolness of this building.  I think it actually has to do with the substantive events on the ground.  We are aware that there are topics on which sometimes the Security Council members will be divided, and this, maybe, is one of them.  We are certainly hoping for unity among them but, obviously, at this stage, it has been hard to come by.


In terms of the heat or coolness of the building, as the month progresses, we will review how it has worked, and we will see what the lessons are from this in terms of either expanding or curtailing what we do on this in the future.  But right now, we are resolved to press ahead with the whole Cool UN emissions…


Question:  Isn’t it hypocritical that, after the SG issues this edict, that the man takes a week of vacation time during this period?


Associate Spokesperson:  He was in the building, and here for the first, I believe, the first 10 days of this particular initiative, and knowing him, he may very well come back when you least expect it.  I come into this building at 7 in the morning, when the coolness has not yet kicked in, but, honestly, it is not that warm.  It is something anyone can tolerate.


Correspondent:  No, not if you are doing television work and not if you are in the Council Chamber.  I will guarantee you that, yes, it is a crisis, but I will tell you that it contributed.


Question:  Was the air conditioning on in weekend mode over the weekend?  Or was it kicked in … [inaudible, several correspondents talking at the same time]


Associate Spokesperson:  I believe the air conditioning was on.  The building was a little bit warm.  The idea is that in meeting rooms it is 75˚ F and in offices it is 7˚ F.  It is not…


Question:  But, according to the plan, over the weekend they are supposed to shut down all air conditioning.


Associate Spokesperson:  As far as I am aware, because we were fairly constantly active over the weekend, you did have air conditioning, I will check if that was the case.


[The Associate Spokesperson later said that, one of four air conditioning systems is always working and air conditioning was on during the weekend.]


Question:  Not all the time. I was here, my hand was on the vent.  I know that this is not the purpose of this meeting. And this UN, with new fire doors and walls, this building filled with asbestos and other things, is a stuffy, overheated 76.  It is not a real 76.


Associate Spokesperson:  This building is never a real 76.  (Laughter)


Question:  A non-heat-related question.  It is reported that the Government of Myanmar has extended the house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi for another year, which is, some people say it violates… You can only be five years unless charges are being filed.  Does the UN have any response to this?


Associate Spokesperson:  I believe that that decision was taken about a month or so ago.  We had mentioned at the time our concerns about Aung San Suu Kyi’s house arrest.  This is clearly one of the topics… The Secretary-General has repeatedly asked for the restrictions on her movement to be lifted, and this is a topic that Mr. [Ibrahim] Gambari has brought up in previous meetings, and when he visits Myanmar again, which he is expected to do some time over the coming weeks, he does expect to bring up the issue.


Question:  On Mauritania, the new military leaders, there are some reports that either the UN or the UNDP are involved in meetings with them about new elections they say they are going to hold.  Can you give any update on what the UN, either the Secretariat or -- not the Security Council -- the UN system has done since the coup?


Associate Spokesperson:  Since the coup, over the weekend, Said Djinnit, who is the Secretary-General’s Special Representative heading the UN Office for West Africa, has been there, and he has been involved in discussions about this.  I don’t have anything specific from Mr. Djinnit to say about this.  I don’t believe he has issued any statements.  But he has visited, he has been in talks and we will see whether he can get any progress on that.  As for our concerns, we made them clear in the statement we issued late last week.


Question:  The article basically says that the UN rejects the junta plan.  In these meetings they made some proposals about having elections designed in a certain way, and the UN said it is not good enough.  Is that…?


Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t think I have anything specific to say about that until Mr. Djinnit has completed his recent work there.  For right now, he is involved in the issue and involved in talking to people about it.


Question:  And one last thing.  What about Mr. Haile Menkerios in access to Zimbabwe and his role in the process there.  Has he…?


Associate Spokesperson:  He did not go to Zimbabwe.  In fact, he is back in New York today.


Is that it?  If so, then come back in a little bit, and then we will have Cecilia Ugaz, from the UNDP Human Development Report Office, to talk to you about the youth report on climate change.


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