13 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.  Sorry to start a little bit late.  We were waiting for a statement which I’ll read just in a second.


**Guest at Noon Briefing


Our guests at today’s noon briefing today are Lieutenant General Babacar Gaye, Force Commander of the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), and Brigadier General Mark Skidmore, Senior Military Adviser of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).  And we will cede the floor to them in just a few minutes.  First let me go through today’s news.


** Georgia Statement


I do have the following statement, attributable to the Spokesperson of the Secretary-General, concerning the situation in Georgia:


The Secretary-General welcomes the acceptance by Georgia and by the Russian Federation of the peace plan proposed by President [Nicolas] Sarkozy of France.  He calls for immediate follow-through in implementing the agreed principles, including the full end to hostilities and the withdrawal of forces to previous positions.  The Secretary-General reiterates his support for a solution based on full respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia.  He is prepared to use his good offices towards the restoration of peace and security in the region.


The Secretary-General appreciates the role played by the European Union presidency and the Chairman-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in search of a lasting peaceful solution.  He strongly believes that the resolution of the conflicts in Georgia requires a comprehensive approach through a concerted effort by the international community.  The United Nations stands ready to facilitate international discussions as well as to contribute to possible peacekeeping or other arrangements for Abkhazia and South Ossetia.


The Secretary-General remains concerned about the humanitarian situation in the region.  He mourns the victims of the hostilities and urges all parties to provide full and safe access for humanitarian organizations to the regions affected by the conflicts.


**Georgia -- Humanitarian


Two cargo aircraft chartered by the World Food Programme (WFP) set off this morning for Tbilisi, Georgia, with 34 tons of high-energy biscuits for the thousands of people displaced by the recent conflict there.


The biscuits were shipped from the UN Humanitarian Response Depot in Brindisi, Italy, and will bolster the in-country food stocks that WFP already started distributing over the weekend.  WFP will also supply wheat flour to bakeries near areas where the internally displaced are gathering.


Meanwhile, on a related note, Georgia has instituted proceedings before the International Court of Justice against the Russian Federation for “its actions on and around the territory of Georgia” in breach of the 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.  And we have more on both of these items in my office.


** Afghanistan


Kai Eide, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, said he was shocked and saddened to learn that an International Rescue Committee vehicle was attacked by unknown gunmen this morning, resulting in the death of three female international aid workers and their Afghan colleague.


Eide condemned the attack in the strongest possible terms and urged the authorities to leave no stone unturned in the search for the perpetrators.


He said that we face a growing humanitarian challenge in Afghanistan, and all parties to this conflict must recognize and respect the inherent neutrality and independence of the humanitarian assistance being provided to those Afghans who need help the most.  His full statement is upstairs.


UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres today also expressed shock and sadness over the killing of the four aid workers.  And UNHCR has that statement in its briefing notes.


** Iraq


The United Nations and Iraq’s Government today signed a landmark cooperation agreement, defining how the United Nations will support Iraq’s reconstruction, development and humanitarian needs over the next three years.  The United Nations Assistance Strategy for Iraq 2008-2010 is the first of its kind to be adopted in the country since the 1990s.


The Strategy sets out how UN agencies will cooperate to help Iraq achieve its key economic and social goals, as reflected in the International Compact with Iraq.  It contains development and humanitarian solutions for better essential social services, such as education and water, and protection for highly vulnerable groups.  It also focuses on boosting Iraq’s private sector to create more jobs and stronger, more accountable systems for governance.   And we have more details in a press release upstairs.


** Somalia


After consultations with the Somali Transitional Federal Government and the opposition Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia, the two main follow-up committees to the Djibouti Agreement will be meeting this weekend in Djibouti.


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, has welcomed this development and invited the international community to show its full support for the Somali peace process and help address the plight of the Somali population.


Ould-Abdallah has also called on the Somali Parliament to suspend work to allow its members to attend the meetings in Djibouti.  And there is more in a press release upstairs.


** Central African Republic


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the Central African Republic, François Lonseny Fall, is deeply concerned by the security situation in the north-eastern part of the country.  He condemns the latest shooting incident between Government forces and the rebel Popular Army for the Restoration of Democracy, which occurred on 7 August.


Fall said that such incidents endanger the ceasefire and peace accord signed by the parties in May this year.  He calls on both sides to abide by their agreements and urges them to exercise the utmost restraint.  Fall also urged the parties to press ahead with the adoption of the amnesty law, which should pave the way to disarmament, cantonment and the reinsertion of members of armed political groups.  And we have copies of his statement upstairs.


**Secretary-General Appointments


I have two appointments to announce.


The Secretary-General has appointed Jun Yamazaki of Japan as Assistant Secretary-General in the Office of Programme Planning, Budgets and Accounts, and the Controller.  Mr. Yamazaki will replace Warren Sach.  Mr. Sach will assume the function of Assistant Secretary-General for Central Support Services.


The Secretary-General recognizes Mr. Sach’s dedicated service as Assistant Secretary-General and Controller.  He appreciates the strong sense of commitment and professionalism shown consistently by Mr. Sach in the fulfilment of his responsibilities.


Mr. Yamazaki has the extensive experience in the UN budget process as the member of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) from 2003 to 2007 and in broad management-related issues in his work at the International Cooperation Bureau in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Japan.  We have more information on both appointees upstairs.


** Myanmar


The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) handed over a new facility that can store vaccines to the Myanmar Ministry of Health yesterday, as part of their efforts to assist the Government with its immunization campaigns.


The facility can hold a full national 8-month supply for six different vaccines and it will be a crucial centre for distributing vaccines for routine and emergency immunizations nationwide.  The number of health campaigns in Myanmar has been increasing, especially in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis.  UNICEF has more information on its website.


**Biofuels


The first draft of a global sustainability standard for biofuels was endorsed today by an international group of experts.  The Round Table on Sustainable Biofuels, which includes the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), is developing global norms for assessing the economic, social and environmental impacts of biofuels.


The Round Table’s Steering Group today approved draft criteria, based on a comprehensive analysis that covers the whole chain of biofuel production.  The criteria address such issues as the potential contribution to climate change mitigation and rural development, the protection of land and labour rights and the impacts on biodiversity, soil pollution, water availability and food security.


The draft will now undergo six months of global stakeholder consultation, which will include feedback sessions around the world.  A final version of the standard is expected to be approved by next April.  And there is more information in a press release from UNEP upstairs.


**International Criminal Court


The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, is today in Dakar, Senegal, where he met President Abdoulaye Wade, to update him on the four investigations being conducted by his Office.  The emphasis was on the situation in Darfur, which the Prosecutor called his primary challenge.


He said his visit was to underline the need for African leaders to support the work of the Court, especially in the context of Darfur.


**Mahmoud Darwish


The UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, has sent his condolences to the Palestinian people following the death of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish.  With eloquence and artistry, Darwish passionately voiced the aspirations of the Palestinian people for justice, freedom and statehood, Serry said.  He added that he joins all Palestinians in mourning Darwish’s passing.


The Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Karen AbuZayd, also issued a statement, saying that, with Darwish’s passing, the world has lost a uniquely compelling voice and a passionate advocate against dispossession and the pain it engenders.


She added that Darwish was the poet of exile, the refugees’ poet, whose universal language of dislocation and alienation will be heard for many years to come.  We have her full statement upstairs.


** Iraq Commemoration


The fifth anniversary of the bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad will be observed next Tuesday, at a brief ceremony to be held at 10:15 a.m. in the public lobby of the General Assembly Building, in front of the memorial plaque located outside the Meditation Room.


The ceremony, which is expected to be attended by the Secretary-General and survivors of the attack, will include the world premiere of Song without Borders, a new work of classical music by composer Steve Heitzeg, written in memory of United Nations staff members who have perished in the line of duty.  The truck bomb attack that hit the UN compound in Baghdad on 19 August 2003 took the lives of 22 people and wounded more than 150 others.  And DPI has a media advisory with more details.


**Guest at Noon Tomorrow


And tomorrow, our guests at the noon briefing will be Major General Claudio Graziano, the Force Commander of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), and Brigadier Patrick Davidson-Houston, the Acting Force Commander of the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE). 


As I said at the start, we do have the Force Commander of the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Senior Military Adviser for the UN Mission in Afghanistan here.  Before we get to them, any questions?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Does Under-Secretary-General [Kiyo] Akasaka intend to defend himself in a Japanese court or will he invoke immunity against a libel suit in Japan?


Associate Spokesperson:  Because of the nature of this case, and because there is a case, as you noted, that is under way -- I am not going to say anything from this stand.  That would be prejudicial.  So I have no comment on any of the substance of this.


Question:  I have one more question.  Does the UN support cannibalism?


Associate Spokesperson:  No, we do not.


Question:  Darwish wrote: “If I became hungry, the usurper’s flesh will be my food.  Beware, beware…”


Associate Spokesperson:  You are aware of the difference between metaphor and reality in poetry, right?


Question:  Does the United Nations metaphorically support cannibalism?


Associate Spokesperson:  The United Nations does not support cannibalism, we do, however, appreciate the use of poetry.


Question:  One more question, sir, I am not finished.  Does the United Nations support calling the realization of the GA resolution that divided Palestine into a State of Palestine and Israel, does the United Nations…?


Associate Spokesperson:  Benny, before you continue with this, the simple standpoint is we appreciate the poet for his poetry.  We stand by all of our previous resolutions…


Question:  The question is, is the word Naqba considered a word to be used for that occasion at the United Nations?


Associate Spokesperson:  We do not, as a general rule, use that word.


Question:  Hostilities have broken out in Kashmir and one of the leaders has been killed.  There is almost a warlike situation.  And the Pakistan Government has now issued a statement too.  Is the Secretary-General aware of the situation?  Suddenly, Kashmir is becoming a hotspot.


Associate Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General is aware of the situation.  We are monitoring it.  We don’t have any extensive comment to make on this at this stage.  I believe our human rights colleagues in Geneva are also aware of this and are determining whether to make any comment.  I don’t have anything further to say at present.


Question:  On the Tribunal in Cambodia, there are reports that the payments were stopped due to suspicions of misuse of funds.  It has been reported that the UN is still not paying the workers, but that Japan is now stepping in to pay.  Can you confirm that?


Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t have any confirmation about Japan.  You might want to check with my colleagues in UNDP, who have been following the question of payments.  So check with them after the briefing, and I am sure they can help you with that.


Question:  In East Timor, there was reported today that Reinado -- the one who attacked [José] Ramos-Horta -- may have been executed.  That was found in an autopsy, based on the ballistics.  So number one, given the UN’s role in protecting Ramos-Horta at the time, was there ever an outcome to the UN’s investigation into what went wrong in the protection of Ramos-Horta?  And do you have any response to this new autopsy done in East Timor?


Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t have a response, we’d have to check up.  As you know, Reinado died during an exchange of gunfire.  Apparently, the information we had at the time, which we had said, was that he died in an exchange of gunfire during the assassination attempt against Mr. Ramos-Horta.  I am not aware of this latest report and will check with the Mission whether they have any response to that.


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For information media • not an official record