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


Good afternoon.


I’ll start with a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on India.


[A statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on lifting aid agency restrictions in Zimbabwe was issued after the briefing.]


**Secretary-General’s Statement on India


The Secretary-General was saddened to learn of the loss of life and damage to property in Bihar, India, due to flooding.  He extends his deepest condolences to those affected, especially to the families of those who have been killed or who are missing.


The United Nations stands ready to assist as required.


**Nepal/India Floods


As for humanitarian efforts on the ground, the World Health Organization (WHO) has offered technical assistance to the health ministries of both India and Nepal.  WHO has enough emergency health kits pre-positioned to provide emergency assistance to 120,000 people for one month. 


The World Food Programme (WFP) is providing an initial 15-day food basket to 50,000 flood victims in Nepal, with more on the way.  UNICEF is providing water purifying products and hygiene kits, as well as hand pumps, latrines and garbage facilities throughout camps for displaced persons.  And there is more information in a press release from OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] and in the Geneva briefing notes upstairs


**Hurricane Gustav


Meanwhile in Haiti, Hurricane Gustav had forced around 6,300 people from their homes.  There is more information on that in a UNICEF press release.


UNICEF, the World Food Programme and the partners were working with the Government to ascertain the extent of the damage. 


Hurricane Gustav had also hit the Dominican Republic, where, according to OCHA, prevention had played an important role in limiting the damage, with 5,900 people evacuated in time.  And there is more information on this also in the briefing notes from Geneva.


** Turin


The Secretary-General, as you know, is in Turin and he opened a two-day retreat with about 60 UN senior officials -– Under-Secretaries-General and Assistant Secretaries-General coming from New York Headquarters as well as other duty stations.


The retreat, organized by the UN Staff College based in Turin, by the UN Institute for Training and Research and the UN Department of Management, is focusing on assessing the last 20 months and on how best the United Nations can tackle major global challenges from climate change, to the food crisis, from human rights to peace and security issues, including staff safety.


The working sessions will also address organizational matters of accountability, team work and building a modern, mobile and efficient workforce within the UN system.


The UN managers' retreat, the second held in Turin, was opened this morning after the swearing-in ceremony of two new senior staff members:  the new High Commissioner for Human Rights [Navanethem Pillay], and the new Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs [Peter Taksoe-Jensen].


The retreat is hosted by the regional and local governments of the Piedmont region and the City of Torino, in a World Heritage site.


**Security Council


There are no meetings scheduled here in the Security Council today.  Yesterday afternoon, the Council did hold an open meeting on the situation in Georgia. 


Briefing for the Department of Political Affairs, Elizabeth Spehar said that there are 18 Russian checkpoints north of the town of Gori.  There are also media reports of additional checkpoints in Georgia, including around the port town of Poti. 


Ms. Spehar also provided an update on humanitarian efforts on the ground, noting that the situation remains complex and unpredictable, with continuing movements of people.  According to the latest figures from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, some 2,300 people have registered in Gori as internally displaced persons; 800 of them are staying in a tented camp set up by UN agencies on the outskirts of town.


Briefing for the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Wolfgang Weisbrod-Weber said that the situation in and around the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict zone remains tense and that the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) has observed large-scale movements of Russian troops from the Georgian- to the Abkhaz-controlled side of the ceasefire line.  But UNOMIG has also observed that CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States]-peacekeeping force checkpoints have moved forward from the ceasefire line towards the boundary with Georgia proper. 


He also said there are reports of mines having been laid in the Gali District, although UNOMIG cannot verify any of these claims, as it has not been able to obtain appropriate security guarantees to resume normal patrolling in that area.  UNOMIG has also been unable to conduct patrols in the Kodori Valley, but has resumed normal patrolling in the Zugdidi sector.  And those briefing notes, of course, are available to you upstairs.


** Democratic Republic of the Congo


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Alan Doss, has condemned the recent fighting between the Congolese Army and rebels from the National Congress for People’s Defence.  The Special Representative called on the parties to exercise restraint, return to their initial positions and avoid any actions that might escalate the situation.


Meanwhile, the UN, European Union and Rwandan officials met Wednesday in Kigali in preparation for Monday’s Joint Monitoring Group meeting in Kinshasa.  Among other issues, they discussed disarmament and repatriation of the DRC [ Democratic Republic of the Congo]-based armed group, the FDLR (Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda).  There is a press release upstairs on this subject.


** Somalia


And the UN Special Representative for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, has welcomed the agreement signed by Somalia’s leaders in Addis Ababa on August 25th.


Under this agreement, facilitated by the Government of Ethiopia under the auspices of the East African bloc Intergovernmental Authority on Development, President Yusuf, the Speaker of Parliament, Sheikh Aden Madobe, and Prime Minister Hussein have resolved to promote reconciliation, the rule of law and good governance in Somalia.  They also fully committed to implement the Djibouti Agreement.


**IAEA Accident


IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] says that independent analysis has confirmed that there was no release of radioactive material to the environment following an incident at IAEA´s [Seiborsdorf] laboratory in Austria on 3 August, which we reported to you.


The test focused on analysis of soil, plant and water samples collected outside IAEA´s laboratory.  And since the incident, constant air monitoring near the laboratory has also provided no evidence of any radioactive contamination.


An investigation into the circumstances and causes of the incident is still under way.  In the meantime, the first stage of the clean-up of the laboratory was successfully completed on August 22nd.  And you can read more about that in a press release upstairs.


**Rest of Secretary-General’s Trip


And we have for you, as usual, the Week Ahead at the United Nations for your planning purposes.


As you know, we have a three-day weekend this weekend.  UN Headquarters in New York is closed for an official holiday.  But on Monday, 1 September, that day is Burking Faso’s Security Council presidency for the month of September.


And then on Tuesday, 2 September, the guest at the noon briefing will be UN Police Adviser Andrew Hughes, who will brief on the outcome of the Fourth International Police Advisory Council Meeting. 


Then on 3 September, the Permanent Representative of Burkina Faso, Ambassador Michel Kafando, and the President of the Security Council for the month of September will brief you here on the month’s programme of work.


And also from Wednesday through Friday, at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, the sixty-first annual UN-DPI/NGO Conference meets on the theme “Reaffirming Human Rights: The Universal Declaration at Sixty”.


And another item to flag for you is at 11 a.m. on Thursday, 4 September:  the Secretary-General and UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] together with DESA [Department of Economic and Social Affairs] will launch the first report on the Millennium Development Goal Gap Task Force entitled “Delivering on the Global Partnership for Achieving the MDGs”.  So that’s at 11 a.m. on the 4th.


And then, as for the rest of the Secretary-General’s trip, just to bring you up to date, on Sunday, 31 August, the Secretary-General is expected to be in Geneva, where he plans to address a commemoration of the twentieth anniversary of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and then speak to reporters afterwards.


On Monday, also in Geneva, the Secretary-General will attend a signing ceremony for a memorandum of understanding between the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the Iraqi Government.


Then the Secretary-General would participate in a fifth anniversary commemoration for the victims of the attack against United Nations headquarters in Baghdad. 


And following the ceremony, the Secretary-General would leave Geneva and travel to Spain. 


We will have advance draft copies of the Secretary-General’s remarks this afternoon.  They, of course, are embargoed until delivery and would need to be checked against delivery.


** Ethiopia -– Holmes Trip


And one other Week Ahead item:  Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes is set to begin a three-day visit to Ethiopia on Monday.  While there, he will travel to various locations and meet with communities affected by drought and the food security crisis.


Specifically, he will observe the changes in the humanitarian situation since last November.  And while in Ethiopia, Holmes is also scheduled to meet with Government and regional officials, community representatives and other UN partners. 


And finally, as I mentioned, Tuesday here, we will have the noon briefing and we will have the guest who will be the UN Police Adviser.  And that’s what I have for you.  Anything for me?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  I was wondering, yesterday, during the Security Council meeting, it was suggested that the UN Secretariat should send a team to Georgia to look at the claims on both sides -- the Georgian and the Russian side -- of ethnic cleansing and genocide; that these are serious claims and should be looked at by a neutral party.  Is there any possibility that the UN could send a team over there for that?  And also, it’s been suggested that there may be a real need for a humanitarian look at the whole situation in Georgia; a sort of fact-finding mission.  It’s still obviously difficult to get to all areas, but is there a plan to do a sort of comprehensive analysis of the humanitarian situation in Georgia?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything detailed to give you on either one of your questions at the moment, but, as soon as I do, I’ll let you know.  In terms of a humanitarian assessment, whenever there is any humanitarian crisis on the planet, the humanitarian agencies do try to get in as quickly as possible.  But as you know, the High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, has already gone and made an initial visit to the region, and has made an initial preliminary mission to meet with some of the displaced, and did an initial assessment already.


Question:  The news agency of the United Arab Emirates has put out a new statement saying they’ve sent a letter to the Secretary-General relating to the construction of buildings by Iran on the three occupied islands.  Has the Secretary-General received the letter and is there a response to it?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I checked for you, though the letter has not been received.  I checked when I saw the news report this morning.


[The Deputy Spokesperson later announced that the letter had been received and issued as a Security Council document, as requested by the sender.]


Question:  There are these reports that in West Darfur the Government shot down this plane, the drone, the spy plane.  Can UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] confirm that?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I have not received anything on that from UNAMID today.


Question:  Is that the kind of thing that they will be able to either confirm or…?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, if they were able to observe such an incident, then I would think that they would report it.  But I have not seen any reports today.


Question:  And do you know if currently…is Sudan supposed to be flying drones over that area?


Deputy Spokesperson:  You’re talking about a press report now.  I have to look into it for you before we can say anything.


Question:  Also, NLD [National League for Democracy] in Myanmar has now put out a formal statement saying that the trip by Mr. Gambari accomplished none of the stated goals of… citing the various, you know, descriptions of his mandate.  So it’s been now some time since he left the country.  Does the UN think it was a useful trip?  When are we going to get a statement by Mr. Gambari on what he thinks was accomplished?


Deputy Spokesperson:  As for the wrap-up of the trip, I gave you that information earlier this week.  As for Mr. Gambari, yes, we did ask him and he will brief you as soon as he briefs [the Security Council].  If and when his briefing to the Security Council is scheduled, he is willing to brief you.  So we’ve put that request and he is willing to do so.


Question:  Will there be something, I guess, coming out of your office after Ban Ki-moon hears from him there or…?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Mr. Gambari would like to talk directly to you and all the other reporters.


Question:  Marie, there are some images on UNOSAT showing Georgian villages in South Ossetia, damage and clearly defined residential communities; ongoing fires after, I suppose, the hostilities were ceased.  Some human rights groups are saying that it shows ethnic cleansing going on in those areas.  What does the UN say about those images, what they show?


Deputy Spokesperson:  As for the images, I just received your e-mail about that five minutes before the briefing, so I was not able to look into the actual images that you reported.  You can talk to the UNOSAT spokespeople about how and where they got those images from.  But in terms of the UN’s angle on this, as you know, UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] has been reporting all week on the displaced people from that region and has been reporting on what they have heard directly from them.  So that is all.  UNHCR is in the lead right now in terms of letting us know what’s going on.  But that again is from the people who fled the region; we don’t have anybody inside.  And as I said earlier to Reuters, there is probably nothing more that the humanitarian agencies would like to do than to get in themselves to assess the needs of these people on the ground.


Question:  Regarding the letter from UAE [ United Arab Emirates] about Iran, we got it yesterday and it is translated in Arabic.  So how come you don’t have it?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General has not received the letter, that’s all I can tell you.  I mean, there are many times when the sender of a letter can announce that they have sent it, but that doesn’t mean that it’s been received on this end.


Question:  It’s not that they’ve just announced like… It was released and we got the translation of it yesterday.


Deputy Spokesperson:  I checked for you and we have not received it.  I’ll keep checking for you.  So on that note…


[The Deputy Spokesperson later confirmed receipt of the letter by the Secretary-General and that it had been issued as a document of the Security Council, as requested by the sender.]


Question:  On the victims-of-terrorism event, on 9 September, has the Secretary-General received a letter from any grouping of Member States asking questions about it or asking for greater transparency?  Has such a letter been received?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I’d have to look into that for you.  I don’t know.  And yes, I am trying to set up a briefing for you at the earliest possible time and I’ll let you know as soon as I know that as well.  With that, have a good weekend and we’ll see you Tuesday. 


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For information media • not an official record