9 October 2008
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICES OF THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL


AND THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT

 


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Enrique Yeves, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.


Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General


Good Afternoon, all.


**Guests Today


My guests today are Angela Kane, Under-Secretary-General for Management; Jun Yamazaki, Controller; and Sandra Haji-Ahmed, Director a.i., Strategic Planning and Staffing Division, [Office of Human Resources Management], who will brief you on management reform.


**HIV/AIDS


The Secretary-General will meet this afternoon with senior executives from the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies.  The meeting is expected to highlight the fact that increasing access to vaccines, diagnostics and medicines is essential in scaling up prevention and treatment efforts.


At the same time, the importance of intellectual property -- in encouraging and ensuring research and development -- will be stressed.  Today’s gathering is a follow-up to the July 2006 meeting, which brought together the Secretary-General and CEOs of leading pharmaceutical companies in an effort to strengthen collective efforts to fight HIV/AIDS.  We have more on this upstairs.


**Democratic Republic of Congo


In response to questions, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) notes that there are persistent reports about incursions by Rwandan troops into the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The reports allege that Rwandan elements are fighting alongside the National Congress for People’s Defence (CNDP) of General Laurent Nkunda.


The UN Mission in the [Democratic Republic of Congo] has not been able to confirm these reports and has suggested that the parties reactivate their Joint Verification Mechanism.  The Mission is in close contact with the Government of the [Democratic Republic of Congo] and Laurent Nkunda’s CNDP, urging both sides to return to their positions, in order to avoid further clashes and to comply with the Disengagement Plan presented to both parties by the Mission.


I want to make it clear that the Mission is operating under a Chapter VII mandate.  It has resorted to the use of force to protect civilians under threat from armed groups in eastern [Democratic Republic of Congo] and in response to threats to main access roads.  The Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Alan Doss, recently briefed the Security Council, in full, on the Mission’s operations and the conditions under which the Mission is working in eastern [Democratic Republic of Congo].  The Secretary-General has been in contact with the parties during the general debate and since then to urge an easing of tensions and offering his willingness to assist.


**Security Council


The Security Council held consultations today on Georgia, to discuss the UN Observer Mission in that country.  Special Representative Johan Verbeke and Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Edmond Mulet, briefed the Council.  The Council then unanimously approved a four-month extension of the Mission’s mandate.


Also today, the Council heard a briefing in closed consultations on the work of the Somalia Sanctions Committee, which is chaired by Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo of South Africa.


** Darfur


Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Alain Le Roy, met with internally displaced persons in El Fasher, North Darfur.  He also addressed personnel of the African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) in a town hall meeting and met with Minni Minawi, leader of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA/SLM) and signatory to the Darfur Peace Agreement.


The visit to Darfur took place yesterday as part of Mr. Le Roy’s familiarization visit to Rwanda.


** Zimbabwe


With more than 5 million Zimbabweans facing severe food shortages, the World Food Programme (WFP) today appealed for $140 million to provide vital relief rations over the next six months.


Without additional contributions, WFP warned it will run out of stocks in January -- at the very peak of the crisis.


Millions of Zimbabweans have already run out of food or are surviving on just one meal a day, and the crisis is going to get much worse in the coming months, according to the World Food Programme.


The situation is already critical in many rural areas.  A large number of farmers harvested little -- if anything -- this year and have now exhausted their meagre stocks.  Many hungry families are reportedly living on one meal a day, exchanging precious livestock for buckets of maize or eating wild foods, such as baobab and amarula.  There is a press release with more details upstairs.


**IAEA-Democratic People’s Republic of Korea


The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says that it was informed today by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) that, effective immediately, the Agency’s access to facilities at Yongbyon would no longer be permitted.


The [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] also stated that it has stopped its disablement work, which was initially agreed upon within the Six-Party Talks.  Also, since it is preparing to restart the facilities at Yongbyon, the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] has informed the IAEA that its monitoring activities would no longer be appropriate.


The Agency says that its inspectors will remain in Yongbyon, pending further information by the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea].


**Economy


The International Monetary Fund (IMF), in its latest World Economic Outlook, is calling for strong, coordinated action to address an impending major economic downturn, which follows two very large shocks – the surge in oil and commodity prices, and the expanding financial crisis.


The IMF expects global growth to slow substantially in the latter part of 2008; a modest recovery isn’t expected until the second half of 2009.  Until then, growth in advanced countries will be close to zero, and no country will be immune.  In a separate report, to be presented this weekend, the World Bank says high food and fuel prices will increase the number of malnourished people around the world by 44 million this year, to a total of 967 million.  Even though price increases have slowed, prices are still much higher than before and show few signs of dropping, the World Bank says.


“While people in the developed world are focused on the financial crisis, many forget that a human crisis is rapidly unfolding in developing countries,” says World Bank Group President Robert Zoellick.


** Haiti


World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick today announced $25 million in additional emergency grants to Haiti.  The funds will be used to support recovery and rebuilding, and to strengthen Haiti’s institutional capacity to cope with natural disasters following four tropical storms and hurricanes since August.


The grants will fund rebuilding of major bridges and other rehabilitation work on key infrastructure, as well as expanding existing programmes to help reduce Haiti's vulnerability to natural disasters and strengthen its capacity to respond to them.


Mr. Zoellick also plans to visit Haiti later this month.


** Iraq Escrow Account


The latest report by the Board of Auditors dealing with the UN escrow accounts for Iraq is available as a document today, noting the winding down of that account.


It notes that the total income of the account, which was at $162.6 million at the end of last year, represented a 36 per cent decrease from the amount for the previous biennium.  That decrease, the auditors say, was primarily because of transfers made to the Development Fund for Iraq.


**Mental Disorders


More than 75 per cent of people suffering from mental disorders in the developing world receive no treatment or care, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).


Across Africa, for example, nine out of 10 people suffering from epilepsy go untreated, even though the necessary drugs cost less than $5 a year, per person.


WHO calls on Governments, donors and mental health stakeholders to rapidly increase funding and basic mental health services to close this huge treatment gap.  We have more on that upstairs.


**Fisheries


A new World Bank–Food and Agriculture Organization report released today finds that marine fisheries lose $50 million each year through inefficiency, poor management and overfishing.


The study argues that, by replacing incentives for overfishing with incentives for responsible stewardship, most of these losses could ultimately be turned into sustainable economic benefits.  There is also more information in a press release upstairs.


**UN Book Days


This morning the Secretary-General opened the first-ever UN Book Days in the Visitor’s Lobby.


In remarks, the Secretary-General said that books are helping the UN to share knowledge with its partners, in order to generate even greater understanding.  He also hopes that UN Book Days will raise awareness about all the information resources available so that researchers working to address pressing global problems will have the materials they need to succeed.


The online version of the Yearbook of the UN was also launched as part of UN Book Days.  The new website, unyearbook.un.org, will provide free public access to the 59 volumes of the Yearbook collection.


**Clarification


About the probe on the assassination of Ms. Benazir Bhutto, let me clarify, because I was asked what the Secretary-General said about the probe.  He said that there would be a commission created and that the modalities were still being discussed with the Pakistani authorities.  It is not going to be a criminal investigation, he said, and I want to just clarify what the Secretary-General said at his latest press conference.


**Press Conferences/Guest Tomorrow


Talking about press conferences, at 11 a.m. tomorrow, here in 226, Hédi Annabi, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Haiti, will hold a press conference to give you an update on the situation in Haiti.


And my guest tomorrow will be Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, who will brief you on the latest developments in negotiations on a new climate change agreement that needs to be finalized by December 2009 in Copenhagen.


And this is all I have for you.  Any questions?  We’ll try to make it quickly today.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Does the Secretary-General have anything to say about the economic crisis in Iceland?  The country appears to be going bankrupt.


Spokesperson:  Well, he doesn’t have anything specific to say about specific countries.  As you know, the economic crisis is hitting the world over, and I think the Secretary-General has expressed his concern about the situation and about the fact that the poorest of the poor will be paying the brunt of the crisis.  But nothing specific about one country.  Thank you so much.  Yes?


Question:  Just now in the stakeout, Ambassador [Vitaly] Churkin of Russia said that his mission had big concerns about this agreement between the Secretary-General and NATO and that they’d been assured that they’d be consulted about the text before it was signed.  So, what does the Secretary-General say about the appropriateness of reaching that without consulting, in this case, Russia?


Spokesperson:  Well, it was an agreement between two secretariats.  The two secretariats of the two bodies, the United Nations and NATO.  The UN and NATO have cooperated in the field on practical matters for more than a decade now and in the context of UN-mandated missions.  The Balkans and Afghanistan are examples and strategic airlift support has been provided by NATO to AU missions working under UN mandates in Sudan and Somalia, and NATO has also provided assets and personnel in support of UN disaster relief operations.  So those are existing situations and this has happened before.  The present declaration, the UN-NATO declaration, acknowledges the reality, provides the framework for continued consultations and cooperation between the two secretariats on these issues.  It calls for a mechanism for regular exchanges and dialogue between officials.  It calls for cooperation with regards to training and the sharing of information, and lessons learned.


Question:  Did Russia misunderstand… he said clearly that they believe that they were going to be shown this before it was signed.  Did they misunderstand; did they pick up the wrong signals?


Spokesperson:  We have similar agreements between the UN Secretariat and other regional organizations, and it didn’t have to be shown.  I said it was an agreement between two secretariats.


Question:  Just one other thing.  Today in the Fifth Committee, a question arose on where Inga-Britt Ahlenius, of the OIOS, was giving her annual report, a question arose from the Member States, what happened with this investigation of [inaudible] in Tokyo.  There was some financial impropriety found and so the report she put in doesn’t say what happened.  The Member States said, “We want the Secretary-General to say what happened.”


Spokesperson:  I cannot comment on this.  It is something between the Fifth Committee right now and Ahlenius.  I’ll wait for …


Question:  It’s a factual question.  As a reporter, I’m saying, did the UN impose any discipline on [inaudible] for financial impropriety?


Spokesperson:  I will try to find out for you what was done on that count.


Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President


Thank you, Michèle.  And I’ll try to be really quick as well.   Thank you very much.


Good afternoon.


This morning, President Miguel d´Escoto addressed the General Assembly for the Report of the Peacebuilding Commission.  In his remarks, the President said that, and I quote:


“I see today’s debate as an opportunity for Member States to reflect on the question of how the General Assembly would best support and reinforce the lofty goals of the UN peacebuilding architecture.  We must aim for nothing less than significant change in policies and attitude by all relevant stakeholders in addressing the plight of societies emerging from conflict.”


End of quote.  And I don’t have anything else, unless you have any particular questions or any information you need to find.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  On the thing of peacebuilding, on whether the Peacebuilding Fund that funds countries like Guinea-Bissau and certain others that are behind on paying their dues under Article 19, was there any… remember this arose a couple of days ago whether UN peacebuilding funds can be used to make those arrears, or somehow be offset.


Spokesperson:  I don’t have particular information on that.  I remembered you asked about that and I have asked, but I don’t have it right now.  But I’ll come back to you with that information for sure.


Correspondent:  Thank you.


Spokesperson:  That was quick.


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For information media • not an official record