3 November 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.


**Press Conference Today


Today at 1:15 p.m. -- the time has changed -- Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Alain Le Roy and Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Alan Doss, will brief you via video link from Goma.


**Secretary-General


The Secretary-General is back in New York today, and he will talk to you at the Security Council stakeout at 2:30 this afternoon on what we have been doing to deal with the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, among other topics.


The Secretary-General has just returned this morning from a four-nation Asia visit, which ended with a trip to Bangladesh, where he met with officials of the caretaker Government and with the political leaders of the two main parties.


He told reporters in Dhaka yesterday that he has informed the Government authorities and the political parties that the UN will dispatch a small team of highly capable and prominent individuals, who will visit in the coming weeks to assess the conduct of the election and report to him.


He asserted the importance of Bangladesh’s democratic development through free and credible elections.  The December ballot, he said, is a historic opportunity.  Now is the moment to stand against the polarization and violence that have characterized past elections.


Earlier on Sunday, the Secretary-General visited the Grameen Bank projects, where he was extremely moved by the tremendous efforts by the people of Bangladesh to attain self-sustainability, and he also saw first-hand some projects to deal with natural disasters.


On Saturday, the Secretary-General finished a visit to Nepal, where he met with senior Government officials and addressed the Constituent Assembly.  He told reporters in Kathmandu on Saturday that the immediate challenge ahead is to integrate and rehabilitate the Maoist combatants.  He emphasized that it would be especially inspiring for the entire world to see Nepal overcome its own conflict and achieve lasting peace at home.  Those press encounters -- the transcripts are available upstairs or are also on the web.


**Democratic Republic of Congo


The Secretary-General has informed the Security Council of his intention to reappoint Lieutenant-General Babacar Gaye of Senegal as Interim Force Commander for the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC).  The reappointment of General Gaye is intended for a period of six months and is in response to “events currently unfolding in the mission area”.  General Gaye served as MONUC Force Commander between March 2005 and October 2008.


Meanwhile, on the ground, a UN aid convoy dispatched from Goma has reached Rutshuru, one of the towns now under rebel control.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that the convoy, which was escorted by UN peacekeepers, carried health supplies to local health centres.  Those included supplies of drinking water and other goods to help local civilians deal with possible epidemics during the approaching rainy season.


OCHA, meanwhile, has confirmed that “armed actors” have been circulating at two UN camps for the internally displaced.  The camps, located some 10 kilometres north of Goma, were largely deserted last week in a panic by its residents.


Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) says that camps visited by its staff in the town of Rutshuru were almost empty of their residents, and many shelters burned to the ground.  The agency adds that it remains unclear where all the camp residents have gone, but some are believed to have returned to their original villages.


As other internally displaced persons have been returning to camps near Goma, the food aid they have received has included high-energy biscuits, water and medical supplies.  But there remain serious concerns about their health, as some 70 cases of cholera have already been recorded in camps near both Goma and Rutshuru.


In a bid to prepare for any outflux of refugees from North Kivu to Uganda, WFP Uganda is propositioning 500 tons of food -- enough to feed 30,000 people for a month at key spots along their likely path.  The same is being done at the Nkamira transit centre in Gisenyi, just across the border with Rwanda.  Of course, you will get more updates on the Democratic Republic of the Congo this afternoon in two different instances, since at 1:15 p.m., you will be having the video link with Goma, and at 2:30 p.m., the Secretary-General will brief you.


** Chad


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is warning of worsening insecurity and a deteriorating humanitarian situation in eastern Chad, affecting more than 26,000 internally displaced persons in the area of Dogdoré.


Humanitarian operations there have been suspended, except for urgent activities such as responding to medical emergencies and the provision of drinking water, OCHA reports.


Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes is calling on the Government of Chad to work closely with humanitarian agencies to improve security conditions, so that full-scale humanitarian operations may resume.  He also calls on all belligerent parties to allow humanitarian activities to continue without hindrance.  There is more information upstairs.


**Security Council


With the start of a new month, Costa Rica has replaced China in the rotating presidency of the Security Council.  Ambassador Jorge Urbina of Costa Rica has been conducting bilateral discussions with other Council members today on the programme of work for the coming month.


Ambassador Urbina will talk to you in this room tomorrow at 12:30 about the Council’s programme of work for November.


** Middle East


The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, issued a statement over the weekend in Jerusalem.


Serry said he was alarmed at the recent resumption of house demolitions by Israel in the West Bank, after a freeze dating back to April of this year.  He added that the UN would be raising its humanitarian concerns with the Israeli authorities directly, as some of the most vulnerable populations in the West Bank had been hit hard and many poor families left destitute.


Serry also said that Israel’s actions were a political step backwards from its commitments and sent a discouraging signal.  He called on Israel to adhere to its commitments by reinstituting a moratorium on house demolitions, and protecting vulnerable civilians from displacement and loss of livelihoods.  We have the full statement upstairs.


** Yemen


On Yemen, UN agencies are working with the Yemeni authorities to respond to recent severe flooding, which the Government there estimates has left between 20,000 and 25,000 in need of assistance.  A three-member United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination Team is in Yemen to assist the UN Resident Coordinator in coordinating response activities.


The UN Refugee Agency has been working on the ground, in close collaboration with the Government of Yemen.  UNHCR, last week, brought in non-food items for approximately 3,500 people, including tents, mattresses, jerry cans and blankets, mosquito nets, soap, plastic sheets and kitchen sets.  UNICEF has been distributing relief items to an estimated 2,500 families, and it is also planning a measles and polio vaccination campaign in the Hadramout Governorate, the most affected region.  WFP, meanwhile, will distribute food to 20,000 beneficiaries in southern Yemen.


** Afghanistan


John Holmes, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, strongly condemned the abduction today of an aid worker in Kabul, Afghanistan, who serves as a consultant for Amitié Franco-Afghane (AFRANE), a non-governmental organization active in education and development.  Holmes called for the immediate and unconditional release of the staff member.


Holmes is deeply concerned about the worsening trend of killings and abductions of both civilians and aid workers in Afghanistan, and reminds the Government of Afghanistan and all parties to the conflict of their obligation to protect civilians, including all aid workers.


Also today, the UN Refugee Agency provided details about the returns this year of more than 276,000 Afghans to their home country.  We have details upstairs.


** Sri Lanka


The Office of the Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator in Sri Lanka reports that a UN food convoy is on its way to the Vanni region.  Twenty-nine World Food Programme (WFP) trucks, carrying 438 tons of food, will make deliveries to three locations before returning to Government-controlled territory tomorrow.


This is the fourth such convoy since fighting forced the UN to temporarily withdraw from the Vanni region in mid-September.  Since the beginning of October, the UN has delivered 2,300 tons of food to the region, as part of a continuing effort to reach an estimated 230,000 civilians displaced by fighting.  There is more information upstairs.


** Colombia


Over the weekend, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay wrapped up a six-day visit to Colombia, where her Office has a large presence.  The High Commissioner met with President Alvaro Uribe and other senior officials, as well as civil society representatives.


Pillay heard testimonies from people whose relatives had been arrested and detained, often for periods of two years or more, on the basis of accusations that were not always well-founded.  In response, Pillay cautioned the relevant authorities against arbitrary detentions and arrests.


Pillay urged the Government to avoid de facto amnesties for past and current serious human rights abuses, and to ensure that respect of the rights of victims remain at the core of any demobilization policy.  She also conveyed her alarm that illegal armed groups continue to victimize and target the civilian population.


The High Commissioner applauded the brave work of the Supreme Court and the Attorney General’s Office in investigating and bringing to trial public officials linked to mafias and drug trafficking.  At the same time, however, she expressed concern at the vulnerability of human rights defenders, trade unionists, journalists and public officials who are stigmatized and often targeted or threatened for their work.  We have more on that upstairs.


**World Urban Forum


We also have upstairs a message from the Secretary-General to the World Urban Forum, which started today in Nanjing, China.


In a message, the Secretary-General says the world has never before witnessed such rapid urbanization.  By the year 2030, cities will be home to two thirds of the global population, he adds.


Speaking at the related World Urban Youth Forum, the Executive Director of UN-HABITAT, Anna Tibaijuka, said that the creativity and innovation of youth is key to overcoming the challenges of poverty and urbanization.


The World Urban Forum was established by the United Nations to examine one of the most pressing issues facing the world today:  rapid urbanization and its impact on communities, cities, economies and policies.


**Press Conferences Tomorrow


At 3 p.m. here, there will be a press conference tomorrow by Githu Muigai, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.  That will be 3 p.m. tomorrow.


But before that, as you know, and I will repeat it for those who were not here, who got here late, at 1:15 p.m., you will have Alan Doss and Alain Le Roy, who will be speaking to you from Goma.  And, at 2:30, the Secretary-General will hold a stakeout right at the Security Council stakeout position.  Okay, that’s all I have for you, thank you.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Thank you, Michèle.  On the interfaith dialogue taking place next week, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, who is organizing this, says he thinks the conference will help challenge negative attitudes towards Islam.  What does the Secretary-General think the conference will contribute and how?


Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General, as you probably know, has been very actively engaged with the King himself and other leaders about making that meeting a success.  He cannot prejudge what will happen, but he has said it is a very positive development.  And as you know, Terje Roed-Larsen, who is a Special Envoy for the Secretary-General, was in Riyadh yesterday.  And today he is in Rome meeting different people about that meeting taking place, as you know, on the 12th.  Yes?


Question:  Do we know if Pope Benedict is coming to this event?


Spokesperson:  We don’t know yet.  As soon as we hear something from Mr. Larsen we will let you know.  And of course, I am sure the Spokesperson for the President of the Assembly will have more information on the actual meeting itself.


Question:  Sorry, is Roed-Larsen meeting the Pope in Rome?


SpokespersonRoed-Larsen is meeting the Pope in Rome.


Question:  Okay.  And will he ask him if he can come?


Spokesperson:  I don’t know.  I don’t know what he will ask him.  I will find out.


Question:  Is the invite extended to Pope Benedict?


Spokesperson:  As far as I know, yes, the invitation was extended to him, yes.  Edie?


Question:  Michèle, on Congo, you’ve said that armed actors were circulating at several camps.  Which camps, particularly?


Spokesperson:  I can give you more information upstairs.  We have the specific camps, but it’s near the Rutshuru area.  And we have the exact location upstairs.  Yes, Lalit?


Question:  In view of increased abductions and kidnappings in Afghanistan, is the UN reviewing its aid policy in those regions in the country?


Spokesperson:  No, I think the rules are the same.  And the situation is the same.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  DRC and then Sudan.  There is a report that the CNDP has provided MONUC with information that they’re saying shows Zimbabwe helping the Government troops of Kabila.  Their quote is, “We have given this evidence to MONUC, and they acknowledged this.”  Are you aware of that?  Is MONUC…?


Spokesperson:  No, I’m not, but you can ask the question to the people on the ground when they come in at 1:15 p.m.


Question:  Let me ask about something… about Mr. Ban was quoted as saying in the Indian press while he was there.  He was quoted as saying on recent allegations of misconduct by Indian peacekeepers in Congo, he said:  “I know that the Indian Government has taken necessary measures.”  One, did he say that?  In August, he said that he was deeply troubled by these new allegations of sexual abuse of young children in Masisi.  Has anything taken place since August and now…?


Spokesperson:  In the meantime, I think we have informed you of measures that have been taken against the peacekeepers who are responsible for wrongdoings by the Indian justice system…


Question:  The ones that he was referring to on August 12, because they said that it was a more extensive list than at first had been thought.  Have any disciplinary procedures been…?


Spokesperson:  On that, you should direct your question to DPKO, because they have been following up on specifics.


Question:  Okay, I just want, I sort of tied it to Ban’s quote.  Then, I’m sorry if I missed this; there is a report of a car, of UNAMID vehicle being taken in Nyala.  Is that accurate?


Spokesperson:  I don’t have that information, but we are constantly in touch with our colleagues there, and we’ll try to get you something.  In fact, you could ask upstairs today; later this afternoon we can check for you.


[The Spokesperson later added that, according to the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), a UNAMID vehicle driven by a United Nations volunteer was carjacked on 31 October, near a United Nations guest house in Nyala by two armed men in civilian clothes.  The driver was robbed of personal possessions, his UN identity card, and a handheld radio, but unharmed.  The incident was reported to the Government of Sudan police and National Intelligence for Safety and Security, she said.]


Question:  Okay, great.  Then there is one last thing.  There is a kind of a controversy around the World Bank -- has said that it cancelled a lot of debt for Haiti, and then recently a lot of the campaigners, and I guess, Haitian civil society have said it’s not true.  The debt wasn’t cancelled.  So, there is a controversy about whether what Mr. Zoellick said is actually accurate.  Is that something…?


Spokesperson:  I cannot speak for the World Bank or for the Haitian people.


Question:  No.  No, it was actually directed to Mr. Ban since he, I think recently said, called, said the IMF should be in charge of global financial regulation.  I am wondering whether, I guess, I mean they’re UN affiliates.  So, does he have a view on this pretty important controversy…?


Spokesperson:  No.  The fact is that he had asked for the weight of debt to be lifted on Haiti, and you can certainly check on what has been done.  I do know that apparently half of the debt was actually eliminated, and there was another half that was still being negotiated.  But as I said, I cannot talk on their behalf.


Question:  No, no, because it seemed like Mr. Ban is now speaking more about the two Bretton Woods institutions.  I don’t know, not that he is on the hook to answer everything, but this seems like a pretty important one to.


Spokesperson:  You know, the quote you mentioned earlier was in a TV interview he had in India, and of course, you can have the complete transcript of that interview.  Actually, I have to say that the title, the headline, is a bit misleading.  And I think it overstates what the Secretary-General actually said.


Question:  On?


Spokesperson:  On restructuring and on the IMF actually controlling the whole financial system.


Question:  The General Assembly is looking at a draft resolution again on a smoke-free United Nations, you know, the smoking ban inside the building.  I haven’t been around that long, but I understand the Secretary-General has tried to take some measures to stop smoking in the building.  What is his opinion on smoking inside the building, and how does he account for the sort of failure to actually stop people smoking in the building?


Spokesperson:  I don’t think the Secretary-General expressed any opinion on smoking in the building.  Actually, this is a matter for the management in the building.  As you know, there is a smoking ban.  The problem is enforcing it.  And I think this is a matter that you should ask the General Assembly, because they are voting on it.  And we should try to find out why it is not reinforced by members of the different delegations that really vote on that subject.  So, I think the question should go to them.


Question:  The Secretary-General is not a smoker, is he?


Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General is not a smoker, no.  He does not smoke.  Okay, thank you all very much.  And at 1:15 p.m. we’ll meet again for Mr. Doss and Mr. Le Roy.


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For information media • not an official record