3 August 2009
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing

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


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

Good afternoon, all.

**Secretary-General’s Statement-Sudan

We have a statement attributable to a Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the attack in Akobo.

The Secretary-General notes with extreme concern, the 2 August attack in Akobo, Jonglei State, Southern Sudan, and condemns the reported killing of 161 people, including 100 women and children, 50 men and 11 SPLA [Sudan People’s Liberation Army] soldiers.

The Secretary-General has directed the UN Mission in Sudan, UNMIS, to extend all possible assistance to those affected by this heinous act and work with local authorities to restore calm.

The Secretary-General extends his condolences to the Government of Southern Sudan and the bereaved families.  He calls upon the Government of Southern Sudan to bring to justice those responsible for these events and take the necessary measures to protect civilians across Southern Sudan. 

** Darfur

Minor incidents of banditry and carjacking continue to be reported from North Darfur, says the United Nations-African Union Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), although the overall security situation has remained calm.  The Mission also reports that its Deputy Joint Special Representative, Henry Anyidoho, yesterday visited the Kalma Camp for internally displaced persons near Nyala, in South Darfur.  Anyidoho was there to inspect progress on work being done by UNAMID engineers in the wake of recent heavy flooding.

The Deputy Joint Special Representative also met traditional leaders with whom he discussed living conditions at the camp as well an internally displaced persons voluntary return programme.  He also handed local civil society representatives some $250,000 from the mission’s quick impact project budget to build classrooms, bathrooms and water pumps at the Kalma Camp.

Meanwhile, the mission on Saturday began all-day patrols in an additional 14 IDP camps across Darfur.  The expansion comes a day after the arrival and deployment of 36 police advisers from Malawi.  And the mission says another 80 police advisers are expected to join its ranks later this week from South Africa.

** Niger

On Niger, a referendum to endorse an amendment to Niger’s Constitution is scheduled to take place tomorrow, despite sharp differences among the country's political stakeholders.  On Friday, we issued a statement expressing the Secretary-General’s concerns and reiterating his support for an inclusive process to resolve the current crisis peacefully and in conformity with the country's democratic values.  The Secretary-General calls on the people of Niger to exercise utmost restraint and urges all parties to refrain from any form of violence.  The United Nations stands ready to support initiatives that would help resolve the current situation in a peaceful and sustainable manner.

We also have statements on the web that were issued over the weekend in which the Secretary-General congratulated the State institutions which participated in the organization of the polls in Guinea-Bissau; and one in which he paid tribute to the late President of the Republic of the Philippines, Corazon Aquino.

**East Jerusalem

The UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, has deplored the eviction of Palestinian families from their homes in the Arab neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem.

Serry called those actions by Israeli security forces “totally unacceptable”.  He noted that settlers were allowed to take possession of the properties, and that the Palestinian families in question were refugees registered with the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

Serry added that such actions contravene the Geneva Conventions, as well as calls by the international community for Israel to refrain from provocative actions in East Jerusalem.  Serry rejected Israel's claims that this is a matter for municipal authorities and domestic courts.  And he called on Israel to adhere to international law and its Road Map obligations, and to cease and reverse its recent provocations in East Jerusalem.  We have the full statement upstairs.

** Iraq

Iraq is entering a crucial period, highlighted by its increased responsibility for its security and the important national elections planned for next January.  Yet a relative calm has been achieved, and the Secretary-General is hopeful that this is a trend that bodes well for Iraq’s future.  That’s what the Secretary-General says in his latest report to the Security Council on Iraq, which notes the work being done by the UN Assistance Mission in that country (UNAMI).

The Secretary-General writes that he is concerned about the relationship between the Federal Government in Baghdad and the leadership of the Iraqi Kurdistan region.  He urges the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament to reconsider the provisions in the draft Kurdistan regional constitution, which could have the potential to aggravate tensions and affect ongoing discussions on the disputed boundaries.  He also calls for an end to provocative statements, including those which prejudge in any way the future of areas such as Kirkuk.  He warns against any unilateral actions on the ground which the other side is likely to see as hostile in intent.  The full report is out on the counter.

**Security Council

The United Kingdom has assumed the rotating Presidency of the Security Council for the month of August.  The new Council President, UK Ambassador John Sawers, is today holding bilateral meetings with other Council members on the programme of work for the month.  We expect that the Security Council will discuss the programme of work tomorrow morning.  And then, at 12:30, we expect that Ambassador Sawers will brief you in this room about the Council’s work over the coming month.

** Afghanistan

On Afghanistan, Kai Eide, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, in a press conference yesterday highlighted the measures in place to discourage fraud in that country’s upcoming national elections.  He said that everything possible is being done to prevent and detect fraud and irregularities.

Regarding detainees, Eide added that he recently visited a detention centre in Kabul and plans to visit other ones in the future.  He said that there is a need to improve such facilities and to provide as much information as possible to the families of detainees.  It is important, he added, that conditions are in accordance with international standards and do not lead to further radicalization.  The full transcript is upstairs.

** Sri Lanka

On Sri Lanka, UNICEF [the United Nations Children's Fund] and the World Health Organization (WHO) have launched, this week, a special health campaign for children in Vavuniya, Sri Lanka.  More than 36,000 internally displaced children under the age of 5 will be vaccinated against measles and polio.  They will also each receive dosages of vitamin A and de-worming tablets.  The acting UNICEF country representative says that “Children under five are the most vulnerable part of a population, especially in emergencies; [and] this campaign will help save lives”.

** Nigeria

UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman has concluded her visit to northern Nigeria.  She announced $1.85 million in additional support for UNICEF nutrition programmes.  The funds, says UNICEF, will be used to scale up integrated community-based nutrition stations where families can bring their children for preventative and curative assistance.

During her visit, UNICEF’s Executive Director also discussed with Government and faith-based leaders the need to eradicate polio.  Nigeria is one of only four polio-endemic countries in the world, and the only endemic country in Africa.  Veneman announced the allocation of over $5 million to contribute to polio eradication efforts in Nigeria.  We have more on that in a press release upstairs.


And the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has announced the winners of its 2009 International Literacy Prizes.

This year’s prizes went to a newspaper produced entirely by women in rural India and three innovative literacy projects in Burkina Faso, Afghanistan and the Philippines.  The Non-Formal and Continuing Education Programme of the Ministry of Education of Bhutan also received an honourable mention for its holistic approach to literacy.  The UNESCO International Literacy Prizes are awarded every year in recognition of excellence and innovation in literacy throughout the world.  There is more in a press release upstairs.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

The Security Council is expected to vote on a new resolution on the issue of children and armed conflict tomorrow.  Ambassador Claude Heller of Mexico will be here at 2:30 p.m. tomorrow, prior to the vote, to discuss the draft resolution.  The new resolution will broaden the mandate of the current resolution on the issue.

And this is all I have for you today.  Yes, Masood.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Michèle, from all the reports coming from Pakistan, the conflict that is there is still ongoing.  It has not ended as yet.  Is there any update on the… any more IDPs or anything like that?

Spokesperson:  No, we don’t have anything today.

Question:  OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] has yet nothing?

Spokesperson:  Nothing today, no.

Question:  Okay. Can I ask you another thing, about this statement that you just issued on Robert Serry, on the issue of East Jerusalem?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  Does the Secretary-General subscribe to such a thing…?

Spokesperson: Well, Robert Serry is the Representative of the Secretary-General.

Question:  Okay.  And another thing I wanted to know about the thing --

Spokesperson:  But the Secretary-General has also repeatedly talked against settlements.

Question:  And so have so many other countries and human rights have said.  But in view of the fact that Israel will not at all budge on its position, what can be done?  I mean has the Secretary-General…?

Spokesperson:  Well, we have to keep on talking about it; we have to keep on pressuring on this issue.

Question:  Does he talk to the Israeli authorities time and again on this issue?

Spokesperson:  Yes, yes, he has done it repeatedly.  Tarek?

Question:  Thank you, Michèle, I have two questions.  Do you have an update on the request made by Mr. Ban Ki-moon for Israel to pay compensations for the damages it made during the military operation in Gaza Strip early this year?

Spokesperson:  Yes, this whole issue is being pursued, and as soon as we get some definite results, I will let you know.

Correspondent:  You know the reason I am asking is because I remember when President [Shimon] Peres was here last couple of months ago; a few months ago, he said he would respond to this compensation issue very soon.

Spokesperson:  We don’t have the final answer yet.  And I will give it to you as soon as I have it, of course.

Question:  Okay.  You know in Iran, the Supreme Leader, he approved [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad as the President for a second term.  Is Mr. Ban Ki-moon going to send him a letter to congratulate him for this?

Spokesperson:  Of course, of course.  As I said earlier in this room, as soon as his new mandate will be inaugurated, will start, of course he will receive… As we usually do, he will receive a letter from the Secretary-General.

Question:  So, when do you expect Mr. Ban Ki-moon to send him this letter?  I mean, today he was approved as President and it was --

Spokesperson:  As soon as he actually takes his oath of office.  Yes.

Question:  Michèle, there are these reports of the JEM [Justice and Equality Movement] rebels in Sudan engaging the Sudanese army in [inaudible].  Is that something that either of the two UN missions in Sudan can confirm?

Spokesperson:  No, I can try to get the answer for you.

Question:  Okay.  And I wanted to ask you, the Somali Parliament had voted down about 334 out of the 347… this Law of the Sea filing organized by [Ahmedou] Ould-Abdallah between Somalia and Kenya, funded by Norway.  They voted it down, you know, and totally rejected.  I wondered if either Ould-Abdallah has a comment and also whether this affects the filing that was made here at the UN for Somalia by Kenya for their undersea rights.

Spokesperson:  This I would have to ask the Treaty Department for you, if that changes anything.  I don’t have an answer myself today right now. 

Question:  Kenya announced that it was abandoning efforts to form a special tribunal to try Government officials implicated in the country’s post-election violence last year.  Has the Secretary-General commented on this?  What are his thoughts on this decision, and has he been in touch with [Luis Moreno] Ocampo about how the ICC [International Criminal Court] will proceed?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, and as I’ve said before, there is a specific separation between the international tribunal and the Secretariat of the UN.  We’re not privy to what they get and what they decide on.  And they have to decide on what they’re going to do with the names they’ve received.  We don’t have any specific reaction to the decision by Kenya.  No, we don’t.

Question:  Michèle, on Friday I had asked Farhan a question about Alan Doss and when he became a DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] staffer and not a UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] staffer.  He told me UNDP would answer.  I still don’t have an answer.  Since it seems to be a Secretariat question, it involves, it’s an e-mail that Mr Doss sent [inaudible]… that job --

Spokesperson:  No, I think it’s a UNDP question.

Question:  But isn’t it, I mean, the date on which he became DPKO is actually relevant to that inquiry and it seems like that is something that the Secretariat would know, since he --

Spokesperson:  Well, at this point I don’t have anything new for you on this, and we have been saying that UNDP should handle that.

Question:  But I sent them an e-mail as soon as we finished on Friday, but I don’t have… I guess I am just pleading with you maybe to put a squeeze on?

Spokesperson:  Yes, okay, I will ask whether UNDP can answer you.

Question:  And I know that the Secretary-General met with Helen Clark this morning.  Is there any readout?  What did they discuss?

Spokesperson:  No, just internal matters.

Question:  Including this most recent issue of [inaudible]… not just the biting incident, but the job search?

Spokesperson:  I don’t think such minor issues come up in discussions of that sort.

Question:  [inaudible] the envoy of Ban Ki-moon actually writes in and says “give my relative a job”; this doesn’t seem to me to be that minor.  The biting might be kind of comical, but I mean, I don’t know if you’ve followed that issue, but I’ve just wondered…  

Spokesperson:  Yes, of course I have read about it, but…

Question:  You don’t think it arose?

Spokesperson:  I don’t think so.  Thank you all so very much.

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For information media • not an official record