|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICES OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
AND THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT
Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Pragati Pascale, Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.
Briefing by Spokesman for Secretary-General
**Secretary-General/ Central America
I have a statement on the situation in Central America.
“The Secretary-General is saddened by the loss of life and damage caused by the severe flooding and mudslides that have affected hundreds of thousands of people across Mexico and Central America. He extends his condolences to all those who have been affected by this natural disaster, and particularly to the families who have lost their loved ones.
“The United Nations is currently assessing the extent of the needs created by the flooding and mudslides in these countries. The Regional Disaster Response Adviser for Latin America and the Caribbean is en route to El Salvador and a team of disaster assessment and coordination experts is also being deployed in the region. United Nations officials remain in close contact with local authorities and stand ready to mobilize international support for emergency relief and recovery efforts.”
** Central America
Meanwhile, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) tells us that it has approved emergency cash grants for El Salvador and Costa Rica.
In addition, the UN Country Team in El Salvador has issued a joint UN inter-agency appeal for approximately $6.5 million to meet the immediate needs of those displaced by the flooding and volcanic eruptions in El Salvador. We have more details upstairs from OCHA.
The Secretary-General, as you may know, is in Switzerland. He arrived in Geneva this morning, where earlier today he addressed the Executive Committee of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the first such meeting since Antonio Guterres took up his duties.
The Secretary-General discussed the outcome of the World Summit in New York and what it means for the humanitarian community, and the refugee agency in particular. He also applauded the commitment by UNHCR to strengthen its efforts to protect internally displaced people, and to take a lead role in assuring emergency shelter and coordination in the camps.
The Secretary-General also met with Detlev Mehlis, head of the UN International Independent Investigation, looking into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
The Secretary-General is now visiting the World Health Organization (WHO) where he met with Director General Lee Jong-wook. He is now receiving a briefing at the WHO Strategic Health Operations Centre, which monitors and responds to public health emergencies such as avian flu. Speaking to reporters at the Centre, he said that “we are all in this together” in the fight against the pandemic. We will have a transcript of his comments available for you shortly.
Meanwhile, from Ethiopia and Eritrea, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of the UN peacekeeping mission, Legwaila Joseph Legwaila, today stressed the need for Eritrea to rescind its decision to restrict all helicopter flights by the UN Mission within Eritrean airspace.
Speaking at a press briefing today, Legwaila said the matter was urgent, and that if the decision wasn’t rescinded, it would reduce by half the usefulness of the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea to the parties in the peace process. Also speaking at the briefing, the Mission’s Force Commander, Major-General Rajender Singh, said the decision has seriously impaired the peacekeepers’ ability to carry out their monitoring duties and it also puts at risk the lives of peacekeepers, especially those found in more remote areas. As a result of the helicopter ban, patrolling on foot and in vehicles has increased.
The Deputy Secretary-General, Louise Fréchette, today addressed the General Assembly’s meeting marking the tenth anniversary of the World Programme of Action for Youth. Noting that almost half the global population is less than 25 years old, she said: that the world should recognize that young people form an enormous resource for the benefit of society and that they are crucial partners in the UN’s work to reach the Millennium Development Goals; and that their energy is our most valuable asset in our effort to build a more peaceful, democratic, and prosperous world. The full text of her remarks is upstairs.
**Security Officer in Somalia
Also, just to put into the record, that yesterday afternoon we issued a statement following the murder of a UN security officer in the lower Juba region of Somalia and that was made available to you yesterday.
I also have an update for you on the work we are doing to distribute 5 million copies of the Iraqi Constitution throughout that country. Food distribution centres in some parts of southern Iraq have already started to deliver copies of the Constitution. In some major southern cities, including Basrah, Najaf and Karbala, food distribution centres are receiving their copies today and will send them out to people in those areas on Saturday.
In Baghdad, almost 400,000 copies have gone and food distribution agents have started to distribute the Constitution three days ago. In Kurdistan, 400,000 copies were sent to Erbil today, to be distributed on Saturday. Another 600,000 will go to Sulaymania between now and Tuesday. Meanwhile, in western Iraq, the Council of Ministers received 305,000 copies on Monday and has begun to transport them. Yesterday, 200,000 copies went to Mosul and another 175,000 to Kirkuk, with distribution in those cities to begin on Saturday. Local Sunni leaders are also helping to deliver copies in the western part of the country.
Out on the racks, as you may have noticed, there’s a bulletin from the Secretary-General in which he announced his decision to establish an Oversight Committee for the UN. The Oversight Committee will provide independent advice to the Secretary-General on all Secretariat activities relating to internal and external oversight and investigations. It shall advise him on management’s response to the recommendations made by oversight bodies, and how they can be implemented to have the greatest impact.
The Secretary-General will appoint a chairperson and three additional members to that Committee, while the Under-Secretary-General for Management will be an ex officio member of that body.
** Morocco Press Conference
Tomorrow at 11 o’clock, a delegation from Morocco will be here to brief you on a humanitarian situation of concern to the Government of Morocco.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Can we get a readout on the Secretary-General’s meeting with Mr. Mehlis? Secondly, what’s an oversight body of an oversight body going to be able to do?
Spokesman: This is part of the recommendations ... it’s really an outgrowth of one of the issues that were found in the Volcker report, which was that there was no follow-through, not enough follow-through on recommendations from OIOS and from other auditing bodies. And this would help the Secretary-General and the senior management to implement the recommendations found in audit reports.
On Mr. Mehlis, it was simply for the Secretary-General to get an update directly from Mr. Mehlis on how the report is going.
Question: On Mr. Mehlis again. Is he going to be staying in Geneva to write his report?
Spokesman: No. He was there to meet with the Secretary-General. I don’t know what his travel schedule is, but he went to Geneva to meet with the Secretary-General.
Question: I don’t remember that we got an explanation as to why the Prime Minister of Lebanon should announce that the report, or at least the presence of the UN team, would be there until December. It’s not something sort of made up off the top of his head?
Spokesman: A couple of things. The report, as far as we’re concerned, is still targeted to be delivered by Mr. Mehlis towards the end of October to the Security Council. The Secretary-General did get a phone call earlier this week from the Prime Minister of Lebanon, in which he asked for the Secretary-General to extend the mandate of Mr. Mehlis and of his team to the end of the year, and that request is currently being studied by the Secretary-General.
Question: To do what?
Spokesman: Part of the mandate, as explained in the resolution, talks about the assistance and strengthening of the Lebanese judiciary. But, it was a request for Mr. Mehlis and his team and the overall mandate to be extended. As I said, that is currently being studied.
Question: Another question on Kosovo please. The Secretary-General said yesterday we’d be surprised he may go to the Security Council very soon. Does that mean before the 21st meeting?
Spokesman: It will definitely go before the 21st meeting, so that the Council members would have time to study it. I expect the report to go to Council members at some point fairly soon and we will let you know when that happens.
Question: Last week, when we heard from Gambari, he was saying that a senior official would brief us soon on Zimbabwe. Any movement on that? Also, in Abuja, there’s been a lot of toing and froing and more UN officials have joined the talks. Is this an indication that the parties in the Darfur conflict are close to collapse in the talks?
Spokesman: I’ll try to get you some guidance on what to read into the increased presence of UN people in Abuja and we’re still trying to work something out for you on Zimbabwe.
Question: On the subject of briefings, Reuter is briefing the Fifth Committee and you talked about bringing him here.
Spokesman: He is scheduled to brief on the 12th. We are not able to bring him beforehand.
Question: Another question on Mr. Mehlis. On the request of the Prime Minister, in his request, was there any mention of expanding the Mehlis investigation to include some of the other recent assassinations, including the attempt on a journalist?
Spokesman: I’m not aware of such requests. But, that would call for a change in the resolution itself, which gives him that authority.
Question: Where is the Secretary-General heading in terms of dealing with this UNMEE situation, if it continues on? What personal involvement is he having in trying to talk to those Eritrean leaders? Where is he going to go from here?
Spokesman: We’ve obviously been in very close contact with Eritrean authorities. We still have not yet been given an explanation as to why they ordered the grounding of the helicopters, but we do hope the situation gets resolved quickly and these things will be reviewed on a daily basis.
Question: Does that include the Secretary-General’s personal involvement in personal contact with the Eritrean leaders?
Spokesman: I don’t know if he’s had personal calls, but I will check for you on that. But yes, he’s been very much personally involved. I think you saw that by his going down to the Council.
Question: What specific role is the UN playing in the constitution referendum in Iraq and how many staff are there at the present time?
Spokesman: In terms of staff, I’ll try not to speak off the top of my head. I think it’s around 60 international staff. The main focus of our work right now is helping them with the referendum.
Question: On Ethiopia/Eritrea, can we by the end of the day get some kind of a fact sheet from peacekeeping of how many are on the Ethiopian side and how many are on the Eritrean side? How many get resupplied by road, what the impact is precisely of this ban on helicopters. We have it very generally, we don’t have it specifically. We’re going to make mistakes writing it up.
Spokesman: We talk about 8 helicopters, six MIG 8’s, 12 Bell 212, and these helicopters usually carry out about 20 flights daily for monitoring activities, logistics supplies and medical reasons. And, UNMEE has three camps that are dependent on these helicopter supply flights, but we’ll be happy to get you even more details.
Question: They are dependent because the roads aren’t... ?
Spokesman: Remote. It’s geographical issues.
Thank you very much. Pragati.
Spokesperson for the General Assembly President
As mentioned, in plenary today, the Assembly is considering the 10-year review of the World Programme of Action on Youth.
In opening the meeting, President Jan Eliasson said the record number of youth representatives participating was concrete evidence of the revitalization called for in the Assembly. He noted that many young people continue to suffer from poverty, discrimination and inequality, and cited a statement by one of the youth representatives in the interactive round table yesterday -- that the current generation should not be the next one to fail, but the first generation to succeed in meeting the Millennium Development Goals.
We are organizing a photo-op with all the youth delegates at 2:45 p.m. today in the Indonesian Lounge.
Tomorrow morning, the President will open the informal consultations on the Peacebuilding Commission. He will be assisted by his two co-chairs on this issue, the Ambassadors of Denmark and Tanzania.
**Questions and Answers
Question: The Fifth Committee meetings this afternoon are informal, are closed, so we won’t be able to hear what Reuter and Burnham say?
Spokesperson: Yes. I did ask the Fifth Committee Secretary and they said they were closed meetings.
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