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

8 January 2007

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

8 January 2007
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.

**Security Council

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon this morning spoke to the Security Council for the first time in his role as Secretary-General and he offered the Council his initial views about his priorities over the coming months.  One of the top priorities, the Secretary-General said, would be in Darfur, where he warned that the humanitarian situation is getting worse.  He added that he also intends to stay the course in other parts of Africa and will hold discussions with leaders at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa this month.  The Secretary-General also pledged to inject new momentum in the search for peace in the Middle East and to work towards resolving the status of Kosovo.  And he emphasized that we must do more to invigorate disarmament and non-proliferation efforts.  We have his statement upstairs.

The Security Council intends to adopt a presidential statement at the end of today’s meeting.  I didn’t have it yet before I came down.

** Myanmar Statement

A statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Myanmar:

“The Secretary-General has taken note of the decision by the Government of Myanmar on 3 January 2007 to grant amnesty to 2,831 prisoners.  He welcomes reports that this includes the release of up to 40 political prisoners.  The Secretary-General urges the Myanmar authorities to go beyond this first step by releasing all other political prisoners in the country, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and by making further concrete progress on all of the issues raised in the context of his good offices.”

** Guinea-Bissau Statement

Another statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Guinea-Bissau:

“The Secretary-General is very concerned at the heightened tensions in Guinea-Bissau following the killing of the country’s former Navy Chief, Commodore Lamine Sanha, on 4 January 2007.  He is particularly distressed by the loss of life that occurred following the intervention of the security forces during protests against the killing.  

“The Secretary-General urges the Government and political leaders to exercise utmost restraint and to focus on development and reconciliation.  He urges the people of Guinea-Bissau not to take the law into their own hands.  And he strongly encourages all national stakeholders to find negotiated solutions to their differences and to avoid allowing impunity to prevail.”

** Iraq

As you know -– and that was Saturday -- the Secretary-General strongly urged the Government of Iraq to grant a stay of execution to those whose death sentences may be carried out in the near future, according to a statement we issued on Saturday.  Chef de Cabinet Vijay Nambiar, in a letter to the Permanent Representative of Iraq to the United Nations, over the weekend reiterated the Secretary-General’s endorsement of the call made last week by High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour for restraint in executing the death sentences imposed against two of Saddam Hussein’s co-defendants, Awad Hamad Al-Bandar and Barzan Ibrahim Al-Hassan.  The letter also stressed the need to pay due respect to all aspects of international humanitarian and human rights laws.

Meanwhile, in other Iraq-related news, the UN refugee agency today launched a $60 million appeal to fund its work over the next 12 months for hundreds of thousands of displaced Iraqis.  We have a press release upstairs on that.

** Sudan

On the Sudan, Jan Eliasson, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Darfur, has begun his mission to the region following consultations at UN Headquarters last week.  He is today in Addis Ababa, where he is holding two days of meetings with the Chairperson of the African Union and other senior AU officials and senior members of the Ethiopian Government.  He plans to travel to the Sudan for meetings with the Government of National Unity and all other relevant parties to discuss steps required to arrive at a durable solution to the situation in Darfur on the basis of the Darfur Peace Agreement.

** Darfur

And at UN Headquarters this morning, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations met with potential troop and police contributors on Phase II of UN support of the AU force in Darfur.

Meanwhile, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that in 2006, more than 450,000 people have been newly displaced, often for the first time.  However, UN access to the affected populations has plummeted to 64 per cent, the lowest since April 2004.  Insecurity and lack of access continue to impede humanitarian operations.  Despite a 4 p.m. curfew in Geneina town to mitigate the risk of vehicle hijacking, a UN vehicle was hijacked at 3:30 p.m. on 3 January.

Non-governmental organizations have not yet been able to resume operations in Gereida in south Darfur.  A recent assessment found that security cannot be guaranteed in the town that is host to 130,000 people displaced by the fighting.

** Lebanon

On Lebanon, the strength of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has risen to more than 11,500 peacekeepers, with the recent deployment of an infantry company from Malaysia and the rotation and reinforcement of troops serving with the Indian contingent.  The current total includes more than 9,600 ground troops and more than 1,700 naval personnel.  Also, since the ceasefire came into force on 14 August, UNIFIL deminers have destroyed a total of nearly 19,000 explosive devices.  We have more details in a press release upstairs.

** Sri Lanka

On Sri Lanka, the United Nations condemns the deliberate targeting of civilians in Sri Lanka and deplores the latest incidents involving two civilian buses, which resulted in the deaths of over 20 innocent civilians with dozens maimed and injured.  The United Nations calls for the protection of all civilians throughout the island.  The Office of the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Sri Lanka describes the situation in Vaharai in the east as grave and demands an urgent response.  “We stand ready to assist those still trapped in Vaharai,” says Amin Awad, the Acting Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator.  We have a press release with more information upstairs.

**UNDP

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator Kemal Derviş embarks today on a 10-day visit to Central America, during which he will look at the Development Programme’s project activities and meet with representatives of national and local governments.  He will also meet with civil society, academia, private sector leaders and the media in a region with deep and diverse experience and significant obstacles to overcome in human development.  Derviş will visit Cuba, Honduras, Costa Rica and Guatemala.  He is expected back in New York on 19 January.

And we have a media advisory from the UNDP upstairs.

**Security Council

The Security Council tomorrow morning will hear a briefing on the Democratic Republic of the Congo from the European Union High Representative for a Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana.  Solana is meeting the Secretary-General this afternoon at 3:50.  Once that is done, he intends to talk to reporters at the Security Council stakeout and take a few questions; that will happen some time after 4:00.

**Secretary-General’s Press Conference

The Secretary-General is planning to hold his first press conference after attending the Group of 77 meeting on Wednesday morning.  We are in the process of confirming the exact time.  The location is Conference Room 1.

**Film Screening

And there is a film screening -- you’re all invited -- of the movie Blood Diamond this Wednesday at 6:45 p.m. in the Dag Hammarskjöld Auditorium.  There will be a panel discussion following the screening, which will focus on issues depicted in the film, such as child soldiers and illicit trade in diamonds.

Panellists will include members of the film’s cast and the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy.

The event is being hosted by the Permanent Mission of Canada.  If you’re interested in attending, please contact my office.

This is all I have for you now.  Any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Will Mr. Derviş’ trip to Cuba involve meetings with top-ranking officials there?  And also, has there been any request to see Fidel Castro?

Spokesperson:  I cannot confirm it.  I know it will be with very high-ranking Cuban members of the Cuban Government.  I don’t know if he will be meeting Mr. Castro.  I’ll check.

[The Spokesperson later added that Mr. Derviş would not be meeting with Fidel Castro on this trip.  In addition, no request for such a meeting was made by UNDP.]

Question:  In his statement to the Security Council this morning, the Secretary-General mentioned the reform agenda, including the Peacebuilding Commission, working methods and the need to look into the organizational aspects of peacekeeping departments and offices dealing with peace and security.  He has not mentioned anything about Security Council reforms.  Was that deliberate?

Spokesperson:  I don’t think it was deliberate.  I think he is certainly interested in the issue -– definitely concerned about the issue.  He has talked about it before, but as you know, with Security Council reforms, there was a proposal made, and now, it is in the hands of the Member States.

Question:  Several of us quoted Iran News Agency that quoted the Deputy Secretary-General, in her capacity as Tanzanian Foreign Minister, saying that she would like better -- good relations between her country and Iran and also that she defended Iran’s right for, pursuit for peaceful nuclear power.  My question is:  first of all, can you verify these quotes, whether she said this stuff?  And also, how does that work together with -– since Tanzania has uranium mines -– how does that work with the Security Council resolution banning any nuclear commerce with Iran?

Spokesperson:  As you know, Tanzania voted for that resolution in December and she was then Foreign Minister of Tanzania.  I think, that says a lot about her position.

Question:  So can you verify what she said?

Spokesperson:  The exact quotes?  Yes, we have been trying to reach her.  We could not reach her this morning, but we will try our best.

Question:  Late last week, the Secretary-General had a comment on Fiji, urging restoration of democracy.  The previous Secretary-General had said, when the coup took place, that this would impact on the use of Fijian soldiers for peacekeeping.  Has there been, in fact, any impact, or does the current Secretary-General intend to move forward with what was previously said?

Spokesperson:  I can confirm that for you.  I know that what was previously said stands.  But we will check whether there would be [talkover].  Yes, definitely.

Question:  Also late last week, I think, OCHA said that in eastern Congo, there were problems around the town of Bunia –- internal displacement and impossibility to deliver humanitarian supplies -– so I am wondering if there is any update on that.  Is the situation getting better, or does it remain as it was.

Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t have the update on Bunia, but I will get it for you as soon as possible.

Question:  One more follow-up on the Deputy Secretary-General.  There was a story in Sunday News of Tanzania, where she seemed to have said that she met Mr. Ban once, during the visit of the President of Tanzania to South Korea, in a reception line, greeting dinner guests.  I remember last week, it came up in one of the questions asked:  someone asked how much communication did they have.  Do you have any more on that?

Spokesperson:  No, we don’t.  We don’t.  You know, the Secretary-General said that he had met with her, so I just transferred that information to you, but we can verify exactly how many times they met and how extensively they talked.  I can verify that.

Question:  That report also said that when Ban called, he said, you have to give me an answer right now, because I have to make the announcement in half an hour.  Can you verify that?

Spokesperson:  Of course, I could try to verify it for you.  Well, I do know that it was difficult to reach her, because she was in Lesotho, and when he called her, he couldn’t find her in Tanzania, so it took a while to locate her.

Question:  So he offered her that position on Friday –- on the same day that she actually… that he announced it?

Spokesperson:  I believe so.  I don’t know about the half-hour, but I believe so.

Question:  Do you have a sense now as to when she will be coming to town?

Spokesperson:  We still don’t know.  We still don’t know.  Again, as I said, we couldn’t reach her this morning to find out exactly when she would be coming in.  She had previous engagements.  She would probably be coming in, then leave again on her previous engagements, but she said –- in a matter of days.  That’s all I got as an answer and that was Friday.

Question:  But is there a sense as to when she will officially begin her term?  Will that be February?

Spokesperson:  Most certainly, yes.  Yes.

Question:  Just following up on the Tanzania question:  I am just interested, why the Secretary-General did not talk to the Deputy Secretary-General about the job, about what it looked like, about how she would approach it.  Why was there no discussion whatsoever?  Is that a normal process that people get appointed without even talking about what the job would entail?  And also a second question.  Could you confirm or deny a media report that Lynn Pascoe is going to get the position of the Department of Political Affairs job?

Spokesperson:  I cannot confirm that.  We don’t have yet a decision from the Secretary-General’s Office about who is going to be nominated to what post.  As soon as I have that information, I will give it to you.

Question:  Would you deny it?

Spokesperson:  I am just saying I am not informed yet of the decision taken by the Secretary-General on this issue.

Question:  And regarding not even speaking to her before giving her the job about the nature of the job and about what the job would entail -– is that normal practice?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know whether it is normal practice or not, if that is so… Because he spoke to other people about her and was -– had the trust that she could do the job and do it well.

Question:  As of noon today, how many USGs and ASGs have voluntarily submitted their resignation?

Spokesperson:  That I can check for you.  I don’t have an exact number as of today, but I can give you an answer later on today.

Question:  This is a small clarification, but an important one:  is Mr. Eliasson’s official title SRSG for Darfur or for the Sudan?

Spokesperson:  For Darfur.

Question:  So just for Darfur?  He has nothing to do with other, obviously much lesser, problems in the south of the country or elsewhere?

Spokesperson:  For Darfur.

[The Spokesperson later clarified that Jan Eliasson’s title was Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Darfur.]

Question:  It would possibly be more helpful to have a list of which Under-Secretaries have actually tended their resignations, rather than to find mind how many, or something like that.  Names would be very helpful.  And also, when the Deputy Secretary-General comes, has a message been relayed to her that the press would be delighted to have a chance to talk to her?

Spokesperson:  She knows that, yes.

Question:  I think, the Government of the Sudan has asked to have a response from the United Nations system on the allegations of sexual abuse in the Sudan, and United Nations Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS) has said that Monday, it was going to give them a response in the form of a memo.  Will we be able to get it here?

Spokesperson:  I will try to get that for you, whether this answer was sent.  I will make sure that you have a copy of it.

Question:  Was the letter last week from the Israeli Minister Lieberman –- I understand now there is not going to be an answer to that?

Spokesperson:  Well, I know that there has been so far no answer.  The letter was received and you know, that’s all I can say.

Question:  Regarding making public the Secretary-General’s financial disclosure -– do you know when?

Spokesperson:  Right now, it is going through -- as you know, first, the Ethics Office, then the firm that is reviewing.  And it will be –- as soon as the review is finished, it will be posted.

Question:  I am sorry, I missed it –- what firm reviews it?

Spokesperson:  Pricewaterhouse.

Question:  On the Security Council meeting that was just held -– would it be possible to get the statements made by all the countries?

Spokesperson:  Yes, you can get these from the Security Council.  You can just get these from the Security Council.  And we have the statement from the Secretary-General upstairs in our office.

OK.  Thank you very much.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.