|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.
** Iraq Statement
[The following statement was issued immediately after the noon briefing.]
The Secretary-General is outraged by the series of bomb attacks in Iraq today on Shia pilgrims who were making their way to the holy city of Karbala. He condemns these heinous acts, which appear to be aimed at provoking sectarian strife.
The Secretary-General appeals to all communities in Iraq to show maximum restraint in the face of these criminal actions. He also calls on all political and religious leaders in the country to exert their influence to protect civilian lives and to promote mutual respect and dialogue between all Iraqi communities.
The Secretary-General is deeply saddened by the loss of life and destruction of property suffered by the people of Indonesia after the recent earthquake in Sumatra. He extends his deepest condolences to the families of those who have been killed or injured in the earthquake.
The United Nations has been in contact with the Government of Indonesia and stands ready to lend its assistance to efforts to respond to humanitarian needs created by the disaster, including by using existing resources and providing grants from emergency funds, and to mobilize international support for that response.
The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Darfur, Jan Eliasson, briefed the Security Council in consultations on the joint mission he carried out with African Union Special Envoy for Darfur, Salim Ahmed Salim, as well as on the next steps the two Special Envoys will take to assist in re-energizing the Darfur political process.
Hédi Annabi, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, also gave an update.
Mr. Eliasson has agreed to speak to reporters at the Security Council stakeout following the consultations.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has launched a $56.1 million appeal for operations in South Sudan to help tens of thousands of southern Sudanese refugees and internally displaced people return home and reintegrate in their communities.
Also on South Sudan, the World Health Organization has launched an emergency response operation to contain a meningitis outbreak. A mass immunization campaign, targeting more than 600,000 people in high risk areas, is being carried out.
Speaking at the opening of the General Assembly debate on gender equality, the Secretary-General pledged to work for a collaborative and coordinated approach to gender perspective – one that involves and engages the entire UN system in supporting Member States’ work for gender equality and empowerment of women.
Adding that there is still a long way to go in implementing global goals and commitments for gender equality, the Secretary-General stressed the need for changing values and attitudes, while transforming relations between women and men, at all levels of society.
He also urged partnership between Governments, international organizations, civil society and private sector, to ensure that women and girls enjoy their full rights and take up a rightful place in society.
Regarding Iran, High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour today expressed strong concern over the arrest of at least 31 women activists during a peaceful gathering in front of the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Tehran last weekend.
Arbour emphasized that these women were exercising their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. She recalled that Iran is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and must adhere to its legal obligations. We have more on that in my office.
As the hijacking of a World Food Programme-chartered vessel off the coast of Somalia enters its tenth day, WFP is calling for a swift end to the impasse, citing concerns for the welfare of the crew. WFP is also concerned about increasing difficulties in contracting additional ships to deliver urgent food aid to hungry people.
Six hijackers remain in control of the vessel, now anchored in an area close to the border of Puntland and the central region of Somalia. None of the crew has been released, despite appeals and interventions for their immediate safe return.
WFP is in close contact with Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government, the Puntland authorities and the vessel’s agents. We have a press release on that upstairs.
**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
Responding to a letter dated February 13 from the Permanent Representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Secretary-General has asked for the continued cooperation of the Government to allow the audit of United Nations funds and programmes in that country to be completed in a timely manner.
I quote from the Secretary-General’s letter: “On 22 February, I initiated an overall assessment and audit of operations of the United Nations funds and programmes in several countries where concerns had surfaced. On 9 February, the Advisory Committee on Budgetary and Administrative Questions made a formal request to the Board of Auditors to carry out a special audit of the United Nations Organizations in DPRK. The Board of Auditors is currently undertaking preliminary preparations and will be approaching your Government shortly to seek assistance in making logistical arrangements for the upcoming audit.” This is the quote from the letter. You can have the full text upstairs.
The first letter from the DPRK Permanent Representative has been circulated by the General Assembly.
On the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), Richard Monk of the United Kingdom yesterday assumed his duties as UNMIK Police Commissioner in Pristina, following his appointment to the post by the Secretary-General.
He replaces Stephen Curtis, who left the Mission last month. We have a press release on that.
In a message on the 50th anniversary of Ghana’s independence, delivered today in Accra by his Special Adviser on Africa, Legwaila Joseph Legwaila, the Secretary-General praised Ghana’s steady participation in UN peacekeeping operations around the world.
“Many Ghanaians have made the ultimate sacrifice and lost their lives in the cause of peace. To them and to your nation, the United Nations owe a debt of gratitude,” the Secretary-General said.
He also noted Ghana’s work for regional conflict resolution through ECOWAS, its current chairmanship of the African Union and membership in the UN Security Council. We have copies of this speech upstairs.
The United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) reports that some 49 instance of violence broke out in capital Dili overnight. Most involved stone-throwing. The situation is now stable but tense.
While the search for Major Alfredo Reinado continues, a group of some 50 to 100 locals in the south-western city of Suai demonstrated peacefully in support of the major.
Right after this briefing, there will be a press conference with Mary Robinson, the President of Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; and with Beatriz Paredes, President of Mexico’s political party PRI. They will brief you on gender equality and the empowerment of women.
Just as a heads-up, at 10:15 a.m. tomorrow, there will be a press briefing with the president of the International Narcotics Control Board, Dr. Philip Emafo, and the board’s secretary, Koli Kouame. They will brief you on their latest report.
Then at 11 a.m. tomorrow, there will be a press briefing on International Women’s Day with Rachel Mayanja, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for Gender Issues;. Noeleen Heyzer, the Executive Director of UNIFEM; and Rima Salah, the Deputy Director of UNICEF. This is all I have for you today. Your questions.
**Questions and Answers
Question: I wanted to ask you about the meeting that the Secretary-General’s going to have with the Organisation of the Islamic Conference at 5 today. I know that François Lonseny Fall is in the building – is he going to be in attendance in that meeting? Is it going to be about Somalia? Or is it going to be about any other matter?
Spokesperson: No, as far as I know, it was a request from the Organisation and the issues that will be discussed will be the Middle East, terrorism and counter-terrorism, and other general issues. That’s all I have for you.
Question: Several things… can we have the reading from the meeting of the Secretary-General with Mr. Burns yesterday? And with the Foreign Minister of Montenegro? I saw that he met the Foreign Minister of Montenegro for 40 minutes even, so I’m really eager to see what did they discuss. And also, what other countries are mentioned that are under concern regarding that investigation?
Spokesperson: I’ll get the details for you, which country. On the readouts, the Secretary-General briefed Under-Secretary of State Burns yesterday on the latest developments related to Sudan, Darfur, and he drew attention to the potentially increasing peacekeeping engagement in Africa, for which he requested continued U.S. support. They also exchanged views related to negotiations concerning Iran and the DPRK. Burns updated the Secretary-General on the US position vis-à-vis the Human Rights Council. That’s the readout I got.
Spokesperson: That I don’t know. And I don’t have anything for you yet, but I can find out for you the readout about the Montenegro meeting.
[The Spokesperson later added that the Secretary-General and the Foreign Minister of Montenegro discussed Montenegro’s foreign policy priorities, the UN’s presence in Montenegro and regional issues. The Foreign Minister expressed support for the Secretary-General’s reform package. On the meeting with Mr. Burns, the Spokesperson said that Kosovo had not come up.]
Question: What is going on Kosovo now in Europe? What is the stage? Is that going in coordination with the UN Headquarters here? There is a stage of seven days, I would say, in Vienna that is going on? What is that?
Spokesperson: Well, this is not directly related. As you know, they are continuing consultations on that, and it is led by Mr. Ahtisaari, and we are going to see what will come out of it. And as soon as we get something more constructive, I’ll let you know. And, in fact, it will be in front of the Security Council once it is decided.
Question: As you know, there is an important debate today in the General Assembly on the gender equality and empowerment of women. Since the Secretary-General’s assumed duties in Headquarters, he has made a number of senior appointments. How many of those appointments concern women? Is there a ratio?
Spokesperson: Well, it’s a little difficult to say now, because as you know the process is still continuing. As you know, the DSG is a woman and I think she’s an important part of the equation. And as you know, Alicia Barcéna is Head of Management and we will know more in the next few days about other, about the ratio that you’re talking about.
Question: Do you expect more appointments coming soon?
Spokesperson: We should get some. I don’t know how soon, but as you know, the ones who had been appointed are slowly picking up their charges at the UN. The beginning of April, two more SRSGs will be taking up their duties, 1 April.
Question: Mr. Gambari is in Riyadh right now. Do you know who -- he met with the King and who else did he meet with?
Spokesperson: Okay, I’ll try to find out more about his trip for you. We gave you some details yesterday, but we can have additional ones for you today. We couldn’t get in touch with them this morning.
[The Spokesperson later added that Mr. Gambari had also met with the Saudi Foreign Minister and the Saudi Ambassador to the United States.]
Question: When is he expected to be back to New York?
Spokesperson: I’m not sure but I can find out for you also.
[The Spokesperson later added that Gambari would return to New York this weekend.]
Question: Yesterday, I’m told the UNDP was here. I wasn’t able to hear what they said in the hall because we had a briefing on human trafficking. But I’m told that they said they now put the value of UNDP’s programme in 2006 in North Korea at 4.4 million rather than 3.2 as was previously said. So, I’m wondering, the numbers are changing. Is it possible rather than have a briefing out in the hall to actually have UNDP come and answer questions? Probably Mr. Dervis, since he signed the letter to suspend operations in North Korea. It seems more appropriate than to have, I mean I appreciated that they came yesterday, but I wasn’t able to get any answers…
Spokesperson: I’ll transmit your request to them. Yesterday, I’m sorry you were not there because David Morrison was fully available for everyone that had questions.
Question: First, we had Ms. Barcéna and after that, there was a briefing on human trafficking. I guess it’s just a matter of scheduling. Obviously there are some answers to be gotten, but it would be better to get…
Spokesperson: Actually, why don’t you contact David Morrison?
Question: I have and I don’t have the answer to this question. That’s why I’m asking you.
Spokesperson: Okay, I don’t have it for you. Only UNDP can answer.
Question: We had Cochemé -- that was great. In this case, it’s a high-profile thing with North Korea. The Administrator of UNDP has signed a letter saying “I’m suspending programmes”. It seems like the Administrator should come and answer questions like anyone else does.
Spokesperson: Okay, we’ll transmit your request, and I’m glad you spoke to them, so you have some of your answers at least, I hope.
Spokesperson: Okay, thank you very much.
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