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

2 April 2007

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

2 April 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 Michele Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, all.  Our guest at noon today is Mr. Eloho Otobo from the UN Economic Commission for Africa, who will brief you on their Economic Report on Africa 2007, to be launched tomorrow in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

**Secretary-General Press Encounter

The Secretary-General returned to work at UN Headquarters today following the conclusion of his trip to the Middle East and spoke to reporters about that trip just now.

In his comments to the press, the Secretary-General said that he strongly deplored the killings of five African Union peacekeepers in Darfur, which, he added, illustrates the necessity of dispatching a hybrid peacekeeping force to Darfur.  He said he would meet the African Union Chairman, Alpha Oumar Konaré, here on 16-17 April to discuss those issues further.

Asked about the dispute between Iran and the United Kingdom, the Secretary-General expressed the hope that the issue can be resolved through diplomatic channels, with an early release of the UK naval personnel, and he added that the rhetoric over that issue should be toned down.

Asked about Kosovo, he reiterated his full support for the recommendations made by his Special Envoy, Martti Ahtisaari, adding: “I hope that Security Council members will constructively engage in dialogue on this issue.”

The Secretary-General also said that the members of the Quartet were waiting to see how the Palestinian National Unity Government will perform, and hoping that it would meet the expectations of the international community.

We will have a transcript of that press encounter available in my office.

** Sudan

The UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) also strongly condemned the killing of the five peacekeepers of the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) during an unprovoked attack yesterday.  UNMIS also condemns the attack on Saturday by unidentified armed men on an AMIS helicopter, which was carrying the AMIS Deputy Force Commander and his team to El Fasher in West Darfur.  The UN Mission stressed the urgent need to identify those responsible for the attacks on AMIS and to hold them accountable to the fullest extent of the law.

We have a statement from the Mission, as well as their Daily Bulletin, upstairs.

** Solomon Islands

On the earthquake and tsunami in the Solomon Islands, I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General: 

The Secretary-General is deeply concerned by the potential consequences of the earthquake and tsunami that hit the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea on 2 April 2007.  He extends his deepest condolences to the families of those who have been killed, injured or rendered homeless.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has a team ready to deploy to the Solomon Islands and has offered assistance to the Government.

According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the latest reports from the provincial capital, Gizo town, indicate that 12 people have been killed and 2,000 people (or roughly 10 per cent of the population) are now homeless.  Many people remain missing, and there is widespread damage to infrastructure.

OCHA says it has disaster assessment and coordination teams on standby and ready to deploy.  It has also been in direct contact with the Government of the Solomon Islands. 

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), meanwhile, has prepositioned emergency medical supplies for up to 10,000 people. 

We have a press release upstairs.

** Somalia

Still from OCHA: the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Somalia reports that nearly 100,000 people have fled the capital Mogadishu since 1 February this year, due to continued fighting in the area.

Of the total figure, 47,000 have fled since 21 March alone, and have no access to shelter, water or food.  The number of those fleeing the area continues to increase on a daily basis and the lack of access to the city due to the fighting has severely hampered humanitarian agencies from responding to meet the vast needs.  OCHA urges all parties to take necessary measures to prevent unnecessary human suffering.

**Security Council

The United Kingdom has succeeded South Africa as the President of the Security Council for the month of April.  UK Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry is holding bilateral consultations with the other Council members on the programme of work for the month.

The Security Council is expected to meet tomorrow morning to hold consultations on the programme of work for April.  After that, tentatively at 12:45, Ambassador Jones Parry will talk to you in this room about the Council’s work in the coming month.

Although Council members still have to agree on the programme of work, we also expect that, tomorrow afternoon, they will hold consultations on Kosovo, at which the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Martti Ahtisaari, intends to be present.  If Council consultations on Kosovo in fact take place tomorrow afternoon, Mr. Ahtisaari has already conveyed his willingness to talk to reporters at the Security Council stakeout afterward.

**Kosovo

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Kosovo, Joachim Rücker, yesterday expressed concern over what appears to have been an attack directed at the Deçan/Dećani monastery.  Rücker said that the police and the Kosovo Force (KFOR) are investigating exactly what happened on Saturday, and he emphasized, “Violence, especially directed at minority communities, is intolerable and impermissible and has no place in Kosovo.”

We have more information in a press release from the UN Mission in Kosovo.

**United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, continues his visit to the Middle East, arriving in Bahrain after meeting with senior Iraqi officials in Baghdad over the weekend.  There, he described the displacement of nearly four million people in Iraq and neighbouring countries as a humanitarian crisis.

Guterres announced that UNHCR would increase its international presence in Baghdad, as well as its activities elsewhere in Iraq.  He also called on the country’s leaders to spearhead an international effort to ease the plight of uprooted Iraqis.

We have more in a press release upstairs.

** Nepal

Over the weekend, Ian Martin, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Nepal, welcomed the establishment of the new interim Government as a key moment for the consolidation of Nepal's peace process.  He congratulated the leaders of the eight political parties on their willingness to share responsibilities in this transitional period.

Martin pointed out that a unified Government should be in a stronger position to face the challenges ahead, and he pledged the UN’s help in ensuring full compliance with the commitments made by the parties to the Agreement on the Monitoring of the Management of Arms and Armies, as well as to support and monitor the electoral process.

**Bird Flu

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says the number of bird flu cases is down this year, but avian influenza remains a threat, and continues to spread to new areas. 

The FAO cites Thailand, Turkey and Viet Nam as having been particularly successful in battling the disease, but notes that Egypt, Indonesia and Nigeria have not been able to contain it yet, making them reservoirs of the virus for possible introduction to other countries.

We have a press release on that upstairs.

**United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

The secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will put in place the International Transaction Log (ITL), available for industrialized countries that have signed up to the Kyoto Protocol to link to their national registries.

The ITL is an essential component of the trading infrastructure as it forms the central hub of the settlement system, which will deliver traded allowances from sellers to buyers.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

At 11 a.m. tomorrow, there will be a press conference with Dr. Peter Boyle, director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, who will brief on the issue of the “Globalization of cancer, making a difference”.

And our guest at the noon briefing tomorrow, will be Mr. Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Under Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, who will brief you on the International Day for Landmine Awareness, which will be observed on April 4th.

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

**Questions and Answers

Question: Just a clarification. Mr. Guéhenno is going to brief us after the briefing, and then, at 12:45 you are going to have Ambassador Jones Parry’s briefing?

Spokesperson:  Yes, but it is going to be a bit short.  You’ll just have to ask a little less questions, right?  No, no, that is the only way we could do it in the terms of scheduling with the different people involved.  We’ll try to finish the noon briefing earlier.

Question: Again, a technical question.  Mr. Ahtisaari will brief us after the Security Council.

Spokesperson:  It will be at the stakeout.

Question: Do you expect… How many speakers are there on the list?  Do you have a list?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have a full list yet at this point.  But there are quite a few.

Question: Do we have the format for the Security Council tomorrow?  Are Mr. Seydiu and Mr. Kostunica going to speak?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know that yet at this point.  I know they will have consultations first.  Then we’ll know if they’ll have a formal meeting, and if we’ll have a list of speakers, and I’ll let you know.  It will be available in my office.  We don’t know yet what the composition will be.

Question: Back to the Secretary-General’s trip to the Middle East.  Is there any word, besides his meetings in the Palestinian Territory and Lebanon, that he is handling the promise of Kofi Annan about the Israeli hostages of the war?  Is he handling this issue, because...

Spokesperson:  Yes, yes, efforts are continuing in that sense, and it was brought up at quite a few of the bilaterals that the Secretary-General held.

Question: Is there any progress?

Spokesperson:  Well, at this point we are not in a position to say that there is progress.  I can say that the Secretary-General raised the issue at every meeting.

Question:  The first question is obviously: now that we have a new Under-Secretary-General, Mr. [Kiyotaka] Akasaka, do we know when he is going to brief us on his plans and on his objectives, and will we know that the press will be as important to him as to his predecessor?

Spokesperson:  Well, he is not quite ready for a briefing yet, but I’m sure that, as soon as he is ready to come, he will come and meet with us, and tell you about his plans.  I will let you know.

Question:  On Saturday, Mr. [Jean Pierre] Bemba from the Democratic Republic of the Congo was supposed to go to Portugal.  And there seems to be reports that he hasn’t left and that he remains there.  Does MONUC have any read-out on the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo?

Spokesperson:  No, not today, but I can find out for you.  I know there were discussions this morning about it, so I will find out for you what was exactly decided and when he is leaving.

Question: Two questions.  Do you know, by any chance, if the Secretary-General in his various meetings in Lebanon has consulted with anyone about the efforts to release the two Israeli hostages and perhaps the third hostage in his consultations with the Palestinian Government?

Spokesperson:  We just had that question a few minutes ago, and I said it was raised at every meeting that the Secretary-General had; not only, the question of the Israeli detained, but also the Palestinians who are detained, or the Lebanese who are detained.  So, the question of prisoners was brought up at every step of the seven-stop trip that the Secretary-General had.

Question: Alvaro de Soto indicated his desire to move on.  Do you have anything about who might replace him, and whether we will know about it before the 7 May expiration of his contract?

Spokesperson:  I can only confirm that Mr. de Soto has signified to the Secretary-General his desire to move on.  The Secretary-General has asked Mr.  de Soto to remain until the end of his contract.  He will, therefore, end his distinguished 25-year career at the UN on 7 May.  As to who will replace him, I don’t have that information yet.

Question:  As you know, the Arab leaders at their recent summit meeting have proposed a peace plan for the Middle East, and Prime Minister [Ehud] Olmert recently proposed a peace conference in Jerusalem and called on the Arab leaders to attend.  It seems this is the time now, and it is an opportune time for such a conference, any conference.  Would the United Nations seize this opportunity and initiate a regional peace conference?

Spokesperson:  Well, we would not initiate.  As you know, it has already been initiated.  It has been initiated by Saudi Arabia and it was discussed during the Riyadh Summit.  The idea of having not only a Quartet meeting but of having an Arab-Quartet meeting… and they were talking about also of Mr. Olmert and Mr. [Mahmoud] Abbas joining in the meeting.  When that will take place, I don’t have an exact date yet.  But this was widely discussed during the meeting in Riyadh.

Question:  Perhaps the word “initiate” is not the proper word.  Would the UN organize such a conference?

Spokesperson:  The UN would participate.

Question:  Who would organize it?

Spokesperson:  Certainly the regional organization, the League of Arab States.

Question:  Have they said that?

Spokesperson:  Yes, yes, they have.

Question:  The urgent audit of UNDP that the Secretary-General called for back in January, there was a two-week period… I suppose they have now finished scoping out, I guess.  There remains less than a month before results are due.  Do you have any readout on whether the auditors can get to North Korea or… while you were away, there was some back and forth about getting the Board of Auditors.  I think UNDP said they would encourage them to speak.  Maybe we can get them to give some…

Spokesperson:  I’ll try to find out, Matthew.

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