|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.
**Guest at Noon
Good afternoon. Our guest at the briefing today is Jean-Marie Guéhenno, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations. Mr. Guéhenno will brief you on the International Day for Landmine Awareness, which will be observed tomorrow.
On that subject, we have an embargoed copy of the Secretary-General’s message for the day in my Office.
The Security Council this morning held its first consultations for the month of April, agreeing on its programme of work for the month. The Council President for April, Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry of the United Kingdom, will speak to you in this room at 12:45 about the Council’s work during the coming month.
Among the things the Council discussed this morning was the format of discussions they will have this afternoon concerning the report on the final status of Kosovo, which is to be presented by the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Martti Ahtisaari.
The Council is about to adopt a presidential statement on the Democratic Republic of the Congo before resuming consultations in a few minutes.
Ambassador Jones Parry can tell you more precisely how this afternoon’s discussions will be held. Meanwhile, Mr. Ahtisaari has made clear that he intends to speak to you at the Council stakeout once he has briefed the Security Council, and we will squawk when that happens.
Also on Kosovo, we have a press release from the UN Mission on how the Customs Service has been transferred today from the Mission to local customs officials.
**OCHA -- Solomon Islands
A team from the UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination unit has been deployed to the Solomon Islands in response to yesterday’s devastating tsunami, which was caused by a large underwater earthquake, followed by some 27 aftershocks.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that the tsunami has caused the deaths of at least 28 people, with 19 injured and some 5,400 forced to flee their homes. Many more remain unaccounted for and search-and-rescue operations continue.
Solomon Islands authorities, who declared a state of emergency, estimate that 1,000 houses were destroyed on Choiseul Island. That estimate was based on an aerial assessment conducted yesterday. More information has been hard to obtain because of communication outages and difficulties of access.
Seismological experts, meanwhile, warn of a high possibility of further large earthquakes in the days to come.
**OCHA –- Funding
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says it has provided some $130 million worth of life-saving aid during the first quarter of this year through its year-old Central Emergency Response Fund.
The money is being used to pay for everything from food, clothing and shelter, to vaccines and other medicines. The largest recipient of funding was Mozambique, where nearly $11 million helped in the response to severe flooding in the Zambezi River Valley and destruction caused by tropical cyclone Favio.
We have more information in a press release upstairs.
On Somalia, High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour is deeply concerned about the high number of civilian deaths and injuries in the recent hostilities in the Somali capital, Mogadishu. Reportedly, these were the result of indiscriminate attacks and aerial bombardments in populated areas.
The High Commissioner also condemns the repeated cases of desecration of bodies witnessed in recent days. She urges the parties to respect international humanitarian law and reminds them of their duty to protect the human rights of civilians at all times. This included granting civilians safe passage and allowing humanitarian agents to reach those who had been affected.
Meanwhile, UNHCR says that nearly 100,000 Somalis were now believed to have fled Mogadishu since the beginning of February, some 47,000 of them within the last two weeks alone. And the World Food Programme (WFP) calls on all the warring parties to stop fighting and to allow access to humanitarian agencies so that aid could reach those in need.
We have more details in the Geneva briefing notes.
**UNHCR -- Chad
Turning to Chad, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees says it is dealing with a new wave of displacement in the south-eastern part of the country, following a deadly attack over the weekend on two villages.
According to the eyewitnesses interviewed thus far, the attack was led by Janjaweed militia, who were fought off by local self-defence militias and national army soldiers.
On Cambodia, the international judges serving on the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia today presented the President of the Supreme Court Chamber of the Chambers with a letter, which informs the Cambodian judges of their decision not to hold a judicial plenary session to adopt the internal rules of the court this month.
The international judges believe the Cambodian Bar's proposed first year fee for lawyers of $4,900 would create a prohibitive entry cost and was not in line with accepted practice at the international level. And they emphasized that the window of opportunity to hold a plenary on the court’s rules is closing quickly and they simply cannot allow for endless delays.
We have the full press release upstairs.
** Timor -Leste –- Election Observers
Counting down to the 9 April presidential elections in Timor-Leste, nearly 1,900 national observers from more than 50 Timorese organizations have registered to observe the voting, which will take place at some 500 polling centres in 13 districts throughout the country.
The United Nations Representative for Electoral Support, Finn Reske-Nielsen, said observers provide a valuable role in ensuring that the elections are free, fair and transparent while meeting national and international standards.
The UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste says, in addition to national observers, 180 international observers will be accredited by the electoral authorities representing around 20 national delegations and organizations.
**UNESCO -- BBC Journalist
The Director-General of UNESCO is calling for the release of a BBC journalist who was abducted in the Gaza Strip three weeks ago.
Koichiro Matsuura also spoke out against the proliferation of hostage-taking involving members of the media in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, which he said poses a threat to freedom of expression.
“When a journalist is abducted, the whole of society is taken hostage,” he said. We have copies of his statement upstairs.
I’ll take your questions now. This is all I have for you. As I mentioned earlier, at 12:20, we’ll have Mr. Guéhenno here with you.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Do you have any update on the report that the Americans have released these Iranian diplomats which were captured by them around three or four weeks ago.
Spokesperson: I don’t have any more on that.
Question: No update on that?
Spokesperson: No, not on the side of the UN.
Question: The Saudi cabinet issued a statement today that Israel should accept the Arab peace plan that was discussed this past week with Ban Ki-moon at the summit in Riyadh before they go to direct talks. And I was wondering if the Secretary-General had any comments on that?
Spokesperson: No, he does not at this point.
Question: What is the procedure now with immunity when it comes to investigations of suspected wrongdoings at UNDP? Is that up to the Secretary-General to resort immunity if it comes to that?
Spokesperson: Well, I think there are rules governing immunity, and the Legal Department can probably give you more on that.
Question: And what are those rules?
Spokesperson: I said they can give you more on that. I don’t have these rules with me.
Question: In the briefing this morning, Peter Boyle said he found it shocking that smoking was still allowed in the UN building. I was wondering if you can tell us what exactly is the official position on that. There are signs saying that it’s not allowed -– that’s precisely where people smoke. Is there anything going on internally in the building with regard to this matter?
Spokesperson: No, actually, the rule is the same. There is supposedly no smoking in the building. Whether it occurs is a question to be addressed, I think, by the Member States. That rule was adopted, as you know, by Secretary-General Kofi Annan. And you’re right -- it’s not being enforced totally in the building. But the rule remains.
Question: I don’t know, Michèle, if Mr. Vojislav Kostunica met with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and if he did, what would be the readout of that meeting. And also, there is one letter back in January that was written by the Prime Minister of Serbia to the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. I wonder if we can get a copy of that letter -- if we can see that letter regarding Kosovo -– back in January, I don’t know the date.
Spokesperson: Well, I think those are different issues. You can ask Mr. Ahtisaari about them. In terms of the letter itself, I will confirm for you whether it was received or not and what was done about it. As for the meeting, as you know, he will be also in the consultations first and the open meeting on Kosovo. And I hope you will have also…
Question: Who will be?
Spokesperson: I’m talking about the President.
Question: You mean Kostunica? What about -- did he meet Ban Ki-moon?
Spokesperson: Yes, he did meet Mr. Ban Ki-moon.
Question: What is the…?
Spokesperson: I don’t have a reading on that yet. It was this morning.
Question: One follow-up to Benny and another question. Maybe you’ll answer this. If UNDP officials decline to speak on a voluntary basis with prosecutors about the counterfeit matter at UNDP, would Ban Ki-moon consider lifting immunity?
Spokesperson: I’m sorry. Your “if” is a big “if”. From what I know, they’re collaborating with federal investigators. So there are no “ifs” here.
If you have further questions about UNDP and the situation of the fake money, then you can talk to David Morrison.
And further to your recent questions about the work being done in auditing UN activities in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, we have been informed by the Audit Operations Committee of the UN Board of Auditors that last week, the Committee completed the preparatory portion of the DPRK assignment, which was being done here at Headquarters as you know. A scoping report, which would determine the parameters of what is being audited, is currently being drafted for further consideration by the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ). That was in answer to your question yesterday.
Question: Will that be made public?
Spokesperson: You have to wait for it to be over first.
Question: There was a quote by the head of the Commonwealth, Don McKinnon, saying he spoke with Ban Ki-moon about the Fijian peacekeepers, and again asked him to either enforce or implement the idea that peacekeepers, following the coup, wouldn’t be used by DPKO. He said, and I’m not sure if it’s true or not, “Don, we need the peacekeepers”, Mr. Ban said. Did Mr. Ban say that?
Spokesperson: I cannot confirm this at this point. I cannot confirm this at this point.
I think we have to stop here because Mr. Guéhenno is with us right now.
* *** *