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

23 April 2007

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

23 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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

**Guest at Noon Today

Our guest at the briefing today is Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict.  Ms. Coomaraswamy will brief you on her recent two-week mission to Lebanon, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

** Somalia

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

The Secretary-General is gravely concerned about the continuing heavy fighting in Mogadishu, which has reportedly killed more than 250 people and forced more than 320,000 from their homes in the past six days alone.  He deplores the reported indiscriminate use of heavy weapons against civilian population centres, which is in disregard of international humanitarian law. 

The Secretary-General calls on the parties to immediately cease all hostilities and to facilitate access for the delivery of urgently needed humanitarian assistance.  He reiterates that there is no military solution to the Somali conflict and renews his call for an urgent resumption of political dialogue.

**Secretary-General in Qatar

The Secretary-General arrived in Doha, Qatar from Geneva late Sunday afternoon, to open the Seventh Forum on Democracy, Development and Free Trade.  He began the day Monday with a meeting with the President of Finland, who was also scheduled to open the Forum later in the day.  The Secretary-General then held talks with the Prime Minister of Qatar, and then with the Emir of Qatar.

The Secretary-General told reporters travelling with him that the international conference being convened by Qatar on democracy, free trade and development focuses on three key issues that the United Nations is working for in the region, as well as worldwide. 

He added that, on free trade, he was frustrated by the level of progress concerning the Doha Round of trade talks.  In his speech today, which the Secretary-General should be delivering right now, he emphasises progress on the Doha Round as soon as possible.  The Secretary-General is scheduled to leave Doha for Damascus tomorrow morning.

Over the weekend, the Secretary-General had chaired the meeting in Switzerland of the Chief Executives Board that brings together all the leaders of the UN System.  The Board agreed, at the conclusion of its meeting, to restructure arrangements for cooperation among UN organizations to ensure a more transparent, cost-effective and coherent approach to developing common programmes.  The Board will meet again in six months to complete the new arrangements.

It also decided to develop a coherent approach to support the Aid-for-Trade initiative launched at the Hong Kong Ministerial Meeting of the World Trade Organization, to build capacity to underpin the efforts of developing countries to benefit from the changing international trade regime.

**Security Council on Sudan

The Security Council this morning is holding consultations on the UN Mission in Sudan, with a briefing by Tayé Brook Zerihoun, the Acting Head of that Mission.

In his most recent report to the Security Council on the Mission, which came out last week, the Secretary-General says that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between North and South Sudan has reached a delicate stage, and the parties must devote considerable attention to the verification of the redeployment of their forces.

**Security Council on Kosovo

The Security Council will hold consultations this afternoon on Kosovo and other matters.  Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno will brief Council members on the current situation on the ground in Kosovo.  Following consultations, he will go the stakeout to take a few of your questions.

The Security Council will be sending a mission tomorrow to Belgrade and Kosovo.  The six-day trip will also cover Brussels and Vienna.  Its objective is to get a firsthand look at the political, economic and social situation on the ground.  For details about the mission’s composition and terms of reference, you can look at the relevant letter from the Security Council Presidency to the Secretary-General, which is out on the racks today.

Also, the head of the mission, Belgian Ambassador Johan Verbeke, will come to this room at 11 a.m. tomorrow to give you more details about the trip.

** Iraq

Ibrahim Gambari, the Secretary-General’s Special Advisor dealing with the International Compact with Iraq, is beginning a week of travels to build up support for the Compact.  He is accompanied by the Governor of Iraq’s Central Bank.

Gambari is in the United Kingdom today, and will travel from there to Kuwait, Bulgaria and Belgium before returning to New York next week.  And, you will recall, the Compact will be launched formally in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on 2-3 May.

** Sudan -– Humanitarian

The World Food Programme (WFP) reports that, because of a Russian wheat shipment that arrived in Sudan today, it will be able to feed nearly 300,000 schoolchildren.  Those children are enrolled in WFP's school feeding programmes in three chronically food-insecure Sudanese states.  WFP will also be able to feed 6,000 participants in food-for-work projects.  We have a press release on that upstairs.

**World Food Programme

Also from the WFP, the agency’s new head, Josette Sheeran, is currently on her first visit to Africa since taking office earlier this month.  She was in Ethiopia today to discuss how WFP can increase the amount of food it buys on local markets.

On Wednesday, she will head to Sudan, where WFP has its biggest aid operation.  She intends to visit Khartoum, Darfur and Juba, before heading to Chad this Saturday.  We have more on her trip upstairs.

**Deputy Secretary-General

The Deputy Secretary-General is currently on a three-day visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Asha-Rose Migiro arrived Sunday in Kinshasa.  At the airport, she reiterated the United Nations’ commitment to assist the Government and the Congolese people in their efforts towards reconstruction and reconciliation.  During her visit, she is expected to meet President Kabila and Prime Minister Gizenga.  She will depart tomorrow.

**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

An update on the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) operations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea: 

At the request of the DPR Korea authorities, UNDP will withdraw its remaining two international staff members from Pyongyang on 3 May.  They will proceed to Beijing and will be accessible to facilitate the audit.  The WFP has agreed to provide storage and support for current UNDP office assets, as well as to make any necessary further payments on behalf of UNDP.  All UNDP records are secured.

UNDP’s programme in DPRK remains formally in suspension.  UNDP will retain its lease on its Country Office building in Pyongyang until further notice.

** Haiti

The arrest of gang leader Belony Pierre on Saturday, 21 April by the Haitian National Police marks another significant step forward in the fight against Haiti's armed gangs.  Belony, who led a gang in Bois-Neuf, Cite Soleil, was arrested by Haitian National Police officers in St. Michel de l'Attalaye, 100 km north of Port-au-Prince.  He was immediately transferred to the capital, where he faces charges of murder and kidnapping.

Belony's arrest was carried out by the Haitian Police.  The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) provided additional security during his transfer, and subsequent detention at the headquarters of the police judiciare in Port-au-Prince.  The gang leader has been on the run since the end of February, when MINUSTAH forces, in support of the Haitian National Police, seized control of his Cite Soleil headquarters.

**UNODC

The head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is urging Member States to develop a more coherent global regime for fighting organized crime.  Speaking to the sixteenth session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, Antonio Maria Costa said law enforcement is operating in an “informational fog”, due to a lack of information on organized crime activities.  We have more on that upstairs.

**United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour leaves tomorrow for Central Asia.  Her two-week trip will take her to Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.  Arbour’s aim is to increase her office’s engagement in the region.  We have more on that in my office.

**UNESCO

The UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has adopted a landmark decision on protecting the Old City of Jerusalem.

The unanimous reaffirmation by UNESCO’s Executive Board of the need to safeguard the World Heritage site marks the first time that Israelis and Palestinians have worked together on this issue.  Both sides consulted with the board on reaching this decision and continue to work together.

UNESCO sent a technical mission to Jerusalem in February, after Islamic authorities there complained about an Israeli construction project they said threatened the Al-Aqsa Mosque.  We have more information in a press release upstairs.

**Guest at Noon Tomorrow

Our guest at the briefing tomorrow will be Mr. John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.  Mr. Holmes will brief you on the humanitarian situation in Somalia.

I’ll just take a few questions, because Ms. Coomaraswamy is already waiting.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  You made this announcement about DPR Korea.  I have seen the letter from UNDP to North Korea.  It says they were told on 6 March that they had to leave by the end of April.  Is this persona non grata?  I mean, they are being thrown out of the country.  How does the UN view it, and is North Korea still on UNDP’s Executive Board when they threw all the international staff out?

Spokesperson:  As for being on the Executive Board, I will check out for you the situation.  And we are not describing…  The UNDP already decided to withdraw its staff from there, so we don’t consider it as being persona non grata that situation.

[The Spokesperson later added that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea remains on the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Executive Board.]

Question:  At they time, they announced they were suspending, they said that these two would remain in until the audit was completed.  Now they are being thrown out of the country.  Why wasn’t it announced when they were told they had to leave and how is it… Obviously something changed, because they said that they would stay there to facilitate the audit.

Spokesperson:  Since it is the third of May and no agreement has been reached, they are leaving the country on the third.

Question:  The letter from them to them says that March 26 they were told by [inaudible] that they had to leave by the end of April.  If it is not persona non grata, what is it when a Member State tells UN personnel you must leave the country?

Spokesperson:  I would underline the fact that it was UNDP that decided to leave in the first place, to withdraw its personnel.

Question:  What is the status of the audit?

Spokesperson:  As far as we know, the external auditors are now accessing UNDP records in Korea.  Priority records are being copied and transported out of the country for their use.  We don’t know if the external auditors will be able to visit the UNDP projects.  That will be up to the DPR Korea authorities.  But we do not anticipate that the suspension of UNDP’s programme in the DPRK and the departure of the international staff will have an impact on the audit.

Question:  And when will we see some results from the audit?

Spokesperson: This is going on right now.  I cannot answer that question.

Question:  So you are saying that the UN has no comment on the fact that North Korea threw out these two remaining staff from North Korea?

Spokesperson:  We don’t have any specific comments on this, because this was something that was announced before.

Question:  I never heard it.  When countries throw people out, normally people get a bit upset.  But it sounds like the UN is not having problems with UN staff being thrown out of North Korea.

Spokesperson:  I have to say that UNDP had announced first that they were withdrawing their staff.  They had only kept two on a temporary basis.

Question:  Right, can you remind me when the decision was taken that these two would then leave by the UNDP?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know when this decision was taken, but I know that it was announced that they will leave by 3 May.

Question:  It just strikes me that the sequence of events is that North Korea threw them out, after which the UNDP announced that they would withdraw…

Spokesperson:  No, no, I am sorry, I am sorry, they were withdrawn before.  You can go back to your files.  The UNDP announced that they would withdraw their international staff way before this.  This occurred afterwards.  So, the sequence of events is not quite the way you have it.

Question:  The former Foreign Minister of Germany said that Turkey’s entry into the European Union was of the utmost importance, because it would signal that a strong Muslim country was able to modernize, and also it would be a strong signal to the terrorists and jihadists.  What is the position of the SG regarding Turkey’s application for joining the European Union?

Spokesperson:  This is a matter for the Union to decide and it is a matter between Turkey and the Union.

Question:  There is increasing tension between Turkey and, I don’t know what you call it now, I guess the Kurdish provinces of Iraq.  A lot of people are worrying that a conflict might break out over the next few weeks.  Does the UN in any way raise the alarm bells over this? Is the UN engaged in any kind of mediation about this, in any kind of talks?

Spokesperson:  Not that I know of, but I will try to get some information for you on that.

Question:  On the Sudan shipment, do we know who made the donation?  Was it the Kremlin, the Government, one of the humanitarian agencies?

Spokesperson:  We have that information in the press release upstairs.  So you can have it.

Question:  It does not specify who from Russia made the donation.

Spokesperson:  I will find out for you additional information and who did that.

[The Spokesperson later said the donation came from the Russian Government.]

Question:  Are there any contacts between the United Nations and Iran regarding attending the 3 May conference in Sharm el-Sheikh?

Spokesperson:  If there is any contact, you mean?

Question:  Between the United Nations and Iran regarding attending the conference of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Spokesperson:  All the invitations were done by the Foreign Ministry of Egypt.

Question:  Because Condoleezza Rice is calling for Iran to attend.  Is the United Nations doing anything in this regard?

Spokesperson:  No, as far as I know, the UN is not directly involved with the invitations.

Question:  I want to ask you about the elections in Nigeria.  The international monitors consider that it wasn’t free and fair.  I would like to know if the Secretary-General has any comment on that?

Spokesperson:  As you know, we are not observers at these elections.  However, I did ask, and the Secretary-General says he continues to closely follow the developments in Nigeria, including the report from observer groups, which have expressed concerns, as you know, about the recent election.  He strongly urges those with grievances to use the legal and constitutional means to address their complaints.  He appeals to all national actors to resist any resort to violence.  This is the reaction I got for you on the Nigerian elections.

Question:  And has any international organization asked the UN to intercede in the process?

Spokesperson:  No.

Question:  When the announcement of the North Korea audit was made, there was also the intention to do a wider audit on the role of UN agencies.  Is that ongoing?  Or is that waiting for the North Korea thing to end, or…

Spokesperson:  In the DPRK it is proceeding.

Question:  In the DPRK it is proceeding, but what about other agencies in the UN…

Spokesperson:  As I mentioned to you before, the first step was the DPRK and it is going to continue.

Question:  So, until the DPRK is done, there are not going to be audits of other agencies?

Spokesperson:  Of other agencies?  No.

Question:  On humanitarian conditions in Somalia, the Secretary-General has always expressed his concern about the situation there.  I was wondering about, if there are any ideas, or concepts, or proposals by the Secretary-General to resume the political dialogue in Somalia.

Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, the case of Somalia is right now in front of the Security Council, studying the situation.  So, at this point, the Secretary-General has not taken any new initiative.

Question:  There is a letter from the Transitional Federal Government to WFP, and I think to other agencies, saying that only they can bring in food, or aid, only if the Government inspects it.  We have heard that there are not enough inspectors.  I am wondering, what is the UN doing in the face of this directive of the Transitional Federal Government?  Are you aware of this problem?

Spokesperson:  We have asked about it, and we should have an answer about what the UN is planning to do and about what the situation is for you.  I don’t have it right now.

Question:  This regards the Darfur heavy support package.  So, what is the current plan in terms of follow-up, troop-contributor meetings and so forth? Where do we go from here?

Spokesperson:  We are waiting, I think, for answers from some of the troop-contributing countries. We don’t have that yet.  As soon as we get something on it, I will let you know.

Question:  Is there going to be another meeting this week in the Council?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know when it is scheduled for.  I’ll check for you.

Question:  On the 29th of this month, Karzai and [inaudible] are going to meet in Ankara.  Does the UN have anything on it?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have any information at this point on this.

Question:  In the Ivory Coast, these days, they are happily celebrating the newly-found unity of the country and of the army.  Is the Secretary-General satisfied with the role of the United Nations and the international community, as far as this country is concerned?

Spokesperson:  So far, I think, things are proceeding.  We are hoping that we proceed with the agreements as reached, and that we’ll get to a peaceful solution.

Question:  When are we expecting to hear from Mr. [Nicolas] Michel about his trip to Lebanon?

Spokesperson:  Mr. Michel, as you know, we have upstairs for you all the statements he has made in Lebanon, and you can have them upstairs.  Unfortunately, he has to travel very soon, again.  I have asked him, and he would be willing to come and talk to you, but after his return, which probably will be next week.

Question:  Is he going to Switzerland regarding this conference?

Spokesperson:  He is travelling.

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