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

1 August 2007

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

1 August 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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

**Today’s Guest at Noon

Good afternoon.  Our guest at the briefing today will be Dr. Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization, who will brief you on the significance of climate change on agriculture.  He’ll be here shortly, I believe at 12:30.

**Statement on Kosovo

I have a Secretary-General’s statement on Kosovo, which is available upstairs.  I will read it in the third person, however, for the purpose of the briefing.

The Contact Group has briefed the Secretary-General on its agreement on the modalities for further negotiations between Pristina and Belgrade.  This effort will be led by a troika comprising representatives of the European Union, the Russian Federation and the United States.

The Secretary-General welcomes this initiative by the Contact Group.  He hopes that the new period of engagement will lead to agreement on Kosovo’s future status, which remains a priority for the United Nations.

The international community must find a solution that is timely, addresses the key concerns of all communities living in Kosovo and provides clarity for Kosovo’s status.  The status quo is not sustainable.

The United Nations Office of the Special Envoy for Kosovo will be associated with the process by standing ready to provide information and clarification on request.

The United Nations will continue to play a constructive role in the new period of engagement and continue its major role on the ground in Kosovo.

The Contact Group will report back to the Secretary-General by 10 December.

And, as I said, we have copies upstairs of the statement, which is in the Secretary-General’s name.

** Haiti

The Secretary-General is on his way to Haiti for a two day visit.  Tonight, he will meet with Haitian President René Préval and Prime Minister Jacques Édouard Alexis.  The Secretary-General will be the guest at a dinner hosted by President Préval this evening.  That dinner will be preceded by a joint press conference by the Secretary-General and the President.  During his visit, the Secretary-General will also be meeting with other members of the Government, such as the Senate President and the Justice Minister, as well as with the Mayor of Cité Soleil and representatives of churches, civil society and the private sector.  The Secretary-General will also meet with the leadership of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti, which currently comprises a total of nearly 9,000 uniformed personnel.

According to the UN Special Representative in Haiti, Edmond Mulet, significant progress was made in the country, thanks, among other things, to the cooperation between the United Nations and the Haitian National Police.  Security operations carried out in the capital, Port-au-Prince, for instance, have contributed to bringing back relative calm to Cité Soleil, Martissant, Grand Ravine and Ti Bois.

**Security Council on Darfur

In a formal meeting yesterday afternoon, the Security Council unanimously authorized the establishment, for an initial period of 12 months, of an African Union-UN hybrid operation in Darfur, or UNAMID, for short.  The hybrid operation shall consist of up to 19,555 military personnel and a civilian component, including up to 3,772 police personnel and 19 formed police units of up to 140 personnel each.  The Security Council decided that the hybrid operation would have an initial operational capability for its headquarters by no later than this October, and would assume authority from the African Union Mission in Sudan by the end of this year.

The Secretary-General addressed the Security Council after the vote, telling them: “By authorizing the deployment of a hybrid operation in Darfur, you are sending a clear and powerful signal of your commitment to improve the lives of the people of the region and close this tragic chapter in Sudan’s history”.  He also said that we must put in place the complex and vital peacekeeping operation authorized by the Council, adding that the resolution will give even greater momentum to UN efforts to establish the hybrid operation.

The Secretary-General added that it is crucial that the meeting this week in Arusha of the Darfur parties yield positive results, so as to pave the way for negotiations and, ultimately, a peace agreement.  Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno told reporters that “enormous work” would be required between now and the end of the year to make sure that UNAMID can start operations on time.  He said that “the stars are aligned in a good direction today”, with a real hope that the tragedy faced by the people of Darfur is coming to an end.

**Humanitarian Situation in Sudan

And also from Sudan, in the wake of flooding in the southern and eastern parts of that country, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says the United Nations and its partners have so far distributed essential food and non-food items to tens of thousands of people, as well as chlorine products to half a million people without clean water.  OCHA says that the emergency will likely last for two or three more months, potentially requiring aid for up to 1.5 million people.

**Security Council

And the Security Council, just for the record, also adopted a resolution yesterday afternoon extending the arms sanctions in effect in the Democratic Republic of the Congo until 10 August.  And there are no meetings or consultations of the Council scheduled for today, which is the first day of the Congolese Presidency of the Council for the month of August.  Congolese Ambassador Pascal Gayama will hold bilateral consultations on the Council’s programme of work for this month, and the Council expects to hold consultations on that programme tomorrow.  And he intends to brief you in this room immediately after those consultations, about 12:30, and we will let you know, as always.

**Central Emergency Response Fund

And the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, today announced a grant of $40 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) for underfunded emergencies in 16 countries.  This is the fourth such disbursement since the Fund’s launch in March of 2006.  The largest recipients will be the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Ethiopia, Kenya, Côte d’Ivoire and the Central African Republic.  Money from the Fund is aimed at helping redress imbalances in global aid distribution that leave millions in so-called “forgotten” crises without assistance.  To date, the Fund has provided $125 million for such emergencies.  And there’s a press release with more information on that upstairs.

** Nepal

And in Nepal, the United Nations system has responded rapidly to the national crisis caused by incessant rainfall there that has triggered floods and landslides in 28 districts throughout the country.  Rescue relief efforts and rapid needs assessments in the affected districts are being carried out in coordination and collaboration with the Nepal Red Cross Society and with local government and security forces, as well as UN agencies.  There’s a press release on this available upstairs as well.

** Tajikistan

And then in Tajikistan, in Dushanbe, yesterday, a flag-lowering ceremony was held to mark the closure of the UN Tajikistan Office of Peacebuilding (UNTOP), which was established in 2000.  The closure of the Office culminates the UN’s 15-year political presence in the country; first in helping to bring an end to the armed conflict and then through the role of UNTOP in helping to consolidate that peace.

The Representative of the Secretary-General, Vladimir Sotirov, gave a speech in which he highlighted the Office’s accomplishments in strengthening national dialogue, helping to build democratic institutions and in promoting respect for human rights in the country.  He also recalled the five UN staff members who were killed in Tajikistan working for the cause of peace.

** Cambodia

And in Cambodia, the co-investigating Judges of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia have charged Kaing Guek Ieav, known as Duch, for crimes against humanity and have placed him in provisional detention.  He was handed over to the Extraordinary Chambers’ detention centre yesterday.  Today, Kaing was assigned a lawyer by the Court’s defence support section, since he had said he does not have the means to pay for his lawyers.  We have a press release from the Court with more information.

**WFP in Zimbabwe

And then on Zimbabwe, the World Food Programme (WFP) is calling on donors to contribute urgently towards the $118 million cost of its massively expanded aid operation.  WFP plans to provide assistance to 3.3 million people in Zimbabwe, 10 times the number of current beneficiaries, over the next eight months, in order to avert the threat of widespread hunger.  It reports that, with the combination of poor harvest and worsening economic turmoil, tens of thousands of families are facing severe food shortages.  WFP warns that, without additional funds, its food stocks in the country will begin to run dry in September and will be completely exhausted by the end of the year.  And there’s a press release from WFP on it.

**Avian Flu Monitoring

And just two more announcements.  The United Nations is taking steps to have its Member States apply space technology in their efforts to curb the spread of avian influenza.  The focus is now on promoting the creation of an early warning system partly based on geographic information systems, remote sensing and the Global Positioning System, among other space technologies.  This will be the topic of a three-day meeting on space-based monitoring technologies that began earlier today in Bangkok under the sponsorship of the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs, the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) and its partners.  About 60 experts from 20 countries are participating.

**UNICEF on Breastfeeding

And at the start of World Breastfeeding Week, which is today, UNICEF reports that breastfeeding babies immediately after birth can reduce infant mortality in developing countries.  According to a study, 22 per cent of neonatal deaths can be prevented by breastfeeding infants within one hour of birth.

And on that note, I’m finished and I will take your questions before our guest arrives.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Marie, do you have any news on the Kosovo talks, like exactly what day they begin?  I know it’s mid-August, and if everyone’s agreed they should be 120 days, or three months or, I don’t know what the Secretary-General is welcoming.

Deputy Spokesperson:  He is briefing you on his meeting with the Contact Group that took place yesterday, and he is welcoming this initiative by the Contact Group.  The start of the dates is something they would have to announce.  But the statement in his name does say that the Contact Group will report back to the Secretary-General by 10 December, which makes it about 120 days, I suppose.

Question:  And you have no indication of how long the talks are and when they begin?  Because I don’t know what he’s welcoming if we don’t know when it starts.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think the Contact Group itself has made some announcements.  The Secretary-General is endorsing the Contact Group’s initiative.

Question:  I have a follow-up question to that.  Is there any room for the Secretary-General now to step in, and what is actually expected from him?  Since the European Union named its negotiator, or envoy, Mr. [Wolfgang] Ishinger, the United States Mr. [Frank] Wisner, then Russia has its envoy.  Does the Secretary-General feel he has to step in and do something or name a special envoy?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The statement also refers to the fact that the United Nations Office of the Special Envoy for Kosovo will be associated with the process by standing ready to provide information and clarification on request.

Question:  Actually, Marie, what does that mean?

Deputy Spokesperson:  This is the statement and what it means is it’s associated with the process by standing ready to provide information and clarification on request.

Question:  And we are asking you for information now on whether the Secretary-General will name a Special Envoy for that process.

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Office of the Special Envoy is Mr. [Martti] Ahtisaari’s Office.

Question:  And Mr. Ahtisaari has said his job is finished.

Deputy Spokesperson:  And his office still remains, and he, along with his deputy, are part of that office.

Question:  Okay, can I remind you of my yesterday’s question?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing new on Carla del Ponte.

Question:  One simple question.  Referring to the resolution passed last night.  Does the Secretary-General believe that 26,000 is enough, is that a sufficient number of troops and personnel to get the job done as he sees it?

Deputy Spokesperson:  This is the recommendation that the Secretary-General gave.  It is in his report.  And this is the number the Security Council has approved.  And as Mr. Guéhenno, the head of Peacekeeping Operations mentioned yesterday at the stakeout, I think the task and the challenge ahead is now to get those troops and police together as quickly as possible.

Question:  So it wasn’t a compromise?

Deputy Spokesperson:  This was based on assessments done from the ground up.

Question:  Taiwan’s President Chen wrote a second letter to the Secretary-General, in which he basically accuses him of violating the rules by summarily dismissing his request to become a Member.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I understand there has been another round of letters to the Secretary-General from Member States and to the President of the Security Council.  As for the Secretary-General, I cannot confirm at this point whether an official response has gone back, but our position has not changed since the last time we were asked.

Question:  What he says in the letter is that it’s not proper for the Secretary-General to dismiss such a request.  It is up to the General Assembly and the Security Council, that’s the rules and regulations.

Deputy Spokesperson:  That’s correct.  It is up to the Member States to decide on the membership of the United Nations, and I will read again what we said the last time we were asked about the previous letter, which was, that in keeping with resolution 2758 of the General Assembly, it could not be received, that was the last letter, and thus was returned by the United Nations Office of Legal Affairs, and resolution 2758, which was adopted in 1971, is the basis of the one China policy of the United Nations.

Question:  And they say they’re not applying in the name China but in the name Taiwan?

Deputy Spokesperson:  This is our statement and this was a resolution adopted by the Member States of the General Assembly.

Question:  I have a couple of questions on the Office of Legal Affairs of the Secretariat.  One has to do with the resolution that was passed yesterday.  At the stakeout and elsewhere, there was a different interpretation to this idea that they could protect civilians without prejudice to the responsibilities of the Government of Sudan.  The Sudanese Ambassador implied that this would require the permission of Sudan to protect civilians, and the United States Ambassador said no, it wouldn’t.  Who ultimately decides that, and the Secretariat, given that they created the resolution, how do they interpret that?  Does this mean that the hybrid force, if they see civilians in harm’s way, can act without seeking permission from anyone?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Without getting into details, which I don’t have, I do know that the United Nations is pleased that the protection of civilians was included in the resolution.

Question:  Is there some way of getting Peacekeeping or the Office of Legal Affairs, or some Secretariat or DPKO position on what this means, before they’re deployed, so we can know?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, but the principle of protection of civilians is something the United Nations has always been advocating, so that is something that we would obviously welcome.  And in this regard, we do plan to give you an update by Jane Holl Lute on the logistics aspects of this operation, so that may be a good time to ask that question.

Question:  What logistics?

Deputy Spokesperson:  First, I think the Peacekeeping Department will have a troop contributors meeting.  I understand they’re planning one for this week.  I don’t have a date yet, but after that, we’ll try to get somebody from the Department of Field Support to come and brief you.

Question:  I remember one instance when the United Nations published, or DPKO published, rules of engagement.  It was a long book as I recall.  Is that the same plan for this, in this case, that there will be a rules of engagement book or publication, or whatever?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, there’s a standard rules of engagement, I’m sure, put together by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.  But on this specific mission, why don’t you wait for when you have the briefing.

Question:  Resolution 1701 was the unveiling of a new idea and this one’s even newer since it’s a hybrid force, so I don’t think standard rules will apply.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Why don’t you address that to the head of Peacekeeping at the briefing?

Question:  After the meeting with the Contact Group, is the Secretary-General more confident that the issue of Kosovo will, after this negotiation process, still return to the United Nations?  Does he wish that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as the statement says, he welcomes this initiative by the Contact Group, he hopes that this new period of engagement will lead to an agreement on Kosovo’s future status, which still remains a priority for the United Nations, and he urges the international community to find a solution that is timely, addresses the key concerns of all communities living in Kosovo and provides clarity for Kosovo’s status.

Question:  I’m asking if the issue will return to the United Nations?

Deputy Spokesperson:  They will report back to the Secretary-General by 10 December.

So, with that, we’ll invite up our guest, Dr. Jacques Diouf of the Food and Agriculture Organization.

* *** *

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