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

6 August 2007

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

6 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 Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

** Sudan

First off, we’ll start with Sudan.  The meeting of leading personalities of the Darfur movements, which UN Special Envoy Jan Eliasson and African Union Special Envoy Salim Ahmed Salim had chaired in Arusha since last Friday, ended today with the participants reaffirming their commitment to the Special Envoys’ Road Map.

The participants presented a common platform on power-sharing, wealth-sharing, security arrangements, land and humanitarian issues for the final negotiations, and recommended that final talks should be held between two and three months from now.  They decided to keep open the possibility that parties that did not participate in the Arusha consultations could join the common platform.

Eliasson and Salim welcomed the common positions as an important development in the preparations for the negotiations, and they will consult the Government of Sudan and other stakeholders.

Meanwhile, the Special Envoys recalled that they had taken up the situation of Suleiman Jamous, an elder of Darfur who is detained in Sudan, with the Government of Sudan, and they expressed their intention to pursue the matter in view of the role that Mr. Jamous can play in the political process.

We have the conclusions of the Arusha talks available upstairs.

Mr. Eliasson has arrived in Khartoum, where he will meet with Government officials today and tomorrow.  Then, for the second half of the week, he will visit all three states in Darfur before going to Chad on Saturday.

Meanwhile on the humanitarian side, four weeks after torrential rains started to devastate many parts of the Sudan, the United Nations and partners, in support of the Government, have so far assisted up to half a million people affected by the floods.  This includes aid of a preventive nature, designed to avert the huge risk of epidemics.

David Gressly, the acting UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan, said that, although the floods came earlier than expected, the response has been swift and successful.  But he warned that the rains are expected to continue until at least mid-September. At least 365,000 people have already been directly affected so far, including a reported 64 dead and 335 injured.

The United Nations and partners have so far supplied blankets, plastic sheeting, jerry cans, cooking sets, and sleeping mats to approximately 200,000 people, whose household goods were lost in the destruction.  However, it is estimated that many more people will need similar relief over the coming months.

And we have a press release with more details upstairs.

**Security Council

The Security Council has scheduled consultations tomorrow on Iraq, and Under-Secretary-General Lynn Pascoe will brief the Security Council on the work being done by the UN Mission in that country.  The mandate of the Mission expires at the end of this week, and Council members are expected to discuss that mandate.

After consultations end tomorrow, Mr. Pascoe has said he intends to speak to reporters at the Security Council stakeout about the work we’re doing in Iraq.

There are no meetings or consultations of the Council scheduled for today.

**Floods in South Asia

On the flooding that has been taking place throughout South Asia and in China, we do expect a statement, possibly later this afternoon.

According to UNICEF, the size and scale of the flooding and the massive numbers of people affected pose an unprecedented challenge to the delivery of humanitarian assistance by Governments and the aid community at large.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says shelter and access to freshwater, food, emergency medical supplies and basic household items are urgently required, given the loss of infrastructure, including basic health units and hospitals.

In India, Bangladesh and Nepal, UNICEF has been providing, among other things, water purification tablets, oral rehydration salts, mosquito nets and plastic sheets.

And we have more details on these relief efforts upstairs.

**Timor-Leste

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Timor-Leste, Atul Khare, welcomed the announcement today of a new Government resulting from the 30 June legislative elections.

Mr. Khare congratulated President José Ramos-Horta for his efforts in finding a solution to the best interests of the country.  President Ramos-Horta today announced his appointment of Xanana Gusmão as the new Prime Minister.

The Special Representative complimented the Timorese people for their exemplary commitment to the democratic process and [called] for all people to follow the wise example of their leaders.

** Afghanistan

Tom Koenigs, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, today said he was appalled and saddened to have learnt of the murder of three deminers working for the Mine Detection and Dog Centre in the province of Kandahar.  He said that it is abhorrent that anyone would target such selfless individuals working tirelessly to free the people of Afghanistan from the risk of death and injury caused by land mines.

And we have that statement upstairs.

UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) are helping Afghanistan’s Health Ministry carry out a new nationwide polio vaccination this week, which aims eventually to protect over 7 million children under the age of 5 from the highly infectious disease.  The UN Mission in Afghanistan said today that we are on the verge of eliminating polio from Afghanistan, but will need the cooperation of local communities to achieve that goal.

And we have more in today’s briefing notes from Kabul.

** Myanmar

The Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari, arrived today in Singapore, where he is scheduled to hold consultations with senior Government officials.  From there he will travel to Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta for further meetings with Government counterparts.

All of Mr. Gambari’s consultations are taking place in the implementation of the Secretary-General’s good offices mandate for Myanmar, in support of which Myanmar’s regional neighbours can play an important role.

** Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes today marked the one-year anniversary of the killing of 17 aid workers with a call to protect humanitarian workers throughout the world.

Speaking at a ceremony in Colombo, Holmes called the massacre in the eastern town of Muttur “one of the worst crimes committed against humanitarian workers in recent history”.  The Sri Lankan men and women, working for the French NGO Action contre la Faim, were forced to lie on the floor and executed with bullets to their heads.

Holmes reiterated the Secretary-General’s call for the Sri Lankan Government to “investigate this murder with the full weight and force of the justice system”.  Holmes is on a four-day visit to the island nation to boost coordination between government relief and various other humanitarian agencies there.

And we have more information in a press release upstairs.

** Hiroshima

In a message to the Peace Memorial Ceremony in Hiroshima, Japan, commemorating the nuclear attack of 6 August 1945, the Secretary-General said that nuclear proliferation is one of the most pressing problems confronting our world today.  Stressing that tens of thousands of nuclear weapons still remain, the Secretary-General said the emergence of a nuclear black market and attempts by terrorists to acquire nuclear weapons and materials have compounded the nuclear threat.

And we have that statement upstairs.

**Law of Sea Tribunal

The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea has rendered its judgments in disputes between Japan and the Russian Federation over Russia’s confiscation last year of two Japanese fishing vessels, the Hoshinmaru and the Tomimaru.  Russia had accused the two vessels of fishing illegally in Russian waters.

In the Hoshinmaru case, the Tribunal faulted Russia, ordering the prompt release of the fishing vessel upon the posting of a $392,000 bond.

In the Tomimaru case, the Tribunal found that the application for the release of the vessel is without object.  Japan’s submission to the Tribunal is too vague and general, the court said, and the Tribunal sent the matter back to the Russian court system.

And we have press releases from the Tribunal upstairs on those.

**Guest at Noon Tomorrow

Our guest at the noon briefing tomorrow will be Jane Holl Lute, acting head of the Department of Field Support, who will discuss preparations for the hybrid operation in Darfur.

Do you have any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Do you know who is going to replace [UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process] Michael Williams?

Associate Spokesperson:  No, we did get word from the United Kingdom authorities that they are appointing Mr. Williams to a position there, in the United Kingdom Government.  However, Mr. Williams has agreed to stay on until September, in order to help us find time to locate a successor.  So we will start to do that.  And, of course, we want to express our respect for the work that Mr. Williams has done.

Question:  You mean the beginning of September?

Associate Spokesperson:  At some point in September, he will step down.  But yes, we do have a little bit more time.  Until then, he is working as the UN Special Coordinator [for the Middle East Peace Process].  So we have some time to find a successor.

Question:  Does the Secretary-General have any comment on the arrest today of a UN employee on charges that he and two others used UN letterhead to gain permission for foreigners to enter the United States illegally?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, we did receive word that Vyacheslav Manokhin, who is a UN employee, has been charged with immigration fraud by the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

On 27 July, we informed the US attorneys that the UN had waived Mr. Manokhin’s immunity, in accordance with the relevant legal treaties.

The Office for Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) had worked, through the Office of Legal Affairs, with the US authorities on this matter, at their request, and helped to provide any information that was needed.

In fact, I received a copy of the US Attorney’s press release, and in that press release you can see that the US Attorney’s office thanked the OIOS for its assistance on this matter.  We certainly hope that our cooperation has been helpful and we will continue to cooperate.

Question:  Are you actually taking credit for making this happen?  Did this start as an OIOS investigation?

Associate Spokesperson:  No, but they did request assistance, through the Office of Legal Affairs, they did request assistance from OIOS, and they received that.

Question:  So it was initiated outside and came to the OIOS from the District Attorney.  Now the second question is, since you brought up the Law of the Sea Tribunal, what is the status of the North Pole issue with the Russian flag there?

Associate Spokesperson:  I know that in the past the Law of the Sea Treaty has dealt with the issue.  I just refer you to them.  I don’t believe that they have been willing to comment on the particular events that took place over the last week.  But if you want to talk to the Tribunal on the Law of the Sea, you can see whether they have anything further to say on that.

Question:  In the backdrop of talks between the Israelis Palestinian parties and Mr. [Mahmoud] Abbas, according to them, there are 12,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.  Did the Secretary-General do something to talk to the Israelis to release at least some of them?

Associate Spokesperson:  We have encouraged both sides to take steps to build confidence with each other.  That certainly includes steps on the treatment of prisoners; we have taken that issue up in the past.

Question:  One follow-up on this immigration thing.  He was a P-3 and he was a translator, so I wonder, what safeguards does the UN have in place to make sure that anyone that works at any level of the UN isn’t perceived by Immigration as a legitimate conveyor of visas?  Can you confirm that the individual arrested is in fact a translator and…?

Associate Spokesperson:  I can confirm that Mr. Manokhin works for the Translation Unit, yes.

Question:  Who within… at what levels in the UN system is an individual authorized or known by Immigration officials to be authorized to say, “Give this person a visa”?  What is the process for the UN to inform Immigration to grant a visa?

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t think I have any specific comments on the details of the ongoing case.  I don’t want to say anything prejudicial to the US Attorney’s case.  At the same level, the US Mission is aware of who is entitled and who is not to deal with matters of immigration.  In this case, the allegation concerned fraudulent forms.  Beyond that, I don’t want to get into details or prejudge or make any prejudicial comments.

Question:  In the phone directory, it says he works in the documentation division.  Is he a translator in the documentation division?

Associate Spokesperson:  I’ll check what division he is part of.  He is a translator, yes.

Question:  Because that is what it does say in the directory.

Associate Spokesperson:  I’ll check what specific office he is in.

[The Spokesperson’s Office later added that Mr. Manokhin was a mid-level official working in the Russian translation section of the UN document services.]

Question:  What is the status now?  Is he fired, or just temporarily suspended, with or without pay?  What is the status of Mr. Manokhin right now at the UN?

Associate Spokesperson:  I believe he is suspended as this investigation proceeds.  I’ll check whether this is with or without pay.

[The Spokesperson’s Office later corrected this statement, saying that, as of now, Mr. Manokhin had not been suspended.]

Question:  Just to follow up on a previous question:  is there any indication at all as yet as to whom the Secretary-General may appoint to succeed Mr. Williams as Envoy in the Middle East?

Associate Spokesperson:  No, not yet.

Question:  On a different matter:  on increasing the UN involvement in Iraq, how does this reflect concerns about the security situation?  It seems that the situation has not improved since last year’s attack on the UN premises in Iraq.

Associate Spokesperson:  We clearly have security concerns, which continue.  At the same time, what we are exploring is ways to see how we can do more things and what areas does the UN have particular strength in dealing with.  For example, tasks such as reconciliation.  But yes, you are right, that our posture on the ground, our levels on the ground, still depend on the security conditions.  We have to assess how those conditions change.  And I believe Mr. Pascoe might be able to tell you a little bit more about how we will try to adapt to the environment on the ground when he is done briefing the Security Council tomorrow morning.

Question:  Does the Secretary-General have a point of view on the United States-United Kingdom proposed draft resolution, in particularly on getting the UN involved in such areas as delineating borders inside Iraq, you know, very touchy areas that the United States did not manage to do.  Does he support that kind of very deep involvement?

Associate Spokesperson:  We don’t intend to comment on details of Security Council resolutions while they are up for discussion.  At the same time, the general point is that the Secretary-General has stated his willingness to do as much as we can to help the people of Iraq.  Obviously, the Security Council is discussing that this week, and we will have to see what the members of the Security Council themselves decide on.

Question:  Are there any particular areas where…  You mentioned reconciliation for example.  Can you give us some more examples of the areas where the UN could help, besides reconciliation?

Associate Spokesperson:  There are certain things at which we have had particular expertise.  And you have been aware of the things that we have been doing in recent years, for example, working with elections, dealing with constitutional reform, trying as best we can to bring neighbouring countries together through the International Compact with Iraq, as well as our humanitarian activities.  So there are a number of areas where we have particular strength, and we try to build on those.

Question:  Two Ban Ki-moon questions.  One, there are these public reports that he has spoken to the President of Pakistan and the Foreign Minister of Iran about the hostages in Afghanistan?  Is that the scope…  Has he made other calls on this matter since Friday?

Associate Spokesperson:  Because of the delicate state of these talks concerning the hostages, I’d rather not get into what we are doing.  Obviously, we have had our humanitarian concern about the seizure of such a large group of hostages.  But at this stage, what we are doing is simply supporting the efforts of Afghanistan’s Government and of the Republic of Korea’s Government to deal with the situation.

Question:  Because there was a plea that was sort of directed… it was put on the table directly to Ban about the hostages, so I don’t know what, I guess what I am saying is does he have a response to that or maybe that was the response?

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t think that it would help the situation of the hostages to say anything further beyond the fact that, of course, we do want to see the situation resolved peacefully and that we support the efforts of the Republic of Korea and Afghanistan on this.

Question:  He is travelling today, right?  It is listed as his appointment that he is travelling.  Where is he travelling to?

Associate Spokesperson:  His travels continue.  In the next couple of days his schedule is a little bit lighter, but I might have a couple more official appointments to mention to you.  One of them might come tomorrow.  But he is still travelling in the Caribbean.

Question:  On the location of the Lebanese Tribunal, has there been any word from the Dutch Government, whether they accept…?

Associate Spokesperson:  No, not so far.

Question:  Do you expect that any time soon?

Associate Spokesperson:  That is up to the Dutch Government, in terms of the timing.  The Secretary-General, for his part, has to report back to the Security Council by the end of this month on the arrangement for the tribunal.  Hopefully we will have some more information to provide by then.

Question:  Does the Secretary-General Ban have fun while he is travelling currently?

Associate Spokesperson:  Even on weekends, he does quite a bit of work.  It is very tricky for us, because he doesn’t actually take that much time off.  But we hope he will have a couple of days off here and there.

Question:  I have a follow-up on the Tribunal issue.  What is this report that the Secretary-General is supposed to present related to 1701?

Associate Spokesperson:  That report, when the Security Council adopted its resolution concerning the tribunal for Lebanon at the end of May, they asked for a report within 90 days, so it would be that report.

And with that, have a good afternoon.

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