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

10 August 2007

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

10 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.

Good afternoon, everyone.

**Security Council

The Security Council this morning unanimously adopted a resolution renewing and strengthening the mandate of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq, and the Secretary-General welcomed the Council’s action.

He said that the United Nations is deeply committed to helping the people of Iraq, and that he was pleased to have the opportunity to now enhance, where possible, the UN’s contributions in crucial areas, such as national reconciliation, regional dialogue, humanitarian assistance and human rights.

The Secretary-General added that the United Nations looks forward to working in close partnership with the leaders and people of Iraq to explore how we can further our assistance under the terms of this resolution.  He voiced his profound appreciation and respect to the people and Government of Iraq, and also paid tribute to the brave men and women who continue to serve the United Nations in Iraq.

We have his full statement upstairs.

He did speak at the stakeout just a few minutes ago.  Among other things, he was asked about plans to send more people to Iraq, and he said that, first of all, “I need to get support from the General Assembly for safe working conditions for our staff”.

We should have that transcript available to you in the next few minutes.

**Iraqi Children

Jordanian public schools will open their doors to Iraqi children when classes start on 19 August, according to UNICEF.  The agency is welcoming this announcement, which will apply to all children who have fled violence from neighbouring Iraq, regardless of whether they possess a residency permit or not.  According to UNICEF, a large proportion of Iraqi children living in Jordan have not attended school for years.

We have more information on this upstairs.

**Security Council on Democratic Republic of Congo

In addition to its unanimous approval of the resolution on the new one-year mandate for the UN Mission in Iraq, the Security Council also approved today a resolution extending the sanctions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo until 15 February 2008.

** Sierra Leone

I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General concerning the Sierra Leonean elections:

The Secretary-General is pleased to note that the first elections to be conducted by the Sierra Leonean authorities after the withdrawal of the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) in December 2005 will take place tomorrow, 11 August, as scheduled.

The Secretary-General emphasizes that free, fair and credible elections, which reflect the wishes of the people of Sierra Leone, are crucial to securing the peace that has been built in Sierra Leone and to paving the way for development and prosperity in the future.  The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about recent and ongoing incidents of violence involving supporters of main Sierra Leonean political parties.  He, therefore, appeals to all Sierra Leonean political parties and their followers to conduct themselves in a manner that enables the elections to take place in a peaceful atmosphere.

And we have the full statement upstairs.

** Western Sahara

The second round of negotiations under UN auspices on Western Sahara got under way this morning in Manhasset, New York, with the participation of the parties -- Morocco and Frente Polisario -- and the neighbouring countries, Algeria and Mauritania.

The talks are being led by Peter van Walsum, the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara.  The Moroccan delegation is led by Mr. Chakib Benmoussa, the Minister of the Interior.  The Frente Polisario delegation is led by Mr. Mahfud Ali Veiba, who is a member of the Polisario leadership.

Addressing the participants in his opening remarks, Mr. Van Walsum said: “I hope you will maintain the same good atmosphere that characterized the first round.  However, atmosphere is not everything.  The Security Council expects us to conduct good-faith and productive negotiations.”

As for the agenda, participants are continuing the discussions they initiated at Manhasset in June.  There will be meetings in plenary today, as well as separate discussions between the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy and each of the four delegations.

**Timor-Leste

At a UN-sponsored meeting earlier today, Timorese political leaders strongly condemned the ongoing violence in their country.  The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Timor-Leste, Atul Khare, who moderated the meeting, says that the leaders of all 16 registered parties have expressed their firm commitment to end the spread of violence.  Today’s meeting was the seventh of its kind convened by the UN Mission with the goal to provide a forum for frank and honest discussions between all political parties.

Meanwhile, the Mission has confirmed that 142 houses have been burned in Viqueque and Baucau districts since Tuesday.  It remains unclear how many people were displaced by the violence.  UNICEF has also condemned the violence, in particular the destruction and looting of schools and other educational facilities in recent days.

**Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs’ Travels to Asia

The Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe, will travel next week to Asia, where he is to represent the Secretary-General at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit of Heads of State in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, in addition to visiting both China and Nepal.

Pascoe’s first stop is in Beijing, from 13-15 August, where he will hold consultations with senior officials on a range of UN-related issues.  On 16 August, he will deliver a message on behalf of the Secretary-General to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit, and meet with a number of visiting leaders to discuss the situation in Central Asia and the broader region.

From 18-19 August, Pascoe will be in Kathmandu to discuss the peace process with national leaders and to consult with the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN), which is providing critical assistance to the holding of Constituent Assembly elections later this year.  During his stay, Under-Secretary-General Pascoe is expected to meet with Nepal’s Prime Minister and other key political figures in the country.

**Afghan Refugees

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has issued an urgent request for an additional $10 million to help assist Afghans returning to their homeland.  UNHCR says the pace of repatriation from Pakistan is rapidly outstripping its ability to support the returnees, and funds will soon run out.

UNHCR has helped more than 300,000 Afghans who have returned home this year.  On arrival, they receive a transport and reintegration grant, medical check-ups, and mine-awareness training.  Children also receive polio and measles vaccinations.

There is more information in the UNHCR briefing notes upstairs.

** Pakistan

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is renewing its call for funding of a $38 million appeal for Pakistan, which was struck more than six weeks ago by flooding caused by monsoon rains and Cyclone Yemyin.  The appeal, aimed at complementing the emergency activities of the Government of Pakistan, remains less than one third funded.

Hundreds of thousands of people in Baluchistan and Sindh provinces remain in scattered roadside camps.  While water supplies have been successfully restored to about 300,000 people, more than 700,000 remain without potable water, and there are also fears of water-borne diseases.  Urgent funding is also required for agricultural recovery.

We have more information on that upstairs.

**Female Genital Mutilation

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and UNICEF are launching a $44 million programme to reduce female genital mutilation and cutting in 16 African countries with high prevalence.  The initiative aims to end the harmful traditional practice within a generation by partnering with Government and religious leaders, health providers, media and civil society, and influencing laws and enforcement.

Each year, 2 to 3 million women and girls are subjected to female genital mutilation.

We have a press release upstairs.

**Climate Change

The International Strategy for Disaster Reduction is urging Governments to speed up their implementation of the Hyogo Framework for Action.  That framework, which 168 countries agreed to in 2005, focuses on preparing for the effects of climate change.

With this year’s series of floods, heat waves and storms expected to continue, the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction says that better legislation is needed to promote the building of stronger structures, cities and villages in areas that are not prone to flooding.

We have more information in our Geneva briefing notes.

**International Youth Day

Sunday will be International Youth Day, which this year focuses on youth participation for development.

In a message marking this occasion, the Secretary-General said that, as we approach the midpoint of the race to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, the participation of young men and women was needed more than ever.  He stressed the fact that, in many parts of the world, young people continue to be marginalized and ignored.

We have that message upstairs.

And today, ahead of this International Day, 200 youth from around the world are meeting until 1 p.m. in the Dag Hammarskjöld Library here at Headquarters, to celebrate the occasion.

**The Week Ahead

We have the Week Ahead available upstairs, but one thing I’d like to flag for you is that the fourth anniversary of the bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad will be observed next Friday, 17 August, at 10:15 a.m., with a wreath-laying ceremony to remember our colleagues and friends killed and injured in that attack.

The ceremony will be held in front of the memorial plaque located outside the Meditation Room in the General Assembly Building public lobby.  The Secretary-General is expected to make a brief statement.

We have more details in a press release upstairs.

Also we have a press conference on Monday at 2:15 p.m., sponsored by the Mission of Hungary, to launch the Hip Hop Millennium Development Goals Campaign.  This initiative is in conjunction with the fourth Annual Youth Assembly, which will be taking place from 12 to 15 August at the UN Headquarters.

You can find the full Weak Ahead upstairs.

Are there any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  There is some talk that the Secretary-General has proposed building a new UN building or headquarters in Baghdad, and that the ACABQ [Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions] has written back to him.  Do you have any… Can you confirm or deny it?

Associate Spokesperson:  I can’t confirm about the ACABQ writing back to him.  The Secretary-General did mention just a few minutes ago that he is going to ask for increased budget support for strengthening safe housing accommodation in Iraq, and that is one area in which he intends to work.  That is one of his goals, so he is going to press on this.  I don’t have a confirmation on the ACABQ letter.

Question:  What we know is it is a $130-million building, and the ACABQ has concerns about how the money will be approved.

Associate Spokesperson:  I’ll see whether I can get any details on the precise money.  I don’t know if we have any public figure on that.  I believe it is actually still a matter up for discussion.  But if there is something more specific, I’ll let you know.

Question:  On the Western Sahara meetings, I have two questions.  Do we have access to the opening statements today in that meeting?

Associate Spokesperson:  You won’t have public access because reporters are not allowed in the building.  We will try to see whether we can get any of the transcripts of what has been said in the building.  If we can get them, we’ll make them available here, and inform you by the intercom that we have them.  But these meetings have been closed, so there is no official press statement or press access as such.

Question:  How many days… will it be going through the weekend?

Associate Spokesperson:  It will go on tomorrow.  Today, it is expected to last until seven in the evening.  Then it will resume tomorrow, and we are hopeful that, by the end of tomorrow’s proceedings, we might be able to issue a statement in some form to correspondents about how the talks have proceeded.

Question:  On the forthcoming visit of the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs to Asia, is he going to bring any specific messages to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization?  What kind of relationship between the UN and the SCO… how do you describe the relationship?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, he is going to bring a message, and it will be a message on behalf of the Secretary-General.  We will make that public over the course of the next week.  His appearance there is a sign of our desire to cooperate with this organization.  And we will have more next week, when we actually issue the message that Mr. Pascoe will deliver.

Question:  Do you know when the announcement will come on the staffing and the new appointments for Iraq?

Associate Spokesperson:  It is not something that will be immediate.  First of all, the Secretary-General said just about an hour ago that he has not yet finally decided who and how many people still have to be dispatched to Iraq.  He wants to know in particular about the security concerns, about any progress in obtaining safe housing for staff.  Based on a number of those considerations, he will make his decisions.  This is still something that is being discussed, particularly between the Secretary-General and the senior advisers.

Question:  Mr. Gambari has been visiting South-East Asian countries.  What has been the response from these countries so far and how can these countries play a role with the UN?

Associate Spokesperson:  It is up to the countries to describe what their response has been.  From our side, we believe that the countries in the region have a role to play in moving forward with progress towards democracy and reconciliation in Myanmar, which is why Mr. Gambari has made these visits.  I believe today, he should be in Indonesia and, in the last few days, he was in Singapore, in Malaysia [and in Thailand], and I believe his talks throughout the region will continue.

Question:  Do you have any comments, do any of you people have any observations on the report of fighting in Darfur, and of the Government allegedly bombing villages and so forth?

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything for you just yet.  I’ll check and see whether we have any update on that.  Of course, I would also like to mention, that Mr. [Jan] Eliasson, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Darfur, is in fact in the region.  He has been visiting the three states of Darfur and today should be the last day of his visit there.  I don’t know whether he has any further comment.

Question:  There is also this report from Sudan about the arrest of 33 political opponents in central Sudan, in Khartoum.  I don’t know if the UN… there seems to be some comment by Sima Samar, the Rapporteur of Human Rights.   It is not clear what it is directed at… [and it is] calling for transparency and due process for those being arrested.  Is that something that the Secretary-General, UNMIS or the UN is following?

Associate Spokesperson:  UNMIS is following the situation of human rights on the ground.  But for comments, they are the comments by Ms. Samar [Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Sudan], which are the only ones that we have issued on this so far.

Question:  About Iraq.  So the next step I guess is for you guys to appoint a [Special] Representative.  But what actually happens with regards to… You know, I mean you’ve known this resolution has been coming up for a while, you need [inaudible], so presumably you now… are you ready to start issuing invitations to any meetings or what happens?  What is the step first to get the representative?

Associate Spokesperson:  We are certainly going to continue to work on our tasks on the ground.  As for having a Special Representative, for the next three months, Ashraf Qazi, who has been our existing Special Representative, has been extended, so that he can continue with his duties, so that there can be continuity on the ground while we seek a replacement for him.  So there will be some continuity and he will be proceeding with the work that needs to be done on the ground.  The Secretary-General has certainly also discussed his encouragement for meetings among regional countries and his hope that, during the General Assembly meeting in September, there will also be another opportunity for a meeting among the ministers of the region.  So we are proceeding with a lot of those efforts.

Question:  I have a follow-up on that.  What is the latest on this Middle East meeting that was going to be held here?  Was it September or October?  It might be delayed now.

Associate Spokesperson:  Is it the Israeli-Palestinian meeting you are referring to now?

Correspondent:  Yeah.

Associate Spokesperson:  For those arrangements you should check with the United States, which is the one that proposed this meeting and is trying to deal with the arrangements.

Question:  Is the UN playing no role whatsoever in that?

Associate Spokesperson:  We have been informed of it and, as you know, the UN is a member of the Quartet, and the Quartet responded positively to this initiative in their last statement, so I refer you to the last statement.  But the actual arrangements are being made by the US.

Question:  What does the Secretary-General think of this idea of convening, you know, the key regional players -- Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran -- and the US in Baghdad on a regular routine format?

Associate Spokesperson:  Certainly the United Nations has tried to encourage a wide variety of meetings among countries in the region trying to deal specifically with the issues surrounding the need for stability in Iraq.  We haven’t made a specific comment on that particular initiative, though.

Question:  I have literally a housekeeping question.  Inner City Press has been informed that UNMOVIC, which is closing down, has in its building in 866 UN Plaza, a SCUD missile motor, gyroscopes, various hardware.  I am wondering what the UN system… where these thing are going to go.

Associate Spokesperson:  As you know, UNMOVIC’s mandate has been ended, but there is wrap-up being done by my UNMOVIC colleagues.  They are dealing, as we speak, with the dispensation of the items and the documents it has in its possession.  If you want any further information on that, our colleague, Ewen Buchanan, who handles the public statements for UNMOVIC, is still one of the people working on this process.

Question:  He said he has not been informed what to do with these things, that is why I ask you.

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, so it is something that he and his UNMOVIC colleagues are still working on to wrap-up as we speak.  Ultimately, they’ll be part of the process of deciding what will happen.  As for when any UN programme winds down, there is always work on what we do with what we have, and those decisions are being looked at right now.

Question:  Have they considered a stoop sale?

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t think that is something that we are considering.  It would be difficult.  You are welcome to monitor it, if it takes place, though.

And with that, have a good afternoon and a good weekend.

* *** *

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