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

27 August 2007

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

27 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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

** Afghanistan Opium Survey

Good afternoon, all.

In Afghanistan, opium production has soared to frightening record levels in 2007, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).  In its 2007 Annual Opium Survey, launched today in Kabul, UNODC says that the amount of Afghan land used for growing opium is now larger than the combined total coca cultivation in Latin America.  The province of Helmand, along the border with Pakistan, has single-handedly become the world’s biggest source of illicit drugs, surpassing the output of entire countries, adds UNODC.  The report also shows the divergent trends between the south of the country, where most of the opium production is concentrated, and the north, where the number of opium-free provinces has doubled since 2006.

UNODC Executive Director, Antonio Maria Costa, said the Afghan opium situation looked grimed but was not hopeless.  He called on the Afghan Government and the international community to build on the promising developments in the north of the country and react to the failures in the south.  He also called for higher rewards for non-opium farmers, underlined the need for greater deterrents to dissuade farmers from planting opium and urged the Government to get tough on corruption.  And we have a press release with more information upstairs.

**Security Council

Security Council members will be meeting this afternoon at 3 p.m. to discuss the situation in Sierra Leone after a briefing on the same subject by Dimitri Titov, the incoming Department of Peacekeeping Operations’ Under Secretary-General for the Rule of Law, who will brief Council members.  After that, Council members will discuss other matters.

And tomorrow, the Council will hold an open debate on the “maintenance of international peace and security:  the role of the Security Council in conflict prevention and resolution, in particular in Africa”.  And I can announce that the Secretary-General will be present at the stakeout tomorrow after the Security Council meeting.

**Appointment on Western Sahara

The Secretary-General has informed the Security Council of his intention to appoint Major-General Zhao Jingmin of China to the post of Force Commander of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO).  He succeeds General Kurt Mosgaard of Denmark, who will complete his tour of duty today.  This will be the first time that the UN has had a Chinese Force Commander heading one of its missions.  We have more information on Major-General Zhao upstairs.

** Sudan

On Sudan, the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is concerned about reports emerging from Sudan that the Country Director for CARE, Paul Barker, may be forced to leave Sudan within 72 hours.  CARE is a significant provider of vitally-needed humanitarian assistance to some four million people across Sudan, and is a vital NGO partner for the UN humanitarian community.  Mr. Barker's ambiguous status in Sudan is all the more distressing given the positive cooperation that has characterized recent implementation of the Joint Communique signed by the Government of Sudan in May of this year. 

OCHA hopes that this spirit of constructive cooperation will continue to prevail and will assist in resolving any misunderstandings that may apply to Mr. Barker's case.  Throughout Sudan, the critical humanitarian work of NGOs, including CARE, along with all UN humanitarian agencies and partners, needs the active support and facilitation of the Sudanese Government.  OCHA is carefully following the situation, and is in touch with all relevant parties.

** Iraq

About Iraq, our humanitarian colleagues in Iraq report that the full scope of devastation caused by the bombings of 14 August in the northern town of Sinjar is still emerging.  The death toll is now well over 430.  Five hundred have been confirmed to have been wounded in the attacks while some 500 homes were destroyed or damaged.  The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq says that much-needed resources include drinking water and sanitation, medical supplies, food, fuel and durable shelter.  He said that the prevailing insecurity on the Mosul-Sinjar road impedes the timely delivery of humanitarian assistance to victims of the Sinjar bombing.  There is a press release from the Mission upstairs.

** Myanmar

On Myanmar, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, has expressed concern over reports that student leaders and other protesters have been arrested by the Myanmar authorities following a series of peaceful demonstrations against the sharp increase in the prices of fuel.  In a statement issued yesterday, the High Commissioner stressed that the freedoms of expression and association are touchstones of human rights.  Allowing greater space for citizens to express their views and discontent will be essential in fostering the way towards a democratic transition and reconciliation in the country.

**Northern Uganda

On northern Uganda, continuing his consultative tour of the region, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Lord’s Resistance Army-affected areas, Joaquim Chissano, was in the Democratic Republic of the Congo over the weekend.  He held a meeting with President Joseph Kabila in Kinshasa and was briefed by the senior leadership of the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic on the situation there.  Earlier last week, Chissano met the President of the Central African Republic in the Ugandan capital Kampala and also travelled to Juba, in southern Sudan, for further consultations with southern Sudanese and UN officials.  Meanwhile, UNICEF has urged the parties in the ongoing efforts to resolve the armed conflict between the Government of Uganda and the LRA to ensure the immediate and safe return home of some 1,500 children and women now in LRA custody.  We have more on this upstairs.

**Climate Change

On climate change, around 1,000 representatives from governments, business and industry, environmental organizations and research institutions are gathered this week for the “Vienna Climate Change Talks 2007”.  The talks, held under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), aim at setting the stage for the United Nations Bali Conference next December.  Yvo de Boer, the UNFCCC Executive Secretary, said these talks presented an opportunity to measure whether or not the political community was willing to advance a comprehensive agenda on a future climate change regime.  We have a press release on the opening of these talks upstairs.

**Noon Guests Tomorrow

And then, our guests at noon tomorrow will be Margareta Wahlström, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, and Ambassador Jorge Voto-Bernales of Peru, who will be launching a flash appeal for the victims of the recent earthquake in Peru. 

This is all I have for you.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I just wanted to know whether this report that you talked about, the Afghanistan opium production, is it fully available in your Office?

Spokesperson:  I think the full report is in our Office, I think so, but it was launched in Kabul today.  If we don’t have it now, we should be receiving it shortly.  Yes, Edie?

Question:  Michèle, there was a Los Angeles Times story over the weekend quoting a UN spokesman as saying that violence has subsided in Darfur in the first part of 2007, which definitely has affected the death toll.  And then it says that people who’ve reviewed the UN’s weekly compilations say violence-related casualties this year have averaged 100 to 200 a month, with the largest number of recent deaths arising from intertribal clashes in southern Darfur.  Can you confirm those statements and figures?

Spokesperson:  I’ll check the figures for you.  John?

Question:  Maybe this is a question for someone who’s dealing with Afghanistan.  It would be nice to have someone brief us in more detail on what’s going on in Afghanistan.  But what does the UN do with this data?  Obviously there’s a tally of certain areas where opium poppies are growing.  Does that then go to forces on the ground fighting there, to hope that they intervene and try to destroy these fields?  Or what exactly is the UN doing with the data itself?

Spokesperson:  There have been several trips by the person responsible, Mr. Costa, to the area.  His role is one of persuasion, or trying to convince people to do something about it.  I will try to get for you more information on what are the exact steps taken once those reports come out.  They come out every year.  So we’ll try to find out what exact steps are taken after the reports come out.

Question:  It would also be good to what, beyond an incentive to get them to grow potatoes instead of poppies or whatever they’re going to do, whether there’s some sort of mechanism that the UN has tried that’s been effective, or some wider goals of having maybe some military action to intervene and do it, to clear the fields by force.

Spokesperson:  When we had the last report, Mr. Costa was here to explain to you what was done.  But he’s not in New York right now, of course, he’s in Kabul.  We’ll try to get someone from the office to come and brief.  Yes, Haled.

Question:  Any news on the Secretary-General report on the Lebanon tribunal?  Are we expecting it at the end of this month or maybe next month? 

Spokesperson:  We are expecting it at the end of the month, I think.  I hope it will be done.  I will get the exact date for you, whenever I get it.

Comment:  It’s 29 August, which is after tomorrow.

Question:  On the tribunal, the office of Seniora said that, if the newly elected president is from the opposition, the special tribunal won’t have a chance to be held.  What do you think about that?

Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t have an opinion at this point on this issue and on the statement made.  What I can say, Haled, to answer your question which was related to that, is that Michael Williams will be here on 29 August to report to the Security Council and I’m sure he can talk to you at the stakeout.  Yes, Mark.

Question:  Can I have an update on when the UN expert is going in to delineate the border, what the situation is on the delineation of the Shebaa Farms border?

Spokesperson:  I have nothing more since the last time I talked to you.  This is one question you can ask Michael Williams.

Question:  Is there a date set yet?

Spokesperson:  We don’t have a date yet, no.

Question:  Are you having any problem from the Israeli authorities on that?

Spokesperson:  No.

Question:  Is there a replacement for Mr. Williams or not yet?

Spokesperson:  Not yet.

Question:  Michèle, I have a few more questions about Afghanistan.  The first one is:  how serious is the problem of opium production?

Spokesperson:  I think this was quite well covered by what I read at the beginning.  You have a very extensive…

Question:  In your own words as opposed to a prepared speech, how serious is the situation?

Spokesperson:  Well, the situation is serious.  You have the comparison between the situation in the north and the situation in the south.  And it is a record-level amount of opium being cultivated and produced.  And this is what the Office on Drugs and Crime is attracting attention on, and you have an extensive explanation of where things were produced in the report itself.  So I would refer you to the report.

Question:  Thanks.  Next question would be, in terms of opium production, obviously it’s illegal in most parts of the world, but what’s the principle of the UN’s opposition to allowing people to grow opium, if it does sort of provide money for their families and is some source of income for people?  What’s at the heart of the UN’s opposition to it?

Spokesperson:  It is a drug harmful to people’s health and life.  That’s it.

Question:  There’s a report that the Sudanese Liberation Movement had written to Ban Ki-moon asking for an investigation of Sudan’s raid on the Kalma Camp.  Have you gotten that request and what is the UN going to do about it?

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t have the letter yet.  I’ll let you know when it is received.

Question:  Also, and I’m less sure of whether it went to Ban Ki-moon or not, but there’s supposedly a petition from the Philippines to seek the removal from the country of the UN’s Resident Coordinator, Neilman Noble.  It was reported in the Philippine press.  It was petitioned by many NGO’s and ex-legislators.

Spokesperson:  No, we’re not aware of this.

Question:  One last thing, sorry, to make it three strikes and you’re out.  Supposedly fire trucks came to the UN Headquarters on Sunday, something observed by eyes.  So I’m wondering, was there a fire or were they doing an inspection, is there any relation to the fire department’s new position on needing better knowledge of buildings following the incidents downtown?  Are you aware of that? 

Spokesperson:  No, I’ll try to find out why they were here.  Yes, Benny.

Question:  Speaking of letters to the Secretary-General, I understand there was a letter by supporters of the Myanmar opposition, basically asking to convene the Security Council on this.  Is there any initiative on behalf of the Secretary-General to bring it up with the Security Council, since this is a serious situation, or do we just wait for Gambari to come and visit?

Spokesperson:  I’m not aware of the letter.  I’ll check if the letter has been received and if anything will be done to pursue this.

Question:  We heard a report that the UN may be considering sending a human rights team to the Ogaden region of Ethiopia to investigate allegations of human rights abuses there.  Do you know anything about that?

[The Spokesperson later confirmed that the Secretary-General had received this letter.]

Spokesperson:  I’ll have to check with the UN High Commissioner’s Office in Geneva.  I’ll get back to you on that.

Question:  A follow-up question on that.  There was that New York Times report about a month ago, saying that WHO and UNICEF were going to investigate claims that their polio vaccine programme was diverted to military use.  I’ve tried to ask each of them, what’s the upshot?  If we could just get some kind of update, if they looked into it and what their findings were?

Spokesperson:  Okay.  Colin?

Question:  Do you know when the Secretary-General will make the announcement about the Special Rep for Iraq?

Spokesperson:  We expect it to be done shortly.  We don’t have the exact date yet but it’ll be done shortly.

Question:  Has the decision been made?

Spokesperson:  Not yet.  And I think the decision involves consultations with the African Union.

Question:  I’m sorry.  I was asking about Iraq.

Spokesperson:  About Iraq, no.  I thought you were talking about Sudan.

Question:  No, but that’s helpful on Sudan.  But on Iraq, you don’t know when the decision will be made.

Spokesperson:  No I don’t.  What I said about the announcement coming shortly was about Sudan.

Question:  One last question.  Is it Jean Arnault [Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Georgia] the special rep for Sudan?

Spokesperson:  I cannot confirm this at this point.

Question:  Can you deny it?

Spokesperson:  I can neither confirm nor deny.

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