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

14 September 2007

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

14 September 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.

**Secretary-General on Millennium Development Goals

This morning, the Secretary-General convened the inaugural meeting of the Millennium Development Goals Africa Steering Group, which also included top officials from the African Union, European Union, African Development Bank, Islamic Development Bank, International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

The Secretary-General, in comments to the press following the meeting, said that this was an unprecedented gathering of the UN family and other multilateral and intergovernmental organizations to demonstrate the shared commitment to reaching the Millennium Development Goals.

He said the Steering Group members resolved to work together to review and strengthen international mechanisms to support African countries in health, education, agriculture, infrastructure and statistical systems. Also, the Group would work to make aid more predictable and collaborate more closely so Africa can reach the Millennium Development Goals.

The Secretary-General noted that the Deputy Secretary-General will chair on 20 September a working-group meeting to continue the discussion on the matter.

We have the joint statement by the Steering Group in my office and you can find the earlier briefing on the webcast.  A transcript will be available later.

** Sudan

The UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) announced that one of its aircraft had flown Suleiman Jamous to Nairobi today in keeping with an agreement reached between the Secretary-General and the Sudanese President in Khartoum last week.

The Secretary-General had said at the time of his announcement that the agreement to allow Mr. Jamous to leave the country would create a favourable atmosphere for peace and conditions conducive to peace negotiations for Darfur.

Those negotiations are slated to start in Libya on October 27 under the lead of the African Union and UN Special Envoys.

According to the UN mission, Mr. Jamous, a leading member of the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM), one of Darfur’s rebel groups, left the UN hospital at Kadugli in Sudan for Nairobi, Kenya.

**Security Council

The Security Council extended the terms of the current prosecutors for the two international tribunals in back-to-back formal meetings today.

By a unanimous vote, the Council extended Hassan Jallow’s term as Prosecutor for the Rwanda Tribunal by four years.  Carla Del Ponte, the Prosecutor of the Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, was extended for a final period ending this 31 December.  Her extension was approved with 14 votes in favour and Russia abstaining.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

In the eastern DRC, the UN refugee agency says some 35,000 Congolese refugees have returned home from Uganda after fleeing fighting in North Kivu last week.  Insecurity continues to hamper aid distribution in the area, however.  The World Food Programme warns that, although it has been able to get food to tens of thousands of displaced people in recent days, it is still having trouble reaching those in outlying areas. 

** Central African Republic

Some 12,000 people have now fled from their homes in the northern Central African Republic.  In light of this violence-induced displacement, the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, has called on all parties to create conditions that would enable the displaced to return home.

Holmes is also considering allocating money from the Central Emergency Response Fund to the Central African Republic since the $83 million appeal for that country is only 50 per cent funded so far.

** Afghanistan

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that challenging security conditions remain the major obstacle to fully addressing humanitarian needs in the remote parts of the south, south-east, and east regions of Afghanistan.

The UN Mission in Afghanistan is facing security challenges in having access to the areas of operation to verify casualties or implement humanitarian action, with almost all parts of the 53 districts in the five provinces of the South effectively inaccessible.  Both sides of the conflict contribute to this problem, OCHA says.

** Nicaragua

The UN will be launching a flash appeal for Nicaragua this afternoon, to urgently help hurricane survivors.  The appeal calls for nearly $40 million.  To kick-start the appeal, the UN will supply funding from its Central Emergency Response Fund.  There is more information in an embargoed press release in my office, and you are welcome to attend the launch in Conference Room 4 at 3 this afternoon.

**Floods

We have several press releases upstairs on floods.

In Ethiopia, the World Food Programme (WFP) reports that it started distributing food today to more than 60,000 flood survivors.  WFP says it is concerned by some overcrowding in temporary shelters there and threats of an outbreak of water-borne diseases.

Meanwhile, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says it has deployed a six-member disaster assessment and coordination team to north-eastern Ghana, to help with flood relief efforts there.

Finally, UNICEF says it is providing life-saving drugs, high-protein biscuits and shelter equipment, among other items, to Bangladesh, which is bracing itself for potentially devastating new floods.

**Health Guidelines

International humanitarian agencies, including six UN bodies, have agreed on a new set of guidelines to address the mental health and psychological needs of conflict and disaster survivors.  According to the new guidelines, protecting and promoting mental health and psychosocial well-being will now be the responsibility of all humanitarian agencies and workers.  Previously, many viewed mental health as the sole responsibility of psychiatrists and psychologists.

The World Health Organization says that if the psychological and social suffering of the survivors of conflicts and natural disasters is not adequately addressed, it can lead to long-term mental health and psychological problems.  Such problems can then threaten peace, people's human rights and development.  We have more information upstairs.

**The Week Ahead at United Nations

And we have The Week Ahead at the United Nations.

Just to highlight a few points, on Monday at 10 a.m. in the General Assembly Hall, the Assembly will hold its final meeting of the 61st session.   At 3 p.m., still on Monday, in Room 226 there will be a press conference by Robi Damelin and Khaled Abu Award of the Parents’ Circle on the opening of their exhibit entitled “Offering Reconciliation”, in the Visitors’ Lobby.  The exhibit will feature the works of 135 Israelis and Palestinians.

From 4 to 5, still Monday, in Conference Room 5, the Secretary-General, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the World Bank will launch the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative.  We have more information on this available upstairs.

Tuesday will be the first day of the 62nd session of the General Assembly, which opens at 3 p.m. in the General Assembly Hall.  As I told you yesterday, at 10:30 a.m. in Room 226, the Secretary-General will hold a press conference.

And in the afternoon, the same day, the incoming President of the General Assembly, Srgjan Kerim, will hold a press conference.

On Wednesday, the guest at the noon briefing will be Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and Academy Award-winning actor Kevin Kline, who will brief on human trafficking and the world premiere of the film "Trade", starring Mr. Kline.

On Thursday at 10 a.m., the Working Group of the MDG Africa Steering Group will meet on the 38th floor.

And Friday is the International Day of Peace.  The Secretary-General will ring the Peace Bell, deliver a message of peace, and call for one minute of silence.  He’ll be joined by Messengers of Peace Michael Douglas, Jane Goodall and Elie Wiesel, and also announce the appointment of two new Messengers of Peace.

From 3 to 6 p.m. next Friday, in the Economic and Social Council Chamber, there will be a meeting of the Enlarged Contact Group on Darfur.  This is a change of venue form what you had yesterday.

The Week Ahead, of course, is available in my office.

Questions and Answers

Question:  I want to ask about the phone conversation between Mr. Ban Ki-moon and the Lebanese Parliament Speaker, Mr. Berri.  What happened?

Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t have an exact readout of the conversation yet, but I can confirm that he did speak to Mr. Berri yesterday around 12:10 p.m. and he also spoke to Mr. [Prime Minister Fouad] Siniora in the afternoon about an hour later.

Question:  There was a particular sort of controversy in Lebanon over statements by Mr. [Terje Roed]-Larsen personally interpreting the Lebanese Constitution.  Has the Secretary-General approved the statements of Mr. [Roed]-Larsen on how the Lebanese should conduct their election?

Spokesperson:  I would like to first confirm that Mr. Roed-Larsen was not misquoted in that statement that was in the press this morning.

Question:  On that same subject, Mr. Roed-Larsen made this statement three or four days ago and the Spokesperson yesterday was “we are still trying to find out what exactly he said”.  Why does it take such a long time to finds out what Mr. Larsen has said?

Spokesperson:  Some transcripts come very fast, some don’t.

Question:  But didn’t the Secretary-General speak to him after this controversy because it’s actually quite…

Spokesperson:  Not that I know of.

Question:  Last night President Bush, in outlining his plan for withdrawal from Iraq, suggested to everybody that now the United Nations should help set up a plan to help Iraq.  Have the United Nations Secretary-General and the United Nations reached a stage where they can determine how they are going to get back in the scheme of things in Iraq? What are they going to do and how many additional personnel will be required? Have you prepared any plans …

Spokesperson:  Of course.  As you know, we are very engaged in the question and you heard yesterday that the United Nations is having a meeting on 22 September that the Secretary-General will chair with Prime Minister [Nouri Al] Maliki.  We hope that will provide clarity on the UN role in Iraq and the way ahead for the country.  And, as you know, we’re resolved to do whatever we can to assist the Iraqi people at this time.  We have more than 50 international staff at present from a ceiling of 65 international staff.  That number may rise in the coming weeks -- but I don’t have the numbers and the exact plans at this point –- depending on the regular assessment of the security situation on the ground.  As you know, we depend on the assessment on the ground of the security situation.

Question:  Has it been determined whether the security situation in Iraq is good enough for the United Nations to get back into it?

Spokesperson:  Not yet.

Question:  Mr. Roed-Larsen made so many statements in the past which turned out to be untrue.  Don’t you think that it’s time to review really his mandate; what he’s supposed to say, what not to say?  As an instance, in his last report he said that the Lebanese Army Commander advised him that there were trans-shipment or arms smuggling from Syria into Lebanon.  And then the Commander of the Army denied that totally, categorically, so…

Spokesperson:  Nizar, this is a statement, this is not a question.  This is an editorial statement.  I told you as soon as I can verify what exactly Mr. Roed-Larsen said, you will be informed.  I have no comment to make on your comments.

Question:  And your reaction on the Syrian letter regarding the Israeli overflights?

Spokesperson:  As you know the Syrian letter is right now with the Security Council, so if there is any action to be taken it will be taken by them.  The Secretary-General doesn’t have enough clarification at this point to make any new statement -– we had one last week – on the issue.  We don’t have enough information.

Question:  In Myanmar there are these reports that all the opposition parties have had their phone lines cut off by the Government.  Is there any comment on that? When is Mr. [Ibrahim] Gambari actually going there and what’s his position on recent developments?

Spokesperson:  I spoke to Mr. Gambari yesterday.  He didn’t have any clear date yet, but definitely he has been following the situation very closely and he expects to go in the next few weeks.  However, we don’t have a date yet.

Question:  This may be characterized as a Friday question.  You’ve mentioned this movie called “Trade”.  An invitation has gone out telling people to attend some event in the Delegates’ Dining Room.  It says it’s on behalf of the UN and the tables cost $5,000.  It’s unclear to me what it’s raising funds for.

Spokesperson:  The UN Office for Drugs and Crime is organizing the event and I will let you know what the fund-raising is about.  It is a fundraising event.

Question:  But is it for a UN agency?

Spokesperson:  It definitely would be.

Question:  As you know President [Hamid] Karzai has invited the Taliban to hold talks with him and the Taliban has accepted.  At the same time Mr. [SRSG] Koenigs’ rhetoric against the Taliban has escalated.  Is there no contradiction here?

Spokesperson:  Well, at this point I don’t have an answer to your question because I don’t know what the nature of the attacks was.  I will try to find out what exactly was said.  As you know, there will be a meeting here with President Karzai and the Secretary-General at the ministerial level, so I think you will know more about the issue very soon.

Thank you very much.

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