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

16 November 2007

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

16 November 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 all.

**Guest at Noon -- Bangladesh

The World Food Programme reports that it has begun distributing high-energy biscuits in cyclone-hit Bangladesh.  We have a press release on that in my office.

And, in a few minutes, to tell you more about the UN’s relief effort in Bangladesh will be Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes.

He needs to start at 12:15 p.m., so we’ll try to have a quick briefing today.  Of course, if you need more time to ask me questions, you can ask them after Mr. Holmes is finished.

**Secretary-General in Lebanon

The Secretary-General continued his visit to Lebanon today.  This morning he met with the Force Commander of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), General Claudio Graziano.  The two discussed recent press stories regarding the continuing presence of UNIFIL in Lebanon.  For his part, the Secretary-General stated clearly that UNIFIL will stay in Lebanon as long as necessary and that the international community stands fully behind the Mission and its mandate.

The Secretary-General also met with Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir at the Patriarch’s residence.  They discussed current challenges facing Lebanon, with the Secretary-General commending the Patriarch's efforts to seek a solution and reiterating that the present opportunity should not be missed.

The Secretary-General held additional meetings with other Lebanese leaders, including representatives of the 14 March coalition, Walid Jumblatt, former President Amine Gemayel, Suleiman Franjieh, Samir Geagea and Mohammad Fneish.  In all these meetings, the Secretary-General stated his position very clearly:  that he was in Lebanon to help facilitate the political process.

Before leaving Lebanon for Spain, the Secretary-General spoke to reporters.  He said the whole world was watching Lebanon, as this was a critical time for the country’s future.  He added that it was imperative that Lebanon’s Parliament be convened to elect a new President.  The election has to take place on time, he said -- in accordance with constitutional rules and without foreign interference, and respecting relevant Security Council resolutions.

He concluded that this was the time for all Lebanese leaders to put national interest above personal and sectarian interests.

We hope to have the full transcript of his press encounter shortly.

**Secretary-General in Spain

Tomorrow, the Secretary-General will be in Valencia, Spain, to take part in the launch of the fourth report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  This final IPCC report will be a synthesis of the preceding reports.  It’s expected to constitute the core source of factual information about climate change for policymakers in the years to come. 

And just for your coverage information, the launch is taking place at 11 a.m. local time, which is 5 a.m. here in New York.  It will be webcast live on the IPCC’s website at www.IPCC.ch, and also archived if you want to watch the launch later in the day.

**Cameroon/Nigeria

We issued a statement yesterday afternoon, a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, on the 12 November incident in the Bakassi peninsula:

The Secretary-General is encouraged by the prompt and statesmanlike efforts of the Governments of Cameroon and Nigeria to respond to the attack against a Cameroonian military installation in the Bakassi peninsula on 12 November.

The Secretary-General expresses sincere condolences to the Government and people of Cameroon and, in particular, to the families of those killed and wounded during the tragic incident.  He reaffirms United Nations readiness to continue to support the constructive efforts made by the two countries, notably within the framework of the Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission, to strengthen border cooperation and bilateral relations overall.

The UN Office for West Africa this morning chaired another of the regular periodic meetings of the Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission to discuss the state of affairs in the transfer of authority on the Bakassi peninsula.  The meeting just wrapped up in Abuja, and the parties are working on a joint communiqué to be issued shortly.

The next meeting of the Commission is expected to take place in early December here at Headquarters.

** Myanmar

On Myanmar, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, has ended his visit to Myanmar, and he spoke to reporters in Bangkok.

In a press release available upstairs, he drew attention to the fact that his mission cannot be considered a full-fledged fact-finding mission.  The conditions for an independent and confidential investigation mission would require a different framework, he said.

But he noted the importance of the access he has had to some of the detainees, as well as to interview the law enforcement authorities. 

He has requested a number of crucial details from the authorities regarding, among others, detentions, conditions of detention, numbers of released people, whereabouts of those detained and causes of death.  The Government has provided the Special Rapporteur with a number of detailed records that responded partially to his requests.  He said he will work on the information provided and continue liaising with the Government on the matter.

The Special Rapporteur will elaborate on all the information collected and will prepare a report to the Human Rights Council.

We also have a complete transcript of his press conference in Bangkok upstairs.

** Pakistan

On Pakistan, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reports that Asma Jahangir, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion, has been released from house arrest in Pakistan.

We hope that other human rights defenders, who have also been detained during Pakistan’s state of emergency, as well as those who have been imprisoned for peacefully expressing their beliefs, will also be released.

We have more on that in the Geneva press briefing note upstairs.

** Afghanistan

On Afghanistan, in its latest Afghan opium survey, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) says the total value of opiates produced in and trafficked from Afghanistan this year has risen to $4 billion.  That’s equivalent to more than half the country’s legal GDP.

About one quarter of this money is earned by opium farmers; the rest goes in taxes to local officials, and to insurgents, warlords and traffickers, according to the survey.

Launching the report in Brussels, UNODC head Antonio Maria Costa called for stronger measures to promote security, development and clean government in Afghanistan.  He also urged NATO to take a more active role in counter-narcotics. 

We have more information upstairs.

** Rwanda

On Rwanda, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) has sentenced Juvenal Rugambarara, a former mayor of Kigali, to 11 years in prison, after his guilty plea on one count of extermination as a crime against humanity.

ICTR judges ruled that he will receive credit for time served since he was taken into custody in August 2003.  They also said that due consideration was given to the seriousness of the crime, and to the remorse expressed by Rugambarara, in reaching this verdict.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

On the DR Congo, the UN Refugee Agency says that thousands of internally displaced Congolese, who had fled their camps in a panic caused by gun violence earlier this week, have been flowing back to the UN-run facilities near Goma, in the North Kivu province.

As of yesterday, some 20,000 people had returned to the camps, the Agency says, adding that this amounts to some 80 per cent of those who had fled.

Meanwhile, UNICEF and its partner, Save the Children, have welcomed the release from detention of 232 child soldiers.  The children were in the custody of Mayi Mayi forces in North and South Kivu.

**World Food Programme -- Africa

On WFP, Josette Sheeran, head of the World Food Programme, has urged the international community to take firmer action to help West Africa’s rural poor -- who are struggling against climate change, rising food prices and population growth.

Sheeran was speaking at a press conference in Dakar at the end of a four-day visit to Senegal and Mali.

We have more on her remarks in my office.

**Press Conferences

Today at 2 p.m., there will be a press conference by Dr. Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, Director of the Indonesian “National Executive Agency for Rehabilitation and Reconstruction of Aceh and Nias”, who will provide updates on the tsunami recovery efforts in the country. 

And following the noon briefing on Monday, there will be a press conference by Cihan Sultanoglu, UNDP Deputy Assistant Administrator and Deputy Director of the Regional Bureau for Europe and Commonwealth of Independent States, who will brief you on activities of UN agencies in the Chernobyl-affected areas on the occasion of the General Assembly’s debate on the resolution on Chernobyl, which is scheduled to take place on Monday as well.

**Week Ahead

And I would like to let you know of the “Week Ahead”, which we have upstairs.  For Saturday the Deputy Secretary-General is in Jerusalem to attend an international conference on Women’s Leadership for Sustainable Development.  On Monday, she travels to the Occupied Palestinian Territory; on Tuesday, she will be in Geneva, where she will address the sixteenth session of the General Assembly of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies; that will be on Wednesday. 

Through 21 November, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, visits Afghanistan.

On Sunday, the Security Council is scheduled to hold consultations.  On Monday, it is scheduled to hold consultations on Somalia.

And at 12:30 p.m. on Monday in room 226, there will be a press conference by Cihan Sultanoglu, as I said, the UNDP Deputy Assistant Administrator on Chernobyl.

You have the full “Week Ahead” upstairs.

Thank you very much.  Any questions?  As I said earlier, we’ll be interrupting the questions at 12:15 p.m. when Mr. Holmes comes in.  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  How the arrangements were made regarding meeting the people in Lebanon, the leaders?  Was it on the request of the leaders themselves, or of Mr. Ban Ki-moon and his…?

Spokesperson:  It was organized with Mr. Ban Ki-moon’s Envoy there.  It was organized by Mr. Geir Pedersen, among others, people who were there to prepare his visit to Lebanon.

Question:  Is there any reason why he did not meet, for example, with President (Emile) Lahoud?

Spokesperson:  As you know, he had met President Lahoud previously, when President Lahoud came here.

Question:  Yeah, but I mean, since he was going there, he met the Prime Minister, he met everybody.  He did not meet President Lahoud, he did not meet General Michel Aoun.

Spokesperson:  I will check on that for you, whether there were any additional meetings other than what I just read.  I’ll check for you.

Question:  Well General Aoun probably is one of the forerunners to be a President, the next President.  And for Mr. Ban Ki-moon to meet Geagea, who represents a very small minority in the loyalists, and not to meet Aoun, is this, can we consider this as a position…

Spokesperson:  I don’t think we should jump to judgement right now.  At this point, the Secretary-General has met as many people as he could possibly meet, and I will check for you whether he was scheduled to meet General Aoun, I’ll check whether it was done or not.  I will have an answer for you.

Question:  I understand, but I heard that he just contacted him by phone.

Spokesperson:  Okay.

Question:  Whereas, I mean he met…

Spokesperson:  Maybe it was difficult for them to meet.  That could happen.  At least he spoke to him, right?

Question:  Yeah, but I would like to know the details about this because, of course, this makes a difference.  If he meets with Jumblatt, Geagea, and not with Aoun, that’s a political message I understand.

Spokesperson:  No, it is not a political message.  He tried to meet as many people as possible in Lebanon.  What he did was to go there to facilitate a dialogue between Lebanese leaders, and he saw as many people as possible across the spectrum.

Question:  Is there any reason why he did not, I mean, get in touch with President Lahoud, who is supposed to hand over…?

Spokesperson:  Well I’ve already answered that question I think, Nizar.

Question:  Yeah, but he met with him six months ago, five months ago.

Spokesperson:  Yes, but you know, I will find out for you why it was not possible.  You know, the Secretary-General spent one day in Lebanon –- one evening and one morning in Lebanon –- so maybe there were some difficulties in meeting some people, but I’m sure he tried to meet as many as possible.

Question:  I will have a follow-up later on.

Spokesperson:  Yes Masood, if you don’t mind, I’d like to answer your questions later because there is a very tight schedule for our guest today, so I’ll ask him to come to the podium.  It’s about the situation in Bangladesh.

[Following the briefing by Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes, the Spokesperson resumed her briefing.]

Spokesperson:  Okay, so we’ll just pick up from here.  I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Georgia.

The Secretary-General welcomes the lifting of the state of emergency in Georgia.  He emphasizes the importance of the full restoration of freedom of expression and association to allow for a credible electoral process leading to the 5 January 2008 elections.

In particular, the Secretary-General looks forward for all media to fully resume normal operations in order to offer all relevant actors equal access in the electoral campaign.

That’s the statement I had for you, which I just received.  Yes, questions?

Question:  Yes, Michèle, I had asked you a question about Iraq yesterday.  The question was as to the United States was saying relatively the Iraq situation has suddenly become very peaceful.  Does the Secretary-General share the opinion that Iraq is peaceful and that, I mean, killings are still taking place, but not as much as what they’re saying?  And about a report from the UN’s Special Representative, and you said that he had a report about three or four months ago and he was going to, when…?

Spokesperson:  As soon as we get a new report, of course we will make it public.  We don’t have any new elements at this point.

Question:  At this point.  And you will not be able to say what the Secretary-General, his opinion on Iraq?

Spokesperson:  No, because we have to have more information from our people working there.  Thank you.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  On this announcement about the child soldiers in the Congo, the Mayi-Mayis.  Is there any, I mean when I saw that announcement, is there any sort of follow-up in terms of who recruited them, the child soldiers, or is it just a matter, I mean they announced that they were freed and have been, which is all to the good, but is there some, with either MONUC (United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) or the agencies involved in getting them out, is there sort of any follow-up to find out how they were recruited, given how serious that’s viewed as a, I guess as a crime or war crime, actually?

Spokesperson:  Well I think the priority right now is to take care of those children.  They were, as I said, 232 of them.  They have been released, which is a good sign, and both UNICEF and Save the Children, its partner on the ground, are working on getting the kids back into normal lives.  And I said they were in the custody of the Mayi-Mayi forces in North and South Kivu.  How they were adopted, each individual case varies, changes, and I’m sure there will be investigations done on the ground.  But for the time being, what matters most is taking care of those children.

Question:  I just, there’s just one, there’s this announcement, there was a Taiwanese ship off the coast of Somalia that was recently, the crew was freed and the captain, upon being freed, said that there was some UN involvement in freeing them.  So I’m just sort of, I mean I know it’s a little bit murky, the U.S. Government or navy, navy or whatever, there was a U.S. force that sort of, supposedly, told the pirates to leave the ship and then they freed him.  But he says there was also UN forces.  So I’m just wondering what, since it’s Somalia, what if, I’m not saying that you would know it offhand, but if there was some way to find out if there was UN involvement in this, in the freeing of these sailors who’d been held captive for, like, seven months, I think.

Spokesperson:  Well I don’t have any information on that.  We’ll try to get some for you.  As far as I know, every time there is such a situation, usually the pirates are attacking a ship transporting goods for humanitarian agencies, and usually the UN is involved and tries to play a part in the release and the release of the shipment that they have.  So I don’t know what was done in this specific case.  I can try to find out for you.

Question:  There were five that were kid… now they’re down to only two ships left, but he said UN forces so I was just, as a factual matter it becomes kind of important to know.

Spokesperson:  Yes, I will try to find out for you.

Question:  That’d be great.  Thanks.

[The correspondent was later informed that there had been no involvement of UN “forces” in the release of pirate-held ships off the coast of Somalia.]

Spokesperson:  Thank you very much.  Today, Janos says he will not be briefing because, apparently, he has briefed you before.  But if you have any questions for him, I’m sure he’d be glad to answer them.

Thank you very much.

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