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

19 December 2007

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

19 December 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.


Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General


Good afternoon, all.


**Secretary-General Remarks to Staff


The Secretary-General returned to Headquarters this morning, following his trip to Asia, Paris and Algiers, where UN offices were bombed last week.


Immediately upon his return, less than an hour ago, the Secretary-General addressed UN staff in the Secretariat lobby.  He told them how shocked and overwhelmed he was by what he saw in Algiers, and how heartbreaking it was to meet with the survivors and families of the victims. 


He said the attack had redoubled his resolve to push for implementation of the UN’s Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, and to improve the security of UN staff.  He said he will soon present a proposal for a review of UN security worldwide, and will also make a number of specific suggestions to countries hosting UN offices on how they can improve security. 


He stressed that the UN must become better at explaining its role to the public and the media -– by emphasizing that it does not represent the interests of one group of nations against another, but rather exists to build better lives for the people it serves.


Noting that many of the national staff members who perished in the bombing were the sole breadwinners in their family, he added that he had asked the Resident Coordinator in Algiers to distribute payments of solidarity to those families, in order to tide them over until the insurance pays out. 


The Secretary-General ended by holding up the battered UN flag that was flying outside the UN House in Algiers at the time of the attack.  He called on everyone to honour the flag and the memory of our fallen friends by redoubling efforts for peace and security, development and human rights around the world.  He then signed the condolence book.  We have the full text of his remarks available upstairs.


**Security Council


The Security Council this morning adopted two resolutions on Africa.  The first one extended the mandate of the UN Integrated Office in Burundi until 31 December 2008.  The second one extended the mandate of the Panel of Experts dealing with Liberia sanctions until 20 June 2008.


The Security Council is now holding a private debate on Kosovo, which the Secretary-General is attending.  Following that meeting, the Security Council will hold its monthly luncheon with the Secretary-General.


This afternoon, the Security Council will hold a meeting on Somalia.  It is expected to adopt a presidential statement on that subject.


**Security Council -- Yesterday Afternoon


The Security Council has extended the mandate of the Multinational Force (MNF) in Iraq by another year, until the end of 2008.  Yesterday afternoon, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 1790 (2007), deciding further that the mandate would be reviewed at the request of the Government of Iraq or no later than 15 June 2008.


The Council also extended until 31 December 2008 the arrangements for the depositing into the Development Fund for Iraq of proceeds from export sales of petroleum, petroleum products and natural gas.  Also extended were the arrangements for the monitoring of the Fund by the International Advisory and Monitoring Board (IAMB).  Warren Sach briefed the Security Council on the status of the Board, as the Secretary-General’s designated representative on the Board.


**UN Mission in Central African Republic and Chad


The Secretary-General’s latest report on the UN Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad is out as a document today.  Noting the volatile and unpredictable security situation in eastern Chad, which has put civilians in the area at increased risk, the Secretary-General warned all parties to immediately cease hostilities and renew their commitment to the peace process.


On the Central African Republic, the Secretary-General said he is pleased with the efforts to establish the necessary structure to ensure an inclusive dialogue.  He lauded the positive collaboration between the United Nations and the European Union in the planning of the complementary and parallel deployment of the United Nations mission and European Union peacekeeping force.  He also called all relevant Member States to provide the force requirements necessary to enable the European Union force to deploy with the needed robustness and credibility.


Without credible security arrangements on the ground, the United Nations mission will not be able to deploy in eastern Chad, he said.


** Myanmar


This afternoon, the Secretary-General will convene the first meeting of the “Group of Friends of the Secretary-General on Myanmar”.  The Group, composed of 14 Member States, will be a consultative forum for developing a shared approach in support of the implementation of the Secretary-General’s good offices mandate.  The Group will meet as needed in an informal format.


**ICTY


Portugal today entered into an agreement on enforcement of sentences with the International Criminal Tribunal of the Former Yugoslavia, which allows for persons convicted before the Tribunal to serve their sentences in its prisons.  The agreement makes Portugal the thirteenth State to enter into an enforcement of sentences agreement with the Tribunal.


**FAO/Rice and Arsenic


Improved irrigation practices could reduce high levels of arsenic in rice crops across Asia, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).  FAO today released a new report that focuses on Bangladesh, but makes recommendations that could apply to a dozen countries.


FAO says high levels of arsenic in soil and groundwater often end up in crops, especially when shallow wells are used to pump water from contaminated aquifers.  Planting rice in raised beds, about 15 centimetres off the ground, instead of in conventional flooded fields required less water and thus resulted in lower arsenic levels.  It also created better crop yields, FAO found.  We have more information upstairs.


**Briefing


After our regular briefing, since Janos will not be briefing today, senior officials representing the Department of Management and the Department of Field Support are ready to give you a background briefing to answer the questions some of you had yesterday on the allegations of fraud and mismanagement in procurement affecting United Nations peacekeeping operations.  Those who are interested may stay in this room after this briefing.


** Holiday Tomorrow


And just to remind you:  Tomorrow the United Nations will be closed in observance of Eid al-Adha.


But, as usual, there will be a duty officer on call in case there is any breaking news or if you need to contact one of us.


This is all I have for you.  Any questions?  Yes?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  In the Group on Burma you said 14 members.  Who are those 14 members?


Spokesperson:  Yes, the 14 members are Australia, Indonesia, Russia, United States, China, Japan, Singapore, Viet Nam, France, Norway, Thailand, India, Portugal and the United Kingdom. 


Question:  And when is this meeting and where, today?


Spokesperson:  The meeting is this afternoon, yes, and the objectives of the Group are to support the Secretary-General in the implementation of his good offices mandate as defined in resolution 61/232 of the General Assembly.


Question:  Is this the first meeting?


Spokesperson:  This is the first meeting of the Group, yes.


Question:  Will [Ibrahim] Gambari be there -- and the Secretary General?


Spokesperson:  Both will be there.


Question:  Is it a closed meeting?


Spokesperson:  It is a closed meeting, yes.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Michèle, about Darfur and UNAMID.  We’ve heard that the current estimate is that by 1 January there would be a total of 9,000 peacekeepers there, i.e. 2,000 more than the AMIS force.  Is there a way to…  And one other thing, if there’s a way to find this out, I’ve been told by somebody –- a well-placed source -– that the United Nations has helicopters, maybe for UNMIS [the United Nations Mission in the Sudan], in and around Khartoum, but is not allowed to fly them to Darfur.  Is there a way to find out whether some of these helicopters the UN actually has in country, but for some bureaucratic or other reason can’t –- it’s a factual question --


Spokesperson:  I suggest you direct your question to peacekeeping operations on this issue.  As far as I know, it’s not just a question of finding helicopters, it’s finding helicopters suitable for the Darfur area, in terms of dust and in terms of sandstorms and things of that sort.  But I’ll direct your questions to the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. 


[The Spokesperson later said that to date the United Nations had not received any of the 24 helicopters sought for UNAMID and for which the United Nations has been appealing to all potential contributors.  Regarding the number of UNAMID troops to be on the ground in Darfur at the beginning of the year, the Spokesperson later said that nearly 7,000 troops were expected to be part of a 9,000-strong force that also included police.]


Question:  Definitely.  And there’s one other.  This may be a little under your radar, but, given the Kosovo meeting today, I wanted to know if the number two official of UNMIK [the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo], this is Steven Schook, who had announced himself that he was under investigation by OIOS [the Office of Internal Oversight Services], I’ve heard that he’s no longer going to serve as number two and may actually be at UN Headquarters today.


Spokesperson:  Well, his contract has come, as you know, to an end.  It concludes on 31 December, and we’ll announce his replacement in due course.  In terms of his presence at Headquarters today, I cannot confirm that.  I can check that for you.


Question:  If so, maybe if there’s some opportunity either to hear from him or…  I don’t know.  I mean, he’s an UNMIK official.  The stakeout or something would be great.


Spokesperson:  Well, we’ll see.  But there is a lot, as you know, going on today….


Question:  I know.  No, I understand.  But it’s obviously a related topic.  Thanks a lot.


Spokesperson:  Any other questions?  Thank you very much.  Thank you all.  And see you on Friday.


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