21 January 2008


21 January 2008
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, all.

**Security Council

The Security Council this morning received a briefing on the enlarged role of the UN Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) by the head of that Mission, Special Representative Staffan de Mistura, who will be coming here shortly to speak to you as the guest at today’s noon briefing.  Of course, that will depend on the Council’s meeting.  We’ll let you know when he comes in.

Mr. De Mistura told the Council that the past weeks have witnessed some tentative and overdue, but certainly welcome, steps towards national reconciliation and inclusive political dialogue.  And he talked about the United Nations’ increased efforts to deal with the issues of disputed internal boundaries, returnees, cholera, economic reconstruction and regional dialogue.

The Security Council also heard from US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, who briefed them on the work of the Multinational Force for Iraq.

**Secretary-General’s Travel

The Secretary-General leaves tonight for Switzerland.  Tomorrow, he is scheduled to visit the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva.  On Wednesday, he is scheduled to address the Conference on Disarmament and take part in a memorial service for the victims of the Algiers bombing.  He then heads to Davos to attend the World Economic Forum.

Following that, we can now announce that the Secretary-General plans to travel to four more countries during the following week.  In his first official visit to Eastern Europe, he’ll be in Slovenia [which currently holds the EU presidency], starting Friday night.  After that, he makes a one-day visit to Slovakia and then continues on to Kigali, Rwanda, where he will make a speech at the Genocide Memorial.  Then he travels to Addis Ababa, where he will address the opening of the African Union Summit meeting on Thursday, 31 January.

** Gaza Update

On Gaza, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) says that it may be unable to continue its food distribution and other key operations in Gaza if the closure at Gaza’s crossing points continues.  Karen AbuZayd, the Agency’s Commissioner-General, says that UNRWA is about to run out of its own fuel supplies in two more days.  Although the Agency has sufficient food stocks in Gaza, it will not be able to continue its support to 860,000 Gaza residents past Wednesday if it lacks fuel to transport food or the nylon bags for food distribution.  Ms. AbuZayd warned, “It’s very cold here.  There’s no fuel, no water, little electricity.”

The Secretary-General, in a statement issued late Friday, appealed urgently for an immediate end to the violence now engulfing Gaza and affecting communities in southern Israel and reminded the parties once more of their obligation to comply with international humanitarian law and not to endanger civilians.

He warned that the decision by Israel to close the crossing points between Gaza and Israel, used for the delivery of humanitarian assistance, cuts off the population from much-needed fuel supplies used to pump water and generate electricity to homes and hospitals.  The Secretary-General called on Israel to refrain from actions that will harm the well-being of the general civilian population in Gaza.

The Secretary-General also expressed his deep concern that the hostilities taking place on the ground will undermine the hopes for peace generated by the political process begun at Annapolis.

In Geneva, the Human Rights Council will hold a special session this Wednesday, at the request of the Group of Arab States and the Group of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, to consider and take action on “human rights violations emanating from Israeli military incursions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory”, including in Gaza and the West Bank town of Nablus.

** Darfur Update

The UN and AU Special Envoys for Darfur, Jan Eliasson and Salim Ahmed Salim, have wrapped up a week-long visit to Sudan in an effort to infuse new momentum into the peace process.

At a press conference held in Khartoum over the weekend, Jan Eliasson said the envoys now have the full commitment of two of the five movements to the peace process, and to attend the pre-negotiations meeting as soon as it can be arranged.

Copies of the full transcript are available upstairs.

** Sudan

On Sudan, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno is scheduled to arrive in Sudan today for a four-day visit, during which he will meet with Sudanese Government officials.

Ahead of Mr. Guéhenno’s visit, Assistant Secretary-General Jane Holl Lute arrived in Khartoum on Friday and flew to Darfur the following day.  She visited all three states in Darfur before returning to Khartoum today, where she met with the Undersecretary at the Sudan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Mutrif Siddiq.

While in Darfur, she visited camps housing displaced people, met with local Government officials and the civilian and military leadership of the African Union-United Nation Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), including AU-UN Joint Special Representative Rodolphe Adada.

Meanwhile, in Khartoum, in what UNAMID described as an important confidence-building meeting held at the Staff College in Khartoum over the weekend, the UNAMID Force Commander, General Martin Luther Agwai, and the Mission’s Police Commissioner, Major General Mike Fryer, gave detailed briefings and clarifications about UNAMID to the Sudanese Armed Forces, Police and State Security Service.

The UNAMID Police Commissioner emphasized the need to intensify community policing, fight against gender-based violence and improve cooperation between UNAMID Police, Government Police and the Movements’ police in Darfur.

** Kenya Humanitarian Update

On Kenya, the political crisis is entering its third week with no let-up in violence and a heavy police presence reported in Nairobi and other towns, the UN country team has observed.

According to UNICEF, there are approximately 1,000 displaced persons arriving in Nakuru on a daily basis from violence-affected areas in north Rift Valley Province.  Kenyan authorities now estimate at 116,000 the number of people displaced in the north Rift region, and the World Food Programme (WFP), in cooperation with Kenyan authorities, is readying a distribution plan to provide up to one month of food rations to the displaced.  Also in Nakuru, UNICEF says 18 of 134 schools remain closed as some 240 teachers have failed to report to work.

People in Nairobi’s Kibera slum continue to need food assistance and UN humanitarian workers have planned another round of food distribution for some 2,000 households later this week.

** Somalia

UN humanitarian workers in Somalia report that tensions remain high in the disputed Sool region.  This comes after violent clashes on 13 January between troops from the self-declared autonomous Puntland and Somaliland provinces.  While there is no confirmation of internal displacement of civilians due to the latest fighting, the UN refugee agency has registered some 1,240 people from Sool in Yemen since the start of this year.

UNHCR also reports some 20,000 newly displaced persons from Mogadishu in recent weeks due to ongoing violence in the capital.  The World Food Programme meanwhile, has resumed food distribution for some 200,000 internally displaced persons at camps along the Afgooye-Mogadishu road.

With some 7,400 children attending classes in some 30 makeshift schools, UN humanitarian agencies are concerned that the constant movement of families on the run from the violence has left some 4,000 people who remain on waiting lists.  The agencies have appealed for additional emergency educational structures in the Afgooye area.

** Central African Republic

The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Luis Moreno-Ocampo, will travel to the Central African Republic on 24 January to meet with victims, representatives of civil society and the local population.  He will participate in a public dialogue and will also meet senior Government officials.  He will visit the ICC local field office, which opened in October 2007.

The Prosecutor’s visit comes in the context of the investigation he opened into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in that country.

** Lebanon

Over the past three days, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has conducted a maritime exercise off the coast of southern Lebanon in cooperation with the Lebanese Navy.  The three-day operation involves amphibious landing of military personnel and equipment by the sea route.

The exercise involves naval units from France and Italy, as well as from UNIFIL’s Maritime Task Force and the Lebanese Armed Forces.  UNIFIL Force Commander Major-General Claudio Graziano said, “The aim of this exercise is to improve cooperation and establish coordination mechanisms between the different naval and land forces involved.”

We have a press release with more details upstairs.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

Expected to end today, the Conference on Peace, Security and Development in the Kivu provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo will now see its last day of formal consultations tomorrow or Wednesday.

The UN Mission (MONUC), meanwhile, is urging members of the Ituri Patriotic Resistance Front to surrender to the Congolese Army, whose troops are now dislodging the insurgents from hideouts in the towns of Kamatsy and Tchei.

**Deputy Secretary-General in Cairo

The Deputy Secretary-General has travelled to Alexandria, Egypt, to participate in the closing session of the Third Conference and Cultural Workshops on “Dialogue among Peoples and Cultures in the Euro-Mediterranean and Gulf Areas”.

Over the weekend, she was in Cairo, where she delivered a keynote address at the opening session of a high-level symposium on trends in development cooperation.

The Deputy Secretary-General said that the symposium was a welcome opportunity to underscore the pre-eminent place of development cooperation on the agenda of the international community.  She stressed the commitment of the Secretary-General and herself to strengthening the development work of the United Nations through implementing the Outcome of the 2005 World Summit.

**Peacebuilding Commission Meets on Guinea-Bissau

Today the Peacebuilding Commission is holding its first formal country-specific meeting on Guinea-Bissau.  Members met to discuss, among other things, the upcoming travel of the Meeting’s Chair -- the Permanent Representative of Brazil, Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti -- to Guinea-Bissau to assess the situation there and report back to the Commission with recommendations for specific peacebuilding assistance.

Last month the Commission added Guinea-Bissau as the third country on its agenda, joining Sierra Leone and Burundi.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

Stephen Rapp, Prosecutor for the Special Court for Sierra Leone, will be our guest at the noon briefing tomorrow.

Any Questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Will the SG bring the situation in the Gaza Strip to the attention of the Security Council?

Spokesperson:  As you know, the Secretary-General has spoken about it.  Will he bring it to the attention of the Security Council?  I think the Security Council itself will decide on whether to discuss the situation in Gaza.  I did mention that the Human Rights Council is holding a meeting on that situation.

Question:  One other question:  on Friday evening I spoke with the Algerian Ambassador after his meeting with Vijay Nambiar [Chef de Cabinet], and he said that Algeria is officially protesting the UN probe into the Algiers bombing.  I was wondering of we can get from Vijay Nambiar the conclusions that were drawn from that meeting?  Perhaps he can give a press briefing?

Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t think he will give a press briefing, but what I can tell you is that we received an official letter from the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Algeria.  We have been, as you know, in touch with the Algerian authorities and are aware of their concerns.  The Chef de Cabinet did meet twice this weekend with the Ambassador and Deputy PR.  We are making strenuous efforts to overcome any misunderstandings and get the cooperation of the Algerian authorities with this independent panel.

As I said earlier, the objective of the panel is not a criminal investigation.  The Secretary-General is currently setting up this independent review panel, as I said, that will look at the specific lessons learned from the most recent events.  As I said earlier, the panel will address strategic issues vital to the delivery and enhancement of staff security for the UN in its operations around the world.

What is important -- and I think it’s useful to stress it again -- is that concerted efforts have to be made to fight international terrorism and prevent such acts from occurring.  This is the purpose of the panel’s work.  The panel will, of course, report back to the Secretary-General, and the Secretary-General will work with the General Assembly to ensure better safety and security for UN staff throughout the world.  This is the objective, and that’s where we are.

Correspondent:  The Ambassador said that the reason the Government was upset was because they had not been consulted.  They have no idea what the commission is about nor what its goals are, even though the UN said it’s about security, they still need to know about it…

Spokesperson:  Well, they did discuss this with Mr. Nambiar this weekend.

Question:  This former Congressman, Mark Siljander (R-Michigan), told the LA Times that he was … he took partial credit for the creation of the Hybrid Force.  How extensive was his involvement?  Was it his idea?  Was it an idea that he tried to promote with President Bashir?  Also, the LA Times story cited the fact that he stayed with the UN on Ban’s trip over there…

Spokesperson:  That was not the case.  He was never a part of the UN delegation at any time.  The UN Secretariat came to know the work of Mr. Siljander through the National Breakfast Prayer Group, specifically through his examination of shared values among different religions.  That was the whole purpose of those prayer meetings.  In this context he offered informal and voluntary advice to facilitate communications with Sudan when official channels were temporarily experiencing difficulties.

He has, however, not at any time assumed any formal role on behalf of the UN.  He did not attend any of the five meetings that the Secretary-General had with President Bashir.  There was one meeting held in Addis Ababa, two in Riyadh and two in Khartoum.  All these meetings were arranged through diplomatic channels.  On all these occasions, the Secretary-General attended.  He was never part of the UN delegation nor was he given any access on our part.

Question:  Did he pass messages from Ban Ki-moon to Bashir or vice versa?

Spokesperson:  The only thing I can tell you about this is that he helped facilitate communication through private channels.  What he offered to do was limited to complementing what we had done through official channels.  For example, he delivered to us the Sudanese reply to the Secretary-General’s letter when the reply was delayed for some time.  And in that case, he was accompanied by the PR from Sudan.

Question:  So when you say “limited”, how often would something like that happen?  I mean something like the delivery of that letter…?

Spokesperson:  Not very often.  It happened that one time, that’s why I noted that time when it happened.

Question:  Do you have anything to announce regarding a UN Envoy in Afghanistan?  If not, could we expect this in the next day or two?

Spokesperson:  Well, we don’t have it yet, and as soon as we have it I’ll let you know, as I said, on Friday.

Question:  Again on Afghanistan:  reports from Afghanistan have President Hamid Karzai saying that British politician Paddy Ashdown cannot become the UN Envoy “unless the world body clarifies his role”.  My question is, has there been a proposal to change the mandate of the new UN Envoy?

Spokesperson:  As you know, we don’t have a Special Envoy for Afghanistan yet.  I will certainly ask the question for you about the mandate, but at this point we haven’t really chosen someone…

Question:  Is there a move to change the mandate of the new UN Envoy?

Spokesperson:  Not that I know of, but I’ll let you know if I find out otherwise.

Question:  Is the Government of Afghanistan being consulted or kept in the loop while the process of selecting the new Envoy is ongoing?

Spokesperson:  There is no doubt that the Government is in the loop.

Question:  It’s reported that this guy Musa Hilal, a Janjaweed leader, is being named an adviser to President Bashir, or to the Sudanese Government.  Various human rights groups have criticized this and have asked that Ban Ki-moon raise it when he meets with President Bashir.  What is the Secretariat’s position on an individual on the UN’s travel ban being made an adviser to the Government of Sudan?

Spokesperson:  We don’t have any specific statement on that.  What I can say is that, of course, Musa Hilal was, as you know, listed on the sanctions list by the Security Council.  He’s still on the sanctions list for a travel ban and other sanctions.  I cannot say at this point whether he will raise specifically this issue when he meets President Bashir, however, I will let you know if this is raised.

Question:  Also there seems to be a speech by [British Prime Minister] Gordon Brown where he either calls for, or says it would be a good thing, if Ban Ki-moon went to Myanmar.  He calls for the soon visit by [Special Adviser Ibrahim] Gambari to be followed by a visit by Ban Ki-moon.  Has there been any consideration…?

Spokesperson:  No. I don’t have a comment on that at this point. Okay. I would like to give…

Question:  Just one follow-up on that:  Gambari told us late last week that the earliest date that they have asked for was March.  Has there been any change since then, because he said he would try to convince them to make it earlier?

Spokesperson:  Not yet. We don’t have any change yet.

Question:  So it’s still March, at the earliest?

Spokesperson:  As far as we know, yes.

Thank you.  I would like to invite Mr. De Mistura to join us.

* *** *

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