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

11 February 2008

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

11 February 2008
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.

Press Conferences

At 12:30 p.m. today, there will be a press conference by Srgjan Kerim, President of the Sixty-second session of the General Assembly, Sir Richard Branson, CEO of the Virgin Group, and actress Daryl Hannah on the General Assembly’s ongoing debate entitled “Addressing Climate Change:  the United Nations and the World at Work”.  We have more information on the debate available upstairs and in this room.  Following that, at 1:30 p.m. today, there will be a press conference by Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, on the next steps after the climate change breakthrough in Bali.

**Statement on Timor-Leste

We have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson on Timor-Leste.

The Secretary-General is shocked and dismayed to learn of today’s incidents in Timor-Leste in which President Jose Ramos Horta was shot and wounded and a number of others killed or injured.  The convoy of Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao was also attacked.  The United Nations Police (UNPol) is on a high state of alert and is coordinating with the International Security Forces (ISF) and the Timorese authorities.  Upon receipt of this information Special Representative Atul Khare immediately left the United States and is on his way back to Dili.  The Secretary-General condemns in the strongest possible terms these unacceptable attacks on the legitimate institutions of the state and calls on the Timorese people to remain calm and refrain from all violent acts.  This was released last night by our Office.

**Timor-Leste Security

Meanwhile, the Secretary-General’s acting Special Representative for Timor-Leste, Finn Reske-Nielsen, strongly deplored the latest violence.  Speaking at a press conference, the acting Special Representative confirmed two deaths from the incidents, including that of fugitive Alfredo Reinado.  Over the course of the day, the United Nations has been in a series of high-level meetings with the Timorese Government, the International Security Forces and the local police.  The meetings were aimed to ensure that there is a coordinated response to the incidents and UNMIT will continue to ensure that this coordination continues under the leadership of the Prime Minister.  Reske-Nielsen also said that the U.N. and Timorese police, together with the International Security Forces, is currently investigating the incidents and continuing an assessment of the security situation in Dili and other districts.  He added, security measures have been augmented throughout the day with additional forces being placed in areas believed to be at potential risk given the latest events.

**Security Council on Timor-Leste

The Security Council has scheduled consultations at 3 p.m. this afternoon on Timor-Leste, to receive a briefing from the Department for Peacekeeping Operations on the attacks on President Ramos-Horta and Prime Minister Gusmão and consider a presidential statement on those attacks.  The Council intends to hold a formal meeting on Timor-Leste following consultations.

** Myanmar Political

We also have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Myanmar.  The announcement by the Myanmar Government that it plans to hold a constitutional referendum in May, and “multi-party democratic elections” by 2010, marks the first establishment of a timeframe for the implementation of its “political roadmap process.”  In light of this announcement, the Secretary-General renews his call to the Myanmar authorities to make the constitution-making process inclusive, participatory and transparent in order to ensure that any draft constitution is broadly representative of the views of all the people of Myanmar.

In this regard, he believes it is now all the more important for the Myanmar leadership to engage without delay in a substantive and time-bound dialogue with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other relevant parties to the national reconciliation process.  The UN remains ready to continue to support this process with the cooperation of the parties concerned.  The Secretary-General believes this latest development also makes it essential that a visit to Myanmar by his Special Adviser, Ibrahim Gambari, be allowed to proceed without further delay.

** Myanmar Visit

On a separate note, Mr. Gambari’s office confirmed that he is planning to be travelling to the region very soon.  He is scheduled to visit Beijing 18-19 February, and he intends to go from there to Jakarta on a date to be confirmed, and to Singapore on 25 February.

** Sudan

The Secretary-General, in a statement issued over the weekend, condemned in the strongest possible terms attacks on three towns in West Darfur reportedly by Janjaweed militia supported by Sudanese armed forces.  UNAMID has received preliminary reports confirming that an estimated 200 casualties have resulted from the fighting, and that the town of Abu Suruj, which is home to thousands of civilians, has been burned to the ground.  The attack in Seleia is reported to have included air strikes from Government forces.

The Secretary-General stressed that all parties must adhere to international humanitarian law, which prohibits military attacks against civilians.  All parties must urgently cease hostilities, he said, and commit to the political process being led by the Special Envoys of the United Nations and African Union.  Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency said an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 refugees from Darfur have fled across the border into eastern Chad since the attacks on Friday.  A UN refugee agency team along with humanitarian partners was sent on an emergency mission through Chad’s volatile eastern border region and they reported the refugees were destitute and terrified.  They told of their villages being looted and burned, and encircled by militia to prevent people from fleeing.  The refugees are mainly from the areas known to be a stronghold of the Sudanese opposition group, JEM (Justice and Equality Movement).

The new arrivals, mainly men, said thousands of women and children refugees were on their way to Chad to seek security.  Urgent measures are now underway in Chad to move the newly arrived refugees by truck, probably on Tuesday, to established refugee camps.  Before this fresh influx, UNHCR and its partners were already taking care of 240,000 refugees in 12 camps in eastern Chad.

**UNAMID in Sudan

On UNAMID, also over the weekend, the Government of the Sudan (GoS) and the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) signed the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) in Khartoum.  The Agreement was signed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Deng Alor and the UN-AU Joint Special Representative for Darfur Rodolphe Adada.  The Agreement provides the legal framework within which UNAMID will operate.  It covers the activities of the military, police and civilian personnel of UNAMID.

**Secretary-General on Climate Change

The Secretary-General this morning addressed the General Assembly’s thematic debate on climate change, which Janos will also talk to you about, actually the President will come and talk to you about.  The Secretary-General said that the two-day debate will help to sustain the unprecedented momentum that propelled the climate change agenda forward so dramatically last year.  He noted that, as substantiated in an overview report presented today, every part of the UN system is committed to supporting Member States as an effective, inclusive and credible partner in mitigating and adapting to climate change.  He said that developed countries need to take a clear lead in addressing climate change, but success is possible only if all countries act.  The more ambitious the commitments by developed countries, the more actions we can expect from developing countries.  The Secretary-General asserted that a deal in Copenhagen, on time, and in full, is his priority and that of all the Funds, Programmes and Agencies of the United Nations family.  We have his speech upstairs.

** Kenya

On Kenya, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes wrapped up his three-day mission to Kenya on Sunday, expressing his determination to help displaced communities return to normal life and calling for a rapid solution to the political crisis.  During his travels, Holmes met with dwellers at camps for the internally displaced and discussed their concerns about moving out of camps and between areas of Kenya.  He stressed that the United Nations is keeping up pressure to find a sustainable solution to the political problems through its support to the mediation efforts led by Kofi Annan, while offering impartial humanitarian assistance to people in need, regardless of their political and ethnic affiliation.  Holmes welcomed the calm in recent days, adding his hope that the violence will stop and emphasizing that those responsible for the violence should be held accountable.  We have a press release upstairs with more details.

**Somalia

On Somalia, all United Nations operations in Mogadishu, Afgooye and Kismayo have been suspended for the remainder of this week following weekend attacks on the UN compound in Mogadishu.  There were no casualties.  OCHA says that a number of international NGOs have also temporarily suspended travel of staff to the countryside where similar attacks have taken place in the past week.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

On the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Alan Doss, the Special Representative of the Secretary General in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has welcomed the progress achieved so far in the wake of the Goma Acte d’engagements.  Doss also called on all armed groups to respect the agreement, warning that the signing of the agreement alone would not automatically restore in the Kivus.  Doss placed particular emphasis on the need to implement all aspects of the agreement and reaffirmed the UN Mission’s readiness to monitor the cease fire on the ground.  Meanwhile, the United Nations is set to chair the next meeting of the Joint Monitoring Group at the level of Special Envoys, which is due to take place in Brussels on Friday 15 February.  The meeting is a further follow-up to the Nairobi Communiqué.

** Western Sahara

On Western Sahara, the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, Peter Van Walsum, is continuing his consultations with parties and neighbouring states in the region ahead of the planned fourth round of UN-brokered talks, set for 11-13 March in Manhasset.  Following meetings with senior Moroccan officials in Rabat late last week, the Personal Envoy was received in Rabouni on Saturday by Secretary General Mohamed Abdelaziz and other members of the Frente Polisario leadership.

Van Walsum told journalists that he was in the region to listen to the views of the parties and the neighbouring states on how to move into more substantial negotiations.  The positions of the parties remain far apart, Van Walsum added. But he confirmed that the parties had reiterated their intention to participate in the planned talks next month in Manhasset.  Mr. Van Walsum’s trip to the region concludes this week with planned discussions on Tuesday in Algiers, followed by meetings on Thursday in the Mauritanian capital of Nouakchott.

**Southern Africa Floods

On southern Africa, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is seeking some $89 million to help the governments of Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe respond to recent floods.  The floods have destroyed thousands of homes, devastated crops and left some half a million people in urgent need of assistance.

**Secretary-General to Washington

In the next few days, the Secretary-General will travel to Washington for a two day visit on Thursday.  The Secretary General is scheduled to meet President Bush at the White House on Friday, February 15.  They will discuss issues of common interest to the United Nations and the United States, including climate change, the Millennium development goals, human rights, counterterrorism, and international peace and security.  The Secretary-General and the President are also expected to discuss important regional issues such as Darfur, Kenya, the Middle East, Iraq and Afghanistan.  The Secretary-General is also scheduled to meet Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Thursday evening.

**Disarmament

On disarmament, the Group of Governmental Experts, which is to examine the feasibility, scope and draft parameters of common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms, is meeting here at Headquarters, from today until Friday.  We have a press release with more upstairs.

**Secretary-General on Death of US Congressman Tom Lantos

And we also have another statement attributable to the Spokesperson of the Secretary-General on the death of Representative Tom Lantos.

The Secretary-General was deeply saddened to learn of the death of his friend Tom Lantos, the veteran United States legislator, Holocaust survivor, human rights advocate and long-time supporter of the United Nations.  He extends his sympathy and condolences to Mr. Lantos’ wife, Annette, and to their family at this painful time.  The Secretary-General pays tribute to Mr. Lantos’ exceptional courage and contribution, in the national and international arenas, as a champion of our common humanity.   Mr. Lantos’ immeasurable efforts in attuning the consciousness and the conscience of people to the dangers of intolerance and human rights violations will long be remembered.  The Secretary-General joins Mr. Lantos’ colleagues in the United States Congress, the Jewish community and the international community in giving thanks for his life.

This is all I have for you.  Thank you.  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  You said the Secretary-General will be meeting with President Bush starting next week on 15 February.

Spokesperson:  This week, at the end of this week.

Question:  Secretary of State Rice will be visiting the Middle East on 18 February.  Do you know if they’ll be discussing the proposed trip?

Spokesperson:  Well, they will be discussing the Middle East, I said it.

Question:  You said international peace and security so I wondered who proposed the trip to the Middle East.

Spokesperson:  I don’t know at this point.

Question:  My other question is, 16 convoys carrying humanitarian aid are being confiscated in the Gaza Strip.  Do you have any update?

Spokesperson:  No I don’t at this point but we will try to get more from people on the ground.  Definitely.  Yes, Edie?

Question:  Michèle, is there any readout on the Secretary-General’s meeting this morning with the President of Mexico?

Spokesperson:  Not yet, but we’ll get one for you.

Question:  I just wanted to follow up actually to the announcement that the Secretary-General will meet with Washington.  You have said what he is going to discuss.  Kosovo?  Is that on the original schedule?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  They will discuss Kosovo.  Did he have any input, if I can put it like that, recently, what went on in Kosovo, since there are announcements, clear announcements, that Pristina, official Pristina, will announce independence on Monday, on Sunday or Monday, I’m not sure.

Spokesperson:  We don’t have anything on this point yet, other than what we have already said.

Question:  But he is aware fully of those.

Spokesperson:  He is fully aware, yes.

Question:  And he has no reaction yet.

Spokesperson:  No.

Question:  After Washington probably he will have.

Spokesperson:  I don’t know.  Yes George.

Question:  A quick follow-up on the East Timor situation.  Do I understand, Michèle, correctly, that Mr. Reinado is confirmed to be among those who are dead?

Spokesperson:  Yes.  Yes, Benny.

Question:  Two questions.  One on East Timor, there’s a report from East Timor that says UN forces were unhelpful after Horta was shot.  Could you confirm or deny that?

Spokesperson:  I can only tell you that the security arrangements are the responsibility of the national authorities of Timor-Leste.  The security forces, the UN police was not actually guarding the President’s house.

Question:  Okay, and the second question about Burma.  The Generation-88 Students, which is one of the groups that I guess have already rejected the proposal for the constitution because they say it will basically make the military regime, you know, legal.  And also they called on Mr. Ban to visit Burma.  Is that in the offing?  Does Ban have any plan to visit Burma any time soon or ever?

Spokesperson:  Not at this point but he’s certainly aware of the Generation-88 statement.

Question:  Including the call for him to visit?

Spokesperson:  Yes.  Yes, Massoud.

Question:  [question on Lebanon inaudible]

Spokesperson:  Not that I know of.  He hasn’t had any specific phone calls made on Lebanon or with Lebanese leaders.

Question:  Is he concerned about the delay in the situation in Lebanon?

Spokesperson:  Well, he’s following the situation, certainly.

Question:  There’s a report by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, where they say that the UN police, seeing him shot, stayed 300 metres away.  So the question becomes, even though they weren’t responsible for security, was there some reason that they would not have, that they felt they had to remain at that distance?  It says the Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying there was concern about this.

Spokesperson:  At this point I don’t have any additional information about the 300 metres you are mentioning.  What I do know is that they were not directly responsible, the UN was not directly responsible for the security of either Mr. Gusmão or Mr. Ramos-Horta.

Question:  There was also this report I guess over the weekend that OIOS reported to UNMIS, the UN Mission in Sudan, on procurement irregularities.  One of the things it raises is that the UN was paying $9 million to the Government of Sudan to clear things through customs when apparently some people in the UN felt that they could have done it themselves, that this was just a payment to the Government of funds.  Either, can we have a briefing if there’s a response from the UN on why that payment was made?

Spokesperson:  There were a number of things.  As you know, it was an OIOS report, and it was initiated by OIOS, by the UN.  The information is not new.  It derives from that report that was compiled in 2006 and it refers to the findings of an inquiry conducted at that time into inconsistencies in contractual and administrative procedures at the time.  It was associated, as you know, with the start-up phase of UNMIS.  As you know, the UN was under tremendous pressure at the time to rapidly mount the $1 billion operation in Sudan.  And as you know, that part of it was heavily audited and the mission had been subjected to 12 audits.  Okay, so the investigation that we’re talking about was initiated by the UN’s audit process and all cases as far as I could get today, all cases in the article were fully addressed with corrective and disciplinary measures applied to those concerns.  This is what I got.  UNMIS spent little more than $800 million, is the number I got, in the fiscal year 2005-2006.

Question:  Just one follow-up.  Is the UN still paying the Sudanese Government for getting things through customs, whether for UNMIS or UNAMID?

Spokesperson:  Okay, you have to address your questions to DPKO for additional information.

Question:  Did you say all cases had been addressed?

Spokesperson:  That’s right.  They’re saying that all cases have been addressed.

Question:  All cases.

Spokesperson:  That were cited in that 2005-2006 report.

Question:  So did you say the operation in Sudan is $1 billion a year or what?

Spokesperson:  No, the whole operation was 1 billion.

Question:  One last question.  It was reported that Mr. Pedersen said he doesn’t expect anything to come out of the transitional election.  Is this his personal opinion or is this the United Nations position?

Spokesperson:  No, I cannot comment on this at this point, really, and I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to leave the room for the President of the General Assembly.  I’m getting a sign that he’s right here, waiting to come and brief you.  Thank you very much.

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