|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.
The Security Council held consultations this morning on sanctions on the Democratic Republic of the Congo and other matters. Among items under other matters, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Edmond Mulet briefed on Chad. Meanwhile, yesterday evening, the Security Council adopted a presidential statement on children and armed conflict. The Council called for full implementation of its monitoring and reporting mechanism on children and armed conflict, and invited its working group dealing with the subject to continue proposing effective recommendations for the Council’s consideration and implementation.
**Secretary-General in Washington
As I previously announced, the Secretary-General will be in Washington tomorrow and Friday. Tomorrow morning he will attend the memorial ceremony at the US Capitol for Congressman Tom Lantos. Later that day he will meet with representatives of UN agencies in Washington and address the North American International Model UN, organized by Georgetown University. And, as I previously announced, he will meet tomorrow also with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
His meeting with President Bush is scheduled for Friday. As I said on Monday, they will discuss, among other subjects, climate change, the Millennium Development Goals, human rights, counter-terrorism and important regional issues such as Darfur, Kenya, the Middle East, Iraq, Kosovo and Afghanistan.
** Middle East
On the Middle East, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes is scheduled to arrive in Jerusalem tomorrow, Thursday, to begin his first official UN visit to the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel. During the five-day trip, Holmes will make field visits to Gaza, the West Bank and Sderot to assess the humanitarian situation in those areas. He will also meet with senior officials and representatives of the UN and aid agencies, as well as members of the donor and diplomatic community. We have a media advisory on this upstairs.
On Somalia, there are now up to 2 million vulnerable people in Somalia, who remain in need of humanitarian assistance. That’s according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). What’s also worrying is the exodus from Mogadishu. In the last six months, the number of people fleeing the capital to the poorest and worst off areas of Somalia has more than doubled to over 700,000. Troubling also is the humanitarian situation. The constrained movement of aid workers, roadblocks, taxation, banditry, etc., not only hinder the movement and transport of assistance items, predominantly food, but are also responsible for the increase in the number of affected and vulnerable populations in need of assistance. So far, the violence in neighbouring Kenya has had a minimal impact on humanitarian operations in Somalia, says OCHA.
On Sudan, in response to a question at the noon briefing yesterday about reports of fighting in Southern Sudan, the UN Mission in Sudan says a series of armed attacks have taken place across three counties in Central Equatoria since mid-January by an unidentified armed group, which members of the affected population claimed to be the Lord’s Resistance Army. All attacks have been characterized by violence, looting and abductions. Some of those abducted were released subsequently. There is no confirmed number of people killed, injured or abducted.
UNHCR and UNICEF and other agencies have committed to distribute basic supplies, and WFP has undertaken to supply food to the affected populations as soon as they have a clear picture of the security situation in the area. An assessment is still ongoing.
Also on Southern Sudan, the UN refugee agency has launched an appeal for $63 million to fund its 2008 operations in Southern Sudan, including organizing the voluntary return and reintegration of 80,000 Sudanese refugees now in neighbouring countries.
On Tajikistan, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports growing concern about the humanitarian situation in Tajikistan, which is facing its harshest winter in some 25 years. More than half a million Tajiks are estimated to be food insecure, while at least 260,000 need immediate food aid. The effects of the severe weather are compounded by an energy shortage, which has left schools with little or no power, according to UNICEF. The agency is sending emergency supplies to Tajikistan, including generators for hospitals and child care centres. We have more in a press release upstairs.
**World Food Programme
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today announced a new partnership with the Vodafone Group Foundation and the UN Foundation on improving the use of information and communications technology in emergency situations. WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran said telecommunications are essential to food aid convoys, aircraft and medical teams delivering relief assistance. We have a press release upstairs also on that.
In connection with the Investor Summit on Climate Risk, institutional investors from Connecticut, Florida, California and the British Telecom Pension Scheme will hold a press conference here at 1:45 p.m. tomorrow to announce the Investor Action Plan. We have more information on the Summit available at the Media Documents Centre. That all I have for you today, thank you.
**Questions and Answers
Question: I heard this morning that the Eritrean Ambassador had a meeting with DPKO officials. Can you give us a readout on that? Do you have anything further on the withdrawal of troops from the Eritrean side?
Spokesperson: You would have to speak to DPKO about this. I don’t have a readout yet. But I can also try to get more information for you.
Question: I was wondering if there’s any comment by Mr. Ban Ki-moon on Israel’s announcement to build over 1,000 new houses in and around eastern Jerusalem. What’s his position to this? And also, regarding the visit of John Holmes to Gaza, is he going to meet with any Hamas leader there?
Spokesperson: We can get more information on who he’s going to meet, and we’ll certainly have more on his visit tomorrow when he gets there, concrete information. Your first question about the new housing in Jerusalem that is being planned; we already talked about it yesterday and I said that the position of the Secretary-General has not changed and that the UN is against the construction of any additional settlements.
Question: Will he be raising this issue with Bush when he meets him two days from now?
Spokesperson: I don’t know yet. When he meets him, we’ll find out. I’ll let you know whether this was discussed or not. They are discussing a number of issues and I gave you a list; the Middle East is one of them.
[The Spokesperson later told the correspondent that John Holmes will not have any meetings with Hamas officials during his mission. However, the United Nations regularly has technical-level contact with Hamas on the implementation of humanitarian programmes and for security.]
Question: Kosovo plans to declare independence on Sunday. I wonder if the Secretary-General has anything to say today for the sake of readerships around the world and the position of the UN.
Spokesperson: At this point, as you know, the Secretary-General is waiting, the Security Council President has told you at the stakeout there will be a meeting on Kosovo that will be held as a private debate tomorrow afternoon. The Secretary-General will not express his views until later, much later.
Question: The Secretary-General, as we speak, is meeting Bono. Was this at the request of the Secretary-General or the request of Bono? And if it was at the request of the Secretary-General, was there something that the Secretary-General had in mind that he wanted him to do?
Spokesperson: It was at the request of Bono. He’s the one who asked for the meeting and, as you know, the two of them had met in Davos. The issues that were raised were the Millennium Development Goals, global health and the G-8 summit. Those were the issues they discussed. They also discussed the next meeting of the Africa Steering Group on the MDGs, which is going to be on 10 March, and also the summit that is going to take place in September about the MDGs.
Questions: Just to fill out the Kosovo question, you say the Secretary-General will not express his views until later. Do you mean until the Security Council convenes, or until next week, or when?
Spokesperson: For the time being, the situation is in front of the Security Council. So let’s wait on this.
Question: Two questions, first on Kosovo. Just hypothetically, if there is a declaration of independence, is there any change in the UN Special Representative that is there, in his work?
Spokesperson: I have nothing further to add on Kosovo today. We are following the situation, and the Secretary-General will certainly be following the Security Council meetings and he will react to whatever happens, events on the ground.
Question: And to follow up on the question I asked yesterday, I wasn’t able to participate in the press conference, but does the Secretary-General have a position on the question of whether chocolate is a good gift for Valentine’s?
Spokesperson: Actually, we did not discuss chocolate, neither this morning nor yesterday, with the Secretary-General. You will see at the press briefing today, whether you still like chocolate after the press briefing.
Question: On this announcement by Steven Spielberg, that he’s no longer going to be the adviser to the Beijing Olympics because of what he calls China’s failure to do enough about Darfur. Does the Secretary-General or anybody in the UN system have a comment on that, believe that’s a helpful step, have any statement whatsoever, have any opinion?
Spokesperson: We don’t have any comments on the Olympics at this point.
Question: I also wanted, actually two things, one’s a factual one. There’s a report of a letter by the Hmong, the Hmong refugees from Laos, that they’ve asked the UN for protection since their numbers have been reduced by a half. Is it possible to find out if the UN received such a letter?
Spokesperson: Normally, it would be UNHCR, but we can inquire for you, whether they have received a letter.
Question: There’s a Reuters story today quoting a Burmese activist who just reached Thailand, saying “Gambari may tell them to stop arresting people, but they just carry on”, he told Reuters in an interview. Is it the UN’s understanding, that arrests and the tracking down of perceived leaders of the September protests are still ongoing? What does Mr. Gambari say about this?
Spokesperson: There was a series of phone calls made by the Secretary-General on the issue of Myanmar. He had a telephone conversation with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and the two discussed two issues, in fact, climate change and Myanmar. So Myanmar was one of the issues discussed, and they also exchanged views specifically on the announcement by the Myanmar Government of a political road map. As you know, the situation is being followed very closely. The Secretary-General also spoke to the Foreign Minister of China and the Foreign Minister of India, and they spoke about both issues; climate change and Myanmar.
Question: So they didn’t take up the issues of UNAMID or Darfur?
Spokesperson: No, I don’t think so.
Question: When were these calls made, yesterday or today?
Spokesperson: Which ones do you want to know about?
Correspondent: All of them.
Spokesperson: All of them. Okay. The President of Indonesia was today. The Foreign Minister of China was today. The one with India was at 7:45 a.m. yesterday. He spoke today also with Tony Blair, with Alpha Oumar Konaré, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, and he spoke also to Dominique Strauss-Kahn today, the Managing Director of the IMF.
Question: You spoke about the “Friends of Myanmar”. What is that about?
Spokesperson: This is the second meeting. It’s an informal group that was set up on the issue of Myanmar. I spoke to you about the first meeting that took place a few months ago, and they are meeting once more to discuss the situation. It’s an informal meeting, it’s a closed meeting, and if there’s anything to flag out of that meeting, we’ll certainly let you know.
Question: Did Mr. Gambari obtain a visa to Myanmar yet? Where is he today?
Spokesperson: He should be back here in New York.
Question: Is he visiting Myanmar at all?
Spokesperson: He was in Washington. He hasn’t gone yet for his visits, which I announced earlier, to China and India.
[It was later announced that Mr. Gambari had gone to India in January. He was scheduled to travel to Beijing on 18 February and then to proceed from there to Jakarta and Singapore.]
Question: Did he get a visa yet?
Spokesperson: As far as I know, there was no problem with him getting a visa for a visit to Myanmar.
Question: As I understood it, it wasn’t a question of getting the visa, it was a question of the dates.
Question: Is there somebody in the Friends of Myanmar who might come out? Who chairs this meeting and is there somebody who might come out and talk to us?
Spokesperson: Since it is an informal meeting, I don’t think so. However, Mr. Gambari and the Secretary-General will be there. The Secretary-General is chairing the meeting, like he did the first meeting.
Question: Who are the members?
Spokesperson: I’ll get the list of countries for you.
[It was later announced that the group consists of Australia, Indonesia, Russian Federation, United States, China, Japan, Singapore, Viet Nam, France, Norway, Thailand, India, United Kingdom and Slovenia, as President of the European Union.]
Question: More on the calls. The call with Tony Blair; I assume the topic was the Quartet and Gaza. Did climate change arise and did anything else arise?
Spokesperson: No, Mr. Blair briefed the Secretary-General on his recent travels to the region, and they discussed the way forward, specifically the situation in Gaza, and this is all I have at this point. It was about his role as special envoy.
Question: I’m sorry, but just to clarify. Tony Blair has recently taken a post with financial institutions as an adviser on climate change. And I wonder again if there’s any thought in the UN system that there could be any possible conflict of interest in his role with the UN and receiving, in this case it’s $2 million a year for advising financial institutions on climate change.
Spokesperson: I have nothing else to add to what I said before. As you know, Mr. Blair is an envoy of the Quartet, not just of the Secretary-General. He’s an envoy of all members of the Quartet.
Question: Does the Secretary-General have any comment on the reported assassination of Imad Mughnieh?
Spokesperson: We don’t have any reaction at this point.
Question: I want to follow up on the Quartet. The UN is a major part of the Quartet. Does it have anything to say when its envoy is getting a contract for $2 million a year?
Spokesperson: I think this was already discussed within the Quartet.
Question: What is the UN position then?
Spokesperson: At this point, I don’t have a specific position. Obviously, it was felt that there was no conflict of interest. Any other questions? Thank you very much.
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