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

13 March 2008

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

13 March 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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

**Press Conference Today

Just to flag for you, at 1 p.m. today, there will be a press conference by Kingsley Amaning, United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Chad, on the humanitarian situation in that country.

**Sudan/Chad

And you are aware that the mini-summit, convened by Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade in Dakar, that brings together President Omer al-Bashir of Sudan and President Idriss Déby of Chad, did not take place as scheduled last night.  Events on that front are happening as we speak.  The Secretary-General is currently in discussions with the Senegalese, Sudanese and Chadian Presidents.  And we hope to get more information on this as soon as it comes in from there.

**Secretary-General in Dakar

The Secretary-General this morning addressed the eleventh session of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and he told the leaders gathered in Dakar, Senegal, that the United Nations and the OIC “stand side by side in rejecting forcefully and wholeheartedly any linkages between terrorism and Islam”.

He warned them that the situation in the Middle East remains precarious, nowhere more so than in the Gaza Strip, and urged Israel and the Palestinian Authority to take urgent measures to ease the suffering in Gaza and give hope to its people.  He also expressed his regret that regional interests and domestic Lebanese dynamics have forestalled any breakthrough in the selection of a President there, and discussed the situations in Iraq and Iran.

Speaking on Darfur, the Secretary-General emphasized that the AU-UN Mission in Darfur’s (UNAMID) deployment is no substitute for a political process, adding, “That remains the key to lasting peace in the region.”  And we have copies of the Secretary-General’s speech upstairs. 

The Secretary-General spent most of his day today, as he did on Wednesday, in bilaterals, meeting Heads of State and Government on a number of issues from the Middle East to Iraq, Afghanistan, Cyprus, Sudan and Chad.  He met this morning, among others, with Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.  He expects to meet with the Presidents of Afghanistan and Indonesia, among other leaders, later today.  And we will get you an update on that later on.

** Darfur

On Darfur, the African Union and United Nations Special Envoys for Darfur, Salim Ahmed Salim and Jan Eliasson, will hold informal consultations with regional partners and international observers in Geneva, Switzerland, on 17 and 18 March respectively, as part of their continuing efforts to move the Darfur peace process forward.

The consultations in Geneva will provide an opportunity to review the current status of the political process in Darfur in view of the prevailing security situation and delays in the parties’ preparations for substantive talks. The aim of the meeting is for the Special Envoys to reach an understanding with the regional partners and the international observers on the road ahead for the political process.

**African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID)

Regarding the deployment status of UNAMID, the Egyptian contingent is starting deployment this week with the arrival of an advance team of 72 people and accompanying equipment.  The first company consisting of 158 people is expected to arrive later this month.

That information is contained in briefing notes from UNAMID.  In them, Darfur is described as one of the world’s most vexing problems and one of the world’s most challenging environments.  We have a copy of the full transcript of that press briefing, the first by the mission, upstairs.

** Somalia

On Somalia, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, has welcomed the announcement by the Transitional Federal Government that it is appointing a negotiating team to resume reconciliation talks with the opposition.  The Special Representative said that representatives of the Somali opposition and civil society, as well the Somali diaspora, also expressed a desire to engage in talks to restore peace and reconcile the war-torn nation.  He expressed confidence that Somalia’s neighbours and friends would support the parties’ stated commitment to resume talks and that no parties inside Somalia would obstruct this effort.  Ould-Abdallah also said that he has agreed, at Somalia’s request, to assume the leadership role in bringing together the parties and determine the calendar and terms of reference for the talks.

** Iraq

On Iraq, Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for that country, condemned in the strongest terms the murder of Monsignor Paul Faraj Rahu, Archbishop of the Chaldean Church of Mosul.  He said the killing was especially abhorrent, since it was “committed in cold blood against a man who has dedicated his entire life to the pursuit of peace, non-violence and reconciliation between different faiths and groups”.

De Mistura called on the Iraqi Government authorities to do everything in their power to safeguard the protection of minorities and their human rights.

**Security Council

Here at UN Headquarters, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno this morning briefed the Security Council, in closed consultations, on the work of the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE). After that, Council members heard from the Chair of the Sanctions Committee dealing with Sudan, that is the Italian Ambassador.  Once consultations have ended, the Security Council intends to hold a formal meeting to vote on a draft resolution concerning the Great Lakes region of Africa.

**Human Rights Council

This morning in Geneva, the Human Rights Council held a general debate on the promotion and protection of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development.

Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kyung-wha Kang presented a number of reports by her office and by the Secretary-General.  The topics included access to medication during pandemics, extreme poverty and human rights, integrating gender into the UN’s human rights mechanisms and the human rights of persons with disabilities.  On extreme poverty and human rights, the Deputy High Commissioner said there is a growing recognition in the international community that extreme poverty is an affront to human dignity.

** Kenya

We also have a humanitarian update today on Kenya from the Humanitarian Coordinator there.  Large numbers of displaced people remain in camps, with many reluctant to return home until the Government provides solid assurances regarding security and a system is in place to resolve property rights.

There is a consensus among humanitarian partners that, no matter what happens on the political front, Kenya will face a food security crisis that could possibly last beyond this year, a result of post-election violence and increasing drought conditions in many parts of the country.

As part of the efforts to promote a culture of peace, the UN and the Kenyan Government have trained some 130 participants in a scheme aimed at promoting conflict resolution, peacebuilding and reconciliation in their neighbourhoods.   Many of the volunteers actively took part in or were victims of post-election violence in Nairobi’s slums.  The plan is to introduce the program to similar communities in western Kenya and the Rift Valley.  And there’s more information upstairs from Nairobi on this.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Goodwill Ambassador, South African singer and activist Miriam Makeba said today in Kinshasa that women survivors of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo face a “triple tragedy” of physical, psychological and social damage.  Makeba added that this situation undermines the country’s attempts to improve living conditions.  Noting that women are the breadwinners in 80 per cent of Congolese households, Makeba said she will visit farming projects that are helping rape victims earn a living and develop self-reliance.  The projects grew around donations FAO made to some 500,000 households, including seeds, farming tools and training.

**Development in Africa

The Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) opened the first in a series of fora of development partners at ECA headquarters in Addis Ababa.  The six monthly forums seek to promote dialogue between ECA, its donors and key partners on development in Africa.  This joins the Secretary-General’s effort, through the Africa Working Group on the MDGs, to highlight challenges facing Africa in its effort to develop new, sound economies.  And participants in the ECA Partners’ Forum are now engaged in expert-level discussions that are to conclude tomorrow. 

**World Food Programme

Earlier this week, we had said that the World Food Programme’s (WFP) Humanitarian Air Service in Darfur was at risk of shutting down by the end of the month due to a lack of funds.

Well, today the Service received its first donation this year: $500,000 from Not on Our Watch, the humanitarian and advocacy organization founded by Hollywood actors George Clooney, Don Cheadle, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt and others.  WFP says it has heard from other traditional donors and is hopeful that more contributions will arrive before the end of March.

The Humanitarian Air Service’s helicopters and airplanes carry crucial supplies and relief workers to otherwise inaccessible areas; nearly every aid organization working in Darfur depends upon it.  And we have more information on this from WFP.

And that’s all I have for you for now.  Anything for me?  Rima?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Do you know what conclusions were drawn from the private meeting, the OIC meeting, with the Secretary-General on Islamophobia?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I just mentioned to you that the Secretary-General today opened the meeting and yesterday I gave you a readout of the Secretary-General’s meeting with the OIC [Secretary-General].

Question:  Do you have any information on the discussion that took place after his report?

Deputy Spokesperson:  You would have to consult with the OIC on that.  The Secretary-General delivered a statement, went into bilaterals and, as you saw, because of the delay in the mini-summit between Chad and Sudan, that just started a short while ago.  So that’s what he’s doing now.

Question:  And my other question is why didn’t the mini-summit take place yesterday?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Last night?

Question:  Yes.

Deputy Spokesperson:  It was originally scheduled to take place at 8 p.m. and my understanding was that it was based on the Sudanese President’s arrival in Dakar.  And the delay was attributable to what we’ve seen in the press, which was that the President had a headache.

Question:  Did the Secretary-General have his meeting with Mr. Gambari?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, he has not.

Question:  About UNMEE, do you have a sense of when the next Secretary-General report will come out?  And also, as part of the Secretariat, how concerned are people about the precedent that it sets?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General’s report on the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) just came out a short while ago.

Question:  That was the 3 March one.  There’s another one due, though.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Today, Mr. Guéhenno is briefing the Council on where things stand.  We have been briefing you every day on the state of play of the regroupment of UNMEE personnel and equipment in Asmara.  Obviously, this is a step that the Secretary-General has outlined in his report that he has been forced to take because of the [factors hindering the ability] of the peacekeepers to do their job.  So, it’s based on that.

Question:  The recent situation in the West Bank and the killing of nine Palestinians yesterday.  Do you have any comment on that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well first of all, I just read to you the Secretary-General’s statement, and we sent that to you in full, in which he expressed his concern over the recent developments in the region.  Again, we have stated on a number of occasions the Secretary-General, and here from this podium, our deep concern about the situation in Gaza.  We urge all sides to work towards a peaceful solution, which will allow civilians to go about their lives free from fear of violence.

Question:  How do you describe these extrajudicial…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing beyond that, Nizar.

Question:  About Mr. Gambari, is he already in Dakar?  When is he supposed to report to the SG?  And, apart from reporting to the SG, what is Mr. Gambari’s function there?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Mr. Gambari, I believe he’s arrived in Dakar, as I just mentioned to you.  He was scheduled to brief the Secretary-General.  But, as I just mentioned to you earlier, because of the delay in many of the events that are taking place in Dakar, including the opening of the mini-summit itself and his bilaterals, I can’t tell you at this point when he will be able to be meeting his senior UN official, because he has other commitments on his programme.  And, as far as we know, Mr. Gambari will be returning here by the end of the week.  And we’ll find out when he gets back what his plans for next week will be.

Question:  Just to follow up on the question on Gaza, there was an interview with John Holmes with Reuters in which he opined on what is helpful and what is not helpful politically in Gaza.  My question is, is the humanitarian coordinator supposed to be so forward about political issues or is that a question for the political department?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I was not sitting in on the interview that you refer to that Mr. Holmes gave.  But, from what we all have seen, Mr. Holmes, when he’s on this podium, he discusses the dire humanitarian situations in all parts of the world that he deals with, and I think that’s where his mandate is and that’s what he’s being outspoken about, about the need to assist victims of violence around the world.

Question:  Except in this case, Marie, he did not mention too much about the humanitarian beyond very short sentences.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Benny, I think you’re probably referring to a news report of an interview.  Maybe you should talk to OCHA to get his full interview.

Question:  The Presidents of Turkish and Greek Cyprus are going to meet soon.  What role is the UN going to play during the talks?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We made an announcement on this yesterday, so I refer you to that upstairs.

Question:  My other question is, do you have any recent information on the imprisonment of a UN translator on money-making fraud?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think you’re referring to a report the other day.  The only thing I can tell you is -- this is a couple of days ago now so let me refresh my memory.  Yes, there is information out already by the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York that you should probably refer to.  As far as the United Nations is concerned, what I can tell you is the UN and the host country, the United States, have been cooperating fully in this case.  And if you want to know more details of it, I can provide it for you later.

Question:  One more about UNMEE.  There are reports from Asmara that all the personnel will be repatriated by the end of next week.  Is that something you can confirm?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ve been reporting to you already reports of some repatriations.  As for whether all of them are going to be repatriated, that’s not something I can confirm for you right now.

Question:  The UN is going to open offices in some Pacific islands.  What do you aim to do in those islands and what will the function of the UN offices be on those islands?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think you’re referring to news reports.  I saw the same news reports about the UN Population Fund.  I would refer you to them, since I don’t have a press release from them announcing anything today.

Ok, if there are no other questions, then at 1 p.m., Mr. Amaning, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Chad, will be here.  Thank you very much and have a good afternoon.

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