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

18 March 2008

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

18 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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, all.

**Statement on Iraq

We first have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the bomb attack in Karbala.

The Secretary-General condemns in the strongest terms the bomb attack in Karbala, Iraq, near the Imam Hussein shrine, which has killed several dozen people and left many more injured.  The Secretary-General extends his heartfelt condolences to the families of those killed in this heinous attack.

The Secretary-General appeals to all Iraqis to show maximum restraint in the face of these provocative actions.  He also urges all Iraqi leaders to resolve their differences through political dialogue and in a spirit of national reconciliation.

**Kosovo

In Kosovo, the Secretary-General’s Principal Deputy Special Representative in Kosovo, Larry Rossin, briefed the press today.  He said his condolences go to the family of the Ukrainian police officer who was killed as a result of yesterday’s operation to reassert control over an occupied UN courthouse.  He also expressed his condolences to the Government and people of Ukraine.  We expect a statement shortly from the Secretary-General on this same topic.

Turning to other matters, Rossin said the overall situation in the north of Kosovo is calm for now.  Regarding yesterday’s operation, he said that 42 international police officers were injured, and that 32 of the court occupiers were temporarily detained, processed and then released back to north Mitrovica.  Criminal investigations into all illegal acts perpetrated on UN and KFOR personnel, including murder and attempted murder, are ongoing, he said.  He added that the UN Mission in Kosovo firmly intends to bring to justice those responsible for the recent crimes.  A transcript of the press encounter should be available in our office later this afternoon.

**Security Council

On the Security Council, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Ibrahim Gambari, will brief the Security Council on his recent visit to Myanmar this afternoon at 5 p.m. The Security Council has scheduled a closed meeting, followed by consultations.  Mr. Gambari has said that he will speak to reporters at the 2nd floor stakeout once his Council briefing is done.  Yesterday, he briefed the General Assembly President on his travels, and he is also to meet with the Group of Friends on Myanmar at 3 o’clock this afternoon.

** Western Sahara

On Western Sahara, talks on Western Sahara under UN auspices continue for a second day today in Manhasset, with the participation of Morocco, the Frente Polisario and the neighbouring states, Algeria and Mauritania.  Yesterday’s discussions focused on implementation of Security Council resolutions 1754 (2007) and 1783 (2007).  This morning’s discussions began with a session on expanding confidence-building measures.  This fourth round of talks led by the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy, Peter van Walsum, is scheduled to conclude this afternoon.  If there is any sort of statement, we will circulate that as soon as it becomes available.  No briefing of the Security Council is anticipated at this time.

** Sudan

On Sudan, the UN and African Union Special Envoys for Darfur, Jan Eliasson and Salim Ahmed Salim, are continuing their informal consultation with regional partners and international observers in Geneva today.  Eliasson told UN Radio that the talks in Geneva offered the opportunity for Sudan’s neighbours, Security Council members and other concerned countries to discuss how they all can move forward in dealing with Darfur.  He added his hopes that the Darfur factions could come up with one negotiating team representing all of them, but cautioned that “we still have a long way to go” before that can be achieved.

** Somalia

On Somalia, the Secretary-General’s latest report on the situation in Somalia is out as a document today.  In it, he says that an inter-agency team led by the Department of Political Affairs has completed a strategic assessment in order to craft a coherent UN strategy for Somalia.  That assessment is included in an annex.  Another fact-finding mission led by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations found the security situation volatile throughout the country, despite significant regional variations, the north being relatively more stable than southern and central Somalia.  The situation in Somalia is further complicated by regional and international factors, including the proliferation of arms, the potential use of Somalia as a stage for a proxy war among neighbours and the continuing threat of piracy, which adversely affects the delivery of humanitarian supplies.  The DPKO mission notes four scenarios that could lead to possible UN peacekeeping deployment, which are detailed in the report.

Meanwhile, the United Nations maintains a team of military and civilian experts at the African Union headquarters to increase planning and implementation capacity for the AU peace mission to Somalia, AMISOM, which the Secretary-General commends for its attempts to stabilize Somalia.

** Lebanon

On Lebanon, in a report to the Security Council that is available as a document today, the Secretary-General details the considerable progress made in recent months in setting up the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.  He says that all actions relating to the Tribunal’s preparatory phase have been undertaken, including the signing of a headquarters agreement with the Netherlands and the identification of Tribunal premises; the selection of judges, the Prosecutor and the Registrar; and the development of a draft budget that will be submitted soon to the Tribunal’s Management Committee.  The start-up phase for the Tribunal has now commenced, the Secretary-General says.

**Appointment

We have an appointment.  The Secretary-General has appointed Wilfried Lemke of Germany as his Special Adviser on Sport for Development and Peace.  Mr. Lemke will serve at the Under-Secretary-General level on a $1 a year salary.  He replaces Adolf Ogi of Switzerland, who completed his work at the end of December last year.  The Special Adviser leads and coordinates the efforts of the UN system to promote understanding and support for sport as an instrument for development and peace.  Mr. Lemke has over 25 years of professional experience in both sport and politics and he has been a dedicated advocate for the importance of sport in education and society.  We have more information on Mr. Lemke upstairs.

** Nepal

Over in Kathmandu, a memorial ceremony at the United Nations Mission in Nepal was held today to honour United Nations staff members who lost their lives in the tragic helicopter accident two weeks ago.  The Secretary-General, in a message, expressed profound sorrow and sent his condolences to the families and loved ones of those who perished and to UNMIN staff who have lost irreplaceable colleagues and friends.

**UNICEF in Chad

Turning to Chad, we have an update on the more than 100 children at the centre of last year’s controversy involving French charity Arche de Zoé and its attempt to remove them to France for adoption.  The first 83 children have now been reunited with their families.  UNICEF has provided each family with a small amount of money; it is also establishing programmes to support those children and thousands of others with food, water, sanitation, education and protection, as well as income-generating activities for their families.  Thirteen more children are expected to be reunited with their families on Friday.  There’s more information in the Geneva briefing notes.

**Humanitarian Updates

We have several humanitarian updates from UN agencies and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).  In Bolivia, devastating floods continue; up to 90 per cent of crops have been destroyed in some areas.  OCHA has provided more than $2 million through the Central Emergency Response Fund, but an $18 million appeal launched last month remains only about one quarter funded.  The Government of Mozambique has asked the World Food Programme (WFP) to provide a month’s worth of emergency assistance to 60,000 people affected by Cyclone Jokwe.  WFP plans to begin distributing aid from existing stocks early next week, but needs more than $500,000 to replenish the stocks as soon as possible.

In the Central African Republic’s Nana-Gribizi province, nearly 65,000 people, or three quarters of the population, have been vaccinated against meningococcal meningitis, following an outbreak last month.  The campaign was carried out with help from the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF.  Those two agencies also helped with a measles vaccination campaign in Ethiopia’s Somali region that reached nearly 800,000 children.  WFP has also distributed nearly 17,000 tons of food there, amid an extended dry spell that has left more than 1 million people facing food insecurity.  We have more information, also upstairs.

**Refugees

The UN Refugee Agency says that a 5-year downward trend in asylum applications in industrialized countries was reversed last year, largely because of an increase in the number of Iraqi asylum seekers.  For the second year in a row, Iraqis topped the list of asylum seekers in industrialized countries, with the number of Iraqis applying for asylum almost doubling in one year, from 22,900 in 2006 to 45,200 in 2007.  There were some 338,000 new applications for refugee status submitted last year in 43 industrialized countries.  We have more details in a press release from UNHCR upstairs.

**Human Rights Council

This morning in Geneva, the Human Rights Council wrapped up a general debate with Francis Deng, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide.  Deng said that, as his mandate was still in an initial stage, a large part of his current efforts was devoted to developing a strategy for his work, in consultation with a wide range of actors.  He stressed that it was up to States to ensure that genocide did not happen on their territory and to protect their own citizens.  He also underlined that it was important for the international community to help countries in that regard.

**Racism

On racism, High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour today called for all States to sign up to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.  She said that racism lies at the roots of many conflicts and, therefore, poses risks to international peace and security.  She added that no country can claim to be free of racism’s destructive influence.  So far, 173 countries have ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which was the first human rights treaty to be adopted by the General Assembly and came into force in 1969.  The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination will be observed this Friday.

**UNCTAD

Earlier this morning in Geneva, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Secretary-General Supachai Panitchpadki briefed the media on issues to be discussed at the upcoming UNCTAD conference, to be held next month in Accra, Ghana.  Some of the big themes at the 20-25 April Accra meeting, Mr. Supachai said, will include containing the global economic slowdown and adapting development thinking to “the second wave of globalization”, which is under way as developing countries become major players in the world economy.  Delegates will also address the trade and development implications of emerging challenges such as high energy prices and climate change, he said, and the special development challenges of Africa.  We have a contact number for those wishing to cover UNCTAD issues before the conference in April, and I gather you have also information on the table over there.

** Bangladesh

On Bangladesh, the international community, including oil-rich countries, should increase support to Bangladesh as the country struggles to cope with global price shocks and simultaneously try to strengthen its democratic systems.  That’s according to Kemal Derviş, Administrator of the UN Development Programme, who just wrapped up a three-day visit to Bangladesh.  During his trip, Derviş met with high-level officials, including leading economists.  They discussed international commodity price shocks and their consequences for the poorer, food-importing countries of the world.  You can find more information in a press release upstairs.

This is all I have for you today.  Thank you.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Michèle, why did the UN Under-Secretary for Legal Affairs resign yesterday?  Michel, I think his name is.

Spokesperson:  Yes, he has given some of his own personal reasons, which are family and personal reasons.

Question:  It wasn’t due to political pressures?

Spokesperson:  Not at all.

Question:  And also, there were blasts this morning in Yemen near a girl’s school.  Will the Secretary-General release any type of statement?

Spokesperson:  We don’t have enough information on this yet.

Question:  And is he concerned about the political crisis in Kuwait, with the cabinet resigning?

Spokesperson:  No, we don’t have anything on that either.

Question:  Yesterday, Mr. Geagea said Mr. Ban Ki-moon was bewildered for not electing a President of Lebanon.  Did he really express such a, did he make such an expression?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General has said very often that he was really dismayed by the fact that they still had not reached an agreement on the electoral process.

Question:  Is it true that Mr. [Terje Roed-]Larsen is negotiating with Mr. Geagea over a conference, as Geagea claimed yesterday?

Spokesperson:  There is no talk of a conference, as I said yesterday to you.

Question:  Yeah, but Mr. Geagea really contradicted what you said yesterday.

Spokesperson:  Whatever Mr. Geagea said, I stand by what I said yesterday.

Question:  So one of them misunderstood?  Did Mr. Ban Ki-moon or Mr. Larsen?  Did Mr. Larsen and Geagea meet in the evening?

Spokesperson:  I can try to confirm that for you.  I don’t know at this point.

[The correspondent was later informed that Terje Roed-Larsen, Special Envoy for the Implementation of Security Council Resolution 1559, did not meet separately with Mr. Geagea, he met him alongside the Secretary-General yesterday afternoon.]

Question:  When he does meet with Geagea, does Mr. Ban Ki-moon know about these meetings?

Spokesperson:  Of course.  Mr. Larsen has the Secretary-General’s total trust.

Question:  Okay, and what is his mandate when he deals with Geagea on this?

Spokesperson:  I already explained that yesterday.  I think you’re making me repeat exactly the same thing I said yesterday.  Please refer to what I said yesterday.

Question:  I mean it’s clear that Mr. Geagea is doing something different.

Spokesperson:  We are expressing here the point of view of the Secretariat and of the Secretary-General.  What I said, I stand by.

Question:  And you deny categorically that they are working on a conference.

Spokesperson:  I do deny that they are working on a conference.

Question:  Thank you, Michèle.  Two questions.  One is I wanted to ask about a letter, supposedly a letter, from ex-parliamentarians in Myanmar, ones who were elected in 1990 and then never sat.  They said that they’d written Mr. Ban through UNDP in Rangoon, asking that the UN not recognize the draft constitution as being, as excluding the opponents.  Has that letter been received?

Spokesperson:  I cannot confirm this.  What I suggest is that you ask Mr. Gambari this afternoon.

Question:  Okay.  They said 4 March they gave it to UNDP.  So it seemed, they’ve been quoted there as saying, why don’t they have a response?  I’ll ask him.  But it’s directed to Mr. Ban so that’s why I’m asking.

Spokesperson:  I can try to find out for you whether the letter was received or not.  This is not directed to Mr. Ban.  It’s directed to the Secretariat, whether they have received the letter or not.

[The Spokesperson later confirmed that the letter had not been received.]

Question:  Okay.  And the other question is related to the question about Nicolas Michel.  Yesterday, there was a report by our colleague Benny Avni that Mr. Michel was receiving housing subsidy from the Swiss Government.  It turns out that the Public Financial Disclosure of Nicolas Michel on the Secretary-General’s website for 2006 doesn’t make any mention of this housing subsidy.  So I guess I want to know, first of all, is receipt of a benefit like housing that comes from the Government, the kind of thing that the Secretariat thinks should be in a financial disclosure? 

Spokesperson:  It was fully disclosed by Mr. Michel.

Question:  But it’s not in the Public Financial Disclosure.

Spokesperson:  Maybe it’s not in the public disclosure, but it was fully, fully disclosed in 2006 by Mr. Michel.

Question:  I’m sorry, I don’t mean to, but, so, in the internal one, filed with PricewaterhouseCoopers, it was disclosed.  But who is vetting the public financial disclosures?  Because it says that the purpose of those is to show the public what conflicts of interest the officials may have and if these kinds of things are not being disclosed, then what’s it showing?

Spokesperson:  In the case of the Ethics Office and the Financial Disclosure Form, that we have been filing since Mr. Ban came to the Secretary-General’s post, publishing them is something that the new Ethics Office started.  So it is the responsibility of the Ethics Office now to put the financial disclosures out.  Before, in 2006, the Ethics Office was not doing it.  What I can tell you is that, in the case of Mr. Michel, everything received in terms of contributions was filed.  And it has been fully disclosed and the disclosure statements were cleared by the competent organs.  So he is not receiving any contribution in any form under his current contract that started as you know on 1 March 2007. 

Question:  Okay, I’m sorry, just to clarify, although it was called 2006, recently when you read out the statement that now there is a website with the Public Financial Disclosures, the forms that went up were for the year 2006.  So it seems to me he was receiving a housing subsidy during that year.  This form was put up only recently, in 2008.  The Secretary-General created a website to put up Public Financial Disclosures. 

Spokesperson:  That was for 2007.

Question:  It actually says right on the form it’s for 2006.  It was the 2006 year.

Spokesperson:  I can check for you what’s on the website, but I can tell you categorically that the contributions Mr. Michel received were explicitly authorized by the Organization before he accepted the position as Legal Counsel.  This was an arrangement, as you know, between the Swiss authorities and the Organization on the ground of exceptional family circumstances.  The practice of exceptional authorizations was well established then and supported by relevant administrative issuances.  And this was the case over a long period of time.  As I said, now Mr. Michel is not receiving any such contributions.  

Question:  On Western Sahara, did the Secretary-General speak with van Walsum yesterday and if so, can you tell us any more that you have about the content of the talks?

Spokesperson:  No, I have nothing new to add.  We have, of course, an information person who is there right now and as soon as we have some form of a statement, we’ll let you know.

Question:  Okay, I’d like you to clarify one more thing.  Some people have told me that Mr. van Walsum is going to brief the Council on Wednesday about the talks and you just said he’s not scheduled to do that.

Spokesperson:  I can check for you but this is the information we got from Mr. Walsum’s people, that he was not scheduled to, but we can check for you whether that was changed in the meantime.

Question:  You said before that the resignation of Mr. Michel has to do with personal reasons.  Is the whole issue of subsidies or the lack thereof part of these personal issues?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know.  I think Mr. Michel is willing to talk about this very freely.  He’s very open about this.  I cannot ask him to explain his personal family reasons, but this is what he has said.

Question:  Two questions.  First, regarding the exemptions, the specific exemptions for the “top-offs”.  Are there any other senior UN officials who are receiving those now?

Spokesperson:  No.

Question:  Okay.  And secondly and unrelated, has there been any contact today between the Secretary-General and the Chinese Government or anyone from the Tibetan side?

Spokesperson:  Not that I know of but we are monitoring.  We’ll find out if the Secretary-General has made such calls later today.  I’ll let you know.

Question:  Follow up.  Has been any request, since we talked yesterday, received at the Secretariat for any investigation for any investigation, on behalf of the Dalai Lama or anybody else, a UN investigation into what happened in Lhasa?

Spokesperson:  No, we still have not received anything.

Question:  Does Mr. Larsen report to [Robert] Serry or vice versa?

Spokesperson:  No, Mr. Larsen reports to the Secretary-General and to the Security Council.

Question:  And there’s no coordination between Mr. Serry and Mr. Larsen?

Spokesperson:  There is always coordination between people working in the same field, of course, in the same area, geographical area.

Question:  But in these talks with Geagea and other Lebanese leaders, and other Arab leaders, in letters he delivered to them, did he go there with Mr. Serry?

Spokesperson:  I’m sure Mr. Serry is informed of what Mr. Larsen is doing.

Question:  Did he report back to him, for example?

Spokesperson:  No, he does not report back to him.  As I said, Mr. Larsen does not report back to Mr. Serry.  He reports back to the Security Council.  He has a specific mandate. 

Question:  But Mr. Serry is kept aware?

Spokesperson:  Of course.

Question:  This is just for clarification.  How does the UN view the situation in Darfur?  Does it view it as genocide?  Because the AU/UN commander in Rwanda said he doesn’t view the situation as such.

Spokesperson:  We don’t talk about it this way.

Question:  Is there terminology for it?

Spokesperson:  No, we don’t have a specific terminology for that.

Question:  Michèle, another letter question.  Vuk Jeremić, the Foreign Minister of Serbia, says he’s written to Mr. Ban asking for an investigation of the use of force in retaking the courthouse.  Has the letter been received and is such an investigation going to take place?

Spokesperson:  The letter was just received right before I came here.  I got the information about five minutes ago.  Of course, the Secretary-General has to see the letter first.  But it was received.

Question:  Do we know who, obviously this is, maybe the UN knows, but who authorized or planned this retaking of the courthouse?  The Russian Ambassador has said that he thought it was ill-conceived and there was no need to use force.  So who in UNMIK said, let’s retake the courthouse?

Spokesperson:  We can try to retrace the chain of command.  But, the fact that UN police left and KFOR stayed is part of the standard procedures we have on our agreements for escalating violent circumstances, where police alone cannot maintain law and order.  And UNMIK and KFOR will consult on when to end the temporary departure of UN police from north Mitrovica.

Question:  Thank you very much.  Just a follow-up, I know there was a Ukrainian UNMIK police officer who is dead and that’s terrible.  There’s also a Serb who was shot in the head and is in critical care.  Is it known who shot?  Is that within UNMIK?  Is that part of the UNMIK action or KFOR action?

Spokesperson:  I cannot confirm this at this point.  Thank you.

* *** *

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