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

19 March 2008

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

19 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.

** Kenya

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights today issued a report following a three-week fact-finding mission to Kenya, which focused on the recent post-election violence there.  The report says that, while electoral irregularities were the primary spark behind the violence, a number of underlying causes -- including discrimination, poverty and disenfranchisement -- kept it going.  The report suggests that greater accountability and an end to impunity, which is deeply entrenched in Kenya, will be vital in addressing those underlying problems and preventing further outbreaks.  That will, in turn, reinforce the ongoing reconciliation process and power-sharing agreement.

The report concludes that consistent failure to act on the findings and recommendations of various State-commissioned inquiries have distanced Kenyan citizens from State institutions.  We have more on that upstairs.

** Sudan

The UN and African Union Envoys for Darfur, Jan Eliasson and Salim Ahmed Salim, briefed the press in Geneva yesterday about the talks that they had held on Monday and Tuesday with representatives of Sudan’s neighbouring countries and with international partners to discuss the political process.  Eliasson said: “We found the meeting very constructive,” adding that “it gave us new energy to push the political process forward.”  He and Salim stressed that the conflict between Chad and Sudan has been a particular issue of concern, with normalization of relations between those countries believed to be crucial to achieve sustainable peace in Darfur.  We have a summary of that press conference upstairs.

**Security Council

The Security Council this morning began an open meeting on the work of the Counter-Terrorism Committee and received a briefing from the Executive Director, Mike Smith.  He affirmed that all the elements of resolution 1373, passed following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, remain as relevant today as they did six and a half years ago.  Smith said that considerable progress has been made, with most countries in the world having criminalized terrorism and an almost unprecedented level of international exchange of information and cooperation to fight terrorism.  Now, he says, the Counter-Terrorism Committee is spending more time evaluating how effective counter-terrorism efforts and law enforcement capabilities are.  We have his remarks upstairs.

Still on the Security Council, Ibrahim Gambari, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Myanmar, briefed the Security Council yesterday evening on his recent visit to that country, telling the Council that, while each of his previous visits produced a result that could be built upon, “it is a source of disappointment that this latest visit did not yield any tangible outcome”.

Gambari regretted that he was not able to meet the senior Government leadership and other parties, including the 88 Generation group and representatives of ethnic minority groups.  Yet, he did meet with senior officials involved in the referendum and elections, and also met twice with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

The latest mission, Gambari said, confirmed that the principles of engagement that have guided UN efforts so far remain as broadly relevant as ever.  He noted that, only two years ago, high-level dialogue between the UN and Myanmar was non-existent, while only six months ago, there was no mechanism to promote dialogue between the Government and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.  He affirmed that he looks forward to continued dialogue and engagement.

**Kosovo

We issued a statement yesterday on Kosovo, after the noon briefing.  According to that statement, the Secretary-General was deeply saddened to learn of the death of UN Police Officer Ihor Kynal of Ukraine, who died from injuries received during the recent violent clashes in Mitrovica.  The Secretary-General called on all parties to refrain from violence, engage in a constructive dialogue, and work together to promote security and stability in Kosovo.  We have a full statement upstairs.

Meanwhile, on the ground, the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) reports that the situation in the north is calm today.  Police officers -- including 40 from UNMIK and 80 from the Kosovo Police Service -- have already begun to return to work in north Mitrovica.

** Western Sahara

Talks on Western Sahara under UN auspices wrapped up yesterday in Manhasset.  Morocco and the Frente Polisario, as well as the neighbouring States, Algeria and Mauritania, took part in this latest round of discussions.  The talks were led by the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy, Peter van Walsum.  In a communiqué issued yesterday afternoon, in agreement with the parties, the Personal Envoy said that the discussions focused on the implementation of Security Council resolutions 1754 and 1783, as well as administration, justice and resources.  The parties agreed to explore the establishment of family visits by land, which would be in addition to the existing programme by air.  The parties also reiterated their commitment to continue the negotiations at Manhasset at a date to be agreed on in the future.  We have copies of the communiqué upstairs.

** Lebanon

The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) today observed the thirtieth anniversary of its peacekeeping presence in southern Lebanon.  Peacekeepers representing the 25 different national contingents that make up UNIFIL participated in a ceremony held to mark the occasion at the Mission headquarters in Naqoura.  Speaking at the ceremony, Force Commander Major General Claudio Graziano said that UNIFIL’s goal towards maintaining peace and stability in south Lebanon has never faltered, despite the many challenges.  Since 1978, 270 UNIFIL peacekeepers have lost their lives in the line of duty, 12 of them just during the last year.  Graziano dedicated this day to recall and honour their memory.  We have a press release upstairs with more details, in both English and Arabic.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) says conditions are right in the North Katanga region for the return of some 20,000 Congolese refugees from Tanzania and Zambia.  The Mission came to that conclusion after an interdisciplinary team completed an assessment mission, during which they held meetings with Congolese and international security and humanitarian officers.  They also ascertained that all necessary steps have been taken to protect civilians and UN infrastructure and personnel, in particular in the town of Moba, where flyers were circulated recently warning of violent anti-UN rallies.

** Iraq

Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, visited the headquarters of the Independent High Electoral Commission in Baghdad, and observed the process under way by the Commission to select 6,500 staff to work at 550 voter registration centres throughout Iraq.  De Mistura was provided with an update of preparations to hold governorate council elections by 1 October.  He said: “I’m pleased to see that efforts are under way to prepare for an update of the voter registry and elections,” and urged the Commission to continue its efforts in a transparent and professional manner.  We have a press release on this upstairs.

** Nepal

Over in Nepal, the United Nations Electoral Expert Monitoring Team (EEMT) has concluded its fourth visit to the country, which took place from 3–17 March.

The five-member team, appointed by the Secretary-General and led by Dr. Rafael Lopez-Pintor, held talks with members of the Government, election officials, political parties, law enforcement and the public in general, including leaders of women’s, ethnic and traditionally marginalized groups and civil society, among others.  In addition to its activities in Kathmandu, the team also visited several districts in the central and eastern Terai region.

Also on Nepal, the United Nations Mission in Nepal expresses its deep concern over the killing, in the mid-western region on 18 March, of Kamal Adhikari, who was a candidate for next month’s election for the Rastriya Jana Morcha party.  Violence and threats against candidates represent a serious obstacle to the creation of a free and fair atmosphere for the election, and all efforts must be made to bring those responsible to justice.  The press release is available upstairs.

**Timor-Leste

A team of experts from the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations arrived in Timor-Leste today for an 11-day visit to conduct an assessment on key areas of support provided by UNMIT to Timor-Leste.  This assessment mission, planned while the United Nations was reviewing the mandate of the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT), is part of the overall support provided by the UN for the security sector in Timor-Leste.  The team is set to consult with political leaders, government officials, and key members of civil society, including both national and international organisations.

**Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific

The UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) is out with its latest statistical yearbook, which provides a detailed picture of major economic, social and environmental trends in the region.  It finds that urbanization, especially in South-East Asia, is taking place at a faster rate than anywhere else in the world.  That, in turn, is driving up urban poverty, with more and more people living in slums without access to clean water and sanitation.

Meanwhile, energy consumption per capita in the region doubled between 1990 and 2004 and continues to grow at a pace unequalled elsewhere.  That has resulted in improved social conditions, but is also driving up emissions and putting tremendous strain on the environment.  We have more information upstairs.

**World Water Day

Saturday is World Water Day.  The theme this year is sanitation, as part of the ongoing International Year of Sanitation 2008.  While the main events to mark the occasion are taking place in Geneva, here in New York the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and UNICEF are holding a special event at noon tomorrow at Columbus Circle.  It will feature an international art installation called “Sanitation is Dignity”, as well as an attempt to set the record for the world’s longest line for a toilet.

It’s part of an effort to draw attention to the 2.6 billion people who do not even have the luxury of lining up for access to improved sanitation.  We have more information upstairs, as well as copies of a message from the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, Achim Steiner, in which he stresses the importance of projects to combat sewage pollution and its effects on the world’s water supply.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

Tomorrow at 11 a.m., there will be a press conference by Ambassador Nassir Abdelaziz Al-Nassir of Qatar on the first World Autism Day, to be observed on 2 April 2008.

We have had many questions about Somalia, and our guests at the noon briefing tomorrow will be Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia, and William Paton, UN Humanitarian and Resident Coordinator for Somalia – especially interesting to many of you.

This is all I have for you today, thank you.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Tomorrow marks the sixth year of the US-led war in Iraq, the war that has cost over $500 billion and has cost countless lives.  What role is the Secretary-General playing in helping Iraqis and has he spoken to President Bush recently?

Spokesperson:  No, not on this, not that I know of.  And you know, our focus is not on looking back, but rather on helping Iraqis build a peaceful future.  It is for the Government and people of Iraq to comment on the achievements of the past five years.  The UN has been doing all it can, and we will continue to do so, working under Security Council resolutions.  We have helped them to hold two national elections and the drafting of the Constitution in Iraq.  The United Nations has also worked to promote national reconciliation, regional dialogue, the International Compact, the protection of human rights and provision of humanitarian, reconstruction and development assistance.  And the Secretary-General is committed to seeing the United Nations doing more in support of the people of Iraq, as circumstances permit.

Question:  Michèle, how can the world believe that the United Nations is combating terrorism, since terrorists like Samir Geagea, who [inaudible] have committed Sabra and Shatila massacre and killed the Prime Minister and others, and met three times in a year with Mr. Ban Ki-moon?

Spokesperson:  Well, I thank you for your comment, but I don’t have any more comments on this.

Question:  How people would take…

Spokesperson:  I am sorry, you’ve come with this subject three times in three days, and I have answered everything I have to say on it.

Question:  No, but I, I…

Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything more to add, thank you very much.

Any other question?

Question:  Sure, two questions.  One is, there were three peacekeepers from the Indian army with MONUC, who have been charged with rape in Pretoria, South Africa.  First of all, does the United Nations have any comment?  Number two, what guidance does it give, I guess?  They were supposedly on leave, or on vacation from MONUC? Is the UN aware of it?  What are they gonna do?

Spokesperson:  Well, our understanding -- that’s what I had this morning -- is that the complainant dropped the charges and the soldiers were released.  And, as far as I know, there is no further action pending against them in South Africa.  Of course, if there was to be further action, it would be, as you know, at the discretion of the troop-contributing country.

Question:  Even if the alleged incident took place not in DRC, but in South Africa?  They were on leave, I guess.

Spokesperson:  Yes, it would be the country of the contingent, if that was the case, but there were no charges.

Question:  All right. I wanted to ask you this, yesterday, the President of the General Assembly, Srgjan Kerim, acknowledged that, while serving as President of the General Assembly, he has been receiving both rent and salaries from the Government of The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.  He said that he believes that this either presents a conflict, or unbearable pressure to do favours for those who provide the funding, and called for the position to be funded by the UN itself, given that he is the UN’s top elected official.  The UK said that they support that.  Does Ban Ki-moon believe that the President of the General Assembly should be funded by the UN, or by outside parties?

Spokesperson:  We don’t have to comment on this.  This is a matter for the General Assembly.  Whatever is budgeted for the President of the General Assembly is done by the General Assembly.  So I don’t think the Secretary-General has anything to say about this.

Question:  You don’t see it as a UN reform issue, the top elected official being funded by an outside party?

Spokesperson: No, this does not have anything to do with the reform programme.  Of course, you know, I am sure there are reform issues that are being introduced by the General Assembly, and Member States can introduce such reforms, particularly in General Assembly affairs.  But, this is not a matter for the Secretary-General himself.

Question:  Since the eruption of clashes in Kosovo, can you tell us if Mr. Ban Ki-moon has had any contacts with the national authorities there, in Kosovo?  And is he intending to do so?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I mentioned to you yesterday, he has received a letter from Mr. Jeremić.  I don’t know whether there have been any new contacts since the last ones I reported.  So this is all I can really say at this point.  But, you know, we have a mission right there, in Kosovo.

Question:  I have another question on Afghanistan.  There are some [inaudible] US air strike [inaudible].  Do you have any comments from Mr. Ban Ki-moon, or a statement?  Is he going to do anything to contact the Americans, or the…?

Spokesperson:  You are talking about the air strikes where?

Question:  In Afghanistan.  And some civilians were killed yesterday.  Is there any statement or reaction from Mr. Ban Ki-moon?

Spokesperson:  We don’t have a statement, no, nor any comments.

Question:  Is the Secretary-General concerned about any possible additional riots, given that the Olympic torch will be travelling through Tibet?

Spokesperson:  Well, as he said himself, he is monitoring the situation.

Question:  Why did the Secretary-General discuss, I guess, human rights with the Tunisian Minister of Justice this morning?

Spokesperson: Why did he discuss human rights?

Question:  Well, what specific?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have a readout of the meeting, so I cannot give it to you now, but I can get one for you.  But why did he discuss human rights?  Well, those are issues that the Secretary-General is certainly concerned about.  But I cannot confirm what they talked about.  I don’t have any specifics at this point, but I will get the readout for you.

[Regarding the Secretary-General’s meeting today with Bechir Tekkari, Minister for Justice and Human Rights of Tunisia, the Spokesperson later added that the two officials discussed Tunisia’s multifaceted contribution to United Nations activities, including peacekeeping operations and the process of Security Council reform.  The Secretary-General also noted Tunisia’s achievements in its pursuit of the Millennium Development Goals, especially in the areas of education and health care.  They also discussed Tunisia’s efforts to improve its human rights and judicial environments.]

Question:  [inaudible] make a representation regarding the sailing of a frigate from Israel eight kilometres inside Lebanese territorial waters?

Spokesperson:  Well, we got that report, that a ship coming from Israel entered the maritime area, violating Lebanese territorial water.  It was south of Naqoura, it was yesterday morning.  UNIFIL is investigating this incident and they have contacted the Israel Defense Forces on this issue.  And also, UNIFIL, by the way, recorded 48 air violations undertaken by suspected Israeli Air Force aircraft.  So there were other violations that occurred over the last 24 hours.  All those violations are, of course, taken into account by UNIFIL.

Question:  Do they just count them, or do they make any representations?

Spokesperson:  They do make regular representations.

Question:  What are answers coming from the Israeli side?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have the answers right now to give you.

Question:  [Inaudible]

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  Would the Secretary-General comment on any action by the Security Council for those who regularly or systematically violate [resolution] 1701?

Spokesperson:  Those violations are regularly submitted to the Security Council.  The Security Council is fully aware of them because every single report of the Secretary-General lists the violations.

Question:  On Friday’s appointment of the Ombudsman, of Johnston Barkat, I understand that the Secretariat’s received a protest from the Staff Union, saying that they weren’t consulted in the process, despite of … In fact, rather than the New York Staff Union, it was somebody from the Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia that was consulted.  They claim that the terms of reference for… haven’t been set, because the administration of justice thing hasn’t passed the GA.  And they also… Actually, they claim the CV was somehow padded or inaccurate.  Is the Secretary-General aware of… Has he received this letter, and what’s his response to it?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know whether he has received the letter or not, but I am sure he is aware that there was a protest, and I am sure that it was reported to him.  What action will be taken, one way or the other, I don’t have the answer for you at this point.

[The Spokesperson later added that the letter from the Staff Union had not been received.]

Question:  Just getting back to Iraq, just briefly -- with the action now, with people taking this time to look back at the last five years, also adding in Afghanistan, does the Secretary-General view the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and other possible wars taken on by one or a handful of countries as helpful or detrimental to peace and security in the world?

Spokesperson:  Right now, I just said in the case of Iraq, we have decided to look at the future and see what we can do now to help the Iraqi people.  Whether there is a blanket evaluation by the Secretary-General on wars in general, I don’t think there is one.

Question:  So there is no determination as to…?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General has been calling for peace ever since he has been Secretary-General, and how that peace is going to be achieved and what are the means, is something that is different for every situation.

Question:  Is Terje Roed-Larsen meeting Mr. Geagea again?  There was this thing in New York for two days -- will there be any meetings after the last meeting with the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  I have no idea. As you know…

Question:  Has he been asked to follow up on this meeting?

Spokesperson:  With Mr. Geagea?  Mr. Larsen meets with the Secretary-General on a regular basis and they discuss together the different actors that Mr. Larsen has been contacting on behalf of the Secretary-General to advance his own mandate.  I don’t know whether there is going to be anything specific about this person, which you are simply apparently obsessed by.

Question:  Mr. Geagea said that they are working on an international conference on Lebanon.

Spokesperson:  I remember telling you…

Question:  I know, you denied that, but I mean, still, Geagea said that – I heard that they are meeting again in New York here.

Spokesperson:  I don’t know of that meeting, and I can tell you that there is no such thing as a conference being planned.  When there will be, I will let you know.

Question:  Yes, one more question. According to the AFP, UNIFIL is investigating an Israeli warship entering Lebanese waters…

Spokesperson:  We just talked about that.

Question:  Do you have any more information?

Spokesperson:  No, I just told you everything.

Question:  That’s it?

Spokesperson:  Yes, that’s all that I have.  Thank you very much.

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