|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 Secretary-General is meeting with Security Council members this afternoon for their monthly luncheon, and after that, he intends to speak to you at the Security Council stakeout, to talk about his upcoming travels, as well as his recent visits to Russia and Romania. We expect him at the stakeout sometime after 2:15.
This morning, Council members heard from Alan Doss, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in closed consultations. Mr. Doss will be the guest at today’s noon briefing, following those consultations.
Then, at 3 this afternoon, the Council intends to vote on the mandate of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia.
After that, Council members will receive a briefing on Cyprus, in closed consultations, from Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe, who recently visited Cyprus and the region. Mr. Pascoe will speak at the stakeout also, following that briefing. So you have quite a bit coming up.
**Secretary-General’s Statement on Tenth Anniversary of Pol Pot’s Death
The following statement is attributable directly to the Secretary-General:
“Today marks the tenth anniversary of the death of Pol Pot. I would like to remind the international community of the urgent importance of bringing to closure one of history’s darkest chapters. The United Nations and the Royal Government of Cambodia remain actively engaged in efforts to hold the Khmer Rouge senior leaders and those most responsible accountable for their horrific crimes. With the support of the international community, it is my hope that the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia will soon deliver long-overdue justice for the people of Cambodia.”
**Democratic Republic of Congo
The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) has confirmed that a commercial plane crashed at takeoff just a short while ago in the north-eastern town of Goma, with more than 70 people onboard.
The Mission says it has dispatched first-aid teams with ambulance and fire crews to the site of the crash and UN medical teams are helping to evacuate victims to a UN hospital.
Seven passengers have survived the crash, according to the Mission, including two international UNICEF staff, one of whom is in critical condition, and one national OCHA staff member and the spouse of a national OCHA staff member. The three other survivors are the pilot, his co-pilot and a flight attendant. Rescue efforts continue and we expect an update in the course of the day, unless Mr. Doss has some additional information for you in a few minutes.
** Côte d’Ivoire
The UN Mission in Côte d’Ivoire has welcomed yesterday’s Government announcement that presidential elections will take place on 30 November. The Mission says the decision to hold the presidential contest this year is one of the greatest achievements of the peace process. The Mission encourages the Ivorian parties to consolidate the current momentum by showing the resolve to move ahead and a commitment to public interest.
While Chad’s Humanitarian Appeal for 2007 was the best-funded worldwide, with 99 per cent of its requirements met, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that so far only 18 per cent of this year’s Humanitarian Appeal for Chad has been funded. This Humanitarian Appeal for Chad is part of OCHA’s Consolidated Appeals Process for 2008.
John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, said that he is still hopeful that donors will respond generously to this appeal. But he warns that if funding trends do not significantly improve in the coming months, this could have devastating consequences for nearly half a million people who heavily rely on humanitarian assistance for their survival.
The 2008 Appeal currently requests $290 million for 70 humanitarian projects proposed by 14 non-governmental organizations and 8 UN entities. So far this year, OCHA has received a total of $51 million.
UN humanitarian and development agencies working in the Occupied Palestinian Territory today said they are gravely concerned about the limited fuel supplies in the Gaza Strip. According to the agencies, the current situation is a threat to the health and well-being of the people of the Gaza Strip, 56 per cent of whom are children. In addition, the UN’s humanitarian work in Gaza has been severely hampered.
The agencies add that, while Israel’s decision to resume fuel deliveries to Gaza’s power plant is a positive step, it is insufficient. At the same time, the agencies call for a cessation of all acts of violence, including such attacks as the recent one on the Nahal Oz fuel crossing. We have the whole statement upstairs.
The UN Mission in Nepal says that there are so far no additional polling stations that needed re-polling following the 10 April elections in that country. For now, 98 polling stations, out of more than 20,000 stations throughout the country, need re-polling. Re-polling is under way in some stations, and is expected to be completed within a week.
The Mission notes that official results from the ongoing 24-hour counting process are regularly posted to the Election Commission’s website.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has temporarily suspended its voluntary return operation for Afghan refugees returning home from Pakistan, because of a dispute between local tribes in north-western Pakistan that has blocked the main highway from that area to Afghanistan.
The blockage has left hundreds of Afghan families who had been processed for repatriation stranded, with more than 360 families unable to leave the Peshawar area last night. The Refugee Agency provided 45 needy families with food, plastic sheets and blankets to help them through the night. UNHCR says that assisted returns will resume once the road is cleared. We have more in today’s UNHCR briefing notes upstairs.
In its latest report on workplace attitudes towards HIV/AIDS, the International Labour Organization (ILO) says it has seen a significant improvement in recent years. In six pilot countries surveyed (Belize, Benin, Cambodia, Ghana, Guyana and Togo), the ILO found the proportion of workers who reported that supportive behaviour towards co-workers living with HIV rose from 49 per cent to 63 per cent over the last four years.
Separately, ILO also notes a greater acceptance of condoms and other preventive measures, as a result of effective HIV policies and practices. We have more information on that upstairs.
An international assessment group, co-sponsored by the World Bank and several UN agencies, is calling for a radical change in the way the world grows its food, to better serve the poor and hungry.
The report by more than 400 scientists notes that modern agriculture has brought significant increases in food production, but the benefits have been spread unevenly. They also come at an increasingly intolerable price for small-scale farmers, workers, rural communities and the environment.
The report calls for combining production, social and environmental goals, including by addressing trade regimes and subsidy systems, as well as by focusing on the conservation of natural resources. We also have more information on that upstairs.
**Secretary-General at Korea Society
Just to look ahead: the Secretary-General tonight will be speaking at the annual dinner of the Korea Society, highlighting that the United Nations needs the Republic of Korea on many fronts as challenges multiply in the world.
In his remarks, the Secretary-General asks for Korea to share its experience in becoming a democracy and an economic powerhouse, and expresses hope for developing countries to benefit from its real-life experience in going from a receiving to a donor country. He also would ask that Korea be even more generous in its official development assistance, to play its full part in the global efforts to reach the Millennium Development Goals.
At 3 p.m., there will be a press conference by Andrés Solimano, Regional Adviser of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean; and Jean-Marc Coicaud, Director of the UN University Office in New York, on the University’s latest study entitled “International Mobility of Talent”. We have more information on this study upstairs.
And later, at 4 p.m., Ambassador Irakli Alasania of Georgia, will brief you on the situation in Abkhazia, Georgia.
Tomorrow at 11 a.m., there will be a press conference by Prime Minister Gordon Brown of the United Kingdom.
That is all I have for you today. Let’s keep our questions short, if you can. Our guest is already with us.
**Questions and Answers
Question: May I assume that Mr. Brown’s press conference will be in this room?
Spokesperson: Yes, it is.
Question: I don’t know if you have an answer to the question I asked Marie yesterday. Has the Secretary-General received a formal request from France for the formation of an international naval protection force?
Spokesperson: No, we haven’t.
Question: President Carter is going on a mission to the Middle East. He intends to talk with Hamas, one of the organizations that is now controlling Gaza. Does the Secretary-General support the mission of Mr. Carter when he talks with one group of Palestinians which the United States and Israel don’t like?
Spokesperson: The Secretary-General has always said that he is in favour of any move to establish peace in the area. That is all I can say at this point. I don’t have anything specific on Mr. Carter’s visit.
Question: Did the Secretary-General speak with President Bush today?
Spokesperson: Yes, he did.
Question: What did they speak about?
Spokesperson: This morning, they discussed Kosovo, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan and Darfur.
Question: Is the Secretary-General going to meet with President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea during the dinner tonight or during the next day?
Spokesperson: At the dinner tonight, yes, he will.
[The Spokesperson later added that the Secretary-General would also meet with the President of the Republic of Korea on Wednesday, 16 April.]
Question: On that, could you either confirm or find out if South Korea has sent military advisors to Darfur with an eye towards joining the UNAMID force? Is that the case?
Spokesperson: I can try to get the information for you.
[The Spokesperson later confirmed that the Republic of Korea has not sent military advisers to Darfur.]
Question: This is about Haiti and the thing that happened. There are some reports that after the death of a Nigerian peacekeeper, that there was some sort of a retaliatory action taken by the forces. Are you aware of that? Is that something that the UN is looking at?
Spokesperson: No, I know that some arrests were made by the Haitian police there at the time of the assassination.
Question: Some of the reports said that the peacekeepers -- I guess angry at the death of one of their colleagues -- were shooting tear gas and other things into the crowds.
Spokesperson: I am not aware of that.
Question: It has been suggested that United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) focus on peacekeepers that either speak French or Kreyol, and that language may have played some part in this. Is that something that the UN is thinking about?
Spokesperson: I don’t think we can say that language had anything to do with this. The man was driving a car, and was pulled out of his car, and executed.
Question: I am not trying… Because of these events, these reports have surfaced, and I was just wondering if it was something that MINUSTAH had given thought to.
Spokesperson: MINUSTAH is giving priority to French speakers, but as you know, the majority of the population does not speak French, but speaks Kreyol. It is very difficult to find Kreyol speakers around the world.
Question: A follow-up on the conversation between Bush and Ban. You say one of the topics of conversation was Zimbabwe. Does the Secretary-General favour intervention by the Security Council in Zimbabwe? Should the UN be involved in it?
Spokesperson: Well, I think the Secretary-General has already expressed his position on the situation in Zimbabwe, asking for a speedy release of the electoral results. At this point, that is all I can say. You can ask the Secretary-General this afternoon.
Question: Are there any plans to send a representative of the Department of Political Affairs to Zimbabwe?
Spokesperson: Not that I know of. As you know, we are not invited… We are not a major party in observing the elections, nor in helping for the preparations of the elections.
Question: Does Mr. Ban Ki-moon believe that getting Hamas back into the political game would help ease the humanitarian crisis in Gaza?
Spokesperson: He has called before, as you know, for a dialogue between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, the Government itself. And he has been talking about the fact that Gaza and the West Bank, the Occupied Territory, are one territory. As I said, he is in favour of any approach that would help bring peace to the area.
Question: I just wanted to clarify one thing. When the Secretary-General was in Russia, there was this “flap” that the Russians have threatened him that they would not let him go beyond one term. That was verified by Ambassador Churkin. Has the Secretary-General resolved that situation?
Spokesperson: Well, there is nothing to resolve. I was there. There were very cordial meetings and there never was a threat as was written. There was never any problem in terms of the conversations that took place. No tension. Those were, as I am saying again, very cordial meetings.
Question: On this Hamas business. The Secretary-General is still a member of the Quartet, if I remember correctly…?
Spokesperson: Yes, he is.
Question: Does the Quartet still have a policy of not considering negotiations with Hamas before it recognizes Israel, agrees to previous agreements… you know, the three conditions that the Quartet has put before talking to Hamas?
Spokesperson: Well, the Quartet, yes, has that position.
Question: So, just to clarify what you said before…
Spokesperson: What I said before was that the Secretary-General is in favour of anything that will move the peace process forward. I am not saying that he is changing in any way the position of the Quartet, which he has signed.
Question: You said that anything that could move the peace forward. In the context of talking to Hamas…
Spokesperson: This is an independent initiative. It has nothing to do with the Quartet.
Question: But in the context of talking with Hamas, the question is, as part of the Quartet, does he adhere to the question…
Spokesperson: I said yes, he adheres to what the Quartet has said, yes.
Question: Russia has received members of Hamas and some Europeans have conducted consultations with Hamas. So, the position of the Quartet is not, as you said, that they don’t talk to Hamas or they maintain that they…
Spokesperson: The position of the Quartet has been made clear during the last few months.
Question: But Russia has received members of Hamas, and Europe has talked to Hamas…
Spokesperson: There are a number of individual initiatives, yes.
Question: But there is not one position on that, a collective position?
Spokesperson: Well Benny’s question was about the Quartet. And I confirm that the Quartet’s positions are what he said.
Question: I am a little bit confused here. Does he welcome talking to Hamas for finding a solution to the crisis we are having…
Spokesperson: I am not answering it this way. You asked me a question about Mr. Carter’s visit. I am saying that Mr. Carter’s visit is an individual initiative, and I said that the Secretary-General has always said that he welcomes initiatives that can bring the process of peace forward. I am not saying that the Secretary-General approves of that specific initiative, or supports that specific initiative. I am saying, he has always been supportive of efforts to bring a peaceful solution to the area.
Question: In follow-up to that: is the Secretary-General aware of that initiative? I know that a couple of weeks ago we have discussed the “Elders” initiative, and you had said that the Secretary-General was aware of it, but did not necessarily support it, but that he supports all initiatives that push towards the peace process. So, my question is, is he aware of that specific initiative?
Spokesperson: Not that I know of.
Question: How many angels can dance on a pin?
Spokesperson: You tell me. Thank you very much. I would like to invite Mr. Doss to come up, please.
* *** *