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

17 April 2008

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

17 April 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.

**Violence in Gaza and Southern Israel

We issued the following statement yesterday afternoon:

The Secretary-General is gravely concerned at the escalation of violence in Gaza and southern Israel.  He condemns the reported civilian casualties among Palestinians, including children, during Israeli military operations, and calls on Israel to abide by its obligations under international humanitarian law and human rights law.  The Secretary-General also reiterates his condemnation of rocket fire against Israeli civilian targets.  He urges all parties to exercise restraint.

** Darfur

The World Food Programme (WFP) announced today that it will be forced to cut monthly rations in Darfur starting next month, because banditry against WFP-contracted trucks is preventing sufficient stocks of vital food relief from getting through.  This will reduce the daily caloric value of the ration by 40 per cent.

A WFP press release quotes Executive Director Josette Sheeran as saying:  “Attacks on the WFP food pipeline are an attack on the most vulnerable people in Darfur.  With up to three million people depending on us for their survival in the upcoming rainy season, keeping WFP's supply line open is a matter of life and death.  We call on all parties to protect the access to food.”

** Haiti

The UN country team in Haiti says it has taken a new set of urgent measures to respond to food insecurity in that country.  The World Food Programme’s Haiti office will be handing out some 8,000 tonnes of food in the coming days in the north, west and central regions.  This operation will focus on children, pregnant women and nursing mothers.  UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund], for its part, will double its child feeding programme to combat malnutrition and will spend some $1.6 million on water and sanitation in the north-west and the Artibonite regions.

Meanwhile, the UN Stabilization Mission (MINUSTAH) and WFP continue to support various projects aimed at creating jobs.  These projects, with a combined $2.3 million budget, already employ some 2,500 Haitians.  We have more in a press release from the Mission upstairs.

**Security Council

Yesterday’s high-level Security Council meeting ended with the unanimous adoption of a resolution recognizing the need to enhance the predictability, sustainability and flexibility of financing regional organizations’ peacekeeping operations under a United Nations mandate.  The Council endorsed the Secretary-General’s proposal to set up, within three months, an African Union-United Nations panel to consider the modalities of such support.

The Council stressed the utility of effective partnerships between the United Nations and regional organizations, particularly the African Union, in order to enable early responses to emerging crises in Africa, and expressed its determination to enhance that relationship.

** Somalia

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, is encouraged by the latest political developments on Somalia.  These include a speech made yesterday by President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed to the Security Council, in which he affirmed his commitment to peace and reconciliation in his country through dialogue with the opposition.

Ould-Abdallah says the speech is significant because it comes after similar pronouncements by the leaders of the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia, who recently acknowledged that the Somali question cannot be resolved militarily.  Ould-Abdallah called on all Somalis to put the interests of their country and its people above short-term considerations.

**Timor-Leste

The UN Mission in Timor-Leste today applauded the return of President José Ramos-Horta, two months after he was sent to Australia for medical treatment after being wounded in the 11 February attack by rebels.

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Atul Khare, congratulated President Ramos-Horta on his return, which he called an opportunity for Timorese society to pull together with renewed determination.  Khare added that sustained peace depends upon the commitment of everyone -- including politicians, the security sector and citizens.

** Iraq Compact

Invitations to the Iraq Compact Annual Review Conference, which is to be held in Stockholm, Sweden, on 29 May, were issued yesterday to all Member States and a number of regional and international organizations and institutions.  The invitations were extended by Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih, and by the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General, Ibrahim Gambari.

The Secretary-General plans to co-chair that high-level meeting, along with the Prime Minister of Iraq, Nouri Al-Maliki, and he strongly encourages Member States to attend.

**Counter-Terrorism

The Executive Director of the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate, Mike Smith, is in Tokyo today for a meeting of the G-8 [Group of Eight] Counter-Terrorism Action Group, or CTAG.  There, Smith is to discuss the coordinated provision of counter-terrorism assistance to priority recipients of such aid, and to examine ways the two bodies can enhance their coordination on technical assistance matters.  Earlier this week, Smith was in Beijing, where he held consultations with officials of the Chinese Government.

**Internal Displaced Persons

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres is calling on the international community to urgently address the growing problem of internal displacement.

His remarks came in the wake of a new report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre of the Norwegian Refugee Council.  It found that the global internal displacement crisis continued to worsen last year.  The number of people displaced within their countries by armed conflicts and violence passed the 26 million mark, the highest since the early 1990s.  Among those countries with the largest numbers of IDPs [internally displaced persons] are Iraq, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Sudan and Colombia. 

** Tajikistan

We have an update from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on the situation in Tajikistan.  The likelihood of floods and landslides remains high, OCHA says.  It is urgently seeking $1.4 million to purchase and preposition emergency water, sanitation and cooking items for up to 1,500 households.

OCHA also warns that locust infestations could be especially severe, due to favourable weather conditions and incomplete spraying last year.  The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is appealing for $500,000 to cover the cost of pesticides and equipment.  But unless it receives those funds within the next week, FAO says it may be unable to prevent a large infestation.

**International Criminal Court

Silvana Arbia of Italy was earlier today sworn in as the new registrar of the International Criminal Court.  Following a formal ceremony at the seat of the Court in The Hague, she said that her focus would be on judicial proceedings and, in particular, the first trial scheduled to commence this year.

**Aimé Césaire

The Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Koïchiro Matsuura, today paid tribute to Martinique poet Aimé Césaire, who passed away today.  Matsuura said that Césaire had dedicated his life to poetry and politics, and that, since the 1930s, had been an untiring opponent of colonialism and racism.  “UNESCO has lost one of its most valuable friends,” Matsuura said.  He was addressing UNESCO’s Executive Board, whose 179th session ends today.

We have more on this upstairs.

**Appointments

Out on the racks is an exchange of letters between the Secretary-General and the Security Council concerning the appointment of Russian Ambassador Gennady Tarasov as the new High-Level Coordinator dealing with missing Kuwaiti and third-country persons and property in Iraq.  Ambassador Tarasov is to replace Yuli Vorontsov, also of Russia, who passed away last year.

**Secretary-General Trip

A reminder now that the Secretary-General will begin his official trip to West Africa tomorrow.  He will visit Ghana, Liberia, Burkina Faso and Côte d'Ivoire.

His first stop will be Accra, Ghana, where he will address the opening of the twelfth United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in a speech outlining his vision for improving African performance towards the Millennium Development Goals.  He will also touch on the current global crisis caused by soaring food prices.  While in Ghana, the Secretary-General will also meet with President John Kufuor to discuss regional issues.

From Accra, he will travel on Monday to the Liberian capital, Monrovia, where he will meet with the country’s Vice-President, address a joint session of the Legislature and meet with UN peacekeepers and the UN country team.

From Monrovia, he will travel to Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso on Tuesday.  There he will meet with President Blaise Compaore, the Facilitator of the Inter-Ivorian Dialogue and Chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).  He will also meet with the UN country team and is scheduled to visit a refugee camp near the capital.

His final stop is Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, on Wednesday and Thursday, and meetings are planned with President Laurent Gbagbo, Prime Minister Guillaume Soro, and with opposition leaders and civil society.  The Secretary-General will also meet with the leadership of the UN peacekeeping mission there and visit a UN-funded poverty-reduction project.

**Pope’s Visit

Just a quick update on Pope Benedict’s three-hour visit to the United Nations tomorrow:

The Media and Accreditation Unit says that Press Gallery tickets will be distributed today on a first-come, first-served basis, at 2 p.m. in their Office, Room S-250.

In response to requests from you, we have permission to release to reporters embargoed copies of the Pope’s speech to the General Assembly two hours before the speech is delivered.  So that would make it about 9:30 a.m. tomorrow.

The Secretary-General’s remarks will be made available on an embargoed basis as well.

And the UN Correspondents Association (UNCA) has made arrangements so that UNCA pool writers’ reports will also be made available through the Spokesperson’s Office.

Finally, there will be no noon briefing, though we will report and post, as usual, UN highlights and other developments in the UN system.

That is all I have for you.  Thank you.

Questions and Answers

Question:  Are there any special considerations for the Pope’s visit, this time?

Spokesperson:  What do you mean by special considerations?

Question:  Is anything going to be done differently this time than on previous occasions?

Spokesperson:  No.  Of course, it is a very special event here.  You can get a complete schedule upstairs from the Media Accreditation Unit.

Question:  Has the United Nations received any request from Pakistan to open an investigation into the killing of Benazir Bhutto?

Spokesperson:  We have not received any formal request yet.

Question:  Could I ask who that request would go to first?

Spokesperson:  Actually, if it goes to the Secretary-General, he will transmit it immediately to the Security Council, because it is a Security Council matter.

Question:  Is there any chance that it goes directly to the Security Council?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know.  It depends on the people sending the letter.  We don’t have the letter yet.

Question:  The food crisis is now taking on threatening proportions in several countries in the world.  As you indicated, several components of the UN international system –- the WFP, UNESCO and also UNICEF –- are doing something about it.  What about the Secretary-General?  Does he intend to make a special appeal, advance any proposals or recommendations in this specific area?

Spokesperson:  Yes, he will.  He will shortly.  Well, not shortly, but in a while.  Because, as you know, I think I told some of you, the meeting of the Chief Executive’s Board, the CEB, is going to be to a great extent about food emergencies and food supplies.

Question:  Will he be addressing ECOSOC’s special debate on the food crisis?

Spokesperson:  He will certainly participate, yes.  I know there is also an FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization] summit to be held in June, and of course, all those events the Secretary-General is concerned about, and he will certainly participate as much as he possibly can.  I will try to arrange for you a meeting with Josette Sheeran of WFP.  She promised she can be available -– she is in Washington today -– to talk to you, maybe next week.  We are trying to arrange that.  She may have a video conference with you. 

Question:  Given the impending food crisis that you are talking about in the world, don’t you think the Secretary-General should consider holding a world summit on the food crisis, like the one he did on climate change?

Spokesperson:  He is considering exactly that.

Question:  Mr. Ban Ki-moon is now very disappointed with the situation in Darfur.  In his report he accused the Government of the Sudan and rebels of not having the political will to move forward with a peaceful settlement.  I was wondering whether there are any new ideas, or initiatives, or proposals that can be adopted in order to encourage them and to get them on the political track?

Spokesperson:  I think the political track is continuing, and I think the Secretary-General is putting certainly his weight behind that political process, so we have to wait and see how it will develop in the next few weeks.

Question:  Serbia announced today that they intend to not only allow Serbs in Kosovo to vote in parliamentary elections, but also to hold local elections in 11 or 16 municipalities in Kosovo.  Does the UN think that is consistent with resolution 1244 [1999]?  What is the UN’s response to that?

Spokesperson:  For parliamentary elections on 11 May, UNMIK [United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo] is maintaining its position of neither assisting nor hindering, as it has done in the past.  Regarding theSerbian local municipal elections in Kosovo, it is not within the Special Representative’s mandate to authorize them.  The SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General] can only authorize the organization of elections for institutions provided for under resolution 1244.  So, 1244 remains for us the guideline.

Question:  Whether or not the SRSG authorizes them, are these elections actually going to take place?  What are they actually going to do?

Spokesperson:  Let’s see.

Question:  Something a little different, but I wanted to ask you this.  There is a UN produced show called “Twenty-First Century”.  It is a good show, but they have asked an outside host to host it –- Daljit Dhaliwal.  I have asked if the UN pays her, and how much they pay her for doing the show.  I have been told that what they pay is confidential.  I wonder why that would be.  Given that the UN is a public institution, how is the salary paid to an outside contractor confidential?

Spokesperson:  I understand that you already have been communicating with them upstairs about this?

Question:  I hit a brick wall when they said how much she is paid is confidential.

Spokesperson:  I think you will get an answer today.

Question:  Will you be giving a press briefing tomorrow, given the stringent security measures?  We are not even allowed to walk around on the third floor.

Spokesperson:  As I said, we will not have a noon briefing tomorrow.  But we will have everything posted on the Web as soon as possible, so that you’ll have all the information available to you.

Question:  President [Thabo] Mbeki said yesterday during the press conference that international observers for the second round of elections in Zimbabwe are a matter between the UN and Zimbabwe.  It has nothing to do with SADC [Southern African Development Community].  Will the Secretary-General ask President [Robert G.] Mugabe if they would allow international UN observers?

Spokesperson:  Usually it is the other way around.  Usually it is the country that requires support from the UN system -- whether technical support or the support of observers.  It is not a matter for the Secretary-General to initiate; it would have to come, of course, from the country itself.

Question:  On the update you gave about East-Timor, and the President returning.  They said there was going to be some kind of review of the security procedures in place the day of his shooting, and whether his allegations that, somehow, something went wrong in terms of receiving assistance fast enough… the UN’s role… Is that review finished?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything new on that.  You know, everything I told you is still standing.  I am still waiting to see whether we will have something.

Thank you very much.

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