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

11 June 2008

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

11 June 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.

**Equatorial Guinea/Gabon

Good afternoon, all.  We’ll start with a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

The Secretary-General has opened today a high-level meeting between Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, which was convened to launch the next phase of the mediation process to resolve the border dispute between the two countries.  In his remarks, the Secretary-General commended both parties for their continued commitment to finding a peaceful settlement to their dispute and assured them of the United Nations support and of his personal engagement to assist them in this process.  Today’s meeting is dedicated to the adoption of a formal framework for the next phase of the mediation process.

** Myanmar

On Myanmar, over a month since the devastating cyclone struck Myanmar, a joint relief and early recovery assessment coordinated by the Tripartite Core Group, was officially launched in Yangon Monday.  Assessment will look into both humanitarian needs and extent of damage, with results expected out at the end of June.  In a joint press conference in Bangkok this morning, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that funding through the flash appeal currently stands at just over 40 per cent, with pledges of some further $50 million as yet unconverted.  Agencies have been expressing concerns regarding possible shortages of much needed food and supplies in the coming weeks.

According to the World Food Programme (WFP), some 11,000 tons of food assistance have been dispatched to the affected areas to date, with approximately 60 per cent of that amount now being delivered.  But with food prices rising due to scarcity of commodities, WFP is distributing cash in lieu of food in certain areas, with figures based on the cost of the typical WFP food basket in the local market.  Some 16,448 beneficiaries have received a cash allocation to date.  The Myanmar Government has now agreed to allow importation of rice.  Three joint Ministry of Health/World Health Organization (WHO) mobile health teams will undertake a one-week mission this week to Laputta, Ngaputaw and Bogolay to trace tuberculosis patients with interrupted treatment and provide general non-tuberculosis curative and public health services.

** Sudan

On Sudan, the leadership of the two UN missions in Sudan have issued press releases extending, on behalf of the United Nations, their deepest condolences and heartfelt sympathies to the Government and to the people of Sudan, especially to the families of the victims of last night's tragic air crash at Khartoum International Airport.

**Security Council

The Security Council this morning adopted a resolution calling upon all Member States to increase international and regional cooperation in order to counter the illicit production and trafficking of drugs in Afghanistan.  That cooperation would include strengthening the monitoring of the international trade in chemical precursors.

** Somalia

A report by the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict in Somalia is now out on the racks.  It stresses that the level of grave violations against children in Somalia has been increasing over the past year, particularly with regard to the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict; the killing, maiming and rape of children; and the denial of humanitarian access to children.  The Secretary-General strongly urges Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government to stop all new recruitment of children and to demobilize unconditionally all children who participate in any capacity in its Armed Forces.  He also urges the Ethiopian forces to refrain from indiscriminate attacks against civilians and civilian objects, including, but not limited to, schools and hospitals, and to ensure that all necessary precautions are taken to minimize child casualties during military operations.

**Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia

The Office of the Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has been informed by the Serbian authorities that indicted Bosnian Serb war crimes suspect Stojan Župljanin was arrested today.  The Prosecutor’s Office has welcomed the development and the fact that this now brings the number of fugitives from four to three.  It adds that the arrest also confirms what the Prosecutor has been saying for some time now, that the remaining fugitives are within Serbia’s reach.  We have more on that upstairs.

**Internal Justice

The Secretary-General has appointed Justice Kate O'Regan of South Africa as fifth member and Chairperson of the Internal Justice Council, the body established by the General Assembly to help ensure independence, professionalism and accountability in the new system of administration of justice in the United Nations.  Justice O'Regan was chosen by consensus by the four other members of the Internal Justice Council.  She was appointed a judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa in 1994, and has worked as an attorney and a law professor, specializing, among other areas, in labour law, race and gender equality, and constitutional law.

The Secretary-General had approved earlier the appointment of the other four members of the new Internal Justice Council.  The two members nominated by staff are Jenny Clift of Australia and Geoffrey Robertson of the United Kingdom and Australia.  The two members nominated by management are Maria Vicien-Milburn of Argentina and Sinha Basnayake of Sri Lanka.  The Internal Justice Council will play a critical role in establishing the UN's new system of administration of justice, due to enter into effect on 1 January 2009.

**Small Arms

A workshop in support of the implementation of the International Instrument to Identify Illicit Small Arms and Light Weapons opened its session today in Rio de Janeiro.  The workshop is expected to help relevant Government officials to familiarize themselves with the provisions of the Instrument and technical tools for the tracing of illicit small arms and light weapons, such as INTERPOL’s Electronic Weapons Tracing System.

**Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean

The thirty-second session of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) was inaugurated yesterday in Santo Domingo.  The session guides the work of this UN regional commission and sets the priorities of its work programme for the following two years.  The Executive Secretary, Jose Luis Machinea, stated in his opening remarks that the impact of the food crisis must be mitigated.  He also said that Latin America faces new opportunities.  He called upon the delegates to take advantage of them by building basic consensus and developing a regional perspective.  We have a press release from ECLAC upstairs.

** Viet Nam

And we have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

The Secretary-General has learned with profound sadness that Vo Van Kiet, former Prime Minister of Viet Nam, passed away today. 

As a major force behind the economic reforms in Viet Nam that started in the late 1980s, Vo Van Kiet paved the way for the country’s transition from poverty to a decade of impressive economic growth.  During his time as Prime Minister, from 1991 to 1997, he also played a pivotal role in improving Viet Nam’s diplomatic relations with other countries.

The Secretary-General wishes to convey his heartfelt condolences to the family of Vo Van Kiet, and to the people and the Government of Viet Nam.

**Press Conference Today

And then this afternoon at 2 p.m., there will be a press conference by members of civil society on issues of exclusion, especially against people living with HIV and marginalized at-risk populations.

And that’s all I have for you today.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Michèle, you said that Stojan Župljanin was arrested already in Serbia and that was proof that the remaining fugitives are within the possibility of the Serbian authorities to cope with them at least.  Can you tell us, did the Secretary-General use the opportunity with the Serbian President to find out where are the other fugitives?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know if that appeal was made last week when he spoke to the President, but I can find out for you.

[The Spokesperson later added that Kosovo was the only issue discussed during last week’s telephone conversation between the Secretary-General and the Serbian President.]

Question:  Very good, and also, when can we expect the report from Kosovo?  We heard from the American Ambassador and from the Russian and others that it’s going to be soon.  When will it be?

Spokesperson:  There is nothing new on Kosovo to confirm today.  Pending Security Council guidance, the UN continues to operate on the understanding that resolution 1244 (1999) remains in force throughout Kosovo.  And in view of the evolving circumstances on the ground, we are consulting with all key stakeholders, and as I said last week, a number of consultations were done over the phone on how best to implement the mandate entrusted to the UN under resolution 1244.

Question:  The Secretary-General is going to have that as a main topic tomorrow in his talks with President Sarkozy?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know at this point what the agenda will be with President Sarkozy.

Question:  It was reported that the Secretary-General offered to send a multinational force to the Gaza Strip several weeks ago.  Can you confirm that?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General has not offered to send a multinational force to Gaza.

Question:  It was reported in the Israeli media.

Spokesperson:  I read the report, as you did.  The United Nations and the Secretary-General continue to support efforts led by Egypt to achieve a ceasefire, and easing of humanitarian conditions and the orderly reopening of crossings, as emphasized by the Quartet on 2 May.  But the Secretary-General has not offered to send multinational forces to Gaza.

Question:  And on the same topic, what is the UN’s reaction to the Israeli army preparing for a possible military operation in the Gaza Strip?

Spokesperson:  We have no comment on this.  We know there is a lot of diplomatic activity around this issue, but we have no comment at this point.

Question:  Michèle, Ambassador Brahimi has submitted his report on the security of international civil servants worldwide.  I understand it is being studied now in the Secretariat.  Is there a time frame or limit set up for the examination of this report?

Spokesperson:  No, there is no time frame, but I think the Secretary-General wishes it to be as soon as possible.  But, as you know, right now, there are legal considerations and that is what is being handled right now.  But, as soon as this is cleared, it is going to be published.

Question:  Since the mandate of that report was rather fuzzy on the bombing of Algiers, does it mention the Algiers bombing and did they visit Algeria?

Spokesperson:  The answer is yes to both your questions.

Question:  So when you say the time frame should be short, is that for publish, make public?

Spokesperson: It is to put out the report and, as I told you, Mr. Brahimi has already accepted the idea that, as soon as the Secretary-General gets the go ahead from our legal advisers, then he will release the report.

Question:  Any comment from the Staff Union that yesterday called on the Secretary-General to release it?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General had decided to release it anyway.  It is going to be released.

Question:  Concerning the Brahimi report, what are the issues?  Are they legal issues in terms of culpability or that you might have to redact persons’ names?

Spokesperson:  It’s going to depend on the advice we get on the possible judicial follow-up on those issues.

Question:  So the UN legal department is currently examining it?  It would be presumed there would be no release?

Question:  What judicial follow-up?

Spokesperson:  Bill just said it.  Accountability, who’s responsible for what, and possible follow-up.

Question:  Like what?  Do you expect court cases?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General has not said what he will do in terms of follow-up, but we will find out for you.

Question:  Wasn’t this also the case with the Baghdad report by Mr. Ahtisaari?  They had to wait for the final legal okay?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  Does the Secretary-General have any comment on a missile attack by US-led NATO forces in Afghanistan that killed 11 troops and 1 officer, and many civilians had been killed?  Does he have anything to say on this?

Spokesperson:  We are still expecting more information on this.  We don’t have any independent confirmation on what happened and how many people were killed, so we’re still expecting information on that.

Question:  Regarding the selection process of the Human Rights Commissioner controversy, where does it stand now, the selection process, and when is a decision expected to come down?  What can we expect him to make an announcement?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know when we can expect an announcement, but for all the other information I can point you to what we had yesterday.  You had all the news.

Question:  No update since then?

Spokesperson:  No update since then and no specific date, but probably it will be before 1 July.

Question:  Two questions.  Taser International has been manufacturing tasers for police forces around the world.  There was a death yesterday in New York and it seems there have been court cases involved that linked this device with deaths.  I’m wondering if anything will happen in the international system to look closer at the use of this device by police forces.  And the second refers to the upcoming Olympic Games in China.  There were several thousand evictions.  These types of Games have been involved, in Atlanta, in Athens.  Even in Vancouver in 2010, over 1,300 SRO units in the low-income community have been turned over and converted.  Is the UN going to engage with the International Olympic Committee and the States in the bid process, making sure this doesn’t happen in future Games?

Spokesperson:  I will ask the second question for you.  I don’t have an answer at the moment.  Also on the tasers, we have nothing on that for you now.  I’m sure if there have been specific requests to the human rights body, there will be involvement by the UN system on it.

Question:  Let me go back.  Are you saying the Secretary-General’s report on Kosovo will be today, tomorrow, before Thursday?

Spokesperson:  We don’t know yet.  I’ll let you know as soon as it’s out.  Matthew, welcome back.

Question:  Thanks a lot.  A couple of questions from that trip that I was not able to get answered.  One is on Sudan, this attack on the Khartoum suburb of Omdurman.  The Sudanese say they captured child soldiers that had been recruited by JEM.  A [permanent five] Ambassador said there was no proof of it and one of the Special Representatives said there is proof of it, that UN staff had visited and found 89 child soldiers.  So what’s the UN position?  Does Sudan hold child soldiers or not?

Spokesperson:  I would check with the UN staff, but you already checked with them.

Question:  I got two different answers.  The Security Council said no proof, the SRSG said 89 child soldiers.

Spokesperson:  If the Special Representative of the Secretary-General says he has proof, then he must.

Question:  So what’s the follow up?  What’s the UN going to do, given that there are 89 child soldiers in the custody of the Sudanese?  Is there any attempt to get them released?

Spokesperson:  I’ll ask that question for you.

Question:  The other question has to do with the Lockheed-Martin PAE contract.  While there, the Sudanese said the UN had asked for a three-month extension of the contract, which they granted until July, but their position was that there would be no more extensions and no visas would be given to Lockheed personnel.  What’s the process for the UN giving a contract to a new contractor, since Sudan won’t give more visas?

Spokesperson:  This question should be directed to peacekeeping, but I’ll find out for you. 

Question:  Is that a problem for the whole Mission that Sudan has veto power over a contractor for a support unit?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know whether I would use the expression “veto power” here.

Question:  Sounds like they’re saying they’re not going to accept a company that was chosen by the UN, correctly or incorrectly, but it was chosen by the UN and they’re saying no.  What’s next?  They’ll say no to a jeep coming from somewhere or a water can?  The question is: are we putting ourselves in peril in Sudan because the Government is vetoing any contract the UN has already issued?

Spokesperson:  We can try to get more for you on this, but this has been the case for every peacekeeping mission voted on by the Security Council.  The host country is always involved in some form of discussions.

Question:  At such a level?

Spokesperson:  Not on specifics like this.  But I’ll ask for you if this was specifically discussed and I’ll follow up on your question.  Matthew.

Question:  Okay.  About the Somalia talks in Djibouti, there were a lot of people there from the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia, many of whom are based in London.  I asked, but wasn’t able to get a clear answer, how much the UN and its trust funds are paying for accommodations and per diems for the various interlocutors for these talks.  It seems like a clear question, but maybe it wasn’t.  Maybe they were waiting for somebody here to get the number.  And if the UN has any response to both Sheikh Aweys and [inaudible] saying that they don’t agree with the agreement, basically saying that the UN was negotiating with people who don’t have presence on the ground?

Spokesperson:  We have been encouraging all the people who have not signed to sign the agreement, as you know.  We had a statement on it yesterday.  As to what will be the follow-up, I’ll have to get that for you.

Question:  Michèle, there was a report yesterday that an Israeli tank went to a house in Gaza and incinerated some people there, especially one little girl, who was burned and obviously died.  Do you have any reaction?

Spokesperson:  We don’t have that information.  I’ll try to get more on it.

Question:  Now that Ambassador Brahimi has submitted his report, does it mean the mandate of his group has ended?

Spokesperson:  There is still discussion on the follow-up, but you’ll get a chance to ask Mr. Brahimi yourself when he comes in.  He will come in and brief you.

Question:  When is he coming?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know.  As I said, it depends on when the legal questions have been lifted.  Okay?  Thank you all.

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