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

16 June 2008

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

16 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.

**Statement on Chad

Good afternoon all.  We have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the situation in Chad.  The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about the deterioration of the security situation in Chad as a result of renewed fighting in the eastern part of the country, particularly the latest offensive by the Chadian Armed Opposition Group (CAOG).  The Secretary-General condemns all attempts to destabilize the country and is concerned about the risk of a deterioration of the already grave humanitarian situation, especially in eastern Chad, where the international community is actively engaged in providing relief and securing the voluntary, safe and sustainable return of refugees and displaced persons.  The Secretary-General calls on all parties to cease hostilities immediately and abide by their commitments under the different peace accords signed by them.  He appeals to the parties to urgently resort to dialogue to reach a peaceful and negotiated settlement of the crisis in Chad.

**Security Council

The Security Council held consultations this morning on Liberia sanctions and other matters.  The Libyan Ambassador, who chairs the Security Council Committee dealing with Liberia sanctions, briefed on the latest report of the Panel of Experts.  The Council then moved into the formal chamber to adopt a presidential statement on Sudan, urging the Government of Sudan and all other parties to the conflict in Darfur to cooperate fully with the International Criminal Court.  Following that, the Council moved back into consultations to hear a briefing on developments in Chad from Dmitry Titov, one of the Assistant Secretaries-General in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.

The Council then returned to the formal chamber to adopt a presidential statement on Chad, the Central African Republic and the subregion, condemning in the strongest possible terms the attacks conducted by Chadian armed groups since 11 June 2008.

Following that adoption, the Council President read out a press statement welcoming the recent International Conference in Support of Afghanistan held last week in Paris.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General will wrap up his week-long trip to London, Paris and Jeddah this evening, when he will speak at the sixtieth anniversary of the International Maritime Organization.  After that, he will attend the unveiling of BBC’s “Breathing Sculpture”, a tribute to journalists who have died in the course of their work, and he will honour the memories of all those who paid for their courage as reporters with their lives.  Earlier today, the Secretary-General continued his meetings with a wide range of officials in the United Kingdom, including Defence Secretary Des Browne and opposition leader David Cameron.

He spent the weekend in Saudi Arabia, where on Saturday he met with King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud in Jeddah.  They discussed what the Secretary-General described as the linked problems of rising fuel prices, rising food prices and climate change, and what can be done about it.  “The issues of food prices, fuel prices and climate change should be addressed in a comprehensive manner,” the Secretary-General told reporters on Sunday, adding that he was grateful that the King intends to convene a high-level meeting of major oil producers and consumers on this issue next week in Saudi Arabia.

The Secretary-General and the King also discussed Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the King’s proposal for interfaith dialogue among the world’s religions.  King Abdullah especially welcomed the progress made by the Somali parties last week in the Doha talks, under the auspices of Special Representative Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, and said that the parties could sign the agreement in Saudi Arabia at any time.  The date of the signing will be fixed immediately, the Secretary-General said.  On Sunday, the Secretary-General continued his meetings with Saudi Government officials, including with the Kingdom’s Crown Prince and Interior Minister, and he spoke by phone with the Oil Minister about the rising fuel prices.

**International Criminal Court

The International Criminal Court’s trial chamber with jurisdiction over the case of Congolese rebel commander Thomas Lubanga Dyilo has suspended proceedings against the accused.  The Judges said in a statement that “unless this stay is lifted the trial process in all respects will remain at a halt”.  A hearing is now planned for 24 June to consider Lubanga’s release.  The judges say that the Prosecutor failed to disclose to the defence more than 200 confidential documents that could have proven Lubanga’s innocence, in an apparent violation of the fundamental right of the accused to a fair trial.  Thomas Lubanga, the leader of Union of Congolese Patriots, was arrested and delivered to the Court in March 2006 on an ICC arrest warrant.  War charges against him were confirmed in January 2007 for recruiting of children under the age of 15 and deploying them in active hostilities in Ituri province.  The full trial chamber decision is available on the ICC’s website.

** Myanmar

Turning to Myanmar, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) notes some improvement in access.  Approximately 195 visas have now been issued for UN staff alone, and a joint assessment team of 250 people is now on the ground in affected areas.  However, international relief workers still require much more sustained access to the Delta area.  This particularly includes key skilled technical staff, such as technicians for water plants, hygiene promoters and sanitation engineers, OCHA says.  Some workers are limited to stays of only two to three days at a time.

The World Food Programme now has 10 chartered helicopters flying in the Delta, enabling the UN to transport critical supplies directly to remote villages and areas that were previously unreachable, such as Bogale and Labutta.  A joint needs assessment currently under way will provide a more detailed understanding of gaps and assistance required, but it may still be some time before the picture is complete.

** Liberia

On Liberia, the UN Mission there (UNMIL), along with several UN agencies, have refurbished Liberia’s largest prison facility.  The National Palace of Corrections has been designed to improve living conditions for prisoners, as well as working conditions for staff.  The UN Development Programme (UNDP) is building 10 new county headquarters.  The first one has been handed over to the national police leadership in the eastern county of Grand Gedeh.  All of the centres will have a Women and Children’s Protection Section.  UNMIL notes that, with increased confidence in the rule of law, more and more women and children are coming forward to report crimes.  UNMIL has also built a new safe house for victims of sexual and gender-based violence.  The house, at an undisclosed location, will be operated by a local NGO with support from UNICEF.  You have more information upstairs.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

Now under way in Goma, in the Congo, a north-eastern town of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is a two-day high-level regional consultation on “the eradication of sexual violence and the elimination of impunity in the Great Lakes Region”.  The meeting aims to accelerate the implementation of an urgent response to the problem of sexual violence.  It also seeks to adopt measures to ensure the prevention, protection and access to care and justice for women and children.  These measures could be expanded into the first regional action plan to root out sexual violence and combat impunity for this crime in the Great Lakes Region.

The consultation is being organized by the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region with financing from, and the participation of, the UN Development Fund for Women, the UN Population Fund, and the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights and the UN peacekeeping mission (MONUC).

Now available on the website of the Mission is the human rights report of the assessment team deployed to inquire on rights violations during a deadly face-off between Government troops and the militant Banda dia Kongo in the Bas Congo province in February.  The report blames the Government for the killing of some 100 BDK supporters and for destroying 200 civilian buildings.  The Mission recommends a criminal investigation by the Congolese authorities into the violence.

**Deputy Secretary-General

The Deputy Secretary-General is participating this morning in informal consultations of the General Assembly on system-wide coherence focusing on gender equality and women’s empowerment.  In prepared remarks, she says that gender equality and women’s empowerment are core elements of fostering peace, achieving development, protecting the environment, promoting human rights and reaching so many of the UN’s goals.  However, the Deputy Secretary-General notes that, while UN entities increasingly work together on gender equality programmes and take steps to improve inter-agency coordination, overall effectiveness and coherence remain limited.

Support to Member States is crippled by the lack of a recognized driver that can provide direction and guidance to the UN system on long-standing and emerging challenges and hold the system accountable for delivering results on the ground.  So she says it is essential that we support change to strengthen the UN’s gender equality and women’s empowerment work.  Success lies in the hands of each and every one of us, she says.  We have her prepared remarks upstairs.

**UNEP in Africa

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) is undertaking two major initiatives in Africa.  In the first, launched today, UNEP will help the Governments of Côte d’Ivoire and other countries in the region to manage hazardous waste, both within their countries and across borders.  The plan will also tackle the issue of waste generated on ships.  In a separate project, UNEP is also helping Kenya to “green” its capital, Nairobi.  The plan will focus on solid waste management, improving air quality, rehabilitating rivers, developing riverfronts, and generating energy from slaughterhouse and other organic wastes.  We have more information also on that upstairs.

**Day of African Child

And today marks “The Day of the African Child”, which this year is dedicated to the right to participate.  On this occasion, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) highlights the importance of child participation in schools, community action, media and governance.  To make children seen and heard, UNICEF supports the fourth Junior 8 Summit in Japan next month that will give young people the opportunity to share their views directly with world leaders gathered for the G-8 Summit.  There is a press release from UNICEF upstairs.

**ITU

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has called for a harmonized global child helpline number.  The ITU has endorsed the number 116 111, already in use in many countries.  Child helplines have become a lifeline for vulnerable children in many countries, says the ITU.  We have more information in a press release also available upstairs.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

And at 11:15 a.m. tomorrow, UN System Influenza Coordinator, Dr. David Nabarro, will provide an update on avian influenza and pandemic preparedness.  So that’s for tomorrow.  This is all I have for you today.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  When will Lakhdar Brahimi be briefing us on the UN report on Algeria?

Spokesperson:  We don’t have a date yet because, as you know, the report is still being studied by legal experts.

Question:  My other question is, why was one UNIS graduate’s country of origin not shown in last Friday’s UNIS graduation programme?  He was the only Palestinian student to receive the only award at the graduation, and each student has the country of origin next to their name except for him.

Spokesperson:  You have to ask that question of UNIS, not of me.

Question:  You informed us about the graduation.

Spokesperson:  I informed you about the graduation.  I did it as a courtesy to the school.  But the school should be able to answer your question, not me.

Question:  [in French]

Spokesperson:  The question was about Mr. Menkerios’ trip, and I said that Mr. Menkerios is still en route to Zimbabwe.  He’s flying through South Africa right now.  He’s expected to arrive late this evening in Harare, mid-afternoon our time in New York.  The agenda is still being determined and we should have more on that once Mr. Menkerios is in the country and has met with authorities.

Question:  [in French]

Spokesperson:  The question was about a mass grave found in the Abyei area.  And my answer was that we are aware of the reports but we don’t have any confirmation from our Mission yet.

Question:  Maybe the Secretary-General already responded, but over the weekend the Afghan President threatened Pakistan with attacking Pakistan to pursue militants.  Has the Secretary-General taken note of that threat by the Afghan President to Pakistan over the weekend?  Has he issued a statement as yet?

Spokesperson:  No, not that I know of.

Question:  Is he going to be, because this is a very serious matter?

Spokesperson:  I will ask for you whether there is going to be anything issued.  I don’t have anything at this point.

Question:  There are reports from Saudi Arabia, actually they quote your associate Farhan Haq in saying there will be an increase in output of 200,000 barrels a day.  Does the Secretary-General take credit for that?  Did he convince the Saudis to increase output?

Spokesperson:  No, it was just information he relayed to the press.  I have what he said.  He said that the Saudi oil minister told him that Saudi Arabia had increased its production by 300,000 barrels from May to June and would increase it again by 200,000 barrels from June to July.  This is what the Secretary-General said, relaying information given to him by the Saudi oil minister.  And by July, production should be at 9.7 million barrels.

Question:  So because he raised the same issue with the King, can we assume it was because of his request?

Spokesperson:  We cannot assume anything, but I think it was a very productive meeting.  That’s all I can say.

Question:  Did you follow up on the question I asked last week about the Menkerios citizenship?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  What is it?

Spokesperson:  I did tell you that he is South African.

Question:  The US Secretary of State was quoted in Beirut today as asking the Secretary-General to increase his efforts to resolve the Shebaa Farms status.  Is that something he’s actively engaged in now and what would be the next step?

Spokesperson:  We have been reporting at times to you, the progress made on the Shebaa Farms.  You can have in my office additional information on where we are at on the Shebaa Farms issue.

Question:  To follow up on the question regarding Mr. Ban Ki-moon and the hiking of the oil prices, does he really believe the rising of oil prices, that one reason for it is due to a shortage of oil production?

Spokesperson:  There is no doubt.  It’s a law of the market.  If there is more production, the prices are supposed to go down.

Question:  But the question is, does he believe that it is because the oil-producing countries do not produce enough oil in the market?

Spokesperson:  As I said, it’s a market rule.  I don’t think the Secretary-General has any special opinion on that.

Question:  There was a report even before the Secretary-General met with the Saudi King, in The New York Times it said the Saudis had already agreed to increase oil production.  Was the Secretary-General speaking in light of that report or he already knew this was going to happen?

Spokesperson:  As I said, we had 300,000 barrels from May to June, so it was already done.  There was an increase in production already.  Now there is a new increase in production from June to July, and it’s going to be 200,000 barrels.

Question:  Michèle, there’s a report that this French military contractor has signed an agreement with the Transitional Federal Government to patrol the coast of Somalia and protect the President.  The head of this contractor is quoted as saying he will seek backing from UN bodies.  Is the UN aware of this?  Is it in the UN mandate to pay money to a private security firm to protect a transitional federal Government?

Spokesperson:  I can inquire into this, but I don’t think so.

Question:  On Timor-Leste, there are two controversies.  One is the turning from UN police to local police in Timor-Leste.  It was supposed to take place at the end of the year.  The BBC now reports it may take place at the end of this month.  Do you know which it is?  Is there a speed-up in turning over the policing function?

Spokesperson:  I think on Friday I gave you some information on the turnover and I can get that information again for you on a more precise date for it.  But they were increasing the level of assistance to the police.

Question:  And also, there was a person named Roque Rodrigues, a UN contract person, despite being named as a person who should be prosecuted for previous violence in Timor-Leste.  Now it’s reported that his UN contract is being terminated, but there seems to be some uncertainty about whether that’s true.  Is his contract being terminated?

Spokesperson:  I can get more for you on that.  We have more upstairs on that.  I can get you that information.  If you come to my office you can have it.

Question:  Two quick questions.  After the US troop surge last year in Iraq, there were reports of an increase in Iraqi civilian refugees into Syria.  Is there anywhere inside the international system where we could find out the amount of refugee increase following the surge?

Spokesperson:  We have information from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on the issue.  I think we have come out with several things on the camps where those Iraqi refugees are, and we can get you more on that, of course.

Question:  My second question was around the same question of oil production.  In the era of climate change and peak oil and all these issues, an increase in oil production doesn’t seem to deal with the systemic issues in the market.  If the Secretary-General is indeed supporting this Saudi move, is he not supporting a band-aid solution to a much more common problem?

Spokesperson:  He is aware that it is much more comprehensive than that, and he has discussed the other implications of the issue, the impact on the food crisis.  He has been discussing this for a long time.  It was one of the subjects that was discussed at the Rome meeting when they were discussing food and the impact of oil prices.  Of course, he says, and he has been saying it over and over, there has to be a comprehensive approach to those different problems because they are part of one entity.

Thank you very much.

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