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

9 July 2008

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

9 July 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 Darfur

Good afternoon, all.  We first have a statement attributable to the Secretary-General.  On 8 July at approximately 14:45 local time, a UN-African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) joint police and military patrol was ambushed by unidentified militia between Gusa Jamat and Wadah.  The attackers used heavy weapons and engaged the UNAMID convoy in an exchange of fire for more than two hours.  Seven peacekeepers were killed and twenty-two were wounded, seven of them critically.

The Secretary-General condemns in the strongest possible terms this unacceptable act of extreme violence against AU-UN peacekeepers in Darfur and calls on the Government of Sudan to do its utmost to ensure that the perpetrators are swiftly identified and brought to justice.  The Secretary-General expresses his deepest condolences to the families of the peacekeepers who lost their lives, and reiterates his appreciation for their service, valour and commitment to the search for peace in Darfur.

The Secretary-General calls on all parties to respect their agreements, to redouble their efforts to ensure the safety and integrity of the peacekeeping force and reach a comprehensive settlement to the crisis in Darfur as soon as possible.  The Secretary-General reiterates his appeal to the international community to provide all necessary support to the peacekeeping force in Darfur.

**Secretary-General in Japan

The Secretary-General is flying back to New York now, after he participated earlier today in the Summit of the Group of Eight (G-8) leaders in Hokkaido, by attending the meeting of the Major Economies on Climate Change.  Before leaving Japan, he issued a statement saying that he was grateful at the focused discussions by the Group of Eight and other world leaders at the Summit on the three interrelated global crises of climate change, food security and development.  The discussion, he said, provides initial direction for global efforts that must be accelerated in the coming weeks and months.

The Secretary-General welcomed the statement of the G-8 on climate change and the environment, including the long-term goal of reducing emissions by at least 50 per cent by 2050.  This, against a 1990 baseline, is a clear step forward, but we must go further, he said.  He added that he was happy to see the strong commitment of the G-8 to address the global food crisis in a Global Partnership for Food, facilitated and coordinated by the United Nations.

The Secretary-General appreciated particularly the endorsement received for his High-Level Task Force and its Comprehensive Framework for Action.  He added that we must use the current crisis as an opportunity to significantly step up public and private investment into agricultural production and research, and into rural infrastructure at levels above $25 billion per year.  The Secretary-General emphasized that, following the Summit, the challenge now is to move beyond discussions to action.  We have his full statement upstairs.  The Secretary-General also had a bilateral meeting with the Indonesian President before departing from Japan, ending his three-nation, 13-day trip to North Asia.

**Security Council

The Security Council this morning received a briefing in closed consultations from Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe about the Secretary-General’s recent report on the implementation of resolution 1701, concerning Lebanon.  Wolfgang Weisbrod-Weber, the Director of the Asia and Middle East Division of the Department for Peacekeeping Operations, also briefed the Council on the work of the UN Interim Force, UNIFIL.  Both of them spoke to you at the stakeout a little earlier today.  In the report, the Secretary-General says that he looks forward to the speedy establishment of a national unity Government in Lebanon and to the revitalization of the country’s constitutional institutions.

Then, at 3 this afternoon, Kai Eide, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, will brief the Security Council in an open meeting on the UN’s work in that country.  Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes, who visited Afghanistan recently, will also brief, and he’ll talk to reporters afterward at the Council stakeout.

** Afghanistan

Speaking of Afghanistan, the United Nations and the Government of Afghanistan today launched an appeal in Kabul, asking for $404 million to feed 4.5 million of the most vulnerable people in that country following poor harvests, drought and the rise in worldwide food prices.  Bo Asplund, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Afghanistan, said that there is an urgent need to provide life-saving assistance to Afghanistan’s people, the needs are great and the time is limited.  We have more details in a press release upstairs.

**Security Council on Tuesday

The Security Council President, Ambassador Le Luong Minh of Viet Nam, yesterday read out two press statements, on Somalia and on Pakistan, following the Council’s consultations.  On Pakistan, he said, Council members condemned in the strongest terms the terrorist suicide attack that took place in Islamabad on Sunday, as well as the terrorist attacks that occurred in parts of Karachi the following day.  Council members also condemned in the strongest terms the killing over the weekend of the officer in charge of the UN Development Programme office in Mogadishu and the wounding of other people, including his brother and son, in the same attack.  They reaffirmed the imperative to respect in all circumstances the safety and security of UN and humanitarian relief personnel.

**WFP Somalia

On Somalia, for the fourth time this year, a World Food Programme (WFP) contracted driver has been killed in Somalia.  Ahmed Saalim was travelling as part of a convoy of WFP-contracted trucks in the Lower Shabelle region on Monday.  He was shot after fighting broke out between convoy escorts and militiamen at a checkpoint.  WFP sends its condolences to Saalim’s family and appeals for such killings to stop.  WFP also urges all parties to allow the safe passage of humanitarian staff and assistance at a time when the need for such aid is on the rise.  Monday’s shooting occurred just one day after the head of the UN Development Programme in Somalia was shot and killed outside a mosque in Mogadishu.  We have more information upstairs.

** Middle East

On the Middle East, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, today wrapped up a series of visits to Cairo and Amman, having previously met with President Mahmoud Abbas and senior Israeli officials.  During his travels, Serry discussed all aspects of the Middle East peace process and voiced the UN’s support for Egypt’s efforts to solidify calm in Gaza and improve conditions for the civilian population.  Serry further underlined the Secretary-General’s support for the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian political negotiations, President Abbas’ efforts on Palestinian unity, and the indirect Israeli-Syrian peace talks.

** Greece and The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

The Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for the talks between Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Matthew Nimetz, will be holding technical consultations in New York with both sides separately.  Nimetz will meet with a delegation from Skopje on Thursday, 10 July, and with a delegation from Athens on Monday, 14 July.  The purpose of these meetings is to hold working sessions focused on elements of a possible agreement.  No joint meeting or statement is expected.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

In his latest report on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is out as a document today, the Secretary-General says that key benchmarks for a gradual drawdown of the UN Mission (MONUC) include a resolution of the crisis in the Kivus and the development of legitimate Government institutions.  On the situation in the east, the Secretary-General says that success in the Goma and Nairobi processes will depend on the sustained political engagement of all parties.  He encourages the parties to make use of the Amani Programme, which was created to implement recent agreements, to build confidence among themselves and address the plight of the refugees and internally displaced persons.  On the other hand, the Secretary-General is concerned that, while the ceasefire has generally held, recent clashes and the continued recruitment by armed groups threaten to destabilize the north-east again.

** Uganda

Out on the racks today also is a letter from the Secretary-General to the President of the Security Council that includes a full report on the Juba peace talks between the Government of Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army.  The report, which was written by Chief Mediator Riek Machar, the Vice-President of the Government of Southern Sudan, reviews the current situation and makes a number of recommendations on the way forward.

**Food and Agriculture Organization and Food Crisis

Turning to the global food crisis, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today vastly expanded its initiative to help small farmers and vulnerable households deal with rising prices.  FAO approved $21 million worth of projects in 48 countries, bringing the total number of countries now covered by the initiative to 54.  The projects will provide farmers with seeds, fertilizer, and other agricultural inputs for one year.  The immediate objective is to ensure the success of the next planting season.  But the longer-term goal is to show that increasing the supply of key agricultural inputs allows small farmers to rapidly increase food production.  There is more information upstairs.

** Iraq Displaced Persons

The Government of Iraq today launched a policy to improve the situation for displaced persons and returnees following wide-scale consultations with displaced persons around the country by Iraq’s Ministry of Displacement and Migration and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), in coordination with other partners.  We have details in a press release, from UNHCR and the Ministry of Displacement and Migration, upstairs.

**DPI/NGO Conference

And for the first time, the meeting of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) hosted each year by the Department of Public Information will be held in Paris to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed in 1948 in the French capital.  This sixty-first annual DPI/NGO Conference from the 3rd to the 5th of September is being held outside of UN Headquarters at UNESCO in Paris.  It will bring together more than 2,000 participants from some 90 countries around the theme “Reaffirming Human Rights:  The Universal Declaration at 60”.

And a new website has just been launched this week to provide useful information, in English and French, to the NGO community and other civil society members interested in participating in or contributing to the work of the sixty-first annual DPI/NGO Conference.  You can visit the site at www.un.org/dpi/ngosection/conference.  And you have more details, of course, upstairs in my office.

**Press Conferences

My guest at the briefing tomorrow will be Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes, accompanied by UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Myanmar, Dan Baker.  They will be here to brief you following the launch of the revised Appeal for Myanmar.  Mr. Holmes will also be joining me again on Friday to highlight the humanitarian situation in the Horn of Africa.  Also tomorrow, Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Foreign Minister of Pakistan, will hold a press briefing here in Room 226 at 4:40 p.m.  And this is all I have for you.  Thank you.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Just to clarify, Holmes will be briefing us after this noon briefing?

Spokesperson:  No, it will be tomorrow.  He will be briefing this afternoon at the stakeout on Afghanistan.

Question:  The Khambo of Lama during the G-8 Summit yesterday urged leaders to condemn oppression of civil liberties in Myanmar and Tibet.  Does the Secretary-General agree with that proposal?

Spokesperson:  Whose proposal was it?

Question:  He represents the Dalai Lama.  And yesterday in a private religious meeting he had urged leaders to condemn what he calls oppression in Tibet and Myanmar.

Spokesperson:  This is his appeal.  The Secretary-General has nothing to say on this.  His position on Myanmar has been clear from the start and he has reiterated his position on China on several occasions.

Question:  Is there any special reason to shift the DPI/NGO annual conference to Paris?  Because this used to be the forerunner to the General Assembly session, the tradition.

Spokesperson:  It is a special occasion, the special occasion being the sixtieth anniversary of the Human Rights Declaration that was signed in Paris.  So it is a way to pay attention to that Declaration.

Question:  What I had in mind was that NGO representatives used to have a lot of problems getting US visas.  I thought it had been shifted because of the visa problem.

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t think there is any relationship.

Question:  I don’t know if you addressed this, and if you did, I missed it and I’m sorry.  Did the Secretary-General have anything to say about the test missile, the missile testing by Iran?

Spokesperson:  Not at this point.

Question:  It’s not a threat to international peace and security, I guess.

Spokesperson:  It hasn’t been discussed.

Question:  Michèle, it’s been a long time since we heard from the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Iraq.  Does he have a latest report or statement on Iraq?

Spokesperson:  No, we don’t have anything from there now.

Question:  And Sudan?  Special Representative Ashraf Qazi made a statement the day before yesterday but has he had a statement since then?

Spokesperson:  We had a statement earlier about the incident that occurred.  We don’t have anything additional now.

Question:  The President of the General Assembly, Srgjan Kerim, just said the Secretary-General would be briefing the General Assembly about the selection of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  He said within the next 10 days.  He previously called for GA input into the decision.  Is the Secretary-General going to brief the Assembly before announcing who has the post or after?

Spokesperson:  From what I gather, afterwards.

Question:  He’s going to brief them after he announces it.  How’s that input?

Spokesperson:  The input was already taken, not in a public forum, but input has been taken steadily from members of the General Assembly.

[The Spokesperson later added that the process of interviewing candidates for the post was still ongoing.]

Question:  Also, there have been reports that OCHA and other UN agencies have been asked by Myanmar not to hold their press briefings in Bangkok, that previously they’d been holding weekly press briefings in Bangkok and they stopped.  And the concern has been raised that all the press can’t get to Yangon to these new press briefings.  Has the UN been told by Myanmar not to brief about the humanitarian crisis outside the country?

Spokesperson:  Not that I know of.  I will get in touch with Bangkok to find out, but as far as I know, the regular briefings were held on a daily basis at the heart of the crisis, and when humanitarian workers started going into Myanmar, the intensity of briefings in Bangkok stopped.  But they still have briefings in Bangkok.  I can find out for you if there was any such request.

Question:  That would be helpful.  Also, if the briefings are done in Yangon, does the UN take any steps to make sure that the press can actually attend them, the independent press?

Spokesperson:  I have to answer the first question before I can answer the second.

Question:  The announcement about the Human Rights Commissioner is going to be made when?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know yet.  You had an answer from the Deputy Secretary-General yesterday and I don’t have anything more to add.

Question:  I wonder if the Secretary-General has any thoughts about one theory regarding the bombing outside the Indian Embassy in Kabul, that it was the work of terrorists from Pakistan.  And also, an unrelated question, why is all this drilling going on now if we’re going to move?

Spokesperson:  Both questions were answered yesterday.  Monday we had a statement on what happened outside the Indian Embassy.  About the drilling, as you know, we are trying to be up to standards in terms of fire safety.

Question:  Even though we’re going to move and the whole renovation thing is supposed to take place?

Spokesperson:  Yes, but in the meantime, we have to comply.

Question:  Seems redundant.

Spokesperson:  Yes, the question was asked yesterday and I explained what the drilling was about.

Question:  Yesterday at the stakeout, Russian Ambassador Churkin said the Secretary-General had overstepped his bounds in the reconfiguration in Kosovo, and he specifically took issue with this idea that the EULEX force would not be reporting either to UNMIK or to the UN in New York.  Is there any response to what Churkin said and does the UN feel EULEX should report to it?

Spokesperson:  The positions were clear from the start.  This is the position, of course, of the Russian Ambassador and he expressed his opinion and that’s all I can say.

Question:  On the incident in Darfur, is the UN going to play any role in trying to determine what forces were responsible?  Some reports said Janjaweed, some reports have said others.  How are we going to find out who actually did this act?

Spokesperson:  At this point, all we have right now are some details on the event, exactly what took place.  In terms of the investigation itself, I’ll try to find out whether there will be any UN investigation.  But they did ask for an investigation by the Government on who did it and they asked that the perpetrators be brought to justice.  I’ll try to find out whether the UN will play any role in identifying the perpetrators.

Question:  Michèle, as you know, tensions in the Persian Gulf are rising because of this Israeli exercise which is preparation for war on Iran and Iran shooting missiles capable of going the distance.  So is the Secretary-General concerned?  Is he going to take this up with the Security Council members once he comes back?

Spokesperson:  The increase of tension he’s certainly aware of and he’s taking note of it.  At this point, he’s not taking any action directly to the Security Council.  And I’m sure the Security Council Members are also aware of what is happening and if there is anything to be done, they can initiate it right in the Security Council, which doesn’t need the Secretary-General to bring this to them.

Question:  Doesn’t he consult with the Security Council?  What I’m saying is, when he comes back, will he discuss this because this is an issue of great importance for world peace?  International peace and security are at stake.  So many players are involved, between the United States and Israel and Iran and the European Union.  There’s so much going on.

Spokesperson:  He’s certainly concerned by it, but that’s all I can say at this point.

Question:  One last question.  The Society of Professional Journalists, in their July issue, said they wrote to the Secretary-General on granting access to Taiwanese journalists to the UN.  Has the Secretary-General responded to that letter?  Are you aware of that letter?

Spokesperson:  I’m not aware of the letter.  I can find out but I think it’s come up several times and we have already answered that question many times.  I don’t think there’s going to be any different position on the part of the UN.

Question:  Can you explain that position again?

Spokesperson:  I can summarize the position by saying that there was a resolution taken by the General Assembly that there was one State that was the Chinese State, that was recognized as a Member of the Security Council, and that was mainland China.  This is what led to the fact that Taiwan is no longer in the General Assembly.  So there was a decision taken by Member States and that position really has led, as a consequence, to the fact that there are no Taiwanese journalists, as you say, who receive credentials, because you have to have credentials from a Member State of the United Nations.  That’s all.

Question:  Were Swiss journalists, before they were a Member State, were they accredited?

Spokesperson:  I don’t think so.

Question:  There were no Swiss journalists?

Spokesperson:  I don’t think so.  Thank you.

[The Spokesperson later clarified that among the criteria for United Nations Accreditation of Media is the requirement that journalists wishing to be accredited must hold a valid passport from “a State recognized by the United Nations General Assembly”.  Prior to Switzerland becoming a Member State of the United Nations, it enjoyed observer status, and Swiss reporters were therefore indeed accredited in the United Nations system, she added.]

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