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

22 July 2008

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

22 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.

Good afternoon all.

**Statement on Radovan Karadžić

We issued last night a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General:

The Secretary-General welcomes the arrest today of Radovan Karadžić, former President of the Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  The Secretary-General commends the Serbian authorities for this decisive step towards ending impunity for those indicted for serious violations of international humanitarian law during the conflict in the former Yugoslavia.

This is a historic moment for the victims, who have waited 13 years for Mr. Karadžić to be brought to justice.

This important and timely arrest will enable the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia to move closer to completing its mandate, and bring justice to the perpetrators and the victims of the serious international crimes committed.

Ending impunity is an essential element for achieving sustainable peace and justice in the region.  While this is an important milestone, the work of the International Tribunal will not be complete until all fugitives have been arrested and tried.

**International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

Also in a statement yesterday, Prosecutor Serge Brammertz of the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia welcomed the arrest by Serb authorities of Radovan Karadžić.

Karadžić is charged by the Tribunal with genocide, complicity in genocide, extermination, murder, wilful killing, persecutions, deportation, inhumane acts and other crimes committed against Bosnian Muslim, Bosnian Croat and other non-Serb civilians in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the 1992-1995 war.  The first indictment against him was confirmed in July 1995.

The Tribunal welcomed the arrest, which it called a milestone in discharging its mandate, and said it looks forward to Karadžić’s prompt transfer to The Hague to stand trial.  A case information sheet providing an overview of the case can be found on the Tribunal’s website.

**Statement on Zimbabwe

We also issued a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Zimbabwe yesterday:

The Secretary-General welcomes the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the parties in Zimbabwe, which provides a framework for formal talks to end the political crisis in the country.  The Secretary-General commends the efforts of President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and his mediation team in facilitating the signing of this agreement.  The United Nations is committed to support these mediation efforts through its participation in the recently formed Reference Group.  The Secretary-General encourages all sides to engage, in good faith, in serious talks that would lead to a lasting solution to the political crisis and address the urgent economic and humanitarian needs of the Zimbabwean people.

The Secretary-General also urges the enabling of humanitarian operations in order to allow the provision of assistance to those in dire need.

**Statement on Cambodia-Thailand

And we also issued yesterday a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Cambodia-Thailand.

The Secretary-General is closely following the situation on the Cambodia-Thailand border near the Preah Vihear Temple.  He is concerned about the current escalation of tensions between the two countries, including the build-up of troops.

The Secretary-General calls for restraint on both sides and hopes that this matter can be resolved peacefully and by diplomatic means in the context of the excellent relations that traditionally exist between the two countries.

**Statement on Nepal

And I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Nepal:

The Secretary-General warmly congratulates Dr. Ram Baran Yadav on his election as the first President of the Republic of Nepal.  He calls on all parties to cooperate in forming a new Government which will carry forward Nepal’s peace process.

**Security Council

The Security Council is holding its periodic meeting on the Middle East today.  Briefing Council members this morning, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe highlighted positive developments, including continuing indirect talks between Israel and Syria and the decline in violence in Gaza.

But he also expressed concern that Israeli forces have stepped up their military operations throughout the West Bank.  Israeli raids could affect the efforts of Palestinian security forces to operate effectively in areas under their control, he warned.

Pascoe noted that the number of truckloads entering Gaza from Israel, through the Sufa and Karni crossings, increased following the ceasefire, when compared to the previous month.  But the continued lack of many raw materials and the ban on exports rule out any significant economic recovery.  In addition, the amount of fuel in Gaza has remained substantially lower than actual needs.

On Lebanon, he said he was particularly heartened by the announcement of a national unity Government.  At the same time, however, he expressed concern about security incidents in and around the northern city of Tripoli and their implications for Lebanon’s stability and security.  He also urged Israel to cease its continued air violations, which have been recorded by the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

** Sudan

UNAMID just reported that, yesterday afternoon in El Fasher, a UN security officer was assaulted by military personnel of the Government of Sudan, and forced into a military vehicle and taken to the military intelligence office.  He has been released and is undergoing treatment at a UNAMID hospital.  The security officer had gone to the market to investigate a road accident.  A press release is expected shortly.

And still on the Sudan, the African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) reports that UNAMID police conducted their first helicopter patrols over five camps housing displaced persons in Darfur.  The three-hour test flight on Sunday was part of a UNAMID police initiative to use helicopters as an additional means of transport to reach selected IDP camps as an alternative to long distance road patrols which have proved to be very risky to the unarmed police advisers.

Meanwhile, the Joint AU-UN Special Representative, Rodolphe Adada met today with the Governor of North Darfur, Mohammed Osman Yousif Kibir, during which the latter reiterated the commitment of his Government to provide security and protection to UNAMID and affirmed his Government’s full support and cooperation in the facilitation of the full deployment of UNAMID.  The Governor also informed the Special Representative about the visit to Darfur tomorrow by the Sudanese President.

UNAMID also reports that 250 Egyptian engineers are expected to arrive in El Fasher tomorrow.

**Mexico-United States

Earlier today, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) said that the United States has until 29 August to file its written observations on the request for interpretation submitted to the Court by Mexico regarding the five Mexican nationals held on death row in US prisons.

Mexico brought the case against the US charging that its five nationals were not allowed Mexican consular services, in violation of international agreements signed by both parties.

The Court had earlier ruled that the US was in breach of its international obligations, but some US authorities ignored the ICJ ruling on technical grounds, prompting Mexico to file a request for interpretation.

**Gabon-Equatorial Guinea

On Gabon-Equatorial Guinea, after a meeting organized by the United Nations, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea this morning said in a joint statement that they have made substantial progress towards a referral of their territorial dispute to the International Court of Justice.

Representatives from the two countries came together yesterday and today at the UN Office in Geneva to work on key documents for the planned joint submission to the ICJ.  The parties have agreed to meet again on the margins of the General Assembly debate in New York this September to finalize the documents.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

On the Democratic Republic of the Congo, seven months after suspending its work for security reasons, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has resumed the assisted return of displaced persons to their homes in the northern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Some 2,500 displaced Congolese will be ferried across Lake Albert back to their homes in the town of Gobu, in the Ituri province.  Another UNHCR operation will see in the coming weeks the return of some 7,000 people to the towns of Komanda and Bunia.

** Myanmar

And in response to a question I was asked yesterday on Myanmar, the Secretary-General takes note of the concerns enumerated in the letter dated 21 July 2008 and addressed by members-elect of Parliament.  The Secretary-General has clearly stated that Myanmar’s process should be a credible and inclusive one.  His Special Envoy has also repeatedly stressed this point, including when he met with the representative of the National League for Democracy and others.

His Special Envoy intends to further discuss these concerns in his next visit in August, during which he expects to meet with all stakeholders in Myanmar’s political process.

Still on Myanmar, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, arrived in Myanmar today for a three-day visit to assess progress in relief and recovery operations since his visit in late May.  Holmes visited several affected communities in the Ayeyarwady delta this morning and was able to see how agricultural and other activities were picking up during an extensive helicopter tour.  He noted that significant progress has been made since his last visit.  The focus now, he said, needs to be on reaching the most vulnerable communities in remote areas.

Tomorrow, Holmes will meet the humanitarian community and donors in Yangon.  He is set to travel to the capital, Nay Pyi Taw, for consultations with the Government on Thursday.

**Universal Postal Union

The Universal Postal Union (UPU) says that email and the Internet, far from rendering postal services obsolete, have actually complemented them.

Speaking to the press today in Switzerland, UPU Director-General Edouard Dayan said that, in an era of online commerce, postal services have never played a more key role in commercial trade.  Nevertheless, gaps remain between industrialized and developing countries, he noted.  Three per cent of the world’s population still does not have access to basic postal services; that number rises as high as 12 per cent in Africa.

These and other topics will be taken up tomorrow, when the UPU begins its twenty-fourth Universal Postal Congress in Geneva.  The Congress, which takes place once every four years, runs through 12 August.  There is more information upstairs.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

And our guest at the noon briefing tomorrow, he was supposed to come today, he won’t be able to make it, it will be Ian Martin, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Political Mission in Nepal (UNMIN).

And this is all I have for you, thank you.  Yes, Erol.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Michèle, thank you.  Probably I would like to start with the assurance of how very well the Secretary-General’s heartened comment was received in the region (inaudible) reporting too.  And in that light, I guess I would like to ask the question what the Secretary-General will do as a next step.  Will he call President [Boris] Tadić to commend him in person and to ask him to push forward, since it is obvious that Serge Brammertz knows that those accused of war crimes are in the scope of the authorities in Serbia?

Spokesperson:  At this point, the Secretary-General will no longer intervene, because it is a matter, right now, between the court and the Government of Serbia. And we are waiting for the extradition to take place, and once it has taken place and the accused is in prison, then you have all these steps that take place.  They are all steps that have to do with the Tribunal itself.  The Secretary-General has expressed the way he felt, that it was a historic decision to have the arrest made; it was really an important thing for international justice.  But, at this point, the Secretary-General will not intervene beyond that.

Question:  He would not use the opportunity to call President Tadić and say: “Now, push forward and go forward another…”?

Spokesperson:  Not on this specific issue, no, because of the independence of the court, which I have been underlining so much in the last few days.

Question:  The African Union is trying to urge the United Nations to prevail on the International Criminal Court to suspend the indictment of the President of Sudan.  What is the attitude of the Secretary-General to that kind of thinking?

Spokesperson:  The decision can only come from the Security Council.  The Secretary-General, again, has nothing to do with this issue.  It has to be a decision taken by the Security Council.  As you know, the decision to actually put the whole issue of Darfur in front of the Court was a decision taken by the Security Council.

Question:  Michèle, I had asked you yesterday also about Afghanistan; the US killing of civilians in Afghanistan.  You said that you had no reaction now, but that you’d talk about it later.  Do you have any reaction?

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t have anything specific today. No.

Question:  The situation…

Spokesperson:  As I said yesterday, the Secretary-General has periodically protested about the number of civilian casualties.  He has expressed his concern over the issue for several months and years now.

Question:  Yeah, but they keep on happening and he keeps on remaining… the other thing that I wanted… I know Mr. Pascoe was briefing on the Middle East, but Iraq is a separate issue, it seems, there.  And what I am asking is, has the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Iraq come up with any sort of observation about the situation in Iraq now?

Spokesperson:  No.  I don’t have anything from him.

Question:  Nothing else?  Okay.  And he has not made any statement recently either?

Spokesperson:  But I can easily put you in touch with his office.

Question:  Yes, Michèle.  Last week it was announced in here that Mr. van Walsum is making preparations for a new round of negotiations between the Polisario Front and Morocco.  And it was also announced yesterday or the day before yesterday by the Polisario Front that they would not participate in any round of negotiations as long as Mr. van Walsum is the mediator.  So, do you have any comments to that?

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t really, because there is really nothing new to report at this time and we are giving the process some additional time and thought before convening the fifth round of talks.  So, this is the situation at this point.  There is really nothing new to report.

Question:  On Myanmar, maybe you’ve said this, it’s been said that the UN is going to stop its flights from Thailand and its helicopter flights inside Myanmar on 10 August and various humanitarian groups have questioned the decision and said that it’s going to make it more difficult to deliver aid.  What’s the reasoning behind stopping those flights?  Is it the problem is over…?

Spokesperson:  Well, this is because it is being taken over by maritime transportation and other considerations.  It really happens quite often in relief operations; that after the emergency phase is over, that they take other means besides transportation by air.

Question:  Right.  I mean, I guess these groups; maybe the groups just didn’t understand… Maybe they don’t understand that?

Spokesperson:  No, it’s not going to stop the flow of aid in any way.  It’s going to be simply, right now they are getting into the phase of reconstruction.  The issues are not as pressing as they were when they established those flights on a regular basis; on a daily basis, in fact.

Question:  And also on this Cambodia and Thailand situation; has the Secretary-General made any calls?  I know that both countries have written to the Security Council.  But has the Secretary-General had any involvement in trying to defuse…?

Spokesperson:  I just read a statement of the Secretary-General.

Question:  OK, very good.  This congressional delegation; did you read a statement on this?  The Secretary-General is meeting, it looks like, the whole House Foreign Affairs Committee.  And so I am wondering what the agenda of that meeting is and if maybe afterwards, what the agenda going in was; or if you can give a readout after it is finished.

Spokesperson:  I will try to give you a readout afterwards.  I have nothing to say on the agenda.

Question:  I mean, following the arrest, maybe you made the statement or not.  Following the arrest of this Karadžić, has the Secretary-General asked the Serbian authorities to speed up efforts to capture Mr. Ratko Mladić, the other…?

Spokesperson:  Well, it was in the statement that the Secretary-General issued, and Erol just asked the same question.  Thank you all very much.

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