25 July 2008


25 July 2008
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, all.

**Guest at Noon Today

Our guest at the noon briefing today is UN Chief Legal Counsel, Nicolas Michel.  It will be the last press conference given by Under-Secretary-General Nicolas Michel in his capacity as head of the Office of Legal Affairs.  He will speak about peace and justice issues.

**Statement on Cyprus

We have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Cyprus:

The Secretary-General warmly welcomes the agreement today by the Greek Cypriot leader, Demetris Christofias, and the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mehmet Ali Talat, to launch full-fledged negotiations on 3 September 2008 aimed at reaching a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem.  The Secretary-General commends the leaders for the progress made so far and takes this occasion to reiterate the full support of the United Nations for their efforts towards a mutually acceptable solution.  During his visit to the island next week, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Cyprus, Alexander Downer, will discuss with the leaders how the United Nations can best assist the process.

** Cyprus

We also have available upstairs a joint statement delivered by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Cyprus, Taye-Brook Zerihoun, concerning the Cypriot leaders’ decision to start their full-fledged negotiations on 3 September, under the Secretary-General’s good offices mission.

The aim of the full-fledged negotiations is to find a mutually acceptable solution to the Cyprus problem, which will safeguard the fundamental and legitimate rights and interests of Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots.  The agreed solution will be put to separate simultaneous referenda.

The leaders, in their talks today in Nicosia, also approved 16 measures, which were recently agreed upon in the relevant technical committees, on the environment, cultural heritage, crisis management and crime and criminal matters. Those measures will now need to be implemented.

In addition, the leaders agreed to establish a secure hotline to facilitate direct contact between themselves, and instructed their representatives to take up the issue of specific crossing points.

**Security Council

In the Security Council, Lamberto Zannier, the Secretary-General’s new Special Representative for Kosovo, told the Security Council in its open debate today that the ability of the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) to perform the vast majority of its tasks as an interim administration has been fundamentally challenged, owing to actions taken by the authorities in Pristina and the Kosovo Serbs.

Speaking to the Council for the first time, Zannier said that, while he and his staff continue to monitor the work of the Kosovo authorities and to mediate and facilitate in disputes between communities, his power to impose solutions throughout much of the territory has, in practice, disappeared.

He noted that UNMIK has been engaged in panning for a reconfiguration of its presence which takes account of the changed circumstances.  An initial reconfiguration plan has been developed and forwarded to Headquarters, outlining a number of measures which will reduce the Mission’s capacity in areas where it can no longer function -- for example in civil administration -- and enhancing it in others, with particular attention to minorities.

Zannier said he remains optimistic that UNMIK can continue to have an important role in facilitating dialogue among different parties in all matters affecting the lives of all Kosovo’s communities.  We have his remarks upstairs, and Zannier intends to speak to you at the stakeout following today’s open debate in the Security Council.

Yesterday, the Security Council received a briefing on humanitarian and political developments in Myanmar from the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Ibrahim Gambari, who noted that he will visit that country next month upon invitation from the Myanmar Government.

** Myanmar

Still on Myanmar, 12 weeks after Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, nearly 700,000 children under the age of 17 are still in need of longer term assistance, according to UNICEF.

Today, the aid and reconstruction programmes were moving forward and were allowing schools to be rebuilt.  Schools had reopened a few weeks ago, giving hope for a better future for 6,000 children.  UNICEF has distributed education supplies and recreational kits to children in the affected areas and has set up temporary learning spaces.

The World Food Programme (WFP) also says hundreds of thousands of families still have a lengthy storm to weather and the situation in Myanmar remains dire, as the vast majority of families simply don’t have enough to eat.  The findings of a joint Government, ASEAN and UN report released earlier this week substantiate WFP's concerns and earlier fears of a drastic reduction in household food stocks after the cyclone struck.

In response to the assessment’s results, WFP recently scaled up its emergency feeding programmes for 924,000 beneficiaries, which will last until next April.

**Economic and Social Council

The Economic and Social Council will wrap up its 2008 substantive session today in New York.  Sustainable development was the main theme of the Council’s month-long session.

During the session, the first biennial Development Cooperation Forum discussed technical aspects of development cooperation issues, with a view to contributing to discussions of future high-level development meetings in Accra, Ghana, in September, and in Doha, Qatar, in late November and early December.

Also, the Annual Ministerial Review featured presentations from four developing and four developed countries on lessons learned in development assistance.

** Colombia

On Colombia, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and 10 other partners are launching a nationwide campaign to help the victims of forced displacement in Colombia today, in Bogotá.  The campaign is called “Corre por la Vida” -- Running for Life -- and it compares forced displacement to a long-distance race, which started when people have no choice but to flee from conflict, violence or persecution.

“Corre por la Vida” is being launched today in Bogotá and Medellin, the country’s second largest city, with a symbolic race by the campaign’s organizers. We have more information in today’s Geneva briefing notes.

**Food and Agriculture Organization

The tropical root crop cassava could help provide more food and also contribute to the food security of poor countries now threatened by soaring food and oil prices, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) said today.

At a global conference held in Gent, Belgium, cassava scientists called for a significant increase in research and development needed to boost farmers’ yields and explore promising industrial uses of cassava, including production of biofuels.

Cassava is the staple food of nearly 1 billion people in 105 countries, where the root provides as much as a third of daily calories.  And it has enormous potential, as average cassava yields are barely 20 per cent of those obtained under optimum conditions.  We have a FAO press release upstairs on that.

**Week Ahead

And our guest at the noon briefing on Monday will be John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, who will brief on his recent trip to Myanmar.

And also on Monday, just a look ahead; at 10 a.m., the General Assembly meets in plenary to take up the approval of the new High Commissioner for Human Rights as well as discuss issues under the agenda items of Sport for peace and development; administration of justice at the UN; and the extension of Rwanda Tribunal judges.

And then on Tuesday, again just looking ahead, the Security Council is scheduled to hold consultations on the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia.

And the guest at the noon briefing on Tuesday will be Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, holding his farewell press conference.  And this is all I have for you today.  Yes, Lalit?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Now that Mr. Holmes has acknowledged the huge loss of aid money in Burma, what efforts are being done by the UN to recover that money…?

Spokesperson:  May I suggest that you ask the question to Mr. Holmes himself on Monday?  That would be the best.

Question:  To follow up on it, because I am not sure he will come with this figure.  We’ve asked OCHA just to give a dollar figure of how much money was in fact converted through foreign exchange certificates and for some reason they haven’t provided the number.  Because it seems like, the UN, if you are raising funds they should know how much they converted.  So, is there a way, I guess, to formally ask your Office to either ask OCHA or, because I don’t expect Mr, Holmes to come with a calculator, but that number should be given?

Spokesperson:  Yes, okay.  So, in a few minutes we will be having Mr. Michel, who will be coming to brief us.

Question:  It’s Mr. Michel’s last day today, is it?

Spokesperson:  Yes.  He’s leaving this afternoon.

Question:  Will that position be vacant for a while, or what?

Spokesperson:  It is.  Right now they are at the last stage of finding a replacement for Mr. Michel.  The last interviews are taking place right now and we should know shortly.

Question:  When do you expect that?

Spokesperson:  I cannot give you a date for that.

Question:  Who will be the Officer-in-Charge?  Is Larry Johnson still with OLA or not?

Spokesperson:  No, Larry Johnson has left.

Question:  You mean he’s left…?

Spokesperson:  I will tell you who the Officer-in-Charge is.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  Okay, good.  Just be patient, and Mr. Michel will be with you in a second.

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