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

4 August 2008

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

4 August 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.  I notice that the UN correspondents’ corps has changed this morning.  Anyway, welcome to all of you.

**Secretary-General in Mexico

The Secretary-General is currently in Mexico City, where he will shortly be meeting first with Mexican Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa, and after that with President Felipe Calderón.

Last night, he addressed the opening of the Seventeenth International AIDS Conference.  He called on politicians around the world to speak out against discrimination and protect the rights of people living with and affected by HIV.  He asked for schools to teach respect, for religious leaders to preach tolerance and for the media to condemn prejudice in all its forms.

The responses to HIV and AIDS require long-term and sustained financing, the Secretary-General emphasized.  As more people go on treatment and live longer, budgets will have to increase considerably over the next few decades.

Right before he spoke, Keren Jamina Dunaway-Gonzalez, a HIV-positive 11-year-old from Honduras, addressed the Conference.  After discussing the problems she faces as a young girl with HIV, she greeted the Secretary-General, whom she had met earlier this year, and gave him a kiss.

This morning the Secretary-General held a working breakfast with the Global Compact’s Mexico network and addressed an extraordinary session of the Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean, known by its Spanish acronym, OPANAL.  At OPANAL, the Secretary-General said that international efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation and achieve nuclear disarmament continue to face significant challenges.

This afternoon he’ll address a joint session of the Mexican Parliament and meet with HIV-positive civil society leaders at a side event of the International AIDS Conference.  We will get a transcript of this event later.

The Secretary-General also met last night with the UN country team in Mexico, who surprised him with a mariachi band during a town-hall meeting.  The Secretary-General sang along as the band played Besame Mucho.

The Secretary-General will be back in New York tomorrow afternoon.

**AIDS Conference

Peter Piot, the Executive Director of UNAIDS, also addressed the International AIDS Conference in Mexico last night, saying that, for the first time, we are seeing large-scale results, with fewer people dying of AIDS and fewer becoming infected with HIV.  This is cause for encouragement, he said, but not for complacency, nor for declaring victory, because the end of AIDS is nowhere in sight.

Piot quoted Caribbean singer and poet Bob Marley, telling the audience: “Get up, stand up… don’t give up the fight.”

Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), said she found it appropriate that the Conference is hosted in Latin America.  Many countries in the region have a long tradition of embracing the principle of equitable access to health care as a fundamental human right.  The future of the AIDS response rests on this foundation, she said.  We have the statements available in my Office.

**Security Council

The Security Council this morning adopted its programme of work for August, after holding its first consultations under the Belgian presidency of the Council.

The Council also adopted a resolution establishing, for an initial 12-month mandate, a UN Integrated Peacebuilding Support Office in Sierra Leone, known as UNIPSIL.

The new Council President, Ambassador Jan Grauls of Belgium, will talk to you in this room at 12:30 p.m. about the Council’s programme during the month of August.

** Somalia

On Somalia, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, has expressed his sadness over the deaths of 20 Somali women in a bomb attack in Mogadishu over the weekend.

“Nothing can justify the deaths of innocent victims,” Ould-Abdallah said in a statement.  He noted that “these women were killed trying to do their work and improve life in Mogadishu by cleaning the streets”.  Ould-Abdallah extended his condolences to the families and to all Somalis.  He also called on “true Somali patriots” to use restraint and address their problems through contact and dialogue, as preached by their religion and their culture.

In a separate statement over the weekend, Ould-Abdallah also expressed concern over the current problems regarding the administration of Mogadishu.  With the end of the transition period less than a year away, he called on the Somali people to remain united and solve their political problems.  We have both statements upstairs.

** Sudan

On Sudan, the Acting UN-AU Joint Special Representative for Darfur, Henry Anyidoyo, travelled to Khartoum yesterday, along with senior African Union officials, for consultations with the Government of Sudan.  The officials discussed, among other topics, the deployment of the UN-AU Mission, known as UNAMID, support for the new Joint Chief Mediator, Djibril Bassole, and the strengthening of the offices of the Joint Mediation Support Team.

They received reassurances from the Government of the Sudan that the full deployment of UNAMID would be facilitated and that all obstacles concerning the use of land by UNAMID would be removed.

UNAMID also reports that the security situation in its area of operations has remained relatively calm during the past several days.

**Timor-Leste

On Timor-Leste, the Secretary-General, in his latest report to the Security Council on the UN Mission in Timor-Leste, says that the violence that took place on 11 February was a test of the resilience of the country’s institutions, noting that leaders and the Timorese people did not allow the events to jeopardize the country’s overall stability.

At the same time, he said, Special Representative Atul Khare’s continuing good offices efforts promoted a more conciliatory atmosphere among the political leaders and aimed at instilling among political actors the appreciation of the value of a strong opposition and an effective Parliament.

Still, he writes, the national police will need long-term training and support for many years, and further efforts are also needed to reform the security sector, strengthen the rule of law, aid economic and social development and promote a culture of democratic governance.  The report is on the racks today.

**Human Rights Council Advisory Committee

In Geneva, the Human Rights Council’s Advisory Committee began its first session today by electing its Chairperson and Bureau officers.  The Committee also heard statements from the Acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Kyung-wha Kang, and the President of the Human Rights Council, Ambassador Martin Uhomoibhi of Nigeria.

The Advisory Committee will serve as a “think tank” for the Human Rights Council, providing expertise and advice and conducting substantive research and studies on thematic issues of interest to the Council.

The Committee is made up of 18 experts serving in their personal capacity.  Its current session runs through 15 August.  More information is available in a meeting summary from Geneva which we have upstairs.

** Haiti

As part of its ongoing international Initiative on Soaring Food Prices, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has started distributing seeds and tools to Haiti’s most vulnerable farmers.

Six hundred tons of beans, maize, sorghum and other seeds -- along with hoes and machetes -- are being distributed to some 70,000 families for the current planting season.

The Government of Spain, the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund and FAO itself are providing funds for the project.  If enough money becomes available, the distributions will be extended to an additional 400,000 families for the next two planting seasons.  And we have more information on that upstairs.

** Mozambique

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Ann Veneman, wrapping up a three-day visit to Mozambique, announced an additional $3 million in support for the agency’s nutrition programmes there. An estimated 41 per cent of children in Mozambique suffer from chronic malnutrition, Veneman says.

While recent socio-economic progress has put the country on track to meet the Millennium Development Goals of reducing child and maternal mortality, rising food prices and the AIDS epidemic are threatening to derail any further advances.  There is more information also on that upstairs.

**International Atomic Energy Agency

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says that a storage room in one of its facilities in Austria yesterday experienced plutonium contamination, although it adds that all indications are that there was no release of radioactivity to the environment.

The IAEA says that a build-up of pressure in a small sealed sample bottle in a storage safe resulted in plutonium contamination of a storage room at the IAEA's Safeguards Analytical Laboratory in Seibersdorf.  No one was working in the laboratory at the time.  A full investigation of the incident will be conducted.  The IAEA has informed the Austrian regulatory authority.

**Other Announcements

And finally, I would like to welcome a possible future addition to the UN press corps.  Our colleague Bessan Vikou of BBC Africa is the lucky father of a little girl Eden born last Friday.

Compliments a Vikou et surtout a Jody. C’est elle qui a effectivement travaillé a mettre au monde ce petit brin de paradis.  I will not translate this, Masood.  I was informed this morning by a delegation of Vikou’s colleagues.

**Press Conferences Today

And following this briefing, I remind you that you have the press conference at 12:30 p.m. by the Permanent Representative of Belgium and President of the Security Council for the month of August.  And that’s all I have for you.  Yes, Benny?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Is the Secretary-General concerned or mildly interested, outraged, or condemns or welcomes the deaths of 11 people in Gaza or does the UN even have a representation in Gaza?

Spokesperson:  The UN does have strong representation in Gaza by the way, and the Secretary-General deplores the violence that took place there.  Eleven people have died and over 100 were injured and this feature also brought a wave of arrests and detentions.  The Secretary-General calls for dialogue and reconciliation among all Palestinians, and reiterates his support for President [Mahmoud] Abbas’s initiative for progress towards the goal of reunification of the Gaza Strip and West Bank, within the framework of the legitimate Palestinian Authority.  That’s all I have for you.

Question:  Actually, the initiative that I saw reported on is Abbas wouldn’t allow some of the Fatah people that wanted to look for asylum in the West Bank to enter the West Bank.  Instead he said they should go back to Gaza where Fatah should have representation.

Spokesperson:  I cannot comment on that, of course not.  Any other questions?

Question:  It’s just a simple question, Michèle.  Last week, I think, the Secretary-General took about six or seven correspondents out for a luncheon, a group of correspondents.  Is that exclusive to that particular group of correspondents or will he be doing this more often…?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General had three luncheons of that sort with different people from different regions of the world and he is planning to… it is an ongoing thing; it is a very informal get-together that the Secretary-General has with reporters.  And as soon as we get new dates available, we will have more of those luncheons.  Yes?

Question:  Did the Secretary-General or the UN have anything to say about the seemingly increasing tension between North and South Korea, where the tourist was killed and now some South Korean workers have been told to leave North Korea?  Is there any comment by the UN on this?

Spokesperson:  No, not at this point.  The Secretary-General is certainly following the situation very closely.  But there is really nothing, no statement we have to make on this.

Question:  And also, I apologize if you said something at the beginning; this incident over the weekend in South Ossetia and Georgia, there was kind of a shooting war and children have been getting moved out of South Ossetia into North Ossetia and Russia.  Is the UN -- even though I understand the UN focuses on Abkhazia and not South Ossetia -- this thing…?

Spokesperson:  Well, the UN is not present in South Ossetia.  The UN is present in Abkhazia and we will have no comment on that specifically.  We don’t have a presence there, as you know.  Thank you so much.  At 12:30 p.m., we should have the President of the Council.

* *** *

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