5 August 2008


5 August 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.

**Secretary-General in Mexico

The Secretary-General is on his way back to New York from Mexico City, where he has wrapped up his official visit to Mexico and participation in the International AIDS Conference.

The Secretary-General spoke to the press after his meeting yesterday afternoon with President Felipe Calderón, and he praised the progress Mexico has made in setting up several new, ambitious targets, which go beyond the original Millennium Development Goals, and commended Mexico for providing regional leadership in the response to the AIDS pandemic.  He added that, during their meeting, he and the President also discussed Haiti, where recent unrest and political instability have shown the fragility of the stabilization process.

The Secretary-General later spoke to the Mexican Senate, telling them that the world faces three critical challenges on which their engagement is essential:  a climate crisis, a food crisis, and an emerging development emergency.  Each by itself is a formidable threat, yet they are deeply intertwined and require a truly global response.

Yesterday evening, the Secretary-General and his wife, Ban Soon-taek, visited the Global Village at the AIDS Conference, where they saw a performance by the “Dance for Life” group and heard from people who are infected with HIV in an interactive discussion.  In comments at the Global Village, the Secretary-General emphasized that the people he had met were at the heart of the AIDS response, and he told them, “I profoundly admire your courage and commitment.”  He called for renewed leadership in eradicating stigma and discrimination associated with HIV.  We have the speeches and comments he made in Mexico upstairs.

**World Health Organization

Today, at the International AIDS Conference in Mexico City, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched a package of priority interventions designed to help low- and middle-income countries move towards universal access to HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, care and support.  The package includes everything from how to expand condom programming to the latest in treatment recommendations, guidelines and standards.  “This document responds to a long-standing country need,” says WHO HIV/AIDS Department Director Dr. Kevin De Cock.  He said it provides WHO's best guidance on what the global HIV/AIDS health-sector response needs to deliver.

** Zimbabwe

Haile Menkerios, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, is departing New York today for South Africa to be briefed and to have consultations in Pretoria on the mediation process with regard to the political crisis in Zimbabwe.  He is going in his capacity as the UN's high-level representative to the Reference Group on Zimbabwe, which was established to support the mediation effort.  Menkerios intends to also visit Zimbabwe later in the week before returning to New York over the weekend.  When we have further details on his schedule, we will let you know.

** Sudan

The Force Commander of the Joint AU-UN Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), General Martin Luther Agwai, today paid a condolence visit to members of the Nigerian company in Foro Baranga, Western Darfur, following the loss of their commanding officer, Major Shehu Gada, two weeks ago.  Major Gada was shot dead on 16 July while on an administrative patrol.  During the visit, General Agwai said that it would be a disaster to allow what happened to Major Gada to happen again, and reminded the UNAMID peacekeepers that personal security is paramount.

Yesterday, a team from UNAMID’s Sector South Headquarters and some Department of Safety and Security officers conducted an air investigation patrol to parts of South Darfur to investigate reports of aerial bombardment by the Government of the Sudan.  The visit was successful, and a full report would be communicated soon.

** Myanmar –- Cyclone Nargis Relief

Three months after Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar, rescue efforts still remain critically underfunded, and delivery of sufficient relief and early-recovery assistance remains a challenge.  The UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar said, while agriculture is a key area to provide food for the 2.4 million affected people, it remains the least funded sector in the Revised Flash Appeal of 10 July, with unmet requirements of $51 million.  More donor support is also critical to fund the remaining relief and early-recovery needs, as indicated in the Revised Appeal.  So far, the Appeal is 41 per cent funded, with a shortfall of $285 million.

To date, more than 25,600 tons of food assistance has been delivered to approximately 684,000 cyclone-affected people.  It remains urgent to meet the basic food needs of some 924,000 vulnerable individuals on a systematic basis over the next nine months.

**UNHCR -– Palestinian Refugees

According to the UN refugee agency, nearly 200 Palestinian refugees who have been stranded on the Iraq-Syria border for two years will soon be resettled in Iceland and Sweden.  More than two dozen Palestinians from the Al Waleed camp will head to Iceland in the coming weeks, while another group of more than 150 refugees from the Al Tanf camp are bound for Sweden.

More than 2,000 Palestinians are still living in desperate conditions at the camps.  The health situation of many of the refugees has become increasingly dire as proper medical care is lacking.  UNHCR has repeatedly called for international support for them, and expresses its appreciation to both Iceland and Sweden in finding help for some of these very vulnerable people.  And there is more information upstairs.

**UNHCR -- Syria

The UN refugee agency has begun distributing school kits to Iraqi refugee children in Damascus.  Containing uniforms, shoes and school materials, the kits are valued at between $46 and $79, a significant amount of money for refugee families with several children in school but no money coming in.  It’s expected that 30,000 children will receive the kits before the school year begins on 7 September.  We have more information upstairs.

** Beijing Olympics

The Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Sport for Development and Peace, Wilfried Lemke, will represent the Secretary-General at the Beijing Summer Olympic Games.  He will attend the Opening Ceremony on Friday, along with UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura and UN Environment Programme Executive Director Achim Steiner.  Steiner will also participate in the Olympic Torch Relay.  And UN agencies have been participating in the lead-up to the Games as well.  The World Meteorological Organization, for example, is coordinating efforts by China and other nations to provide timely and accurate weather information.  The forecasts will improve the prediction of high-impact weather near Olympic venues.

The UN Environment Programme has been working with the Beijing Olympic Committee for the last three years to help make the Games environmentally-friendly.  The Chinese Government has spent $17 billion on efforts to “green” the Games.  The City of Beijing has also imposed tougher emissions standards and expanded its public transport network, including by introducing nearly 4,000 buses powered by compressed natural gas.  The Olympic venues themselves will obtain 20 per cent of their energy from wind, while the Bird’s Nest Stadium has an advanced rainwater recycling system.

Finally, the UN refugee agency is encouraging athletes and National Olympic Committees to give their surplus sportswear to refugees.  UNHCR has set a goal of collecting 50,000 pieces of sports clothing for its “Giving is Winning” campaign.  Items collected so far have been distributed to refugees in Rwanda, Tanzania, Chad, Moldova, Georgia and Panama.  And we have more information on that upstairs.

**UN Iraq Account

The Secretary-General, in a letter to the Security Council that is out on the racks today, details the efforts made by the Working Group that has been trying to resolve the outstanding issues involved in ending the oil-for-food programme.  The Group met in Amman, Jordan, from 27 to 30 June, and has indicated a series of alternatives that could be considered by the Security Council in order to conclude all outstanding issues.  Those alternatives are outlined in a report by the Working Group that is attached to the Secretary-General’s letter.  And that is available.

**International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

The Secretary-General, in a letter on the racks today, informed the Security Council that he would like to proceed to consultations with the Council on the appointment of Christoph Flügge of Germany to serve as a judge on the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.  Flügge would replace Judge Wolfgang Schomburg, also from Germany, who resigned from the Tribunal, effective this November.

**UNICEF:  India/China Key to MDGs

A new UNICEF report examining the latest trends in child and maternal health states that global achievement of the health-related Millennium Development Goals depends largely on India’s major improvements and China’s further progress.  The report titled State of Asia-Pacific’s Children 2008 states that, unless India achieves major improvements in health, nutrition, water and sanitation, education, gender equality and child protection, global efforts to reach the MDGs will fail.  China too needs to make significant strides to regain the early progress it made in child survival.

This is all I have for you.

**Questions and Answers

Question:   Michelle, there were some reports today that Israel is digging [up] some graveyards in Palestine.  What’s the policy of the United Nations regarding graveyards and the preservations of mosques and churches in occupied territories?

Spokesperson:     You know, of course, that there is a general position that such things should not happen.  We do not have any, of course, confirmation of this.

Question:   But in abstract terms, would you denounce that, would you consider this as a crime?

Spokesperson:     Well, I don’t know whether it’s a crime or not, but we have been condemning this type of thing, of course.  But I don’t have any specific information on that, so I cannot comment on that specific information you just gave.

Question:   Michèle, if you can just check -– this is not actually a question -– if there is any figure from the United Nations how… what is the normal figure for refugees to come to certain areas where they are expelled from, from the point of view of the United Nations?  If there is any figure on that?

If there is a percentage… I just read somewhere that United Nations projection that the good return if… is when 20 per cent of refugees are coming back to the territory that they are expelled from.  I read that in a newspaper, but I wanted to check if there is such a figure at the United Nations, that the United Nations is operating with.

Spokesperson:     Not that I know of.  No, this sounds like a very hypothetical thing, but… I can check for you whether there are any official figures, or a ratio of some sort.

Question:   You read out this piece about Dan Baker the Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar, stating that more funds are needed.  I just wanted to know, since John Holmes has said there is a significant loss in foreign exchange, given this new announcement, what is an update on that?  What exchange rate are they receiving?  Is there still a 20 per cent loss?

Spokesperson:     I can check for you, whether we have any more information, but the information you have stands.

Question:   Ok, so it is fair to understand that that continues?

Spokesperson:     Well, I assume so.  I don’t know, I haven’t heard of any changes, but I know that there were supposed to be consultations with the Government on this issue.

Question:  Ok, great.  And I also… When at this AIDS Conference in Mexico City, it was reported that Ban Ki-moon met with the Vice-President of Spain.  Are you aware of that meeting?

Spokesperson:     I can check for you if they met.  Why is that…?

Question:   In the Spanish media, they reported that he spoke again of the final decision to put this DPKO base in Valencia, Spain -- a logistics base for DPKO.  But it seems like –- I think you have received this e-mail from DPKO, as well -– the base is not approved by the General Assembly.  So I don’t know if it is the Spanish media’s misreporting, or if you could maybe, I guess, check on that meeting.  If that’s actually what the Secretary-General said.

Spokesperson:     I’ll check on that.

Question:   The Lebanese Government came with this resolution that empowers the resistance –- so-called resistance -– to fight any occupation, which basically allows, the way I understand it, Hizbullah to remain armed.  Does this correspond to 1701 in the interpretation of the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:     Well, I don’t have any specific comments on this today.

Question:   About September, is it fair to understand that the General Assembly this year, its theme will be MDGs, as the global warming was the theme last year?

Spokesperson:     There is a special meeting on the MDGs on the 25th.  I don’t know yet what decision the General Assembly has taken on what will be the theme for the next Assembly.  All I can tell you is that there is a special event on the sidelines of the General Assembly, which will be focusing specifically on MDGs.

Question:   Is the experiment with heat continuing in September?

Spokesperson:     As far as I know, they are going to assess it at the end of August.

Question:   I have two questions.  One is, [inaudible] of the Secretary-General.  So, my understanding is, last year, he only took a few days off in the summer.  So this year, will he take a long vacation and, if he will, what is his plan for his first long vacation?

The second is in connection with the Chinese situation:  as you know, on Monday, there was a bombing attack against the Chinese deployed troops in China.  So do you have any reaction on this incident?

Spokesperson:     No, we [condemn] it.  We don’t have anything more to add on it.  It was a very unfortunate situation that happened there.

In terms of vacation, the Secretary-General is going to take some time off the second week of August.  He will be back here on the 19th when there will be a special ceremony for the victims of the Canal Hotel bombing in Iraq.  So he will be here on the 19th, but he is supposed to be on vacation for two weeks.

Question:   On the Canal Hotel bombing, this is the fifth anniversary, isn’t it?  Do you plan something bigger in terms of ceremony than in previous years?

Spokesperson:     There is going to be one ceremony here and there is going to be one in Geneva.  And the Secretary-General will go to Geneva to attend the special ceremony with the families themselves over there at the end of August.

Question:   Not on the 18th?

Spokesperson:     No, the 19th.  There will be something here on the 19th.

Question:   And after that he is going to Geneva?

Spokesperson:     Yes.

[The Spokesperson later added that the Memorial Service in Geneva would take place on 1 September.]

Question:   There are these reports that UNIFIL has made some special arrangements with the Israeli Air Force to rescue downed pilots.  I don’t know whether this is true or not, I wonder if you will have a response to that…

Spokesperson:     This is totally untrue and UNIFIL this morning categorically refuted those unfounded allegations.  Israeli overflights of Lebanese airspace are a violation of resolution 1701.  UNIFIL has protested and continues to protest such violations to the Israeli Defence Forces, requesting that they cease, and UNIFIL reports all those violations to the Security Council in a completely transparent and impartial way.  So UN Headquarters and the Security Council are fully aware of these flights as violations of resolution 1701.  And as you know, all UNIFIL activities are defined under resolution 1701, by the Security Council.

Question:  This is why I am asking, to find out whether this is true or not.

Question:  What happens if the Israeli, as the story claimed, that, if an Israeli pilot falls over the area controlled by UNIFIL -– what happens if he is held by UNIFIL?

Spokesperson:     Well, as you know, the Security Council resolution stipulates exactly what happens in such a case.  In such a case, every time weapons are seized, every time there is any incident of that sort, the weapons are turned over to the Lebanese Defence Forces, you know, because…

Question:   Pilots are not exactly a weapon.

Spokesperson:     Well, it’s not a weapon, but I don’t know what the thing would be in a specific case of a person, but the resolutions…

Question:   There are no guidelines, as far as you know, as concerns what happens?

Spokesperson:  UNIFIL certainly has guidelines.  I don’t have them myself right now.

Question:   Because, according to the story in Al Akhbar, the guidelines say that the pilot should be transferred to the Israeli…

Spokesperson:     Actually, I have the details here as to the Technical Arrangements that were established in 2006 between UNIFIL and the Lebanese Army.  And it says in there, in the Technical Arrangements, that UNIFIL will hand over to the Lebanese Army any persons whom they may detain, and any weapons, ammunitions and explosives they may seize in the course of discharging their duties under the mandate of Security Council resolution 1701 and in accordance with UNIFIL Rules of Engagement.  This is what is written in the Technical Arrangements.

Question:   And that has not changed?

Spokesperson:     As far as I know, no.

Question:  When do you expect the Libat report to come out?

Spokesperson:     I don’t know yet, we are waiting for a date.  And we’ll let you know.

Question:   Of course, a pilot is not an innocent civilian who strayed into the Lebanese territory.

Spokesperson:     Well, actually, “any person they may detain”, I think, this is what I read for you, what the Technical Arrangements say.

Question:  Michèle, you made this statement yesterday about somebody in this Room.  Could you repeat that statement?

Spokesperson:     What was that?

Question:   About Vikou?

Spokesperson:  [Laughs] About Vikou?  I am sure Vikou knows what I said.  In French.

Correspondent:  There is no translation for Masood, right?


Spokesperson:  Ok, thank you all very much.

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