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

7 August 2008

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

7 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.


**Statement on South Ossetia


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


The Secretary-General expresses his serious concern about the mounting violence in South Ossetia ( Georgia).  He urges the parties to refrain from any action that could further escalate the situation and threaten the stability of the region.


**Security Council


At 3 this afternoon, the Security Council will hold a formal meeting to vote on a draft resolution concerning a 12-month extension of the mandate of the United Nations Mission in Iraq.


** Iraq


I’ve been asked about the United Nations reaction to the failure yesterday of the Iraqi Parliament to pass an electoral law.  The United Nations Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) has said it regrets that an opportunity was missed yesterday to come to agreement on the provincial elections law.  It hopes Iraqi leaders will reach an agreement on outstanding issues through dialogue, as soon as possible, to enable elections, which the Mission says is the wish of the vast majority of the Iraqi people.


The United Nations has been doing all it can to encourage the Iraqis to reach a compromise at the earliest possible, so that election preparations can move forward as soon as possible.  As requested by the Iraqi Parliament, UNAMI stands ready to continue to assist the parties in finding an agreement, through the work of the parliamentary committee.


** Sudan


Ashraf Qazi, head of the United Nations Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS), today said in a statement that the Mission was concerned that the judicial process leading to the recent death sentences passed against 30 members of the Justice and Equality Movement may not have met international standards.


According to information available to UNMIS, it would appear that the accused were only given access to lawyers after the trials began, and confessions were obtained while the accused were held incommunicado and in the absence of legal counsel.  The court did not investigate allegations of ill treatment, as requested by defence counsel, through proper medical examinations.


UNMIS recognizes the right and the responsibility of the Government to prosecute and sentence those who committed criminal offences in the context of the Omdurman attacks last 10 May.  But it calls on the Government to ensure compliance of proceedings with international legal standards.  It also encourages the Sudan to abolish capital punishment, and, in the meantime, to establish a moratorium on executions, as called for by the General Assembly in November 2007.


** Darfur


Henry Anyidoho, Deputy Joint AU-UN Special Representative for Darfur, will visit Nyala on 10 August, and he will be accompanied by representatives of various substantive sections of UNAMID.  The visit is planned to include, among other activities, a meeting with the United Nations country team, talks with the sheikhs (or traditional chiefs) in the Kalma camp for internally displaced persons, as well as with the Wali (Governor) and NGOs [non-governmental organizations] working in that camp.


At Shangil Tobayi, the home base of the troops which were recently attacked, Anyidoho expressed his sympathy with the peacekeepers about the ambush they faced on 8 July.  He expressed his hopes for the quick recovery of the wounded and voiced his deep appreciation for the courage and commitment of the troops.


**Secretary-General Appointment


The Secretary-General has appointed Jane Holl Lute of the United States as Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support.  Ms. Holl Lute will replace Carolyn McAskie.


The Secretary-General is grateful for Ms. McAskie’s dedicated service in establishing the peacebuilding architecture since the creation of the Peacebuilding Support Office in 2006, and her leadership which contributed greatly to the achievement of its goals.


Ms. Holl Lute currently serves as Assistant Secretary-General in the Department of Field Support.  She joined the United Nations in August 2003 as Assistant Secretary-General for Mission Support in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, and led her current Department at its creation.  Her background within and outside the United Nations puts her in a unique position to ensure that the Peacebuilding Support Office will continue to grow in addressing its challenges.  We have more on Ms. Holl Lute in her bio upstairs.


** Somalia


Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes today expressed alarm at the growing number of civilian casualties in Somalia and the increasing targeting of humanitarian workers.  “All parties to this conflict have an obligation under international law to protect civilians and to refrain from indiscriminate attacks,” Holmes said.


He noted that far too many of those killed are women, children and aid workers, who have no part in the conflict.  Bomb and mortar attacks in Mogadishu have claimed the lives of dozens of civilians in just the past week, including 20 women who were participating in a food-for-work-supported street cleaning programme.


At least 70,000 civilians have been displaced by fighting in Belet Weyne.  The manager of an orphanage in the Afgooye corridor became the twenty-first aid-related worker killed in Somalia since January.  We expect a statement from OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] shortly.


** Chad


Round table talks on Chad, initiated by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in the Central African Republic and Chad, Victor Angelo, are taking place today and tomorrow in Stockholm, Sweden.  The talks are intended to provide a forum for different partners to exchange ideas on possible ways of supporting Security Council resolution 1778 (2007), which established last year the UN Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT).


The two-day meeting will allow participants to discuss the ongoing multidimensional presence made up of MINURCAT and the European Force, or EUFOR.  Participants will also look at key recommendations of the United Nations-European Union Technical Assessment and Midterm Mandate Review, the Dakar Process and regional initiatives.  We have a press release upstairs with more details.


The Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) of the United Nations has granted an amount of $1.2 million for the emergency replacement of basic supplies that were burnt or looted as a result of warfare in eastern Chad in mid-June.


The grant will partly fund a project by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and will allow for the supply of emergency household items like blankets, mats, mosquito nets, kitchen sets, plastic sheeting, tents and soap to refugees and internally displaced persons.


Since its launch in 2006, the Fund has made available over $890 million for rapid disaster relief, helping the United Nations save tens of thousands of lives in 62 countries struggling with disasters, armed conflicts, or both.


**Timor-Leste


The United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) says it welcomes the recent report by the Truth and Friendship Commission on the serious human rights abuses of 1999, and urged both Governments to follow up on the recommendations.


Adding that a Truth and Friendship Commission is only one mechanism for addressing past atrocities, UNMIT, in a press conference, said the United Nations will continue its support to the Prosecutor-General through the Serious Crimes Unit to support both mechanisms for the process of prosecutions and for addressing crimes committed in the past. 


On the humanitarian front, internally displaced persons (IDPs) today began moving out of the Airport IDP camp to return to their homes.  UNMIT expects that it will take two or three weeks for the entire camp of more than 900 families to move out.  So far, a total of 20 camps around the country have been closed.


**AIDS


At the International AIDS Conference in Mexico City, which the Secretary-General helped open last Sunday, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and its partners have launched a new guide to help prevent HIV among girls and young women.  The guide, called “Make it Matter”, focuses on improving access to sexual and reproductive health services, expanding socio-economic opportunities and ending child marriage.


Meanwhile, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reports that five community organizations -– from Ghana, India, Iran, Malawi and Mexico -– have been presented with Red Ribbon Awards for their extraordinary creativity, courage and leadership in the fight against AIDS and for achieving tangible results with limited resources.  We have more on both of those stories upstairs.


**Statement on Bakassi Peninsula


And I just received a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Bakassi:


The Secretary-General is following with interest and anticipation the preparations for the final transfer of authority in the Bakassi Peninsula from Nigeria to Cameroon, scheduled to take place on 14 August, in implementation of the 2002 ruling of the International Court of Justice and the 2006 Greentree Agreement.  In his capacity as Facilitator of that Agreement, the Secretary-General intends to send a senior official to lead his delegation at the transfer ceremony.


For the United Nations, this will be a landmark event, culminating in the peaceful resolution of a potentially dangerous boundary dispute through respect for international law and good-neighbourly cooperation.  It is an example that should serve as a model for the negotiated settlement of border disputes elsewhere.


**Malaria


The Secretary-General's Special Envoy on Malaria, Ray Chambers, today warmly welcomed the recent announcement from the World Bank of more than $520 million to assist India's efforts to fight malaria and other diseases.  The financing package is the largest single project the World Bank has ever financed for malaria control in one country.  The project will bolster malaria-prevention efforts, through bednets and spraying, as well as provide effective treatment to over 100 million people in India. 


Malaria infects millions of people every year in India and causes the country to lose the equivalent of 79 million days worth of productivity each year.  Chambers congratulates both the Government of India and the World Bank for their commitment to fighting the disease.


**Universal Postal Union


From the Universal Postal Union (UPU), Israeli and Palestinian postal authorities have pledged to start facilitating direct mail exchanges between the Palestinian Authority and the Universal Postal Union’s 191 member countries.


According to a joint declaration read out by UPU Director-General Edouard Dayan yesterday, the exchanges will begin immediately, with mail transiting via Amman, Jordan. 


Dayan noted this development will improve the operations and quality of the Palestinian Authority’s postal service and help it become better integrated into the world postal community.


It will also establish the rights and duties associated with terminal dues, which are compensation for international mail arriving from other countries.  We have more information also on that, upstairs.


**Press Conference Tomorrow


And, as a heads-up -- tomorrow at 11 a.m., there will be a press conference by Ambassador Irakli Alasania of Georgia on the situation in South Ossetia, Georgia. 


And that’s all I have for you.  Yes?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  A group of Jewish leaders met with the Secretary-General this morning.  Do you have any readout from that?


Spokesperson:  No.  We have regular meetings of the Secretary-General with different NGOs.  I don’t have a readout yet, but I’ll try to get one for you.


[The correspondent was later informed that, during the meeting today between the Secretary-General and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the topics discussed included the Middle East peace process, Lebanon, the Human Rights Council, Iran and the Anti-Racism Review Conference.]


Question:  Also, there is a [inaudible] report on AP that Israel is racketing up the threat of attack on Iran, again.  Has the Secretary-General been in touch with the Israeli authorities, in order to bring down this threat level, because it is undermining oil prices and everything else.  So, at that level, has he been in touch with the authorities?


Spokesperson:  No, not that I know of. 


Question:  Could he be in touch?  Will he interrupt his vacation…?


Spokesperson:  I don’t know at this point.  I really can’t answer your question at this point.


Question:  Michèle, can you just spell out for me the last name of the new ASG [Assistant Secretary-General] appointed for PBSO [Peacebuilding Support Office]?


Spokesperson:  It’s Lute, L-U-T-E.  You have a biography, upstairs.  Just go to my office.


Question:  Since you mentioned OCHA, there was a question a couple of days ago whether in Burma they’re still using FECs (foreign exchange certificates).  Do you have any new information on that?


Spokesperson:  I think John Holmes mentioned that as a problem in the recent op-ed that was published yesterday, from what I remember.  So the problem still exists. 


Question:  The problem still exists?  That means they still use those FECs?


Spokesperson:  Well they have to.  And I gather that he had said to you that they were going to raise the issue and try to find a better solution but, of course, as soon as this is resolved, you’ll be the first people to know.


Question:  Is there any assessment as to how much money was lost since he gave us the last number?


Spokesperson:  No, Benny, I don’t have that number, but you can definitely call OCHA.  Yes?


Question:  Thank you, Michèle.  Regarding the situation in Mauritania -- has the Secretary-General taken any further initiatives?  Has he been in contact with the President of the African Union, with key States or neighbouring States in that regard?


Spokesperson:  I don’t know whether he has.  I don’t think so.  He is constantly in touch with the African Union on different subjects.  I don’t know whether this specific issue of Mauritania was raised.  But you heard our statement yesterday on the situation there.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Sure, Michèle.  There are reports of a draft agreement between Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai in Zimbabwe, in which they quote at length a paragraph that would grant amnesty for every Zimbabwean who, in the course of upholding or opposing the aims of ZANU-PF or Zimbabwe, committed crimes within Zimbabwe.  Since the United Nations is involved through Mr. Haile Menkerios, does it have any view on whether that blanket amnesty is acceptable?


Spokesperson:  At this point, the United Nations is involved as a member of the Group of Reference.  We are not part of the negotiation, which is led, as you know, by President Thabo Mbeki.  At this point, the negotiations, as far as I know, Mr. Mbeki is supposed to go back there but so far, Mr. Menkerios is in Pretoria, still discussing the different issues.  But we don’t have the text of the agreement.


Question:  Thanks a lot.  Also, there are these various media reports of what’s called a new corruption scandal of a UN-supported tribunal in Cambodia –- that they stopped paying salaries due to some unknown allegation of corruption made in June, and supposedly being looked into by OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services].  Is there some, seems like this is a big court.  Is there any detail on that?  What’s up with it?


Spokesperson:  The United Nations and UNDP are aware of the issue and they’re committed, of course, to finding a solution as soon as possible.  Funding for July was initially held up, pending a work plan on the Cambodian side to the project board, which is standard procedure to preserve the integrity of the funds.  Since then, in light of the allegations of kickbacks, UNDP is reviewing the implications with our donors in order to come to a decision as to what to do about the allegations.  UNDP is well aware and concerned about the impact of the delay, and we are committed to finding a solution as soon as possible.  And, for further detail, I would refer you to UNDP since they are the ones administering the funds.


Question:  Just to follow up on my colleague’s question on Iran.  Yesterday morning, the U.S. Government let out that they had unanimous support among the P-5 plus 1 for more sanctions on Iran regarding the nuclear issue to the point where the Russian delegation had to say, no, that is absolutely false -– there is no unanimity and there’s no specifics yet on new sanctions.  In the Secretary-General’s opinion, does he find this type of back-and-forth rhetoric helpful to the overall negotiation process?


Spokesperson:  He will not get into all that.  As you know, this is something within the Security Council, being debated at the Security Council.  The Secretary-General will not, of course, intervene in that process.


Question:  The Secretary-General expressed his satisfaction regarding the settlement of the Bakassi Peninsula.  Some members of the People’s Democratic Party there advising the President of Nigeria not to hand over immediately the peninsula until [inaudible] is held.  Is the Secretary-General concerned about this?


Spokesperson:  I have to say that, after that, there was a statement by the President himself, saying that they would abide by the agreement.


Question:  The mandate of UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] is supposed to be extended by the end of August, I believe.  So in light of that, let me renew my question of a couple of days ago.  Does the policy decision of the Government of Lebanon to allow an armed militia to continue its resistance -– is that in line with the spirit of 1701 (2006), according to the Secretary-General?


Spokesperson:  I would suggest that you direct your question to the Security Council and to the President of the Security Council.  It is a matter for the Council.


Question:  If the Secretary-General is, I suppose, going to address the Council on the eve of a renewal of 1701, and as the Commander-in-Chief of UNIFIL, of any United Nations force, does he have any opinion on that?


Spokesperson:  Not at this point.  As I said, it is a matter for the Security Council.  Yes?


Question:  This meeting between the Secretary-General and the Vice-President of Spain -– I guess at the AIDS Conference -– I wanted to know, it’s been reported in Spain, he encouraged Spain to submit a nominee for the head of the Department of Safety and Security.  So I guess I’m just wondering for a readout of that meeting.


Spokesperson:  That question has been addressed to a number of Member States of the United Nations.  It’s not one in particular.


Question:  The way it’s been reported in Spain is that he said since Spain has been a victim of terrorism, it’d been good for them to submit a candidate.  I’m just sort of wondering whether this is Spanish press puffery, or whether this is what he said?


Spokesperson:  I’m saying there have been requests like this sent for every time we have a new appointment -– there is a wide range of contacts being made with Member States to find suitable candidates for each post.


Question:  The way it’s being reported there made it sort of seem like Spain had a leg up or there was some kind of special pitch made.


Spokesperson:  Not that I know of.


Question:  In Darfur, this contract with PA & E-Lockheed, it was said that it would end on 15 July, but then there was some discussion of an extension to finish the work.  Can we know now whether -- now that it’s almost mid-August -- is it over, have they left?


Spokesperson:  Why don’t you address your question to DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations]?  They are the ones who can give you the adequate answer.


Question:  From this podium, Mr. Holmes, when he was here, had said he saw no problem with providing a list of other countries -– beyond Myanmar -- in which the United Nations suffers currency exchange losses of more than 5 per cent, and I’m just wondering if that’s ever going to happen?


Spokesperson:  I don’t know.  I can renew your request to OCHA.  But, it’s not a matter just for OCHA; it’s a matter for every UN agency or UN department working with a range of countries all over the world.  So I think that question should be asked not just to OCHA; it should be asked to UNDP and to other –- but you know…


Question:  It has been as far back as June [inaudible] UNDP [inaudible] but still got no answer.  I don’t mean to be… it just seems like something the United Nations should be concerned with and someone should answer.


Spokesperson:  We’ll try to, but there are currency regulations in every country.


Correspondent:  I’m not saying they shouldn’t lose money.  I’m just saying where do you lose money.  That’s all.


Spokesperson:  Okay.  We sent your request to both OCHA and UNDP.


Question:  Just a follow-up on one thing:  as a custodian of international peace and security, don’t you think the Secretary-General should be concerned as to what is happening anywhere there is a threat to international peace and security, especially when there is a threat being exchanged between Iran and Israel, an imminent threat?  Don’t you think he should be concerned?


Spokesperson:  Of course he’s concerned.  We’re not discussing the fact whether he’s concerned or not.  The fact is that we’re talking about threats.  As I said before, we do not comment publicly on threats. 


Question:  He has always cautioned people… [talkover]


Spokesperson:  He always wants solutions to be peaceful ones, and resolution of conflicts to go through a peaceful process.  It’s obvious.  I don’t have anything specific on that issue, as I mentioned earlier.


Question:  The only thing is that one thinks that he should be more involved in this particular thing because if it blows out of hand…


Spokesperson:  He is concerned about a lot of issues that he does not react publicly to.  That’s it. 


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