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

18 August 2008

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

18 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 Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, everyone.

**Secretary-General on Georgia

The Secretary-General met with a group of his senior advisers in his office on Saturday morning to discuss the UN approach to the situation in Georgia.

Over the weekend, he also held a number of separate conversations with the President of the Security Council, Ambassadors of the five permanent members of the Security Council, as well as the Permanent Representative of Georgia to the UN on this issue.  The last of those meetings took place this morning, when he met at UN Headquarters with the UK Ambassador to the United Nations.

**Georgia -- Humanitarian

On the humanitarian front, access remains an issue.  The airlifting of goods is still required, and is the only way to get supplies to the western part of the country.  On Sunday, a UN convoy of relief supplies managed to enter the town of Gori for the first time in the past two weeks.  The World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Refugee Agency delivered high-energy biscuits, jerrycans, kitchen sets and blankets.  As of yesterday, some 68,000 people across Georgia have received assistance from the UN.

Meanwhile, UN agencies and non-governmental organizations will later today announce a joint humanitarian appeal for some 158,000 people who have been affected and/or displaced.  The appeal will cover a six-month period, through February 2009, and be revised after one month.  It will include provision of assistance for persons returning from North Ossetia to South Ossetia.  And a press release from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is expected later this afternoon.

**Security Council

On the Security Council, Ashraf Qazi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sudan, briefed the Security Council in an open meeting this morning on the latest developments in that country, saying that the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, though behind schedule, remains on track.  Nevertheless, he warned, the foundation for a durable peace remains fragile.

He said that, while the working relationship between North and South Sudan is relatively cordial, the lack of mutual trust and confidence remains a significant obstacle to the goals of “making unity attractive” and a peaceful implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.  He said the prospects for the Agreement are “uncertain but not necessarily bleak”.

Qazi also noted the action taken by the International Criminal Court, saying that he has conveyed to the Sudanese Government that the Court is an independent institution and that the UN Mission in Sudan will continue to implement its mandate.  The Security Council followed its meeting with consultations, also on Sudan.

It began its day with a briefing by the Chair of the Committee reviewing the implementation of resolution 1540 (2004), concerning the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

** Myanmar

The Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Ibrahim Gambari, arrived in Myanmar today.  He first met with the Foreign Minister, U Nyan Win, and then held meetings with representatives from the diplomatic corps, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Tripartite Core Group.  He was also briefed by the UN country team.

** Liberia

The Secretary-General’s latest report on Liberia is out today.  In it, he says that, as proposed by the drawdown plan in his previous report, the Government of Liberia and the United Nations have carried out a joint security assessment across the country.  They assessed the level of security threats and evaluated the authorities’ ability to respond to threats, and confirmed that, in most of Liberia, security threats were insignificant or non-existent.  But in a few counties, they found it has deteriorated, a fact attributed to gaps in the maintenance of law and order.  Other factors were the competition over natural resources, including widespread illegal exploitation of those resources, as well as the potential for regional instability and food insecurity.

As to the drawdown of UN mission personnel, the Secretary-General recommends the start of the second part of a military pullout from October to September 2009.  It should involve the repatriation of a further 1,460 military personnel.  A similar drawdown is also envisaged for UN police and other staff.  And you can read more about it in the report.

In conclusion, the Secretary-General recommends a one-year mandate extension for the Mission.

Also, this past weekend, the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Liberia, Henrietta Mensa-Bonsu, broke ground for the construction of a new UN-funded magisterial courthouse in Monrovia.  Ms. Mensa-Bonsu described magisterial courts, or courts of first instance, as the pivot of a nation’s judicial system.

And she also pledged the UN’s support to Liberia’s efforts to establish an effective judicial system.  The new courthouse is the fourth such building under construction through the Mission’s quick-impact projects programme.  When completed, it will bring to 17 the number of courthouses built or rehabilitated by the United Nations in Liberia.

** Somalia

On Somalia, the Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP) expressed shock and sadness today at the killing of one of the agency’s staff members in southern Somalia.

Details surrounding the death of Somali national Abdulkadir Diad Mohamed, who joined the WFP in June as an administration and finance assistant, are still being gathered.  However, all indications are that Mr. Mohammed was abducted by unidentified armed men and killed after trying to escape.

“I am shocked by this senseless and barbaric attack on one of our staff,” said WFP Executive Director, Josette Sheeran.  “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and colleagues.”

WFP does not believe his death to be related to the recent spate of targeted attacks on aid workers in Somalia, one of the most dangerous places in the world.

** Nepal

On Nepal, the new office of the UN Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament was formally opened today in Kathmandu.  In his message to mark the occasion, which was delivered by Chef de Cabinet Vijay Nambiar, the Secretary-General noted that the General Assembly established the Centre in 1987 to provide substantive support for peace and disarmament activities, as agreed among countries in the region.  A forum for regional dialogue, the Centre has promoted transparency and confidence-building in disarmament matters ever since.  And copies of that message are available upstairs.

** Guinea-Bissau

UNICEF is helping the Government of Guinea-Bissau to fight a fast-moving cholera epidemic.  The disease has broken out in the capital and several other parts of the country.  As of last week, more than 2,000 people had contracted the disease and 40 people had died.  UNICEF has mobilized $750,000 since the epidemic began in mid-May.  It has also provided experts who have specialized in emergency coordination, water and sanitation, and other areas.

**Environment

An innovative mobile laboratory developed by the Netherlands to support international response to environmental emergencies was officially inaugurated in The Hague today.  The vehicles will be lent to the UN for work in disaster areas, according to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

The so-called Environmental Assessment Module can be rapidly deployed for disasters involving hazardous substances.  And you can read more about it in a press release from UNEP upstairs.

** Baghdad Anniversary

Tomorrow morning, the Secretary-General will be here at UN Headquarters to speak at a ceremony marking the fifth anniversary of the bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad, in which 22 people had been killed.

The ceremony begins at 10 a.m.  The Secretary-General and a staff representative will make brief statements, after which a wreath will be laid, and a minute of silence will be observed in honour of fallen staff.  At about 10:30, the Daedalus Quartet will perform a piece of classical music that was composed specifically for the occasion by composer Steve Heitzeg.  A full programme of tomorrow’s events is upstairs.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

And for press conferences, at 11 a.m. tomorrow, there will be a press conference by the Under-Secretary-General for Public Information, Kiyo Akasaka, and the Chair of the sixty-first DPI/NGO Conference, Shamina de Gonzaga, on the sixty-first annual DPI/NGO Conference, which will take place for the first time outside the UN Headquarters, at UNESCO in Paris, from 3-5 September 2008.

And that’s all I have for today.  Yes, Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Over the weekend there have been massive demonstrations in India and occupied Kashmir and also there are certain newspapers which are saying that the only solution to the crisis now is to allow the Kashmiris to have a plebiscite or right to choose.  Is the Secretary-General of the United Nations, as you said has been gathering information, but has not said anything as yet, willing to offer good offices to resolve this dispute now?

Associate Spokesperson:  As you know with UN good offices, our good offices are always available to parties as long as they are agreed to by both or all parties to a conflict.  In this case, over the years, that doesn’t seem to have been the case.  But, certainly, our good offices are available should both sides choose this.  Yes, Benny?

Question:  Follow-up on the situation in Pakistan, can you comment on the resignation of [Pervez] Musharraf?

Associate Spokesperson:  No, we don’t actually have any comment on that.  Yes?

Question:  Are you planning for a statement later in the day about Mr. Musharraf’s resigning?

Associate Spokesperson:  No.  In general we don’t comment on the domestic political affairs of a country, and that would be the case in this regard.

Question:  And also one more question on Akasaka.  Is there anything, I mean why is he having a press conference?

Associate Spokesperson:  This is about the annual DPI/NGO Conference, which will take place at UNESCO, like I said, from 3 to 5 September.

Question:  Since the Secretary-General has been away for such a long period of time during the period of crisis in Georgia, does he plan to meet with the press tomorrow when he comes here, in order to address certain questions which have been raised about his absence and so forth at a time of crisis?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, he’s certainly been considering when to make himself available.  He does intend to make himself available, but I don’t have any details to give just yet.  When we have something to announce, I’ll certainly let you know.

Question:  Is the Secretary-General planning to send any senior UN representatives to Georgia this week?

Associate Spokesperson:  In terms of that, I think we announced late last week that the High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, was going to visit both Russia and Georgia.  So, he’s going to be visiting Moscow and Tbilisi.  I think those visits start tomorrow and we have in our week ahead document some details.

Question:  Can you say anything about the content of the talks between the Secretary-General, especially with the Russian Ambassador on Saturday?  Did he talk about the humanitarian access, at all?

Associate Spokesperson:  He talked about the overall situation in Georgia.  I don’t have any particulars to give you.  Matthew?

Question:  On the talks between the Lord’s Resistance Army and the Ugandan Government and the UN’s envoy, Mr. [Joachim] Chissano, what’s the status?  The Ugandan Government says the talks are over, but there are some reports that Mr. Chissano is trying to either revive them or has spoken to Joseph Kony.  Where does that stand?

Associate Spokesperson:  I’ll try and get an update.  I don’t know where we are on that.  I don’t believe that Mr. Chissano regards the talks as being over, but I’ll try and get some details.

Question:  And also, I wanted to ask, there is this upcoming symposium on supporting victims of terrorism in September.  And it seems like it says that there are three Member States who contributed money to it -– the UK, Spain and Colombia.  There have been some questions about if it’s the UN Secretariat that solicited the funds for the event, were all Member States solicited?  How was it chosen who, which countries to approach for funds for this UN event?

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t have any information on that.  As far as I am aware, the arrangements for this, including the financing of this event are still being determined.  So, some of this still is in process.

Question:  On 7 August there were invitations that went out to Member States to attend the thing and it lists those three countries as the ones providing.  So, some countries said why they were never asked for funds.  So, can you find out whether all countries were asked for funds and, if not, why not?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, I’ll check up on that.  Benny?

[The Associate Spokesperson later added that the Government of Colombia, Spain and the United Kingdom had provided voluntary contributions to bring 25 to 30 victims of terrorism, experts and civil society representatives to the symposium.]

Question:  Just to follow up on a question, you may have answered it, but I don’t remember exactly, so Ambassador Verbeke, wasn’t he supposed to take his place in Georgia?

Associate Spokesperson:  Mr. Verbeke is not expected to begin his assignment in Georgia until 1 October and the current Special Representative, Jean Arnault, remains in the job for the time being.  In the interim, while preparing for his assignment to Georgia, Mr. Verbeke will be based in the Department for Political Affairs, helping the Department in a senior capacity on various issues, among them preparations for the upcoming General Assembly.

Question:  Has Jean Arnault issued any statements since the beginning of this, because it is kind of like the UN voice is kind of disappearing here?

Associate Spokesperson:  No, as you know, we have issued a number of statements from the Secretary-General.

Question:  But not from the Special Representative in Georgia?

Associate Spokesperson:  No.  This is an issue that is larger than the issue involving UNOMIG’s mandate, which is confined to Abkhazia.  As you know, this issue also includes South Ossetia and it’s been the Secretary-General who has been speaking on it.

Question:  On Myanmar, do we know yet if Ibrahim Gambari is going to meet with both Aung San Suu Kyi and with senior Government officials in Myanmar?

Associate Spokesperson:  You see, I have all these papers just for occasions such as this.  In accordance with his mandate, Mr. Gambari expects to meet with all relevant parties to the national reconciliation peace process, including all those whom he has met on previous occasions.  He has met with Aung San Suu Kyi on each of his visits, as well as with Myanmar’s senior leaders on several occasions, and he looks forward to continuing his dialogue with all concerned.

Question:  On this, the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar, that he went and then his press conference was cancelled due to, I guess, undisclosed scheduling conflict, did he ever…?

Associate Spokesperson:  The Bangkok office said that there was a scheduling conflict and they said that he could give a briefing at some other point.  So they will announce it whenever that’s ready.  I don’t know the ins and outs of their press conference schedule in Bangkok inherently, but you can keep in touch with them.

Question:  Since the last visit by Gambari in (inaudible), there was that referendum on the new constitution.  Is he going to communicate what the UN position on that referendum is?  And what is the UN position on that referendum?

Associate Spokesperson:  As for that, this visit is the continuation of the Secretary-General’s good offices process that was led by Mr. Gambari over the past two and half years and follows the recent visit to Myanmar by the Secretary-General himself.  The Secretary-General has made very clear upon returning from Myanmar that he expects his good offices to be deepened and broadened through the continuing engagement of his Special Adviser.  And so, his visit now is in that context.  I don’t have anything specific on the referendum beyond what I have just said.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, Israel has just announced that they are releasing some 200 Palestinian prisoners and that leaves out 12,200.  Will the Secretary-General be asking Israel to release the rest of the Palestinian prisoners too?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, we will react to this particular release once it takes place.  I don’t have a reaction on this just yet.  But as far as that goes, we have brought up the issue of all the prisoners in the context of a comprehensive peace process repeatedly.  And with that, I wish you all a good afternoon.

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