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

30 October 2008

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

30 October 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.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon, all.

**Guest at Noon

Our guest at the noon briefing today, Kevin Kennedy, Head of the Great Lakes Integrated Operational Team and the Director of Public Information Designate for the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), will be here shortly to provide an operational update on the situation in Goma.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

The Security Council, in a presidential statement last night, condemned the recent offensive of the Congrès national pour la défense du peuple (CNDP) in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and demanded its immediate end.

In the statement read by the Security Council President, Ambassador Zhang Yesui of China, the Council also welcomed the announcement of a ceasefire by the group’s leader, Laurent Nkunda, and looked to him for the ceasefire’s effective and lasting implementation.

The Council urged all parties to fully respect their obligations to protect civilians and to ensure humanitarian workers.  It called on the UN mission, MONUC, to take robust actions to protect civilians at risk and to deter any attempt to threaten the political process by any armed group.

Expressing concern at reports of heavy weapons fire across the border between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, the Council also called on the authorities in both countries to take concrete steps to defuse tensions and restore stability in the region, calling also on all Governments in the region to cease all support to armed groups.

In regard to reinforcement of MONUC, the Council said it would expeditiously study the request of the Secretariat for that action in view of developments of the situation on the ground.

Regarding humanitarian developments in the DRC, we’ve just received the following update from our colleagues from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), who are on the ground right now.

The situation in Goma today is relatively calm after a night of fierce shooting and widespread looting, UNHCR says.  Security restrictions on the agency’s movements are extremely tight and it has no access to the sites for internally displaced persons outside Goma.

UNHCR also reports that many Congolese are fleeing the fighting in areas north of Goma and headed towards Uganda looking for safety.  The agency’s team at the border says that, today, some 8,000 entered Uganda at the Busanza border crossing.  Most of them are staying with host families and in public buildings, such as schools and churches.  But around 2,000 of the refugees have opted to be transferred to the Nakivale refugee settlement further inside Uganda.

Most of the refugees in Uganda are dispersed over a large area, and the first major challenge, besides water and sanitation, will be the provision of food, as the area generally depends on local food imports from the DRC, UNHCR says.

UNHCR also reports that another 1,200 Congolese refugees fled to Rwanda and spent Tuesday night in a school.  They did not want to be registered by UNHCR or transported to the transit centre.  A UNHCR team distributed aid.  Most of those refugees have since moved on -- either back to Goma to check on their properties and families left behind, or on to Uganda or relatives’ houses in Rwanda.

For its part, the World Food Programme (WFP) reports that it was able to distribute food to key nutritional centres and hospitals inside Goma yesterday.  We have more information on WFP’s activities in our office.

Meanwhile, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes has called on the Government, civilians and all armed groups in the area, in the strongest terms, to protect civilians and to facilitate the work of humanitarian organizations.  We have a press release on that upstairs.

** India

We have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on India.

“The Secretary-General expresses his deep sorrow and sympathy to the Government and people of India for the loss of life and destruction caused by today's series of bombings in the North-East of the country.  He strongly condemns this act of terrorism targeting civilians.  There can be absolutely no justification for such indiscriminate violence.”

The Secretary-General is in New Delhi today, where he delivered a speech at the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, saying of the UN-India relationship, “Ours is an indispensable partnership.”

By the way, the statement I read has been issued simultaneously in both New York and New Delhi.

About the Secretary-General in India, he noted that, 63 years ago today, India became a UN Member State.  Since then, its role has grown, so that as of the end of last month, India was the third biggest contributor to peacekeeping, with more than 8,700 personnel at work for peace.   India is also an indispensable partner in UN efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and promote sustainable development, he added.

The Secretary-General also discussed climate change with a group of leading Chief Executive Officers of Indian businesses.  This evening, he is meeting over dinner with the country’s Foreign Minister, Pranab Mukherjee.

** Maldives

We also have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson of the Secretary-General on the Maldives.

The Secretary-General congratulates the people of the Maldives on the peaceful conduct of their nation’s first multi-party Presidential election, which marked an important step forward in the country’s democratic reform process.  He commends both the outgoing President and the President-elect for their statesmanship, and urges them to continue to work together to ensure a smooth transition of power.  The Secretary-General encourages all parties to work in a cooperative manner and continue to carry forward the reform process aimed at achieving a more open and democratic Maldives.

**Security Council

Terje Roed-Larsen, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the Implementation of Resolution 1559, concerning Lebanon, briefed the Security Council this morning, four years after that resolution’s passage.  He said that he was glad to report on major strides over the past six months towards the full implementation of the resolution, including the election of a new President and high-level talks between Syria and Lebanon.

Roed-Larsen said that we look forward to the opening of embassies in Beirut and Damascus by the end of this year.  The Secretary-General, he said, applauds the historic steps that have been taken so far by the Lebanese and Syrian Presidents.

He said that the Secretary-General is convinced that the disarmament of Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias should take place through a political process that will lead to the monopoly on the use of force by the Government of Lebanon throughout all of its territory.  We have his remarks upstairs.

The Security Council followed its open meeting with consultations, also on Lebanon.  Once the consultations end, Mr. Roed-Larsen intends to come to the Council stakeout to talk to reporters.

Yesterday, the Security Council adopted a presidential statement on women, peace and security, at the end of its formal meeting on that topic.  The Council called on the Secretary-General to appoint more women to senior positions, particularly as Special Representatives and Special Envoys.  It also strongly condemned all violations of international law committed against women and girls during and after armed conflicts.

** Darfur

The African Union–United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur [UNAMID] strongly condemns the latest attack on UN peacekeepers there as a “cowardly act of wanton violence” and will spare no efforts to identify and arrest the culprits who will be held accountable for their crimes.

Yesterday, at approximately 6 p.m., soldiers from the UNAMID South African contingent, securing a water point near the Kassab internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in North Darfur, came under attack from unidentified men who arrived in several heavily armed vehicles.

One peacekeeper was killed and another wounded as a result of this murderous attack.  Both the injured female soldier and the body of the peacekeeper who died were evacuated to El Fasher.  UNAMID troops have been sent to reinforce the attacked location, search for the assailants and conduct an investigation.

** Somalia

The UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Mark Bowden, today paid tribute to the two UN staff members who died in the car bomb attack of the UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] compound in Hargeisa yesterday.  He offered his deepest condolences to the families and colleagues of the two Somali staff –- a local security adviser and a driver for the UN Office for Project Services.

The condition of the two staff members with serious injuries who were evacuated to Djibouti for immediate medical attention is now reported as stable.  The United Nations is currently moving other staff who are in need of further medical attention and counselling support to Nairobi.  Essential staff who are involved in life-saving assistance will remain in Hargeisa, with restricted movements.

** Pakistan

Responding to yesterday’s earthquake in Pakistan’s Balochistan Province, the World Food Programme is to provide food assistance to nearly 20,000 people who lost their homes and belongings.  The initial distribution of 700 tons of dry food rations from warehouses in Quetta and Peshawar will include two months’ worth of wheat flour, pulses, edible oil and salt.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) is sending enough essential medicines and supplies for 50,000 people for three months.  WHO is also flying trauma supplies from the UN Humanitarian Response Depot in Dubai.  There is more information upstairs.

** Honduras

The UN and partners have launched a flash appeal for flood relief in Honduras.  $17 million in funding is sought to provide food, shelter, health care, water and sanitation to roughly 270,000 people.  Heavy rains resulting from a tropical depression have inundated Honduras for more than two weeks.  There is more information upstairs.

**International Monetary Fund

In an effort to combat the global financial crisis, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has created an emergency short-term lending program for economically sound emerging market countries that are facing temporary liquidity problems.

Once a loan has been approved, there will be no conditions attached, such as monitoring or policy adjustments.  There is more information in a press release upstairs from the IMF.

** Bangladesh

The World Bank has provided a $130 million credit to help Bangladesh respond to the food crisis.  According to World Bank, the financial crisis pushed four million people back into poverty in Bangladesh.

The financing is designed to ease the pressure on the country’s current budget, which is staggering from growing food-related spending.  There is more information in a press release upstairs.

**Disabilities

States parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which entered into force in May, will meet here at Headquarters for the first time tomorrow and Monday.  The meeting will formally establish the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and elect its members.  The Committee will initially be made up of 12 independent experts tasked with monitoring the implementation of the Convention.

**Press Conference

At 1 p.m. today, after the briefing, there will be a press conference on the financial crisis and on the role the UN should play in search of new policy initiatives.  It will be here in 226 at 1 p.m., with Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, President of the UN General Assembly; Joseph Stiglitz, 2001 Nobel Prize winner in Economic Sciences and former Chief Economist of the World Bank; François Houtart, Chief Editor, International Journal of Sociology of Religion; Prabhat Patnaik, Professor of the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning at Jawaharlal Nehru University; Pedro Páez, Minister, Economic Policy Coordination, of Ecuador and Coordinator of the Southern Bank; Calestous Juma, Professor of the Practice of International Development at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University; and Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, Professor of International Affairs at the New School University.

It will be at 1 so we will try to finish a little before that since we have to install what is needed.

**Guest at Noon Tomorrow

Our guest at the noon briefing tomorrow will be Karen AbuZayd, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

And this is all I have for you today.  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  On this earthquake in Pakistan, there was one which was yesterday and there was one today this morning.  Has the OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] decided to release any funds from CERF [Central Emergency Response Fund]? Will they have any update on this second earthquake?

Spokesperson:  What we have said here is the last bit that we have.  It takes into account also the second earthquake.

Question:  Will they be releasing any funds from CERF?

Spokesperson:  We’ll see.  OCHA is certainly going to keep us updated on that and we’ll try to get more information to you.

Question: [inaudible] any update from OCHA?

Spokesperson:  Why don’t you just call OCHA and get more on that?  They have a spokesperson.

Question:  My question is about the interfaith conference that is scheduled to be held here 13 November.  There are indications that the King of Saudi Arabia and President Bush will be attending.  What other Heads of State have indicated their intention to attend?

Spokesperson:  This is a question you should be asking to the General Assembly people.  They are the ones organizing the interfaith dialogue.  But I’m sure they can give you that information.  They certainly have it.  Yes?

Question:  There are reports in northern Kosovo of shooting incidents that were put down by UNMIK [United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo] police.  Can you confirm that and what is the outcome of that clash on the [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything on that.  I’ll get something for you.  All I have is the six-point dialogue moving into a more intense phase this week.  But I don’t have anything on any fighting.

Question:  And on that, is, can you now, was it ever announced that Andrew Ladley is the UN’s mediator between Belgrade and Pristina?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have that confirmed yet.

Question:  There was a discussion about the standby mediation team, what they have been up to.  What have they been up to?  I think it was announced by DPA [Department of Political Affairs] some time ago.  What conflicts in the world have they engaged in?

Spokesperson:  You should get DPA to come and brief you on this because I think they came in and briefed you the first time when they were launching the initiative and I’m sure they will come and give you more on this, on where they are.

[The Spokesperson later added that, on 15 October, Andrew Ladley of the Department of Political Affairs’ Mediation Support Standby Team was deployed to the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo.  Standby Team members are technical experts who assist senior envoys, she said.  They have been deployed to provide advice to mediation efforts in relation to a number of countries, including Kenya, Somalia, the Central African Republic, and the Comoros.]

Question:  I think [inaudible] there’s, that there’s groups in Mindanao, in southern Philippines that have supposedly written to Ban Ki-moon.  They claim that they sent a letter to Ban Ki-moon last week asking for UN or DPA involvement in the conflict in Mindanao.  Are you aware of that letter?

Spokesperson:  I am not, but I can check for you when it was received and whether anything has been done about it.  We’ll try to find out for you.

Question:   The Disabilities… I didn’t, the meeting is today and Monday.  I assume it is a three day meeting?  Thursday, Friday and Monday?

Spokesperson:  You can find out very easily from upstairs.

Question:  And is, this is what you said it is, is it a forum or a panel or a…?

Spokesperson:  I’m sure you can find this in the Journal.

I’m going to invite Kevin to come and join us.  We’ll start a little earlier because I know Kevin has other engagements after this.

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