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

25 November 2008

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

25 November 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

To mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, we will have in a few minutes Inés Alberdi, Executive Director of UNIFEM; UNIFEM Goodwill Ambassador Nicole Kidman; Ambassador Piet de Klerk, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Netherlands; and Marie Nyombo Zaina, grantee of the United Nations Trust Fund to Eliminate Violence against Women, as guests at the noon briefing today.  They will announce the results of UNIFEM’s “Say No to Violence against Women” campaign.

At 2 p.m., there will be a press conference by Riyadh Al-Malki, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Palestinian Authority, on the humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, as well as the peace process and negotiations with the Israeli Government.

** Zimbabwe

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

The Secretary-General is alarmed that the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe is now desperate and will worsen in the coming months.  He is deeply concerned that nearly half of the total population of 12 million could require food assistance and by reports that many households are now cutting back the number of meals eaten each day.  He is distressed at the collapse of health, sanitation and education services and the consequent rapidly escalating cholera outbreak.  The Secretary-General urges all parties to support and provide humanitarian assistance, leaving political considerations aside. 

The Secretary-General supports the humanitarian initiative on Zimbabwe offered by The Elders and regrets the decision of the Government of Zimbabwe not to cooperate with their timely, well-intended effort to assist the people of Zimbabwe.  The Secretary-General hopes that another mission can take place in the near future, given the rapidly deteriorating situation in the country. 

The Secretary-General calls on the Zimbabwean parties meeting in South Africa today to rapidly reach an agreement on the formation of a new Government consistent with the letter and spirit of the 15 September agreement.  The people of Zimbabwe cannot afford another failure by their political leadership to reach a fair and workable agreement that would allow Zimbabwe to tackle the formidable challenges ahead.

Still on Zimbabwe, the number of reported cholera cases in Zimbabwe has reached nearly 9,000, with more than 350 deaths reported as of today.  According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), this is an increase of some 1,600 cases and 53 more deaths from the previous day.  OCHA also says the outbreak is taking a regional dimension, with detection of suspected cholera cases reported in Botswana.  This follows earlier reports of cholera cases reported in South Africa.

The World Health Organization (WHO), meanwhile, says it is in touch with Angola, South Africa and Mozambique regarding the cholera outbreak on their borders with Zimbabwe.  For WHO, the major concern at the moment with regard to cholera was in the urban areas of Harare.  There was a risk of the disease spreading to other regions of the country, which was why WHO was extremely concerned about the control of the disease.

UNICEF called on the Government of Zimbabwe to urgently address the water, sanitation and sewer infrastructural challenges that were driving the outbreak.  This was the only way to stop it.

** Darfur

John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, began a six-day visit to the Sudan today by going to one of the largest camps housing internally displaced persons in Darfur.

At the Kalma camp in Nyala, home to 88,000 IDPs [internally displaced persons] in South Darfur, John Holmes listened to the concerns of the camp representatives and assured them of continued humanitarian support.

Among the concerns of the sheikhs in the camp were the incidents on 25 August, when 33 IDPs were killed and 108 wounded after Government security forces surrounded Kalma camp.  For their part, the sheikhs appreciated the role played by aid organizations and the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), but called for reinforced protection.

John Holmes said that UNAMID police are now patrolling the camp on a round-the-clock basis, which has helped people to feel more secure, but added that more needed to be done, not least to ensure women can feel safe as they move in and out of the camp.

In meetings with United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations, aid workers voiced their continued concern about security incidents, including increasingly frequent carjackings and break-ins and a challenging work environment stemming from bureaucratic and other obstacles, particularly in sensitive protection of civilian areas.  There is a press release with more details upstairs. 

**Democratic Republic of Congo

There were no major security incidents in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo or elsewhere in the country, according to the United Nations Mission there (MONUC).  The region around Goma remains tense, and United Nations peacekeepers continue daily and nightly patrols of strategic areas. 

Humanitarian agencies, meanwhile, are about to start a major transfer of internally displaced civilians from the Kibati camps to more secure sites away from rebel or Government lines.  The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) says the voluntary relocation drive will focus on vulnerable persons, children, the sick and the elderly.  They will be relocated to four existing camps on the outskirts of Goma where shelter and sanitation and other services are already available.  The transfer could affect as many as 30,000 people, and the final decision on its active implementation is expected this afternoon.

And yesterday afternoon here at Headquarters, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, Olusegun Obasanjo, told reporters that he will be returning to the region this weekend to resume talks with the Congolese Government, the CNDP [Congrès national pour la défense du people] rebel group and other key actors.  He is expected to visit Kinshasa on Saturday and Goma on Sunday, with other regional stops along the way.

**Kosovo

The Secretary-General’s latest report on Kosovo is now out on the racks.  In it, he notes that the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) has faced significant challenges, as new institutions are being created and new roles assumed by the Kosovo authorities under the Constitution.

These challenges have underscored the need to move forward with the reconfiguration of UNMIK within the framework of resolution 1244, he says.  That reconfiguration is taking place in a transparent manner and is consistent with the United Nations position of strict neutrality on the question of Kosovo’s status.

On the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo, known as EULEX, the Secretary-General notes that it will fully respect resolution 1244 (1999).  It will operate under the overall authority and within the status-neutral framework of the United Nations.  It will submit regular reports to the United Nations, and its deployment throughout Kosovo will be coordinated with UNMIK, he adds.

The Secretary-General also mentions the United Nations dialogue with the Government of Serbia on matters concerning police, customs, justice, transportation and infrastructure, boundaries and Serbian patrimony.  He notes that, while Serbia has accepted the results of this dialogue and the arrangements set out in his report, the authorities in Pristina have not.  Nevertheless, the Secretary-General says he is encouraged by Pristina’s indication that it is willing to cooperate with EULEX.  And he stresses that the implementation of the temporary arrangements set out in his report will be carried out on the basis of continuous consultation and coordination.

The Security Council will now take up the report in a public debate tomorrow afternoon.

**Security Council

Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe briefed the Security Council this morning on the Middle East.  He expressed regret that Israel and the Palestinians will likely fall short of their commitment, made at Annapolis, to reach an agreement by the end of the year.  But the parties’ affirmation that they have engaged in direct, sustained and intensive negotiations is welcome, he added.

Pascoe noted that, despite the Palestinian Authority’s security efforts in the West Bank, there has not been a significant reduction in Israeli incursions or easing of closures there.  He added that it is deeply regrettable that settlement activity in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is ongoing.  He also noted continuing Israeli settlement activity in the Occupied Syrian Golan.

In Gaza, where the crossings remain closed today, Pascoe said there is a severe shortage of cooking gas, which is preventing 30 out of Gaza’s 71 bakeries from operating.  Lack of fuel is also one of the principal factors leading to water-rationing throughout the Strip, affecting some 600,000 people.

Also on Gaza, Pascoe expressed concern about reports of human rights abuses committed under the de facto Hamas regime.  He also reiterated the Secretary-General’s repeated condemnation of rocket and other attacks by Palestinian militants on Israeli civilian targets.

Pascoe concluded by saying there is a need for tangible improvements in the living conditions and security of civilians, to give them faith in the political process.  The Secretary-General has urged United States President-elect Barack Obama to engage early in this regard.  Security Council members are now holding consultations on the Middle East.  We have Pascoe’s full remarks upstairs. 

** Lebanon

The Secretary-General, in his latest report to the Security Council on the implementation of resolution 1701 (2006), says that he is pleased that relative calm continues to prevail between Israel and Lebanon.  However, he adds, greater overall progress should have been achieved since the resolution was adopted two years ago, and he is disturbed by the repeated exchange of threats between Israel and Hizbullah.

He says that he welcomes the decision by Lebanon and Syria to further improve joint security along their common border.  The Secretary-General adds that he remains concerned by the presence of armed groups operating inside Lebanon, beyond the control of the State, and he says that he firmly believes that key issues are to be resolved through diplomatic means.

The Security Council expects to discuss the report tomorrow.

** Afghanistan

The Security Council mission in Afghanistan continued its work today by meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Cabinet ministers.

The mission also met with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and the Afghanistan Independent Election Commission, as well as with officials of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and NATO’s senior civilian representative.

The Security Council mission will continue to hold meetings this week to assess the humanitarian situation and how the international community is working with Afghan institutions, to ensure that Afghan needs are being properly answered.

** Cyprus

In Nicosia today, the two Cypriot leaders met under United Nations auspices.  During the meeting, which lasted around two and a half hours, they focused on federal offences and the federal police.

They reached almost full convergence on what constitutes federal offences. 

Their next meeting will take place a week from today, on 2 December.  At that meeting, in addition to continuing discussions on the federal police, they will take up the Federal Public Service, the Federal Public Commission and external affairs.  We have more on that upstairs.

**UNICEF

The Third World Congress against Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents, sponsored in part by UNICEF, got under way in Rio de Janeiro today.  Nearly 3,000 participants from more than 125 countries are taking part.  In addition to commercial forms of sexual exploitation of children, the Congress will also look at non-commercial forms, such as child marriage, exploitation within families and by religious leaders, teachers, peacekeepers and armed groups in war zones.  There is more information upstairs. 

**Education

UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] today released its annual Education for All Global Monitoring Report.  It finds that the failure of Governments to tackle deep and persistent inequalities in education is consigning millions of children to lives of poverty and diminished opportunity; it also finds that the world is not on course to achieve the Goal of universal primary education by 2015.  And we have more for you upstairs on this.

**General Assembly President’s Remarks

And we were asked yesterday and this morning about remarks by the General Assembly President on apartheid.

The Secretary-General’s views are a matter of record, as reflected in his statement yesterday.  The President of the General Assembly’s statement was his own.  And that’s all we have to say. 

** Poznan

The Secretary-General plans to attend the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Poznan, Poland, next month.

At the opening of the high-level segment, he will articulate his ideas for some of the key issues under negotiation, such as the nature of the shared vision we need for long-term cooperative action on climate change.

He will continue to call on countries not to abandon their commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions because of the global financial crisis, but rather to make use of solutions that will address both -- such as public investments in alternative, low-carbon energy systems.

Speaking on behalf of the United Nations system, he will also demonstrate the readiness of the United Nations system to support Governments in implementing existing and future agreements. 

Given the little time before the crucial meeting in Copenhagen in December 2009, the Secretary-General will urge leaders and ministers that are in attendance to make the most of the opportunity in Poznan.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

Our guest at the noon briefing tomorrow, Alan Doss, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, will brief following Security Council consultations on the United Nations Mission in that country.

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

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I have two questions for you about that [Miguel d’Escoto] Brockmann business.  First of all, did the Secretary-General receive a letter from the Israeli Ambassador who complained about the apartheid comment?

Spokesperson:  I can check for you.  I know there were a number of phone calls this morning.  I don’t know if there was a letter.

Question:  Secondly, when you say the Secretary-General believed it’s his own, does the Secretary-General think that the General Assembly, the President of the General Assembly, should just spew his own comments about the United Nations General Assembly event?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General cannot comment on a statement by the President of the General Assembly.  The statement is his own.  And the Secretary-General made his concerns about the Palestinian issue clear in his statement.  I think his statement stands. 

Question:  One more question about Lebanon.  There were recent reports in the region, including by Al-Arabiya, about the large military exercise by UNIFIL south of the Litani River.  Although, according to the report, this was done without any weapons.  Does UNIFIL see this exercise as a violation of 1701?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think we, you, should check with UNIFIL.  We can, of course, give you the contacts to reach them and talk to them. 

Question:  And can you confirm…

Spokesperson:  I can, I’ll try to find out for you.  We didn’t get that confirmation this morning.  Okay?  Yes?

[The Spokesperson later said that UNIFIL had not reported any unusual activity in the area of operations south of the Litani River during the period in question.]

Question:  This is a point of clarification.  When you were speaking about this briefing that Mr. Pascoe gave to the Security Council on the Middle East, did you say, at some point, that the Secretary-General asked President[-elect] Obama to get involved in the Middle East process as soon as possible, or is that what Mr. Pascoe said?

Spokesperson:  I didn’t say that.

Question:  Yes.  You said…yes about…

Spokesperson:  I was talking about Mr. Pascoe’s statement and, of course, we can give you, you have the full statement upstairs.  You can check on that.  Okay?

Question:  President-elect Obama’s name did not come in?  I thought it did.

Spokesperson:  I don’t think I said anything about President-elect Obama.  I did not. 

Question:  Maybe I’ll have a look at it.

Spokesperson:  I did?  Let me check what he said exactly. 

Question:  Maybe you did in the context of the Middle East peace process?

Spokesperson:  I have very little on that statement because we said that you could have more on it.  Let me see what else…It says that the Secretary-General urged President-elect Barack Obama to engage early in this regard.  I did say that.

Question:  I wanted to make sure it was the Secretary-General…

Spokesperson:  It was the Secretary-General.

Question:  I wanted to find out, has there been an update on the Israel crossings that they have allowed food and fuel to come in to the occupied territories?

Spokesperson:  I know that some crossings were open yesterday.  We gave an account of that.  They are closed today.  Yes?

Question:  Two questions.  One is in Afghanistan.  There is this dispute now between the Australian defence minister, Joel Fitzgibbon and Kai Eide, which he is saying that Australia offered a one-star general, this was somehow, from Australia’s perception, rebuffed from the United Nations, and he claimed, Mr. Fitzgibbon says that defence ministers of a number of other countries are frustrated at the slowness of the rollout of the United Nations presence across the country.  Is it true that they turned down this Australian one-star general, and how does the United Nations respond?  Has it received complaints from other countries?  What’s the response of the mission in Afghanistan to this?

Spokesperson:  As far as I know, there is a letter that is going to be published tomorrow by the media that reported it and, from what we got, it would be a letter by Kai Eide, where it is mentioned, the fact that the offer of a general came in after the process was finished.  That’s why a Canadian general was named in the position. 

Question:  But if Australia is offering, presumably they would pay their own guy.

Spokesperson:  You cannot have two generals at the same time.  The Canadian offer was accepted before we actually got the Australian offer.  This is what happened.

Question:  Right.  He seems to be saying there’s a difference of strategy, that Kai Eide is in favour of agricultural development and Australia is pitching a more military approach.  I don’t know which is right…

Spokesperson:  We’ll get you that answer when it is published. 

Question:  Okay.  And the other thing is, there was a pretty high profile expose of the sale of United Nations-funded malaria and other medicines in Sierra Leone, that they were given to the Government for free and that they’re in turn sold for money in stores.  Is it true, and does either the Secretariat or, I’m thinking of Ray Chambers, the malaria specialist, what is the response to this somewhat seemingly troubling report?

Spokesperson:  Well, let’s try to find out first the extent of it, when it happened.  Let’s try to confirm the facts first, and then I’ll give you a reaction.

Question:  They filmed these things for sale.

Spokesperson:  I’ll try to get, first, the confirmation.

Question:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  Yes?

Question:  On Cyprus, it was reported yesterday that both sides, [inaudible] filing complaints from Cyprus about air space violations from Turkey, and Turkey from Cyprus going in its waters.  So does the Envoy in Cyprus, Alexander Downer, have any comments about these new developments and how they’re going to affect negotiations processes there?

Spokesperson:  I was asked that question yesterday about the particular, the water exploration.  As far as, we don’t have an answer yet on this issue and we will try to get an answer from Mr. Downer. 

[The Spokesperson later said that the dispute did not concern the peace process in Cyprus, and Mr. Downer would not comment on it.]

Thank you all.

* *** *

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