13 April 2007
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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Ashraf Kamal, Spokesman for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon, and I apologize for our delay.

** Somalia

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia, François Lonseny Fall, today expressed his heightened concern at the rising tensions and recent incidence of violence between the Puntland and Somaliland regions of Somalia.

Fall said these tensions threaten not only to undermine the political stability and economic progress that both sides have so painstakingly achieved, but they also put international support for the two regions at risk.  He appealed to the parties to cease all hostile actions and not to impede UN humanitarian activities. 

Also today, Fall addressed the Council of Ministers of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) at a meeting in Nairobi, Kenya.  Fall updated the Council of Ministers on recent UN efforts to help pave the way for reconciliation and peace in Somalia, including the Secretary-General’s participation in a mini-summit on Somalia on the margins of the latest summit of the League of Arab States.  Fall also briefed the meeting on the recently completed UN technical assessment mission to Somalia.  And we have copies of his remarks upstairs.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) meanwhile reports that it has begun trucking much-needed relief supplies to more than 18,000 internally displaced Somalis in an area west of Mogadishu.  The supplies consist of thousands of blankets, plastic sheets, jerry cans and kitchen sets.  The refugee agency says that families with no relatives or clan links in the area continue to live out in the open or under trees.  The need for shelter material is now more pressing because the rainy season is set to start this month.  UNHCR also reports that insecurity in parts of Mogadishu has continued to jeopardize humanitarian access to the capital and surrounding regions, making the plight of civilians more desperate.  And there is more information from the refugee agency on this situation upstairs.

**Security Council

Here at UN Headquarters, the Security Council this morning extended the UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo by one month, until 15 May, and the UN Observer Mission in Georgia by six months, until 15 October.  The Council also adopted a presidential statement condemning in the strongest terms the terrorist attacks that took place yesterday in Baghdad.

Yesterday evening, following consultations on Somalia and Sudan, the Security Council adopted a presidential statement that condemned in the strongest terms the two suicide attacks that took place on Wednesday in Algeria.  This afternoon, the members of the Security Council will hold their monthly luncheon with the Secretary-General.

** Sudan

And just to give you a heads-up, early next week, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Mr. Konaré, will be visiting Headquarters here on the 16th  and 17th, during which time he will meet with the Secretary-General and members of the Security Council.  And this will be an important opportunity to generate additional momentum to the peace process.  The Secretary-General and Mr. Konaré will discuss the heavy support package, as well as review the results of the joint AU-UN planning on the hybrid operation.  And what we would like to flag here is that they will consider to best give impetus to the political process and the efforts of the Special Envoys, which are indispensable for the attainment of lasting peace in Darfur.  Joining them will be the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Darfur, Jan Eliasson, as well as his African Union counterpart for Darfur.  And that is Monday and Tuesday next week.

Also on Sudan, UNHCR today said that its last official repatriation flight from the Central African Republic to South Sudan had taken place.  Meanwhile, in Ethiopia, more than 1,000 Sudanese refugees are scheduled to return to Sudan over the next 10 days.  And they expect to launch the first repatriation airlift from Ethiopia to the Sudan tomorrow.  And there is more on that in our office. 

** Nepal

Meanwhile, the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) yesterday completed a three-day process of registration and storage of Nepalese army weapons at the Barracks in Kathmandu.  This finalizes the first phase of registration of weapons by the Nepal Army, and weapons and combatants by the Maoist army.  The UN Mission has registered some 2,850 Nepal Army weapons, including rifles, machine guns, sub-machine guns, pistols and mortars.  The registered weapons are being kept in the same storage as those collected from the Maoist army.

**WHO/Chagas Disease

And the World Health Organization is expanding its efforts to eliminate a parasitic disease that affects an estimated 9 million people, mostly children, in Latin America and elsewhere.  Symptoms of this disease -- which is spelled “c-h-a-g-a-s” -- which can take years to appear, include the swelling of internal organs, resulting in disability and even death.  The expanded WHO programme is receiving help from a private company.  And there is more on this in a formal press release upstairs.

**Week Ahead

And we have for you the week ahead at the United Nations for your planning purposes.  In addition to the meeting on Darfur, which I mentioned, in Geneva, the High Commissioner for Refugees also flags that they will be chairing a two-day conference on the humanitarian needs of refugees and internally displaced persons in Iraq.  You can pick up the documents upstairs of the week ahead for your planning purposes.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I was reading the headlines of the Spokesperson and, regarding the meeting with former President Clinton yesterday, it looks very confusing that President Clinton and the Secretary-General just discussed the global hotspots.  So does that mean that they did not touch on anything specific within the UN or regarding the campaign?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I can give you a readout of the Secretary-General and former President Clinton’s meeting yesterday.  I think what you are referring to are press reports.  Our readout is as follows:  They met yesterday afternoon.  It was a meeting in which both sides discussed the follow-up to tsunami aid efforts.  As you know, Mr. Clinton was a Special Envoy for us on the tsunami aid efforts, in which he did a terrific job.  They also discussed the situation in Darfur, in Somalia, in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  They discussed Iran, Iraq, climate change, the Middle East peace process, HIV/AIDS and they exchanged views, and the Clinton side discussed what they were doing in terms of the Global Initiative, his group, was doing, and the Secretary-General described, on his part, what the United Nations was doing.  And that’s the readout, and that was about a 45-minute meeting.

Question:  Have they discussed the upcoming elections?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything further than the list that I was given.  I don’t know if he spoke to reporters afterwards, or not.

Question:  I just wanted to ask you about something that’s happening on Monday.  A lot of us, obviously, follow the Darfur thing closely, have been reading reports out of Addis Ababa… It’s really important that on Monday -– not on Tuesday -– we have access to Eliasson, Konare and Salim Salim in some sort of organized fashion, so we can confirm from them what has really happened.  I just want to put it in right now:  could you please make it clear to them that they really owe us a public airing of this thing that we have been following from afar?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I will definitely convey that.  And logistically, so you know, my understanding of this scenario is that Monday morning, the Secretary-General will meet with Mr. Konare, together with his Special Envoy, and then in the afternoon, there will be a Security Council private meeting, in which the Secretary-General and the others will speak.  So those will be two separate opportunities, and then on Tuesday morning, there will be a wrap-up session between Mr. Konare and the Secretary-General, so I don’t know at what point, right now, media opportunities are scheduled, but I will definitely convey…

Question:  There is just a lot of expectation.  And as you know, the Secretary-General and others have been saying, talks ongoing in Addis … If they are really going to come here, we really want to find out… And also going back to the readout when the Secretary-General made certain predictions of what it was he had accomplished, it is just really important that we find out on Monday what really happened.

Deputy Spokesperson:  OK, I will do that.

Question:  Just a clarification:  after this lunch, does the Secretary-General have a stakeout, or not?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t think today… Well, there is a stakeout set up outside the Security Council, because as we said last time, the security concerns have led to no stakeout set up outside the dining room.  So if Ambassadors want to talk, they need to go to the Security Council stakeout.  But I don’t think there are any plans today for the Secretary-General to speak to you.  I think, yesterday, he addressed a number of issues, but today, I don’t think there is anything scheduled.

Question:  Just about what you said at the top about Fall’s briefing in, I think, Nairobi… Was there any discussion about the possibility of switching from an AU to UN force in Somalia? Was that brought up at all?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We would have to ask his people.  I mean, it sounds like he was very much focused on this particular situation of violence between these regions.

Question:  It seems that there is a sort of a pattern here, because this completely bogus security reason that we can’t speak to the Secretary-General after his lunch was invented last year, but the [inaudible] was that we would have a chance to speak to him at the stakeout, and now the stakeout has been taken away.  And so it seems to be a fairly clear clamping down on access to information, which is actually very important, that lunch.  Those lunches are our events, at which discussions take place on pretty central topics.  And…

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I think there is a bit of misunderstanding.  I probably didn’t explain it very well.  The Secretary-General frequently speaks to reporters after the lunch and at the Security Council.  There is a stakeout that has been set up outside the delegates’ dining room for that purpose.  And should the Secretary-General need to speak, he would speak there or at any other stakeout.  This is just a logistics thing that the security people are saying that today they don’t have a stakeout set up near the elevators of the delegates’ dining room.  But should the Secretary-General want to speak after the lunch -– and of course, he does from time to time –- and quite frequently…

Question:  So he doesn’t want to speak.

Deputy Spokesperson:  He is not speaking today, that’s correct.  But when he does speak, we can easily bring him to any other microphone.

Question:  These luncheons are some of the things happening that are of public interest, and I would argue that the Secretary-General should generally address the public interest… Anyway, that’s just one thing.  Now, a question: are you confirming or not that the helicopter deal is now reached?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, I…

Question:  Because there are reports from the Sudanese Government and I…

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I think our position is the same as I reported earlier this week, after the communiqué was issued, in that we are hoping for an expeditious positive response from the Sudanese on that issue.

Question:  OK, and finally, just as regards the Western Sahara, there was a human rights report last year, and there was a long-running question of whether this report on allegations of human rights abuses by the Moroccans in Western Sahara and so forth… And basically, it was squashed, and the UN made sure it didn’t come out.  Now, I wondered whether under the new leadership of Ban Ki-moon, whether he would believe that it would be fair to release the UN’s human rights report on Western Sahara that was conducted by a UN team.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I will look into that issue for you.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later informed the correspondent that the report on human rights in Western Sahara had never been intended as a public document, and had been a routine internal report written by the Office for the High Commissioner on Human Rights.]

Question:  Regarding the meeting on Monday, are there any Sudanese officials invited to attend? And what are the main issues to be discussed?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The meeting is between, as you know, the AU and the UN over the future of assisting the AU force in Darfur, so that is the focus of the Secretary-General’s meeting with Mr. Konare.  They will also discuss, obviously, follow-up to the heavy support package, as well as review of how to move forward with the hybrid operation between the AU and UN.  So that’s the focus of that meeting, together with gaining momentum for the political process, which is why his Envoy for Darfur, Jan Eliasson, will be joining them along with Mr. Salim Salim, who is the AU’s envoy on the same issue.  As for the Sudanese delegation, because the Security Council is planning some kind of meeting in the afternoon, you would have to address that to the Security Council Presidency, to see who will be attending that meeting.

Question:  There are reports from the Democratic Republic of the Congo of increased fighting in South Kivu.  I think the UN has not organized humanitarian assistance yet.  What is the status, and given the size of the force there, what is MONUC… are they present there? Are the rules of engagement the same?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As far as I know, the terms of engagement, or terms of reference for MONUC have not changed since the last that we briefed on the DRC.  I don’t have any new reports of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but the UN mission is certainly there, and the UN humanitarian agencies have always been active in the region.

Question:  About this Rwandan exhibit that got cancelled… I’ve seen a story that it’s going very soon to be reopened.  Can you provide an update as to when it is going to reopen?  And also, there is some talk that… Will the language of the new exhibit be shown to the Turkish Mission prior to being put up?  The Turkish Mission says that they are not the only country that complained, and I understand that they have complained, I guess, to the Office of the Spokesperson.  Could you explain better, why it got cancelled and what steps will be taken before it’s redone?

Deputy Spokesperson:  First of all, it was not cancelled -– it was postponed.  And at the time that we mentioned that had happened, we said that it was because the review process had not been properly followed.  That review is ongoing, which I mentioned to you, and I was hoping that I would be able to announce to you today, when the exhibit would open.  I don’t have that date today, but I am hoping I will have something in the next couple of days, and our aim is to have the exhibit opened by the end of next week.  So while the review process in ongoing, I don’t think I can comment further right now.

Question:  In terms of what triggered the postponement, did Turkey or other countries -– and if so, which -– complain?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I work in the Spokesman’s Office and I was not in receipt of any complaints.

Question:  Will DPI show the new exhibit to Turkey or any other…

Deputy Spokesperson:  The review process is under way, Matthew.  I don’t know right now.

Question:  You will tell us afterwards, then?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I will have to ask them.

Question:  Just a slight follow-up.  You said that there was a security issue today.  Yesterday, there was a very large number of security guards around Secretary-General Ban -– I mean, ten times as many as normal.  Are we for some reason in a heightened state of security?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Not that I know of.

Question:  When can we get a copy of the adopted resolution on Abkhazia, Georgia?  And also, because the Ambassador spoke at the stakeout today, it would have been immensely helpful for the journalists to have seen at least a glimpse of that resolution prior to going to the stakeout, so we would at least know what that is about.  We were told initially that the meeting was going to cover Georgia, but then it turned out that it only covered Abkhazia.  So that is slightly confusing for us, if we are going to the stakeout.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I am not really familiar what you are talking about.  Today, the only action that we had a document for was the extension of the UNOMIG mandate by the Security Council and we had put that out earlier today.

Question:  Because Georgia informed us earlier that it was going to cover the situation in Georgia, they did not specify…

Deputy Spokesperson:  You should talk to them.  I mean, our Office provides all the resolutions in draft as soon as they go into blue, so that you have them all.

Question:  Ambassador Churkin earlier today said that there is going a trip and there is also going to be a report on the implementation of resolution 1244, to be done by the Secretariat.  So which department is going to prepare that?  And also, can you say when the trip goes?  What can you say about that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  [inaudible] the Security Council mission, I believe, they are considering a trip to the Balkans, and you’ll have to talk to the leader of that trip before…

Question:  I guess, to me… he said that the Secretariat is going to prepare this report.

Deputy Spokesperson:  My understanding is that, once a mission is decided on, there will be some kind of briefing.  So we’ll let you know at that point, if there is anything we can say.  Right now, they are considering a trip.  I don’t know whether they’ve announced anything officially.

There are no other questions?  Have a great weekend.

I am sorry, I apologize.  The General Assembly Spokesperson is about to brief you.

Briefing by Spokesman for President of General Assembly

This is just for your calendar for next week.

The Secretary-General will officially present the report on system-wide coherence to the General Assembly on Monday at 4:30.  Following the presentation, the President hopes to initiate the debate immediately.  And again, on 20 April, now that the Ambassador of Namibia has been named as the facilitator for the mandate review, they will meet to discuss this issue, and that should give the topic a little more momentum.

On Security Council reform, the President met with the facilitators yesterday.  They still need a little more time, but she is hoping to get the report by the end of next week.  That’s all I have.

Question:  [inaudible] What is going to happen?

Spokesman:  Usually, she gives the Member States about ten days to look at the report, to read it, get feedback from them –- and then she’ll hold a meeting to discuss where we go from there.  And hopefully, there will be a basis for making more progress.

Question:  So you think there will be progress on the reform of the Security Council after that?

Spokesman:  Yes, I have every hope.

Question:  On system-wide coherence, what’s the timeline going to be on that?  Because they said there would be two days of debate, with this report that the Group of 77 and the Non-Aligned Movement have written, and so they have concerns about the proposal.

Spokesman:  I can assure you it is not going to be two days.  This is going to be much longer than this.

Question:  Yesterday, Mr. Ban said that …

Spokesman:  There are certain elements in the report that there is hope that they can finalize them very soon -- notably, gender architecture in the Secretariat.  But other things, like governance, financing and other topics that are discussed in other institutions of the UN -- this will take a lot more time.

Question:  Yesterday at the stakeout, the Secretary-General was asked about his successes in his first 100 days –- something like that –- and he mentioned both the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Department for Disarmament Affairs, the disarmament proposals in the General Assembly.  Can you say how those actually have been passed?  What’s the status of those two proposals?

Spokesman:  There are two framework resolutions that have been passed on DPKO and DDA, which means that the Secretary-General was persuasive enough that Member States allowed him to proceed to table his detailed proposals on DDA and DPKO.  So if you… it’s a matter of seeing the glass half-full or half-empty.  If you look at the framework resolutions as his way of starting to actually make the detailed proposals on the restructuring the DPKO and changing DDA, then yes, there is an achievement.  If you want to wait until the whole process has been finalized and the DPKO has been restructured, then the glass is half-empty.

Question:  On the empty part of the glass…

Spokesman:  I am an optimist, Matthew, so…

Question:  You know the process well.  What are the next steps and how long does that actually take?

Spokesman:  The next step is that the detailed report will go…Exactly like anything that happens in intergovernmental structures, a report is prepared, it goes to the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ); it details exactly what needs to be done in order to split a department or restructure it, or to change functions that are proposed.  The Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions looks at it; they make recommendations; they go to the Fifth Committee.  The Fifth Committee meets and then it decides which recommendations to accept, if at all, or to reject, and then a resolution is adopted, detailing everything that can be changed, jobs that can be added, subtracted, et cetera. So it takes some time.

But the political decision has been taken, if this is what you are looking for.  The framework resolutions are political decisions made by the General Assembly to allow the Secretary-General to proceed with making his detailed proposals.

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For information media • not an official record