20 June 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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon all.

**Statement on Afghanistan

First a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Afghanistan.

The Secretary-General has learned with great concern about [the recent increase in violence in Afghanistan, in particular] the massive bomb attack against an Afghan Police Academy bus in Kabul on Sunday.  More than 30 Afghans were killed in the incident and dozens more injured.  The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, the deadliest of its kind in Afghanistan’s capital city since their fall in 2001.

Over the past few days, there has been a spate of similar attacks in other parts of the country, reportedly claiming the lives of dozens of civilians, including 11 children.  The Secretary-General condemns these acts in the strongest possible terms, which reflect an inexcusable disregard for the value of human life.  The Secretary-General notes the efforts of the Afghan and international forces to counter the threat posed by insurgent and other anti-Government elements.  However, he has learned with deep sadness of reports of the death of seven Afghan children resulting from a Coalition air strike in Paktika Province on Sunday.

The Secretary-General sends his deep condolences to the Government of Afghanistan and to the bereaved families of all the victims of this past weekend’s violence.  The Secretary-General calls upon the Government of Afghanistan and the international community to take the necessary measures to address the security situation.  In doing so, the protection of civilian lives must remain the guiding principle.

**Security Council on Middle East

UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Michael Williams briefed the Security Council in an open meeting this morning on what he described as a time of crisis in the Middle East.

The violent seizure of de facto political authority in Gaza by Hamas, the end of the Palestinian National Unity Government and the declaration of a state of emergency by President Mahmoud Abbas have created new political realities and worrying conditions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, he said.  Meanwhile, in Lebanon, renewed violence has threatened the nation’s stability.

Williams said that the brutal violence in Gaza and the attacks on the legitimate institutions of President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority Government are totally unacceptable and should be condemned.

The Secretary-General regrets the failure of the National Unity Government, and condemns the violence that brought about its demise.

Despite what has happened, Gaza and the West Bank remain one Palestinian Rerritory, legally administered by one Palestinian Authority headed by President Abbas, who has appointed an emergency Government led by Prime Minister [Salam] Fayyad.  The Secretary-General telephoned President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad to convey his full support to the new Government.

With the situation in Gaza now stabilizing to some extent, concerns about food and medical shortages are mounting.  Reopening the crossings for commercial and humanitarian imports is the UN’s most immediate humanitarian concern, Williams said.

The Security Council open meeting was followed by consultations, also on the Middle East.  Once those conclude, Michael Williams has agreed to speak to reporters at the stakeout.  And I will let you know when he’s available at the stakeout.

**Humanitarian Update – Occupied Palestinian Territory

Also on the Middle East, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says crossing points into Gaza remain largely closed, and mechanisms for commercial and humanitarian food imports have yet to be re-established.  Without the reopening of the Karni crossing, general food shortages are expected in the coming weeks, OCHA says.

The World Food Programme (WFP) was, however, able to send seven trucks through the Kerem Shalom crossing yesterday, and nine more trucks today, carrying more than 400 metric tons of food.  WFP hopes to move 10 truckloads per day through the crossing.  The World Health Organization (WHO) was also able to send in one truckload of urgently needed medical supplies.

Meanwhile, UNICEF is sending vaccines and medical and emergency kits, as well as fuel for urgent sanitation and water needs.

We have more information upstairs.

**Security Council

In addition to its meeting on the Middle East, the Security Council this morning extended by six months the mandate of the UN Disengagement Observer Force in the Golan Heights (UNDOF).

The Council also approved a resolution on Liberia, which asked the Secretary-General to establish a Panel of Experts to conduct a follow-up assessment mission to that country.

And the Council extended the mandate of the Group of Experts on Côte d’Ivoire until the end of October.

**Security Council Mission to Africa

The Security Council’s mission to Africa is set to wrap up its final stop in that continent before returning to New York, with Council members now holding their last few meetings in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

When the Council mission arrived in Kinshasa yesterday, they received briefings from the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, William Swing, and other UN officials about the work of the UN Mission in that country.

The Council delegation then met with President Joseph Kabila, with whom they discussed the post-electoral situation in the DRC, security issues and the reform of the military.  French Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sablière, the head of this leg of the Council trip, said that Kabila had brought up proposals for a Great Lakes security meeting.

The Council delegation has also met with the country’s Acting Prime Minister and other Cabinet officials, with members of the Senate and National Assembly, and with civil society and community leaders.

** Iraq

Ashraf Qazi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, forcefully condemned yesterday’s bombing of the historically significant Al Khillani Mosque in the heart of Baghdad.

Qazi described the bombing in one of Baghdad’s busiest areas as especially repugnant because it targeted worshippers leaving the noon prayer, resulting in the death and injury of more than 200 innocent civilians.  He warned that the increased targeting of places of worship is aimed at pushing Iraq further into a sectarian war that threatens to engulf the whole country.

Qazi called on all Iraqis to reject violence and opt for unity and reconciliation, and also called on those responsible for law enforcement in Iraq to pursue the perpetrators and bring them to justice.

**Secretary-General in Washington

The Secretary-General is in Washington, D.C., today to meet with US congressional leaders.  He met this morning with Senator Norm Coleman, Senator Bill Nelson and Senator George Voinovich.  He is presently at a luncheon meeting with Congressman Tom Lantos.

These meetings focused on UN-US relations, including funding; on UN reform; on peacekeeping operations; on Darfur, Kosovo and Haiti.

The Secretary-General will be back in New York tonight to attend the Human Development Awards.

Just an announcement that Michael Williams will be shortly at the stakeout.

**Human Development Awards

Tonight, the Secretary-General will present a Lifetime Achievement Award for Outstanding Contribution to Human Development to the Inuit climate-change activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier from Canada.  Watt-Cloutier has dedicated her career to protecting the rights of Arctic communities as the world warms around them.

Human Development Awards for 2007 will also be presented to the authors of five reports from China, India, Guinea-Bissau and Costa Rica, alongside an Asia-Pacific regional report on trade.

The ceremony will take place tonight at 6 p.m., and we have press kits in this room and more upstairs.

** Sudan

The UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), in today’s briefing notes, notes that, over the weekend, the Acting Special Representative for Sudan, Taye Brook Zerihoun, met with the State Minister to the Presidency, Idris AbdelGadir.  Their discussion focused on a proposal to hold high-level consultations between the UN Mission in Sudan and the Government of National Unity to make the Mission’s assistance to the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement more focused and effective.

Meanwhile, the UN Mission reported that, yesterday, an international NGO-hired vehicle travelling in South Darfur was shot at by an unknown armed man.  On that same day, in West Darfur, an international NGO convoy of two vehicles with five staff members was stopped by two unknown armed men, and the staff was robbed of personal effects and communication equipment.

** Sudan Clarification

I was asked a question yesterday about the hybrid force to be deployed in Darfur.  I want to clarify that the force is under the authority of a Joint Special Representative who answers to both the UN Security Council and the AU Peace and Security Council, hence the name “hybrid”.

The force itself, as is the case with any peacekeeping operation, is commanded by a Force Commander, in this case General [Martin] Agwai, himself recently appointed by the AU in close consultation with the UN.

The day-to-day functioning of the mission will be in accordance with the concept of operations, which has been jointly agreed upon by the UN and the AU.

** Western Sahara

On Western Sahara, talks carried out under UN auspices on Western Sahara wrapped up late yesterday afternoon at Greentree Estate in Manhasset on Long Island.

Morocco and the Frente Polisario took part in the two-day meeting, according to a communiqué issued by the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, Peter van Walsum.  Representatives of the neighbouring countries, Algeria and Mauritania, were also present at the opening and closing sessions and consulted separately.

The parties have agreed to meet again in Manhasset during the second week of August.

We have copies of the communiqué upstairs, but most of you had it last night.

** Sierra Leone

The Special Court for Sierra Leone handed out its first judgements today.  Three leaders of Sierra Leone’s former Armed Forces Revolutionary Council have each been found guilty on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Alex Tamba Brima, Brima Bazzy Kamara and Santigie Borbor Kanu were found guilty –- among other things -- of extermination, murder, rape, enslavement and enlisting children into armed forces.  This was the first time an international tribunal ruled on the charge of recruitment of child soldiers.

The sentencing hearing is scheduled for 16 July, and we have a press release on that upstairs.

** Nepal

On Nepal, the Secretary-General has appointed Tamrat Samuel as his Deputy Special Representative for Nepal and Deputy Head of the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN).

Samuel has previously served as the focal point for the Secretary-General’s good offices on the question of East Timor and as Senior Political Affairs Officer responsible for the South Asia region within the Department for Political Affairs.

We have a press release with his bio data upstairs.

**Human Rights Council

Turning to Geneva, the Human Rights Council today adopted the report of its fifth session, which concluded late Monday.  It also adopted by consensus three follow-up resolutions to the report of the Commission of Inquiry on Lebanon, the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the situation of human rights in Darfur.

Addressing today’s organizational meeting of the Council’s second cycle, High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour extended her appreciation to all those who had contributed to launching the Council on a consensual basis and expressed the hope that a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect would remain the Council’s hallmark.

The Council will next meet on Friday to continue its organizational meeting.

**World Refugee Day

Today is World Refugee Day.  In a message for that Day, the Secretary-General said international solidarity was crucial to meeting the urgent humanitarian needs of refugees and others forcibly displaced.

Stressing that refugees are not exiles by choice, he called for support and understanding to ensure that refugees are cared for and protected until they can return home.

Also marking this day, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres arrived yesterday in Southern Sudan, where tens of thousands of refugees and internally displaced people are returning home after decades of conflict.

And we have more information on World Refugee Day upstairs.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

Our guest at the noon briefing tomorrow will be David Shearer, Head of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, who will brief you on the situation in Gaza and the West Bank.

And that’s all I have for you.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Is there anything that you have regarding the letter sent two days ago to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon from two members of the Bosnian Presidency, asking for annulling the results of genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in particular in Srebrenica?

Spokesperson:  I cannot confirm.  We have not so far received this letter, so I cannot confirm this.

[The Spokesperson later confirmed that the Secretary-General had received the letter.]

Question:  The communiqué issued by the Special Envoy to Western Sahara has been described as “terse”.  It does not mention substance or any aspect of the negotiations.  What is the significance of this communiqué?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think, essentially, that they got together and they spoke.  They talked to each other and the meeting took place during those two days -– I think it’s a major achievement.  The fact that they decided to meet again is, I think, an important achievement.  So I think this should be stressed.  I said earlier, I said yesterday, it was going to be a long and difficult negotiation.  And the fact that it started is a positive fact.

Question:  And my second question on the subject, has the Special Envoy remitted any suggestions or propositions to the parties to study between now and August?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know, but I can inquire for you.

Question:  Is media invited to cover tonight’s award thing?  Because, in the past, sometimes it’s been announced, we’ve gone up and it’s been a bit awkward, because apparently they didn’t expect that.  Do you have any idea?

Spokesperson:  I can check that for you, but you should be able to attend.  I’ll check on it.

[It was later announced that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) award ceremony is fully open to all media.]

Question:  In a debate in the Republic of Korea for, I guess, the Grand National Party, a candidate called Hong Joon-pyo said: “Let us use the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as special envoy to the Korean peninsula.”  So I’m wondering, one, if there’s any response from the Secretariat to that, whether that’s even on the table, and what status there is, if any, to the proposal of having an envoy to the Korean peninsula.

Spokesperson:  It’s a personal view.  The Secretary-General has not ruled on it, and he hasn’t been in any way asked by anyone.

Question:  And also, there was a letter that the Committee to Protect Journalists says it submitted to Ban Ki-moon about, I guess, raising concerns about the practice of only accrediting journalists from States recognized by the General Assembly, saying that violates some human rights conventions.  Has that letter been received and what is his response to that complaint?

Spokesperson:  The letter was received last night.  I transmitted it to him.  He was, of course, travelling, so he’s not yet aware of the letter.

Question:  Will representative van Walsum be briefing the press at all about his…?

Spokesperson:  No, he will not.  He will not, since there were no substantive agreements on anything particular.

Thank you very much.

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For information media • not an official record