15 September 2008
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 Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

**Press Conference Today

I’ll try to keep this short, because at 12.30 p.m. today, Srgjan Kerim, President of the sixty-second session of the General Assembly, will give his wrap-up press conference on the work of the General Assembly.

** Zimbabwe

Haile Menkerios, the Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, is in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, where he attended the ceremony to formally sign the agreement reached between the Government and the opposition on a Government of National Unity.

As you’ll recall, the United Nations has been supporting the mediation process through the role of the Secretary-General’s envoy, Mr. Menkerios, through the Reference Group.  We are expecting an update from him shortly.

** Afghanistan

A UN convoy that was travelling yesterday in Kandahar Province, in southern Afghanistan, was attacked in a suicide bombing that killed two doctors working for the World Health Organization, as well as their driver, all Afghan nationals.  The doctors, travelling in clearly marked UN vehicles, were carrying out a polio vaccination campaign.  A number of innocent bystanders were injured in the attack.  The attack came one day after another suicide bombing near Kabul that killed the Governor of Logar Province.

In a statement we issued last night, the Secretary-General condemned the attacks, which he said “show the brutal face of those opposing progress towards peace and reconstruction in Afghanistan”.  We have his full statement upstairs and also on the web.  And we also have today’s press briefing notes from Kabul, which mention Special Representative Kai Eide’s assurance that the United Nations remains committed to addressing the humanitarian needs of Afghanistan’s most vulnerable people.

** Darfur Appointment

I have an appointment to announce: The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, and the African Union Chairperson, Jean Ping, have appointed Mr. Azouz Ennifar of Tunisia as Deputy Joint AU-UN Mediator for Darfur.  Mr. Ennifar will assist the Joint AU-UN Chief Mediator for Darfur, Mr. Djibril Yipènè Bassolé of Burkina Faso.

Mr. Ennifar brings to this position extensive experience in peacekeeping, mediation and diplomacy.  He served as Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of Mission for the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea from July 2005 to July 2008.

Mr. Ennifar also has a distinguished career with his country’s foreign service, serving as Tunisian Ambassador to the United States, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Indonesia, Brazil and Italy, and as the Tunisian representative at the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

** Darfur

The African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) reports that a UNAMID helicopter in North Darfur was fired at yesterday, but was able to land safely with 12 passengers and 4 crew members, despite the fact that one of its fuel tanks was leaking.  UNAMID says it was the third time a UN helicopter has been fired at.

And in West Darfur yesterday, two UNAMID staff were shot at by criminals suspected to be Janjaweed who were dressed in army uniform near UNAMID’s Sector West headquarters.  The UNAMID staff were driving two vehicles and managed to escape uninjured amidst a volley of shots.

And UNAMID police embarked on a patrol to the Zam Zam camp housing displaced persons in the wake of an alleged armed attack by Government of Sudan reserve police last week.  UNAMID reports that most premises were pockmarked by bullets and some houses were burnt down.


Meanwhile, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Chad and the Central African Republic, Victor Angelo, was this weekend in Asmara, where he attended the fifth follow-up meeting to the Dakar Agreement between Chad and Sudan.

The United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT) said that the parties discussed a possible resumption of diplomatic relations between Chad and Sudan.  They also pledged to exchange ambassadors before the next follow-up meeting.  Defence, border security and intelligence gathering were also discussed.  The participants also adopted a joint statement at the end of that meeting.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

Alan Doss, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was among a group of international officials who met with Congolese President Joseph Kabila yesterday in Goma.

Among the officials were representatives of the members of the Security Council, the African Union and the European Union.

After the meeting, Doss said that all participants agreed to improve the Amani Programme, the implementation plan of last year’s agreement between the Government and various armed groups.  The participants stressed that a disengagement plan be publicized as soon as possible and that practical steps should be taken for the safe return of displaced people.

It was also agreed that the renegade General Laurent Nkunda’s movement be brought back into the Amani Programme.

**United Nations Conference on Trade and Development

The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) is expected to release, in about an hour from now, a report on African export.  It will assess the performance of African export after African countries adopted policies that encourage the loosening of trade restrictions.

The report is expected to say that the main obstacle faced by African countries is their limited ability to produce the quantity and quality of goods required to meet the demands of the global market.  African exports, it will say, still lag behind that of other developing regions.  And the UNCTAD report will also propose a set of possible solutions to this problem.

**Democracy Day

Today is the General Assembly’s first observance of the International Day of Democracy, and the Secretary-General addressed the General Assembly’s meeting to mark the Day, telling them that supporting democracy is a central mission for the United Nations.

Although the word democracy does not appear in the UN Charter, he said, the United Nations does more than any other single organization to promote and strengthen democratic institutions and practices around the world.  He noted that the UN Democracy Fund, created just over two years ago, is now strongly supported by some 35 donors among Member States.

The Secretary-General added that the International Day of Democracy is an opportunity to discuss and highlight the interactions between the agendas for democracy, peace and development, with a view to making them even more mutually reinforcing.

We have those remarks upstairs and we also have embargoed copies of his remarks later this afternoon at an event hosted by the UN Democracy Fund, also in honour of Democracy Day.  And the Secretary-General will also deliver remarks at the Church of the Holy Family this afternoon, as he does prior to the start of the General Assembly session each year.

**Deputy Secretary-General’s Visit to Beirut

Over the weekend, Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro attended the twelfth Regional Coordination Mechanism meeting dealing with development matters in the Middle East, and she said that the region is emerging as a true leader in development -- from burgeoning intraregional investment in infrastructure to energy security.

But she noted that, although Gulf Cooperation Countries are on track to meeting the majority of the Millennium Development Goals, Arab least developed countries, particularly those enduring conflict, such as Iraq, Palestine and Sudan, are lagging significantly behind.  It is unlikely they will meet the majority of the targets by 2015, she said, underscoring the links between peace and development.  We have copies of her speech upstairs.

**United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

The British head of the UN Mine Action Programme in southern Lebanon and his 990-member team of mine clearers will receive the 2008 Nansen Refugee Award for their courageous work in removing tons of deadly munitions that had prevented the safe return of hundreds of thousands of displaced people.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, announced that the annual prize will go to Christopher Clark, the British coordinator of the UN-funded programme, and his international and Lebanese staff of nearly 1,000 civilian mine clearers.

According to the UNHCR press release, in 2006, over a period of five weeks, between 2.6 million and 4 million Israeli cluster bombs were scattered in southern Lebanon.  More than 750,000 Lebanese fled the south and lived as internally displaced people in northern Lebanon, while another 250,000 people fled to Syria or further afield.

The Mine Action Programme is directly responsible for the management and co-ordination of both the landmine clearance operation, following the Israeli withdrawal in May 2000, and the cluster bomb clearance operation, following the July-August 2006 war.  And there is a press release with more details.

**International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

A Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia today sentenced Rasim Delic to three years imprisonment for crimes committed by the El Mujahed Detachment of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina against captive Bosnian Serb soldiers during the 1992-1995 conflict in the Balkan State.

Delic, the former Commander of the Main Staff of the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, was found guilty by the majority, with one judge dissenting.  And we have more details in a press release from the ICTY.

** Uganda

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), together with the Government of Uganda, has helped over 3,000 farmers fight a disease that was threatening to wipe out the production of “cooking banana”, a staple crop for 14 million Ugandans.

FAO reports that the project contained the spread of the disease, and that several participating farmers have even been able to double or triple their production.  And we have more on that upstairs.


The UN country team in China and the China Disabled Persons’ Federation have jointly hosted an event in praise of the performance of sportsmen and women with disabilities at the Paralympics.  The event also acknowledged the work of those around the world who are promoting the rights of people with disabilities.

Speaking about the performance of athletes at the Paralympics, Khalid Malik, the UN Resident Coordinator in China, said: “There are no people with disabilities, but people with different abilities.  Their rights shall by no means be ignored, disrespected or not fulfilled.”

The Games, which are now to conclude, brought together more than 4,000 athletes from 148 countries.

**Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty

Just to flag an upcoming event.  The Secretary-General, along with more than 40 Foreign Ministers, is expected to participate in the fourth ministerial meeting to promote the early entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) next week at UN Headquarters.

In the conference to promote the Treaty, which would ban all nuclear-weapons testing on earth, the Secretary-General will give welcoming remarks followed by a special presentation by former US Defense Secretary William Perry and UN Messenger of Peace and actor Michael Douglas.  A joint press conference will follow that conference.

In order to raise political momentum for the early entry into force of the CTBT, the ministers are expected to adopt a joint ministerial statement.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

Like I said, at 12:30 p.m., or about 15 minutes from now, you’ll have the wrap-up press conference by the President of the sixty-second session of the General Assembly, Srgjan Kerim, so we’ll try to expedite this part.

Tomorrow we’ll have a couple of press conferences.  At 1:30 p.m., Maged Shawky, President of the African Securities Association, and Marilou Uy from the World Bank will be joined by other speakers to launch the Socially Responsible Investment Index for Africa.

Then at 5 p.m., Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann will give his first press conference as the President of the sixty-third session of the General Assembly.  He is currently the GA President-designate.

Do you have any questions?  If not… Oh, Okay.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Does the Secretary-General have any comment to make about the latest report from the IAEA?

Associate Spokesperson:  Not at this stage.  The IAEA report has gone out to the relevant Member States.  It’s not a public document yet.  We don’t have any particular comment on that.  Of course, the Secretary-General continues to urge Iran to comply with the resolutions of the Security Council and to cooperate with the IAEA.

Question:  Farhan, what’s the status of the UN’s presence in the portions of Sri Lanka that the Government has ordered them to leave from?  Are they remaining? Are they staying?

Associate Spokesperson:  On that, while UN relocation from the area of Kilinochchi was delayed over the weekend due to protests by the local population, the United Nations is making all efforts to relocate its staff and assets in compliance with the Government’s requests.  And you’ll note that we did issue a statement about our concerns about the request for relocation last week.

Question:  The wires said that there were these reports that the UN wasn’t going to leave.  So this confirms that they’re in fact leaving?

Associate Spokesperson:  We’re making all efforts to relocate.  We have not done so right now, that relocation is still to happen.

Question:  And also, there are conflicting reports about the talks between Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army and Mr. [Joachim] Chissano.  Some say now they have totally fallen apart and Mr. Chissano is pulling out of the process.  Others say he remains in it.  What is the status?

Associate Spokesperson:  At this point I don’t have any announcement to make about the talks having ended.  As you know, Joseph Kony has not shown up for these talks.  Mr. Chissano has made himself available.  If he has decided to end his participation, we will let you know at that point, but we’re not at that stage yet.

Question:  Does the Secretary-General have any comments on the current tensions between the United States and Pakistan over the US attacks inside Pakistani territory?

Associate Spokesperson:  No, he does not.  I believe he was asked that question last Thursday; I’ll just refer you to the transcript.

Question:  On the humanitarian aspect also, these attacks are killing many civilians.

Associate Spokesperson:  As always, and also regardless of the lack of specific comment, we would want all parties to take whatever steps they can to minimize civilian casualties and to avoid them.

Question:  Last week, in the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), there was this dispute about whether the UN’s computer ICT programme will report directly to the Secretary-General or to the Department of Management and there was, supposedly, the ACABQ said, get it together before you come back.  To which does that programme that has yet to be approved, to which will it report, directly to the SG or to Ms. [Angela] Kane?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, as you yourself have pointed out, that programme has yet to be approved, so it may still be being worked out, but I’ll have to check and I’ll try and see where it’s supposed to report right now.

Question:  And just a request along with that.  It seems like the head of the Department of Management, Ms. Kane, has been in for several months now.  Maybe if we could get a press conference on a variety of UN management and reform issues?

Associate Spokesperson:  Certainly.  There are a number of new officials who have taken up their posts in recent weeks and months and we’ll try to bring them to you as soon as we can.  One of them, by the way, will be talking to you just on Wednesday; Alain Le Roy, the head of UN Peacekeeping, as well as his Assistant Secretary-General, Edmond Mulet, will be the guest at the noon briefing on Wednesday.  And I have been handed something to read.  If I… What?

Question:  And Ms. Robinson on Friday, does she not?

Associate Spokesperson:  O’Brien.  Ms. Robinson was a different official.  And if I can beg your indulgence for a second just to give you an update on Zimbabwe:

** Zimbabwe

The Secretary-General's envoy for Zimbabwe, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Haile Menkerios, was in Harare today to attend the signing of the agreements reached to resolve the political crisis there.   The role of the Secretary-General and his support of the mediation process through the UN's role in the Reference Group was acknowledged by the parties and by President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa in their statements.

Mr. Menkerios conveyed the Secretary-General’s congratulations personally to President [Robert] Mugabe, to Mr. Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, and to Mr. Arthur Mutambara, and emphasized the importance of working together cooperatively to implement the agreements.   He expressed the UN's readiness to support programmes of emergency relief and longer-term recovery once the new Government had articulated needs and priorities, and the UN's willingness to assist in developing plans.   In that respect, he also met today with the UN country team in Harare, and Mr. Menkerios will be departing Zimbabwe tomorrow to return to New York.

And if that’s it, I wish you all a good afternoon and stick around in this room and in 10 minutes you will have the President of the sixty-second session of the General Assembly.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record