29 October 2008
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York




The following is a near-verbatim transcript of todayís noon briefing by Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Enrique Yeves, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by the Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon.† Sorry Iím a little late.† I was waiting for three statements attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.† The first is on the Democratic Republic of the Congo.† The second is on the bombings in Somalia, and the third is on the earthquake in Pakistan.† And following my briefing today, we do have the General Assembly Spokesman already here to brief you.† Iíll start with the statement on the DRC.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

The Secretary-General is alarmed at the escalation of violence in North Kivu in the past 24 hours.† The intensification and expansion of the conflict is creating a humanitarian crisis of catastrophic dimensions and threatens dire consequences on a regional scale.† He calls on all parties to immediately cease hostilities and to respect international humanitarian law.† He deplores the use of civilians as human shields and their deliberate targeting by belligerents.† He appeals to all those with influence on forces on the ground to do everything possible to restore an effective ceasefire and prevent further suffering in the civilian population.† He calls especially for an end to all threats against the city of Goma and its environs, for a halt to attacks on United Nations personnel and humanitarian workers, and for immediate humanitarian access to endangered populations.

The Secretary-General is particularly alarmed at the reported exchange of heavy weapons across the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Rwanda border and deplores the apparent targeting of UN peacekeepers at Kibumba.

The collapse of discipline in units of the Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC), which have reportedly engaged in looting, is especially worrying.† The Secretary-General calls on the Government of the DRC to spare no effort establishing control over its forces and bringing a stop to FARDC attacks on the United Nations and associated personnel.

The Secretary-General expresses his profound appreciation to the troops and civilians serving in the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), who are doing everything possible to protect civilians and fulfil their mandate in untenable circumstances.† MONUC will use all necessary means, within the limits of its capacity, to carry out its mandate.

Throughout the last 48 hours, the Secretary-General has been in contact with key leaders in the region and in the international community to urge immediate steps to halt the fighting.† He will continue his efforts to this end.† We have that statement upstairs.

At a press conference in Manila earlier today, in response to a question about the situation in the DRC, the Secretary-General said he has been in discussions with the leaders of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, as well as European and African leaders.

He said, in addition to his efforts, he has dispatched two senior advisers to the DRC and Rwanda to talk to the Presidents of both countries.† And we have the transcript of his press conference in Manila upstairs, as well.

And we have been informed that the Security Council has scheduled consultations today on the latest developments in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, following the conclusion of the open debate, which is going on right now.† But this will be at the conclusion of that debate, so it will be later in the afternoon.

Just to recap, following the Security Council meeting and consultations on the United Nations-African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur yesterday afternoon, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Alain Le Roy briefed the Council in consultations on the latest developments in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In a press statement afterwards, Ambassador Zhang Yesui of China, which holds the rotating monthly presidency of the Council, said Council members strongly condemned the offensive operations in eastern DRC, and members urged all parties to immediately observe a ceasefire and implement the disengagement plan, and expressed their support of the efforts of the Secretary-General and of the UN mission, MONUC, in restoring and maintaining peace in the DRC.

And from the field, the situation remains very tense in and around Goma.† Thereís no fighting in the town of Goma at present, but sporadic gunfire can be heard from its surroundings.† Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency just said that a ďhuman tideĒ of internally displaced people {IDPs} is rushing towards Goma in a state of panic.† The IDPs, estimated at some 45,000, are fleeing the Kibati camp some 10 kilometres north of Goma after they observed Government troops on the run.† It was only a [day] ago that some 30,000 IDPs reached the Kibati camp, adding their numbers to the campís original 15,000 residents.

As a result of the increasing insecurity, the World Food Programme (WFP) says it cannot move as many as 15 trucks of food, which have been ready for delivery and waiting to seize the first opportunity to reach those in need.† While some 10,000 tons of food assistance are required every month in the Kivus, the agency says that its supply is increasingly stretched, with only 4,000 tons available at this time.† The poor state of roads also adds to the difficulties faced by humanitarian workers.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) also reports in an update that they will post on their website shortly that more than 1,000 Congolese villagers have fled to Uganda in the past 24 hours, and hundreds more are expected to cross the border soon to escape the escalating fighting.

** Somalia

The second statement, as I said earlier, is on Somalia.† The Secretary-General vehemently condemns the multiple bomb attacks in northern Somalia today, which included a suicide car bombing at the UN Development Programme (UNDP) compound in Hargeisa, that killed two United Nations staff and seriously injured six others, two of them critically.

The Secretary-General deplores these outrageous acts of violence deliberately targeting innocent civilians and United Nations personnel who work tirelessly to alleviate the dire suffering of Somali citizens.† He stresses the neutrality of the United Nations, as well as humanitarian personnel, and urges all parties to support and facilitate the delivery of assistance to the Somali population.

The Secretary-General sends his condolences and sympathies to the families of those killed and affected by these heinous attacks.

And just to give you an update, at approximately 10 a.m. local time, the UNDP compound in Hargeisa was hit by an explosion caused by a vehicle that had forced its way into the compound.† At present, we can confirm, as we mentioned, that two national UN staff have been killed, while two others were critically injured and medically evacuated to Djibouti.

And also on Somalia, we do have the Secretary-Generalís appointment.† The Secretary-General has appointed Charles Petrie of France as Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia (UNPOS).

Mr. Petrie brings to this job 18 years of extensive experience, during which he has carried out policy, operational and developmental activities with the United Nations.† He has served in various postings in several conflict settings in Africa, including in Somalia.† And thereís more information in a bio available upstairs.

** Pakistan

And I have another statement, and this one is on the earthquake in Pakistan which we issued a short while ago already.† The Secretary-General is deeply saddened by the loss of life and destruction of property suffered by the people of Baluchistan, Pakistan, after the earthquake that struck the area this morning.† He extends his deepest condolences to the families of those who have been killed, injured or made homeless by the earthquake.

The United Nations has been in contact with Pakistani officials and is assessing the situation in collaboration with them.† The United Nations stands ready to lend its assistance to efforts to respond to humanitarian needs created by the disaster, including by using existing resources and providing grants from emergency funds, and to mobilize international support for that response, if required.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that a joint Government-UN assessment mission is being organized today and will go to the affected areas tomorrow.

In the meantime, the World Health Organization (WHO) is sending emergency health and trauma kits to Quetta, while other UN agencies are also mobilizing to provide relief to survivors.

We should have more information on this in the coming days.

**Secretary-General in Philippines

As I mentioned to you earlier, the Secretary-General is in Manila, where he delivered the keynote address to the Second Global Forum on Migration and Development, which kicked off today, and he stressed that migration can and should be a tool to help lift us out of the current economic crisis.† By doing so, he added, nations can draw the greatest possible development benefits from migration.

He also stressed that only by safeguarding the rights of migrants, and ensuring that they are treated with the dignity and respect due to any human being, can we create the conditions in which migration can contribute to development.† We have that speech upstairs.

During his second day in Manila, the Secretary-General attended a ceremony at the University of the Philippines where he received an honorary doctorate.† He spoke to the students, as well, telling them that the multiple crises dealing with food, finance, energy, climate change and development require us to take international cooperation to new levels.† And, as I mentioned, he did have a press conference afterwards, and that transcription is available upstairs.

**Security Council

Here at UN Headquarters, the Security Council is holding an open debate on women, peace and security today.† Addressing the meeting, the Executive Director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), Ines Alberdi, said that gender issues must be addressed in conflict mediation, peacekeeper deployment, integrated missions, stabilization and post-conflict recovery.

Rachel Mayanja, the Secretary-Generalís Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, added that it is our obligation to millions of women in conflict areas to use the opportunity offered by Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) to set in motion perhaps one of the most promising approaches to conflict resolution of this new century -- a comprehensive approach based on inclusive values and gender equality.

Meanwhile, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Alain Le Roy briefed the Council on specific steps his Department was taking to incorporate women and gender perspectives into peace and security work.† For example, he said, the United Nations has sought to standardize the practice of regular consultations between womenís groups and mission leadership, through a recently issued checklist for senior managers.† It has also issued gender guidelines for UN police in peacekeeping missions, and has worked with UNIFEM to develop guidelines for military peacekeepers charged with protecting women and girls from sexual violence.

Earlier today, the Council unanimously adopted a resolution extending the sanctions on CŰte díIvoire, and the mandate of the Group of Experts for that country, by another year.† And, as I mentioned earlier today, at the end of this open debate, there will be consultations on the latest developments in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

**Migration and Development

And just one more announcement.† The UN and the European Commission have launched a Ä15 million Joint Initiative on Migration and Development.

It aims to promote the positive impact of migration by strengthening the role of civil society organizations, codifying best practices, and better informing decision-makers.† And thereís more information in a press release upstairs from UNDP on this.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

And as I mentioned, we do have the General Assembly Spokesperson here, and tomorrow at 1 p.m., the General Assembly President himself will hold a press conference on the General Assemblyís debate on the global financial crisis, which will take place all day tomorrow.

And thatís all I have for you.† Anything for me?† Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:† Are there any more details on the Congo?† Thereís a line in there about using people as human shields.† What was that in reference to?† Where did that stem from?

Deputy Spokesperson:† I donít have particular specifics on that.† I read four different notes to you on the DRC.† We are getting information from the Mission itself.† Weíre getting information from the humanitarian agencies and other sources obviously in the region.† So we can try to get you more specifics on that particular situation, but, as you can see, the humanitarian situation is quite dire.† We have internally displaced people streaming out of camps.† Both parties are blocking the UN from reaching desperately needy people to evacuate.† We heard, for example, that both sides of the conflict have prevented MONUC from evacuating civilians who need to get out, humanitarian workers, including a double amputee nun who has been injured in the fighting.† So, I cannot emphasize how desperate the situation on the ground is right now.

Question:† Maybe if you have issued any statement on the top of the briefing on Syria.† Does the Secretary-General now have any response?† Have the Syrians Ö

Deputy Spokesperson:† The letter, as you know, was received yesterday.† It was circulated by the Security Council President, as was the request, and I am expecting further guidance on this matter shortly.† Right now, as you can see, I had a handful to report on our field operations today.

Question:† So far, there has been no response from the Secretary-General as yet?

Deputy Spokesperson:† I am getting some more guidance on that issue shortly.

Question:† Back in Somalia.† Does the UN system have any idea what was the motive?† Did they receive any communication about or threats in advance about this car bombing?† Whatís behind that?

Deputy Spokesperson:† There has been no claim of responsibility at this time, if that is your question.

Question:† On Monday, I was asking, the group Al-Shabab had said, warned the UN system to stop [inaudible] propping up the puppet government.† And I think MichŤle said that she would get some information what the UN system actually does in Somalia, what it funds.† Is there an update on that?

Deputy Spokesperson: Yes, thereís a two-page fact sheet that UNDP has put out, which you can refer to, and they can also, and you can talk to them about it.† In terms of security measures, I donít think we want to discuss this right now.† Obviously, we are reviewing the situation at present.

On Syria, the guidance materialized while you were waiting.† The Secretary-General deeply regrets the loss of any civilian lives in this incident and reiterates his earlier call for the need for regional cooperation to solve issues of common concern, including border security.† The Secretary-General notes that the Government of Iraq has launched an investigation into the cross-border raid into Syria and hopes for an early conclusion.† The United Nations remains committed to helping to promote regional dialogue to bring stability to Iraq and the wider region.

Thereís nothing else for me?† Then Iím turning over to the Ö

Question:† There is just one thing.† Thereís been this reporting of leaks of US State documents strongly implying that Matthew Nimetz, Ban Ki-moonís mediator of the name issue between FYROM and Greece, was in fact taking his instructions, even getting drafts, from the US State Department in terms of what to propose.† Has the UN, is the Ö number one, can you either confirm or deny that and, number two, does, is Ban Ki-moon, is he concern that, would he be concern Ö

Deputy Spokesperson:† Iím not familiar with this news report, so weíll have to look into that first.† Okay?† Thank you very much.

[The correspondent was later informed that, when the aforementioned allegations had surfaced in the Greek press one week ago, Matthew Nimetz had responded immediately, stressing his neutrality and the fact that all his materials are always prepared solely by himself and delivered personally to the representatives of both sides.† Nimetz added that he is not influenced by the views of any particular Government and that no Government has ever attempted to influence the ideas that he presents to the parties or the course of the discussions.]

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly

Good afternoon to everybody.

As you know, this morning the General Assembly discussed the issue of the embargo of the United States against Cuba. †When I left a few minutes ago, they hadnít started to vote as yet.

As President of the General Assembly, Miguel dīEscoto firmly believes that it is his primary responsibility to defend the spirit and the letter of the United Nations Charter, always aware that the pursuit of peace requires that all of us must respect and insist that others respect the principles and norms of the Charter.

He would like to make clear that the blockade against Cuba, repudiated and condemned unanimously with the exception of the Aggressor State, should be ended once and for all.

On another issue, this afternoon, for your information, there will be a session of the General Committee which was postponed last week.† On the agenda, there is not the issue of The Great Famine in Ukraine, as you probably know.

And finally, as you may already know, we will have the Interactive Panel of the Global Financial Crisis tomorrow, and we will have a press conference here at 1 p.m. with the President of the General Assembly and the different panellists.† And a note with the schedule and background information has been distributed and is available in any case in the Office of the Spokesperson.

And this is what I have for you unless you have any particular questions Ö yes Neil?

**Questions and Answers

Question:† On the interactive, what is the interactive part of it going to be?

Spokesperson:† Well, the interactive part of it is that we are going to have a panel of three panellists with the President of the General Assembly making a small presentation and then taking questions and having dialogue with the Member countries, and we will repeat that in the afternoon with three different panellists. †So, the Member countries wouldnít come and give their speeches one by one. †They ask questions, put forward impressions, and give feedback on this interactive format more than the more institutional one speech than the next.† Thatís basically it.

Question:† Yesterday, you said that the President of the GA wanted to release [inaudible] Ö †Was that objective Ö would the ideas of the Member States taken into account, submitted, somehow formalized and given to the respective organizations or whatever countries were responsible for instructing these organizations [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:† Well, as I said also yesterday, the idea of the restructuring of the UN system as a whole is one of the priorities of the President of the General Assembly, and that was clear and has been clear in his conversations with different leaders from around the world.† And it was clear from the general debate where many, many participants, were addressing this issue.† And the financial institutions are one part of this whole restructuring process that the President of the General Assembly wants to start.† And the other priority is the revitalization of the General Assembly and the other one is the reform of the Security Council.† He has been talking with the different leaders and getting their opinion before taking decisions such as this financial crisis meeting -- which is an informative session more than anything else. †Prior to the most important meeting which will be at the beginning of 2009, or the spring of 2009, where at the level of Heads of States there will be a summit, a high-level meeting.† There, it will be a discussion on the restructuring on the financial architecture, including the Bretton Woods institutions.

Question:† Are there any further updates on this international conference on the dialogue on civilization?

Spokesperson:† I donít have anything else to add.† As I mentioned, I think by Monday I will be able to give you more precise details, but I know that there are already some Heads of States who confirmed that they are coming, but I would prefer it if, by Monday, I give you a full picture on the whole situation.† Weíll concentrate this week on the financial crisis.

Question:† I wanted to know if you or the President had an opportunity to check out and maybe respond to what Ambassador Churkin said yesterday about the General Committee.† He said that the President of the General Assembly was blocked in his work by representatives from the US and the UK, and that the Secretariatís staff, who were supposed to provide him with the paperwork and the logistics in the meeting, did not in a partisan way.† Do you have any response to that?

Spokesperson:† No. †As I said yesterday, I think this is the interpretation of the Ambassador who made those comments.† I donít think the President of the General Assembly felt at any moment that he was surrounded by anybody.† The situation, again, I donít see as a major issue. †There was a discussion. †There was no agreement.† The President of the General Assembly, like in any other instances, goes to the Chief of Delegations, the Ambassadors, discusses with them what is the best option to move forward, and, in this particular case, it took some time, and after two hours, they had to move to another event.† And they, as I mentioned yesterday, the President of the General Assembly has asked the parties to try to get an agreement on the issue.† And if there is no agreement on the issue, then the rules of the game are very clear, then we will have a session with votes.

Question:† Given what Ambassador Churkin has said about secretary of staff not performing their role, have they, is it possible to determine what, what unit services those meetings and the President of the General Assembly Ö.

Spokesperson: The unit is DGACM, and if the Ambassador had any complaints he should address this complaints, and he knows, to the Secretariat.†

Question:† DGACM has different units. One does political Ö.†

Spokesperson:† I donít know.† I donít know. †But that is basically the section dealing with these issues.† Again, I donít think there has been a formal complaint, but if thereís a formal complaint, they must also know what this is the route of those complaints and it has nothing to do with the President of the General Assembly.† The President of the General Assembly has no control of this, as you know, the administrative role is not his role.†

Question:† What you are saying is that the Russians have not complained formally?† They just Ö

Spokesperson:† Not that Iím aware of.† If such a complaint had taken place, I assume it would be taken to the Secretariat.†

Question:† Do they formally make a complain in writing [inaudible], when the action can be initiated?

Spokesperson:† Iím not going to make comments on a complaint that is not official, and if it is official, we need to know the grounds for such a complaint.† I think we are focusing on an issue that is very minor.† This is my belief, and is the belief of the President of the General Assembly.† It is normal procedure in the work of the United Nations.† We have meetings all over the place in this Organization and sometimes there is agreement and, very often, there is no agreement.† When there is no agreement, the President of the General Assembly has the mandate to see whether there is still room for negotiation and he asks the parties to dialogue and try to talk some more. †This is what has happened in this particular case.† There is no agreement. †Then the rules are very clear.† They will go to the meeting and vote and, if they approve, it will go into the agenda.

Question:† Thank you.

Spokesperson:† My pleasure. †Have a good day.

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For information media • not an official record