31 October 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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Enrique Yeves, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon, all.

**Noon Guest

Our guest at the noon briefing today is Karen AbuZayd, Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

Earlier today in New Delhi, the Secretary-General told reporters that he has been very heavily engaged in discussions with leaders in Africa, the European Union and the United States as part of his efforts to stabilize the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  With each of the parties he has spoken with over the past 48 hours, he stressed the importance of doing everything possible to stop the fighting and bring the parties into talks.

During the last two days, he said he spoke twice with President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, with President Joseph Kabila of the DRC and with President Jakaya Kikwete, who is the President of Tanzania and who is also the President of the African Union, and with Chairman Jean Ping of the African [Union] Commission and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, as well as Foreign Secretary David Miliband of Britain and all other relevant major key players.

Referring to the ceasefire declared by Laurent Nkunda of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), the Secretary-General said that this ceasefire should be kept and the international community, African leaders, particularly those in the region should take very concrete measures so that this ceasefire can be maintained as it is now and there should be a disengagement of the forces from there.

Now with the ceasefire in place, he said, he had mobilized all necessary humanitarian agencies to provide assistance.  “Now there should be an ongoing political process”, he said.

He described his efforts, including the dispatching of envoys -- Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Haile Menkerios to Rwanda and Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Edmond Mulet to the DRC to meet with President Kagame and President Kabila, respectively.

The Secretary-General said he sincerely hopes that we will be able to, first of all, contain this situation and look more closely at how we can ensure that the Nairobi Communiqué and the Goma Process should be implemented.

He also said that MONUC has been playing a very important role, a crucial role, in trying to manage the situation through our disengagement proposals and through our direct engagement with General Nkunda and other leaders in the region, the DRC and Rwanda.

The Secretary-General stressed that he will continue to engage himself until such time that we see the situation stabilize.  The transcript of the press conference is available upstairs.

Alan Doss, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, travelled to Goma today to assess the situation on the ground and hold meetings with the local authorities and the humanitarian community.

He was part of a high-level delegation that included Jendayi Frazer, US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, and Ali Bongo, African Union Representative to the DRC.

MONUC reports today that the situation in Goma remains calm, and that no new fighting had been reported in the last 24 hours.  The ceasefire seems to be holding so far.

The FARDC (Government forces) have returned to the airport and taken the security responsibility.

Last night, MONUC patrols heavily dominated the streets of Goma to reassure the population and give them a sense of security.  As a consequence, no new cases of looting or violence were reported.

The toll of the shootings in Goma two days ago stands today at 21 deaths, including eight Government soldiers shot while engaging in looting, and people injured.

MONUC Human Rights Section is actively investigating reports of some rape cases.

Although movement within and outside Goma is still limited due to the fragile security situation, humanitarian agencies successfully delivered some relief supplies on Friday.

The World Food Programme (WFP), in a joint mission with UNICEF and UNHCR, moved vitally-needed high-energy biscuits for malnourished children to a medical centre for the displaced north of Goma.

The UN refugee agency, meanwhile, says that it has received disturbing reports that several camps for internally displaced people near the North Kivu town of Rutshuru, about 90 kilometres north of Goma, have been forcibly emptied, looted and burned.

UNHCR says it is in the process of trying to verify these reports.  The area around Rutshuru has been the scene of fighting in recent weeks and is now under rebel control.  UNHCR is trying to verify these reports, but says insecurity continues to hamper efforts.

From Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu, a UN team reached Kibati, about 10 kilometres north of the city, to check on reports that some of the 45,000 displaced people who fled two camps there were now beginning to return, and reported that displaced people were once again jamming the sites, which appeared more crowded than ever.  The UN was distributing emergency aid.

Many Congolese fleeing the fighting north of Goma have headed towards Uganda looking for safety.  Since the latest round of fighting started in August, more than 8,500 refugees crossed the border into Uganda.  Some 600 refugees arrived so far this morning.  Many said they had walked for more than 20 hours.  Meanwhile, some 1,200 refugees fled to Rwanda.

There are 16 UNHCR-assisted sites in North Kivu sheltering some 100,000 people, plus more than 40 makeshift encampments housing tens of thousands of civilians.  Altogether, there are more than 1 million internally displaced people in North Kivu.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, expressed deep concern today over the increasing number of killings and other human rights violations recorded over the past few days in North Kivu, and called on all parties to respect human rights and international humanitarian law.

“During previous outbreaks of fighting in this region, we have seen horrendous large-scale summary and arbitrary executions, rapes, disappearances, torture, harassment, unlawful arrest and arbitrary detention, not to mention wave after wave of mass displacement,” Pillay said.  “Over the past days, a number of fresh violations have been recorded by UN human rights staff in the region.”

In the provincial capital Goma, the main perpetrators of looting, killings and rapes appear to have been renegade soldiers belonging to the national army known as the FARDC, many of whom have fled the fighting.

Other serious abuses, including targeted killings, have been reported from areas held by the CNDP, commanded by Nkunda.

*Secretary-General in India

The Secretary-General today wrapped up his visit to India, with meetings with President Pratibha Patil, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee, as well as with the UN Country Team.

Speaking to reporters before his departure to Nepal, the Secretary-General said it had pleased him to have arrived in India on the sixty-third anniversary of the country’s admission into the United Nations.  He added that it is truly impressive how much India has achieved since then, as a leading voice in the developing world, as a long-established democracy and as a growing economic power.

The Secretary-General added that, although he is impressed by India’s progress in meeting the Millennium Development Goals, he is concerned that the recent global food price hike has slowed this progress and the Goals will be adversely affected.

This is why, he said, he has been calling on the industrialized countries to make sure that the financial crisis does not affect their commitment to supporting developing nations, as we all try to make sure that the Millennium Development Goals can be implemented on schedule.  I already mentioned what he said at that news conference in the eastern Congo.

He also told reporters that he is planning to go to Myanmar only when the political atmosphere is right, including by the acceleration of the democratization process there.  We have the transcript of that briefing upstairs.

The Secretary-General has now arrived in Kathmandu, Nepal, on a trip to meet with senior Nepalese officials and to reaffirm the UN's firm commitment to continue to support the consolidation of peace and reform.  Over the weekend, he will also pay an official visit to Bangladesh.

**Security Council

Today is the last day of the Chinese Presidency of the Security Council.  Starting tomorrow, Costa Rica will assume the Council’s rotating Presidency for the month of November.  Ambassador Jorge Urbina of Costa Rica, next month’s Council President, will brief you in this room at 12:30 p.m. next Tuesday on the Council’s programme of work for the month.

** Pakistan

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that UN agencies are working to help survivors of Pakistan’s recent earthquake and aftershocks.  What are most urgently needed are winter-ready tents, blankets, warm clothing, food, health services and water supply systems, OCHA says.

For its part, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) has dispatched 3,000 hygiene kits.  And the World Food Programme is currently distributing emergency rations to 20,000 survivors.  Those rations include biscuits, pulses, beans and wheat flour.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) has sent two trucks containing enough medicines to treat 50,000 people for the next three months, as well as two kits with materials to treat up to 400 people suffering from extreme trauma injuries.  WHO is also opening a mental health office in the quake-hit region to help provide psychosocial support to survivors.

In addition, UNICEF is providing immediate life-saving aid to children and women and is working to ensure the availability of clean water.  We have more on that upstairs.

** Myanmar

Six months after Cyclone Nargis, UNICEF reports that relief efforts in Myanmar are on track, but support is still needed.

So far, UNICEF has cleaned ponds and wells that provide drinking water for 135,000 people.  It has also provided learning kits and other supplies to nearly 400,000 children.  In addition, UNICEF is working with the Government, the Red Cross and others to reunite families separated by the cyclone and to care for unaccompanied children.

Next month, UNICEF plans to begin construction of seven model schools that would offer resistance to cyclones and earthquakes, and which could be used as shelter in emergencies.  There is more in a press release upstairs.

**International Telecommunication Union

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) reports that its World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly drew to a close yesterday in Johannesburg, South Africa.  ITU members agreed on a number of wide-ranging decisions that will impact the future direction of the information and communications technology industry.

Among other things, ITU members agreed to work towards reductions in greenhouse gas emissions arising from the use of information and communication technology.  They also agreed that such technology can actually help mitigate the effects of climate change by limiting and reducing emissions across all industry sectors.  We have more on that upstairs.

** Marathon

One note about the Marathon.  Nearly 20,000 athletes representing over 100 countries, all dressed in their nations’ colours, will participate in the annual Continental Airlines International Friendship Run on Saturday at 9 a.m., beginning at the United Nations (44th Street and First Avenue), concluding at 53rd Street and 6th Avenue in Manhattan.

**The Week Ahead at the United Nations

We have The Week Ahead for you upstairs, and on Monday the Deputy Secretary-General will be in Santiago, Chile, where she will address the regional coordination meeting for the Latin America and Caribbean region, as well as meet the Chilean President and the UN Country Team.

On Tuesday -- I already said so -- at 12;30 p.m., we will have Jorge Urbina, Permanent Representative of Costa Rica and President of the Security Council for November, and he will brief on the Council’s programme of work for the month.  And, of course, you have The Week Ahead upstairs.

That’s all I have for you.  And I’m sorry I keep on coughing.  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I hope you get better fast.  [Inaudible].  What I want to find out is about the Secretary-General’s visit.  He will be going to Doha next month?  On his way, will he be visiting either back or forth Pakistan?  Because that’s what I hear.

Spokesperson:  We don’t know yet.

Question:  And you have any update on the status on Benazir Bhutto’s commission also on [inaudible] Pakistan?

Spokesperson:  No, we don’t have anything new.  As far as I knew, the ball was in the court of the Pakistani Mission.  On the rest of the proposals made on the side of the Secretary-General’s Office and the Legal Office, I guess they are still awaiting some report back from the Mission.

Question:  The Pakistani Mission?  So basically…

Spokesperson:  They’re still discussing the format, the format of the commission of inquiry, of the fact-finding mission.

Question:  And what is the composition of it?

Spokesperson:  We don’t know yet.  We don’t know yet what they are.  Yes?

Question:  A quick follow-up.  Is the Secretary-General travelling with journalists in Doha?

Spokesperson:  He’s travelling.  I can check that.  We don’t know yet on that.

Question:  Does he have a plane?

Spokesperson:  We don’t know that.  That’s why I cannot say that.  If there is a plane, then we can have journalists on board.  If we don’t have a plane, then we’ll have to do it commercially.  Usually it’s difficult for us to get planes from here to there.

Question:  Sorry, it’s difficult, did you say?

Spokesperson:  Yes, it’s difficult.  Yes?

Question:  There are questions about the DRC.  One is that there’s a report the Indian battalion was called to do things outside of Goma, “after the Uruguayan battalion deployed fled and the Senegalese troops refused to be deployed there…”.

Spokesperson:  As far as I know, the Uruguayan battalion is deployed [north of Goma].

Question:  And what happened with the Senegalese?

Spokesperson:  I can check exactly the composition of the troops there.  But I am sure the Uruguayans are still there, [north of Goma].

Question:  And then the other thing is, I tried to ask this of Mr. Kennedy yesterday.  They’re moving peacekeepers from Ituri to North Kivu to deal with this problem.  How does this affect MONUC’s stated goals of tracking down groups of [inaudible] of Lord’s Resistance Army in Ituri?  How’s the -- I know there’d been various conflict in the country -- but they’ve been reportedly on a rampage is, does the UN, can it say that its efforts to deal with the LRA is constant or similar?

Spokesperson:  It will continue.  What is happening right now is a redeployment because of an emergency situation in the Kivus.  I don’t think that will affect the Secretary-General’s stated goals of the Mission in Ituri.

Question:  Just this morning in the Fifth Committee, the head of the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management, Shaaban M. Shaaban, said, testified, that he was having a problem staffing the General Assembly, and the upcoming meeting in Doha, and so he said retiring at 62 or even 60 makes little sense in today’s world, and he proposed that the Fifth Committee and the [inaudible] change the UN retirement age.  What does Ban Ki-moon think of that?  Did he [inaudible] the proposal, did he check?  Did he [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  Well, he certainly discussed it with the Secretary-General.

Question:  So, can we say that’s [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  No, we cannot say that.  I have to first ask, talk to him and find out whether the Secretary-General agrees with that.

Question:  And just one more request, I don’t know if it’s possible -- I don’t know if there’s ever been one -- but if we could get some kind of briefing from Under-Secretary-General Shaaban.  It would seem to be, it’s a pretty packed testimony that he gave and I am not sure if he’s ever done one …

Spokesperson:  I will ask him definitely.  But you know his proposals are certainly supported by the Secretary-General.  Otherwise, he wouldn’t make them.  Yes?

Question:  I’m late … and perhaps somebody already asked this question, but regarding the Secretary-General and Myanmar, he will not be going to Myanmar?

Spokesperson:  He said he will not go, I gave what he said, he said he will not go as long there are no necessary steps towards democratization.  You can see his exact words upstairs.  We have the transcript of his press conference upstairs.

Question:  Wouldn’t it be better if the Secretary-General engaged the junta, the military Government in Myanmar and, at the same time, visit Aung San Suu Kyi?

Spokesperson:  He has been engaging, through his Special Envoy.  He has been engaging so many ways.  So we cannot say that he is not engaged.  He is engaged.  But he just said that a visit by him would depend on some progress on that front.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly

Good afternoon to everybody.

Yesterday, as you know, we had the full day dedicated to the Interactive Panel on the Global Financial Crisis.  President d’Escoto, in his closing remarks last night, said and -- I quote -- that he was:

“Heartened by the enthusiastic and constructive participation of Member States in this initial dialogue and by the support expressed to continue to use the General Assembly and the United Nations system as a forum for this unfolding process.  It has been acknowledged by panellists and Member State representatives alike that the UN is the unique representative and democratic body that possesses the convening power to bring together all the stakeholders in this global pursuit.”

President d´Escoto agrees with the participants, and I quote again, that “a market that socializes risk and privatizes profit is no longer acceptable”.  He also added that:  “It is no longer acceptable that the poor and the vulnerable pay for the costs of our mistakes.”

That was for yesterday.  Now let’s look ahead at some of the upcoming events.

Many of you have been asking information on the upcoming High-Level Meeting on Culture of Peace which will be taking place here on the 12th and 13th of November.  This meeting is under item 45 of the General Assembly “Culture for Peace”, and it was conveyed after the World Conference on Dialogue which took place in Madrid on 16-18 July, where participants agreed to reconvene periodically to promote dialogue and cooperation among religions and cultures.

I do not have an official list of participants yet, but, as you probably know, already some leaders have confirmed their assistance, including King Abdullah from Saudi Arabia and President [George W.] Bush.

And this is all I have for you right now, unless you have any particular questions.  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Did I hear you correctly when you said these leaders, including King Abdullah and President Bush, have confirmed their assistance or their participation?

Spokesperson:  What’s the difference between assistance and participation?

Question:  Participation means they will show up and be here and speak.

Spokesperson:  Yes.  I mean they’re coming.

Question:  They’re coming?

Spokesperson:  Yes?

Question:  Do you have any, other than these two leaders, any other leaders attending?

Spokesperson:  There are several leaders coming.  I have a list of some.  It’s changing by the minute.  But let me tell you right now which Heads of State have confirmed and those are from:   Saudi Arabia, as I mentioned already, Bahrain, Jordan, Lebanon, Kuwait, Philippines, USA, and Finland at the levels of Heads of State.  We have many others that are about to confirm, but we don’t have official confirmation right now.

Question:  Is there a dozen, or two dozen [inaudible] …?

Spokesperson:  I’m sorry I don’t hear you.

Question:  Is there a dozen or two dozen leaders attending …?

Spokesperson:  The way it looks now, we’re talking about at least 20 or 30.  It is going to be very well attended.

Question:  Have all world leaders been invited to this?

Spokesperson:  Of course.  If you recall, I have here the letter of President d’Escoto presented to the General Assembly –- he sent a letter on the 8th of October asking all the Member countries to participate in this High-Level Meeting on Dialogue on Cultures and Religions.

Question:  Can we get copies of the letter?

Spokesperson:  Sure.  It is online, but I can circulate it again, if you want.  But if you go to the webpage of the President of the General Assembly, it is online.

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  On the 8th of October.

Question:  [inaudible] sponsored or is it funded by the Saudi King?

Spokesperson:  Okay, let me give the full background again.  As you know, there are several initiatives in the area of culture of peace, dialogue among civilizations, religions, etc.  The last one we had was in Madrid on the 16th, 17th, 18th of July, and it was sponsored by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and King Juan Carlos of Spain.  At that meeting, they agreed to convene another meeting in the UN Headquarters to inform the General Assembly about the meeting and to meet periodically to keep this dialogue.

The President of the General Assembly, Miguel d’Escoto, believes that this is an excellent initiative and it should be broadened to talking not only about religions, but about cultures, and all the common values we have in our very rich, philosophical, ethical traditions that we have in the different parts of the world.  Those values can be, in this moment of crisis, very helpful to try to address the major challenges we have in front of us.  And he would like us to talk about not only about dialogue, but joining forces to work together with all these common values to address the major issues we are facing right now in the world.  Yes?

Question:  To continue in this vein, with 20 to 30 Government Heads of State, would it be fair to say this is the most well-attended interfaith conference to date?

Spokesperson:  Well I leave the adjectives to you, because I don’t have the data with me right now.  But certainly it is, if the figures are confirmed, it is going to be extremely well attended.

Question:  May I assume there is going to be some general press, descriptive press release perhaps also on the PGA’s website in addition to the letter of last month?  Probably this month?

Spokesperson:  You assume correctly that I’m working on [inaudible] for you.

Question:  So you are working on one …?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  So one will be available …?

Spokesperson:  I hope at the end of the day.

Question:  By the end of today?

Spokesperson:  But basically the information that I have is the one I am giving you because that ….

Question:  12th and 13th November?

Spokesperson:  Yes.  Yes?

Question:  Two quick things.  First, there was passed in the First Committee this resolution on the Arms Trade Treaty with two votes against -- US and Zimbabwe. I know it hasn’t gone to the full Assembly, but does the PGA have any response, comment … does he, is he supportive of this kind of groundswell?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have any comment at this stage, but maybe I can get one.

Question:  Okay, so maybe you’ll do this one … there is a report of a coalition that US-based NGOs asking ECOSOC for election observers for the election coming up on Tuesday.  They claimed they went to member States of ECOSOC and they said that they reached out to the secretariat of ECOSOC itself with this petition.  Are you aware of that?  And can you …  I’m not sure that it falls under your daily [inaudible].  Who covers ECOSOC?

Spokesperson:  I am not aware of any such petition to the President of the General Assembly, but I can check on that.

Question:  One quick question, as long as we are on the subject of ECOSOC.  Is Ambassador Merores still President of ECOSOC?

Spokesperson:  I have to check that for you.

Question:  It had been Ambassador Merores from Haiti and I think there is about to be an election, or there has been, I don’t recall …

Spokesperson:  I will check the exact dates and the exact situation for you.

Question:  Thank you very much.

Spokesperson:  Have a good weekend. Thank you very much.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record