24 November 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.

**Statement on Killing of Radio Okapi Journalist

We have a statement attributable to the spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the killing of Didace Namujimbo, Radio Okapi journalist.

The Secretary-General learned with deep distress of the murder last Friday night in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of the Congo, of Didace Namujimbo, a journalist of Radio Okapi, the MONUC radio station managed in partnership with Fondation Hirondelle.

This crime is all the more devastating as it marks the second time in less than two years that a member of Radio Okapi’s staff has been brutally killed in the same city.

Didace Namujimbo’s murder underlines once again the deep insecurity in the DRC, particularly for journalists, whose work leaves them particularly vulnerable.  The UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC) is following the investigation closely and the United Nations is prepared to provide all appropriate support to bring the investigation and subsequent trial to a successful conclusion.  The Secretary-General calls upon the authorities of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to ensure that this case is investigated thoroughly and pursued to the full extent of the law.

The Secretary-General extends his deepest condolences to Mr. Namujimbo’s wife and two children, his family, friends and colleagues at Radio Okapi.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

You’ll find on the racks today the latest report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  In it, the Secretary-General says there has been a decrease in the number of serious violations against children.  Some progress was made in realizing a national action plan disarming and reintegrating former child combatants.  The report, however, stresses that children remain the primary victims of conflict in the Kivus and North Katanga.  They continue to be recruited by force by various armed groups, and sexual violence against children remains widespread.  Among the report’s recommendations, the Secretary-General urges the Congolese Government to adopt and implement a comprehensive national strategy to prevent, respond to and combat sexual violence.

There are no reported major security incidents in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo today.  That’s according to the UN Mission there. The overall situation remains tense, but adherence to the latest ceasefire agreement appears widespread.  UN humanitarian agencies are taking advantage of the lull in fighting to boost aid operations in the Kivu provinces.  The World Food Programme (WFP) has brought another 100 tons of food into Rutshuru for the area’s internally displaced civilians.  At the Kibati internally displaced persons camps near Goma, UNICEF has resumed registration for school children displaced by the violence.  It has also handed out basic school supplies to close to 1,000 children, making it possible for regular classes to resume soon.

** Guinea-Bissau

As you know, we issued a statement yesterday on Guinea-Bissau, a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

The Secretary-General strongly condemns the armed attack early in the morning of 23 November on President Bernardo João Vieira’s official residence in Bissau.  The Secretary-General has noted with great concern reports of the alleged involvement of elements of the Armed Forces of Guinea-Bissau in the attack, and calls upon them to refrain from any measures that could further destabilize the country.

This violent action, which comes so soon after the people of Guinea-Bissau, in legislative elections on 16 November, had massively manifested their desire for peaceful democratic governance, could have a devastating impact on the country’s fragile stability.  The Secretary-General calls on the authorities to re-establish law and order and to conduct a thorough investigation with a view to ensuring respect for the rule of law and human rights.

The Secretary-General believes that this destructive pattern of instability and disrespect for the democratic institutions of this country must come to an end.  The Secretary-General’s Representative in Guinea-Bissau, Mr. Shola Omoregie, is working closely with national authorities, regional leaders and other partners to help stabilize the country.

** Somalia

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, has welcomed the convening of a two-day workshop to address the critical challenges of justice and reconciliation in Somalia.

In a statement, copies of which are available upstairs, Ould-Abdallah said he was pleased that both the Transitional Federal Government and the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia have stated their commitment to addressing issues of impunity.  He exhorts the two parties to the Djibouti Agreement to proceed with the establishment of a working group to facilitate talks on the formation of appropriate mechanisms to address impunity.  He recalled their agreement in Djibouti to examine the possibility of creating a commission of inquiry and an international court.

** Iraq

Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, strongly condemned the series of bombings which killed and injured innocent civilians heading to work in Baghdad today.

De Mistura expressed great concern at the recent spike in violence in the country’s capital and urged all parties to deny those behind such repugnant attacks the opportunity to undermine efforts to increase the country’s fragile stability.  He said: “There are no moral or political excuses that could possibly justify the deliberate targeting of innocent citizens whose only crime was to try to get to their place of work.”

** Afghanistan

A UN Security Council mission, led by Ambassador Giulio Terzi di Sant’Agata of Italy, arrived in Kabul today for three days of meetings with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, other Government leaders and civil society representatives.

The Council mission today received briefings from the UN Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) on developments in the country, and they also met with the Afghan Foreign Minister.

The Council mission will assess the status of international pledges and commitments made by participants at the Paris Conference this past June, and will assess Afghanistan’s progress in peace and rebuilding efforts.  We have a press release with more details upstairs.

**Palestinian People

The Secretary-General attended an event this morning to mark the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.  In his remarks, he said the situation in Gaza remains a major concern.  He called for immediate measures to ease the near blanket closure of Gaza, which has been leading to worrying shortages of basic supplies.

The Secretary-General added that Israel must refrain from unilateral actions in Jerusalem, such as demolitions and evictions, which undermine trust or alter the status quo.  At the same time, he said, he recognizes Israel’s security concerns.  We have his full remarks upstairs.

In connection with today’s event, there will be a screening of the film La terre parle arabe at 1 p.m. in the Dag Hammarskjöld Library Auditorium.  Then, at 6 p.m., an exhibit called “The Palestinians: 60 Years of Struggle and Enduring Hope” will open in the Public Lobby of the General Assembly Building.

** Gaza

The Office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process reports that some supplies were permitted to cross from Israel into Gaza today.  Included in those supplies were nine truckloads of goods for the World Food Programme and eight trucks containing powdered milk and rice for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

Also, 440,000 litres of industrial gas were pumped through to Gaza’s power plant -- meaning that the number of power cuts in Gaza City will be reduced.

UNRWA says the eight trucks it got into Gaza today are not enough.  It says it needs to bring in 15 trucks a day for its operations to continue running at acceptable levels.  For tomorrow, UNRWA has requested that 12 trucks of food and 3 trucks of medicines be allowed to enter Gaza.

** Chad -- John Holmes Visit

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes is on a week-long official visit to Africa.

In Chad over the weekend, Mr. Holmes met with the Prime Minister and other senior officials, as well as members of the diplomatic and humanitarian community.  He also visited a refugee camp and sites where displaced persons have gathered, and a village to which those displaced have returned.

During his meetings, Mr. Holmes stressed the urgent need for closer cooperation between the Government and international institutions to counter the extremely volatile security situation which is restricting humanitarian operations.  He also appealed for protection for displaced families who have returned voluntarily to their home villages in Chad.

Mr. Holmes is now on his way to Sudan.  There is more information upstairs.

**Humanitarian Appeals

We have an update from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on the launch of several international appeals today.

In Nairobi, the humanitarian community launched the 2009 Emergency Humanitarian Response Plan for those most in need in Kenya.  It requests nearly $400 million to address the needs of hard-hit communities, including people displaced by post-election violence.

In Dakar, an appeal for more than $360 million to address the food crisis in West Africa was also launched today.  It seeks to mitigate the impact of high food prices on millions of people in one of the world’s poorest regions.

The West Africa appeal is part of the global humanitarian appeal for $7 billion for 31 countries, which was launched last week in Geneva.  That appeal had a parallel launch today in Abu Dhabi.  It’s the first time in several years that the humanitarian appeal was launched in a city other than New York or Geneva, and the first ever launch in the region.  There is more information on all of these stories upstairs.

** Fiji

The Secretary-General has sent an exploratory mission to Fiji from 23 to 28 November.  He has conveyed his hopes to the Interim Government that discussions with all stakeholders would lead to finding a mutually agreeable way forward on the political situation in Fiji.

The mission is headed by Tamrat Samuel from the UN Department of Political Affairs.  While in Suva, the UN mission will meet with a broad range of national stakeholders, as well as with regional and international actors, especially the Pacific Islands Forum and the Commonwealth.

**Food and Agriculture Organization

Over the weekend, the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) member countries approved a three-year reform plan for the agency.  The $43 million plan of action will enable FAO to “reform with growth”, as recommended by an independent evaluation last year, the agency says. 

Reforms will be undertaken in the areas of financial procedures, human resources and streamlining management.  One third of the agency’s 120 directorships will be reduced; the money saved will be reinvested in technical assistance programmes.  There is more information upstairs.

**World Food Programme Wall

The World Food Programme (WFP) has launched an online “virtual wall” to fight hunger.  Those who join can post their picture on the “Wall against Hunger”, in exchange for a small donation towards free meals for the nearly 60 million children around the world who go to school hungry.

Members can then email their wall images to friends and bookmark them to their social networking sites.  Several celebrities and sports stars are already taking part in the initiative.  There is more information upstairs and you can, of course, access the site.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

Tomorrow at 11 a.m. in this room, General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann will brief on the upcoming Financing for Development Review Conference in Doha, which you will hear more, of course, from Enrique in a few minutes.

To mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women tomorrow, we will have Inés Alberdi, Executive Director of UNIFEM; UNIFEM Goodwill Ambassador Nicole Kidman; Ambassador Piet de Klerk, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Netherlands; and Marie Nyombo Zaina, grantee of the UN Trust Fund to Eliminate Violence against Women, as guests at the noon briefing.  They will announce the results of UNIFEM’s “Say No to Violence against Women” campaign.

And at 2 p.m., Ambassador Maged Abdelaziz, Permanent Representative of Egypt, and Ambassador Johan Løvald, Special Envoy for Financing for Development in the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, will discuss progress on the outcome document of the upcoming Financing for Development Review Conference in Doha.

**Press Stakeout Today

And then today, this afternoon, Olesegun Obasanjo, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, will be at the Security Council stakeout at 3 p.m.

And that’s all I have for you.  Any questions?  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Sure, in the Congo, there’s these reports that peacekeepers were carrying reported to be Mai-Mai rebels, from one place to another and that the Congolese Army (FADRC) stopped the truck and pulled some 23 people off the truck and they’ve now disappeared.  What’s happened with that incident?  Any follow-up to find out what happened to the people that were taken?

Spokesperson:  From what we gather, one UN peacekeeper sustained light injuries yesterday when that convoy was intercepted by a mixed group of FADRC soldiers and civilians some 2 kilometres north-east of Goma, and Congolese Government soldiers accused MONUC of transporting CNDP and Nkunda rebels.  In fact, the convoy included 10 Mai-Mai fighters who had just surrendered to UN peacekeepers.  The Congolese soldiers unfortunately got quite agitated and prompted suspicious locals to throw stones at the convoy.  The incident was later settled without further injuries or complications.  So apparently nothing else happened after that, so the Mai-Mai people who had surrendered continued with the convoy.

Question:  With the convoy?

Spokesperson:  Yes.  Any other question?  Yes, of course.

Question:  One is straightforward, one is a little bit less.  There’s these reports that the President of Cyprus has written to Ban Ki-moon about an incident in which the Turkish war vessel stopped them from “oil exploration off Cyprus”.  One is, I want to know if the letter has been received, if the Secretary-General has any thoughts, and also if Mr. [Alexander] Downer thinks that this oil exploration is going to be helpful to the process he is involved in trying to resolve the Cyprus issue.

[The Spokesperson later confirmed that the letter had been received and was being studied.]

Spokesperson:  Let me check first if the letter was received.  I am not aware of it.  I’ll get you an answer.  Any other questions?  Okay, thank you all very much and I’m going to invite, with my apologies, to invite Enrique to come to the podium.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon to everybody, especially for being here after more than one hour briefing. Thank you very much.

Let me start with marking the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, the President of the GA, Miguel d´Escoto, made a statement this morning, saying, and I’m going to quote:

“Today, we recall that, 61 years ago this month, the General Assembly adopted the historic resolution 181, calling for the creation of a Jewish State and an Arab State.  The State of Israel, founded a year later in 1948, now celebrates 60 years of its existence.  Shamefully, there is still no Palestinian State to celebrate.”

“I believe,” Mr. d’Escoto said, “that the failure to create a Palestinian State as promised is the single greatest failure in the history of the United Nations.  It has been 60 years since some 800,000 Palestinians were driven out of their homes and property, becoming refugees and an uprooted and marginalized people.

Although different, what is being done against the Palestinian people seems to me to be a version of the hideous policy of apartheid.”

And this is what I have for you today, unless you have any questions at this time?  No questions?  Thank you very much.

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For information media • not an official record