24 August 2005


Spokesman's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Information Officer, Office of the Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon everyone.

**Secretary-General in Niger

Early on Wednesday morning, the Secretary-General met with President Mamadou Tandja of Niger for over an hour, including a one-on-one meeting.

Speaking to reporters afterwards, the Secretary-General said he and the President had discussed the food crisis in the country, and the region as a whole, and stressed the need for regional cooperation to deal with it.  They also discussed Togo, Equatorial Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire.

The Secretary-General then met with the Prime Minister, Hama Amadou.  The two had an in-depth discussion on the current food crisis.

He also met with United Nations staff in Niger, and thanked them for the work they had already done during this emergency.  He encouraged them to continue to work with the Government and with NGOs to address the long-term issues to ensure that this crisis is not repeated.

Before leaving Niger, the Secretary-General gave a press conference.  Asked whether what was happening in Niger was a famine, the Secretary-General said that he didn’t come to debate, but to act, and to help those who need help.

He was also asked about Côte d’Ivoire, and he questioned how “men who call themselves leaders” could allow their country to be torn apart.  We hope to have a full transcript of his comments at that press briefing later today.

** C ôte d’Ivoire

Speaking of Côte d’Ivoire, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for that country has condemned calls to overthrow the governmental institutions there.  The representative, Pierre Schori, said such statements could worsen already acute tensions and delay the implementation of the peace agreements.  Schori also reminded all Ivorians that targeted sanctions can be placed against those who incite violence.

The full text of his comments are upstairs.

**Security Council

Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari today told the Security Council that Israel’s disengagement from Gaza and the northern West Bank marks a watershed, as the first removal by Israel of settlements on Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Israel has demonstrated that it has the requisite maturity to do what will be required to achieve lasting peace, Gambari said in an open meeting of the Council on the Middle East.  Prime Minister Ariel Sharon should be commended for his determination and courage to carry out the disengagement in the face of forceful opposition.

Meanwhile, continued leadership from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will be needed at a time of rising expectations in Gaza and mounting concern in the West Bank.  Gambari called on all Palestinian factions to eschew violence and pursue their goals through peaceful and democratic means.

We have his briefing notes, which also include an update of the situation in Lebanon, upstairs.


On UNHCR, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, is in west Darfur today, continuing his mission to review refugee work in Sudan, Chad and Kenya.  In west Darfur, he will visit refugee camps and meet local and African Union officials.  Tomorrow and Friday, he’ll be in Chad where he’ll visit one of the 12 United Nations refugee camps there. 

**Horn of Africa

Meanwhile, the United Nations Special Envoy for the Humanitarian Crisis in the Horn of Africa, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, will head tomorrow to Addis Ababa for a four-day visit to Ethiopia.  He will meet with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and Government officials, as well as representatives of humanitarian agencies and international donors.

The purpose of Ahtisaari’s trip, which is his fifth to Ethiopia since his appointment in June 2003, is humanitarian advocacy.  He arrived in the region two days ago, and is currently in Eritrea.

**AIDS – Global Fund

On AIDS, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has temporarily suspended all of its five grants to Uganda and asked the Ugandan Ministry of Finance to put in place a new structure that will ensure effective management of the grants.

The Global Fund’s decision was based on a review undertaken by PriceWaterhouseCoopers of one of the five grants.  The review revealed evidence of serious mismanagement by the Ministry of Health’s Project Management Unit.  We have a press release on that upstairs.

** Iraq

Lastly, some good news about Iraq.  The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) today said that, after a decade of decline in which the marshlands of Mesopotamia had all but vanished, almost 40 per cent of Iraq’s marshlands have been restored to the extent that they were in the 1970s.

UNEP says that the phenomenal rate of recovery in southern Iraq’s marshlands can be seen in new satellite imagery, which shows a rapid increase in water and vegetation cover over the last two years.  We have more details in a UNEP press release upstairs.

**Press Conference

We also have a press conference scheduled for tomorrow at 11:15 a.m.  José Antonio Ocampo, the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, will be here to brief the press on the launch of the report on “The World Social Situation 2005:  the Inequality Predicament”.

And with that I’ll have my obligatory sip of water while I wait for questions.  Yes, please?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I just wanted to ask you, while it’s commendable that Israel has so far successfully vacated some of the Occupied Territories, in your assessment, in the United Nations’ assessment, has it vacated all the occupied territories?  Are there any occupied territories left?  Do you have any statistics on that, as to exactly where it stands?

Mr. Haq:  Obviously the Israeli disengagement that was conducted over the last few days was one that took place just in Gaza and the northern West Bank.  Obviously, we’re not talking about the West Bank as a whole, or about Golan Heights, or for that matter, the question of East Jerusalem.  Those are issues that still have to be resolved, and of course, the United Nations still hopes for a withdrawal from all occupied territories, including all the Occupied Palestinian Territories. 

But this was the first withdrawal from the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and it is very significant for that.  And, of course we hope that, in due course, the full implementation of the Road Map will occur, and you can actually have the vision of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security, made into a reality.

Question:  A question on Uganda and the Global Fund, was it the Global Fund’s decision alone or do they have to liaise with UNAIDS or anyone in the Secretariat before making the decision?

Mr. Haq:  The Global Fund is a separate body and it doesn’t have to get any recommendations from the United Nations or from UNAIDS.  In this case, it acted on its own on the basis of the review that was conducted, as I just mentioned, by PriceWaterhouseCoopers. 

Question:  On the Iraqi Constitution, do you have any update as to where it stands now?

Mr. Haq:  Nothing so far.  We’re still waiting to see when the approval process will be completed.  And we’ve been providing support in the form of our Office of Constitutional Support, headed by Nicholas Fink Haysom, as well as by the work done by the United Nations Mission and by Special Representative Ashraf Qazi.  And we hope, of course, in time, that the constitutional process can be completed and that the Constitution can be brought to a referendum. 

Question:  Did the United Nations, does the United Nations have a position, or is the United Nations getting a position on the fact that a high-profile United States citizen has called for the assassination of the President of a sovereign nation which is a member of the United Nations?  Does the United Nations take a position yet, or do you wait for someone to contact –

Mr. Haq:  Obviously this is not a United Nations matter; this is a matter having to do with, as you said, the comments of a private citizen and the Head of State of a country.  Clearly though, as a point of principle, we do take seriously any form of incitement to violence against Heads of State and, of course, we do not condone any comments that would impute harm to a democratically-elected Head of Government.  So, of course, we don’t favour those comments that you are referring to, but we don’t have any role in this.

Question:  Do you see any role that -- say that President Chavez sent a letter to the President of the Security Council asking that it be seized of the matter or that some sort of dialogue be brought, because you know, this country has had a history of people being assassinated and it’s coming back to this Government.  Is this not serious now, I mean especially now with this whole Global Compact that we have?

Mr. Haq:  Well, the basic point is that, at present, no United Nations bodies -- not the Secretariat, not the Security Council or any other body -- has had this particular matter brought to its attention.  And we, of course, hope that the respective parties involved can deal with it amicably. 

But, as I’ve said, although comments by private citizens are not necessarily an affair for us to be involved in, we do stand against any comments that would incite anyone to violence, and we trust that everyone is mature enough to see that these comments should not be acted on, should not be taken seriously.

And with that, thank you very much.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.