11 April 2007


11 April 2007
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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.  I’ll start with an announcement of the Secretary-General’s travel plans.

**Secretary-General’s Travel Plans

The Secretary-General plans to travel early next week to Europe and the Middle East.  His first stop is Rome for an official visit to Italy, during which he plans to meet with senior Italian leaders.  He also expects to meet with the Pope in Vatican City.

He then travels to Bern for an official visit to Switzerland, where he will meet with leaders of the Swiss Government.  While in Switzerland, he will attend a meeting of the Chief Executives Board (CEB), which brings together, on a regular basis, twice a year, the heads of the organizations of the UN system, under the chairmanship of the Secretary-General.  The third leg of the trip will take him to Doha, Qatar, to address a forum on democracy, development and free trade.  And his final scheduled stop is Damascus.  During his official visit to Syria, the Secretary-General plans to meet with senior Government officials, including the President, on a range of issues.

** Algeria

I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Algeria.

The Secretary-General strongly condemns the terrorist bombings that occurred today in Algeria, killing and wounding many innocent civilians, in what has been reported as an attempt against Prime Minister Abdelaziz Belkhadem.  He extends his sincere condolences to the Government and people of Algeria and, in particular, to the families of the victims.

The Secretary-General believes this deplorable incident, the latest in a series of similar attacks in the Maghreb region as a whole, shows the need for concerted international action against terrorism, which has the effect of undermining the normal functioning of societies and disrupting the lives of ordinary people.

** Sudan

Turning to Sudan, the UN Mission there continues to report a number of security incidents involving humanitarian activities in Darfur.  Among the incidents reported over the past few days are an armed robbery on a medical clinic run by an NGO in North Darfur, a shooting of a vehicle being used for a vaccination campaign in South Darfur and a shooting between armed militias and police inside a camp housing internally displaced persons in West Darfur.

Yesterday evening, the UN Mission strongly condemned an unprovoked attack carried out earlier that day by unidentified armed men on an African Union patrol team at a water point in North Darfur, during which one member of the [African Union Mission in the Sudan] protection force was killed.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

Now turning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the UN Mission (MONUC) there has contributed to the departure of Senator Jean-Pierre Bemba from Kinshasa today, following a request by the Congolese authorities and also by Senator Bemba himself.  Bemba was granted permission by the President of the Provisional Office of the Senate to leave Kinshasa.  Following that, MONUC provided security for the Senator’s transportation from the Embassy of South Africa to the airport of Kinshasa, where he took a plane for Portugal, where Mr. Bemba is to receive medical treatment.

** Somalia

On Somalia, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that the humanitarian situation in that country is dramatically deteriorating and that aid workers are facing serious obstructions as they work to help internally displaced persons and other vulnerable groups.  As a result of the obstacles, UN agencies and their partners have been unable to hand out food and basic supplies in areas hit by drought, floods and conflict.

**Security Council

As you know, there are no meetings or consultations of the Security Council scheduled for today.  But, on the racks, is a letter from the Secretary-General to the President of the Security Council, informing the Council of his appointment of two experts to fill vacancies on the Al-Qaida and Taliban Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team.

** Nepal

In Asia, the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) today began three days of registration and storage of Nepalese Army weapons at the barracks in Kathmandu.  On the first day of the process, the Nepalese Army presented some 850 weapons for registration and storage by UN teams.  Fourteen UN teams, supported by UNDP, registered each weapon individually for storage.  Arms monitors are present throughout the registration process, and will maintain a 24-hour presence at the Barracks from today to monitor the weapons. Surveillance cameras have been installed at the site.

** Afghanistan

Turning to Afghanistan, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, singer Clay Aiken took part in a press conference at the UN Mission’s headquarters in Kabul this morning.  Aiken said that the people of Afghanistan were without question the country’s greatest natural resource.  He especially highlighted the eagerness for learning among people of all ages.  And there is more in a press release from UNICEF upstairs on that.

**North Pole

And, then, six teams of adventurers are racing to the North Pole, and one team hopes to raise nearly half a million dollars for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in the process.  Jake Morland, a former UNHCR field officer, and long-time friend James Turner are among the 15 competitors who left the last inhabited outpost in northern Canada on Monday.  The race to the Pole is expected to take at least four weeks.  They are hoping to raise 250,000 British pounds from sponsors.  They want to earmark that money for a special trust fund to cover urgent medical evacuation for refugee children.  So far, they’ve raised more than $50,000.  And there is a press release from the UN refugee agency on that item.

**Press Conferences

Today, at 1:15 p.m., there will be a press conference on the occasion of the fortieth session of the Commission on Population and Development.  Here to brief you, will be Dr. Somnath Chatterji, the team leader of Multi-Country Studies at the World Health Organization, accompanied by Dr. Nyovani Madise, senior researcher at the African Population and Health Research Center.

And then just to flag for you -- tomorrow, at 1 p.m. here we have scheduled a background briefing by a senior UN official on the Secretary-General’s upcoming report on system-wide coherence, which will be presented by the Secretary-General to the General Assembly on Monday.

That’s what I have for you today.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  You mentioned Somalia.  I wanted to ask you two things.  The Arab League has mentioned that a peace conference has been put off for a full month, until mid May.  Has the UN been informed of that?  And also, does the UN have any idea how many people have been killed in this most recent… one of the clans says it’s a couple of thousand… so does the UN have a figure?  And finally, there is a quote from the Defence Minister of the Transitional Federal Government to the effect that certain sub-clans should be expelled from the city or exterminated.  So I am wondering: with this language, people, I guess, are asking whether the UN system has any comment on its continued either use of the Transitional Federal Government or… the WFP called on the Transitional Federal Government to help it combat pirates.  What is the UN’s response to the Defence Minister?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, specifically on the remarks you are quoting today, I don’t have anything, since that was just in press reports.  In terms of what the UN is doing, as you know, we are involved both politically and on the humanitarian front, as we have reported to you in recent days.  On the humanitarian situation, we had an update, as I reported today on the deteriorating situation there and, obviously, continued displacement.  This is of great concern to the United Nations.  And I don’t remember your first point.  Oh, about the conference, yes.

The number of deaths, I have to tell you that, in most situations, UN agencies on the ground are there to help the victims and those who are still alive.  If we have any statistics, those are generally not the UN’s own statistics, because death tolls are generally… statistics are provided by the local authorities.

Question:  And mid May?  Do you have any confirmation?

Deputy Spokesperson:  That I do not have anything further than what we reported yesterday.

Question:  Any reaction from the Secretary-General about the two proposals that are on the table about the Western Sahara?  And what is the process from now?  Is it going to be published as a document, or is it going to be included in the report of Mr. Ban Ki-moon to the Security Council about MINURSO?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Ok, on… I think you are referring to the meeting that the Secretary-General had this morning with the Moroccan Permanent Representative… this morning he presented to the Secretary-General his Government’s autonomy initiative for Western Sahara.  The Secretary-General expressed his appreciation, as well as his hope that the parties would find a mutually acceptable solution.  The Secretary-General also noted a previous Security Council decision on the Western Sahara issue.  I think the second plan that you mentioned is the Polisario plan -- and yes, I can confirm that we received that, as well, yesterday.  And, in terms of where these plans go, they will be transmitted to the Security Council for them to take them up.  In what format and when, I can’t tell you, because this just happened a few hours ago, when we received the report.

Question:  Mr. Ban Ki-moon met with Bashar [al-Assad] in Riyadh.  What is he going to discuss in Damascus, other than what he discussed in Riyadh?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t think we are in a position here to tell you what he will discuss in a meeting that is going to be quite a ways from today.  But, generally speaking, he, as you know, the Secretary-General visited a number of countries after and before his attendance at the Riyadh summit last month.  He is continuing his visit to the Middle East by going to Qatar and Syria, and he hopes that his visit, especially to Syria, will be useful and constructive in continuing his efforts to contribute to the ongoing peace efforts in the region.

Question: Is there any progress regarding the exchange of prisoners in the Middle East?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing further on any specifics.

Question:  You indicated that Polisario also submitted a plan.  There was no scheduled meeting yesterday with the Secretary-General.  Where and when was that plan submitted?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have no details.  All I can tell you that we are in receipt of that, as well.

Question:  Prime Minister [Fouad] Siniora has sent a memorandum to Ban Ki-moon yesterday on the tribunal.  Any reaction to that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  All I can say at this point is that, yes, I confirmed before I came here that we are in receipt of a letter from Mr. Siniora and that we are studying it.

Question:  Do you think Mr. Ban Ki-moon will discuss the matter of the tribunal with President Bashar al-Assad?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Again, I will have tell you that the readout of the meeting with the President of Syria will be made after the meeting.

Question:  Can you tell us what the meeting with Mayor Bloomberg is about?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General is scheduled to meet with the Mayor of New York, Mayor Bloomberg, this afternoon.  The Secretary-General hopes to discuss a range of issues of mutual interest to the City of New York and to the United Nations.  These include the City’s continuing support for the Capital Master Plan, ways to work together on climate change and possible cooperation in UN peacekeeping operations.

Question:  Can you elaborate on cooperation in peacekeeping?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, again I’d like to give a readout on that afterwards, but, as you know, New York City has one of the most diversified police forces around, and the Secretary-General would like to explore possibilities, nothing specific... But, as you know, getting police to join peacekeeping operations is one of the high priorities for the UN.  So, I think he would like to explore that and talk about possible cooperation.

Question:  With reference to this letter that you said you just received from Prime Minister Siniora to the Secretary-General, is that going to be released at some point and, if so, vaguely when?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The letter was just received.  They are studying it. At this point, I have no information whether it is going to be made public or not.

Question: By any chance, do you know whether Mr. Ban Ki-moon got an invitation from the Iranian Government?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have no information about any plans for him to visit Iran at this moment.

Question:  Is it possible to request a stakeout with Mr. Bloomberg?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think that is something you might want to take that up with the Mayor’s office.

Question:  Has the Secretary-General made any comment about Hizbollah’s comments about rearming because of another war in Lebanon?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, I have nothing further on that.

Question:  Regarding the Capital Master Plan, do you know if they are going to discuss instead of on the lawn building, building on the Robert Moses Park, and whether Mr. Ban Ki-moon has been reaching out to the, I guess, New York State political officials that have…

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the Capital Master Plan, as you know, has been approved and, as far as I know, the ground-breaking on the lawn should happen this summer.

Question:  So there are no circumstances under which... because there are reports that Mr. Bloomberg is still trying to get that skyscraper built on…

Deputy Spokesperson:  We will have to find out what his plans are, if he has any proposals.  But, as far as the UN is concerned, the Capital Master Plan has been approved and we are very much looking forward to moving ahead with the plan.

Question:  Can I ask you something about Georgia?  Yesterday, there was this meeting between the Georgian Prime Minister and Mr. Ban Ki-moon.  What was said at that meeting?  And also, there was a report that the Georgian delegation met with Mr. Guéhenno on the ninth.  And I am wondering if Mr. Guéhenno ever met with the Abkhaz side, or if that is the totality of his contacts on the conflict.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we will have to ask Mr. Guéhenno’s office.  As for the readout, I believe we do have one, I just don’t have it with me.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later added that the Secretary-General and the Georgian Prime Minister had discussed the investigation into the events of 11 March in the upper Kodori valley by the Joint Fact-Finding Group.  The Secretary-General thanked the Prime Minister for Georgia’s cooperation with the investigation and assured him that the United Nations would do a thorough job.  The Secretary-General and the Prime Minister also discussed the human rights and security situation in Georgia’s Gali district.  In that context, the Secretary-General noted that the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) had strengthened its human rights and police presence in Gali.  The Secretary-General also encouraged Georgia to engage in dialogue with Abkhazia, and he called for greater cooperation on security along the Georgia-Abkhazia ceasefire line.  Regarding any possible meetings between the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, and the Abkhaz side, the Deputy Spokesperson later added that Abkhaz representatives were not in New York and that no meetings with them were planned.]

There are no other questions? Have a good afternoon. 

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