4 June 2007


4 June 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, and Frehiwot Bekele, Special Assistant to the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon.

**Security Council

As you know, the Security Council this morning had a very short consultation and adopted its programme of work for the month of June under the Belgian presidency, and the President, Ambassador Johan Verbeke, will be here shortly to introduce the programme to you and answer your questions.  He is supposed to be here at 12:30.

** Sri Lanka

I have a couple of statements here attributable to the Spokesperson.  The first is on Sri Lanka:

The Secretary-General condemns the brutal killings of two workers of the Sri Lankan Red Cross, and offers his condolences to their families. 

He demands a thorough investigation by the police.  He reminds the Government of their obligation to investigate the murders of 17 aid workers from Action Contre la Faim, who were killed 10 months ago. 

The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about the security of civilians and aid workers in Sri Lanka and reminds all parties in the country that aid workers have a right to protection at all times.

**Secretary-General at OAS

The Secretary-General, as you know, was in Panama this weekend.  He is now on his way to Madrid.  Panama was his first visit to Latin America as Secretary-General.

He participated last night in the opening session of the Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly.

Addressing the theme of the Assembly, “Energy for Sustainable Development,” the Secretary General noted the progress made in the region in the field of biofuels and to successfully implement national energy efficiency programmes.  He stressed the need for partnerships to combat the global threats posed by climate change, with adverse effects already felt in many areas, including energy, food security, as well as human health.

Global warming, he added, could also seriously impair our ability to reach the Millennium Development Goals, and could even reverse achievements in human development.

The Secretary General is expected to pursue these issues when he attends the G-8 meeting on Thursday and Friday in Germany.

Yesterday morning, the Secretary General also visited the Panama Canal, one of the two most strategic artificial waterways in the world, connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and where more than 14,000 ships transit every year.

**Statement on Charles Taylor Trial

Earlier today, we issued a statement on the trial of Charles Taylor.

The Secretary-General welcomed the start of the trial of Charles Taylor, the former President of Liberia, by the Special Court for Sierra Leone sitting in The Hague.  This is an important day for the international community, contributing to the fight against impunity and the strengthening of the rule of law, not only in West Africa, but in the world as a whole.

The trial of Charles Taylor is a significant move towards peace and reconciliation in Sierra Leone and in the region.

The Secretary-General thanks all States for their assistance and contributions to the important work of the Special Court, and encourages their continued support to ensure the successful completion of its mandate.

**Charles Taylor

The trial of Charles Taylor adjourned this morning in The Hague after an initial hearing, during which Chief Prosecutor Stephen Rapp presented his charges against the former Liberian President.

Charles Taylor did not attend the hearing, but sent a lengthy statement challenging the competence of the Court and the charges against him. Taylor also dismissed the Court-appointed legal defence team, electing to represent himself when the trial resumes on June 25th.

We have upstairs, upon request, copies Prosecutor Rapp’s opening statement.

**UNRWA - Lebanon

Turning to the Middle East, the situation in the Palestinian refugee camps in north Lebanon has deteriorated significantly, according to the head of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, known as UNRWA.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen AbuZayd says she is very concerned about the precarious situation of the refugees, who are now in the front lines of fighting.

The population of Beddawi camp has swollen from 16,000 persons to around 37,000.  Life in the camp has become unbearable, she says.  UNRWA is trying to ease overcrowding by preparing temporary alternative accommodation for some of the displaced families.  AbuZayd appealed to donors to take immediate action.

And, I believe there is an appeal in the works that will be issued shortly.

**International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has taken custody of a high ranking Bosnian Serb officer indicted for genocide and other crimes committed in Srebrenica in 1995.  Zdravko Tolimir was transferred late on Friday into the Tribunal’s custody following his arrest in Bosnia and Herzegovina after two years on the run.

Tolimir’s arrest leaves only the Tribunal's two most wanted, General Ratko Mladić, former Bosnian Serb Army chief, and Radovan Karadžic, former Bosnian Serb President, as fugitives from international justice for crimes committed in Srebrenica.

A former Assistant Commander for Intelligence and Security of the Main Staff of the Bosnian Serb Army, Tolimir is charged with the responsibility for the killing of more than 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys from Srebrenica in 1995.

You can read more about this upstairs.

**UNMIT - Electoral Security

In Timor-Leste, the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) is strengthening electoral security in a district following two fatal shootings in the area over the weekend.

Acting Head of the Mission Eric Tan said both shootings are being treated seriously, and the International Stabilization Forces (ISF) have deployed a platoon to the Viqueque district.  He added that the United Nations will also reinforce its security plan ahead of the 30 June election.

The Mission’s senior leadership attended a meeting convened by President Ramos-Horta this morning, where they stressed that retaliation for the latest event will not be tolerated.  They again urged political supporters to remain calm and abide by democratic principles to ensure a free and fair election.  Meanwhile, 27 instances of violence were reported in Dili over the weekend.

You can read more about that upstairs.

**UNEP - Snow and Ice

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) today released its first global report on ice and snow.  It found that an estimated 40 per cent of the world’s population could be affected by declines in snow cover, sea ice, glaciers, permafrost and lake ice.  Impacts are likely to include significant changes in the availability of water for drinking and agriculture, rising sea levels and increased avalanches and floods.

UNEP is also expressing concern about the dramatic growth in polar tourism in the last 10 years, and its impact on the environment and communities there.

And we have more information on this upstairs.

**SG Appointments

And finally, I have two Secretary-General appointments for UNICEF:

The Secretary-General has appointed Omar Abdi, a Somali-born Canadian citizen, and Hilde Johnson of Norway as Deputy Executive Directors of the United Nations Children’s Fund, or UNICEF.  Mr. Abdi succeeds Mr. Toshiyuki Niwa of Japan and Ms. Johnson succeeds Ms. Rima Salah of Jordan.

Mr. Abdi has been serving as Director of UNICEF’s Middle East and North Africa Region since August last year.  Before joining UNICEF in 1992, he held a number of senior positions in the Somali Government.

Ms. Johnson has been serving as Senior Adviser to the President of the African Development Bank since 2005.  Immediately prior to that, she was Norway's Minister of International Development, a post she has held twice.

And you can learn more about them in their bios, which are available upstairs.

And I need to turn to Frehiwot Bekele, the General Assembly Spokesperson, before the Security Council President arrives.  But, before then, I’ll take your questions.  Yes, I’ll start with Warren and then I’ll go to the back.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Marie, what actually did the Secretary-General say to address the disagreement in the African Union-United Nations accord that we spoke about on Friday, and is he having any success?

Deputy Spokesperson:  What Warren refers to is the remarks that the Secretary-General made after consultations on Friday, in which he noted that there will be some changes made in the UN-AU hybrid operation report that had been previously endorsed by the Security Council in a presidential statement.  What is going on with that now is that the Secretary-General, through the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), and the African Union have been in close coordination all weekend and that we expect a report noting the changes to be going to the Security Council, I believe as early as tomorrow or the next couple of days.  As you know, once the proposal is endorsed by both the Security Council and the African Union, then it is up to the Sudanese Government -- it will go to the Sudanese Government officially -- and the three sides will start talking about how to implement it.  Let’s go to the back.

Question:  Marie, I would like to follow up.  Do you have anything on the nature of these changes that are expected to come…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I only have what the Secretary-General mentioned to you on Friday.  I believe he said there were a number of changes suggested by the African Union.  I can’t remember the exact language, but I have requested DPKO to give you a briefing on the proposed changes.

Question:  I have another question for you.  Do you have anything on the reports of the start of talks about Western Sahara on June 18th?

Deputy Spokesperson:  You are referring to some wire reports from the region.  What I can tell you is the Security Council, in its latest resolution, 1754, on Western Sahara, did call upon the parties to enter into negotiations without preconditions and it did request the Secretary-General to set up the negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations.  To implement that resolution, the Secretary-General has invited the parties, that is Morocco and the Frente Polisario, and the neighbouring countries, Algeria and Mauritania, to a meeting that will take place in the proximity of New York on those days that you mentioned.  And his Personal Envoy, Peter Van Walsum, will conduct direct or proximity talks as a first step in the process of negotiations.

Question:  Marie, could I just follow up on that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Sure.

Question:  This is something that was announced, I mean, this is happening in the New York area, but it’s something that was announced in Madrid, in Spain.  I don’t understand why we couldn’t have this confirmed last Thursday, when the news came out.  I mean, if it’s going to be under the auspices of the UN, we should have known this before.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I was not aware that there was a request to confirm it on Thursday.

Correspondent:  Well, I ask every day, so…

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I have the confirmation for you today.  I believe the reason why it came out of Madrid is, as you know, the Secretary-General is headed to Madrid, as I mentioned earlier, and he gave an interview in which he mentioned this development.  So I think it was up to the Secretary-General to announce this.  Let’s go to Mr. Abbadi.

Question:  There were some allegations this weekend that the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was participating in the attack against the refugee camp in Nahr el-Bared and from the sea.  Has the UN denied these allegations?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, it has.  The UN Interim Force in Lebanon has dismissed as utterly unfounded claims by the armed militant group Islam al-Fatah to the extent that the UNIFIL Maritime Task Force took part in a military standoff in and around the Nahr el-Bared camp for Palestinian refugees near Tripoli in northern Lebanon.  The UNIFIL Maritime Task Force did not take part in the fighting and continues to act fully within its mandate to assist the Lebanese authorities in preventing the illegal flow of arms from the sea, and you could probably read more about that upstairs.  Evelyn?

Question:  On the Western Sahara, where are those talks taking place?

Deputy Spokesperson:  In the proximity of New York.  I don’t have a location for that.

Question:  It may be Long Island.  Secondly, there are all sorts of stories out of Sudan, that the Secretary-General -- we know about the Security Council -- the Secretary-General’s also going there.  Do you have anything on that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, we don’t.

Question:  Then he’s definitely not going there, or what?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have no announcement to make on a visit by the Secretary-General to Sudan in the immediate future.  As you know, when he was in Addis Ababa earlier this year at the African Union summit and the President invited the Secretary-General, I think there was an invitation that the Secretary-General responded to and he said it would happen when the time was right.  I have no announcement beyond that.

Question:  And then also, on Sudan, is not the difficulty command and control in this final draft?  That’s quite serious.  Do they think they’re going to straighten it out so that the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) approves the money?

Deputy Spokesperson:  My understanding is that the African Union and the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), have been working on it this weekend.  And, as far as I know, the report has not gone to the Council yet and, as I’ve said, I’ve asked DPKO to brief you on whatever changes are being made in the joint proposal. Yes, Debbie.

Question:  A class action lawsuit was filed today by Srebrenica survivors against the United Nations and the Dutch Government.  Has the United Nations received a copy of this complaint from the Dutch Government and what is the United Nations reaction to the filing of this lawsuit?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have a United Nations reaction yet, because I checked with the Office of Legal Affairs before I came here, and the United Nations has not received legal documents relating to a lawsuit against the Organization.  So, as of now, I don’t have anything for you.  But I will follow up and, when we do have something, we will get back to you.

Question:  Have you seen any investigation from your envoy in Beirut, regarding the allegations, mentioned in (inaudible) reports talking about Mr. Hariri was financing (inaudible) and the Fatah al-Islam group?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, the only guidance I have today is what I read you right now.

Question:  You are not planning to investigate these allegations, at least?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I am not familiar with them, but let me look into it.

Question:  Just in regard to Sudan and command and control, is the United Nations adamant that command and control ultimately rests with the Security Council or not?

Deputy Spokesperson:  What do you mean by does command and control rest with the Security Council?

Question:  Does the Security Council, according to the United Nations, as I said, redline that the Security Council should have primacy or not?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Again, as I said, I don’t have the final changes in the hybrid operations proposal that is going to the Security Council.  I understand that it is being prepared now, that it’s going and I’ve asked the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) to brief you further.  So, I think we have to wait until the changes have actually been made and submitted.  Masood?

Question:  I just wanted to ask, is the Secretary-General going to the G-8 summit?  Has he been invited?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, he is on a trip now, which started in Panama, that goes to Spain and which ends up at the G-8 summit.  We flagged to you, maybe too early for you to remember, a letter that he had sent to all the G-8 leaders, in which he puts the issues of the Millennium Development Goals, especially in Africa, and climate change at the top of the list of priorities that he would like G-8 leaders to seize upon.

Question:  Do you have the name of this Bosnian Serb who has been arrested?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, but I think I pronounced it badly, so I will give it to you afterwards and spell it out for you.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Over the weekend, there were reports of United States air strikes in Puntland in Somalia, and also, more recently, a bombing of the Prime Minister, an assassination attempt.  Does anyone at the United Nations have anything to say on this?  Have they confirmed the US did air strikes?  Is that legal?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have confirmation of the air strikes.  I am very familiar with the reports that you have seen, that we have seen, and I know that the Secretary-General and the Department of Political Affairs are monitoring this very closely and I may have something more for you on this tomorrow, but I don’t have anything today.

[The Spokesperson later announced that the Secretary-General is dispatching his Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs to the horn of Africa.  See Press Release SG/SM/11025.]

Question:  On the Department of Political Affairs), there’s this memo from DPA called Korean peninsula: UN policy and strategy.  It’s dated April 25th and it proposed to Ban Ki-moon three proposals about how to deal with North Korea, one of which is to get the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) back involved.  Do you confirm that this document is what it is and what happened?  What happened with the policy committee?  What did they decide after this presentation?  And how does it relate to the UNDP audit?

Deputy Spokesperson:  It doesn’t relate.  First of all, you’re talking about reports of a paper that was circulated in some news media.  I can tell you that it has nothing to do with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) audit, which you had extensive briefings on on Friday.  But what I can tell you about what you read about in these reports is that the United Nations is constantly reviewing its work in all the countries in which it is engaged and a normal part of the process involves preparing options for the consideration of the Secretary-General.  The United Nations does not comment on internal documents developed as part of its ongoing work.  And that’s my response on that.

Question:  And there is a policy committee?

Deputy Spokesperson:  There is a policy committee that meets frequently.  As the Secretary-General is a new Secretary-General, obviously, he is reviewing all the policies of the United Nations.

Question:  Do you know who is on the policy committee?

Deputy Spokesperson:  It’s an internal setup.  I’m sure I can find out for you.  But it’s composed of his senior advisers.  I think I’ll leave it at that.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later drew the correspondent’s attention to the Secretary-General’s bulletin (ST/SGB/2005/16) that set up the policy committee and lists its membership.]

Question:  To follow up on that, the media reports it does actually have something to do with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) audit, because the reports say that, for one, United States concerns should be allayed once the audit report comes out, and two, that Japan is the main obstacle to getting UNDP back in the DPRK.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing beyond what I read you.  Option papers are constantly prepared and updated.  I don’t know what version of what paper got leaked so…

Question:  The status of those proposals, that’s been mentioned in the media, is it under consideration?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing beyond what I just told you in this statement.  Yes, sir?

Question:  The Secretary-General said that the United Nations is going to look at getting more involved in Iraq.  Why now?  Why this interest now, at this time, for the United Nations getting involved?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think the Secretary-General has always said, and continues to say, that he would like to help the people of Iraq in the best way he can. And I think he is constantly searching for ways to do that.  Mark?

Question:  Just in regards to North Korea.  Is there any plan to appoint a United Nations special rep?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing on that.  Yes?

Question:  Does the Secretary-General want to join the six-party talks in whatever form they may happen in the future?  That’s one of the other recommendations.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I would like to refer to the Secretary-General’s position on this.  He commented fairly extensively when he spoke to the Korea Society a couple of weeks ago.  I refer you to those remarks, because I think he goes into quite a lot of detail about how he feels about whose those talks are and what his role in those efforts are.

It’s 12:30.  I have the Security Council President waiting in protocol, I have Freh waiting.  So, just to let you know.  But, go ahead.  But, can I try somebody else?  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Maria, is the Secretary-General concerned about the movement of troops of Turkey towards the border of Iraq, consequent to the attacks by the Kurdistan Worker’s Party on Turkey?

Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t have anything from him on that today.  Mark, last question.

Question:  Is the policy of publishing short lists of candidates for jobs now officially over?  I haven’t seen one since the Secretary-General arrived.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Let me look into that for you.  Okay, we’ll turn to Frehiwot Bekele.  I gave you two appointments today.  That’s all I have.

Briefing by the Special Assistant to the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good Afternoon.  I’ll be very brief.  I only have two things to announce.

**General Assembly President Visits Spain

The Assembly President is in Spain on a three-day visit to Cordoba, Seville and Madrid, organized by Casa Arabe, an international institute of Arab and Islamic studies.  She will address the Senate of Spain this evening on the role of women in politics and in international institutions.  The President is expected to state that “true gender equality can only be achieved if more women assume leadership positions in the public sphere; in their Parliaments, Governments, at the United Nations and in other multilateral organizations”.

As to the Middle East, she points out that “the status of women varies significantly from one country to the other. Women in some parts of the region still face multi-layered discrimination that is deep-rooted in our legal framework, culture, and educational system.”  And she emphasizes that, “as Islamic texts are open to various interpretations, it is important to have interpretations based on the needs of the time… our time, as what is suitable for one society may not be suitable for another… and what was suitable a few hundred years ago may not be suitable for the twenty-first century.”

**Strengthening Peacekeeping

And on the peacekeeping reform proposals of the Secretary-General:

The Fifth Committee is scheduled to have a meeting tomorrow at 10 a.m., at which the Secretariat will brief the Committee on the Secretary-General’s proposals.  The Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) report on the Secretary-General’s proposals has been completed, but it has not been issued yet.  It’s expected to be issued tomorrow, to be taken up by the Fifth Committee.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  (inaudible)

Special Assistant:  It will be public tomorrow.

Question:  Is she giving it tonight or tomorrow?

Special Assistant:  It’s being reproduced, so it will be out tomorrow morning.

Question:  When is she giving the speech?

Special Assistant:  Oh, it’s tonight. I can give it to you now.  I thought you were asking me about the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) report. Yes, Matthew?

Question:  On the ACABQ, that North Korea audit, what’s the process when it goes to them?  Is there is any in-person presentation by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and are the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and others going to make a management response?

Special Assistant:  I have no idea.  I’ll try to find out for you.

Question:  What’s the status of the whole consulting process for Security Council reform negotiations?

Special Assistant:  You will recall that the President appointed two ambassadors -- the Ambassadors of Chile and Lichtenstein -- to conduct consultations in any format they deem appropriate, and they are supposed to report back to her by the end of June, I believe.

Question:  Are there debates or (inaudible)?

Special Assistant:  They are supposed to hold consultations in any format they deem appropriate.  And the other four facilitators will continue to advise the President.

Okay, done? Thanks.

* *** *

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