15 August 2007


15 August 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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon all.

**Statement on Iraq

There is a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General in response to the bomb attacks in northern Iraq.

The Secretary-General was shocked and saddened by the series of attacks that took place yesterday in northern Iraq in the villages of Qahtaniya, Al-Jazeera and Tal Uzair, which reportedly left at least 200 people dead and many more wounded.

He extends his deepest condolences to the families of those killed and his wishes for a full and speedy recovery to those wounded.  The Secretary-General reiterates in the strongest terms his condemnation of such attacks against civilian targets, including the one on a bridge in Taji, north of Baghdad, on the same day.  Nothing can justify such indiscriminate violence against innocent civilians.

The Secretary-General reiterates the urgent need for all Iraqi leaders, regardless of their political or religious affiliations, to work together to protect civilian lives and to dedicate themselves towards a meaningful dialogue aimed at ending the violence and achieving lasting national reconciliation.

** Iraq

We also have a statement upstairs from Ashraf Qazi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, strongly condemning the multiple car bombings in northern Iraq yesterday as an abominable crime aimed at widening the sectarian and ethnic divide in Iraq.

Qazi called on the Iraqi authorities to redouble their efforts in the protection of minorities in the country and ensure that those responsible for this horrible crime are brought to justice.

**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea -- Floods

On the DPRK floods, we have an update from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in response to the recent flooding in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which has affected most of the southern half of that country.

OCHA says that the Government invited UN Agencies based in Pyongyang -- UNICEF, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) -- to participate in a needs assessment in one flood-affected province near the capital yesterday.  The assessment found immediate needs of food, shelter and medicines.

UNICEF has a ready stockpile in Government warehouses of thousands of essential medicine kits, as well as family water kits containing basic household items and water purifying tablets.

** Sudan

Still on flooding -- following recent flooding, the World Food Programme is providing food for 38,500 people in North Sudan and nearly 9,000 people in South Sudan, but estimates suggest that these figures could rise rapidly.

Health is also a vital concern in Sudan, with 691 suspected cases of acute diarrhoea reported so far, which have led to 48 known deaths.  To date, 17 treatment centres have been set up in affected areas, where water chlorination and health education are also being carried out.

Meanwhile, in South Darfur, a group of Arab militiamen kidnapped two internally displaced persons collecting firewood outside the Kalma camp on Monday, in an incident connected to accusations of cattle theft.  One of the IDPs was released and asked to carry a message to the camp demanding the return of three herds of cattle, but the second remains in custody.

We have more details in the briefing notes by the UN Mission in Sudan.

**Secretary-General’s Comments

On the Secretary-General’s comments yesterday, the Secretary-General and the Security Council had their monthly luncheon yesterday, and the Secretary-General told reporters afterward that they had mainly discussed the situation in Darfur, Haiti, Somalia, Chad and the Middle East.

Asked about the situation in Lebanon, one year after the end of the war between Israel and Hizbullah, the Secretary-General said that he is still concerned about the ongoing violence, although the United Nations has helped the Lebanese people to restore their society to a more peaceful and economically stable situation.  He praised UNIFIL’s contribution and urged the country’s leaders to engage in a more inclusive political dialogue to promote national reconciliation.

Asked about Western Sahara, the Secretary-General said that, even though there has not been any visible progress during last weekend’s negotiations, both sides had substantially good discussions.  What is important at this time, he said, is that they have agreed to continue their dialogue.

I’m sure some of you might not have access to the statement, but it is in our Office upstairs.  It is not on the website yet.

**Under-Secretary-General Pascoe in Kyrgyzstan

B. Lynn Pascoe, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, arrived today in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, ahead of the Seventh Summit of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, where he will deliver a message of the Secretary-General on Thursday.

Pascoe met today with the Foreign Minister of Kyrgyzstan, and was expected to meet later in the day with the President and Prime Minister.  He is also scheduled to meet in the margins of the summit with the Presidents of Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

On his way to the region, Pascoe conducted two days of talks with Chinese Foreign Ministry officials in Beijing, touching on issues including Darfur, the Middle East peace process, Nepal, Myanmar, Kosovo and the Korean peninsula, as well as cooperation between China and the United Nations in Africa.   He will also visit Nepal this weekend.

**International Atomic Energy Agency

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) finished its work in examining the nuclear plant in Japan that had been damaged by an earthquake last month, and the IAEA experts have concluded that the damage to the plant was less than expected.  The plant, they say, was shut down safely.

The IAEA team adds that physical stresses resulting from the earthquake could affect the long-term safe operation of some plant components.

We have a press release from the Agency with some details upstairs.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

And then tomorrow, at 1 in this room, Ambassador Irakli Alasania of Georgia will hold a press conference.

As you know he’s meeting with the Secretary-General in a few minutes.

This is all I have for you.  Thank you.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I was just wondering whether, following these attacks that happened in northern Iraq, will the Secretary-General reconsider sending UN staffers to Iraq?  I mean, there have been indications that the security situation there remains very volatile.

Spokesperson:  The situation is being followed closely, as I said yesterday.  There is nothing that has changed in terms of our own assessment.  We have had a number of incidents like this, as you know, and it is a part of our regular assessment of how we will deploy people.  And as you know, we already have 65 people there.

Question:  Did the Secretary-General nominate any new person to replace Mr. Qazi in Iraq?

Spokesperson:  Not yet.  Not yet.

Question:  When do you expect that?

Spokesperson:  We expect that shortly.

Question:  I have another question.  Do you have a definition of the difference between a prisoner, a hostage and an abducted person?

Spokesperson:  Well, is it a theoretical question?

Question:  Because, I mean, yesterday, the Secretary-General used the word “hostage” to the prisoners, the Israelis and the Lebanese.  So which ones are hostages -- the Lebanese or the Israelis?

Spokesperson:  Well, we can go into semantics a little later if you want to.

Question:  Just to reiterate my question from yesterday.  Can somebody tell us what the precise date of the mapping of the Shebaa Farms is?  And then secondly, I read a report that the Darfur rebels were insisting that there be some non-African troops in the peacekeeping mission.  How does the UN respond to that?  Do these guys have a say in what the mission looks like?

Spokesperson:  As I said yesterday about Darfur, the composition of the mission is being considered right now.  And I think that the criterion that is going to be used is the need of special services for specific groups.

Question:  I know what you said yesterday, but there’s a new call from rebels that some of the troops be non-African.

Spokesperson:  Of course we heard that also, and I don’t think this is going to essentially change the situation.

Question:  So, the Government’s demand applies, but the rebels don’t, in this case?

Spokesperson:  No, what I’m saying is that all this is being considered, and this is part of the discussions taking place.

Question:  But will there be some non-African troops or not?

Spokesperson:  Yes, there will be -- I said yesterday there will be some non-African specialized groups included.

Question:  But that’s not what I’m asking.  I’m asking about troops -- ground troops.

Spokesperson:  Ground troops -- at this point I cannot answer your question because the composition of the mission is not really completed.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Okay.  Yes, Rhonda?

Question:  Can you say what the situation is with the UN website?  Still some aspects didn’t seem to be back [inaudible]…

Spokesperson:  Right now, they are proceeding slowly, going through every single layer of our website to find out whether there was any other invasion in the process.

I’m sorry, Mark.  I didn’t answer your question about the Shebaa Farms.  All I can say at this point is that the cartographer is expected to go in the next few weeks -- to finish the work.

Question:  To go to where?

Spokesperson:  To the site -- the Shebaa Farms.

Question:  Two questions.  One, has the UN made a decision of taking action on Suleiman Jamous in Darfur?  He said that by Thursday he wanted the UN to fly him for medical treatment or he would leave UN custody.  What’s happening on that?

Spokesperson:  Well, that’s what he had said, and we heard that.  As you know, he’s not a prisoner.  He was welcomed in the hospital as a guest in Kadugli.  The Government of Sudan has made clear that Suleiman Jamous was free to leave the hospital to undergo medical treatment, and subsequently reside with his family under the condition that the UN guarantee that he will not return to Darfur to fight.

There was a request -- I can confirm that -- from Suleiman Jamous that he be flown to Nairobi for further hospitalization.  So the Government of Sudan, has to agree for the UN to transport him to Nairobi.  And this is being discussed.

Question:  In Sri Lanka, there’s a Reuters report of a top Government official calling John Holmes of OCHA a “terrorist” for having claimed it’s one of the most unsafe places on earth for humanitarian workers.  And he also said that they’re going to file a formal complaint here in New York with the UN.  One, I wanted to know if a complaint has been filed, and two, if the Secretariat has any statement on these accusations against Mr. Holmes.

Spokesperson:  Well, we do not comment on this type of statement -- we do not.

Question:  Has a complaint been filed?

Spokesperson:  There has been no complaint formally filed.  Yes?

Question:  Yesterday, I asked the SG about his plans to visit Darfur, and he gave us no answer.  And also, would you mind giving us more details which African countries he’s going to stop at?

Spokesperson:  We don’t have those details at this point, you know.  As you are aware, there will be a trip.  We don’t have a date yet, nor do we have specific stopovers.  I think it’s an important visit, and the Secretary-General will himself talk to you about it in a few days.

Question:  So he’s going to Darfur?  We’ve heard that he’s going to Sudan.

Spokesperson:  He’s going to Sudan.

Question:  But not Darfur also?

Spokesperson:  Well Darfur also.  Darfur is part of Sudan.

Correspondent:  Maybe he doesn’t want to go to the camps, or just a meeting in Khartoum.

Spokesperson:  No, he’s planning to go to both.  I can confirm that.

Question:  There’s a report in one of the Israeli newspapers about the Secretary-General’s meeting yesterday with the speaker of the Israeli Knesset, which says that the Knesset speaker expressed a view that Iran should be expelled from the United Nations because of [President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad’s comments about Israel and that the Secretary-General agreed with this.  What does the Secretary-General actually say on this subject?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General did not agree on this.  What I can tell you is that the issue was brought up during the discussion, and during that discussion the issue of prisoners was also brought up.  The Secretary-General expressed, as he said yesterday, his concern about all prisoners.

As to the question you are specifically asking:  yes, the subject was brought up, yes.  The Secretary-General reiterated what he had said before, that it was unacceptable that any country would ask for another country to be “wiped off the map”.  However, the Secretary-General did not say anything about any country being expelled from the United Nations.

Question:  What message is Under-Secretary-General Pascoe carrying to the Shanghai meeting?

Spokesperson:  I will try to get the information for you.  I don’t have it at this point.  Yes?

Question:  How far is Mr. Ban Ki-moon concerned about the Israeli attack on the Palestinian Territory this morning or yesterday evening?  Thirteen civilians are dead and over 100 detained and transferred to Israel.  How concerned is he about this?

Spokesperson:  He is -- he is.  He has expressed several times his concern about this.  When he spoke yesterday about UNIFIL, about the anniversary of the end of the war in Lebanon, he did mention for instance, Israeli overflights.  So he is concerned about relationships within the area, within the region, and he’s definitely concerned about the region.

Question:  Did you receive any reports regarding the arrest of a few UNIFIL soldiers in South Lebanon and why they were arrested?

Spokesperson:  As far as I know, I have not received anything.  And I think if there was such a thing I would have known.

Question:  …press reports in Beirut saying that they have been arrested and transferred to the UNIFIL police.

Spokesperson:  I’m not aware of that.  Yes, Bill?

Question:  A couple things on DPRK.  Have there been any limitations placed on the accessibility of the officials from UNICEF, WHO, WFP to get around to the different areas?  You seem to be saying, they were only so far visiting one.  It’s that just a question of now they’re going to visit the others?  How is that working?

Spokesperson:  They are supposed to be visiting the others also, but I can give you more details on their specific itinerary.

Question:  Has either of those agencies started to actually deliver supplies of any type to flood and landslide victims?

Spokesperson:  As far as I know, they have not delivered supplies yet, even though some of the supplies are there.  And I think the two questions are unrelated.  There was that request, and for humanitarian reasons, of course, the flood victims will be helped, and there is an agreement to help them.  However, at this point, until yesterday, there was an assessment team there.  So they first have to know where to bring the relief and to whom as a priority.  And this is a joint effort by the Government and by those agencies.

Question:  So the assessment is continuing today in other areas beyond [inaudible].

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  Also, has there been any movement of supplies into the country by these agencies to build up their stockpiles, or with the idea in mind that they will eventually be delivered to flood and landslide victims.

Spokesperson:  Yes, as I mentioned, there are already a number of items in warehouses.

Question:  Are any supplies being flown into the country?

Spokesperson:  There will be more that will be flown in.

Question:  What types of supplies?

Spokesperson:  It would probably be rehydration material, probably the type of things I mentioned earlier that are right now in the warehouse and that will be distributed.  Of course there will be additional ones.  I don’t have the report of the assessment team.  As soon as we get it and we know what the plans are in terms of deploying humanitarian workers and actually distributing the assistance, I will let you know.

[She later informed the correspondent that an inter-agency meeting will take place at the UN on Thursday to take stock of the situation in the field.]

Question:  So far, are there any food and shelter materials being moved into the country?

Spokesperson:  Not that I know of, but I can check on when it will be done.  Because the agreement is there, it will be done.

[The Spokesperson later said OCHA is still trying to assess the situation.]

Question:  There is talk of the US placing on the list of international terrorist organizations, I believe it is the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.  Is the Secretary-General going to have a comment about this?

Spokesperson:  As far as we know, it is not done yet.  They are press reports, and we don’t comment on press reports.

Question:  Is he [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  Not officially, no.  Yes, Mark?

Question:  Well, press reports or not, does he consider the Revolutionary Guard to be a terrorist organization?  And a quick follow-up also on the Sri Lanka issue.  I know there seems to be a lot of tension between the UN and Sri Lanka recently, and there was this report done by Human Rights Watch last week, which said that the Sri Lankan Government appears to have given the green light to security forces to conduct what is essentially a dirty war in Sri Lanka.  I’m wondering, in that context, whether the UN is having any new thoughts on the use of Sri Lankan security personnel as peacekeepers.

Spokesperson:  This question was asked before, and as far as I know, the troops existing already are still deployed in different missions.  However, I don’t think there was any additional request for any additional troops.

Yes, Matthew?

Question:  One thing on North Korea and then something else.  I guess two things.  UNICEF has previously said that there are three counties in the DPRK that it suspended its operations with because it didn’t have access to projects.  In this new emergency, is it your understanding that those three agencies can in fact, either would waive that and access for all countries based on the emergency, and is there any problem with UNDP now no longer being there and having suspended its operations in DPRK?  Does the UN system feel kind of a lack from that?

Spokesperson:  You know that most of those emergency assistance are carried on by WFP, by different agencies, not by UNDP.  UNDP takes care of development matters.  As far as I know, they are going to go to the most affected areas, and I don’t think they are going to be taking into consideration -- they assume they will have access to the people they are to help.

[The Spokesperson later added that in-country United Nations teams work closely with national authorities, including in carrying out field assessments.]

Question:  And something totally different.  There’s this report out of Burundi that the talks between the FNL and the Government are falling apart for $54,000 that the FNL had asked for.  I understand that the UN is not in charge of everything, but is the UN aware of that?  Is there any thought of -- it doesn’t seem like it’s that much money.

And on a related issue, I’ve heard that the UN does make certain related payments -- like to the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, it has paid stipends to them while they negotiated.  And most recently it has said it’s trying to raise $2 million for the LRA to somehow continue the peace process.  So I guess there are two related questions which is, is the UN monitoring this?  Is there any thought of actually, of helping in Burundi, and what’s the status of the LRA in the UN’s efforts to raise money for them to continue the peace talks?

Spokesperson:  I have to get the information for you, but as you know, Burundi is the primary country in the Peacebuilding Commission, and there are a number of projects which involve Burundi right now.  And the UN is involved.  I don’t think the UN is involved in what you specifically mentioned -- the $54,000.  I will try to get more information for you on whether there is any money being given to any group while negotiations are going on.  I’ll check that.

Question:  I really appreciate that.  I think it’s through DPA.  And if you could, not to complain, is there some way to get just a list -- it doesn’t have to be a huge amount of information -- of conflicts in the world in which DPA actually pays, whether it is stipends -- is part of a process financially, either as a pass-through for Governments, of which the UN is unaware of this.  Not that there’s anything wrong with it.

Spokesperson:  I can find out for you.

Question:  Regarding the US-proposed gathering on peace in the Middle East, the Arab League reported yesterday that such a meeting should be attended by the UN.  Is the UN participating in such a meeting?  Did you have any contacts from the US about your participation?

Spokesperson:  Yes, the UN will probably be participating.  But I don’t have the exact information right now because there are details to be still determined.

Thank you very much.

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