29 August 2007


29 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.

** Sierra Leone

Good afternoon, all.  I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Sierra Leone.

The Secretary-General once again commends the people of Sierra Leone for the peaceful and orderly manner in which the first round of the electoral process was held.  He is, however, concerned about the tensions and violence that have been increasing in Sierra Leone since last week.  He calls on all parties and their leaders to do everything necessary to prevent the situation from escalating.

**Secretary-General Travels

The Secretary General will leave headquarters tonight for a trip to Turin, Khartoum, Juba, El Fasher in Sudan, N’Djamena and Tripoli.  In Turin, he will chair a three day retreat for USGs and ASGs of the UN system at the UN staff college.  In a series of intensive meetings, the group will discuss UN global issues and reforms focusing on delivering results.  It will examine the UN's readiness and capacity to perform its duties, including but not limited to promoting peace and security.  The Turin Retreat provides an opportunity for the UN's senior managers to explore and propose ways of better managing the organization and improving its effectiveness.  Apart from these concrete objectives, it is expected that the retreat would promote unity of purpose and common understanding of the UN and its priorities.  The Secretary-General is expected to arrive in Khartoum early next week.

**Security Council

The Security Council began its open debate on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, just a while ago.  Michael Williams, the Secretary-General Special Coordinator for the Middle East peace process, briefed Council members, saying that the substantive dialogue developing between Palestinian President Mamoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and the reform efforts of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, have created growing expectations.  He added that the anticipated engagement of Quartet Representative  Tony Blair, more active regional diplomacy, and preparations for a series of high profile international meetings, especially the planned November gathering called by US President George Bush, reinforce these efforts.

On the situation in Gaza, Williams said that while Hamas has brought some order to the streets of Gaza, its actions are taking place outside the framework of the rule of law and the institutions of Palestinian authority.  This has generated concerns about respect for human rights and the future development of the Strip.  We have copies of Michael Williams’ remarks upstairs.

And the Security Council debate is expected to continue through the early part of this afternoon, at which time Michael Williams will speak to you at the Council stakeout microphone.  We’ll of course announce it before he comes to the microphone.

** Iraq Cholera

On Iraq, the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq is supporting a team from the World Health Organization (WHO) that is responding to a request by the Iraqi Government in assisting people affected by a cholera outbreak in the northern town of Sulemaniyah.  So far, authorities in Sulaymaniyah have confirmed some 5,000 cases since 10 August, including 5 deaths.  Another 10 deaths were reported in nearby Kirkuk, where some 50 people are now being treated for cholera-related complications.

The UNAMI-WHO team began an investigation of the outbreak upon the request of the Iraqi-Kurdistan Minister of Health on 26 August.  The team reports that at least two hospitals in the stricken region have been treating some 2,000 cases of diarrhea.  WHO will now create a surveillance system for water quality control, food inspection, and case findings and management, while UNICEF will support with Oral Re-hydration therapy.  We have copies of the press release from the Mission upstairs.

** Iraq Refugees

Still on Iraq, UNHCR (UN High Commissioner for Refugees) Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie on Wednesday concluded her first visit to Iraq and Syria, where she heard tales of extraordinary resilience and courage from Iraqi refugees.  Jolie said she wanted to draw attention to the humanitarian crisis and urged governments to increase their support for UNHCR and its partners.

At the makeshift Al Waleed camp inside Iraq, Jolie walked among the tattered tents in a bleak area where there is no running water or electricity, and no respite from the blistering desert heat.  She spent a lot of time with sick children and elderly refugees, and inspected a site where UNHCR is building a school for the children among the 1,300 refugees.  You can read more about her trip on the UNHCR website.

** Sudan Humanitarian

John Holmes, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, expressed his surprise and concern today at the departure from Sudan of Paul Barker, Country Director for CARE, one of the world’s largest international non-governmental organizations.  “I am disappointed that Mr. Barker had to leave the country in this way.  The reasons given by some government officials to Mr. Barker for his departure appear to be specious,” said Mr. Holmes. “I very much hope that this is actually a misunderstanding that can be resolved as soon as possible so that Mr. Barker may resume his vitally important humanitarian activities.”

CARE is a significant provider of humanitarian assistance to some 4,000,000 people across Sudan and is a vital partner for the United Nations humanitarian community.  Mr. Holmes stressed that the manner of Mr. Barker’s departure has clearly undermined both the spirit and letter of the Joint Communiqué on the Facilitation of Humanitarian Activities in Darfur, signed earlier this year by the Government of Sudan and the United Nations.

** Ethiopia

The United Nations will launch tomorrow, August 30, a humanitarian assessment mission in Ethiopia’s Somali Region.  The team will focus on assessing humanitarian needs of the population, in particular, the level of access to food, water, health and nutrition services, as well as the livelihood situation of populations in the areas of the region affected by the current security operations.  The assessment mission will also monitor the dispatches and distributions of emergency food aid to beneficiaries.  The mission includes staff from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Food Programme (WFP) and World Health Organization  (WHO) among others.  We have a press release on that upstairs.

**Least Developed Countries

The United Nations High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, Cheikh Sidi Diarra, undertook his first official mission since assuming his functions.  In Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, he addressed a ministerial meeting of Landlocked Developing Countries on trade facilitation.  He said that high transport costs and other regulatory constraints were the greatest impediment to these countries’ trade competitiveness.  Diarra stressed the importance of regional cooperation in trade facilitation and said this would require political will, good governance as well as improved peace and security.  You can find more details in a press release on this upstairs.

** Nepal WFP

Over in Nepal, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is urging all parties and individuals to provide unhindered access for WFP so that critical humanitarian assistance can be delivered to flood affected populations in a timely and safe manner.  WFP Country Representative, Richard Ragan, in a press statement today said, should WFP staff and trucks carrying humanitarian food aid continue to face challenges in movement and delivery of services to flood-affected populations, it will be forced to suspend these operations.

Despite receiving assurances from multiple parties to ensure the unhindered movement of WFP’s delivery of humanitarian food assistance for flood victims in the Terai region, WFP staff and trucks are still not being permitted to move along highways in Terai during strike periods.

** Peru UNFPA

On Peru, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is appealing for $850,000 in emergency funding to benefit up to 250,000 victims of the recent earthquake in Peru.  This call is part of a United Nations system-wide Flash Appeal of $37 million launched yesterday.  With these funds, UNFPA will assist the country in improving emergency reproductive health services and will help finalize a rapid assessment of local health services, particularly in isolated rural mountain villages.  The organization will also provide affected communities with reproductive health supplies and emergency birth kits.

** Belize UNICEF

In Belize, UNICEF is expressing concern over the health of children and vulnerable people in the wake of Hurricane Dean, which affected 10 percent of the population of that country.  The agency reports that despite efforts, some communities have yet to receive the support needed.  Many people are using poor quality water, which can increase the risk of water-borne diseases and food is in short supply.  UNICEF is working with the World Food Programme (WFP) in the provision of food to 1,000 families for two months and is seeking additional support to address the ongoing lack of food and water, and shortage of medicines.  And we have a press release on that also upstairs.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

And on the DR Congo, the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo reports that, as of yesterday, all national staff members who took part in the recent work stoppage have fully resumed work.  The Mission says that its leadership continues the discussions it began last week with the national staff representatives.  William Lacy Swing, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the DRC, has reiterated his commitment to finding a comprehensive solution to the cause of the work stoppage, saying that the national staff is unquestionable one of the Mission’s key assets.  He appealed to them to continue to show up for work while negotiations proceed. 

Meanwhile, the Mission has held up its informal role of mediator between troops loyal to renegade General Laurent Nkunda and government soldiers in the northeastern provinces. The Mission is engaging both sides in dialogue to diffuse the tensions.  On Monday, Mission officials facilitated a meeting between the parties in the town of Mushake.

This is all I have for you.  Thank you very much.  Yes, Mark.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Can you elaborate on what the UN is doing to find and exploit this underground lake in Darfur?

Spokesperson:  As the Secretary-General said yesterday, there are experts actually studying the situation, scientific experts, technical experts.

Question:  What branch of the UN?

Spokesperson:  I’ll get more information for you.  They’re working on it.  We won’t get more information until they reach some form of conclusion. 

Question:  UN scientists?

Spokesperson:  UN.

Question:  Which organization?

Spokesperson:  Consultants.

Question:  Hired by whom?

Spokesperson:  By the UN.

Question:  Which UN?

Spokesperson:  I will check for you who is exactly the organizing sector at the UN.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Michèle, the reason I wanted to ask a question on Iraq from the Secretary-General was because there was a United Nations report issued yesterday, which said that since the invasion, over 3,000,000 Iraqis have been displaced.  It did not give a figure on how many people were killed and I repeated earlier that independent organizations, especially from the United Kingdom, have said that at least 600,000 Iraqis have been killed since the invasion.  I wanted to say that situation is just as grave if not graver than what is in Sudan.  The reason why I wanted him to respond to that was, has he been able to grasp what a horrible situation exists in Iraq and what does he intend to do about it?

Spokesperson:  Well, he’s certainly aware of it and as you know, the UN is engaged in Iraq.  We are considering having more staff in Iraq and this has been voted on by the Security Council, as you know.  In terms of the numbers, we don’t have specific confirmation of the numbers.  However, the situation is being followed very closely by the UN people on the ground. 

Question:  The figure that was given by the United Nations on the number of displaced, about 1,000,000 refugees are elsewhere in this world, not only in Iraq.  And 2,000,000 of them are still displaced there and the Iraqi Government has still not agreed to give figures as to how many people have been killed.

Spokesperson:  Well, we’re talking about two different things.  We’re talking about the fact that the UN used to report casualty figures.  We were getting these figures from the Iraqi authorities.  We’re not getting them any more and we still are not getting them.  In terms of the people displaced, as you know there are UN agencies who actually focus on the situation of refugees and displaced people.  So those numbers are from those agencies.

Question:  Am I to understand that they have still not agreed to give you figures on how many people have been killed?

Spokesperson:  As far as I know, we don’t have those figures.  Yes, Edie.

Question:  Michèle, is there a readout on the Secretary-General’s meeting yesterday afternoon with the head of the ICC, Mr. Moreno-Ocampo?

Spokesperson:  The only thing I can tell you is that they discussed, of course, matters relevant to the Court, and they also discussed the fight against impunity.  And this was the main focus of their discussions.

Question:  Did they discuss what the Secretary-General’s strategy will be in Sudan with regard to demands or not, as the case may be, for them to hand over indicted war criminals, including the Humanitarian Affairs State Minister?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know whether they discussed specifically those issues.  I think they did discuss more in general the fight against impunity.  But I can find out for you if there was specific reference to the two indicted people.  Yes, Tarhek.

Question:  Does Mr. Ban Ki-moon share the views of the Special Envoy to Kosovo, Mr. Ahtisaari, who expressed pessimism yesterday on this round of talks being held now in Vienna within the contact group over Kosovo’s status?  

Spokesperson:  Mr. Ahtisaari has made those remarks.  We take note of those remarks and Mr. Ahtisaari has of course been in contact with the Secretary-General on his own conclusions.  But this is an issue that Mr. Ahtisaari is following.  Yes, Matthew.

Question:  Two questions.  In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, there’s a court that sentenced to death these four people for the death of the radio copy, Sergimon Hashi.  So I guess I’m wondering, does the UN have any comment on this death sentence and whether it should be carried out?

Spokesperson:  At this point, it is a judicial process within the Congo itself.  As you know, the Secretary-General has already taken a position on the question of the death penalty.  We don’t have any specific reaction on that one decision by the Congolese court.

Question:  I wanted to ask about this meeting in Turin.  First, not whose going, all the individuals, but are the heads of funds and programmes going?

Spokesperson:  They are.

Question:  They are.  So it’s all, is it ASG and up?

Spokesperson:  Yes, ASGs and USGs.

Question:  About how many are going?

Spokesperson:  About 80 people.

Question:  And do you have any idea of the cost?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have any idea of the cost, but I know that most of the cost is covered by the Italian Government.

Question:  Okay, that’s good.  And this is a question I’ve asked before, about carbon offsetting.  Was any thought given to this before traveling.

Spokesperson:  Well, this is always an idea that is floating, as you know.  There has been no decision concerning this specific trip.  But carbon offsetting is one of the things they will study in the context of the climate change special meeting we’re going to be having on 24 September.

Question:  Okay.  In his press conference yesterday, the Secretary-General, in response to the question about the hostages in Afghanistan, he said that he exerted all possible efforts and spoke with the President of Afghanistan.  Now with the release it’s being said this was done between the Republic of Korea Government and the Taliban, in direct face to face.  He said he couldn’t speak then.  What were these efforts?   

Spokesperson:  We cannot provide information on that.  I cannot provide that.

Question:  Did he speak with the Taliban?  I guess that’s my question.

Spokesperson:  He spoke to a number of people, I cannot tell you who, but it was a diplomatic effort that was a silent one, it was behind the scenes.  I’m not at liberty to discuss whom specifically he spoke to.

Question:  Does the Secretary-General think that the new UN special representative for Iraq should speak Arabic?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know.  I assume so.

Question:  You assume so.

Spokesperson:  I don’t know.  At this point I don’t even know who is going to be the special representative.  Yes, Masood.

Question:  Michèle, the Secretary-General responded to a question about a UN official in Bangladesh, who has been accused of money mismanagement and laundering.  Is there an update on this official as yet?

Spokesperson:  No, we don’t have an update on that.

Question:  There was one point in time when it was pointed out and he said he will take some action.  I just wanted an update on that. 

Spokesperson:  No, we don’t have anything on that at this point.

Question:  I have a follow-up on that.  She was now convicted and given a sentence.  He had said at the time that her trial didn’t implicate her UN duties but that Bangladesh would respect her due process rights, etc.  Now that she’s been sentenced, is he satisfied with the process?

Spokesperson:  Well, the position still stands.  This is something that has nothing to do with her responsibilities, as far as we know.

Question:  I’m just saying, at the time he said it had nothing to do with it but he still expected x, y and z to happen.  So I’m just wondering, now that it’s now concluded and she’s sentenced to jail?

Spokesperson:  Well, this is an internal process which we cannot comment on.  Thank you very much.

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