3 January 2008


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.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon, all.  We have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Sri Lanka.

** Sri Lanka

The Secretary-General regrets the decision made by the Government of Sri Lanka to terminate the 2002 Ceasefire Agreement with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).  He is deeply worried that the withdrawal from the Agreement comes amidst intensifying fighting in the north and increasing violence across the country, including Colombo. 

The Secretary-General urges all concerned to ensure the protection of civilians and enable humanitarian assistance to be provided to affected areas.  He underlines the urgent need to end the bloodshed in Sri Lanka through a political solution.

**Security Council

The Security Council, in its consultations today, discussed its programme of work for the month of January.  It also discussed which ambassadors would chair the Council’s main committees over the coming year.

These consultations were the first to include the five new members of the Security Council, which are Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Croatia, Libya and Viet Nam.  After this briefing, the Security Council President for January, Ambassador Giadalla Ettalhi of Libya, will talk to you in this room about the Council’s work over the coming month.

In today’s consultations, Council members will also receive a briefing on the sanctions on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea from the Chairman of that sanctions committee, Ambassador Marcello Spatafora of Italy.

** Kenya

We have a humanitarian update on the situation in Kenya.  The UN and the Kenyan Red Cross Society estimate that at least 100,000 people require immediate humanitarian assistance in the northern Rift Valley alone.  Many of them are stranded without food, shelter, water, fuel, essential medicines or protection.  The World Food Programme (WFP) is providing enough legumes and oil for 100,000 people for one month, initially in the Rift Valley.

Meanwhile, it is unclear how many Kenyans have crossed the border into Uganda, but the number appears to be relatively small.  A joint mission between the UN and the Government of Uganda is visiting the area today to determine the number of arrivals and their needs. 

We have a press release on that upstairs.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) has intensified efforts in recent days to improve security in the Kivus ahead of the upcoming Goma peace conference.

MONUC has transported several battalions of the national army, or FARDC, by helicopter in the past week to North Kivu.  Those battalions will provide security at the peace conference, which is scheduled to begin on Sunday.  MONUC has also supplied isolated units of the army, and evacuated the wounded to Goma.

Meanwhile, several dissidents loyal to General Laurent Nkunda have surrendered at MONUC bases in North Kivu.  They are being sent to brassage, the process by which ex-combatants are retrained to become part of the national armed forces.

MONUC has also intensified its joint patrols with Government forces in South Kivu in order to improve security for the local population and help humanitarian support reach the displaced.

We have more information upstairs.

** Sudan

On Sudan, the Secretary-General, in his latest report on the deployment of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur, known as UNAMID, says that the progress made towards having a mission that can have a positive impact on the lives of Darfur’s people remains modest.

He notes that the Mission continues to lack critical aviation capabilities, and that it has, at its start, essentially the same assets on the ground as the previous African Union Mission, AMIS.  He also warns that the Sudanese Government does not appear to have fully embraced the fact that a robust and effective UNAMID will contribute towards Darfur’s long-term stability.

The Secretary-General reiterates his appeal to Member States for support in accelerating the deployment of selected units and filling outstanding gaps in force composition.


The Secretary-General’s latest report on the UN Mission in Kosovo is now out on the racks.  In it, he says uncertainty and a loss of momentum in the future status process could lead to a risk of instability, both in Kosovo and the wider region.  He urges the parties to reaffirm and act upon their declared commitments to refrain from any actions or statements that could endanger peace, incite violence or jeopardize security.

The Secretary-General also notes the readiness of the European Union to play an enhanced role in Kosovo, and says that the EU’s growing commitment in Kosovo is important.


Over in Timor-Leste, the United Nations Police Drug Taskforce, the Dili District Police, and the Timorese National Police conducted a joint operation Wednesday night at bars in the capital, Dili, as part of a crackdown on activities related to illegal immigration, the sale of drugs, and possible human trafficking.  Police found evidence of drug usage and arrested people in relation to the investigations into the trafficking of women and prostitution.

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Timor-Leste, Atul Khare, congratulated UN and local police for the operation, adding that it is a crucial part of the UN Mission’s mandate to ensure public security.


The World Food Programme today launched an emergency, one-year operation to feed more than one million displaced Iraqis, both within Iraq and in Syria.  Iraq is facing a growing humanitarian crisis, WFP says, because of the continued violence that is preventing increasing numbers of displaced people from meeting their basic food needs.

As part of the $126 million programme, WFP will supply packages of wheat flour, white beans and vegetable oil to some 750,000 people.  This most vulnerable segment of the population is unable to get food rations from the Iraqi Government because of, among other reasons, difficulties in transferring their ration cards to new residences. 

In Syria, WFP will provide monthly rations of rice, vegetable oil and lentils to up to 360,000 people.

We have more information upstairs.

** Indonesia

On Indonesia, following the severe floods and landslides that recently hit Java, UNICEF has provided hygiene kits, water purification supplies and water storage equipment, which will help 10,000 survivors in Central Java to fulfil their daily water requirements.

For its part, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) has provided kits for pregnant women, babies and mothers who have just delivered. 

Meanwhile, the World Food Programme has just completed assessments in East Java and is looking at the possibility of providing aid through food-for-work activities.

** Western Sahara

Since many of you have asked, we wanted to give you an update on the latest round of talks on Western Sahara, which will take place from the 7th through the 9th of January in Manhasset, on Long Island. 

As was the case with the previous meetings, and due to the sensitivity of the ongoing discussions, the talks will once again be private.  That means there will be no -– and I repeat -- no arrangements for media access at the site, and the Greentree Estate will only be allowing the parties and UN officials onto its property.  So don’t say that you were not warned.


The United Nations, for the first time in history, holds a certified copy of its own Charter.  U.S. National Archivist Allan Weinstein made the trip to the United Nations Headquarters yesterday and gave the certified copy of the original document to the Secretary-General.

The Secretary-General had made the request to Dr. Weinstein last October when he saw the original Charter, at the U.S. National Archives in Washington.  As you know, the U.S. National Archives were designated by the Charter itself to be the custodian of the original document, signed on 26 June 1945 by the 51 initial Members of the Organization.  Each of the 51 signatories has a certified copy.  The Organization itself now has one.

And this is all I have for you.  Any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yesterday you were asked several questions about the investigation into the Algiers bombing.  One of them was about the memo.  Do you have any update on that?

Spokesperson:  The memo?

No, what was mentioned were letters written by staff members.  This we don’t have any confirmation of.  And those were not received by UN Headquarters.  I checked yesterday.  What they had was probably given to the person in charge of security there, Mr. Babacar N’Diaye.  As you know, Mr. N’Diaye lost his life during the bombing.  As far as we know, there had been no threats, which explains why the alert level was at level one.  There were no threats justifying increasing the threat level.

Correspondent:  That is not what the Interior Minister said.  He said that there were threats to international organizations, including the UN.

Spokesperson:  Well, these were not transmitted to the United Nations.  That’s what I’m saying.

Question:  As for the need for -– or no need for -- an independent investigation?

Spokesperson:  As I said yesterday, there will be a report this month by Mr. Veness, who went, as you know, on the ground to survey right after the bombings.  And we will have, definitely, a follow-up to this and there will be an investigation.  I cannot at this point tell you what the nature will be and who will be in charge.  This has not been decided yet. 

Question:  Regarding Western Sahara, the Security Council in numerous resolutions has asked the parties to adopt confidence-building measures, including the exchange of families, etc.  Does the Secretary-General think that the call to resume armed struggle violates the spirit of these resolutions?

Spokesperson:  At this point, we will not comment on talks that will be taking place soon.  Whether what was done by one side or the other violates the agreement is something to be discussed among the parties when they meet in Greentree.

Question:  On the UN official that was a persona non grata out of Afghanistan over the holidays, Marvin Patterson, do you have any update on whether he’s going to be returned, if efforts are under way to return him? 

Spokesperson:  I don’t have any update on that.  We have been trying to get some information.  We don’t have it yet. 

[The Spokesperson later said that discussions were currently ongoing with the Afghan authorities to rectify this situation.  The Spokesperson added that the UN hoped that this matter would be resolved swiftly to enable its staff member to return and continue the vital work of securing peace, stability and progress for the people of Afghanistan.]

Question:  I understand the dispute has been whether he’s been speaking to the Taliban or not.  Can we get a description of what his function has been for UNAMA?  Because there were a couple of years where he was listed as on leave without pay but he’s listed as also working for the UN there.

Spokesperson:  You know it’s part of the United Nations work.  And United Nations officials have a duty to be speaking to all parties.  This is part of our mandate.

Correspondent:  I know that, absolutely.  But there they’ve denied it.  They’ve said we do not speak to the Taliban -– full stop.

Spokesperson:  I’m just saying that this is part of his mandate, to be talking to all the parties.

[The Spokesperson later clarified that the staff member in question had been talking to local authorities and community representatives -– not the Taliban.]

Question:  Can I just ask, today, at the stakeout, China’s Ambassador Wang had said that he hopes to see the Secretary-General in the coming year do similar reforms as he did to peacekeeping in the economic and social sphere.  Does Mr. Ban have plans in this year either to restructure DESA or somehow increase posts or funding?  What are his plans? 

Spokesperson:  There is a reorganization plan being discussed right now on not only DESA but on other economic actors in the UN system.

Question:  Will that plan be presented in the 5 March committee?  What’s the timeline?

Spokesperson:  At this point, only a preliminary one will be submitted in March.  I don’t know exactly what the extent of the report will be.  It’s not done yet.  It’s being worked on.

Question:  There are reports, and the President of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas, has also indicated, that there are discussions between Israel and Hamas through the intermediary of the Swiss authorities.  Is the Secretary-General aware of this and is he supporting these efforts? 

Spokesperson:  I cannot confirm that he has been informed of that.

Question:  Benazir Bhutto’s husband has requested a United Nations investigation into her assassination.  Do you know whether anything is being done on that?

Spokesperson:  I’m trying to check whether we’ve received a formal letter asking for this.  As you know, as I mentioned yesterday, the Hariri case in Lebanon was a special case that was decided upon by the Security Council.  Any request of that sort would have to go through a similar process.  And you know, I said also yesterday, that any intervention by the United Nations should also come from the national Government inviting us in.

Question:  But they’re not asking you to do that?

Spokesperson:  Right now there is a format, I understand, some international involvement into the actual investigation, but not the UN. 

Question:  Do you have any information about a new envoy for Afghanistan?

Spokesperson:  Not yet, but it should be coming.

Question:  Regarding the statement on the Kosovo issue, it’s not quite clear where the position of the Secretary-General is.  Does he call for new negotiations?  Does he still believe in the Ahtisaari plan?  

Spokesperson:  We said it before earlier and I’ll say it again.  He still maintains that a negotiated, compromise solution, to be endorsed by the Security Council, represents the best way forward.  We’ve said it before.  We’re saying it again.  And he feels also very strongly that any failure to resolve Kosovo’s future status within the framework of the UN would have serious repercussion with the UN system.  That I also have said before.

Question:  These are just two kinds of end-of-the-year things.  There were two deadlines missed.  One was North Korea had said in its process of denuclearization that it was going to fully disclose its nuclear facilities by the end of the year.  And apparently they didn’t meet the deadline.  Does the Secretary-General or the Secretariat have any response to that?  Do they think that’s unfortunate?  Fortunate? 

Spokesperson:  You are talking about nuclear facilities.  This is in the hands of the IAEA.  There will not be a reaction on our side unless we get a report from the IAEA.

Question:  And the other one was on South Sudan.  Supposedly by the end of the year Khartoum was supposed to withdraw its troops from South Sudan and now it’s said that they have not.  Can the Secretariat confirm that or do they have any response to that?

Spokesperson:  I’ll get some information on that for you.

Question:  Regarding the prisoner swaps between Hizbullah and Israel and the UN mediator.  What is he doing?  Because I understand that yesterday there were reports that it has reached a deadlock.

Spokesperson:  I don’t have that information.

Question:  Can you find out for us?

Spokesperson:  I can find out for you where the mediation is.  Are you talking about the mediation between the parties?

Question:  Yes, and the role the UN is playing between Israel and Hizbullah.

Spokesperson:  I’ll get more information for you.

[The Spokesperson later said that UN facilitation was still ongoing.  The Spokesperson added that the Secretary-General could only emphasize the imperative need to proceed decisively in full responsiveness to the humanitarian urgency of the cases and in compliance with resolution 1701.]

Any other questions?  Well, we’ll leave the room for the President of the Security Council.  He will be here shortly.

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