15 January 2008


15 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.

Good afternoon, all.

** Afghanistan Statement

We have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the attack on the Serena Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan:

The Secretary-General condemns in the strongest possible terms the attack against the Serena Hotel in Kabul yesterday, which killed at least eight people and injured a number of others, both Afghans and internationals.  Among the victims were Afghan security guards and hotel staff, whose bravery prevented the death toll from being much higher, as well as members of the international community who were assisting development efforts in Afghanistan.  The Secretary-General offers his deepest condolences to the families of those killed and his best wishes for a swift recovery to those injured.  He stresses that the attack will not diminish the commitment of the international community to Afghanistan, and that efforts must be redoubled to bring stability to the country and to bring the perpetrators of such crimes to justice.

Still on Afghanistan, the Secretary-General’s Acting Special Representative in Afghanistan, Bo Asplund, today also condemned the attack that took place yesterday on the Serena Hotel in Kabul, saying it represents “a deliberate targeting of foreign guests and Afghan civilians working together in support of Afghanistan”.

We have his statement upstairs.

And the Security Council President issued a press statement today that condemned the attack, noted the Taliban’s claim of responsibility and underlined the need to bring the perpetrators to justice.

**Secretary-General in Spain

The Secretary-General arrived early this morning in Madrid, where he opened the first ever Alliance of Civilizations Forum.  He was joined in that launch by the leaders of the two countries that had initiated the Alliance -- Prime Minister of Spain José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and Prime Minister of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan -- as well as the High Representative for the Alliance, Jorgé Sampãio.

“You may have different backgrounds and perspectives, but you share a common conviction that the Alliance of Civilizations is an important way to counter extremism and heal the divisions that threaten our world,” the Secretary-General told the audience.

He commended the Alliance for playing a catalytic role in forging links with civil society, foundations, the media and business leaders, and he urged them to keep working together as a broad range of partners following the Madrid forum.  “Fostering dialogue will not produce change overnight.  It is not the fast way,” he said.  “But it is the sure way.  It is the enduring way”.

We have his remarks upstairs.

The Secretary-General welcomed several high-profile initiatives launched on the Forum’s first day, including major projects aimed at promoting understanding among cultures in the areas of media and youth.

The Secretary-General is holding a number of bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the two-day Forum, including those today with the Prime Ministers of Spain and Turkey, and with European Union High Representative Javier Solana.  He also met with the Prime Minister of Malaysia and the Presidents of Finland and Slovenia.  He is also planning to have an audience this evening with King Juan Carlos I of Spain.

He is expected back in New York tomorrow.

** Algeria

There were a lot of questions raised during the briefing yesterday about the investigative panel dealing with security in Algeria.  What I can add today is that we are consulting internally, and with Member States, on the work of the independent panel.  We expect to be able to announce its composition and more detailed terms of reference early next week.

** Sudan

On Sudan, the Joint African Union-United Nations Special Representative for Darfur, Rodolphe Adada, met yesterday with an Under-Secretary at the Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Mutrif Siddiq.  They agreed that the top military leadership on both sides should meet.

As a follow-up to that decision, a meeting took place today between the military leadership of the UN-AU Hybrid Operation, UNAMID, led by General Martin Luther Agwai, and the Chief of the Sudanese Armed Forces, Lieutenant General Ismat, to discuss pending issues regarding the deployment of UNAMID.  The Sudanese Government expressed its commitment to facilitate the deployment of UNAMID, and to avoid misunderstandings in the future, by keeping the channels of communication open through regular meetings.

Adada met yesterday with the Special Envoys dealing with the Darfur peace process, Jan Eliasson and Salim Ahmed Salim, to review progress, and they all agreed that the current tension could negatively affect the deployment of UNAMID and the distribution of humanitarian assistance in Darfur.

**Security Council

The Security Council today unanimously adopted a resolution extending by six months the mandate of the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (ONUCI).

The Council then held consultations to discuss the format of a meeting that will take place tomorrow on the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).  It will be an open meeting followed by a private meeting.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

The Conference on Peace, Security and Development in the Kivu provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo continued today in Goma, with the participation of Alan Doss, the new Special Representative of the Secretary-General in that country.  Addressing the delegates at the Conference, Doss stressed the need for participants to acknowledge the sufferings of women, who endure various acts of wartime sexual violence, and children drafted against their will into the ranks of armed groups.  He called on both rebels and Government troops to take disciplinary measures against those among them who abuse the rights of women and children.  The Conference continued with thematic workshops, including presentations by various commissions and local armed groups.

Meanwhile, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that more than half a million people have been displaced in the past 12 months in the DRC, in the largest wave of displacement in the country since the end of the civil war in 2003.  This is mainly due to fighting between the army and rebel groups and widespread human rights violations by all sides.  The provinces of North and South Kivu have been particularly affected, with a steep increase in internal displacement since August, which raised to 1.5 million the number of people who received humanitarian assistance last year.

** Kenya

On Kenya, food aid for 77,000 people from the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Kenyan Government, was distributed today in Nairobi’s slums following the recent post-election violence.

For its part, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) yesterday began a second distribution of basic supplies to some 3,000 displaced people in Narok, which is 140 kilometres from Nairobi.  In addition, UNHCR trucks carrying sanitary supplies for up to 20,000 girls and women were dispatched yesterday from Nairobi to major towns in Kenya’s Rift Valley Province.

In neighbouring Uganda, the number of people who have crossed the border from Kenya has now reached more than 6,100, according to the Ugandan authorities.  UN agencies are doing what they can to help these new refugees.  For example, World Food Programme food aid was distributed today at the border town of Busia to 2,000 Kenyans.

We have more information upstairs.

** Malawi

Turning to Malawi, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warns that the floods that are affecting a huge part of Southern Africa are threatening the entire April harvest and endangering 1 million people, in a country that is already among the world’s poorest.

UNICEF is launching an appeal for nearly $2.5 million to address urgent needs in Malawi.

There is more information in the Geneva briefing notes today.

** Sri Lanka

High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour has reminded the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) of their obligations under international law to respect human rights.  Her statement comes in light of the fact that Sri Lanka’s ceasefire agreement is due to end tomorrow.

Arbour noted that, among other things, international law forbids the recruitment and deployment of children as soldiers.  She also warned that human rights violations by any party could entail individual criminal responsibility under international criminal law, including for those in positions of command.

In previous dialogue with the Sri Lankan Government, Arbour has stressed the critical need for independent, public reporting on the human rights situation in that country and the readiness of her office to assist in that area.

We have more on this upstairs.

** Thailand

The UN refugee agency is calling for the release of 149 Lao Hmong refugees who have been held at a detention centre in Thailand for more than a year.  The refugees were rounded up for deportation in Bangkok in November 2006 and later transferred to a detention centre on the border with Laos.

UNHCR says there is no basis for their detention; the refugees have been recognized as in need of international protection and have received offers from several countries to leave Thailand.

** Economic and Social Council

On ECOSOC, Ambassador Léo Mérorès of Haiti was elected as the sixty-fourth President of ECOSOC yesterday.  In his statement, Ambassador Mérorès stressed the importance of the new functions of ECOSOC, the Annual Ministerial Review and the Development Cooperation Forum.  Ambassador Mérorès also announced the upcoming High-Level Symposium, which will take place in Cairo on 19-20 January.

The Council also elected four Vice-Presidents to serve in 2008.

**Press Conferences

At 11 a.m. tomorrow here in Room 226, Kemal Dervis, Administrator of the UN Development Programme, will brief on UNDP’s development priorities for 2008.

And our guest at noon tomorrow will be John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, who will launch a flash appeal for Kenya.

This is all I have for you.  Questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Michèle, yesterday the Secretary-General said the Norwegian Foreign Minister had been targeted in the Afghan attack, and yet the Norwegian Prime Minister, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and other commentators have all said that the hotel itself was the most likely target, not the Foreign Minister.  I wonder if the Secretary-General had any specific information on why he believed that the Foreign Minister was targeted?

Spokesperson:  Well, it was based on the preliminary information he had had.  There was really no additional information he had.  It was obvious -- and we got the confirmation today -- that what the people targeted was the international presence and that’s why the Serena Hotel was targeted.  The Secretary-General did not have any special information at that time.  However, the fact that the Foreign Minister was present in the hotel led him to believe that maybe it was a targeted attempt against his life.

Question:  Michèle, who will attend the meeting on Kosovo tomorrow, please?

Spokesperson:  The Security Council will tell you.  I think they announced it today.

Question:  There were requests yesterday by the President of Serbia and the Prime Minister of Kosovo.  Have their requests been accepted?

Spokesperson:  Those are questions that should go to the Security Council.  I think it was announced today, earlier.

Question:  No, it was not announced.  He did not say anything about those two officials.  Can you find out for us, because it’s almost impossible to find what the Security Council has decided on that meeting tomorrow?

Spokesperson:  Okay, we’ll get you more information on that.

[The Spokesperson later added that, according to info received from the Security Council President, President Tadic of Serbia is expected to speak during the open meeting, and Prime Minister Thaci of Kosovo can speak under Rule 39 during the private meeting.]

Question:  Last month several statements said that Mr. [Ibrahim] Gambari [Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs] plans to go back to Burma this month.  Any date yet?  What’s the status of that?

Spokesperson:  We don’t have any specific date yet.  As I said, he will first be going to India and China before he goes to Myanmar.

Question:  Do you expect him to go to Burma or did he not receive a visa…?

Spokesperson:  No, he has a standing invitation.

Question:  So do you expect him to go?

Spokesperson:  We expect him to go as soon as he is done doing what I call the “proximity visits” that he was doing in the area.

Question:  In January?

Spokesperson:  We don’t know yet.  I’ll give you an exact date when I have it.

Question:  I have two questions.  One has to do with Côte d’Ivoire.  There’s been a request by President Blaise Compaore [of Burkina Faso] or his committee that the United Nations lower the threat index, or security index in Côte d’Ivoire.  How is that kind of request handled?  Is it under review?  What’s the response of the UN system to that request by the mediator…?

Spokesperson:  I can get the information for you.  I don’t have it at this point.

Question:  On that, I was wondering whether the Special Representative of the Secretary General Choi [Young-jin], if he’s going to do a stakeout or if their will be any ability to ask him since he’s in New York.

Spokesperson:  Well, we did ask him.  There were some difficulties yesterday with his schedule, but we have a standing request to him.

Question:  The other thing I wanted is unrelated.  Before Christmas there was this letter that went out from the Secretariat, saying that any gifts from Member States should be either returned to Member States or given to the 38th Floor.  Now it’s been confirmed that this Eveline Herfkens, the United Nations Millennium Campaign chief, took $280,000 in rent subsidies from the Dutch Government over six years.  I’m wondering what’s the next step:  is she going to return it to Holland?  What’s the UN going to do now that this has been acknowledged by the Government itself, that UN rules were broken in this way?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think you know that Eveline Herfkens said herself that she did not know it was against UN policy.  As you know, she has hosted the Millennium Campaign since 2002 when she was appointed as Coordinator of the campaign by former Secretary-General Kofi Annan.  The United Nations Development Programme is currently looking into the circumstances of the housing subsidy.  She obviously received that subsidy from the Dutch Government through the end of 2005.  I think UNDP will be able to answer additional questions about what will be done about her contract.  Those additional questions should be directed to UNDP.

Question:  But just generally, I see that she said that she didn’t know the rule.  Is it the Secretary-General’s position that that’s the rule?

Spokesperson:  It is the rule.  It is the rule that no staff member should receive, as I said yesterday, any subsidies from their own Government.  Yes, Benny?

Question:  As far as you know, is there anybody else in the Secretariat at high levels who receives housing subsidies from their Governments?

Spokesperson:  As far as I know I don’t have that information.  They assured me that all senior officials who requested were told that there was no way that the UN would accept exceptions and that there would be no subsidies to be accepted by UN staff members, whatever the level.  Yes, Edie?

Question:  Michèle, I noticed today outside the cafeteria that several pictures from that Holocaust exhibition were on the ground.  I was told by a UN staffer that this was the third or fourth time that this had happened and this staffer believed that it might have been deliberate and that this was taking place right by the security guards that are at the exit near 42nd Street.  I wondered whether you could check into this.

Spokesperson:  I will check into this, definitely.

[The Spokesperson later added that she was aware of no reports of vandalism.  Apparently, the materials involved were rather lightweight and were originally positioned right under an air vent; hence, they kept falling down.  They have since been moved back closer to the wall in hopes they will stay up, she said.]

Question:  On the Secretary-General’s statement yesterday on the attack in Kabul, you just said that further information received today confirmed that it was the international presence at the hotel that was targeted…

Spokesperson:  From the information we got today, yes.

Question:  What information is that?

Spokesperson:  It was information that we got from our Mission in Afghanistan.

No other questions?  Okay, I wasn’t asked but I will tell you anyway that we have received information from former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan that, while on his way to the airport in Geneva this morning, he was taken ill with a sever case of the flu.  On the advice of doctors, he has postponed his mission to Nairobi for a few days.

Mr. Annan very much regrets this delay but he is in touch with other members of the Panel of Eminent African Personalities.  The team will proceed to Nairobi as soon as feasible.  As you know, the other members of the team include former South African/Mozambican First Lady Graca Machel and former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa.

So, you didn’t ask me, but I gave you the information.

Question:  Just to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s on yesterday’s issue, do you have anything further on whether David Veness [Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security] actually looked into allegations that were made by the widow of the Senegalese person and also by the Algerian Government that they knew anything?

Spokesperson:  I’m not going to add anything more to what I said.  As I said yesterday, the independent panel will work to ascertain those facts.  The questions are legitimate questions.  Certainly Mr. Veness did do his part in trying to find out all the information he could get.  Now the panel will ascertain the facts that you’re asking about.  Those are legitimate questions, of course.

Question:  Will the panel rely on Veness’ report?

Spokesperson:  No, they will do their own work.

Question:  Would Veness be one of its sources?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know at this point how the panel will work.  How they will work will depend on them.

Question:  Does Kofi Annan have some official relations or titles with the UN, aside from the fact that he’s a former Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  As I said earlier, when it was announced by the African Union that he was going to be asked to be the person who will be the focal point of any discussion on the issue of Kenya, I said that the Secretary-General had called him and assured him he could get some support on the part of the UN.  But as you know, it’s not a UN mission.

Question:  It’s an AU mission rather?

Spokesperson:  Yes, the African Union asked him to do that, and asked the team of African leaders to do it.

Question:  And this was the flu, nothing more serious, God forbid?

Spokesperson:  No, he was taken to the hospital, but as far as we know, it was diagnosed as the flu.  He hopes to go to Kenya as soon as he can.

Thank you very much.

* *** *

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