28 January 2008


28 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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General is travelling to Rwanda today for his first official visit there following a one-day visit to Slovakia, where he met with the President.  He should be touching down in a couple of hours.

**Holocaust Commemoration

Events to commemorate the Holocaust started today and will last all week here at UN Headquarters.  In addition to the launching of a new UN postage stamp, which took place moments ago in this room, there will be a Holocaust memorial ceremony and a concert tonight in the General Assembly Hall from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

Performing tonight will be the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Maestro Zubin Mehta, along with musicians from Tel Aviv University.

US Congressman and Holocaust survivor Tom Lantos will be represented by his daughter, Katrina Swett, who will read a keynote address.

We have more information on this upstairs.

** Kenya

The Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Francis Deng, says he is deeply troubled by the situation in Kenya.  He believes that the destructive cycle of attacks and revenge attacks needs to be stopped immediately.  He urges national and local leaders on all sides to publicly call for an end to the violence and to statements inciting violence. 

According to Deng, political and community leaders may be held accountable for violations of international law committed at their instigation.  In that regard, he urges them to meet their responsibility to protect the civilian population and prevent the violence.

Deng echoes High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour in calling on the Kenyan Government to abide by its international human rights obligations in responding to demonstrations, including holding police accountable for their actions.  Deng is dispatching one of his staff members to Kenya as soon as possible to examine the situation.

Meanwhile, on the humanitarian front, the UN country team reports that, over the weekend, the World Food Programme (WFP) and its partners distributed one week food rations to more than 30,000 people in six Nairobi slums.  It has also distributed two-week rations to nearly that many people in the Kisumu slums, and began its first distributions in Nakuru.

WFP also delivered seven metric tons of corn-soy a blend and split peas to the Nyanza Provincial Hospital for supplementary feeding managed by UNICEF. 

There is more on this upstairs in the Spokesperson’s Office.

**Secretary-General’s Appointment

The Secretary-General has informed the Security Council of his intention to appoint Victor Da Silva Angelo of Portugal as his Special Representative for the UN Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT).

Since 2005, Mr. Angelo has served as Executive Representative of the Secretary-General for Sierra Leone, as well as Resident Coordinator of the UN system there.  Prior to that, he was UN Humanitarian and Resident Coordinator for Zimbabwe.

We have more information on Mr. Angelo upstairs in the Spokesperson’s Office.

** Gaza

According to the Office of the UN Special Coordinator in Jerusalem, or UNSCO, all crossings between Israel and Gaza are still closed.  They have been closed since last Wednesday, when only Jordanian trucks were allowed through the Sufa crossing.  The UN Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, has about 200 trucks that need to get into Gaza.  Similarly, the World Food Programme has about 40 trucks that need to get through.

Without further shipments, UNRWA will be out of canned meat supplies by the end of the week.  UNRWA reports that it is currently working with the Israelis to find alternative solutions to get goods in, given Israel’s security concerns.

Regarding fuel imports, UNSCO says that they have resumed, with 315,000 litres coming in yesterday and over 500,000 litres today.  However, there are still rolling electricity cuts, especially in Gaza City.

** Sudan

The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security, Said Djinnit, the AU-UN Joint Special Representative for Darfur, Rodolphe Adada, and the Undersecretary at the Sudan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Mutrif Siddiq, met over the weekend in Addis Ababa to discuss ongoing issues related to the deployment of the joint AU-UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID).

The meeting was also aimed at preparing for high-level consultations on UNAMID and the situation in Darfur, scheduled to take place alongside the forthcoming African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, where the Secretary-General is headed.

Among the issues discussed was the status-of-forces agreement (SOFA) between UNAMID and the Government of the Sudan.

UNAMID reports that the discussions were constructive and the parties indicated that they all look forward to the successful conclusion of the negotiations on SOFA as soon as possible.

**Anti-Corruption Conference in Bali

More than 1,000 participants are meeting in Bali, Indonesia, all this week for a high-level review conference of the UN Convention against Corruption.

In his opening remarks today, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime Antonio Maria Costa stressed that everyone -– from Governments to the average citizen -– has a role in fighting corruption.  He urged countries to implement the strong measures called for in the Convention.  He also highlighted areas where UNODC can provide technical assistance, for example in asset recovery.

And there is more information on this conference upstairs.

** Indonesia

Just for the record, we issued a statement yesterday expressing the Secretary-General’s condolences to the Government and people of Indonesia on the death of former President Suharto.

We have that upstairs.

**United Nations Environment Programme Awards

And finally, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has announced its 2008 “Champions of the Earth”.  The prize honours seven individuals from each region of the world who have shown extraordinary leadership on environmental issues.

The honourees are:  Prince Albert II of Monaco; former US Senator Timothy Wirth; New Zealand’s Prime Minister Helen Clark; Balgis Osman-Elasha, a senior researcher at Sudan’s Higher Council for Environment and Natural Resources; Atiq Rahman, the Executive Director of the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies; Liz Thompson, the former Energy and Environment Minister of Barbados; and Abdul-Qader Ba-Jammal, the Secretary-General of the Yemen People’s General Congress.

The prizes will be handed out on 22 April.  There is more information on that.

And as I just mentioned earlier, there are events to commemorate the Holocaust today.  That schedule is available upstairs.

That is all I have for you.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  The British Member of Parliament Alan Keen will be taking up the issue of the UN probe into Bhutto’s assassination in Parliament today.  I know you said several times that the UN cannot take up that issue unless Pakistan actually requests for that.  How many countries would it take for the UN to consider that idea, if the UK comes and asks the UN to investigate that assassination?

Deputy Spokesperson:  That is a hypothetical question, so I guess my answer to you still stands…

Question:  If the UK speaks with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on this issue, he still would not…

Deputy Spokesperson:  But you are asking a hypothetical question, so let us not…

Question:  But he is taking up this issue in Parliament today…

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing further on this subject as of this morning.

Question:  A very, very practical question about the hybrid force in Darfur:  Are there UN-AU boots on the ground in Darfur or approaching Darfur at this moment yet?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, there was a transfer from the AU force to the UN-AU Hybrid Operation at the start of this year, 2008.

Question:  So as of 1 January there have been AU-UN forces present in Darfur…

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, that is correct.

Question:  …and in greater number than the previous AU only force?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, as of now, the forces that have become the AU-UN force are pretty much the same numbers as they were under the AU force.  As you know, the Secretary-General and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations… the reason why this issue is going to come up at the upcoming African Union Summit is because we still need a lot more to augment what is on the ground.  We need, as you know, the helicopters; that is something we have been asking for a long time.  We also need to get more troop-contributors’ support to get the troop strength up to the strength the Security Council mandated.  We also need to get the political process rejuvenated and we need to keep providing assistance to meet the desperate needs of the people on the ground on the humanitarian front.

Question:  So you are telling me then that the force has changed in character and identity, but not yet in size?

Deputy Spokesperson:  That is correct.

Question:  Another question on Pakistan, actually on Afghanistan.  Although you said that there is no UN Special Representative to Afghanistan, there are reports that at least one person withdrew his candidacy.  Can you say anything?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, we are trying to get out the transcript of the joint press encounter he had with the President in Slovakia.  And I refer you to those remarks which I don’t have in a full, final version yet.  But at that joint press encounter following their meeting today, the Secretary-General was asked about reports that Paddy Ashdown had withdrawn his name from consideration as Special Representative for Afghanistan, and the Secretary-General did confirm that he had interviewed Mr. Ashdown and regarded him as a very capable person.  He regretted Mr. Ashdown’s withdrawal but affirmed that he was continuing the selection process to find a distinguished and capable person to head UN efforts in Afghanistan.

Question:  From what I understood from Ashdown himself, the problem was that Karzai and the Afghan Government were unhappy either with his candidacy or the structure of what it was that he was going to do.  And the question is:  was there enough consultation on the part of the Secretary-General with the Karzai authorities in advance of this…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As you know, we had never mentioned Mr. Ashdown’s name.  That was something that was in the press quite a bit.  All along we had been saying that consultations were ongoing to find a successor to Mr. Koenigs.  Meanwhile, the Deputy Special Representative is the Acting Special Representative for us in Afghanistan.

Question:  What I mean, the question is:  was there enough consultation and is there going to be more consultation…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Obviously, more consultations are going to have to take place in order to find a Special Representative for Afghanistan.  But what I am trying to tell you is that we were always saying that consultations were ongoing in this process, even before what had happened.

Question:  I have an administrative question and I have raised this twice before.  Over the weekend Suharto died.  We had this urgent statement sent out by the Secretary-General’s Spokesperson’s Office.  Again, it was sent as an e-mail attachment, and for those of us who use blackberries, if you open the attachment, it is a garbled jumble of text.  I have asked twice before if, on weekends and evenings, particularly urgent messages sent out by the Secretary-General’s Office, if you could send them as “plain-text” messages?

Deputy Spokesperson:  They were sent out as “plain text”.  Last time, when you asked me the same thing, they were sent out as a “plain text”.

Question:  This time I got it as an attachment.

Deputy Spokesperson:  It was sent as a “plain text”.  I am pretty sure.  But why don’t we make sure that you are on the correct list?  Okay? 

Question:  I have a question on Iran.  The first adviser to the President of Iran said on Saturday basically that Iran will only speak to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on their nuclear capability and not to the UN Security Council.  Does the Secretary-General have any thoughts on this issue?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General’s thoughts on this issue have not changed.  I have nothing new to say on this question of Iran, which is currently being looked at by the Security Council.

Question:  Is the UN sending its observers to the elections in Pakistan and, if yes, when, how, many…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have no information on that, but I will look into that for you.

[Later, correspondents were informed that the UN will not have election observers in Pakistan but that it is supporting technical projects for those elections, largely through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).]

Question:  When you are looking into that, would you be willing to get a response to Rima’s question?  That is an important question for me as well and perhaps for other people writing about the Middle East and South Asia.

Deputy Spokesperson:  And what was that question?

Question:  About Benazir Bhutto, the assassination of the late Prime Minister.  Can we get an opinion from somebody more or less official?

Deputy Spokesperson:  About, sorry…

Correspondent:  Alan Keen is taking up this issue in the British Parliament today and he is considering speaking to the UN about investigating the assassination on behalf of the Pakistan People’s Party.  So if there are any statements by the Secretary-General, that would be much appreciated.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, of course.  If there are any updates.  I didn’t know what the exact question was.

Question:  On Gaza, since the situation on the ground has changed since there is no actual physical border between Egypt and Gaza any longer, although probably it will be re-installed.  The question is:  is there any new logistical thinking at the UN about taking any of the humanitarian goods through that entry?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything since we last responded to you.

Question:  A former Russian spy and former UN diplomat, Sergei Tretyakov, has released a new book, admitting that he has helped the Russian Government steal $500 million from the UN oil-for-food programme.  I was wondering if the Secretary-General knows about this book and if he will make a comment?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t know whether he knows about the book, but in terms of the oil-for-food programme, you know that the UN has been cooperating with all the authorities in any investigation looking into the oil-for-food programme.

Question:  Is the special envoy going to China from Delhi?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think we have mentioned to you that those are the two countries he will be going to.  I don’t have the exact dates.  I think they are still working around the Chinese New Year calendar.

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