7 February 2008


7 February 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.

**Guest at Noon Briefing

Our guest at the noon briefing today is Jane Holl Lute, Assistant Secretary-General and Officer-in-Charge of the Department of Field Support.  She will brief you on her recent technical missions in Chad, Sudan, the DRC and India as well as support issues in UN peacekeeping.

**Secretary-General in Chicago

The Secretary-General this morning travelled to Chicago, to start a trip that has been organized in cooperation with the UN Association of the USA.

Later this afternoon, the Secretary-General is scheduled to attend a luncheon hosted by Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, where they are expected to discuss his climate change initiatives.  The Secretary-General will also visit the MacArthur Foundation, which has been an important supporter of UN initiatives, and address a dinner at the Economic Club of Chicago.

He is expected back in New York tomorrow.

**Security Council

The Security Council yesterday afternoon adopted a presidential statement on Kenya, in which it welcomed the announcement of the progress in the negotiations overseen by Kofi Annan and emphasized its full support for the Panel of Eminent African Personalities that he leads.

The Council expressed its deep concern that civilians continue to be killed, subjected to sexual and gender-based violence and displaced from their homes, and called for those responsible to be brought to justice.  It also expressed its strong concern at the continuing dire humanitarian situation in the country.

The Security Council further requested the Secretary-General to report on how the United Nations can further support the mediation efforts in Kenya, as well as on the impact of the crisis on the wider subregion and UN operations in that area.

** Kenya

As security in the North Rift Valley shows modest signs of improvement, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that UN teams will increase delivery of assistance to more than 39,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs).  IDPs are spread in 15 camps in that region, and OCHA says they urgently need medication, food and water.

On Tuesday, the World Food Programme (WFP) handed out some 80 tons of food at 11 of the IDP camps.  Some 2,000 displaced children under five also received supplementary food items to prevent malnutrition.  WFP also noted that enrolment in UN-assisted schools in Nairobi slums is some 28 per cent lower than before the outbreak of violence.

Meanwhile, the Government of Uganda has increased its estimates of Kenyan refugees on its soil.  The new figure is 12,000, and that is the result of a joint tally by Uganda and the UN Refugee Agency.

** Darfur

Jan Eliasson, the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Darfur, is briefing the Security Council tomorrow on the Darfur peace process and has agreed to brief you at the stakeout afterwards.

Meanwhile, UN-African Union Joint Special Representative for Darfur, Rodolphe Adada, in a meeting with the Netherlands Minister for Development Cooperation reiterated the appeal by the Secretary-General to international partners to honour their pledges and provide helicopters for the Darfur peacekeeping mission.  You have Ms. Lute with you in a few minutes.

** Chad

UNFPA, the UN Population Fund, is gravely concerned for the health and safety of pregnant women and their children among the crowd of refugees who fled the latest outburst of violence in Chad.

The agency says that it is working with governmental and other organizations to assess conditions for expectant refugee mothers in Cameroon.  UNFPA will also provide clean delivery kits, including plastic sheeting, razor blades and soap, to ensure safe delivery to displaced mothers, as well as emergency obstetric care.

Meanwhile, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says, although estimates place the number of Chadians who fled the violence at 30,000, no exact figures on fatalities, casualties, and serious damage to infrastructure are available at this time.  Humanitarian operations in and around N’Djamena are lagging because UN and international NGO staff were evacuated during the fighting, with only small teams left behind. 

** Gaza

According to the Office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO), a total of 37 trucks were able to make it into Gaza from Israel today.  Those included:  nine trucks of paper for schoolbooks, from the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA); and 10 trucks of sugar and wheat flour from the World Food Programme.  Commercial imports of dairy products and frozen meat also made it through.

UNSCO says that, although today’s total is an improvement, it is nowhere close to what is required to meet the needs of the people of Gaza. 

Meanwhile, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that, because of continued fuel reductions from Israel, the majority of Gazan households are still dealing with power cuts lasting eight hours a day. 

** Cyprus

Speaking to UN peacekeepers in Cyprus today, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Cyprus, Michael Moller, said that, rather than launching a new initiative on its own, the UN will support good faith efforts on the part of both sides to restart talks and work for a solution. 

Moller added that this year may indeed prove crucial for a solution, and that the time has come for serious negotiations.  We have his full remarks upstairs.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

Congolese national Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui, an alleged former leader of the rebel National Integrationist Front (FNI) and currently a Colonel in the Congolese Army, was arrested yesterday and handed over to the International Criminal Court (ICC).  That’s according to a statement by the Court’s Registrar, Bruno Cathala, who added that the suspect is expected today at the Court’s Detention Centre in The Hague.

ICC judges say that Chui, as the highest ranking FNI commander, played a key role in designing and carrying out a murderous attack on the village of Bogoro, in the north-eastern Congolese province of Ituri, in February 2003.  He is facing three counts of crimes against humanity and six counts of war crimes, including sexual slavery and the use of child soldiers.

ICC Registrar Bruno Cathala is in New York and will speak to the press today.

** Cambodia

The Extraordinary Chamber in the Courts of Cambodia is processing and responding to hundreds of complaints that have been submitted by Cambodians on crimes that occurred during the period of Democratic Kampuchea.

More than 500 complaints by the Khmer Rouge victims -- mostly registered since last October -- have been processed and analyzed, and properly completed complaint forms are being forwarded to the appropriate offices within the Chamber for further action.

**World Food Programme

The World Food Programme (WFP) today launched “Fill the Cup”, a major international fundraising and awareness initiative to benefit millions of hungry schoolchildren worldwide.

Partners in the campaign include:  Brazilian football star Kaka; the President of Ghana and the African Union, John Kufuor; and Milan’s Mayor, Letizia Moratti.

**Press Conference

Later today, at 3 p.m., there will be a press conference by Dr. Douglas Bettcher, Director of the World Health Organization’s Free Tobacco Initiative, and other experts, on a new report entitled Global Tobacco Epidemic 2008.  We will have copies of the report available upstairs, later today.

I will take just a few questions because Ms. Lute is waiting to come and talk to you.  And what she has to say is certainly much more interesting than what I have to say.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Michèle, yesterday was the deadline for Eritrea to lift the fuel restrictions.  Do you have anything new on that?

Spokesperson:  No, we don’t have anything new on this.  We still have the same situation.

Question:  Are you starting to take out personnel? 

Spokesperson:  Well, right now plans are being devised.  But we don’t have anything concrete here yet at this point.  No decision taken.  Yes, Massood?

Question:  Michèle, there’s a report by the International Crisis Group today on Iraq, which basically suggests that not withstanding –- I mean, last week’s attack in Iraq, which killed about 70 people or so -– that there has been a relative calm.  And the reason for that is that Sadr’s group has formed back and that they are trying to bring about peace and that they should now be assimilated within the Government.  Is there any report by the United Nations Mission there on the situation in Iraq?

Spokesperson:  No, not at this point.  No.  No.

Question:  Is there any more update on Gaza?  Has the Secretary-General been engaged with the Israelis again to allow more humanitarian relief through than the one that you just announced?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, he has been actively engaged, you know.  We have said that several times in the last few days.  He discussed the issue with several people -– several leaders –- in his trip.  And, you know, he has been actively engaged.  There is nothing different that has been done today.  Yes?

Question:  Israel today announced more restrictions on electricity and other services.  Any comments on that?

Spokesperson:  No, we don’t have any comments on this.  We have already commented on restrictions.  And quite extensively, I have to say.  Yes, sir? 

Question:  Any of the results of yesterday’s benefit concert for UNICEF at the United Nations, and did the Secretary-General attend this event?

Spokesperson:  No, he did not attend this event.  As you know, he was supposed to leave for Chicago yesterday.  The reason his plane didn’t leave is because of a snowstorm in Chicago.  So, no, he did not attend.  Nor did the DSG.

Question:  But as far as outcome, this was a fundraiser.  Any indication what scope the --

Spokesperson:  Only UNICEF can let you know.  I don’t know myself.  Yes?

Question:  Yes, thank you Michèle.

Spokesperson:  We can refer you to the spokesperson to UNICEF.

Question:  Yesterday -– Ban Ki-moon, in his press conference two days ago, was asked something about whether Israel was an occupier of Gaza, and he said that was a legal question.  And I wonder if that’s the way he’s looking at it, or if it’s -– I mean…  It seems that, particularly, people in the Security Council and other people have said, yes, it is an occupier.  Because it makes a big difference.  Because Israel’s position that it’s not an occupier, it feels it can be relieved of obligations.  So it just seems important that, particularly, the Secretary-General have a clear sense:  Is Israel occupying Gaza at the moment?  Or does he feel that’s in question?

Spokesperson:  Well, no, there is no question.  I think what he said, you know, was simply it was a legal question.  And the legal question has been already settled by the UN.  It is Occupied Territory because the Palestinian territories are seen as a whole.  And Gaza is not seen separately. 

Yes, Matthew.  Can we have a quick one on this one because we don’t want her to have to wait?

Question:  I understand.  German Chancellor Angela Merkel has made a call for greater transparency at UNICEF Germany about how money’s being spent.  What I’m wondering is if the Secretariat agrees with Chancellor Merkel that there should be greater transparency, and what I’m wondering is if we can get a briefing from UNICEF’s Ann Veneman, who’s yet to address this brewing issue.

Spokesperson:  Well, I will address the question to UNICEF.

Question:  I asked yesterday if she would come here.  This is, you know, a major donor State raising these issues.

Spokesperson:  We can ask.  You asked the question yesterday.  You don’t expect me to have immediately an answer for you yet, right? 

Question:  Oh, no.  I’m saying, I asked UNICEF and they were unclear whether she would speak to it.  So I guess I’m asking somebody in the UN system to speak to it. 

Spokesperson:  Sure.

Question:  And also on this strange story of Kofi Annan possibly being bugged while in Kenya.  Is -– can the UN confirm that?  And does the UN play any role in providing his security while he is there?

Spokesperson:  No.  The UN has seconded a number of people to support Kofi Annan’s mediation effort.  As far as whether the report is true or not is something you should address -– I think we have more information in my Office from Mr. Annan’s team.  Okay?  Yes?

Question:  If Gaza is still occupied and Israel is conducting collective punishment, is the United Nations going to do anything about that -– issue a statement saying this is illegal under the Geneva Convention?  Or make any ruling on that?

Spokesperson:  Well, we have been doing extensively -- talking extensively about the situation in Gaza, about the humanitarian situation.  There was an appeal by the Secretary-General that the closure of the crossings be lifted.  You have been –- you have had a number –- he has also talked about restrictions.  We have had a number of positions on this already.  What else do you need?

Question:  I mean, are there any punitive actions taken in order to rectify the situation there?

Spokesperson:  Any punitive action should be decided by the Security Council.  Not by the Secretariat.

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