20 February 2008


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

Good afternoon.  I am sorry I am a little late.  I am actually still waiting for a statement, but hopefully it will come in.


I’ll start with an update from our Mission in Kosovo.

The UN Mission in Kosovo reports that the situation on the ground is calm.  Regarding yesterday’s attacks on boundary crossings in northern Mitrovica, the two gates that had been closed as a result of the attacks have now been opened.  Speaking to reporters today in Pristina, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Kosovo, Joachim Rücker, said that he saw yesterday’s incident as a one-time incident and that it was responded to in an appropriate way.

The Special Representative has given a press conference, and we’ll have a transcript of that available shortly.

** Sudan

The Secretary-General, in a report to the Security Council on the deployment of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur, known as UNAMID, says that the situation in West Darfur has deteriorated sharply over the past two months.  In light of the security conditions on the ground, he says, the most urgent priority in Darfur is the establishment of a cessation of hostilities, with effective mechanisms for monitoring compliance and violations.  To this end, he urges the Government and all parties to cooperate fully with the efforts of the Special Envoys of the African Union and United Nations to convene negotiations as soon as possible.

The Secretary-General also condemns cross-border attacks and urges Chad and Sudan to respect each other’s territorial sovereignty and implement existing non-aggression agreements.  The Secretary-General stresses the need to demonstrate that UNAMID can bring a material improvement to the lives of the people of Darfur or risk losing their confidence, and he appeals to all UNAMID troop and police contributors to expedite the deployment of units and assets pledged to the mission.

He also urges Member States to provide the outstanding enabling units, including air assets.  On that subject, the report says the process of generating aviation and transportation units has not yet been successful.  The Department of Peacekeeping Operations received pledges from Ethiopia for four attack helicopters, but other critical shortfalls remain.  One month after transfer of authority, the mission is still short of pledges for one heavy and one medium ground transport unit, three military utility aviation units, 18 helicopters in total, and additional attack helicopters to meet the full operational requirements.  You can read more about that in yesterday’s report on UNAMID that’s out on the racks today.

** Sudan -- United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)

Meanwhile, in the wake of the recent bombings in West Darfur, UNICEF is delivering medical supplies, blankets, jerry cans and plastic sheeting.  It is also treating and restoring water supplies, both to communities that have been attacked and to areas where displaced people are now gathering.  UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman is calling for a cessation of hostilities and for unrestricted access by humanitarian agencies to affected areas.  And there is a statement of hers upstairs.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

Turning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, our Mission there is gravely concerned about continued human rights violations there.  The Mission said today in Kinshasa that its Human Rights Office has positively identified eight victims, including three children, who were killed by Congolese army soldiers on 2 January in a village near Goma in the east.

The Mission added that it had collected preliminary evidence indicating that troops belonging to the forces of dissident General Laurent Nkunda have killed at least 30 civilians between 16 and 20 January in the village of Kalonge.  The killings are believed to have been committed in reprisal for the villagers seeking refuge in the sector controlled by perceived enemies of the Nkunda faction.  While its investigations into these killings continue, the Mission has called on Congolese parties to respect international human rights and humanitarian law.

**Security Council

And here at UN Headquarters, at 3 p.m. this afternoon, the Security Council has scheduled two formal meetings to vote on draft resolutions.  The Council intends to vote on a resolution concerning the extension of the African Union Mission in Somalia, known as AMISOM.  And it also intends to vote on a resolution to appoint short-term, or ad litem, judges for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

** Georgia

And in Geneva on February 18th and 19th, senior representatives of the Group of Friends of the Secretary-General for Georgia met under the chairmanship of the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Edmond Mulet.  Participating in the meeting were representatives of the Georgian and Abkhaz sides and Jean Arnault, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Georgia.  Both the Georgian and Abkhaz sides reaffirmed their commitment to the UN-led peace process and to a confidence-building approach to the settlement of the conflict.  The Friends expressed their concern over the lack of progress in the dialogue between the sides and reiterated their urgent call for the resumption of security meetings between the sides, the UN Mission and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) peacekeeping force.  There is a press release with more information on this upstairs.

**United Nations Environment Programme Meeting

World environment ministers are meeting from today through Friday in Monaco, as part of the tenth special session of the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment.  In a video message, the Secretary-General urges those gathered to help mobilize finance to meet the challenges posed by climate change, and to help build a decisive and deep regime for emission reductions after 2012.

We have copies of his remarks upstairs, as well as press releases from UNEP on the conference and on today’s presentation of UNEP’s Year Book 2008.  The publication notes that climate change is driving an emerging “green” economy and innovation on a scale perhaps not seen since the industrial revolution.  You can read about that upstairs.

**Food and Agriculture Organization Meeting

And we have a bit more detail on that Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) workshop, taking place this week in Thailand, that’s looking at insects, both as food for humans and as a potential source for rural livelihoods.  FAO notes that more than 1,400 species of insects are consumed worldwide.  They are a regular part of the diet, and are often considered delicacies.  Many types of insects have as much protein as meat or fish, and some, especially in the larval stage, are high in vitamins and minerals.

FAO adds that insects offer considerable income potential for rural people who capture, rear, transport and market them.  This could be enhanced through the adoption of modern food and hygiene standards for food insects that are sold live, dried, smoked, roasted or in other forms, FAO says.  And there is more information on that upstairs for you.

I have two follow-ups for you for questions from yesterday and then I’ll take some more.

** Alliance of Civilizations

In response to questions yesterday at the noon briefing about the re-publication of Danish cartoons I was asked, I just wanted to let you know that the Secretary-General strongly believes that freedom of expression should be exercised responsibly and in a way that respects all religious beliefs.

For its part, the UN's Alliance of Civilizations is working to promote greater cross-cultural understanding and has developed an online resource for journalists.  The resource connects media professionals with leading analysts and commentators on intercultural issues, particularly in times of tension.  You can get that from the Alliance website.

** Myanmar

I was also asked yesterday what was the UN’s reaction to statements by the Government of Myanmar that the draft Constitution is already completed and that Aung San Suu Kyi will not be allowed to run in the elections.  The constitutional process is going to be on the top of Mr. Gambari’s agenda when he has the chance to visit Myanmar and have direct discussions with authorities and all of the relevant parties to the process, including Aung San Suu Kyi.  We hope that happens soon.  That said, we believe that the credibility of the political process in Myanmar is going to depend on whether it’s inclusive enough so that all can participate.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

And just to flag for you, “How to Prevent Climate Change -- A Road Map to Success” is the subject of a press conference to take place here at 1:30 tomorrow with President [Ólafur Ragnar] Grímmson of Iceland, who will brief you on panel discussions taking place at UN Headquarters.

And that’s what I have for you.  Any questions for me?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  A top Palestinian official is saying that Palestinians could unilaterally declare statehood, as Kosovo did, if talks with Israel fail.  Is that something that the Secretary-General would welcome or accept?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think I saw the press reports, but later on, there were other press reports that are refuting that, so let’s not speculate on hypotheticals in press reports.

Question:  Last Friday, Israel attacked a densely populated area in Gaza, killing and injuring about 50 people.  Do you have any comments regarding that?  Do you consider that a war crime, or not?  Most of the victims are civilians, except for one maybe.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Our position on the situation in Gaza is quite well known.  I don’t have anything specific on incidents from Friday, but we can certainly look into that for you.

Question:  Following the appointment of Mr. Douste-Blazy, could you tell us how many similar positions exist with the rank of Under-Secretary-General?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I haven’t had the latest toll, but I believe at the time that we mentioned the publication of financial disclosures, we mentioned a total from then.  So I think you probably just have to add the latest to that number, which we can do -- the addition -- for you upstairs.

Question:  I think this is part of yesterday, and you did not have any comment on it, but is there any comment on the transition of power in Cuba?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, we did not have anything direct to comment on that, except to say that the Secretary-General will continue to work with the leadership of Cuba.

Question:  There are reports on the agreement reached between the Lord’s Resistance Army and the Government of Uganda.  It was unclear how that relates to the indictments of the International Criminal Court against the four leaders.

Deputy Spokesperson:  That’s precisely what I was waiting for, the statement, so let’s see if we can have a statement or not for today.

Question:  A somewhat related question.  There is… it seems that the UN team in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has put numbers on civilians killed by General Nkunda…

Deputy Spokesperson:  I just read an update on that.  I think you came after I read it.  You came in afterwards.

Question:  A follow-up question is what happens with that information?  Is that information going to be submitted to the International Criminal Court or elsewhere?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, this is information that was released by the Human Rights… I wish you were here when I read it.  It was released by our Mission on the ground, so if we can follow that up for you…  The Mission itself is expressing concern.  We have more information on this upstairs.

Question:  Also on Pakistan, there is a story that, with the elections, a request may be made by the new Government for an investigation of the death of Benazir Bhutto?  What you said previously, that only if there is a request… with a request by a just-elected Government, would that constitute a governmental request?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Government, as far as I know, has not been constituted yet.

Question:  Right, I guess… I just wanted to make sure that…

Deputy Spokesperson:  Our guidance on that has not changed.

Question:  You said something about a one-time thing and “responded in an appropriate way” with respect to Kosovo.  Could you expand on that a little bit?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We are expecting to get a full transcript of… this is… you are talking about Kosovo and in the north, and the crossings, yes.  This was to alert you to the fact that they had opened the two crossings that were closed yesterday as a result of disturbances.  And in response to questions, SRSG Rücker -- whether there was some other kind of agenda involved -- he is saying that this is a policing issue, and that was how it was handled.  And he also goes on to say that it is the aim of the Mission to go back to normal conditions as soon as possible, and he reassured his audience there that Kosovo is not closed and the other gates are open -- and that the other two that were closed are also open.  But I would like to refer you to the transcript that will be coming out shortly.

Question:  Regarding the Kosovo situation, is there any sense -- I don’t know if this is an issue that you are dealing with here in New York, or if this is more something that you are dealing with directly in UNMIK and on the ground in Kosovo -- but whether this mob was spontaneous, or if there could have been some sort of organization coming from elsewhere, if it might have been inspired or instructed by someone?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think that kind of detail we would have to ask the Mission itself and the police that are looking into it very closely.  But let’s wait till the transcript comes out, because it also does go into quite a few details on that.

Question:  There is a letter from Iran as a UN Member State to the Secretary-General on Israel’s threats to destroy and launch military operations against the nuclear programmes and installations in Iran.  Is there any comment from Mr. Ban Ki-moon to this?  And can you confirm whether he has already received this letter?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I cannot confirm whether any such letter has been received as of now.

Question:  On the same topic, would you know any information on the Secretary-General’s meeting with the Israeli Ambassador this morning?

Deputy Spokesperson:  It just happened a little while ago and all I can tell you on that is that they discussed the UN-Israel relationship, the Middle East peace process and the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Question:  Were they discussing Iran, as well?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I just mentioned the three subjects.

Question:  OK, my other question is, do you have any information on the new UN firewood patrols in Darfur protecting women from rape?

Deputy Spokesperson:  There is some mention of that in the new report that just came out, so I suggest you look into that.

I just got a statement on Uganda.  Do you want to ask your question first?

Question:  Are we going to be getting a CMP briefing this week?  They said there was going to be one.

Deputy Spokesperson:  We set something up with Michael Adlerstein -- I just don’t remember the date, but we’ll announce it to you.

Question:  And John Holmes?

Deputy Spokesperson:  John Holmes, we have asked to brief as soon as he briefs the Security Council.

**Statement on Uganda

The statement I have attributable to the Spokesperson is on the peace process in northern Uganda.

The Secretary-General welcomes yesterday’s signing in Juba by the Government of Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army of the Annexture to the Agreement on Accountability and Reconciliation.  The Annexture establishes the legal framework for accountability and reconciliation mechanisms in the promotion of peace with justice in Uganda.  The challenge ahead will be to ensure the credible implementation of the agreement.  The Secretary-General is encouraged by the commitment of the parties to the talks and urges them to renew their efforts to expeditiously conclude a comprehensive peace agreement in order to bring lasting peace with justice to the people of northern Uganda.

The Secretary-General expresses his deep thanks to all international and regional actors who have been assisting the peace process and calls on them to continue their crucial support to the parties.

The Secretary-General expresses his particular appreciation to the Vice-President of the Government of Southern Sudan and Chief Mediator, Riek Machar Dhurgon Teny, and his Special Envoy, Joaquim Chissano, for the important role they have played in facilitating this breakthrough.

And that’s all I have on this for now.  And have a good afternoon.

Question:  On that, does that mean that the Secretary-General, that the Secretariat thinks that agreement complies with international law in terms of the local justice component?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Matthew, I just got the statement, so this is all I have for you.  Other questions can be followed up later.

Thank you very much and have a good afternoon.

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