5 March 2008


5 March 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.

**Press Conference Today

Our guest at the noon briefing today is B. Lynn Pascoe, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs (DPA), who will brief you on a newly established “Standby Team” of Mediation Experts, coordinated by the Department of Political Affairs.  Some team members and DPA Mediation Support Unit staff will be present during the briefing as well, so which means I will have very few questions today addressed to me –- which is quite good.

**Independent Panel on Safety and Security

The Independent Panel on Safety and Security of UN Personnel and Premises Around the World, led by Lakhdar Brahimi, has announced an additional, seventh member of the Panel.  It is Paolo Coletta of Italy.  Colonel Coletta is currently the Head of the Logistics Department of Carabinieri Headquarters in Rome.  He has also served as a civilian police officer with international organizations, including the United Nations.

We have a note to correspondents upstairs from the Panel with a full list of the members.

**Security Council

The Security Council began its work today with consultations on Somalia.  Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Haile Menkerios, briefed Council members on the latest developments in that country.  The Secretary-General’s report to the Council on Somalia will be due on 10 March, he said.  After that Menkerios briefed the Council on the situation in Kenya.

** Somalia

On Somalia, the UN Humanitarian and Resident Coordinator is concerned about continuing displacements from Mogadishu.  William Paton recently visited some of the more than 100 settlements that have sprung up along the road to Afgooye.  Displacements from Mogadishu continued at about 25,000 per month in January and February bringing the total number of displaced to more than 200,000. 

Rising insecurity has also hindered the humanitarian response, forcing the cancellation of several missions to Afgooye in February.  Somalia has nearly 400 checkpoints, where humanitarian convoys are often subject to threats and violence.  On the Mogadishu-Afgooye road, for example, there are eight checkpoints, and convoys are being charged up to $150 per 35 metric tons of cargo. 

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) says a demining operation has been under way since 28 February in the Katanga Province.  Led by the UN Mine Action Coordination Centre, the operation focuses on demining 8 kilometres of the road linking the towns of Kabalo and Katutu, which was shut down in December after two anti-tank mines were found there.

Meanwhile, the Mission says that 25 former Rwandan rebel troops, along with their 13 dependents, were repatriated to Rwanda in February.  This is part of the implementation of a new, strengthened disarmament and reinsertion drive, spurred by provisions in the Nairobi Communique agreed between Rwanda and DRC in November 2007.

** Cyprus

On Cyprus, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Cyprus, Michael Moller, has, in the last week, met individually with both the Greek Cypriot leader, Dimitris Christofias, and the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mehmet Ali Talat.  Both leaders have indicated that they are keen to meet each other.

The UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) has started preparations to host such a meeting, which could take place during the second half of this month.  According to UNFICYP, the agenda of the encounter will be decided by the two sides, who will also determine how to take the process forward.  It is expected that the opening of Nicosia’s Ledra Street crossing will be high on the meeting’s agenda.  In that context, UNFICYP says it is ready to move quickly to help open the crossing once the leaders have taken the decision to do so.

**Greece/Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

The Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Greece and The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Matthew Nimetz, was in Skopje today, where he met with The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s President, Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and primary negotiator for the “name issue”, Ambassador Nikola Dimitrov.

Mr. Nimetz received the officials’ detailed feedback on his latest proposal concerning the “name issue” and explored possibilities for a solution.  He said there is a strong desire among the leadership in Skopje to resolve the matter, consistent with their view of what is an acceptable and fair solution.  Mr. Nimetz plans to meet tonight with a representative from the Greek side, Ambassador Adamantios Vassilakis, in Thessaloniki.

**Millennium Development Goals Africa Steering Group

The Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Africa Steering Group will meet for the second time, next Monday, 10 March, following a successful meeting of the MDG Africa Working Group on 28 February.  The members of the Group will review a set of key recommendations and initiatives to accelerate progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals in Africa.

The meeting will be chaired by the Secretary-General.  Among the participants of the MDG Africa Steering Group will be Donald Kaberuka of the African Development Bank, Alpha Oumar Konaré of the African Union, Robert Zoellick of the World Bank, Louis Michel of the European Commission, Dominique Strauss-Kahn of the International Monetary Fund and Angel Gurría of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Immediately after the meeting of the Steering Group, on Monday, a press conference will be held with all members of the Group, here at the United Nations.  During the press conference, the Secretary-General will outline the outcome of the meetings.  This will be followed by an opportunity for the media to ask questions to the members of the Group.  A detailed media advisory will be issued shortly. 

As you know, the Steering Group was set up last September by the Secretary-General and brings together the leaders of the main multilateral organizations working on development in Africa

** Uganda

High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres pledged Tuesday to do more to support the return of hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people to northern Uganda.  Mr. Guterres said this during a visit to northern Uganda, where an estimated 850,000 people are living in camps for the internally displaced.  He said that it is the obligation of all of us in the international community to help the people of northern Uganda.

Mr. Guterres was in northern Uganda yesterday on the second day of an eight-day visit to review UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] work in Uganda and Tanzania. 

We have more in a press release upstairs.

** Zambia

Still on the humanitarian front, in response to the floods in Zambia, UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] is providing 5,000 kits of basic household items, while the Food and Agriculture Organization is sending grains to nearly 3,000 households.

The World Food Programme (WFP), meanwhile, has transferred all remaining food from its 2006/2007 flood response programme to those affected by the current emergency in Zambia.  WFP warns, however, that it may run out of cereals and pulses by mid-May.

** Rwanda

On Rwanda and the justice front, the United Nations and the Government of Rwanda yesterday signed an agreement on the enforcement of sentences imposed by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).  The agreement was signed in Kigali between Adama Dieng, the Registrar of the Tribunal, and the Rwandan Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Rwanda is thus the seventh country designated to receive persons convicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda for the purpose of serving their sentences.

** Afghanistan

On Afghanistan, the Government of Afghanistan must do more to target the major drug traffickers in Afghanistan and dismantle their networks, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said today.  It made its appeal following the release of the report of the International Narcotics Control Board, which says that illicit opium cultivation in Afghanistan has reached an unprecedented level. 

We have more details in today’s briefing notes from Kabul.

In today’s briefing, the UN Mission in Afghanistan also stated that it shares the Afghan people’s concern over the controversy created by the publication of Danish cartoons and a Dutch film.  The Mission said that it believes in freedom of the media and in full respect for all religions, as well as the importance of overcoming misunderstandings through peaceful dialogue and mutual respect.

**Wheat Fungus

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is warning about a destructive new wheat fungus that could potentially spread across Central and South Asia.  Wheat stem rust -– previously found in East Africa and Yemen -– has now been detected in western Iran.  The fungus is carried by wind and is capable of laying waste to entire fields.

FAO is warning that major wheat-producing countries to the east of Iran -– like Afghanistan, India and Pakistan –- should be on high alert. 

We have more information upstairs.

**UN Population Awards

The UN Population Fund has announced the two recipients of this year’s UN Population Awards.  Dame Billie Antoinette Miller, formerly the Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister from Barbados, has been a strong advocate of population and gender issues.  Family Care International, a New York-based non-governmental organization, promotes sexual and reproductive health in developing countries.  The Awards will be handed out here in New York on 22 May. 

We have more information, of course, upstairs on this.

**International Women’s Day

This year’s International Women’s Day, 8 March, will be observed at the UN tomorrow.  The Secretary-General is scheduled to address the event, which will take place from 10:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. in Conference Room 2.  Following that, Rachel Mayanja, the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women; Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, Minister of Public Service and Administration of South Africa; and Inez Murray, Vice-President for Technical Assistance and Programmes at the Women's World Bank, will brief about the observance as guests at the noon briefing tomorrow. 

We have more information available upstairs later today.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

And also tomorrow, at 11 a.m., Michael Adlerstein, Executive Director of the Capital Master Plan, will be here to update you on the Plan.

I will not take your questions immediately because I’d like to have our guest immediately.  I invite Under-Secretary-General B. Lynn Pascoe to come up.

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