12 March 2008


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

Good afternoon.

**Secretary-General in Senegal

The Secretary-General arrived today in Dakar, Senegal, where this evening he is scheduled to participate as an observer in the mini-summit hosted by President Abdoulaye Wade that brings together the Presidents of Chad and Sudan, Idriss Déby and Omer al-Bashir.

Also this afternoon, he is expected to meet with Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, one of the leaders who have come to Dakar for the Organization of the Islamic Conference’s (OIC) Summit.

The Secretary-General just met with the OIC Secretary-General over the past hour, to discuss the OIC Summit.  He is currently meeting with President Wade.

**Secretary-General’s Travels to Bucharest

We announced to you late yesterday that the Secretary-General now has plans to travel to Bucharest, Romania, on 3 April to attend an international meeting on Afghanistan.  This meeting will be attended by the President of Afghanistan and key international stakeholders, including high-level representatives of the NATO membership, of non-NATO contributing nations, of the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, and also representatives of key international organizations, such as the European Union and the World Bank.

**Security Council

And here at UN Headquarters this morning Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno briefed the Security Council on the UN’s work in Afghanistan, at the start of an open debate which is still going on.

Mr. Guéhenno said that Afghanistan faces an insurgency that has proven to be more resilient than expected and more ruthless than imagined, while a massive illegal drug economy thrives in the vacuum of State authority.

Mr. Guéhenno said that the UN Mission in Afghanistan does not need additional powers but, in the face of the evolved situation, its mandate must be sharpened.  In the Secretary-General’s most recent report to the Security Council on Afghanistan, he proposes six areas to focus on:  enhanced coordination, political outreach, subnational governance, humanitarian coordination, elections and strengthened cooperation with the International Security Assistance Force.  The debate is continuing now, with 33 speakers inscribed on the list at the beginning of the debate.

The new Special Representative for Afghanistan, Kai Eide, attended today’s debate but did not address the Council.  Mr. Guéhenno is expected to bring Mr. Eide to the Council stakeout following the morning session of the meeting.  So, we’ll let you know when that is about to happen.

** Cyprus

Turning to Cyprus, Greek Cypriot leader Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat will meet under UN auspices on 21 March.  Senior aides from the two sides agreed on the date during a meeting hosted by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Cyprus, Michael Møller.  The meeting will take place in the UN Protected Area in Nicosia.

Mr. Møller said today’s encounter between the senior aides was cordial and constructive, and showed a great degree of convergence on several issues, including on the possible future opening of Nicosia’s Ledra Street crossing.  And we have more on that upstairs.

** Iraq

And on Iraq, Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, yesterday met with Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Al-Sistani in the city of Najaf, and later held meetings with other senior religious officials there.

In their two-hour meeting, Mr. de Mistura and Ayatollah Sistani discussed the UN Mission in Iraq’s increasing activities in both the political and humanitarian spheres.  They also spoke about Iraqi national reconciliation, and the need for the Iraqi people to be able to participate in fair, free and inclusive elections.  There are more details in a press release from the Mission upstairs.

** Gaza

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that three crossings in Gaza are open today.  UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] has been able to import a refrigerator truck into Gaza for transporting vaccines, and 10 transformers have reached Gaza’s electricity supply company.  Although these developments represent very small successes, they did not seem likely a few weeks ago, according to OCHA.

OCHA also reports that, because of the warm weather in Gaza, power cuts there are down to around three hours a day.  That will lead to a reduction in the amount of sewage being pumped into the sea and will allow the health services to conserve fuel.

** Rwanda

The appeals chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda has raised the prison sentence for a former Catholic priest from 15 years’ imprisonment to life imprisonment.  In its ruling today, the appeals chamber overturned Athanase Seromba’s conviction for aiding and abetting genocide and extermination and revised it to committing genocide and extermination as a crime against humanity.  Seromba was found guilty of taking an active role in destroying a church in the Kibuye region, an attack that resulted in the deaths of some 1,500 ethnic Tutsi who had sought the priest’s protection from killing mobs.  And there is more information on that upstairs.


And there are a couple of humanitarian updates from OCHA.  In Madagascar, where nearly 200,000 people have been displaced since Cyclone Ivan struck last month, UNICEF is providing medicine, mosquito nets, blankets and hygiene kits to tens of thousands of people there.  The World Food Programme (WFP) has distributed three tons of enriched flour and high-energy biscuits and plans to deliver 22 tons of vegetables to more than 11,000 people over the next two weeks.

Meanwhile, in southern Kazakhstan, where heavy rains and rapidly melting snow have displaced more than 13,000 people, OCHA has provided an emergency grant of $40,000 to the UN Resident Coordinator in that country for the procurement of nearly 2,000 hygiene kits.  And UNICEF has made available water purification tablets, water reservoirs, filters, disinfectants and other sanitation needs.

**UNICEF Study

And according to a groundbreaking seven-year study by UNICEF and the Alliance for Safe Children, for children in five Asian countries, injury is the greatest cause of death or disability.  The study, which interviewed more than two million people in Bangladesh, China, the Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam, found that children aged one to four were at greatest risk of drowning, while road accidents posed the greatest threat to school-aged children between five and nine years old.  Intentional injury -– such as homicide and suicide -– was the leading cause of death among those 10 to 17 years of age.  And there’s more information on that upstairs.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

And tomorrow at 11:15 a.m., there will be a press conference here by Kingsley Amaning, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Chad, on the humanitarian situation in that country. 

And, as I mentioned earlier, after the morning session of the Security Council meeting on Afghanistan, Jean-Marie Guéhenno will bring Mr. Eide, the new Special Representative for Afghanistan, to the Security Council stakeout. 

That’s all I have for you.

**Questions and Answers

Yes, let’s start with Rima.

Question:  It seems that the power-sharing deal that was reached by the former Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, is in danger because the opposition didn’t expect for them to be third, not second.  So, is the Secretary-General concerned about the situation?  Does he have any thoughts?

Deputy Spokesperson:  You’re talking about the former Secretary-General’s mediation efforts on the ground.  As you know, the current Secretary-General has been very supportive of his efforts and has given assistance that has been asked from him to the former Secretary-General.  And that team is still on the ground working around the clock.  So, that’s what I can tell you on that. 

Question:  And in his meeting in Senegal, will he be discussing Islamaphobia at all?  Because there were reports stating that he was.

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General, as you know, is in Dakar for a couple of reasons, which we announced for you.  He will be speaking at the Summit of the OIC tomorrow and he is attending as an observer the meeting this evening, the meeting hosted by the President of Senegal on Chad and Sudan to ease tensions between the two countries.  The OIC summit itself has a number of subjects, I understand, on its agenda, and you probably want to look at their website, but it includes Islamaphobia as one of them.  

[The Deputy Spokesperson later told the reporters that the Secretary-General met with the Secretary-General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and they discussed terrorism, Islamophobia, freedom of expression, Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Kosovo.]

Question:  Today there was an attack in Tulkarem at civilian-populated areas and the Israelis went in with a bulldozer and demolished a house.  Did you have any comment on that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing on that specific incident that you’re reporting on.

Question:  This has been reported widely and viewed on television.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing on that for today. 

Question:  Just one question, Marie.  It gets back to what’s come up over the last few days and weeks.  There is no definition of the overall concept of terrorism here at the UN.  Yet, the Secretary-General does describe events as acts of terrorism from time to time.  Is there any way you have a comment on that now, or can get one for us?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think the Spokesperson referred to that question yesterday and answered it.  I refer you to her comments.

Question:  But it was just a reference to the fact that no definition of the concept of terrorism has been established here at the UN.  If there’s a way we could get a specific differentiation from the Secretary-General, a statement of some sort on what is meant when he uses the term “acts of terrorism” or “terrorist acts” when describing situations?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think Michèle answered that question yesterday.  So, I refer you to the transcript. 

Question:  On Somalia, there is this Human Rights Watch report calling for establishing a committee to identify individuals and groups who are involved in abusing children and women there.  Is Mr. Ban Ki-moon going to take any steps regarding this, and is he going to raise this issue in his report that he’s expected to present to the Security Council next week?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Let me look into that specific report.  I don’t have anything on the latest allegations that you mention now.  So, let me look into that for you and get back to you on that.

Question:  You might have answered this question yesterday, but I wasn’t here at the briefing.  Can you comment on some of the reasons for the diminishment of resources for development that are available at the UN, that the Secretary-General talked about yesterday?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The diminishment of resources to?

Question:  The diminishment of resources for development purposes, to carry out the UN’s development mandate.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think you would have to ask the Member States the various reasons for that.

Question:  No speculation?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think the Secretary-General has spoken on the importance of the issue of development and the importance of trying to reach these Millennium Development Goals.  He has galvanized partners around the system and from other organizations, as you know, earlier this week.  His job is to try to focus attention on this issue and to try to get Member States interested.  For reasons, or if these are not happening, I think you have to talk to the countries.

If there are no other questions, have a good afternoon.

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