14 March 2008


14 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, and Janos Tisovszky, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by the Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon.

I’ll start with three appointments by the Secretary-General and also, I should have said at the beginning, we have the General Assembly Spokesperson here to brief you today.

**Secretary-General’s Appointments

The Secretary-General has appointed Ms. Susana Malcorra of Argentina as Head of the Department of Field Support at the Under-Secretary-General level.  As its head, Ms. Malcorra will direct all support for the United Nations peace missions worldwide.   She will take over from Ms. Jane Holl Lute, who has been leading the Department since its establishment in July 2007.

Ms. Malcorra currently serves as Chief Operating Officer and Deputy Executive Director of the World Food Programme.  And there is more information on Ms. Malcorra in her bio upstairs in the Spokesperson’s office.

The second appointment I have, the Secretary-General has appointed Mr. Johnston Barkat of the United States as the new UN Ombudsman at the Assistant Secretary-General level.  He will function independently of any UN organ or official, with direct access to the Secretary-General as needed.  He will head a single, integrated and decentralized Ombudsman’s Office that will serve the Secretariat, Funds and Programmes.  Mr. Barkat has served as Ombudsman at Pace University and has a background in mediation and conflict resolution.  There is more information on Mr. Barkat in his bio upstairs.

And thirdly, the Secretary-General has appointed Ms. Rima Salah of Jordan as his Deputy Special Representative in the UN Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT).  Ms. Salah has served for 20 years in UNICEF, most recently as Deputy Executive Director.  And there’s more information on Ms. Salah in her bio, also available upstairs.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General is back at UN Headquarters after returning this morning from his visit to Dakar, Senegal, for the summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC).

Before departing Senegal, the Secretary-General last night witnessed, at the Presidential Palace in Dakar, the signing of an agreement between Chadian President Idriss Déby and Sudanese President Omer al-Bashir, concerning reconciliation and the normalization of relations between those two countries.

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade had convened a mini-summit for the two leaders, and the Secretary-General participated Wednesday evening and Thursday afternoon in closed-door discussions with the two delegations and the facilitators:  President Wade, President Omar Bongo of Gabon and Chairman Alpha Oumar Konare of the African Union Commission, as well as the observers:  the Secretary-General of the United Nations; the President of the OIC; and representatives of the European Union, the United States and France.

During these discussions, the Secretary-General, who attended as an observer, urged the parties to reach an agreement on the implementation of previous accords reached in Tripoli, Cannes and Riyadh and to establish follow-up mechanisms to electively stop the violence.  The Secretary-General also expressed his strong support for President Wade’s mediation efforts.  The closed door discussions led to further negotiations between the two parties and to the agreement signed last night.

The Secretary-General also held bilateral meetings late yesterday with the Palestinian Authority President, the Indonesian President, the Egyptian Foreign Minister and the King of Morocco.  The Secretary-General also received a briefing yesterday from Special Adviser Ibrahim Gambari about his recent visit to Myanmar.


And we are expecting a statement on the Sudan-Chad agreement shortly.

[The following statement was issued shortly after the noon briefing:

The Secretary-General commends the Governments of Chad and the Sudan for the agreement they reached in Dakar yesterday under the auspices of President Abdoulaye Wade.  He is encouraged by their stated determination and commitment to normalize their bilateral relations.  He calls on the two countries to remain steadfast in their resolve to restore peace and stability along their shared border, as this would contribute to wider stability in the region as a whole.  The United Nations remains supportive of the ongoing regional peace efforts, and looks forward to working closely with all parties concerned to ensure the full and speedy implementation of the Dakar agreement.]

Meanwhile, the UN Refugee Agency says tensions remain high along the Chad-Sudan border and that situation is affecting its efforts to complete its refugee relocation operations.  As of yesterday, the agency had managed to transfer a little more than 1,000 Sudanese refugees further inland into Chad.  The refugees being transferred away from the border area are part of some 13,000 Darfurians who crossed into Chad in February.  UNHCR and its partners are providing for a current total of 240,000 Sudanese refugees from Darfur in 12 camps across eastern Chad.  And you can read more about that in UNHCR’s briefing notes from Geneva.


On Kosovo, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Kosovo, Joachim Rücker, has condemned in the strongest possible terms this morning’s attack on the District Court building of the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) in north Mitrovica.  A large mob used force against UN Police to enter the building at around 8:30 a.m.  Rücker said, “Those who turned to violence in north Mitrovica have crossed one of UNMIK’s red lines.  This is completely unacceptable.”  He added that he has instructed UNMIK Police to restore law and order in the north and to ensure that the court house is again under UN control.

Rücker informed the Serbian Government of the unfolding events and asked them to prevent such attacks.  He also said he expects that the perpetrators of today’s attack will be brought to justice, adding that UNMIK will defend its mandate throughout the whole territory of Kosovo without exception.  And there is more information on this upstairs.

** Western Sahara

And this is a heads-up for the weekend, the latest round of talks on Western Sahara will get under way on Sunday at the Greentree Estate in Manhasset, on Long Island.  Participating in the discussions are representatives of the parties, Morocco and Polisario, as well as the neighbouring States, Algeria and Mauritania.  The talks will be mediated by the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General, Peter van Walsum.

As in the past, the discussions are private and closed to the media.  We have been informed, however, that this time Greentree has made available a location near the entrance gate where journalists will be able to stand without being on the main road outside.  Greentree security will direct reporters when they arrive.

**Security Council

Yesterday afternoon, the Security Council here unanimously adopted a resolution demanding that all members of the Rwandan armed groups operating in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo immediately lay down their arms and present themselves without any further delay or preconditions for disarmament.  The Council also demanded that those groups immediately stop recruiting and using children, release all children associated with them, and put an end to gender-based violence.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, the Security Council President for this month, also told the press yesterday that Council members insist on Eritrea’s full cooperation in the temporary relocation of UN personnel and equipment there.

And as you know, there are no meetings or consultations of the Council scheduled, as of now, for today.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

And on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Deputy Special Representative there, Ross Mountain, said efforts to restore public safety and security are making good progress in the Ituri Province.  During a two-day visit there, Mountain attended a consultative meeting on the Action Plan for Stabilization and Community Recovery in Ituri.  The Plan seeks to merge aspects of the UN Mission, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Congolese Government programmes for Ituri.

Describing the progress made in Ituri, Mountain said that, in 2003, there were 800,000 displaced persons in the province.  Today, that figure stands at 115,000.  He also noted that out of the seven armed groups in 2003, only two remain active.  Meanwhile, 25,000 militiamen and 11,000 children associated with armed groups have been demobilized.  He said he is confident that full stability for Ituri is within reach.

** Burundi

On Burundi, the World Food Programme (WFP) today asked the international community for $6 million in order to maintain food aid to some 90,000 Burundian refugees returning home from Tanzania.  The current stocks are due to run out in the middle of this year.  And there’s more information on that.

** Greece -- the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

Matthew Nimetz, the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Greece and The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, will be continuing his efforts on the “name issue” next week.

He has informed us that he will be holding a meeting with representatives from the two sides on Monday in Vienna.

** Europe

More than 100 million Europeans still do not have access to safe drinking water.  As a result, nearly 40 European children die each day, according to the UN’s Economic Commission for Europe.  The spread of water-transmitted diseases is especially common in Eastern Europe.

Now tackling this issue is an independent body in Geneva, called the Compliance Committee, which is working under the auspices of the Economic Commission for Europe and the World Health Organization (WHO).  And there’s more information on this upstairs in the Spokesperson’s office.


In the Asia-Pacific region, more than 1.5 billion people in the Asia-Pacific region still lack basic sanitation, such as access to a toilet, leaving them vulnerable to preventable diseases such as cholera, worms, diarrhoea, pneumonia and malnutrition.  Globally, one child dies every 20 seconds as a result of poor sanitation.  And there’s a press release with more information upstairs.

**Week Ahead

And we also have “The Week Ahead” for you.  That’s “The Week Ahead” calendar at the United Nations for your planning purposes.  And, as we mentioned to you yesterday, next Monday and Tuesday in Geneva the African Union and UN Special Envoys for Darfur, Salim Ahmed Salim and Jan Eliasson.

And I think that’s all I have for you.  Janos is here.  Any questions for me?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Does the Secretary-General have any comment on the violent protests in Tibet against Chinese rule?

Deputy Spokesperson:  What I can tell you on this is that we are following that situation and we urge that care be taken by all concerned to avoid confrontation and violence.

Question:  At the Secretary-General’s meeting with Gambari, is the Secretary-General reviewing his policies on Burma?  What is going to be the next step toward Burma?

Deputy Spokesperson:  All I have right now is that he was briefed.  As you know, he just flew back in a short while ago.  We’ll find out more details about his programme next week and we’ll try to give you an update on that.

Question:  Is he going to brief the Security Council also?

Deputy Spokesperson:  There is nothing on the Security Council programme as of now.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later added that Ibrahim Gambari will be back in the office on Monday and will brief the General Assembly President, the Group of Friends on Myanmar and the Security Council -- in that order -- during the coming week.  The precise dates and times are still being finalized.]

Question:  Did the Secretary-General, while he was in Dakar, meet with the Sudanese President also bilaterally or just in the group?

Deputy Spokesperson:  He obviously met in the group in order to get to the agreement, but I understand he also had a tête-à-tête meeting with the President of Sudan.

Question:  Do you have any readout on that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Since it’s a tête-à-tête, I don’t have anything immediately.

Question:  About this Kosovo attack on the UN, did the UN determine that the attack was by the pro-Kosovo people or the Serbian people?  Do you know that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As I read to you now, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General informed the Serbian Government of the events and asked them to prevent such attacks and that he expected the perpetrators will be brought to justice.  So that’s where we are as of now.

Question:  An update on Iraq from the Secretary-General’s Special Representative?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ve been giving you updates daily.  Yesterday, we had a statement from him on the Archbishop.  I don’t have anything new today.

Question:  Regarding his meeting with the Sudanese and the Chadian Presidents, did Mr. Ban Ki-moon address the issue of accusations to sending troops and providing them with military equipment to Chad?  Did he discuss with them this issue?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As I said, the meeting he had with the President of Sudan was a tête-à-tête.  The meeting that led to the agreement, we just gave you a readout on.  And, as I also said at the beginning, I’m waiting for a statement on the Sudan-Chad situation.

Question:  I have another question.  While he was in Dakar, is there any response yet from the Secretary-General on the debate ahead to the release of a new video movie criticizing Islam and whether he sees this to fall into the category of freedom of expression?  Is there any response from him on that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I mentioned to you that he had discussions with the OIC Secretary-General.  I don’t have anything specific on any discussions he had about the reported Dutch film.  I don’t have anything specific on that subject, but I could look into that for you.

[Later in the day, the Deputy Spokesperson announced that the subject did in fact come up during the meeting with the Organization of the Islamic Conference.]

Question:  I’m wondering if the Secretary-General is aware of the Vanity Fair article about the US Government supporting the violence among the Palestinians and if there’s any response to that, because it just seems that it’s an important article that’s being fairly widely circulated, in the Arab world at least.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t know.

Question:  Regarding these attacks in Kosovo, are you taking any special measures to prevent, for example, any casualties taking place among UNMIK in that area?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think the statement that we just read to you and the press release address this issue.

Question:  I’m wondering if Mr. Ban Ki-moon spoke with Abdoulaye Wade, the President of Senegal, about what he was asked by the President of Israel, to start the mediation between Palestinians and Israelis.  Did this idea come up in this discussion?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t know specifically about the proposal that you mentioned, but the question, obviously, of the Middle East did come up and he addressed it extensively yesterday in his opening remarks to the OIC Summit.  I have not heard anything specific.

Question:  But the President of Senegal said officially that he was asked by Shimon Peres to have this kind of mediation [inaudible] to succeed to get Chad and Sudan to support this deal? [inaudible] serious about what he’s been saying.  Has Mr. Ban Ki-moon taken this idea as an option or is he supporting this kind of…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Why don’t you show me the press report and I’ll look into it for you.

Question:  About this Islamaphobia thing, because that was the topic of discussion in Senegal yesterday.  That is what the OIC meeting was about, about warning of Islamaphobia.  In that respect, of this Dutch film that’s been released, has the Secretary-General taken note of that and how it could undermine the relations between the Muslim world and the Western world?  Or did this still mean a matter of freedom of expression, as the Dutch think?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As I said, I have to look into this to see if this subject specifically came up during his bilaterals there.  I mentioned to you that Islamaphobia was indeed a topic at the Summit and that’s something that you can follow up.  I can’t remember what your third question was, but I certainly will look into whether the issue of the Dutch film did come up.  I’m just trying to see if I have anything on that, but I don’t.  So, I will look into that for you.

Question:  On Tibet, you said that you’re following the situation so my question to you is, does the Secretary-General try to make contact with Chinese officials or some [inaudible] officials on this matter?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Right now this is the first reaction that I have for you.  As you know, the Secretary-General literally got off of the plane just a few hours ago and is heading to UN Headquarters.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later highlighted the following statement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, which was issued shortly after the noon briefing:

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, today expressed concern about escalating tensions between protestors and security forces in the Tibet Autonomous Region and surrounding areas in China.  It is reported that some 60 monks were arrested on Monday 10 March in Lhasa when they gathered for a peaceful demonstration.  On Tuesday 11 March, Chinese police fired tear gas at approximately 600 monks who protested in front of police headquarters in Lhasa to demand the release of the monks arrested on Monday.  Today, there have been further reports of violence, including deaths and destruction of property.  The High Commissioner urges the Government of China to allow demonstrators to exercise their right to freedom of expression and assembly, to refrain from any excessive use of force while maintaining order, and to ensure those arrested are not ill-treated and are accorded due process in line with international standards.]

Question:  On these two Australian nationals that are held be the group that claim that they are members of Al-Qaida in the North African region.  Has Mr. Ban Ki-moon been asked by Australia or anybody to ask for the release of those nationals?

Deputy Spokesperson: Not that I know of.  On this note, Janos?  Have a good weekend.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon, good to see you again.  I have a couple of things.  And if you have questions, of course, then we can go into that as well.  Let me start with the General Assembly.

**General Assembly Plenary

The General Assembly met in a plenary session this morning to discuss a draft resolution submitted by Azerbaijan.  Its number is A/62/L.42 and this was under agenda item 20, which is entitled “The situation in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan”.  The title of the draft resolution was the same.  The General Assembly, in a recorded vote, decided to adopt the resolution with 39 votes in favour, 7 against and 100 abstentions.

Before I go into detail about exactly what the resolution calls for, let me just give you a little bit of a background as regards this item.  It was in the fifty-ninth session of the General Assembly that this item was first included among the items of the General Assembly, at the request of Azerbaijan and Turkey.  At that time, the Assembly decided to defer consideration of the item to the sixtieth session.  At the sixtieth session, this item was discussed and a resolution was adopted (A/RES/60/285), but that focused more on environmental aspects in the context of “fires in the affected territories”.  The sixty-first session was to again discuss this item, but it deferred consideration to the sixty-second session.  So that’s how we got to today. 

As regards the resolution, among others, it reaffirms continued respect and support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Azerbaijan within its internationally recognized borders.  It demands the immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of all Armenian forces from all the occupied territories of the Republic of Azerbaijan.  It reaffirms the inalienable right of the population expelled from the occupied territories of the Republic of Azerbaijan to return to their homes, and stresses the necessity of creating appropriate conditions for this return, including the comprehensive rehabilitation of the conflict-affected territories.  It recognizes the necessity of providing normal, secure and equal conditions of life for Armenian and Azerbaijani communities in the Nagorno-Karabakh region of the Republic of Azerbaijan, which will allow an effective democratic system of self-governance to be built up in this region within the Republic of Azerbaijan.

Among others, the resolution calls upon the Member States and international and regional organizations and arrangements to effectively contribute, within their competence, to the process of settlement of the conflict.  It requests the Secretary-General to submit to the General Assembly, at its sixty-third session, a comprehensive report on the implementation of the present resolution, and it decides to include in the provisional agenda of its sixty-third session the item entitled “The situation in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan”.

So that was on the plenary session of the Assembly.  And for those of you who are wondering what number, this was the eighty-sixth plenary session of the Assembly.

**General Assembly President

General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim will be in Tarrytown this evening and tomorrow attending a conference organized by the Stanley Foundation on system-wide coherence.  The conference, entitled “One UN Pilots:  Aligning UN Capabilities in Support of National Development”, will bring together representatives from Member States, practitioners from the UN, from pilot countries and from various UN agencies.

The meeting is seen as a good opportunity to discuss in an informal setting the experiences of the eight pilot countries and to search for common ground on how to deal with the issue of system-wide coherence.

Please note that currently there is a consultation process going on concerning this issue which is co-chaired by the Permanent Representatives of Tanzania and Ireland.  They are expected to report to the General Assembly President on their efforts in early June.  For those of you who are wondering about the eight pilot countries, they are:  Albania, Cape Verde, Mozambique, Pakistan, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uruguay and Viet Nam.

The President will stress and reiterate at Tarrytown his views on the need for better coherence across the UN system to enhance aid effectiveness which is a key to achieving the Millennium Development Goals.  He will also draw attention to the fact that the United Nations is working in a competitive environment and it would only continue to attract resources if it could demonstrate its effectiveness and delivered results.

**Financing for Development

The facilitators of the Financing For Development preparatory process that leads up to the Doha Review Conference in November and December of this year, the Permanent Representatives of Egypt and Norway, chaired the third and fourth of the so-called six review sessions, which are on each chapter of the Monterey Consensus.  This was on 10 to 12 March.  These were, respectively, on external debt issues and on systemic issues (enhancing the coherence and consistency of the international monetary, financial and trading systems in support of development).

The review sessions are an integral component of the preparatory process on the road to Doha.  The summaries of the review sessions will form the basis of the draft outcome document that General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim will issue at the end of July.  Chapters one and two were discussed on 15 and 16 February, and the remaining chapters will be discussed in mid-April and mid-May.

If you’re wondering how those discussions go, then the summaries of the first discussions, the ones on 15 and 16 February, have been uploaded recently on the President’s website (www.un.org/ga/president/62). 

**Mandate Review

Let me flag for you something for next week.  On mandate review, I think it was a week ago that I mentioned that the next informal meeting for mandate review was scheduled for 13 March.  That was postponed.  It will be actually on 17 March that the next informal meeting on mandate review will be held.  For those of you who are following this process, this is a process that has also two facilitators:  the Permanent Representatives of Namibia and New Zealand.  They had their first meeting with the membership on 27 February.  They’re looking at what is called the humanitarian assistance cluster.  That’s about 279 mandates.  If you want more details on that, a lot of details are actually available on the mandate review on the President’s website. 

**Fifth Committee

And finally, again, next week, this week, the past week, the Fifth Committee -- I know that most of you are following this to some extent -– is in session.  The first part of the resumed session of the Fifth Committee is still ongoing.  It goes on until 28 March.  Again, let me remind you:  most of the information on this, including the tentative programme, also the documentation -- what is available, what is going to be discussed -- is available on the Fifth Committee website (www.un.org/ga/fifth/index.shtml). 

But let me flag one thing for you because I know you have been following this, and that is the strengthening of the Department of Political Affairs.  This is slated to be taken up by the Committee in a formal, open meeting Monday morning.

That’s all I have for you.  Any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  On the Security Council reform, can you tell us, is there something new going on because there is a report that suggests that there is a new dimension to the negotiations that have been conducted on Security Council reform, and that the German Ambassador has stated that there’s some sort of a consensus that’s developing on that.  Is that right?  Where does it stand?

Spokesperson:  As regards whether there’s a consensus developing or not, that is something for you to pursue with the Member States because, at the moment, it’s the Member States who are in the stage of intense informal consultations.  And let’s see in what form they conclude their consultations and with what outcome they will approach the President and the other members of the so-called Task Force that was set up by the President when this issue was discussed.  If you remember, first it was discussed on 14 November in the format of the General Assembly as a plenary session and then once again, on 14 December, a month later, at the first meeting of the Open-Ended Working Group.  It was there that the President informed the membership that he was setting up a Task Force with the Permanent Representatives of Bangladesh, Chile and Portugal, and himself.  So let’s see what Member States come up with, what will be the outcome of their consultations and with what they approach the President and the Task Force.  Then it will be taken from there.

Question:  So the President has no report of any…?

Spokesperson:  The President is, of course, following the process, but he has not been approached with any outcome.  And while these intense negotiations are going on, of course the President has refrained from any comment as regards this issue.  If you read his statements and speeches on those two dates which I gave you, they pretty well clarify where he stands, what his views are, especially his so-called seven principles that he stated in those meetings, which have a wide acceptance among the membership as well.

Question:  So what is the Task Force doing now?

Spokesperson:  The Task Force is following the situation and the consultations and waiting for the outcome of the consultations as regards what Member States come up with.

Question:  So they’re just waiting for that?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  They’re not doing anything?

Spokesperson:  I wouldn’t say not doing anything.  I mean they’re following the process.  But they’re not injecting their views.  They’re not injecting their weight into this consultation process because at the moment -- and this is what was decided and discussed on 14 December -- this next stage is the stage of informal consultations amongst the Member States to come up with their unified, divergent, whatever views.  So that’s where we are.  We’re waiting for this consultation process to conclude.  

Question:  But, there’s no time deadline?  This could just go on for the next six months?

Spokesperson:  Obviously not.  It is expected that this consultation process will soon come to some kind of conclusion.  I may even hesitate to characterize it as saying soon, but there is an end envisaged, yes, definitely.  It is not an indefinite process.

Question:  I had heard that there was a controversial draft resolution in the General Assembly involving Israel.  Do you have any information about that?

Spokesperson:  What is it on?

Question:  That’s all I heard.

Spokesperson:  If you’re able to provide me with more details, then I can certainly find out if there is such a draft resolution, or try to find out who the sponsors, the ones who have submitted it, if in fact it has been submitted, then we can take it from there.

Question:  Israel has taken a role in the Peacekeeping Committee recently.  And Israel is responsible for five peacekeeping missions in the Middle East at least.  Don’t you see some kind of conflict in that, in its role in the Committee and its role in making wars in the area?

Spokesperson:  Are you talking about the Special Committee on Peacekeeping, which is currently meeting?

Question:  Yes.

Spokesperson:  I have no comment on that for you.

Question:  Obviously, this is a country which really is belligerent and there should be some kind of safeguards to prevent them taking part in peacekeeping.

Spokesperson:  The Special Committee on Peacekeeping is currently holding its session.  It will end its meeting on 4 April.  It will adopt a report.  So let’s see what comes out of that report.  Let’s see what views are reflected there and you can also follow up with Member States who are involved on what their views are.  But let’s see what kind of a consensus report comes out.  And, of course, as you know, then that will be forwarded to the Fourth Committee and from there it will go to the General Assembly.  So let’s wait and see what the outcome of the deliberations and the work of the Special Committee on Peacekeeping are. 

Thank you very much.  Thank you for your attention.  Have a great weekend.

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