9 April 2008


9 April 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’m sorry I’m late.  I was waiting for two statements.  I got one.  Still waiting for the other.  The first one is on Nepal.

**Statement on Nepal

The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about the violence on the eve of the Constituent Assembly election, including the killing of seven Maoists and a Unified Marxist-Leninist candidate.  He urges all parties to exercise restraint and remain calm while cooperating to allow this election to take place in a peaceful atmosphere.  He expressed appreciation for the strong commitment to the democratic process shown by Nepalese leaders across the political spectrum.  The Nepalese have worked hard to reach this historic moment and deserve a credible ballot to cement democracy in Nepal.  And copies of that statement are available upstairs.

** Nepal

Meanwhile, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Nepal, Ian Martin, has also expressed deep shock over the deaths.  A team from the United Nations Mission in Nepal is already on location investigating those deaths.  And we have his statement upstairs on the eve of the elections, as well.

** Haiti Statement [Read at the end of the briefing.]

The Secretary-General expresses concern at the violence resulting from the recent demonstrations in Haiti and deeply regrets the consequent loss of life.  The Secretary-General strongly deplores the attacks against MINUSTAH personnel and facilities, as well as against the Government of Haiti and private property.  The Secretary-General appeals for calm and urges all demonstrators to refrain from any further acts of violence.  The Secretary-General expresses his sympathy for the suffering that the Haitian people are enduring as a result of rising food and fuel prices.  The Secretary-General emphasizes that MINUSTAH and the UN system in Haiti will continue to support the Haitian authorities to bring emergency relief assistance to the Haitian people and to maintain public order.  He encourages international donors to provide urgent assistance to Haiti and to address this situation.

** Haiti

Violent demonstrations against the rising cost of living are continuing in Port-au-Prince this morning as the nation awaits an address by the President of the Republic.  The UN Mission in Haiti has taken all necessary measures to assist the Haitian authorities in protecting key installations and institutions.  Private property has been attacked and looted by demonstrators, who have set up barricades in various parts of the city. 

**Food Prices

Meanwhile, a top World Food Programme (WFP) official warned about the rise of a “new face of hunger” that will require the combined efforts of Governments, the private sector and humanitarian organizations to overcome.  Speaking at a humanitarian aid conference in Dubai, WFP Deputy Executive Director John Powell said that food prices are rising at rates that few people have seen in their lifetimes.  He expressed particular concern about the fact that markets are full of food but large numbers of people simply cannot afford to buy any.  Yesterday, at the same conference, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes warned that rising food prices could spark worldwide unrest and threaten political stability. 

Meanwhile, the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization is calling for urgent measures to reduce the impact of high food prices on the poor.  Jacques Diouf made that appeal at the first-ever Global Agro-Industries Forum in New Delhi, India.  That conference has been sponsored by UN agencies to focus on how such industries can contribute to poverty reduction.  And there’s more information on this.

**Secretary-General in Russia

The Secretary-General is in Moscow today, and he met with Russian President-elect Dmitry Medvedev and later with President Vladimir Putin.  Each meeting lasted more than an hour and a half.  The talks were cordial and covered a wide range of issues with a particular focus on UN-Russian relations, climate change, and a review of international hot spots, including Kosovo, the Middle East, Afghanistan and Georgia, among other issues.  On climate change, the Secretary-General welcomed Russia's contribution to the UN effort and there was a renewed commitment to the Bali road map.  On Kosovo, the Secretary-General stressed the need for a pragmatic approach by all major stakeholders.  He reaffirmed the UN’s position of being status-neutral in Kosovo and operating in accordance with Security Council resolution 1244.  The Secretary-General expressed appreciation for Russia's growing contribution to international humanitarian efforts, and hoped that there would be a continued increase in Russia's commitment in this area.

**Security Council

And here in New York, the Security Council today heard about the UN Mission in Chad and the Central African Republic (MINURCAT) in its closed consultations.  Council members received a briefing on the Mission from Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Edmond Mulet.  The Council President, Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo of South Africa, then read out a statement following those consultations, saying that Council members reiterated their concern at the situation in eastern Chad and north-eastern Central African Republic, in particular on the humanitarian level.  They welcomed the progress in the deployment of MINURCAT and the European Force.

Yesterday afternoon, following a briefing on Haiti, the Security Council President said in a press statement that the members of the Security Council welcomed progress in stabilizing Haiti.  He said that Council members strongly deplored the violence that took place last week and expressed their deep regret about the loss of life.  They condemned the attack against MINUSTAH facilities in Les Cayes and stressed the importance of ensuring the security of UN personnel.

Later in the afternoon, the head of the International Independent Investigation Commission dealing with Lebanon, Daniel Bellemare, briefed the Council on his investigators’ work.  He said that, while the preparatory steps for the establishment of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon are continuing, the Council should consider extending the mandate of the Commission beyond the date of 15 June 2008.  This would give the Commission the needed time to continue its investigation.  And many of you were here for his press conference yesterday afternoon.

** Darfur

Turning to Darfur, the United Nations and African Union Special Envoys, Jan Eliasson and Salim Ahmed Salim, continued their visit to Sudan with a trip to Juba in southern Sudan where they met with the First Vice President, Salva Kiir, and members of the SPLM Task Force on Darfur.  They also met with the newly formed United Resistance Movement (URF) alliance that brings together five Movements.  They briefed their audience about last month’s meeting in Geneva with the regional partners and the international community and discussed the way forward for the political process.  They will be back in Sudan’s Darfur region on 16 April, during which they are expected to meet with Darfur's Movements and Civil Society.

Also on Darfur, there is an update that came in late yesterday from the UN-AU Mission in Darfur (UNAMID).  In it, it says that Joint AU-UN Special Representative Rodolphe Adada and Sudanese Foreign Minister Deng Alor discussed issues related to normalization between Chad and Sudan within the context of the Dakar Agreement.  A meeting to follow up on the implementation of that Agreement is due to take place in Libreville, Gabon, tomorrow, and Adada will attend as an observer.  UNAMID also said that Adada is expected, on 22 April, to deliver to the Security Council the latest UNAMID report by the Secretary-General.  And he will also participate in a joint meeting between the UN Security Council and the African Union Peace and Security Council scheduled on 17 April here, which is expected to discuss a number of African issues, including Darfur.  And you can read all about that in this press release.

** Afghanistan

On Afghanistan, Kai Eide, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, gave his first press conference in Kabul today, underscoring that all his efforts will be based on Afghan leadership and that he will listen closely to the concerns and priorities of the Afghan Government.  Eide said that the summit that took place in Bucharest, Romania, last week was very encouraging for the UN Mission in Afghanistan, since it reaffirmed that the international community wants a stronger UN role in the country.  He added that the conference displayed a strong international commitment to help Afghanistan, not just by increasing troop levels but also by strengthening efforts in reconstruction and development and in governance.  And there’s a full transcript of his briefing upstairs. 

**Women’s Health

The UN Population Fund, UNFPA, says that it has helped 29 Bangladeshi women suffering from obstetric fistula successfully to undergo repair surgery.  The operations were conducted last week in a Bangladeshi town during a three-day training session for medical staff from four Asian countries.  UNFPA says that the seminar was part of a national effort to increase the number of doctors and nurses with skills to treat fistulae, internal wounds in a woman’s reproductive organ that cause incontinence.  Some 1,200 Bangladeshis have undergone fistula surgery since 2003, when the UNFPA-led Global Campaign to End Fistula began providing medical equipment and financial support for training efforts and patient rehabilitation.

**UNESCO Press Freedom Award

UNESCO today announced this year’s winner of the Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize.  The award goes to Lydia Cacho Ribeiro, a freelance reporter based in Cancun, Mexico, who contributed to the daily newspaper La Voz del Caribe.  The Prize jury cited her courage in exposing political corruption, organized crime and domestic violence in the face of death threats, an attempt on her life, and police harassment.  Her investigations have uncovered the involvement of businessmen, politicians and drug traffickers in prostitution and child pornography.  She has also reported on the violent deaths of hundreds of young women in the northern city of Ciudad Juarez.  Ms. Cacho will receive the prize in a ceremony on 3 May, which is World Press Freedom Day.

**Briefing on Papal Visit

And just to flag for you, two briefings.  Tomorrow, the DPI/NGO Section is holding a briefing on the Pope’s visit to the United Nations.  This briefing, to which you, the press, are invited, will take place at 10:30 a.m. to noon tomorrow at the Dag Hammarskjöld Library Auditorium.  And the speakers include representatives of the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, the International Catholic Organizations/Information Center at the UN, and the Fordham University Center on Religion and Culture.  So that’s at 10:30 tomorrow and we have mentioned that we will be having a technical briefing for you on the technical aspects of the Pope’s visit, and that will take place  immediately after the noon briefing on Friday.  It’s an off-the-record technical briefing for you here.

**Noon Guest Tomorrow

And one last announcement, our guest at the noon briefing tomorrow will be Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, who will discuss the outcome of the first round of negotiations on a new global climate change agreement in the recent Bangkok Climate Change Talks.

And that’s what I have for you today.  Anything for me?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  You had said that Jan Eliasson met Salim Ahmed Salim in Khartoum and that they had discussed the way forward.  Do you have any more details aside from that?

Spokesperson:  No, their visit just started, I believe, yesterday, and today may be the first day of their actual meetings, so we’ll get more as their efforts continue.  They’re obviously there to try to push forward the political process for Darfur, which is greatly needed.

Question:  Also, Marie, it was recently reported in the Sudan Tribune that the Sudanese Ambassador to the UN called the International Criminal Court Chief “politically bankrupt” and that he’s jeopardizing the political settlement in Darfur and said that he should be tried in court.  Are you aware of this report?

Spokesperson:  No, I’m not.

Question:  On Afghanistan, the Secretary-General went to Russia.  What specific issues were discussed when he met the President and the President-elect?

Spokesperson:  I just mentioned them so I can give it to you afterwards.

Question:  Marie, Israel has said that it will not allow the UN official who is appointed to investigate Israeli human rights abuses in the Occupied Territory, to enter Israel.  What’s your position on that?  Richard Falk is the guy they say they will not allow to enter.

Spokesperson:  We’ll check with the Office of Human Rights in Geneva and get back to you on that.

[The correspondent was later informed that Richard Falk is an independent Special Rapporteur appointed by the Human Rights Council.  Falk’s mandate has not begun yet, but in general, Special Rapporteurs must be invited into countries in order to travel there.]

Question:  There’s a report that UNMIK in Kosovo has said that, in the 11 May elections in Serbia, that Serbs that live in Kosovo won’t be allowed to vote in that election.  Is that a misreport and, if so, what’s the UN’s role in telling a country how it can conduct its elections if it’s overseeing it?

Spokesperson:  I have nothing beyond the press transcript from Kosovo today, if you’ve read that. 

Question:  Also, there’s a quote from a Belgian member of the European Parliament, calling the MONUC forces in the Congo inadequate and calling for European or other force, some force beyond MONUC, to go in.  What’s the UN’s response to this statement that their force in the Congo is inadequate?  And does it think it is inadequate?

Spokesperson:  We just flagged for you yesterday the Secretary-General’s report on the UN Mission in the Congo.  I think it outlined the progress made but the various challenges still faced, very comprehensively, but as for whether or not it is inadequate or not, that’s up to the Security Council to decide.  The Security Council has given a mandate to MONUC and MONUC is executing it the best way it can.

Question:  Is MONUC disarming FDLR?

Spokesperson:  I have nothing further than what we had yesterday in the report, but if there’s more I’ll certainly pass it on.

Question:  And has the Secretary-General been invited to attend the Beijing Olympics and, if so, what’s his response?

Spokesperson:  Yes, he has been invited, but I have nothing to announce today on his travel plans. 

Question:  Marie, there are rumours that the U.S. Ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, will resign and run for president in Afghanistan, very soon, in a few months, at least.  How is this going to affect the UN’s work in Afghanistan and what do you have to say on that?

Spokesperson:  You’d have to ask him.  I’ve seen press reports like you have, but I think you first need to ask him what his plans are.

That’s all.  Have a good afternoon. 

* *** *

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