9 May 2008


9 May 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 General Assembly President.

Briefing by the Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon.

**Press Conference Today

With me is Bettina Luescher, the World Food Programme’s (WFP) Spokesperson in New York.  Following my briefing and prior to the General Assembly Spokesperson’s briefing, she will give you an update on the situation in Myanmar from the WFP aid perspective.

At 1:30 pm, Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes will launch a flash appeal in the Trusteeship Council Chamber.  He will then brief reporters in this Room at approximately 2:30 p.m., but the end time of that session will depend on how many speakers there are.  So we will keep you updated.  But he will brief you here in 226 following the launch of the Emergency Appeal.  And for those of you who are asking about the document itself -– the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) informs us that it should be available within half an hour, and they said that they would post it on an embargoed basis on ReliefWeb which is their website.

** Myanmar

In the meantime, we can tell you that OCHA is calling the situation on the ground in Myanmar “very serious”.  At least 1.5 million people have been seriously affected by the cyclone, and aid workers have still not reached some areas.  The UN is continuing its efforts to dispatch assistance and teams to Myanmar.  Two members of a disaster assessment and coordination team arrived yesterday, and it is hoped that others will be able to join them.  The UN has personnel on the ground, but their capacity is “stretched to the limit”.  OCHA plans to send a chartered plane to Yangon, from Brindisi, Italy, with rolls of plastic sheeting, mosquito nets and tents and, hopefully, a team of experts. 

WFP, meanwhile, is sending in two relief flights as planned tomorrow, while discussions continue with the Government on the distribution of high-energy biscuits for 95,000 people.  I’ll let Bettina tell you more about WFP efforts on the ground.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), meanwhile, has brought in three million water purification tablets, enough to provide 200,000 people with clean water for a week.  Fifteen thousand hygiene kits have been distributed, with another 20,000 on the way.  UNICEF is also building 70 portable toilets in 30 camps.

The UN refugee agency hopes to start airlifting 57 tons of emergency shelter materials from its major stockpiles in Dubai over the weekend.  UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] is also emptying its stockpiles in north-western Thailand, to deliver some 5,000 plastic sheets and 200 tents by road.

**Secretary-General in Atlanta, Georgia

The Secretary-General is wrapping up his visit to Atlanta today.  He is giving a press conference there as we speak.

He has expressed concern about Myanmar, calling on the authorities to allow aid and humanitarian workers into the country without any hindrance.  “I appeal to them strongly to do all they can to facilitate this aid,” he said.  The Secretary-General warned that inaction could be deadly.  “If early action is not taken and relief measures put in place, the medium-term effect of this tragedy could be truly catastrophic,” he said, calling for an end to political differences to address the tremendous challenges ahead.  “The sheer survival of the affected people is at stake.”

We will have the full transcript of that, obviously, when the press conference is over and we transcribe it.

Yesterday, following the noon briefing, he spoke to the press in Atlanta, after meeting with the Governor, and said about Myanmar that he had been urging the authorities there to be flexible in providing access so that all aid workers can enter into Myanmar.

Today, the Secretary-General is convening a major meeting on global health at the Carter Center.  In the press conference opening remarks, the Secretary-General said that we stand at the halfway point on the path towards the Millennium Development Goals.  But we are far behind on the critical health Goals.  He said we must join forces and work together to ensure that resources are translated into lives saved –- the ultimate measurement of the effectiveness of health systems and health delivery.

Later this afternoon, the Secretary-General will attend a luncheon with the Atlanta business community before returning to New York.

**Security Council

The Security Council has no meetings or consultations planned today.  But the Security Council did conclude its consultations on Lebanon yesterday afternoon with a press statement read by the Security Council President, Ambassador John Sawers of the United Kingdom.

He said that Council members are deeply concerned by the recent clashes in Lebanon and stressed the need to uphold the stability and sovereignty of Lebanon.  They urged all sides to exercise calm and restraint and urged the immediate re-opening of all roads.

Council members also stressed the vital importance that all sides work to resolve Lebanon’s problems through peaceful dialogue.  They urged all parties to work together to elect a new President in accordance with the Arab League plan.

** Darfur

The African Union and the United Nations Special Envoys, Salim Ahmed Salim and Jan Eliasson, say they are alarmed and deeply troubled by the recent military escalation between Sudanese Government forces and the Justice and Equality Movement.

All parties to the conflict have agreed that there is no military solution and they must act accordingly, they say.  This escalation can only cause more suffering for the people and more damage and destruction for Darfur.  It is necessary for the parties to exercise maximum restraint and to abstain from further military action.

The parties have a serious responsibility to ensure the protection of innocent civilians who have suffered far too long.  The deteriorating situation in Darfur and the region bring further urgency for the need to engage in dialogue on security issues, to lay the basis for a serious peace process for Darfur.

That statement is available upstairs.

** Kenya

The World Food Programme has a press release out about the shooting death of its representative in the north-western Kenyan town of Lokichoggio, a major hub for the agency’s work in southern Sudan.  A Zimbabwean national, who was coordinator of WFP’s logistics operations in the region, was shot dead on Wednesday evening by gunmen who ambushed him near the local UN camp.  The gunmen escaped unidentified and the reasons behind the attack remain unclear.

** Somalia

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, will be attending this weekend’s inter-Somali consultations in Djibouti.

He expressed optimism that the meeting between the Transitional Federal Government and the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia would lend new dynamism to the reconciliation process in the war-torn country.  “This is a clear indication that Somalis are willing to respect their commitments.”

Also in Djibouti, the UN Population Fund and UNICEF yesterday launched a joint programme and trust fund to help end the practice of female genital mutilation.  The agencies say that 9 out of 10 Djibouti women have undergone the controversial and life-threatening procedure.

And there is more in their press release upstairs on this subject.

** Iraq

The UN refugee agency warned today that it could soon be forced to reduce and in some cases halt a number of assistance programmes for hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees unless donor Governments provide additional support.

Agency officials told a donor meeting in Geneva that they lack $127 million required for assistance programmes for uprooted people in and around Iraq through the end of the year.

** Israel

And just a couple of things that we marked for the week ahead:

As you know, Israel is marking its sixtieth anniversary.  In a recent phone call, the Secretary-General spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and congratulated him on the country's sixtieth anniversary.

During that call, the Secretary-General informed the Prime Minister that the President of the General Assembly, Srgjan Kerim, and the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, would represent the United Nations at the commemorative events in Israel.

And I am sure Janos will have more on that for you.

**Food Task Force

On Monday, the Secretary-General is chairing the first meeting of the UN Task Force on the Global Food Crisis.  As he has mentioned to you, it will bring together representatives from across the UN system to discuss a global response to rising food prices.

That meeting is taking place from 10 to 11 a.m. in the Secretary-General’s conference room.  It will not be open to the media, but we expect to be able to provide you with an update after it happens.

In the meantime, the Secretary-General has sent out urgent letters of invitation to all Heads of State of UN Member States to join him in next month’s meeting organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome to discuss short-term and long-term strategies to address the global food crisis.

**Non-Proliferation Treaty

The Preparatory Committee for the 2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) today successfully concluded its second session in Geneva with the adoption of a report.

The Committee held constructive discussions on substantive issues including nuclear non-proliferation; disarmament and international security; nuclear-weapon-free zones and safeguards; and the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

And that is all I have for you.  I am going to turn over immediately to Bettina, so she can give you her update, and then I will take questions before we turn over to Janos.

**World Food Programme on Myanmar

Thank you very much for this introduction, thank you very much for having me here.

As you know, these are very important days for the UN and very difficult days for the people in Myanmar, whom we are desperately trying to help.  You’ve all seen the pictures:  the people need help; they need food; they need water; they need sanitation; they need shelter; and the World Food Programme (WFP) is, of course, as the largest aid organization in the world, trying everything to help the people on the ground.

We have decided to send in two relief flights tomorrow, on Saturday, as planned, and we continue our discussions with the Government of Myanmar about the distribution of the food that has been flown in today, on Friday, and that has not been released to the World Food Programme.  Two WFP flights arrived today, on Friday, sufficient to feed 95,000 hungry people in Myanmar.  They brought in high-energy biscuits.  We want to make sure that we help the people, so our discussions with the Government of Myanmar continue.  We are there to help.  The people are in need, and we know how to help, so we hope that we can bring in more people and more aid.

I brought with me here these high-energy biscuits.  These are the things we are flying in those emergency situations, when people cannot cook, when people have lost their homes, and these little biscuits here have all the vitamins and nutrients a person needs to survive.  So, this is what we hand out in absolute emergency situations and, of course, we want to do more of this.  We already brought in seven tons of this, and this is enough to feed some 21,000 people, and most of that has already been delivered over the last 24 hours to the hardest-hit areas.

The two planes that we are getting ready to send in are a Thai commercial airliner with high-energy biscuits that has left Dakar and is going to Bangkok and, from there, it will go on to Rangoon, and we don’t have the time yet for when this will arrive.  And there is an Antonov-12 that is to depart from Phnom Penh with non-food items, because, as you know, the World Food Programme not only does food aid, but we also bring in supplies for other agencies, and this operation requires that we bring in all kinds of equipment, generators and everything.  But, the important thing is the food, because, I think, what you are seeing is that people need food, and that, of course, is our main mission.  So we are trying everything to resolve the situation at the airport, but we are very encouraged that we were able to distribute food.

As you know, WFP has been working in Myanmar since 1994.  We have staff there on the ground.  Some of our best people are fortunately working in the region, on the ground in Myanmar and also in Bangkok, where a lot of the aid operation is being coordinated from.  So that is some of the things…  Let me give you a little bit more about some others.  We have two temporary warehouses, and 20 tons of rice have arrived in Laputa –- that is deep in the Delta.  And those temporary warehouses are always very important, because we have to make sure that we can store our food items and other supplies and protect them from the rain.

We have already distributed the high-energy biscuits, the seven tons that I mentioned earlier.  There are five staff on the way, also on the site already, and we are setting up a field office in Laputa.  Then, of course, over the last few days, fortunately, we have been on the ground, so over the last few days, we have dispatched some 156 tons of rice that was in the warehouses that we had in Yangon, that we didn’t have to bring in.  So we were already starting on last Tuesday, we were able to bring rice to the people, that was enough to feed some 20,000 people for two weeks.  We have assessment teams going out that are in various areas of the country, and the area currently covered by flood water in the delta is said to be home to at least 680,000 people -– that’s what our people are telling us.  And of course, as you have heard yesterday from Sir John Holmes, some 1.5 million people are believed to be affected by this cyclone.

On the visa question, we have 16 visas that we are applying for, for international staff.  Only one has been granted, so far.  Our international logistics officer was able to get into Myanmar on a visa granted before the cyclone hit.  And, as you know, today was a holiday and, therefore, the Embassy in Bangkok is closed until Monday morning.

As you know, when we are operating in the field, we have our own people on the ground who are distributing the food, but we are also always relying in all parts of the world on our NGO [non-governmental organization] partners, who always do an amazing job.  We couldn’t do it without them.  So it’s AMI, MSF Switzerland, AZG -– that’s MSF Holland, Action against Hunger, the Myanmar Red Cross and World Vision.  We are working closely with them on the ground and trying to do as much as possible.

Before the cyclone hit, most of our work was concentrated in the centre and the north of the country.  Now, as you know, the most affected areas are deep in the south.  So I think our main task is that we try to help, we want to help as much as possible.  We are in close contact, of course, with the Government, and our main mission is to help hungry people.  And they are in dire need, it’s a huge crisis that is going on there now, and we hope that we can gear up much more aid.  And, therefore,that’s why we have decided that it’s very important that we send those two planes tomorrow, also.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  It would be helpful if you could give us some details about exactly what happened in the situation at the airport, about the decision to suspend the aid and then resume it, what kinds of negotiations and what the Government’s demands have been and what your reaction has been…

WFP Spokesperson:  The situation is very fluid.  Two planes that arrived, and they were unloaded, but we don’t have access to the food.  And usually, when we do our aid operations, we are the ones who deliver and distribute the food with our NGO partners.  And, of course, that is what we would like to do now.  So discussions are ongoing with the Government of Myanmar.  And our main job is to help people, and that is what we want to do.  So, we are hoping to resolve the situation.

Question:  The two planes that have landed, the food has not been released -– have they been seized by the authorities?

WFP Spokesperson:  I don’t think that the planes have been seized.  The food shipments have not been released to us.  They have arrived, but they have not been released to us.

Question:  And also, the US is considering air dropping food shipments, if Myanmar authorities continue to hamper humanitarian access.  Is that something that WFP would consider?

WFP Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything on that.  I think you should contact the US spokespeople about that, about what their plans are.

Question:  Why did WFP say it was suspending further flights and then reversed that decision so quickly?  And secondly, I wondered:  if in the end the Burmese authorities won’t allow you to distribute the food and insist that they do it -– will you allow them to do that?

WFP Spokesperson:  Our number one mission is to help people.  That’s what we do.  We have been doing it for over 40 years; we do it in some 80 countries; we take care of some 80 million people around the world.  The World Food Programme has 10,000 people, working every single day, every single night on trying to get food to people.  And you know what a dangerous job this is, just from the killing of one of my colleagues in Kenya a couple of days ago.  So, our mission is to feed people, and that’s what we are doing.  We had discussions about this today, but we decided that we want to do everything to get aid to the people in Myanmar who need it.  And so we decided that we would send those two planes in, which are supposed to land tomorrow.

Question:  There was a second question, which is:  in the end, if it comes to it, will you allow the Burmese military to distribute the food if that’s the only way?

WFP Spokesperson:  We’ll just keep talking to the Myanmar Government and resolve the issue.  Our people are in Bangkok and Myanmar, in constant contact and trying to resolve the situation.

Question:  But you are distributing food, aren’t you?  It’s just the shipments on these planes that are the issue?

WFP Spokesperson:  Yes, the shipments that arrived yesterday, and the rice that we have on the ground and that we have been distributing for the last several days have not been affected by this.

Question:  Basically, considering the Burmese authorities are not giving any visas to NGOs… I mean, if the only alternative is to distribute that food, with coordination with the Government, would you consider doing that?

WFP Spokesperson:  We’ll just take it one step at a time.  Again, our main mission is to help people.  Our…

Question:  Do you have enough staff on the ground?  When you say you usually do this with NGOs -– do you already have those NGOs?

WFP Spokesperson:  There are NGOs on the ground that we are always working with, but of course, for a huge aid operation like this, you need more people.  You know, 1.5 million people possibly in need -– you need people; you need staff; you need boats; you need helicopters; you need trucks.  And that’s why we are in close contact with the Government and we want to work with the Government to make sure that the people of Myanmar get the food and the help and all the other things they need.

Question:  Could you please describe a little more specifically how events on the ground unfolded?  Did the military come and physically, aggressively seize the plane, seize the food?

WFP Spokesperson:  No, the plane was not seized.  It’s literally…  It landed.  The information I have is the planes have landed.  We haven’t had access to the food.  That’s all the information I have.  And we are in contact with the Government and we’ll try to resolve the situation.

Question:  Yesterday, the Chinese Ambassador said that China has delivered a planeload of supplies -– can you say what it was?  And also, there are reports of India delivering two ships.  Does WFP have any sense of other aid that may or may not be getting into Myanmar?  And then, WFP’s Tony Banbury has been quoted that there were flash appeals for $115 million, $65 million of which was for WFP.  Can you confirm that?

WFP Spokesperson:  On the first question, I think you have to contact the other missions here to see what the exact status of that is.  I don’t have that information, about the other flights going in.  I only have the information about the ongoing flights.  And I will leave some of the information about the flash appeals to the next briefing, so that you have some news.

Question:  Can you confirm the number?

WFP Spokesperson:  I’ll have to revert back to you on that.

SG Deputy Spokesperson:  The flash appeal document should be coming out.  By now, it is probably posted on the relief web or is about to.  So this is an embargoed text until the launch, so I recommend that all of you just keep an eye on that.  And then starting at one o’clock –- while I have the floor here –- there will be a stakeout microphone at the stakeout outside the Trusteeship Council, so you can talk to whoever is coming out of that meeting, even before John Holmes briefs you here at 2:30 p.m.

Question:  [inaudible]… is always distributed with NGOs or the military Government.

WFP Spokesperson:  No, the UN… we, the World Food Programme, in connection with NGOs, let me give you specifically which ones they were… It was MSF Switzerland in Yangon, the others were brought to Laputa, and I will have to get back to you on who exactly distributed that one.  But it’s not the military.  It’s our people or NGOs.

Question:  I am sorry, I just need to go over some old territory -- the 21,000 people who are getting biscuits, was that the plane from Brindisi that touched down on Thursday?

WFP Spokesperson:  No, that was the other plane that touched down yesterday, the second plane was a Thai commercial airliner, on which we had brought in 7 tons of high-energy biscuits.

Question:  Thank you.  And the two planes for which you haven’t got access to the food -– they landed today?

WFP Spokesperson:  They landed today.

Question:  Where did they come from, do you know?

WFP Spokesperson:  They came from… Dubai and carried high-energy biscuits from our humanitarian depot there, then the other flight came in from Dakar.  Basically, we have warehouses and humanitarian depots in several countries around the world, so that we are always close to crisis areas and can then very quickly, on short distances, bring food and other aid items to the people in need.  Brindisi is the largest depot that we have near our headquarters that we manage on behalf of the whole UN.

Question:  And a Thai airplane and an Antonov-12 landing on Saturday…

WFP Spokesperson:  Yes, they are scheduled to land on Saturday.  Yes, it’s a Thai commercial airliner and an Antonov-12.

Question:  And they are coming back Dakar, Bangladesh and an Antonov-12 from Pnompen.

WFP Spokesperson:  Yes, exactly.  It’s non-food aid material.

Question:  Can you just tell us how many WFP staff you have on the ground?

WFP Spokesperson:  Yes, we have 12 international staff on the ground and 214 national staff.  And then, of course, there are others on standby, hoping to get in.

Question:  [inaudible]

WFP Spokesperson:  Except the one, of course, that was able to go in, who had applied for a visa before the cyclone.

Question:  Why did WFP decide to resume food shipments if it still does not have access to the two planes?  And what has the Government told WFP today?

WFP Spokesperson:  It’s because we really -– and I think you sense this from all of us here at the United Nations and at the aid organizations and NGOs that are active on the ground or want to get active on the ground –- we want to help people.  We want to get in; we want to help the people.

Question:  Was that based on some kind of assurance that you got from the Government?

WFP Spokesperson:  It’s just ongoing discussions with the Government.  But our number one goal is we want to help, and we want to help much, much more than we have been able to right now.  That is why the discussions are ongoing.

Question:  The question that was asked before, are there any kind of circumstances under which you would allow anyone else, outside of WFP, to distribute the aid?

WFP Spokesperson:  We will see whether that is an option.  We are discussing this with our various people, what our next steps are, how we can solve the situation.

Question:  People might not understand exactly how aid is delivered.  You say the plane has not been seized, but you don’t have access to the food.  There seems to be a bit of disconnect there:  if the plane has not been seized, who has the food?  Where is the food?

WFP Spokesperson:  It’s not totally clear.  We just don’t have access to the food.

Question:  [inaudible]

WFP Spokesperson:  Yes, it was mainly biscuits and then a couple of other things, like temporary warehouses, medical kits on one of the planes.  But our main concern as the World Food Programme is the high-energy biscuits that we are trying to get to people.

Question:  Could you explain the principles behind the way you distribute the aid?  The principles that you would like to stick to, and why you feel that these might be sacrificed if you allow the military to distribute the aid?

WFP Spokesperson:  We operate in so many countries and, of course, we sometimes work in areas where it is complicated.  We want to make sure that the food reaches the people that we want to help.  And we will discuss all these details.  Again, our number one goal is to help the people who are suffering hunger.  That’s what we are there for.  So we will keep talking to the Myanmar Government; we’ll try to get more access; we’ll try to get more people; and it’s just very important that food and other supplies reach the people of Myanmar.

Question:  I don’t think anyone questions the humanitarian impulses of the World Food Programme -– it’s just WFP has made a decision to withhold, to stop the distribution of food.  And this is part of WFP policy, of ensuring that they have some sense that the food they are delivering is used for the purposes that it is intended; that it isn’t diverted to the military; that it isn’t sold on the free market…  So what we are trying to find out is:  what happened that sort of convinced WFP that there was a reason to change its position?  We are all asking this question, because you guys took a position this morning to suspend.  So could you explain that?  And also, can you let us know whether this position was taken internally or whether you received pressure from outside Governments or people?

WFP Spokesperson:  We just decided that we should do anything to bring aid material in.  It was discussed within WFP.  There are, of course, always discussions within the UN about what we are doing.  That’s really the number one thing:  we decided we have to do more, so that’s why we are sending those planes in.

Question:  Who made the decision and who changed it?  I mean, you guys made a decision this morning and then changed it, and your explanations have been extremely fuzzy in terms of getting us a clear picture as to how this unfolded.  Was the decision made by the head of WFP and then she changed her mind?  Or…?

WFP Spokesperson:  It was made within WFP.

Question:  So no outside pressure?  And so…

WFP Spokesperson:  Well, we always discuss what we are doing, obviously, within the UN family, you know.  This is one of those aid operations where everyone is working together.

Question:  I mean, there was clearly a meeting to decide to suspend and there must have been another series of talks to change, so I am just trying to get some sense…

WFP Spokesperson:  Again, all I can say is that, you know, at our headquarters in Rome, we were meeting, there were discussions going on, and it was decided that we should send in those two planes in tomorrow.

Question:  Regarding these high-energy biscuits, do you have any estimates on how much total would be needed to feed the people that are affected?  And the second question is:  Mr. Holmes alluded to how difficult it is to get communications out -– in what form are you getting communications, phone calls, e-mails?

WFP Spokesperson:  I don’t have a…  We are working on all of this; we are doing all of these assessments; and of course, we are coming up with a plan and have a plan, and you will learn more about that later.  Communications -– we are in e-mail and cell-phone and phone contact with our people on the ground.  We are fortunate that those are still working, so we are in constant contact with our people on the ground.

Question:  You are already in discussions with the Burmese Government.  So how long are you going to wait for discussions to go on before you try to get the aid [inaudible]?

WFP Spokesperson:  We’ll just keep on talking.  We are very…

Question:  Who is talking and who are they talking to?  Is this only taking place in the country?  And your sense is -– is each UN agency doing its own talking to different people in the Government?  If you could just answer this:  where is Ms. Sheeran?  Is she the one making the calls?  Who is making the calls?

WFP Spokesperson:  It’s the highest levels of the World Food Programme.  We work always on the ground, in the regional areas, at our headquarters -– we are going through all levels.  We bring people together who are the decision makers, and it’s at all levels.  It’s people from the ground, from the region and always from headquarters.

Question:  And what level of people in Myanmar are you speaking to?

WFP Spokesperson:  I don’t have the exact contacts for that.

Question:  Do you think OCHA is making its own calls?  Within the UN system, is every agency making its own entreaties?

WFP Spokesperson:  No, we are all working together, closely coordinating, always.

Question:  Are they in contact with the Government themselves or this disaster management committee, which is part of the Government?

WFP Spokesperson:  Who is “they”?

Question:  WFP.

WFP Spokesperson:  There is ongoing discussion with -- we are closely coordinating on every level at the UN, in the field, here at Headquarters at the UN.

Question:  You said that you would like to send more people, but the Government has said in a statement today that they would not allow people in, but only humanitarian aid, which they would like to distribute.

WFP Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything more on that, really.  We are in constant contact and we are trying to resolve the situation.

Question:  Is Ms. Sheeran back or…?

WFP Spokesperson:  She is in contact all the time with our folks.

Question:  Right, but she is not operating out of headquarters right now?

WFP Spokesperson:  No, she is not, she is in the US.

Question:  Could you describe a little bit for us why WFP is so badly needed?  What kind of infrastructure, if anything, does the country itself have to distribute food on its own?

WFP Spokesperson:  If you have an emergency like this… I, for example, was in the Tsunami region after the Tsunami hit.  What you need to do is to gear up a massive logistical operation, because you need to reach people who have lost everything:  they have lost their homes; they don’t have clean water; they don’t have food; they don’t have anything.

Question:  Can you tell us what sort of resources Myanmar has on its own?

WFP Spokesperson:  I don’t have much information on exactly what sort of resources they have.  What I think is desperately needed is to bring in, for example, boats, helicopters and other things, because you need to reach areas that are so far away from land roads that they are only assessable by boats and helicopters.  Those kinds of things are needed.

Question:  What resources do you have that they don’t?

WFP Spokesperson:  We have the resources and can provide the resources.  We, of course, need to make an appeal to make the funding for this, but as the largest aid organization, logistics is one of our specialties to get in helicopters and other planes, boats, whatever it takes.

Question:  The Government seems to be suggesting that it can do a lot with this on its own, with the help of neighbours, that it is comfortable with dealing with…  That draws attention to China and India as the countries that have sufficient ability to provide some degree of support.  Are you saying –- is this what they are beginning to do?  To look to powerful friendly neighbours to help them and trying to cut out the international agencies?  If that’s the case, do you think that those countries have sufficient capacity to really make a dent in confronting this?

WFP Spokesperson:  I think they have said that they accept aid and they clearly see that there is an emergency.  I don’t have much, obviously, on all international aid, whether it’s from countries or the UN.  Obviously, it could be really useful for the situation on the ground.  I don’t have much more on the political aspects.  You know that WFP always stays away from politics.  We are there to feed people, so we never comment much about the political situation.

Question:  Hasn’t WFP sent a rather unfortunate mixed message to the regime, initially saying, look, we are going to suspend flights unless you cooperate and then reversing itself.  Doesn’t the regime see that all it has to do is keep refusing and the aid will turn up anyway?

WFP Spokesperson:  We’ll keep on talking and we’ll keep bringing aid.  And that’s the number one thing we have to do.  We are all here coordinating within the UN to help the country that has seen one of the worst natural disasters of the last few years, so we are trying to bring in aid and trying to help people who need it desperately.

Question:  Are we correct to conclude, based on everything you have said, that, after making a decision to suspend shipments, WFP reversed itself and decided to continue, without any kind of assurance whatsoever from Myanmar’s Government that it would have access to the shipments?

WFP Spokesperson:  I know, I keep repeating myself, but really, the situation is really fluid, there are ongoing talks in order to bring aid in.  So that’s basically all I can say.  We are going to get those two planes in; we are sending them out; so they are supposed to land tomorrow; and we’ll keep working closely with the Government.

Question:  Does that mean that somebody made a mistake in suspending aid that was quickly recognized as a mistake?

WFP Spokesperson:  I think this is really -– I mean, I know I sound like a broken record, but we are there to bring in food aid, and that’s what we want to do, and we decided to send those two planes in.

Question:  Just really quickly:  you mentioned you were in the Tsunami relief effort -– how does this compare to that?

WFP Spokesperson:  Obviously, the Tsunami –- we were already in the countries and could very quickly gear up the aid operations.  For example, in Sri Lanka, our people were right there, used the stocks that we could bring out in BandaAncha, where I went to, we very quickly mobilized -- the trucks to use and deliver those to the people.  So it’s -– the Tsunami situation was different, because it reached all the way to Africa.  It was a huge, vast geographical zone, and it was a difficult logistical operation.  Here, the human suffering is, of course, similar, the people are in dire need of food and other supplies, and they need it now.

Thank you very much.

SG Deputy Spokesperson:  We are still here, we are still here, and Janos is here to brief you.  But I just wanted to remind you that at the Trusteeship Council the launch will take place, starting at 1:30 p.m.

Question:  With regards to communications on the ground:  in an interview with CNN, the Secretary-General is saying that he is trying to reach members of the Government, trying to make phone calls, but that so far he has been unsuccessful.  Can you give us any update on that?  Has he managed to speak to anybody high up in the Government?  And if so, would you characterize that conversation?

Deputy Spokesperson:  You are right.  We did announce to you yesterday that he said he will try to speak to the Senior General himself, but he has been trying since yesterday, and so far he has been unable to get through.

Question:  Is that communication problems within the country, or…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  That is something that we don’t know.  We have been told that the phone lines are down.

Question:  Has he gotten any response to the letter he sent on Tuesday?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Not that I know of.

Question:  So, as of now, no communication with anyone in the Government?

Deputy Spokesperson:  He has written that letter -- the contents of which by now others have echoed -– he has issued a statement yesterday –- the contents of which have been reported around the world and probably in Myanmar as well -– he has done a number of press encounters, including just one a few minutes ago, appealing to them strongly, so I think his message is very loud and clear.

Question:  I actually wanted to ask about Lebanon and why the Secretary-General has so far not made any comments or even a statement on the situation there.  Did he make any contacts with the parties there?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General expresses his deep concern at the violence and continuing tensions in Lebanon and calls on all parties to exercise constraint.  He extends his condolences to the families of the victims of this violence and to the Government of Lebanon.  Everything should be done at this time to keep the situation from deteriorating.  The parties should address their political differences through peaceful means and dialogue.  He is aware of the continuing mediation role of the Secretary-General of the Arab League, Amre Moussa, and continues to offer his full support.  That is what I have for you. 

Question:  I mean, did he make any contacts himself or has he…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Contacts, I don’t know.  He did speak to -- in addition to trying to get through to Myanmar and trying to make contacts with others on that issue, I know he has also spoken to Condoleezza Rice.

Question:  Yesterday, at a meeting of the Peacebuilding Commission, a DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] official said that DPKO has reason to believe that FDLR [Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda] rebels are working with FNL [Forces nationales de liberation], which is the Government of Burundi.  If that is true, it is pretty explosive, but can we figure out what the basis of that UN feeling…?  And also, they are supposed to travel there, but it was still left up in the air whether the Peacebuilding Commission is going to travel to Burundi.

Deputy Spokesperson:  We will try to get somebody from the Peacebuilding Commission to speak to you.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later informed the correspondent that there have been rumours -- to date unconfirmed -- of collaboration between the FNL and FDLR.  The United Nations is taking these rumours seriously.  The United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) has proposed tasking the Joint Verification Teams of the Joint Monitoring Mechanism to look into these rumours and determine if there is any basis in fact.

The Deputy Spokesperson also noted that the correspondent’s question had misrepresented what the Department of Peacekeeping Operations officer had told the Peacebuilding Commission yesterday, which was accurately reflected in the below verbatim excerpt of his statement:

“…there is a serious risk of major instability in [ Burundi], which could have significant consequences for security in the entire region.  In this respect, reports that the FDLR may be collaborating with the FNL in these attacks are of grave concern.  While we do not have any direct evidence to corroborate these reports, MONUC and BINUB are monitoring the situation closely, particularly in light of the possible serious security implications for the sub-region.  MONUC has proposed to task the JVT with looking into these rumours in order to establish the facts to the extent possible.”]

Question:  One other thing, in the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary), which has been ongoing and I am sure Janos is going to talk about it, but there has been a lot of criticism on the Secretariat for not providing its requested reports on time.  I mean, it seems to be a trend.  So I am wondering, can you explain why that is, given that this also took place in March and is taking place now.  Is there something going on that the Secretariat is unable to turn in its reports on a timely basis?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I will look into that for you.

Question:  [inaudible] on the Secretary-General’s meeting with former President Carter in Atlanta yesterday?

Deputy Spokesperson:  He just is having a press briefing with him.  Let us find out.

All right.  Thank you very much, and Janos, the General Assembly Spokesperson is here, so I’ll turn the floor over to him.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon, good to see you all.  Let me give you some background on the President’s activities and also on the work of the Fifth Committee.

**General Assembly President in Turkey

General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim is wrapping up his official visit in Turkey and will head to Egypt for official talks tomorrow.

While in Turkey, the President met with President Abdullah Gül, Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan and also Foreign Minister [Ali] Babacan.  He also delivered a lecture at Bilkent University on the role of the United Nations in the era of globalization.

The meeting with President Gül last night focused on UN reform issues, in particular Security Council reform.  President Gül supported the idea of the “intermediary approach” as the one best to achieve results at this stage, but also agreed with the President of the Assembly that ultimately more profound reform was necessary that went beyond numbers.

During the meeting with the Prime Minister, the two discussed the global food crisis.  The President noted that, “this is an issue where articulate and well-coordinated action on the part of all Member States of the United Nations is necessary”.

President Kerim said that he expected “the Secretary-General’s Task Force to make an immediate assessment of the scope and nature of the problem of the crisis and, as soon as we have that assessment, the General Assembly can make an evaluation about what should be done and how it can be engaged”.  The President told Prime Minister Erdogan that he would support convening a special session of the General Assembly as the solution to the crisis had to be on a political level.  He also called for world leaders to give their full support to the United Nations high-level meeting in Rome.  Prime Minister Erdogan agreed that any response to the food crisis should be within the framework of the United Nations.

The situation in Myanmar was also discussed, with President Kerim once again expressing his support and condolences for the people of Myanmar.  He also reiterated the urgency with which the authorities in Myanmar should fully cooperate with the international community, particularly the United Nations.

The President and the Prime Minister also discussed current General Assembly priorities, including United Nations reform issues.  Prime Minister Erdogan also accepted the invitation from President Kerim to attend the high-level meeting on HIV/AIDS in June and the President also invited the Prime Minister to attend the special event on MDGs [Millennium Development Goals], convened jointly with the Secretary-General for 25 September.

With Foreign Minister Babacan, Security Council reform was also one of the topics, with both agreeing on the intermediary approach as the best option available, but both also supporting the idea of more profound reforms.

Discussion also focused on the activities of Turkey in especially supporting UN peacekeeping activities and also in the Alliance of Civilization initiative.  As regards this latter issue, Foreign Minister Babacan noted that Turkey will be hosting the Forum of the Alliance of Civilizations in April 2009. He also made a point in stressing that Islam and modernity are not conflicting concepts.  President Kerim also drew attention to the potential for Turkey to play a unique role in development issues as a middle income donor country with a clear interest in the affairs of least developed countries.  At the request of the UN country team, President Kerim also raised the issue with the Foreign Minister of having the Turkish Government facilitate the building of a new UN House in Ankara.

In his lecture to Bilkent University students and faculty members, President Kerim focused on the need to change the way international organizations operate in a new global environment characterized by the rise of non-State actors, the existence of fluid and rapidly changing network relations.

He pointed out that, in our evolving international system prone to rapid changes and crisis situations, traditional attributes of power lost their significance, speed was more important than size and the traditional balance of power based on deterrence had to give way to a new understanding based on an equilibrium of shared interests.  He noted that since taking office he had emphasized the need for a shift in the way Member States conducted their business -- calling for a new culture of international relations based on full respect of human rights, human security, the responsibility to protect and sustainable development -– as these were all intertwined, interrelated and should be the principles driving the work of the UN.

He pointed to the interaction of two key but interdependent shifts that characterized international relations and were also at the centre of this new internationalism: a shift from a State-centred approach to a human-centred approach where the well-being of the individual was more the focus of political attention rather than the security of the nation-State; and a gradual shift from a stress and preoccupation on rights to the accentuation and acceptance of responsibilities -- both for the State, as well as for the individual.

The United Nations provided the most suitable framework for this new culture of international relations as it had the broadest global agenda, a near universal membership and a unique convening power.  But, according to the President, the United Nations should be more than just the framework for a new internationalism.  It had to become a catalyst, by pushing Member States to live up to their responsibilities by emphasizing the interdependence of all nations; by recognizing that crucial issues on the UN agenda were not about numbers, but about people; and, by involving a multitude of external actors in the Organization’s work.

As mentioned, the President will be travelling to Egypt tomorrow where he will be meeting with Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit and will also address the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs.  From Egypt, he will be travelling to Israel for a visit next week -- that will be on Tuesday and Wednesday.

**Fifth Committee

The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) is continuing the second part of its resumed session.  The focus is on peacekeeping missions, as the budget cycle for those runs from 1 July to 30 June.

Yesterday, the Committee began discussing a number of reports on proposed budget levels for 2008/09 peacekeeping; an overview and performance reports for past years; cross-cutting issues, such as conduct and discipline, best practices, training and internal oversight; and an audit of the financial statements of peacekeeping operations for 2006/07.  On the proposed budget level, the total United Nations annual peacekeeping budget is set at $7.4 billion for 2008/09.

A press release issued on the meeting, GA/AB/3846, gives a good overview of all the issues.

This morning, the Committee heard a statement by the Controller on the financial situation of the United Nations.  The website of the Fifth Committee will give you all the information regarding the tentative schedule for next week and also the availability of documentation for the work of the Committee.

Any questions?

Question and Answers

Question:  Having gone down to the Fifth Committee, there seems to be… The G-77 statement says it’s regrettable that we have to register our concern regarding the late submission of reports.  The Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) has only been able to prepare reports on five of the peacekeeping missions so far.  That there was no assurance that it would be finished by the end of May.  What is the… I guess the President of the General Assembly or what is your… does he share this concern of G-77 that information is being given far to late to the General Assembly’s Budget Committee and what is being done about it?

Spokesperson:  From the discussions yesterday in the Committee, it is pretty clear that basically everybody shares the concern of the lateness of reports.  As I hear from the interventions of the various Member States, as well as from the various Secretariat people, what we see is that not only is there now a need to look at what are the reasons behind the lateness of reports, but to go beyond that.  Resolution 49/233 set the budget cycle for the peacekeeping missions from 1 July through 30 June.  The idea was that Member States, with the Secretariat, would have time to review the various different missions.  And, at that time (the mid-90s) we were talking about $1.3 billion as the overall cost for peacekeeping missions.  Now, it is like five times more.  That means much more documentation.

What we have now is for Member States, Secretariat people, also the Assembly President, to look at what possibilities there are to change the way the Committee works, the way the reports come and are dealt with.  One possible solution mentioned, for example, is to not have a session in May but in June, in order to allow for the Committee and for the ACABQ to receive all the necessary reports in time.  Each and every stakeholder, based on yesterday’s open debate, is trying to come up with ways to remedy the situation -- move beyond the idea of simply explaining why reports are late and look at how to remedy the situation.

As has been traditional in the past, the President does and will sit down with the Chair, the Ambassador of Malaysia, of the Fifth Committee as the Committee work goes on to look at what the concerns are.  Also, not too long ago, it was on the President’s initiative that the General Assembly had its first ever thematic debate on management reform (8-9 April), which also included a focus on the budgetary and the reporting aspects.  The format was interactive to allow for a back-and-forth between Member States and Secretariat officials on how to move forward.

Question:  The interactive session was actually closed to the press and the public. It has been quite a while.  Where is the summary?

Spokesperson:  We talked about that, and I mentioned to you that the summary is in the making.  The moment the President comes back, and he is expected back at Headquarters on 15 May, that is one of the first things he is going to look at.  Once reviewed, it is going to be issued as the Chairman’s summary.

Question:  Is there any planning on having any special meeting on the Myanmar crisis?

Spokesperson:  I am not aware of this being the case, but the possibility is, of course, always there.

Question:  [inaudible] Mr. Gambari’s and his good office’s role, because the mandate comes from the General Assembly, and taking his experience with journalists [inaudible] has he been in contact…

Spokesperson:  I am not aware of the President, during this trip, right now when he is travelling, that he has been in direct contact with Mr. Gambari.  But the President is carefully following the situation in Myanmar.  On a number of occasions he has voiced his concerns and he has called on the authorities to expedite cooperation with the UN and to make sure that aid can be distributed as swiftly as possible.  It is also one of the issues he has been discussing with his counterparts that he is meeting, whether it was in the UK or in Turkey.  And I am sure that is going to be the case in Egypt.

Question:  There has been the invocation of the “responsibility to protect”.  France has said that it should, that the concept that has been passed by the GA in 2005 should be applied in the case of Myanmar, and that people should go in with or without the consent of Government of Myanmar.  France said that they would raise it in the UN.  Are you aware of any raising to the General Assembly about this?  What would be the GA role in…?

Spokesperson:  Not in this context, but with the appointment of Mr. Luck, when I heard him at a briefing some time ago, one of the ideas was for him to work on operationalizing this concept.  Ultimately, that would mean also to report in some format, at some point, to the General Assembly.  But that is more down the line.  There might be something that may interest you in this regard, and that is the upcoming informal thematic debate on 22 May on “human security”.  That could have links to this issue as well.  Let us see whether this issue comes up in the framework of that debate, which is going to be the first of its kind.  Human security is also something that emanates from the 2005 Summit Outcome document.

Thank you very much.

* *** *

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