19 May 2008


19 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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, all.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General will travel to Thailand and Myanmar tomorrow, Tuesday.  He is expected to arrive on Thursday, 22 May, in Yangon and will first go to the areas most affected by Cyclone Nargis.  He is scheduled to meet in Myanmar with senior Government officials.  He will travel again to Bangkok for a series of bilateral meetings on Friday, and return again to Yangon on Sunday, 25 May, for the Pledging Conference that will be co-sponsored by the United Nations and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).  He will return to New York [on Monday].

His objective is to reinforce the ongoing aid operation, see how the international relief and rehabilitation efforts can be scaled up, and work with Myanmar authorities to significantly increase the amount of aid flowing through Yangon to the areas most affected by the disaster.  It is also to more effectively coordinate and systematize the international community’s emergency relief and longer-term rehabilitation and reconstruction assistance.

**Statement by Secretary-General and Chair of ASEAN

This morning there was, as you know, a meeting of the Foreign Ministries of the ASEAN countries and we put out a joint statement by the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the Chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

In recognition of the outpouring of international solidarity and support for alleviating the devastating impact of Cyclone Nargis on Myanmar and the widespread suffering caused to its people, the United Nations and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), announce the convening of an ASEAN-United Nations International Pledging Conference.  This Conference will be held on Sunday, 25 May, in Yangon, Myanmar, and will be co-chaired by the United Nations and ASEAN.  Member States of the United Nations are invited to participate in the Conference at the ministerial level.

The Conference will focus on the needs of those affected by the cyclone, and seek international support and financial assistance for the international humanitarian response to meet the most urgent challenges, as well as longer-term recovery efforts.

The co-conveners call on the international community to rise to the occasion and translate their solidarity and sympathy into concrete commitments to help the people of Myanmar emerge from the tragedy and rebuild their lives.

** Myanmar

Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes arrived in Myanmar yesterday.  Today, he visited three cyclone-affected areas, including the town of Labutta in the [Irrawaddy] delta [region], with full cooperation from the Myanmar authorities.  Mr. Holmes also met with the humanitarian country team and with the Myanmar Red Cross today; he plans to meet with Government officials tomorrow.

As for the situation on the ground, several agencies report that population displacements are continuing, driven by food shortages in the hardest hit villages.  Relief arriving on commercial flights is being transported to cyclone-affected areas, but not in the quantity or frequency required to meet people’s needs, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says.  Heavy rain is preventing the movement of cargo along some roads to the delta, while requests for the approval of international staff to travel to that region are still pending.

The World Food Programme (WFP) has so far dispatched enough food to feed more than 250,000 people, via 13 air cargo shipments into Yangon.  WFP has purchased enough rice inside Myanmar to feed over 1.5 million people for two weeks.  More than 1,000 tons of beans have also been purchased, allowing WFP to move food quickly and efficiently to those who need it most.

Agencies working in health have made available more than 350 tons of medical supplies and equipment, including 3 million water-purification sachets, as well as water containers, insecticide-treated mosquito nets, shelter equipment, emergency health kits and essential medicines.  The World Health Organization (WHO) has 17 surveillance teams currently distributing medical supplies in the delta region.  A surveillance system for outbreaks has been established.

** China

Turning to the earthquake in China, the UN is continuing its relief efforts following the request of the Government of China.  The World Food Programme has distributed $100,000 worth of noodles, while the UN Development Programme (UNDP) is supplying tents, quilts, clothing and emergency lights.

For its part, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has rushed half a million dollars worth of emergency supplies to China.  The first consignments include 1,000 tents and 15,000 blankets.  Health equipment, medicines and water and sanitation materials will soon follow.  The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) will procure and supply water-purifying and testing equipment.

** Sudan

Turning now to the Sudan, UN agencies and non-governmental organizations today started distributing food to thousands of people recently displaced from Abyei as a result of last week’s fighting there.  A total of five food centres are being set up, covering some 18 villages, according to the Humanitarian Coordinator for Southern Sudan.

Following on with the initial assessment, the most pressing needs are food, shelter, water and health.  Humanitarian agencies are also beginning to verify and reunite separated children with their families.  However, the rainy season is hampering access to some areas in the east, while insecurity is posing challenges to the west.

The exact number of those displaced from the Abyei area is not yet determined but is in the range of 30,000 to 50,000 people.

** Afghanistan

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, Kai Eide, met with President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad of Iran today to build support for the stability and reconstruction of Afghanistan.  Mr. Eide is also scheduled to have meetings with the Iranian Ministers for Foreign Affairs, Refugees, Interior and Defence during his two-day visit to Iran.

Also on Afghanistan, the UN Mission in that country reports that a convoy of 79 trucks carrying World Food Programme (WFP) food was attacked by anti-Government units using small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades over the weekend.  The Mission condemned the unscrupulous attack on such life-saving food aid and demanded an immediate end to these attacks, which deny vital food from Afghanistan’s poorest communities and goes against all the Islamic and traditional values of the Afghan people.

** Iraq

On Iraq, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Staffan de Mistura, has condemned a recent attack in Iraq against Iranian diplomats.  Calling the attack outrageous, de Mistura says that attacking foreign diplomats in Iraq aims to discourage normal diplomatic relations between Iraq and the international community.  Such attacks will not succeed, he stressed.  We have more on that upstairs.

** Nepal

The United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) today condemned the killing of businessman Ram Hari Shrestha.  Commanders of the Maoist Army have acknowledged to UNMIN that the murder was committed by members of the Maoist Army.  According to UNMIN, this act is a serious breach of the commitments made in the Agreement on Monitoring the Management of Arms and Armies reached between the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and the then Government, as well as of fundamental human rights. 

UNMIN arms monitors have conducted a preliminary inquiry, the results of which will be presented at the next meeting of the Joint Monitoring Coordination Committee.  UNMIN calls on the Maoists to cooperate fully with the police to ensure that all those responsible for ordering or carrying out the abduction or killing are punished.

**Security Council

The Security Council is holding an open meeting this morning on the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  On the table is the latest report to the Secretary-General by the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

** Yemen

On Yemen, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, today praised Yemen for providing protection to people making the dangerous Gulf of Aden crossing from Somalia.  He added that the international community should do more to help.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other international agencies have stepped up their efforts to assist Yemen and other countries in the region, and are jointly calling for global action to better address the challenges.  We have more on that upstairs.


On the global food crisis and the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, has decided to reserve $100 million from current Central Emergency Fund resources to respond to the most immediate life-saving activities in sectors directly linked to the effects of the recent rise in global food prices (food, agriculture, health, nutrition and logistics).

Since its inception in 2006, CERF has shown that it is a successful humanitarian funding mechanism that ensures that aid is delivered in an effective, fast and predictable way.

So far this year, the Fund has already allocated almost $66 million to food interventions by all UN agencies, as compared to $37 million allocated during the first four and a half months of 2007.  Overall, the Fund has disbursed almost $800 million in its short history.

Given the likely extra demands on the Fund from food-related emergencies, and from multiple crises and disasters around the world, the need to replenish the Fund in the near future is evident.  The Secretary-General and the Emergency Relief Coordinator are, therefore, encouraging all donors and potential donors to make additional contributions to the Fund beyond the $425 million already pledged for 2008.

Still on the food situation, tomorrow afternoon, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) is holding a special meeting on the global food crisis from 3 to 6 p.m. in the ECOSOC Chamber.  Members will hear briefings from the Presidents of the General Assembly, Security Council and EOCOSOC, as well as from United Kingdom Prime Minister Gordon Brown (by video), and from international experts, including Jeffrey Sachs, the Director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute.

The meeting will focus on ways to minimize the negative impacts of the current food crisis.  It’s expected that the President of ECOSOC will, at the end of the meeting, propose a set of policy actions over the short, medium and long term.

**World Health Assembly

The sixty-first session of the World Health Assembly, the supreme decision-making body of the World Health Organization (WHO), started today in Geneva and will last all week.  Among the topics for discussion this year are flu preparedness, female genital mutilation, the harmful use of alcohol and links between climate change and health.

Addressing the Assembly this morning, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan warned that three international security threats -- namely food security, climate change and pandemic influenza -- have the potential to undo much hard-won progress in public health.

**Human Rights Council

From Geneva, the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group concluded its second session this afternoon after having reviewed the fulfilment of human rights obligations for 16 States.  Those 16 States were Gabon, Ghana, Peru, Guatemala, Benin, Republic of Korea, Switzerland, Pakistan, Zambia, Japan, Ukraine, Sri Lanka, France, Tonga, Romania and Mali.

During the two-week session, interactive dialogues on a wide range of human rights issues were held -- among the States under review; the Working Group, which is comprised of the 47 members of the Human Rights Council; and observers.  The Working Group’s next session will take place in early December.

**Information Technology

This morning, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Sha Zukang and International Telecommunication Union Secretary-General Hamadoun Touré addressed the opening of the 2008 World Congress on Information Technology in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Meanwhile, yesterday, the UN Global Alliance for Information and Communication Technology and Development, which works to spread the benefits of information technology, held its third annual meeting, also in Kuala Lumpur.

The Alliance, which is self-funded, discussed its ongoing initiatives, such as “Connect Africa”, “Adopt-a-Village” and the “Cyber-Peace Corps”, and charted its next steps.

** Sierra Leone

Addressing the Peacebuilding Commission’s High-Level Stakeholders Consultation on Sierra Leone this morning, the Secretary-General reaffirmed the UN’s commitment to the Sierra Leone Peacebuilding Cooperation Framework, which was adopted last December.

He added that the Framework correctly recognizes that the primary responsibility to address peacebuilding challenges rests with the people and the Government of Sierra Leone.  At the same time, the Framework acknowledges that the international community should remain engaged and continue to support vital national efforts.  The Secretary-General expressed his sincere hope that today’s high-level event will result in clear commitments to support the Framework.  We have the text of his remarks upstairs.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

Tomorrow at 11 a.m., Carolina Owens from the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict; Jo Becker from Human Rights Watch; and Victoria Forbes Adam, Director of the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, will hold a press conference to launch the Coalition’s latest Child Soldiers global report.

This is all I have for you.  Thank you. Questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  It’s on the Secretary-General’s trip to Myanmar.  Earlier today, the United Nations News Centre had taken down their article on the Secretary-General’s trip there.  I was wondering why they had done so and was there some hesitancy on whether he was going to go.

Spokesperson:  There was some uncertainty yesterday afternoon, indeed, and that’s why they took the story down.  They put it back in today, because everything is going as scheduled.

Question:  What’s the schedule?

Spokesperson: I already gave you the schedule.

Question:  In terms of his going to the donor’s conference, there was a kind of an overlap on Saturday.  There were some reports that he does not want to be there when the referendum is taking place.

Spokesperson:  Well, he’s going to be in Bangkok on Saturday.  I said it in my initial comments. 

Question:  Because of the referendum in particular?

Spokesperson:  He just has meetings to attend in Bangkok.

Question:  Michèle, does the Secretary-General need a visa to go to Myanmar?

Spokesperson:  Yes, he does.  He has it.

Question:  He’s been having difficulty getting through to the Senior General.  But you said he’s going to have some meetings.  You didn’t mention him, you said Government officials.

Spokesperson:  Yes, we don’t know yet.  We cannot confirm who he’s going to meet yet, because things are being worked out still.  We spent all night doing that and, still, this morning there were some parts of the schedule we don’t have completely confirmed yet.

Question:  But has he ever gotten through to him on the phone?

Spokesperson:  No, he never did, no.

Question:  Regarding that visa, it’s very interesting, since the Secretary-General needs a visa.  Did he go through the regular procedure?  If not, did they ask him the sort of questions they ask other people?

Spokesperson:  No, he was invited to come.

Question:  So that is considered a visa -- it was stamped in the passport?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know; I haven’t seen that done yet, but as soon as I see it I’ll let you know.  Yes, Bill.

Question:  It was reported that Mr. Holmes said that he was impressed in some respects with the delivery of aid in Myanmar -- it was better than he had anticipated or better than he had been led to believe, or something along those lines.  What impressions have been communicated by him so far through either the Secretary-General or other officials?

Spokesperson:  His remarks were linked to the work being done by our people on the ground, who have been in the area affected by the cyclone, and they have been working quite hard.  I gave you more or less the comments that he had and what he saw and what he did.  Hopefully, you’ll get more from Mr. Holmes himself when he gets back.  He is to meet the Secretary-General there, and will probably be here next week.

Question:  Are there any plans for either Mr. Holmes or the Secretary-General to brief the Security Council after they return?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know at this point. Yes?

Question:  You said the Secretary-General was invited.  Who was he invited by?  Was that negotiated on the ground through Mr. Holmes or…?

Spokesperson:  He was invited through the Permanent Representative here.

Question:  Yesterday, I guess?

Spokesperson: Yes. 

Question: Is the Secretary-General planning to meet opposition leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi, when he is in Yangon?

Spokesperson:  This is going to be strictly a humanitarian trip for the Secretary-General.  He’s going to go and visit with the victims of the cyclone.  It is going to be strictly a humanitarian visit.

Question:  He doesn’t want to take up the issue of democracy or the referendum during this trip?

Spokesperson:  Not on this trip, no.  Yes, Khaled?

Question:  I have another question on Lebanon, please.  Did the Secretary-General receive a letter from the Lebanese Government or Prime Minister asking for the extension of Mr. [Daniel] Bellemare’s [the Commissioner of the International Independent Investigative Commission] job for another six months?

Spokesperson:  I didn’t hear of such a letter, but I’ll find out for you whether it was received.

[The Spokesperson later confirmed that the letter in question had not been received.]

Question:  I know the Secretary-General is busy with all the world problems, but did he have a chance to follow up on the discussion in the Security Council on Bosnia?  How closely is he following the situation in Bosnia?

Spokesperson:  He’s being updated on a regular basis on it.

Question:  Is he going to meet Mr. [Miroslav] Lajčák, the High Representative?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know yet.  As soon as it is scheduled I will let you know.

Question:  The Secretary-General has some plans to go to the region, not Bosnia, but starting from Croatia to Kosovo…?

Spokesperson:  Not that I know of.  At this point, there are no specific plans yet.

Question:  Nobody invited him?

Spokesperson:  He has quite a heavy travel schedule right now, so in his immediate plans I don’t see such a trip.  Benny, yes?

Question:  The Secretary-General’s visit coincides with the second round of the referendum in Burma, which is supposed to be in the hard-hit areas.  Because he wants to go to the hard-hit areas, will he be able to observe any of the voting?

Spokesperson:  As I said earlier, he will not be there.  He will be having some bilateral meetings in Bangkok on the day this is supposed to take place.

Question:  This is not directly related to the Secretariat, but there is a Rapporteur on racism, Doudou Diene, who is visiting the United States.  Is there any way for you to arrange a briefing for us with Mr. Diene?

Spokesperson:  I can contact Mr. Diene for you, yes.  I’m sure he would be willing.  Let me try to find out whether he is coming to Headquarters and if he could do it.  Matthew.

{The Spokesperson later added that Mr. Diene will brief reporters at the United Nations Information centre in Washington, D.C, on 6 June, after he briefs the United States State Department.]

Question:  Michèle, there’s a report out today by Human Rights Watch about the northern Uganda peace process, saying it’s fallen apart, but that the UN has somehow been withholding evidence that it may have of Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) abductions in Central African Republic and calling on the United Nations and the UN Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) to actually begin to enforce these arrest warrants.  Does the UN know more than it’s said about what the LRA has done in these other areas and what…?

Spokesperson:  My answer to you is the same as the last time you asked me the same question -- no.  We don’t have any independent reports from the field.

Question: [inaudible] wrong?

Spokesperson:  I am not saying they’re wrong.  I said we do not have those reports.  I am not saying they are wrong.  Don’t put words in my mouth.

Correspondent:  No, but they were saying that you do.  That’s what I’m just saying.  There’s a conflict.  That’s their quote.  They quote: “including unpublicized UN inquiries into abuses in the CAR”.  So they are saying that there are reports…

Spokesperson:  Well, I haven’t seen those reports and we’ll try to find out for you.

Question:  Also, about Somalia, there’s a report that the Alliance for the Reliberation of Somalia, an Asmara-based group, has broken off from the talks with the Transitional Federal Government, saying they would only talk with [Special Representative of the Secretary-General Ahmedou] Ould-Abdallah.  Is that your understanding?  Will Ould-Abdullah speak with the ex-Islamic Courts? 

Spokesperson:  We’ll try to find out from Ould-Abdallah himself.  As you know, the Security Council is soon to have a trip in the region and they are supposed to meet some Government officials as well as Ould-Abdallah in Nairobi.

Question: What about the Alliance for the Reliberation of Somalia?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know.  This you should ask the Security Council.

Question:  One question is about the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) supplying emergency telecommunications in China.  Do you know what that consists of?  Or is there a way to find that out?

Spokesperson:  Well, you can find out through them.

Question:  About China, there’s three days’ mourning.  Is the UN going to do anything with regard to the mourning happening with the emergency…?

Spokesperson:  I know that the UN staff there and the international staff there have participated in that, with minutes of silence this morning.  Yes, Rima?

Question:  Do we have an update on Iran’s package with the Secretary-General -– whether or not it had been looked at…?

Spokesperson:  Not yet.  You realize that the Secretary-General has been really involved in what has been happening on the ground in Myanmar -- on the situation of the cyclone and the victims, so….

Question:  You’re the one that said that UN experts are the ones who are looking at this package, so I just wanted to know…

Spokesperson:  We don’t have anything yet.

Question:  Can you provide a readout of the meeting last week between the Secretary-General and the Nigerian Foreign Minister? 

Spokesperson:  You can have it upstairs from my Office.  We had it for you, but you have to go upstairs and find it because I didn’t bring it with me.  It was last week.  You had asked before.  Yes, we have that.

Question:  Secondly, I wanted to ask whether the Secretary-General has decided about the request from the Nigerian Federal Government to release Professor [Ibrahim] Gambari to chair the country’s Niger Delta Committee -- a request that was put in about a month ago.

Spokesperson:  I don’t know whether a decision has been taken.  I’m not informed of it, but I can try to find out more for you.  I know that, right now, Professor Gambari is involved with Iraq and the Iraq Compact, so I haven’t heard of him being released.  I know he’s still working on his usual responsibilities.

Question:  But you know the Nigerian Government put in a request?

Spokesperson:  Well, we’re going to try to find out where that is.  I’ll try to find out for you.

Question:  Is Mr. Gambari still the Secretary-General’s special representative for Burma?

Spokesperson:  He still is, yes.

Question: Because you mentioned Iraq….

Spokesperson:  Iraq and Myanmar, he still is both.  It’s just that I saw him yesterday and he was going to handle the Iraq dossier, because of the meeting taking place in Stockholm pretty soon on the 29th.

Question:  John Holmes had the third letter from the Secretary-General to Than Shwe.  Was that delivered?

Spokesperson:  It was delivered, yes.

Question: Who has he been in touch with on the ground there?  You said he met with some UN organizations on the ground there, but…

Spokesperson:  We don’t have the reports yet; what we had is his visits to the ground.  We don’t have his reports on his meetings with senior officials yet.

Question:  So far, has he been in touch with some senior Government officials there?

Spokesperson:  That’s all we know.  He was scheduled to.  We don’t have a report yet from there about that.

Question:  One more thing about Gambari.  He’s been quoted as making this recommendation in Nigeria that 50 per cent of the oil revenue be devoted to the Niger delta, a recommendation he supposedly made last week while in Nigeria promoting a book.  I’m wondering -- is that a UN recommendation, is that his recommendation -- in what status did he make that recommendation?

Spokesperson:  I think that is his personal recommendation. 

Question:  Okay.  And that’s okay with the UN system?

Spokesperson:  Yes, of course.  He’s Nigerian.  Thank you all.  Yes, Rima?

Question:  Do we have an update on the investigative work of the commission into the Algiers bombing?  We haven’t received any…

Spokesperson:  No, I’ll have to direct your question to Manoel [de Almeida e Silva] who is in charge of giving you information on the group. Okay?  Yes.

Question:  Is the Secretary-General following the situation in South Africa [inaudible]?

Spokesperson: Yes, he is following it quite closely because we are very concerned about the situation and we regret the loss of life.  We hope that these attacks end, that calm is restored.  The Secretary-General has been following this closely all day today and yesterday.

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