15 July 2008


15 July 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.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

Good afternoon.  The Secretary-General is in Berlin today, where he met with the German Chancellor.  They discussed Sudan, Afghanistan, the Middle East, Georgia/Abkhazia, Kosovo and Iran’s nuclear programme.  They were scheduled to have a brief press encounter after their meeting, and we’ll provide the transcript of that later today.  Earlier today, the Secretary-General had a bilateral meeting with Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat, with whom he discussed Cyprus.

In Paris yesterday, the Secretary-General met separately with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and he discussed with both all aspects of the Middle East peace process.  He commended both leaders for their continued commitment to the peace process and discussed how to make vital progress in the period ahead in the bilateral negotiations on the core issues, in implementation of phase I Road Map obligations, in addressing immediate concerns in Gaza and solidifying the recent calm, and on the regional track between Israel and Syria.

Speaking to reporters yesterday after meeting with the French Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, the Secretary-General said he saw some encouraging developments in the situation in the Middle East in general, including the election of a President and the formation of a unity Government in Lebanon, the agreement between Lebanon and Syria to launch a diplomatic process to establish diplomatic relations, and indirect talks between Syria and Israel through the auspices of the Turkish Government.

** Sudan

Now, turning to Sudan, the situation in Sudan today was reported to be calm by both UN missions in the country.  The United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) said that security patrols and humanitarian escorts by the peacekeepers, as well as humanitarian activities, continued as usual.  UNAMID forces today conducted 10 security and confidence-building patrols throughout Darfur and humanitarian workers continued their operations, such as food distribution to the most vulnerable; water support, that is the maintenance of water pumps; provision of non-food items; health, for example treatment for rape victims; and the protection of civilians.  This is according to UNAMID.

In Khartoum, the UN Mission there (UNMIS) says it continues to support the Comprehensive Peace Agreement process, working with and alongside Sudanese partners.  Emphasis is on helping to sustain humanitarian and other activities and supporting affected Sudanese.  UNMIS reports three [International Criminal Court]-related protests today, one in Kassala, one in El Obeid and one in Khartoum.  All were reported to be peaceful and the rally in Khartoum took place outside UNDP premises.  No demonstrations were reported in Darfur today.

**International Criminal Court Press Conference

On a related note, this is to inform correspondents that the International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, has cancelled the press conference he had planned to hold here on Wednesday, which was reported to you here yesterday.  We understand that he will be in the building on Thursday to take part in the commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the Rome Statute of the ICC.  That event will be open to the press.  It is in the Trusteeship Council and you may contact the Mission of Liechtenstein for more information on that event.  And additionally, you may contact the Prosecutor’s Office in The Hague about his availability to the press.

[It was later announced that Mr. Moreno-Ocampo would hold a press conference at 9:45 a.m. on Thursday, 17 July, in Room 226.]

**Statement on Timor-Leste

Just a little while ago, we put out a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary General on the final report of the Commission on Truth and Friendship.

The Secretary-General has taken note of the submission of the final report of the Commission of Truth and Friendship to the Presidents of Indonesia and Timor-Leste, and the subsequent joint statement issued by the two Governments.  He looks forward to the early public release of the report and hopes that this process will be the first step towards achieving justice and reconciliation.

The Secretary-General welcomes the commitment made by the two Presidents to follow up action, and encourages the Governments of Indonesia and Timor-Leste to take concrete steps to ensure full accountability, to end impunity and to provide reparations to victims, in accordance with international human rights standards and principles, and in line with the recommendations of the Commission of Experts and the Secretary-General’s report on Justice and Reconciliation for Timor-Leste.  The Secretary-General reiterates the availability of the United Nations to extend its technical assistance in the implementation of such measures.

**Timor-Leste Solar Energy

And also on Timor-Leste, nearing the end of a three-year solar energy programme there, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) says that solar energy can become a viable alternative energy source for that country.  According to DESA, the project to bring solar power to rural communities, piloted in communities on Atauro Island and in Aleiu District, has shown that solar power can become a real energy option for rural communities.  It adds that, with proper support, communities have the potential to manage their energy needs in an affordable and sustainable way.

** Somalia

Turning to Somalia, the UN’s Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Mark Bowden, today expressed grave concern over the rapidly deteriorating security situation for humanitarian workers in that country.  He also expressed deep concern over the unacceptable level of violence against Somali civilians.  Recent killings have brought the number of aid-related workers killed in Somalia this year to 19.  Bowden said it is intolerable that humanitarian workers striving to save lives in one of the most difficult environments in the world are being targeted and killed.  The United Nations, for its part, is urgently taking measures to ensure the protection of its staff in Somalia, while at the same time allowing them to carry on with their vital humanitarian work.

Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) reports that gunmen in Somalia have killed an agent for a WFP-contracted transport company.  He was the fifth such staff member to be killed in Somalia this year.  WFP condemns the shootings, but says it is committed to operating in Somalia, adding that more than 2 million people need aid in that country because of drought and high food prices.  And there is more information on this situation upstairs.

**Security Council

At 3 o’clock at UN Headquarters this afternoon, the Security Council will hold consultations on the UN Mission in Chad and the Central African Republic, known as MINURCAT.  Council members last week received the Secretary-General’s latest report on that Mission, which expresses deep concern about the repeated rebel incursions into Chad.  Meanwhile, the report says the situation in the north-eastern part of the Central African Republic remains calm following the signing of a peace agreement between the Government and one of the main rebel groups active in the region.  And just to flag for you, tomorrow, as of now, there are consultations tomorrow on the UN-AU Mission in Darfur on the latest 90-day report about the Mission there.

** Iraq

And the UN Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), meanwhile, congratulates the country’s Independent High Electoral Commission for the successful opening today of 563 voter registration update centres throughout Iraq.  The centres provide an opportunity for all Iraqis to verify and update their details so that they are registered to vote in elections.  All internally displaced persons and Iraqis are encouraged to visit their local voter registration centre in the next 30 days so they can participate in the election process.  And there’s a press release with more details upstairs.

Also, Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, concluded a five-day visit to the Kurdistan Regional Government, which included discussions on the issue of disputed internal boundaries in Iraq.  He described his visit as successful and reiterated that UNAMI will continue to consult with the Government of Iraq and all stakeholders on this important issue, before and after the completion of the United Nations analysis of the relevant districts, including options for the future of Kirkuk.

**World Trade Report

And the World Trade Organization (WTO) today launched its annual World Trade Report.  This year’s Report, entitled “Trade in a Globalizing World”, looks at the gains from international trade and the challenges arising from higher levels of integration.  It notes that international cooperation, including the ongoing Doha Round, can contribute to enhanced opportunities to gain from trade.  To manage the risks arising from globalization, WTO calls for a balance between open markets and complementary domestic policies, along with international initiatives.  And there’s a press release with more information on that.

**Children and Armed Conflict Events

And the Office of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict has asked us to highlight two events taking place today, ahead of the Security Council debate on that topic.  From 1:15 to 2:45 in Conference Room 4, there will be a panel discussion on “Conflicts of Interest:  Children and Guns in Zones of Instability”.  And at 6 p.m. in the Dag Hammarskjöld Library Auditorium, there will be a special screening of the award-winning film Johnny Mad Dog, a drama about African child soldiers spreading machine-gun terror and death.  That will be followed by a panel discussion on child soldiers.  “Confronting the crime and healing the wounds” is the title of that.

**International Court of Justice

Tomorrow, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is expected to issue a final clarification of its ruling in a case brought by Mexico against the United States concerning certain Mexican nationals being held on death row in US prisons.  The ICJ had earlier ruled that the United States was in breach of international obligations for not granting Mexican consular services to these prisoners.  But after problems and disagreements in implementing the earlier ruling, Mexico recently asked to clarify it.  The Court is scheduled to issue the order at 9 a.m. New York time.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

And the guest at the briefing tomorrow will be Eric Laroche,  Assistant Director-General for Health Action in Crises, of the World Health Organization (WHO), who is coming to brief you on treating climate change, the food crisis and other global health challenges.  And then at 3 p.m., Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, will hold a press conference following a launch of the Midyear Review of the Humanitarian Appeal 2008.

That’s what I have for you today.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  This morning, US presidential candidate Barack Obama, in a major foreign policy speech, called for strengthening of international relations and for a stronger United Nations.  How has this speech been received at the United Nations?

Deputy Spokesperson:  If it’s just going on now, we don’t have any immediate reaction to it.

Question:  Will the International Criminal Court chief at least brief us at the stakeout?

Deputy Spokesperson:  They’re still discussing what format his briefing will be, so my advice to you would be to contact his spokespeople or his office directly.

Question:  Also, why did Ibrahim Gambari cancel his trip to Myanmar, which was scheduled for this month?

Deputy Spokesperson:  On Myanmar, what I can tell you is the following:  The Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Ibrahim Gambari, received a letter of invitation to again visit Myanmar in mid-August.  This is consistent with a standing invitation extended to Mr. Gambari by the Myanmar authorities.  He was initially invited to visit in late May, but that was overtaken by the cyclone that struck earlier.  Mr. Gambari looks forward to returning to Myanmar on behalf of the Secretary-General and discussions are ongoing regarding the precise timing, programme and objectives of his visit.

Question:  Marie, can you tell us, in the wake of the Quartet’s Special Representative, Tony Blair, cancelling his trip to Gaza, what really happened in Gaza?  Why was he forced to cancel his trip?  Do you have any update on that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  My guidance on that for you is to contact directly Tony Blair’s office and his people there.

Question:  But he represents the UN’s Quartet.

Deputy Spokesperson:  He’s a Quartet envoy, but he has his own office and his own infrastructure.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later told the reporter that Mr. Blair’s trip had to be cancelled due to a specific security threat.]

Question:  I also want to know about Iraqi refugees who are now living in Jordan or Syria.  Now that the situation in Iraq is better, are they being encouraged to come back to Iraq or are they still biding time and living over there?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have not seen anything new from the UN refugee agency on this situation.  As you know, refugee repatriation is a voluntary exercise.

Question:  Just to follow up, when you said we didn’t react to Mr. Obama’s major speech on foreign policy, does that mean that some officials at the UN, or some sector, are really following closely what happens in the American elections, and then if something is related to the UN or so, you will react properly?

Deputy Spokesperson:  If there’s something to say, I’ll update you on that.

Question:  With regard to Mr. Moreno-Ocampo, did he decide not to hold the press conference or was there a scheduling difficulty?

Deputy Spokesperson:  You’d have to ask his office.

Question:  I thought you received the advice from the Secretariat.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I did not.

Question:  On your relations with Sudan, you said you would continue to work with the Sudan authorities.  Inside the UN, are there any discussions that the UN might have to review its relations with the Sudanese authorities now that the President’s arrest warrant has been requested?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As we mentioned from this podium yesterday, the judges will now have to decide on the Prosecutor’s announcement.  In the meantime, the UN and the Secretary-General continue to operate under the mandates that have been given.

Question:  But are there discussions about maybe there might be a necessity to review the relations?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As of now, it’s a hypothetical situation.  The UN still has its mandate given to it from the Security Council.  It operates two major operations in Sudan.  It has a major humanitarian operation, trying to assist the desperate people in need, and it is trying to put together a peace process so that the people in Sudan will see peace as soon as possible.

Question:  Marie, there was a report about some Lebanese Army deployment in Sheba’a Farms.  Is this an arrangement with the United Nations and what is the limit of that operation going on?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything on the report you’re mentioning today, so I’ll have to look into it after the briefing.

Question:  Are there any indications of who the new Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs will be?  And there were some reports that the head of the legal department of the Danish Foreign Office, Mr. Peter Terksten Jensen, might be appointed.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing on an appointment yet for the new head of the Legal Department.  When we have it, we’ll have an announcement for you.

Question:  In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, there’s a story of this Indian colonel who met with the rebel leader General Nkunda, and he was videotaped saying I support you, you’re my brother.  It seems that the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) has been quoted as saying that, if this is true, it would be personal conduct unbecoming a peacekeeper and a dereliction of duty.  Does that mean that MONUC itself would remove the peacekeeper or would all they would do be to turn over this tape to the Indian Government?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’m not familiar with the report you’re referring to, so I’ll have to look into it after the briefing.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later informed the reporter that this was a clear violation of the United Nations principle of impartiality.  The Mission contacted the national authorities to reassure them that the remarks made by the peacekeeper in no way represent an official posture.  MONUC has asked the Office of Internal Oversight Services to open an investigation and, if the facts are proven, the peacekeeper will be sanctioned in accordance with established procedure.]

Question:  Another thing.  Over the weekend, your Office put out a statement calling a statement by the Zimbabwe Ambassador highly inappropriate and unacceptable, for having said that, in his opinion, DPA reports were one-sided.  How are his comments different from ones like those of Russian Ambassador Churkin, who said the Secretariat was breaking the law with EULEX, and then I was told it was just his right to have that opinion?  What’s the basis for calling an Ambassador’s commentary highly inappropriate?

Deputy Spokesperson:  It’s evident that the Secretary-General felt strongly about the Ambassador’s remarks, because, as you know, the Secretary-General has been discussing the situation in Zimbabwe and how to bring a resolution to that situation with parties in the region.  He’s been talking with SADC, with his partners, all regional parties and this is an area where he’s been working very closely.  And, as you know, he had dispatched an envoy to the region and I think that he did not find such comments helpful to the efforts that he was exerting.

Question:  I think that’s something people don’t understand, like on Kosovo.  He’s making a lot of efforts, but he’s been subject to criticism.  So what’s the difference?  Is it that Russia’s one of the P-5?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’m not going to engage in comparing the situations.  That’s the way he felt about this situation and I gave you the reason why.

Question:  On Sudan, there are reports that UNAMID is consolidating and withdrawing some people and leaving only essentials.  Can you flesh that out for us a little bit and tell us what’s going on?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Sure.  Some of the reports on UNAMID’s relocation have been exaggerated.  What is going on is a relocation process of non-essential personnel from UNAMID and that process began today.  My understanding is that it involves about 200 non-essential staff, but as I mentioned earlier, all peacekeeping operations, in terms of security patrols and the confidence-building patrols, in terms of the escorts they provide to the humanitarian operations, together with the humanitarian operations, continue.  The bulk of the UN operation on the ground in Darfur, as you know, involves the peacekeepers.  As of the end of June, that figure was close to 9,500 personnel, including more than 7,800 military, more than 1,600 police formed units and 1,880 civilians.  So that would give you an idea of the numbers we’re talking about.

Question:  And those non-essentials are going to El Fasher, or out of Darfur or out of Sudan?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Out of Darfur, yes.

Question:  But in Sudan?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Out of Darfur and out of Sudan.

Question:  What about reports of relocations to El Fasher, that everyone is moving from all over the place to the headquarters?

Deputy Spokesperson:  This is all I’m going to tell you.  It’s a security matter.  I realize that yesterday there was a press release on this issue, but that’s why I’m clarifying to you the proportion of overall numbers that is involved in this exercise and that the important thing for us to emphasize is that the peacekeeping and humanitarian operations are ongoing.

Question:  As a follow-up to this, these new measures taken by UNAMID, does that mean the UN has any information about potential threats to the UN interests in Sudan following the indictment of the President?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The relocation measures were taken in response to deteriorating security conditions on the ground.  As you know, there was a major attack there last week on the 8th that involved a high number of peacekeeper casualties, the worst attack in six months.  So it’s in direct response to a recent series of deterioration in the security conditions on the ground, and if you look at the Secretary-General’s 90-day report, that should be coming out shortly, that spells out quite clearly that deterioration on the ground.

Question:  So you’re saying it has nothing to do with the ICC indictment?

Deputy Spokesperson:  That’s right.

Question:  Following up on that attack that was highlighted obviously, we had an indication from Under-Secretary-General Jean-Marie Guéhenno that it was committed by either Government or Government-affiliated troops.  Is there any indication of a linkage or non-linkage between that attack and the perception in Sudan that indictments were coming down?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think the investigation into that incident is still under way, but what I believe Mr. Guéhenno and UNAMID reported at the time, was that the attack took place in a Government-controlled area.  I think that’s factually the only thing we have at the moment.

Question:  Regarding Mr. Moreno-Ocampo, that you said he was not going to have a press conference tomorrow.  Do you know the reason?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I just answered that question and I think you need to talk to him directly.  I’m just reporting to you.  First, I think he was planning to be here tomorrow, but there was a change in his travel plans, and then on Thursday he’s going to be tied up in this tenth anniversary event.  So he will be available.  He’ll be downstairs at the Trusteeship Council.  I think there are some discussions under way if he’s going to have a stakeout down there or possibly talk to UNCA.  So we need to follow up on that with him.

Question:  I think on Friday the Foreign Minister of Australia said his country was suspending the deployment of non-military officers to UNAMID based on UN policy.  That’s what he said.  He did a press conference in front of the building.  So is it UN policy to now not deploy these nine individuals?  They’re not a formed unit.  Or have there been other deployments, other than Australia, the one that he said, that have been put on hold or cancelled?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Not that I’m aware of.  We can ask DPKO.  If DPKO is listening, I hope they can get back to you.

Question:  On your readout of the call of the Secretary-General with President al-Bashir on Saturday, it says that the Secretary-General told the President he was concerned by a declaration made by the Permanent Representative of Sudan that linked the initiative of the International Criminal Court with the two peacekeeping operations.  Was that a statement that the Permanent Representative made in a meeting with Ban Ki-moon on Friday afternoon or something he said later?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I believe it was something he was saying publicly last week.

Question:  Marie, on the Western Sahara, what is the current situation now?  Is the Personal Envoy, Mr. Van Walsum, holding any discussions with the parties?  Does he plan to have the next round any time soon?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’ll look into that.  I have nothing new to report on that today.

Question:  If I may, about the mandates of the Blue Helmets in Darfur, I’m sorry for these general questions, but if they see someone who is breaching the peace, do they have to arrest this person, generally speaking?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t quite understand your question.  If you’re talking again about a hypothetical situation, we discussed it yesterday, that the peacekeeping operation’s mandate is spelled out by the Security Council resolution setting up UNAMID, so those are the conditions under which our peacekeepers are operating.

Question:  On Somalia, what are the measures to ensure the safety of the workers there by now?

Deputy Spokesperson:  These are security measures that we precisely wouldn’t go into details about, because they are security measures, but this was in response to the spate of attacks that reached 19 this year.

Question:  Just a question on Myanmar and Mr. Gambari’s visit.  Is he planning to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As I mentioned to you earlier, I was able to confirm that he is planning to visit in mid-August, but that discussions were still ongoing as to the timing, programming and the objectives of his visit.  Mr. Gambari, as you know, has met with Aung San Suu Kyi on each of his visits, as well as with Myanmar’s senior leaders on several occasions, and he looks forward to continuing his dialogue with all concerned.

Question:  I have a question on the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  The President of the General Assembly last week said Ban Ki-moon would be briefing the General Assembly in the next 10 days about the forthcoming appointment.  Will that meeting take place before or after he names the winner of the new High Commissioner role?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have not heard and, as the process is still ongoing, I have nothing more to report on that for the time being.

Question:  One last question.  I’m not sure if there is an update, but does the UN know what happened on the night of 6 and 7 June at the Ruwa site in Zimbabwe?  Nine people are still confirmed missing and the Government was supposed to investigate the matter, but so far no humanitarian aid worker was able to confirm the attacks.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I haven’t heard anything, but if I do, I’ll let you know.  Okay, good afternoon.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later informed the reporter that it is difficult to establish what happened during the night of 6-7 July at the Ruwa site.  No humanitarian partner on site was able to confirm the alleged attack “by unknown masked and armed assailants wearing military uniforms” reported by the international media.

The Ruwa site is a temporary shelter provided by the Government at the request of the South African Embassy, while the safe return of the displaced people to their place of origin is being prepared with the help of the United Nations and humanitarian organizations.]

* *** *

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