30 July 2008


30 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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, all.

**Guest at Noon

My guest at the noon briefing today will be Carolyn McAskie, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support.  She will hold her farewell press conference as our guest at the briefing in a few minutes.

**Security Council

The Security Council this morning voted unanimously to terminate the mandate of the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea, effective as of the end of this month.

The Council demanded that Ethiopia and Eritrea comply fully with their obligations under the Algiers Agreements, show maximum restraint and refrain from any threat or use of force against each other, while avoiding provocative military activities. It requests that the Secretary-General further explore with Ethiopia and Eritrea the possibility of a UN presence in those two countries, in the context of the maintenance of international peace and security.

On the racks today, we have a letter from the Secretary-General to the Security Council President detailing the Secretariat’s consultations with Ethiopia and Eritrea on the options for future UN engagement in their countries.  Both parties have rejected the options put before them, he said.  Yet, the Secretary-General adds that he intends to continue working closely with both parties through his good offices, which remain available.

**Statement on Ethiopia and Eritrea

And we have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea:

The Secretary-General notes that the Security Council today unanimously adopted resolution 1827 (2008), which terminates the mandate of the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) as of 31 July.   The Council has taken this decision after both parties rejected options for a possible follow-on presence put before them by the Secretary-General at the request of the Security Council.

The Secretary-General regrets this decision by the parties, but welcomes the decision of the Council to continue to remain actively seized of the matter.  He also expresses hope that the parties would be able to break the current stalemate and create conditions necessary for the normalization of their relations, which is key to peace and stability in the region.  The Secretary-General reaffirms that his offer of good offices remains available to the parties to help them implement the Algiers Agreements.

**International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia

Radovan Karadžić is now in the custody of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.  He was brought to the UN detention facility near The Hague early this morning.  There, he went through the standard check-in procedures and met with representatives of the Tribunal’s registry, who explained to him his rights and detailed the legal advice to which he is entitled.  He is now scheduled to appear before the Tribunal’s judges as early as tomorrow.

In a statement, Prosecutor Serge Brammertz welcomed this development, saying that the arrest of Karadžić is “immensely important for the victims who had to wait far too long for this day”.  Brammertz also said that his team is reviewing the indictment, which was last updated in 2000, to ensure that it reflects facts established by the court and evidence collected over the past eight years.

Karadžić, the former leader of Bosnian Serbs, was indicted for the most serious crimes under international law: genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

** Côte d’Ivoire

On Côte d’Ivoire, the UN Mission in Côte d’Ivoire has dismantled the last military post along the so-called Green Line inside the former Zone of Confidence between the Government-controlled south and the north of the country, which remains under some level of control by the former Force nouvelles rebels.  A 20-kilometre wide and 600-kilometre long swath of land in the centre of the country, the creation and scheduled dismantling of the Zone of Confidence and the internationally manned military posts was one of the key elements of the Ouagadougou Peace Agreement which ended the Ivorian civil war.  We have more in a press release upstairs.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

For most of last week, investigators from the Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo conducted an evidence-gathering trip to the Tshopo District of Orientale Province.  The aim of the mission, jointly executed with the Congolese Government, was to look into reports of massive rapes, looting and torture committed in the area in July 2007 by a local militia.  Congolese doctors travelling with the mission examined victims on the spot and assisted in the evidence-gathering.  Also present were military lawyers who recorded statements and testimonies from victims and witnesses.  They also advised the victims of their rights.

**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

According to a new UN survey in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, millions of people are experiencing hunger, at levels not seen since the late 1990s.

The three-week rapid food security assessment, conducted by the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), found that nearly three quarters of households have reduced their food intake.  The majority of families have cut out protein from their diet, many are scavenging for food and more malnourished and ill children are being admitted to hospitals.

The food gap is a combined result of flooding last August, successive poor harvests and soaring food prices.  With both food production and food imports on the decline, rice now costs almost three times what it did a year ago; maize has quadrupled in price.

WFP is urgently expanding food distribution to reach more than 6 million people, up from a little over a million now.  It is also planning a new $500 million operation to target the most vulnerable women, children and elderly people.

**Central Asia and Caucasus

The Food and Agriculture Organization has helped to establish a regional seed association for Central Asia and the Caucasus.

Based in Ankara, Turkey, the association will provide millions of farmers with improved seeds that are suited to local conditions.  Since only half the cultivable land in the region is currently farmed, this could help reduce the effects of soaring food prices.  There is more information upstairs.

**United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

And from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), literacy projects in Brazil, Ethiopia, South Africa and Zambia have won the four UNESCO International Literacy Prizes this year.  A programme in Morocco and another from the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) received honourable mentions.

Prizes are awarded every year in recognition of excellence and innovation in promoting literacy throughout the world.  The theme for this year was “Literacy and Health”, with a strong emphasis on HIV, tuberculosis and malaria.  We have a press release with more details upstairs.

**United Nations Tours

And as the Organization’s Headquarters prepares for the Capital Master Plan, guided tours of the complex will be modified as of 1 August and limited to the General Assembly building.  The cost of the tours will be reduced and a fresh route introduced that wraps around the General Assembly Hall and extends into Conference Room 4, the proposed site of the Security Council while its permanent Chamber is being renovated.

But that’s not all.  The new 45-minute tour will inaugurate a special section for younger audiences called “Children’s Corner”, as well as a multimedia virtual tour of the UN’s six main organs, with pictorial highlights of the Organization’s history, structure, composition and offices around the world.

Showcased along the new tour route are updated exhibits of 60 years of peacekeeping, the work of the United Nations in achieving the Millennium Development Goals, a sampling of the gifts donated by United Nations Member States and individual exhibits on disarmament, landmines, the Holocaust, human rights, indigenous peoples, decolonization and the question of Palestine, to name a few.  And tours will continue to visit the gathering place of the world and, in many eyes, the United Nations “visual identity”, the General Assembly Hall.

The cost of the tour, from 1 August, since I am going to be asked anyway, will be $12.50 for adults, $8.00 for seniors and students, and $6.50 for children.  So I guess I have anticipated the question.

And that is all I have for you.  Any questions?  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Michèle.  Michèle, yesterday on Western Sahara, two high officials of the Polisario indicated that they will not go to the fifth round until Mr. Peter van Walsum, the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General, is replaced.  Has the Secretary-General received any notification to that effect and what is his reaction?

Spokesperson:  I just checked, we have not received any communication, so we don’t have any reaction at this point.  And what I said earlier about Western Sahara still stands.

Question:  Is there a date for the fifth round?

Spokesperson:  The fifth round?  We don’t know yet what will happen with the fifth round.  As soon as I get more information on it, as I said earlier, you will be informed.  Very good, so I can welcome Ms. McAskie.

Question:  There was a GAO report... I’m very sorry, there was a US General Accounting Office report about “human trafficking by diplomats”, many of them at the UN.  I don’t know if this report, if there was any UN, I guess, either reaction or inquiry into this report?

Spokesperson:  No.  As far as I know, the whole situation, individual cases are right now in front of United States courts.  So, there is nothing we can really say about this -- only that justice will follow its course.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi again.

Question:  How disappointed and concerned is the Secretary-General regarding the collapse of the World Trade Organization talks?

Spokesperson:  I have to say he’s very concerned.  You probably will have a statement later today.  The Secretary-General is expected to speak to Mr. Lamy in about two hours to discuss the way forward.  As you know, the Member States are still meeting in Geneva today.  So you will probably get a reaction later on today.  Yes?

Question:  Any further word on who will be the next Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs?

Spokesperson:  Not yet.  I’ll let you know as soon as I have a name.  I’ll now invite Ms. McAskie to join us.

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