12 August 2008


12 August 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 Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

**Guest at Noon Briefing

We will shortly be having with us, as the guest at the noon briefing today, General Martin Luther Agwai, the Force Commander of the UN-AU Mission in Darfur (UNAMID).

** Georgia

Catherine Bragg, the UN’s Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator and Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, says she is deeply concerned about the well-being of the thousands of civilians that have been caught up in the present conflict.  In light of the recent announcement of a cessation of hostilities, she reiterates the call to all parties to the conflict to take appropriate steps to protect the civilian population, in accordance with international humanitarian and human rights law.

Bragg also calls for concrete steps from parties to the conflict to facilitate immediate access for international aid agencies to areas that have been out of contact since the start of the hostilities.  In that regard, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) notes that, because of security reasons, no UN agency has yet been able to carry out an assessment mission or aid operations in South Ossetia.  UN agencies have, however, been able to get access to Gori, in central Georgia.

For its part, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says its first humanitarian flight arrived in Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, this morning with relief supplies as the estimated number of people uprooted by the fighting approached 100,000.  The flight was carrying 34 tons of tents, jerrycans, blankets and kitchen sets.  This was the first UN humanitarian flight to reach Georgia since the fighting in South Ossetia erupted on Friday.

Meanwhile, the UN’s Resident Coordinator in the Russian Federation notes that the UN agencies in that country are in touch with the Russian Federal Government and local authorities in North Ossetia, into which thousands of people have fled from South Ossetia.  UN agencies present in the area confirm that the Russian authorities are providing adequate assistance to those in distress.  In addition, the UN Resident Coordinator has notified the Russian authorities that the UN stands ready to provide humanitarian aid should they request it.

Here at Headquarters, yesterday afternoon, the Security Council held consultations and a private debate on the situation in Georgia.  Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe and Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Edmond Mulet briefed during the closed meeting in the formal chamber.

** Mauritania

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for West Africa, Said Djinnit, returned to Dakar yesterday following a three-day visit to Mauritania in which he met with the military junta leadership and urged an immediate return to constitutional rule.

During a meeting with military junta leader General [Mohamed Ould] Abdelaziz, who now heads the High State Council, Djinnit expressed his regret that the 6 August coup had been perpetrated, and he emphasized its unanimous condemnation by the international community.  He called for the return to constitutional rule and also called on authorities to respect international obligations, including on human rights.  He appealed to the general to release President [Sidi] Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, who remains under arrest, as well as several other detained persons, who have subsequently been released.

Djinnit held a series of consultations with members of the Mauritanian Government and various political parties, as well as representatives of civil society and labour unions.  He also held consultations with visiting officials of the African Union and the League of Arab States, who were also in Mauritania.

** Sudan

The UN-AU Mission in Darfur says that 129 Egyptian engineering personnel arrived today at El Fasher airport.  Their arrival has completed the full deployment of the Egyptian Engineering Company, which consists of 335 personnel in all.  The next major deployment is of the Ethiopian battalion, which is expected to take place over the weekend.

Now that it is at full strength, the Egyptian Company is capable of efficient performance under extremely tough conditions.  With more self-sustaining troops deploying, it is hoped the UNAMID will soon reach the capacity it needs to meet its mandate and live up to the expectations of the people of Darfur and the international community.  And we do expect to have General Agwai as our noon-briefing guest to talk to you more about UNAMID’s work.

Meanwhile, on the humanitarian front, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that life-saving activities continue to be delivered in all accessible areas of Darfur.  However, armed conflicts, including aerial bombings by the Government, have been reported in all three Darfurs, and targeted attacks against aid workers and restrictions by the Sudanese Government are restricting the humanitarian response.

In July, targeted attacks against humanitarian groups and their assets reached alarming levels, with one NGO guard being killed, six humanitarian workers wounded and 21 humanitarian vehicles hijacked or stolen.  Armed men broke into 33 humanitarian premises during that month.

** Guinea-Bissau

Yesterday afternoon, we issued a statement expressing the Secretary-General’s deep concern over the mounting political and security tensions in Guinea-Bissau.

In that statement, the Secretary-General called on all national stakeholders to work cooperatively and peacefully together in the national interest and in full respect for the rule of law.  He reaffirmed the readiness of the United Nations to continue to support any constructive efforts that the Government and people of Guinea-Bissau undertake towards promoting peace and development and the stabilization of their country.  The full statement is on the web.

** Chad

In his latest report on children and armed conflict in Chad, the Secretary-General blames continued and worsening instability in the Central African region for a sharp deterioration in conditions for children.  All warring parties continue to recruit and use children in Chad, a country where only 10 per cent of all births are recorded.  Meanwhile, girls remain victims of rape and other sexual violence.  The situation is noticeably worse for girls employed as household aides outside camps for the internally displaced.

In conclusion, the Secretary-General urges all parties to the conflict in Chad to comply without delay with relevant Security Council resolutions and to halt grave child rights abuses.  He also appeals to the Government of Chad to fully cooperate with the UN Task Force on Children and Armed Conflict.  He advises the Government to criminalize the recruitment and use of children under domestic laws and prosecute those responsible of such practices.

** Greece -The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

The Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for the talks between Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (“FYROM”), Matthew Nimetz, will hold separate meetings tomorrow, Wednesday, in New York with representatives of both sides.

The meeting with the FYROM side will take place in the morning.  The delegation will include Martin Protoger, the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, and Ambassador Nikola Dimitrov, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s principal negotiator for the name issue.

The meeting with the Greek side will take place during the afternoon and include Greece’s main negotiator, Ambassador Adamantios Vassilakis.

** Philippines

On the Philippines, we may actually have a statement later this afternoon for you about the recent fighting there.

Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) announced that it will begin providing food aid to communities in the southern Philippines, where ongoing clashes between Muslim rebels and Government troops have forced about 130,000 people to flee their homes.

WFP will provide an initial 400 tons of rice to assist 96,000 people for at least one month in the conflict-affected communities in North Cotabato, including in Mindanao, which has witnessed continued fighting between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Government troops.

WFP understands that the situation remains fluid, and it says that it will continue to work closely with all concerned to further assess the total number of affected persons and adjust its response accordingly.

**Hunger Hotspots Initiative

The World Food Programme today announced a $214 million package aimed at 16 hunger hotspots in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.  The funds will be used to provide life-saving food rations to the most vulnerable, including pregnant women and children.  Food aid will also be scaled up in urban areas hardest-hit by high food prices, including through the use of cash and vouchers.

“Food prices are not abating and the world’s most vulnerable have exhausted their coping strategies,” says WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran.  She notes that families spending more than 60 per cent of their income on food are eating less, buying less nutritious foods, cutting out education and health care, and taking on more debt.

More than half of the funds in this new initiative are targeted for the Horn of Africa, where drought, insecurity and high prices have created an especially urgent situation.  And there is more information on that upstairs.

**International Youth Day

Today is International Youth Day, and the theme for this year’s Youth Day is “Youth and climate change:  time for action”.  In a message to mark the occasion, the Secretary-General says that today’s young people will bear the consequences of climate change, thanks to the unfortunate legacy of their elders.

Yet young people, he says, are also well placed to contribute to the fight even now.  They are adept at spreading new habits and technologies.  They are adaptable and can quickly make low-carbon lifestyles and career choices a part of their daily lives.  And we have his message upstairs.

**Bird Flu

A strain of avian influenza that’s considered highly pathogenic was recently detected in Nigeria, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).  FAO says that this avian flu strain had previously not been recorded in sub-Saharan Africa.  It is genetically more similar to strains identified last year in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.  So far, the outbreak is limited to the Nigerian states of Katsina and Kano, in the northern part of the country.  And there is more in a press release upstairs.

**Universal Postal Union

The Universal Postal Union (UPU) is wrapping up its twenty-fourth Universal Postal Congress today, after three weeks of discussions.

Among other decisions, the Congress re-elected, by acclamation, France’s Edouard Dayan and China’s Guozhong Huang, respectively, to the positions of Director-General and Deputy Director-General of the UPU’s International Bureau for the period 2009 to 2012.

Kenya will take the Chairmanship of the Council of Administration, and Greece has been elected Chair of the Postal Operations Council.

The next Universal Postal Congress will be held in 2012 in Doha, Qatar.

**Guests at Noon Tomorrow

So again, we do expect General Martin Luther Agwai, the Force Commander of UNAMID, here shortly.  And then our guests at the noon briefing tomorrow will be Lieutenant General Babacar Gaye, Force Commander of the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), and Brigadier General Mark Skidmore, Senior Military Adviser of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

Do we have any questions before we go onward to the next briefing?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  It has been reported that in Myanmar two opposition leaders have been now locked up by the Government.  Two that actually wrote to Ban Ki-moon in mid-July, asking him to take a second look at expanding the scope of [Ibrahim] Gambari’s mandate.  Does the Secretary-General have any comments on these interlocutors or these opposition leaders that wrote to him being arrested?

Associate Spokesperson:  We don’t have a specific reaction to that.  In general, we have wanted to see an end to the arrests of figures in the opposition, of members of civil society.  Mr. Gambari has brought up the concerns about the need for all political detainees to be released in his past visits and we do expect that he will bring up those concerns again when he visits Myanmar in the coming weeks.

Question:  The French President, just a few hours ago in Moscow, said there should be some sort of an international presence at the border between Georgia and [South] Ossetia to monitor any possible ceasefire.  Is the UN ready to participate in such an international observation mission?

Associate Spokesperson:  As you know, the members of the Security Council have been discussing the situation in South Ossetia, and I believe the members of the Council did receive a draft resolution circulated by France about this matter.  That is being discussed at the experts’ level.  Ultimately, we will leave this in the hands of the Council and we will see whether it goes onward from the experts’ level to the Council.

Question:  Is it the Council that decides whether to send UN observers there or not?

Associate Spokesperson:  It is the Security Council that would decide on what kind of international presence would be sent there.  They are already seized with this matter, given that they are already discussing this draft text.

Question:  Yesterday, we were told by the President of the Council that the UN presence on the ground detected Russian presence outside South Ossetia and Abkhazia.  The question is, is there any observation today as to whether an announced ceasefire actually took place and whether the Russians have actually followed through?

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything definitive to say about that.  We are monitoring the situation to see whether, from both our sources on the ground and other contacts, we can get definitive information on whether there is a ceasefire in place.  I don’t have anything to say at this stage.

Question:  There is a question that I asked yesterday, that I want to ask again today.  Who, if anyone, the Secretary-General has spoken to in Georgia and Russia?

Associate Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General was intending to see whether he could speak sometime today with the Russian President.  As far as I am aware, that call has not yet happened.  The most recent call he made on this was with the Foreign Minister of Finland, which has been involved through the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).  I think we mentioned yesterday the various calls he has had from Saturday, Sunday and Monday on these topics.

Question:  There is a report that this issue was being discussed in the “Group of 77” (G-77) that the new doors that have been put in the United Nations building that were supposed to be in compliance with the fire codes, are extremely unfriendly to the handicapped and the physically challenged.  That issue has been brought to the attention of Member States during a G-77 meeting.  They said that almost $2 million had been spent and no provisions had been made to look at the needs of the handicapped or anybody else who is physically challenged.  Has the Secretary-General…?  This has been done before the final renovations are to be made…

Associate Spokesperson:  As you know, the final renovations are part of the Capital Master Plan and in the Capital Master Plan, we are designing in such a way that it will take into account the needs of the handicapped.  These steps for these fire doors were part of an urgent set of priorities that we were trying to do, particularly in compliance with the needs expressed by the City of New York for improved fire safety in the building.  But we will look into ways to make sure that any future steps, including those in the Capital Master Plan, take into account the needs of the handicapped.

Question:  We are pretty sure that the New York City Fire Department knows the needs of the handicapped and whether they should be met or not.  Obviously, something went wrong someplace.  These doors are really prohibitive for people to go in or out through.

Associate Spokesperson:  The doors around the escalators.  Yes, I am aware of the concerns that are being expressed.  As I said, this was part of a short-term effort.  This is not a long-term feature of the building, but this is part of a short-term effort to deal with the urgent fire-safety needs that have been expressed by the City of New York.

Question:  There is a rumour going around that it was the Mayor’s sister who insisted upon these fire doors.  Is there any truth to that?

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t have any comment on that.  You can check with the City of New York about that.

Question:  Is there any expectation that the Security Council will meet in the next day or so about the draft resolution that is under consideration?

Associate Spokesperson:  It is possible, and we will keep you posted on when the next consultations are.  As you know, there have been consultations or meetings of the Security Council every day for five days in a row, so it is quite possible that today could even be the sixth day.  But we will have to keep you posted.  I don’t have anything to announce just yet.

Question:  Former Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali gave an interview in which he called for a drastic reform of the United Nations or its replacement by an international body in which non-State actors would have the same footing as Member States.  Is there any reaction from the Secretary-General to this proposal?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, we are aware of former Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali’s comments.  We don’t have a reaction on that, but as you know, there are fairly extensive efforts to reform the United Nations, including ways to make its bodies more representative, and those efforts continue.

Question:  I want to know if the Secretary-General has released the names of the delegation to the Bakassi Peninsula.

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t have an announcement on the delegation yet.  As I announced last week, it would be led by a high-level official, but I don’t have that announcement for you today.  Hopefully, in the next day or so, we will have something to share.

Question:  There was a call by Scott Stringer that all buildings that are technically not covered by New York City’s building codes now be covered.  The Port Authority’s building, also including the United Nations.  So I am wondering, does the UN … that legal commitments be made by such buildings to comply with New York City’s building codes.  Is it the UN’s position that this building complies with the building code?

Associate Spokesperson:  What we have tried to do is to the best of our efforts to meet all the standards, all the health and safety standards that are used by the buildings in this area.  That is not a matter of us complying with legal codes but it is part of our dialogue with the City of New York.  And that dialogue continues and that is part of that.  We have taken additional steps that, we hope, would increase fire safety.

Question:  On this trip by Mr. Haysom (Nicholas Haysom, acting Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General) to Kosovo, where he has been talking about reducing UNMIK’s staffing by 70 per cent, I want to know two things.  Does the 70 per cent reduction apply in the northern part of Kosovo?  And also, whether the Secretary-General has received any communications, negative or in opposition to this planned reduction of UNMIK?

Associate Spokesperson:  I’ll check up for you on that.  I don’t think I have anything for you on that today.

[He later said that the Secretariat had not received any complaints about downsizing at UNMIK.]

After General Agwai’s briefing, the Associate Spokesperson read two statements attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

**UN Organization Mission in Democratic Republic of Congo

The Secretary-General is deeply troubled by the outcome of an investigation by the Office of the Internal Oversight Services, which has revealed prima facie evidence that members of one of the peacekeeping units of the Indian contingent previously assigned to the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) may have engaged in sexual exploitation and abuse.  He reiterates, in the strongest possible terms, that such behaviour, if substantiated, is wholly unacceptable and that disciplinary action to the maximum degree permitted by Indian law should be taken as soon as possible against those found to be involved in such misconduct.

The Government of India has assured the UN that the allegations will be promptly and thoroughly investigated and, if proven, strict and exemplary action would be taken as per the law.

The Secretary-General highly values India’s long-standing and valuable support for United Nations peacekeeping.  He expresses his respect for all those peacekeepers from India and other troop-contributing countries who serve with honour and commitment, and stresses that the misconduct of a few should not diminish the enormous contribution and sacrifice of the large number of Blue Helmets who serve the cause of peace.


The Secretary-General is concerned about the unfolding humanitarian crisis as a result of fighting in central Mindanao [the Philippines], an area which has already been affected by conflict for several decades.  Nearly 130,000 civilians have reportedly been displaced in the past days, and many of them are at risk of losing their lives and livelihoods.

The Secretary-General appeals for restraint, protection of all civilians, as well as access for the provision of speedy humanitarian assistance to the affected population.  The United Nations stands ready to support the efforts of the Government of the Philippines in addressing the needs of the affected population.

* *** *

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